Friday, September 8, 2017

School Food

Recent visits to my alma mater revealed an impressive improvement in the menus. Mystery meat has been replaced by a buffet of many choices. The rows of fresh fruit pieces and salad garnishes turned out to be particularly appealing. I began to prepare similar offerings at home and store them in the shallow glass dishes that resemble sophisticated Northern European smorgasbord serving ware that was sold in the Seventies.


Laying in a collection of small serving tongs completed the set of gear. Producing most meals is a now a small matter of cooking one thing and offering many additional choices -30-
More after the jump.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Now And Then

The livid yellow of Tuesday's smoky urban dawn brought to mind a similar morning in 1969. Then the air was chartreuse rather than raw umber. Breathing brought doses of nitrous oxide and lead from the fumes of motor fuel. It is impossible to appreciate the music and culture of the period without factoring in the cognitive effects of environmental toxins.

That period had been described to me as an improvement over the previous era when coal was the dominant energy source. It was replaced by oil after World War Two. Cities were charcoal grey, a palette that prevailed along Highway 99 well into the Seventies. A Chicago native once explained to me that the city wore little but black clothing to hide the floating smuts that smeared garments worn on the street.

A beloved elder once questioned the choice of a daughter who preferred city life. Conditioned to the pristine Twenties air and water of remote Western Washington, he wondered publicly why his offspring should prefer to live breathing "the smoke of a hundred thousand fires".

When regulation of VOC emissions affected the formulation of house paint, I wondered whether that refinement was necessary. A recent week-end maintenance project that generated unavoidable fumes brought home how benign the atmosphere has become in the last ten years. I realized how profoundly aggressive toxic scents impair my perception and judgement. It's a miracle how well things used to function, under the circumstances -30-


More after the jump.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Slant

I believe that the slanted desktops of my elementary school were a significant academic advantage. A slanted work surface allows one to compose a handwritten page while viewing the work from a plane that is parallel to the plane of vision. It also allows reading from the same stress-reducing position. The desks had a built-in prop that raised the top to horizontal, but the slant was the default position of the closed lid. We cheat our children when we ask them to learn without a visual amenity that is still standard-issue for drafting and fine arts. The deficit is easily remedied by using a clipboard propped on a book or by propping the book itself. 

Every handwriting lesson in that school began with the command to "sit up straight and put your feet flat on the floor". Posture is the foundation of competent written communication. Perch your sitz bones on the edge of a flat wooden seat just high enough for the knees to be slightly lower than the pelvis. Doing so opens the abdomen so that you can breathe and write at the same time.

Give yourself an advantage with the pen or other writing tool by working only in the comfort zone defined by your navel. Move the work into the sweet spot of your field of vision to maintain consistent slope and form in what you render. The zone is just a few inches in diameter. Respecting it reduces fatigue as well as improving the quality of your work.

I rediscovered the value of a slanted work top when I moved a sign writing board (two hollow-core doors hinged together and set on a pair of featherweight folding plastic sawhorses) from the basement to the dining room. The set-up has proved to be a valuable addition to the room's sideboard (a big, flat table) and round central pedestal table.

I prop the writing board open to a mild slant using two sturdy drinking glasses. It's just the slant of a nineteenth century clerk's writing desk-the work top of the "ink-stained wretch" of legend. The waist-high writing surface slashes the time needed for clerical work and is particularly useful for sorting out the clot of paperwork that accumulates if I turn my back on it for even a day.


The big board can be draped to the floor with a large textile or drop cloth and topped with a table cloth for feasting. Opened flat and propped on milk crates, it functions as an improvised double bed when fitted with self-inflating luxury air mattresses. When I want it out of the way, I can set it in a corner as a scrap screen: I have pasted on it a collection of outdated concert posters harvested in the wild from local utility poles-30-
More after the jump.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Four-season Wonderful

The Great Big HikingCo-op sells a fine wool tank top that can be used to layer from underneath. Wearing it, I can use any garment any month of the year. If the tank top is not enough, I can add a related long-sleeved scoop necked wool knit. 

The wool on these underlayers is soft and fine enough to be comfortable on its own when the temperature rises into the low nineties. I can stash a layer in my side bag, add a scarf, and be comfortable in a chill without worrying about a coat -30- More after the jump.