Friday, June 17, 2011

No Bad Weather, Only Bad Clothing

Photo courtesy Flickr

I heard that phrase recently on a PBS documentary about Norwegian education. The segment was looking at learning exercises that took place outdoors. “No bad weather…” puts in a nut shell the whole foundation of Western Washington life support. The Great Big Hiking Co-op says it another way, “Cotton kills.”

It drives me nuts to hear local weather reporters talk about bad and good days, as if sun were the only valid factor. The boon of Northwest life is our mild gray average. One can wear the same wardrobe ten months of the year, with a sweater and jacket in reserve for the Fourth of July, just in case.

This is a good time to consider clothing for the cold, damp months ahead. Money spent on threads pays for itself when the heating bill shows up. Being decently clad is green, makes one mobile and resilient, and supports pastures rather than chem labs.

Writing this, I feel like a shill for the GBHC, but I have found they’re consistently three years ahead of ordinary retail, so shopping there is very good value. The dark side of this climate is hypothermia: damp chill coupled with a light wind will hurt you bad, really bad, in minutes. I find it essential to have a wool layer, silk in a warm month, next to my skin. I just can’t get warm in anything else.

It’s foolish to set fashion ahead of function in clothing, especially since the first rule of fashion, as I understand it, is to dress for the weather.

-30- More after the jump.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Hero of the Urban Revolution

Photo courtesy Flickr

In 1966, it was my privilege to work in San Francisco’s solidly African-American Fillmore neighborhood. The first time I strolled down Fillmore Street on a morning break, I found local merchants casually taking the morning sun in shell-shaped steel lawn chairs set in front of their shops.

No one did that in Seattle or Port Angeles.

The immaculate coffee shop had two walls of windows facing the street, and between them, the restaurant and shopkeepers had a solid surveillance system in place.

I went on to live in other cities at a time when American urban design was at its least humane. Invariably, places where people sat around in chairs had a better social atmosphere.

The five dollar plastic lawn chair, I maintain, is the key to the urban renaissance. Almost anyone can acquire one, there’s not much worry about losing one, and sitting outside guarantees that the bad actors have an audience.

-30- More after the jump.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Photo courtesy Flickr

The Great Big Hiking Co-op is not quite the corner store, but it’s close enough to stop in with a very short list. The more I do so, the more I figure out how to integrate lightweight field gear with daily domestic life, and the more I do that, the lighter our burdens are in every conceivable way.

Several months ago on a whim I picked up a small featherweight S-shaped carabiner with a flat profile and two spring gates. Sometimes I buy something just because it looks cool and seems like an elegant evolution of a familiar design. The biner was labeled with forbidding warnings about not using it while climbing.

While puttering around doing maintenance, I realized I could clip keys onto the little biner, and it has become my regular key chain. I can clip it around a strap and hit the streets unencumbered.

One visit later, almost as a joke, I picked up the largest version of this biner, one nearly fifteen inches long. I think it’s designed to secure ropes that aren’t being used, but it’s just right for the new super-long orange extension cord. Biner and cord combined weigh about three pounds, have replaced a collection of utility cords four times their weight and bulk, and are elegant enough to store on the pantry wall.

Designers and merchants use the eye candy factor in ways that often fool and annoy me, but eye candy for the field has not let me down.

-30- More after the jump.

The Tech Room

Photo courtesy Flickr

On the second floor is a space the architect labeled a “chamber”. It hasn’t been doing much of anything since the nest emptied. The room has a good view, and it’s evolved into a very useful workspace for dry processes that don’t generate waste. Projects are no longer piling up. The walls are lined with versatile epoxy-coated high-tech wire shelving, some of it on wheels. Much of it stands empty waiting to be of use.

Of use it is, and for so many different applications that it’s not worth the trouble to name any particular one. The space is now a production and storage area for anything with a cord and anything that comes in a black nylon pack cloth case.

One consequence of accidentally setting up a “tech room” is that maintenance is greatly simplified in the rest of the house. As anyone knows, it’s a bother to try to integrate anything electric with traditional furnishings. Dangling cords seem to create their own dust monsters.

It’s very pleasant to have a work space with a view and natural light from two directions. One day several months ago, in mild desperation, I persuaded my partner to help me set a stone slab on a dozen dairy crates stacked three-high. Originally part of the Safeco building, the slab has been a table top from time to time, and it’s a damned dangerous thing to store leaning against a wall. Its new post under a north-facing window is the best use yet.

A waist-high stone table top is a wonderful work surface for production and assembly. It’s good for folding laundry and even for ironing with a big towel set out on it.

Looking back on previous domiciles, I can see that it would have been worth it to dedicate the least promising habitable room to tech and set up a sleeping area in a common space.

-30- More after the jump.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Lint Is A Vital Sign

Thought it was a salmon at first glance. Photo courtesy Flickr

As I cleaned out the filter in my washing machine the other day, it occurred to me that the amount of lint left in the trap equals the amount of fiber removed from the laundry by cleaning it.

The freestanding heated towel rail that lives in the bathroom is a first-rate dryer. The secret challenge to green laundry in Seattle is figuring out how and where to set things to dry before they begin to smell musty. The parameters shift from month to month and with the weather, and everything is made easier by repeating an automatic spin cycle.

It’s worth the bother to finesse a drying arrangement, because line drying lets things last forever. Face it: a dryer batters its contents. That’s a good thing for jeans, but gentler garments lose the subtle nuances of their cut.

My favorite place to dry clothing is on a wool pile rug in the attic. The attic, as in Athens, was designed for drying food, and my 1890 model is a whiz at that. Ordinarily, even in winter, there’s enough rising heat from the lower floors to keep the air moving overhead. Resting flat on the tips of the fibers of the rug, garments can rest and regain their essential character before going back to work. The process is gentle and efficient. There is a subtle but noticeable difference in the result of a floor-dried sweater or sheet and one that is dried on a rack or pole.

Early on I realized that green housekeeping processes may seem to be more trouble on the front end but save hugely overall. Careful line drying amounts to preliminary folding, simplifies ironing, and saves much more than the time and money it takes to earn the cash to pay the utility bill.

-30- More after the jump.