Thursday, April 26, 2018

Liquid Furniture

The brightly patterned blankets that Oregon Rodeo has been selling to Indians since 1863 are the workhorses of my home furnishings. They're architectural in the visual effect they produce and offer upholstery on demand for day and other beds and for seating. In a no-shoes interior, I can set one on the floor to support workouts and naps. Folded or rolled, one makes a good bolster. The pattern makes it easy to configure the blanket in a straight and dignified way. Since the things are collectible, I don't have to worry about sinking capital into furnishings that might be tricky to resell and ship. 

Maintenance is trivial. I ordered some moth traps and set them out to see if the house is really as pest-free as I had thought. A 1926 Good Housekeeping manual had warned that central heating means always having to worry about moth. The traps caught nothing, a considerable relief since the house is not screened. I'm careful about not leaving lights on in rooms that are open.

Museum conservators use a no-rinse detergent for precious textiles. Reasoning that Indian housekeepers would not have had access to dry cleaning, I washed a blanket in the bathtub when the attic was hot enough for quick drying, and the results were gratifying. A good blanket fades gracefully over time -30-
More after the jump.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Old School Hardware

Washing public transportation off my hands before enjoying beer and a burger at Seattle's oldest bar, I noticed and appreciated the immaculate restroom furnished with straightforward painted plywood compartments. A  simple barrel bolt secured a door, and I realized that piece of hardware is the lock of last resort in many a far more pretentious facility.

I'd rather see one good cast bolt that's seen generations of service rather than a cheapjack one mounted in a sad column of ragged lacunae left from over-designed failures -30-

More after the jump.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Ironing-The Haiku Variant

I appreciate the ease not ironing a linen tablecloth affords, but I want the world to know I know the difference. Setting a steaming iron in place long enough to leave an embossed image of the sole plate in a prominent spot sends just the message I want to convey for the next family gathering -30-
More after the jump.

Monday, April 23, 2018

The Ponderous Trophy

Once the cast iron phase fizzled out, I and my loved ones began to appreciate furnishings I could manipulate single-handed. There are a couple of behemoths left in the collection, but most of the inventory is a relief both to the back and to the eye. In his benchmark Nomadic Furniture, Victor Papanek advises husbanding one piece of heirloom furniture and getting real with the rest of the collection. 

Interestingly, many of the concepts in Papanek's inventory have been improved upon by changes in technology. The basics are the same, but they're slimmer, lighter, more versatile, and far easier to acquire. The professional photographer's truss system still tempts me beyond reason. Anything designed for a road show is good value. 

Papanek was a globe-trotting design expert for the UN. Like interior designer Diana Phipps, he improvised comfortable quarters in places that on first inspection looked far from ideal -30-

More after the jump.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Tight Food Rotation

I lived for months in a cabin that had no electricity. Fresh food was stored in an old-fashioned ice box, an insulated oak cupboard lined with zinc and topped with a well for a twenty-five pound block of ice. Cutting edge in its day, the arrangement can now best be described as better than nothing.

I learned to use food as quickly as possible, serving the leftovers from one meal as elements of the next one. In the process, the thinking behind hors d'oeuvres and antipasti became clear. Any comprehensive early twentieth century American cookbook will have recipes that reflect the limited power grid of the period. I swiped ice chips off the truck that delivered to a neighbor in northeast Seattle as late as 1952.

Keeping a tight food rotation greatly reduces waste and protects health by providing a sequence of carefully considered home-cooked menus. Date and label each container -30-
More after the jump.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

A Simple Outing

Take light rail to the Montlake station on the south end of the University of Washington campus. The hospital across the street has good coffee and snacks. Hike up the main path on campus past the fountain with its ducks and roses, pass through the forest of cherry blossoms, and make your way to the Burke Museum and its treasured legacy of Northwest culture.

Cross Fifteenth to the academic bookstore and its legendary childrn's section. Up the Ave around the corner on Forty-seventh is a fish store that carries smoked salmon strips that taste indigenous. They'll give you ice if the trip home will take a while -30-
More after the jump.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Price Per Pound

Assessing cost per unit of weight is an interesting way to evaluate something. Futurist Buckminster Fuller factored in the weight of a building. Weight even affects the cost of waste disposal, a critical issue at the moment.

I visualize anything the right size set on a foam tray, wrapped in cling film, and embellished with a sticker. A digital device, lamb chop, a piece of jewelry, medication-any of these contents speaks volumes when weight is noted front and center.

