Friday, April 29, 2011


Photo courtesy Flickr

In a glossy shelter book about Caribbean design, I saw a traditional Haitian stove, built of brick with circular openings to allow a fire to be built below a pot. Later, I ran across a good deal on a classic Fifties freestanding sheet steel fireplace in a building salvage outfit, took it home, and set it on a pile of gravel just beyond the eaves of an open shed roof. The fireplace serves very well as a barbeque and gazing amenity.

I added a dozen fire bricks to the arrangement. They allow me to configure the air flow across the cement floor of the fireplace, and I can tune a fire for any occasion. It’s like playing with rocks and a beach fire, except the bricks stack safely. I can set them up to support a frying pan, coffee pot, and/or wire grill basket, or I can use them as andirons. They’ve saved quite a bit of fuel, a nice point in a central city household that’s self-sufficient in fire wood.

-30- More after the jump.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Dog's LIfe

Photo courtesy Flickr

Townhouses and condos are filling up the neighborhood. The other day I learned that some buildings regulate against pit bulls. Before acquiring a pet, it would be a good idea to check out the implications for real estate.

-30- More after the jump.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Clearing the Decks

Photo courtesy Flickr

Over a neighbor’s beer on Saturday I learned yet another reason to keep clutter at bay. She had refinanced her house to fund a project, realized that an appraiser would be coming through, and finally had to look in the eye a thirty-year pile of wood salvaged for carpentry projects.

Housekeeping guru Don Aslett literally wrote the book about hoarding back in the Eighties, Clutter’s Last Stand. I’ve been experimenting with his advice ever since. I may have made some mistakes, but I don’t recall specific ones. What I do recall is the unending relief of being able to look around the household and see nothing clamoring for my attention.

I keep things that are difficult, impossible, or expensive to replace, but what I value most is “potential space”, not dedicated to any specific function, but prepared and waiting to be used as the moment dictates.

-30- More after the jump.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Weights and Measures

Arms around the original inch. Photo courtesy Flickr

Old recipes called for quantities like “a lump of butter the size of an egg”. It’s fast and liberating to be able to eyeball quantities. Often an imprecise unit of measurement is perfectly adequate. Julia Child advised measuring a teaspoon of salt, pouring it into the palm of the hand, and then simply remembering what the pile looks like.

Thomas Edison, it is said, once asked a physicist to measure the internal volume of a light bulb. The science guy spent a couple of weeks fiddling with formulae, and when he showed up with his results, Edison poured the bulb full of water and dumped it into a measuring cup.

As I whack keys on a laptop, my day is measured in nanoseconds, but the moment I look out the window, a solar year takes over, letting me know how things are going by the state of the local leaves.

-30- More after the jump.