Friday, September 24, 2010

The Dogs

Photo courtesy Flickr

Fall quarter started and the streets of University City are back to their version of normal. The August hiatus brings new feet to the Ave, unfamiliar choreography to the sidewalk, and a discernible crash in the level of the competition.

This year hiatus felt rough and downtown. Sometimes it feels country or more southern. Now there’s a pre-election jostle in the air, reaction times are back to their usual speed of light, and the costumes are again interesting and challenging to observe.

The street kids provide continuity between quarters. I don’t know what that might be, but I do know that I respect them.

Man I love being on foot! It took two weeks to regain my balance after a week’s automotive vacation.

-30- More after the jump.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Apple Crisp

Photo courtesy Flickr

The simplest of recipes: mix unsalted butter or bland vegetable oil with oatmeal, a little flour, some raw sugar, white pepper, and chopped toasted pecans. Improvise if you feel like it, but be generous with the fat.

Spray a baking dish. I like to use small, shallow rectangular glass storage dishes to set up MREs. Cut small flakes of peel off a lemon. Work into a large-ish bowl. I like to use a sharp paring knife for all the work. Juice the lemon into the bowl. It’s simple to ream it with a fork. Peel the estimated number of apples (mixed varieties are best), and slice large irregular flakes off the fruit into the bowl. If you are fortunate enough to have fruit that has withered in storage, so much the better. As you work, mix with the lemon juiceto keep the slices from turning brown. When the quantities look about right, mix the fruit with a little turbinado sugar, a dusting of flour, some pie spice, maybe a dash of cayenne, and some vanilla. It’s hard to fail with this one.

Fill the baking dish(es) about halfway with the fruit, dot with butter, and top with the oatmeal mixture, patting it into place. Spray the top with baking spray for extra crispness. Bake at 350 for about half an hour. Your nose will tell you when things are done. This is a healthful utility recipe that may impress no one with your skills, but will keep the family out of a fast food outlet. Like many simple old recipes, it stands or falls on the quality of its ingredients and the care with which they are presented.

-30- More after the jump.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

On the Road

Photo courtesy Flickr

Having convinced the family fourteen years ago that throwing away the car would be a good idea, herding dozens of horse power around is now an unusual experience. I knew the change was fundamental when I first boarded the bus: it was like moving to a different city. The point of view was higher, I had time to gaze, and the systems of supply changed radically.

A couple of weeks ago I rented a car to support a family visit and promptly went into culture shock. Two consecutive backbreaking days hoofing through big box merchandisers and five days holding myself upright at sixty miles an hour did amazing things for core strength and nothing for posture. Car seats should resemble saddles, so one could get a respectable workout while traveling.

I appreciate the freedom and flexibility of a private vehicle, I appreciate the economies of time, traffic willing, it permits, and I appreciate having had a chance to experience suburbs. I especially appreciate the rental company and life in a neighborhood that loves feet.

Years ago not too far from my front door, a figure drawing instructor remarked that the main thing about the human body is the upright bipedal structure. I feel far more human, whatever that may mean, when I can walk. Doing so keeps life in balance in every sense of the word.

More after the jump.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Photo courtesy Flickr

The October rains arrived a month early, and the garden is coming back to life. I deliberately watered nothing this year to see what would happen. Nothing happened. Nothing died and nothing grew. The weeds didn’t grow, the lawn didn’t grow, and I retired the vegetable containers. I suppose this is the horticultural equivalent of social Darwinism. In odd moments, I wondered what would happen to my plucky little apple trees. They produced far more plucky little apples than I deserve.

By August, the garden was bleak and stressed, and I won’t manage it the same way next year. It should have had a thin layer of fresh bark mulch to set off the subtle colors of dormant foliage. I should have sprayed the plants now and then with the hose to wash off dust and allergens. That was all that was lacking, though. On the whole, the experiment was a succes that reduced labor to a few trivial minutes on Saturday morning.

-30- More after the jump.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Clutter and Dry

Photo courtesy Flickr

In January and June I attended two sessions of a conference exploring the reciprocal relationships between society and technology. No system is more responsive to technological change than a domestic one. I’ve been downsizing in place and have generated a fair amount of vacant space under the roof.

This morning I recalled the house of a friend from high school. The basement was empty enough to echo, and it was immaculate, with a freshly painted floor, taut lines for drying clothes, and a gleaming twin-tub washer in one corner. The mother of the family could well afford any facility she fancied. She chose the economy of low-tech. In this climate, clothes are dried indoors because if you try to dry them outdoors, they will mildew before they are wearable.

The electric dryer took Seattle basements by storm around 1951. It freed many cubic feet of space. It took a while for the change to take effect, but I have come to suspect that the dryer is the villain behind the insane amounts of clutter that infest nearly every domicile. It contracted the space needed to dry clothes to a few cubic feet and left whole rooms open to encroachment from cheaply produced ephemeral products that aren’t much more than inventory tapeworms. In Seattle, the basement drying area is also a valuable indoor play area for the kids to skate and horse around.

There’s a precious precept I learned from a management book written by twin Navy Seals. They discussed a costly lesson: do not let inventory determine the mission. The inventory they were talking about was a submarine that wasn’t doing much of anything at the time, and the outcome can be summed up simply as “I don’t want to talk about it”.

I don’t have a submarine, but I do have a basement and an attic. Empty space is tempting space. Real estate rhetoric holds storage dear, but houses aren’t for storage, they’re for living. Contemporary lines of supply are a blessing and a curse: anything one wants is available right away, but anything one wants is available right away.

I spent yesterday rationalizing hiking gear and building winter packs for emergency evacuation. Picking through a household that is meant to be carried on one’s back under trying circumstances is a good exercise in deciding whether something is worth bothering with.

The interplay of space and inventory never ends. Houses are living systems. Interests change, circumstances change (sometimes drastically and very fast), and space must be nimble. Manage inventory to that end, and one will never be burdened by the house that is meant to comfort and support.

More after the jump.