A fellow on Maui recently spent a million dollars on a tiny house. Presumably subsequent tiny houses will cost a little less. I'm guessing the price per pound might look reasonable when it's compared with other things that save comparable amounts of time and effort. A tiny house on a generous property with a benign climate makes a lot of sense -30-
More after the jump.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Nimble House

A high rate of growth in a city stresses all of its systems. It's also quite a lot of fun to take advantage of the new goods and services that accompany change. Living in the same building since 1980, I've seen the place through many iterations of content, function, and style. I have not indulged in change for its own sake, because home furnishings have a significant carbon cost. 

The following strategies allow rapid change as demands, some of which can be sudden, require. Use existing cupboards and storage areas, but make sure that additional shelving and storage containers are freestanding, modular, and knock-down. Have the same color scheme in all the rooms.
Choose soft furnishings in plain colors. Use freestanding or clip-on lighting fixtures. Take the time to tailor living quarters to suit new requirements. -30-
More after the jump.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Sorting Out the Details

I bought a new side bag in an attempt to reduce my daily handicap. Changing bags is like moving to a new domicile.The first night after the change felt like an awkward one in the field.
Besides the necessities of an urban day, I tote the ten essentials of survival (search The Mountaineers), because this is earthquake country. The whole works fits into a reasonably sized purse, but my requirements are complex. Every time I thrash the kit it gets a little smaller and lighter, and the process takes less time.

This season I realized that an undedicated office table with good lighting is a perfect worktop. I blitzed the project in minutes, where I used to spend an hour or more. The cheapest featherweight on-line folding plastic office table in 30"x60" is easy to handle and convenient to integrate with existing furniture -30-
More after the jump.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Paper Toys

I happily emptied a miniature cardboard briefcase, aka commercial packaging, and set it up to hold small-scale art materials for a young friend. I'm saving the tiny boxes that hold Italian nougat candies. Food packaging board makes great art cards. I'll look around my usual art department to see what small diameter pens and colors they have to work with.

I look forward to collaborating with Alan, standing by with hot glue and sharp tools to enable whatever he thinks up -30-
More after the jump.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The In-basket

A friend who wrangled a blended family of ten children told me she made one of her sons clean his room after she realized she couldn't remember what the rug looked like. I am hoping that the drawer in which I store unprocessed paperwork is lined with something that says "All gone!" like the favorite milk mug of my childhood -30-
More after the jump.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The Wrap

Finish the day with clear work areas: leave generous margins of time on your schedule so that you can complete small tasks that are lying around. Anything that can be done in under two minutes do right away. Especially if you're working at home, it's good for morale to be able to look around and observe visible signs of progress -30-
More after the jump.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Still Seattle

Last week a national credit card system went down. My friendly local barista gave me my regular order, saying to pay next time I came in, if I remembered. I did so yesterday, and, as excited as a cool fellow can be, he said that everyone paid, even the one-timers -30-
More after the jump.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Ride with Pride

I browsed a retail store recently and found a couple of motorcycle jackets on a rack of outdoor clothing. Leather is not practical outerwear in this climate. It is heavy when wet and dangerously slow to dry.

Black leather hides grease, cuts the wind, and protects the rider from road rash. Shop at a specialist if you ride on two or fewer motorized wheels. A close fit is important -30-
More after the jump.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Another Nondescript Building

Except as a consumer, I make no claims on architecture, but I have read that the essence of a building is the quality of space it encloses. One sleepy morning on the bus, I overheard a new arrival to Seattle remark confidently that on our right was "another nondescript building", presumably of the countless nondescript buildings that have gone up in the region over the last few years.

A volunteer at the museum that is destined to occupy said building got an advance tour recently and came home awestricken by the volumes of the interior space. When the high steel framing was going into place, one of the crew hustled past me on a break, equally excited about how wonderful the building was.  

In my own structure, I find that the emptier it is, the more useful and rewarding it is to occupy -30-
More after the jump.

Thursday, April 5, 2018


The National Park Service maintains an archive of museum-level housekeeping expertise at If you value your inventory, this resource will help you make the most of it. It's especially useful for making sure heirloom and scrounged old things stay useful for as long as can be.

The technical wisdom in this resource will help you decide whether something is worth maintaining or whether it will be better off in someone else's collection. My personal criteria are to own useful things and to make sure nothing deteriorates on my watch, except from legitimate wear and tear -30-
More after the jump.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Grandmother's Linens

A lengthy and entertaining dialogue with the offspring has greatly simplified my tabletop systems. I overheard a classic kitchen revolt some holiday months ago and learned that the volunteer scullion was disinclined to spend a quarter of the visit washing dishes.

