Friday, December 3, 2010

The Snow Pug

Photo courtesy Flickr

The day after last week’s storm, when the sidewalks became as sloppy as they usually are when the thaw sets in, I found myself walking down Broadway behind an irresistible middle-aged pug. It was not a cute doggie moment: that beast had character.

Lumbering down the sidewalk like an old smoker, he was portly, out of shape, and dressed for the weather like a tradesman: tiny rubber boots on his tiny feet, a well-worn rain jacket, and an equally worn dog t-shirt hanging out from under the top layer. He looked like a plumber crouching over a job, and he was wonderful. A Friday beer to him and his handler.

-30- More after the jump.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Arctic Air Mass

Photo courtesy Flickr

That phrase was common in East Coast weather reports when I lived in Baltimore, though I had rarely heard it growing up in Seattle. Our weather usually cruises in from the southwest, all damp and comfortable off the Pacific ocean.

Last week’s powder snow and day of icy, sparkling sun lit up the interior like a glossy shelter image of a Swedish living room. The nineteenth-century Northern European style known as Gustavian captures every bit of precious winter light over the months when night dominates. Neo-Classical wood is painted white, floors are bare, and upholstery is righteous, with the frame of a piece on display.

That rare kind of winter sun points up tiny failings in maintenance that can’t be detected on Seattle’s gray winter days. Since I’m usually housebound when it snows, it’s easy to catch up. Get the most out of the least effort by keeping glass, including light bulbs, sparkling clean, polishing wood and hardware as they were meant to be maintained, and grooming soft furnishings with a gentle brush from a tack store. Make-up artist’s special-purpose cotton swabs are ideal for details. Keep bedding and clothing fresh for maximum insulating value.

It’s important to filter microscopic dust out of a sealed winter interior, since ultra-fine dust is most dangerous to the lungs. The HEPA air filter that keeps allergens at bay in warm weather also eliminates most housecleaning. Use it while you dust and vacuum to double or triple the interval between sessions. A photographer’s equipment brush, like a shaving brush on steroids, will snap dust out of details on furniture and electronics. Hold the vacuum hose close while you’re using it. The feathery synthetic dusting wand that looks like a hippie bottle brush does good work on dusty planes. Knock it against the side of the air filter to capture fine particles. If the room is well-lighted, you’ll be able to watch the air clear itself like water in a well-tended aquarium.

Clean, spare quarters are decent in the chill, easy to maintain, and most healthful. Protect the light, and you’ll protect morale. A thermometer or two set around the interior will tell you how cold it really is, rather than how cold you fear it might be.

-30- More after the jump.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Wear Clothes, Not Oil

Photo courtesy Flickr

Seattle had hard weather last week. Not like Fairbanks, where you have to worry about your eyeballs freezing, but a definite challenge to the ordinary Baltic chill. This happens every three years or so, just seldom enough that someone who doesn’t ski debates the wisdom of holding a down coat, Balaclava, and shoe chains in inventory. It’s worth it.

Every time I clean out my side bag, I look at the pepper spray and wonder why I bother. Then I recall a Navy Seal who wrote, “You never need it until you really, really need it.”

From time to time, I read a summer newspaper discussion of comfort, climate, and air conditioning. The consensus seems to be that it’s best to keep the temperature difference between indoors and outdoors at or below fifteen degrees, so the metabolism is not shocked by the change. Fifteen degrees’ difference might not fly over the winter, but I find it heartening to live as close to the weather as I can without risking my health.

The climate of Western Washington is like that of England, and this English-speaking Oregon territory was disputed by the American and British empires recently enough that local housekeeping practices were truly Anglo. Even prosperous households kept the heat below sixty-two, wore wool instead of burning fuel, and reserved shirt-sleeve temperatures for special occasions. Insulated houses were rare, as were storm windows.

If your house is routinely cool, and you choose to get around on foot, it’s practical to own the kind of clothing that will keep you warm and safe when bitter weather moves in. Good gear is not cheap, but it lasts a long time, and using it many days a year cuts the cost per use to nothing, especially when you factor in the oil you’re not burning.

LA punk designer Rick Owens included a Balaclava in his collection a couple of years ago. Like the tight-fitting knit hood/wimple combination, his extra-long jerseys embody the field wisdom of the best outdoor gear. My mother, a fourth-generation native of Western Washington, was a gifted and enthusiastic knitter. Her sweaters always had sleeves long enough to cover the knuckles and ribbing that nearly folded when one sat down. She knit so fast that I always assumed she simply failed to stop in time to mimic the skimpy lines of commercial fashion, but I know better now.

We put our lives at risk when we chance foul weather in mean clothing. A down coat can live in a pillow cover when it’s not working outside, the Balaclava’s good back-up to carry for extra warmth when one ventures outside minimally dressed for the forecast, and featherweight shoe chains take up just a few cubic inches in a winter kit. Top off the collection with a simple dust mask that makes an instant difference is holding in body heat. A mask at the face warms the toes.

-30- More after the jump.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Macedonian Living Room

Photo courtesy Flickr

This year’s cold spell reminded me of a traditional room I saw in a book about Greek style. It was in a house from the mountainous north, a stone structure like an inelegant version of Georgian architecture. The small, barred windows and studded door suggested bandit country and Alexander the Great’s roots in the region.

Bandits or not, cold is a thief itself. One of the rooms in this house was laid out for comfortable lounging around a small stove. There were beds set along three walls, as close to the stove as safety permitted, with natural daylight behind each couch. The space was full: there was nowhere for a draft to gain velocity.

This responsible version of a crash pad makes good sense in hard weather. It might feel squalid year round, but when the chips are down, 98.6 is what counts. Lightweight furnishings make it easy to improvise.

-30- More after the jump.