It came time to set a special table recently, and I dug out a hand-embroidered linen cloth and napkin set, deciding to use both the napkins and cloth because it was time to wash the scent of storage drawer out of the linen. I don't usually combine an embroidered cloth and its napkins because it's over-rich for my taste. I spread the cloth on a side table, aka folding office table, to set the buffet and placed the napkins on a round, bare central table. Good time had by all -30-
More after the jump.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The Value of the Hall

Terence Conran takes a good hard look at entry areas in his  House Book, a formative piece of popular interior design. The visuals are out of date, but the basic principles are valid. After nearly forty years of experiments, I finally parked the right table in the front hall . It's round, a convenient diameter, has a tulip-shaped pedestal, and is just a bit high. A hall is a switching point for every thing and being that comes into a building. A table makes it easy to unload.

A flowering branch in a big jug set just the right tone for the big spring meal. It's so apt, in fact, that I'll use the table as an ornamental focal point for seasonal decoration all year around -30-
More after the jump.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Board and Trestle

I chanced to walk past a moving van and spotted an interesting table sitting by the lift at the rear of the vehicle. It was a restatement of the classic board and trestle of the Middle Ages. At that time, when as many as twenty people would live in a hall house of two hundred square feet, the dining table consisted of planks set on sawhorses. It was set up for meals and then knocked down afterwards. People were smaller then.

Someone had designed a miniature version fabricated out of stout elements of lumber that were rounded on the edges. The plank grain of the stock was stained a grayish beige. The finish was smooth but not glossy. Parts of the grain had raised gently, presumably because the stain was water-based.

The trestles were built like the expedient ones carpenters assemble on site, but they were narrow, just seat width. The tops were wide enough to offer a comfortable perch to the sitzbones, and the trestles were high enough to serve as shop stools. The top was one broad board edged with bullnosed molding about half an inch deeper than the thickness of the board. That depth allowed secure placement across the trestles.

The whole thing looked like an ideal side or standing work table for a small space, and it clearly could be knocked down so the trestles could be used as bar stools. It also looked like my favorite kind of furniture: the shop projects high school kids make for their parents -30-
More after the jump.

Friday, March 30, 2018

A Little Funk Goes A Long Way

Northwest painter Bill Cumming shared his aesthetic with a figure drawing class in the Seventies. A little funk, it turns out, is also a heck of a lot of fun

I invited a design-oriented millennial visitor to tour the upstairs bathroom, that recently experienced open-wall surgery. I wanted him to see lath and plaster from the back so he can understand keys, the sloppy gobs of base coat that hold the stuff in place. I mentioned I had been told that lath and plaster offers better fire protection than the wallboard that replaced it after World War Two.

I also pointed out the full-dimensional rough-cut framing lumber, straight-grain Doug fir from a six-hundred year old tree. That timber was a strategic resource in the age of sail and the cause of European claims on this region. Full-dimensional rough cut means slivers and a two by four that measures two by four. The wood is nearly as strong as steel and makes drill bits smoke. The plumbing company sent a guy who owns an old house himself. We employ descendants of the plumbing company that served the original owners of our house.

Millennial suggested simply covering the open wall with Plexiglass, an extremely tempting concept. I fear the fire marshal might not be amused, though, so I plan to hang a truth photo over the wall after it is rebuilt. The fine wainscoting will be secured with obvious brass screws to make future repairs less time-consuming. I hope future painters observe Navy discipline and refrain from covering the bright work.

I was pleased to point out that the one area of the bathroom floor that has always been most difficult to clean was simply not there any more the last time I did maintenance.

A few years ago I experimented with rehabilitating hairline cracks in the plaster by caulking them and tracing the lines with gold, as if I were repairing ancient ceramics. Areas of blistered paint I scraped gently and dabbed with soft color, like leaf shadows. A fine-arts trained house painter loved the effect, and so did the gallant young plumber who cleared the drain over the, urk, kitchen ceiling. The plumbing bill covered what it would have cost me to redo the bathroom ceiling, because I decided to stick with finessing cracks and peeling paint as I have been doing -30-
More after the jump.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Old Luggage

Before the Boeing Airplane Company took over travel, mass market suitcases were made of old growth (six hundred years) cedar covered in Tolex. Not long ago, there was a wave of such luggage in local thrift stores. A few pieces made their way to the attic, and one of them made its way back to the main floor, perhaps to be of use. A nomadic acquaintance who made his living teaching and painting fine art stored his life in old suitcases that he transported in a used commercial van. Now that I comprehend the durability of Tolex, I appreciate the technical insight behind his choice of transit case.

A brief inspection reminded me that the suitcase is an attenuated version of a steamer trunk. It's designed to serve the same need to protect high-maintenance fabrics and present them in wearable condition. There's an elaborate internal structure to secure folds and hold hangers. I'm delighted no longer to have any use for such complications and equally delighted to have the opportunity to experiment with a mini-trunk. 

Cedar is no slouch at protecting textiles from pests, although the lignin in the wood means the storage is not archival. The rectangular profile of the case means that it will stack. I can rest my legs on it while reading, set it on end as a side table, and store bedding or emergency gear in the thing. The piece doesn't warrant fussy restoration, but using it to conceal field gear or small goods will be a thrifty way to take advantage of good value in vintage furnishings. This was never a suitcase to boast about, but the old custom of covering luggage with a protective quilted case might be revived using hot glue to tailor a cover from a moving pad. The quilts had bound openings around the handle. I'd consider using gaffer's tape to that end.

Tolex is an early synthetic fabric that has both an interesting history and an entertaining current inventory on offer. I just wipe it down with a damp cloth. The early vinyl edging can be refreshed with biker's chrome polish from Germany or, conceivably, tooth paste. Brass locks can be refreshed the same way. Working on instinct rather than archivist's expertise, I'd wash chemically aggressive polish residue from vinyl edging and anoint the stuff with artist's wax medium or the wonderfully benign leather conditioner sold under the brand name of a Detroit luxury car. The Tolex might benefit from a coat of wax, too, or of the protective automotive spray designed to protect vinyl that is famous for repelling ash from Mt. St. Helens. Consult a specialist if you think your piece might be of some value, and keep in mind that there is concern about health hazards associated with vinyl. I have a hunch that a protective coating that prolongs the life of a piece will also isolate toxins from the surrounding space -30-
More after the jump.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Non-kitchen

One of the first things I realized after moving into an 1890 house designed along 1812 lines was that the bulbous appliances of mid-century suburbia ruined the interior volumes. Over the first years here, the condo appeared and with it, small space appliances from Asia and Europe. As washing machines, music systems, and cookers became ever more elegant*, I came to understand that a return to an appreciation of small space was completely congruent with this eighteenth century structure.

I enjoy experimenting with life support systems. After I saw and coveted the elegant two-burner Swedish propane field stoves that the local hiking vendor had on the shelf, I fantasized about discarding the electric stove that had come with the house. The double-wide energy-hog blimp of refrigeration that claimed 
a quarter of the kitchen was long gone, as were the washer and dryer that had been parked under the sink.

For several years, I stared at the ceiling during breaks and visualized deploying the propane stove on the back porch and using small appliances in the house. It didn't hurt to have a partner with lab experience who appreciated state of the art self-stirring hotplates and longed for a serious hood.

One day the oven died in the middle of a batch of bread. I hitched up the buckboard and headed off to shop, coming home with an electric kettle, a convection oven, a set of racks, and said field stove. The gear cost twice what a new stove would have and halved the electricity bill the first month I used it. It paid for itself over the course of the next few months. I substituted an induction hot plate for the gas cooker several years ago, one of the smartest moves I've made, although it necessitated revising the batterie de cuisine.

The first time I threw a party, I cursed myself for a fool until I realized as I wound through the preps that deploying small appliances here and there effectively quadrupled the work space at my disposal. I can set up multiple work stations so that more than one cook can do preps. One of the joys of small appliances is that they tend themselves. They can also be stowed out of the way when I'm finished with them.

Recently the family parlor off the kitchen has been transformed into a domestic version of a coffee shop as I and family geeks tap keys all day. Hesitantly, I set up a printer in the pantry, worrying that grease and debris might compromise the equipment, but it's been a non-problem. When I'm not using the induction cooker it lives next to the printer, an unexpected high-tech association with, apparently, no inherent conflicts. The cooker is easy to clean with window spray. The flat top means I can stack laptops on it when it's time to charge them.

An inexpensive counter-height refrigerator occupies the site of the electric stove. The flat top is as useful as that of the induction cooker for staging projects. 

In effect, deconstructing conventional twentieth century kitchen facilities has restored the essential eighteenth century qualities of this architecture. Originally, human hands did the work, and they did it during daylight hours. Like meal preparation in the field, setting up was a flexible process, and the equipment was relatively light and mobile. The nutritional demands of knowledge work-six light meals a day-are easily met in the new system.

It can be daunting for a visiting cook whose motor sequences are conditioned to a fitted kitchen to work their way through the set-ups here, although a gang of friends with commercial food experience had no trouble using the unfamiliar room to stage a going away party. There is no incentive for an expensive  kitchen remodel on this property, and the neighborhood has at least ten grocery stores within walking distance. One hour delivery of fresh food is a phone call away. It's trivial to prepare simple meals and repair to one of the many nearby bistros for a big feed now and then.

Fused extension cords are the key to the mint.

*See Paul Hawken The Next  Economy  -30-
More after the jump.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Paring the Household

It is inevitable that minor changes accumulate until it is suddenly time to clear things away. Increasing density in the neighborhood has brought welcome conveniences and a pressing need for guest parking. To that end, I am revising the corner of the garden that is not as secluded as it once was.

The outdoor fireplace has gone to the proverbial home in the country. The historic garage structure that serves as a summer house can also hold a car, so I edited clutter to allow a close fit of a visiting sedan. The contents that remain are on wheels because the fit is that tight -30-

More after the jump.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Window Shopping

Now and then I check the digital offerings of the workhorse brands that let me run the house with minimal hassle. For my pedestrian purposes, the Great Big Hiking Co-op seems to be the general store of choice with their straightforward, cleverly designed, incredibly versatile and durable goods. The fusion of urban and field gear is running apace, and I could not be more content with the basics I already have.  Lightweight, low-maintenance, compact high-tech clothing, carrying gear, and (increasingly) home furnishings amplify my facilities, stretch a dollar, and generate leisure time. I have never regretted an upgrade that originally seemed extravagant.

From a different vendor, a not-cheap under-seat tote with spinner wheels is the unsuspected winning substitute for a motor vehicle. The thing stands upright in narrow store aisles. It pairs neatly with the Co-op's open tote from Deep South America and the secure shoulder bag that is a sleek fusion of messenger and fashion. Seek a bag that, ahem, does not cause clothing to ride up. I can stow the shoulder bag and tote in the spinner and set off for the day knowing it will be easy to get back to the house with as heavy a load of shop as I am willing to haul -30-
More after the jump.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Thrift Couture

Check out the vintage clothing outfit that's on a southeast corner of the Ave. Their Easter display is mind-bending -30-
More after the jump.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Duster

A favorite clothing vendor is offering beautifully cut lightweight knee-length linen coats this spring. I bought one in indigo to wear as a cover-up for shop projects. It is so apt for my purposes, I wheezed and bought another one in black for working with ink and for riding the bus.

A canny driver commented to a friend one summer day that one needs a protective layer when out and about in the city. That slight amount of formality is all it takes to transform a practical, comfortable outfit into something street legal in a lively, developing area like Seattle -30-
More after the jump.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Muffuleta, Sort of

Inspired by New Orlean's great sandwich, I collaborated with the cook to take best advantage of a local mild Italian sausage, the sweet pretzel rolls that are so delicious and so much in demand that I hesitate to mention them, and a simple mixed saute of cippolina onion, minced garlic, poblano pepper, sliced mushrooms, and broccolini.

Cut the onion into smallish dice. Halve, seed and clean the pepper. Cut quarter-inch strings across its length. The strings hold the mix together in the sandwich. Cut the broccolini into bite-sized pieces, then boil and blanch it until just tender. Be careful and watchful about the timing.

Heat a heavy enameled cast-iron frying pan on low, covered, for fifteen minutes or so. Pre-heating establishes a thermal reservoir that allows a lively saute when the room temperature ingredients hit the pan. My pan is large enough to use as a grill for a small dish: the cook sauteed the mushrooms first, wiped the pan clean and then sauteed onion and pepper in separate piles using olive oil, mixed everything but the mushrooms in a bowl, and then gentled the garlic over heat and mixed it in.

The rolls were burger-shaped and pre-heated. I double-butterflied the pre-cooked sausage, cutting one nearly through the long way on one side, then flipping it over and doing the same on the other. 

A pile of sauteed vegetables topped the sausage, and it was wolfing good. Would have been even better with pepperoncini and, as the cook mentioned, with mushrooms. He held out the mushrooms to have some to use in other dishes later on. A little pile of good potato chips heated to crispness in a slow oven would have brought perfection -30-
More after the jump.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Cooking Components

I'm no fan of leftovers, but it is convenient to work with prepared components that hold well in the refrigerator. Plain beans, sauteed onions, a sauteed mix of pepper, mushroom, and onion (each separately cooked) are all easy to use in improvised preparations that take advantage of the meat du jour.

Old school staples like cole slaw and fruit salad fill out the menu. Hard-smoked salmon and cream cheese retain their virtues over time and are ever-ready to use with a cracker or freshly acquired bagel -30-
More after the jump.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Not Quite Spring

It's an interesting time of year in the garden. When the sun is out, it's promising. In the shade, on a breezy slope, or when it's overcast,  things feel grim. The grim days check the enthusiasm of newly growing plants, protecting them from overgrowth that might fall to wind or late frost.

It's time to cruise the landscape with pruning shears judiciously editing the dead stems I left in place last fall. Those stems break the wind, protecting tender new leaves. Once the new growth is a little tougher, I'll trim the stems to just a bit higher than the new leaves, to protect them from passing gardeners. A little effort this time of year saves days later on.

Some of last year's coles appear to be making a bid for eternal life: the long bare stalks that toppled in a freeze are sprouting new leaves. I shoveled a trench in the compost border and buried the lower sections. Something may take root.

A deeply shaded north border with little traffic has evolved into an elegant, simple woodland. A neighbor's pine tree dropped needles and cones over the winter, mulching out the fragile lawn and establishing a clearly defined area of duff that contrasts with the fine old grass that grows where the sun falls nearby. It is so beautiful and so unexpected in this dense neighborhood that I will go out of my way to protect it from wheels and rough projects. There's much to be said for letting the garden tell me what it wants to do. The minor amount of stoop labor it will take to keep the space looking cared-for is far less than mowing used to require -30-
More after the jump.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Every Blossom Counts

A friend whose family has a long tradition of growing fruit trees brought her three-year-old to visit my home orchard. The dwarf trees were in bloom, and Anita carefully instructed her rambunctious toddler to handle a flower with caution. It took only one rep for the child to get the message -30-
More after the jump.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Noble Bean

A bean is not a bean is not a bean. They're delicate critters that are worth the trouble it takes to cook them carefully. I'm not above opening a can, but the recent demise of the electronic pressure cooker left me considering the wisdom of an overnight soak and a carefully attended simmering pot.

Beans seem to have been bred for faster cooking than the edible pebbles I recall from the Sixties. The quick soak method described on packages is easy to achieve in a rice cooker. Pick over the dry beans to check for rocks, no kidding!, and remove broken beans. Wash in cold water and remove the beans that float.

Cover with a couple of inches of water and bring to a boil. Boil hard for a few minutes and turn off the heat. In an hour or two, drain and rinse the beans (to control their gassy potential) and proceed with your intended recipe. Keep a careful eye on the doneness: a good bean deserves attention. It is done when the skin peels back if you blow on one. Cook it to a perfect texture or cook it to a creole fare-thee-well over long slow heat -30-
More after the jump.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018


A cheap one-inch disposable bristle paint brush is surprisingly useful in the kitchen. I use mine mainly to clean the many crevices in the filter basket in an automatic coffee maker -30-
More after the jump.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Prudent Maintenance

Wear a medical glove when picking up litter.

After you notice that the lawn is shaggy, mow the minute weather permits. Doing so will produce thick, healthy turf.

Control weeds as soon as they are big enough to pull. The medical forceps I use to modify stooping for litter are good for grasping the crowns of tiny weeds.

Dead stalks that stand over the winter break the wind and protect new growth from frost. They also harbor predator insects that control pests.

Known in some circles as "Dr. Foxglove", this invasive biennial grows itself, is beloved of bees, and encourages healthy growth in other plants -30-

More after the jump.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Getting Ahead

Janitor/guru Don Aslett advises to store nothing on the floor. This one practice halved the time it takes me to vacuum and is also the key to maintaining a manageable inventory.

I use Aslett's recommended neutral pH no-rinse janitorial floor cleaner to keep surfaces in good condition. Cheap cotton washcloths from The Great Big Northern European Home Furnishings Chain are my rag of choice. I run an inch of hot water into a dishpan and add a tablespoon of the cleaner. Then I soak half a dozen cloths in the solution and strew them around the hard floors. Using an adjustable anodized aluminum janitorial handle and the toothed plastic device designed to grasp nylon floor cleaning pads, with a white (least abrasive) pad in place, I wipe the floors clean. 

It takes longer to describe the process than execute the task.The supplies are cheap in the long run. I then wash the floor cloths in a short load in the machine. It's easy to dampen a bunch of cloths with window solution in the same way. I use an Italian window squeegee for sparkling clear panes.

The key to the mint is maintaining a space so that it is easy to clean. That means no clutter on horizontal surfaces and only essential furniture in place. All the furniture is fitted with Magical Sliding castors that act like after-market wheels. I can move a piece aside during a major vacuuming episode without worrying about stressing the glue joints on a vintage design.

Removing shoes at the entry, using HEPA air filtration, and frying and stewing on the back porch prevent most house cleaning. Though the vibrant local economy and subsequent traffic has increased the amount of dust in the air, cleaning is still trivial. 

Once I recognize the subtle irritation generated by an interior that needs attention, it takes mere minutes to set things right. The grimly unseasonal weather of the last few weeks afforded me the chance to use early garden energies indoors. Having done so, I'm good to go on the landscape -30-
More after the jump.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Retrofitting Home Delivery

After reading an article about giving a delivery service a key to the house, I realized that this old place is set up to do just that. At one point early in the twentieth century, the back porch was enclosed and a delivery hatch added to one screened wall. All I have to do to ensure secure package delivery is change the lock on the outer door while retaining the existing one on the inner, original back door.

A few days after that realization, I toured an efficiency apartment for rent in an early twentieth century building downtown. The building is in near-original condition. Even the hand-lettered unit numbers are untouched. The original service hatches that open from the main hall into the entry hall of the unit have simply been fastened shut. To my untutored eye, it looks as if fitting secure access to the hatches would be a trivial matter. Doing so would allow thousands of tenants in the region to enjoy the rational life support delivery services offer -30-
More after the jump.

Thursday, March 8, 2018


Living in one place for close to forty years has been an interesting experiment in housekeeping techniques, because the huge variable of moving can be ignored. The kitchen dates from a time when production and service functions were separate. Storage areas under work tops were often curtained in lieu of having cupboard doors. I like the economy of such curtains and even more like the amount of time they save. 

Over the decades, I have installed and removed several iterations. The area under the kitchen sink stores working appliances and the recycling center. I dodge into it countless times a day. Figuring out how to curtain it has always called on a contorted line of reasoning.

There was a curtain rod for a while that became inconvenient when I stowed a small washing machine in the area. A long bungee cord served instead until I realized it could harm a child. There were no curtains for a while, until I realized that stark utility had been carried too far. I put checkered napkins on a shopping list and let how to mount them take care of itself. I found a set of utility grade traditional-looking striped cotton place mats and brought them home to try as an attenuated covering to conceal the sound-proof coating of the sink and distract the eye from the various vertical metal planes of the appliances. 

A carpenter taught me the term "hammer simple". Sally Fields' flip-out scene in "Norma Rae" is the quintessential domestic example. Lately I have had neither the time nor the patience to fiddle with mechanical fastening systems, choosing instead to plaster various sticky devices here and there to mount amenities in the kitchen. There's nothing to lose, because the wood finishes are durable and forgiving.

Moving at warp speed when I got home and unloaded the roller,  I simply folded and laid out the place mats to get the spacing, pulled mounting tape out of the handy drawer, and stuck the mats in place behind the facing board under the sink. It's the best set-up yet, the cheapest, and was the fastest to design -30-
More after the jump.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Getting A Grip

More often now than then, I have a disquieting feeling that the details of my life are getting out of control. Tasks crowd in relentlessly. It's easy to feel as if I'm sitting in an incoming tide with a teaspoon in my hand.

I have found it helpful to resolve and simplify starting from the navel out. No kidding. Once a desktop or worktop is straightened out to my satisfaction, it's easy to move on to the next questionable collection of...whatever. There doesn't seem to be any meaningful distinction to be made between digital, paper, and three-d things. A discard bin labelled "thrift" is as much a part of the solid waste system as the various recycling categories the city likes me to observe -30-
More after the jump.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Worth The Trouble

The other day I spent nearly an hour fiddling with an adjustable reading light in one corner of the kitchen, finally getting it mounted on the wall to free the very useful, very small round table at its side. In the process, I rationalized the cord of that recent high-tech, featherweight LED addition to the lighting inventory. 

The few minutes it took to tie the cord into a hank that does not touch the floor will be made up many times when I vacuum that corner of the room. Dust equals moth and mite habitat equals mending textiles and medicating allergies -30-
More after the jump.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Work Table

Last summer saw three flyweight polyethylene folding work tables added to the inventory. They proved so useful we just added two more. All of the tables are thirty inches by five feet. They are or will be covered by the rosin paper that the construction industry uses to protect floors. It's just the right color for this interior, and the toothy surface is pleasant to work with.

The black plastic corners that protect the tables during shipping slip over the paper covering to transform a table into a very large version of a desk blotter. It's way cool, like a sturdy old-school bookbinding. If you favor vintage office equipment, set out that old stapler and brass goose neck lamp.

It seems to me that these tables are designed to be handled by someone about my height, although the shipping carton warns that doing so is a two-person job. I had no trouble moving one up a flight up stairs by myself. Sticky-palmed work gloves make one stronger. I was delighted to discover in the original shipment that these tables, the cheapest ones available from Order Everything On-line, are designed so that there is a sensibly balanced gripping point to lift and carry one that is knocked down.

Whatever genius or angel drew up the plans for this table also had the good sense to design legs that fold truly flat to save space. That feature also gives the table a future as a low one set on legally acquired industrial grade dairy crates. Stabilize one used this way with mounting tape or by setting it on non-skid carpet matting.

Raise the table to standing work height by setting it on plastic bed risers. Finish the after-market fun by adding the Magical Sliding Furniture Feet that are nearly as good as wheels -30-
More after the jump.

Friday, March 2, 2018


Twenty years ago, I threw the car away in disgust with Seattle's traffic. I had been spending thirty hours a week in second gear crawling from one domestic destination to another. I got enough for the vehicle to fund a rolling backpack and a fresh pair of hiking boots.

Youthful acquaintances in the motorcycle community taught me that no one machine serves all purposes. Bikes are engineered to a given application. I find that ordinary shopping totes are much the same. It's easy to rationalize spending money on gear for a specific task  when I weight the cost against the cost of driving. I count luggage as a transportation expense

I look over the day's shopping list before I choose the tote or rolling luggage that will hold what I buy. There's a factor I hadn't realized in the beginning: checkers and clerks appreciate a new and amusing bag, so I have a good excuse to indulge in something flamboyant. A loud tote has a safety factor, too. It's easy to trip a fellow pedestrian with a dark roller even in what passes for broad daylight on a Seattle winter afternoon. I lash bicycle safety flashers to mine to give fair warning and to protect myself from drivers who don't realize they're not on the freeway -30-
More after the jump.

Thursday, March 1, 2018


This is a thrilling time to live close to downtown Seattle and just as thrilling a time to study design posts on the TED website. I was taught to view design as the art of arts, a new way of looking at systems as well as individual artifacts.

It's been my privilege to observe and participate in the renaissance of the American city that was in the worst shape of all in the early Seventies. Consistently, the simplest housekeeping behaviors have had the greatest impact on quality of life on this street that I have studied and maintained since 1972. Controlling litter, dog waste, and parking while calling in noise ordinance violations keep the peace. 

It's foolish to speculate about what comes next, but the simple civic virtues that pulled Seattle through the Boeing Depression of 1970 are not likely to become irrelevant-30-

More after the jump.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018


I have a dim appreciation that "space", as in rockets and sci-fi, is not a discreet vicinity but a continuum. Thinking that way helps me manage the house. During my early years, I was encouraged to read the children's sci-fi written by Robert Heinlein, one of the persons who invented now. Paul Allen read Heinlein, too. During the 1969 moon landing, a network television camera in Rocketdyne's tiny auditorium turns to Robert Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke. Up in the last row, the two authors are laughing like mad, presumably at the outcome of their speculations.

A recurring theme in Heinlein's work is travel or emigration into space. He mentions a thirty-pound weight limit in one of his books: that was a revolutionary concept in the Fifties, when luggage was tuned to the carrying capacities of trains and ocean vessels. Packing a foot locker was traveling light. It took decades for me to realize that Heinlein's thirty-pound limit was the same one used by airlines at the time. Air travel was rare and expensive, and excess baggage fees would have been draconian. Not too many years later, I learned to backpack and discovered that the thirty-pound limit was that recommended for female hikers.

I toted thirty pounds of gear over a good few miles of trail back in my day, and the experiences set my home furnishings compass to ultra-light. Focussing the ten essentials of life support on field gear is a sure-fire way to set up a nimble, economical household. The Great Big Hiking Co-op has references on its web site. Going light and staying relatively light keeps the household nimble and resilient. Thirty pounds gets much more bang for the ounce now: I easily carry a daily collection of life support and communications gear that would have staggered a healthy mule in 1962 -30-
More after the jump.