Thursday, June 23, 2011

Getting Real

Photo courtesy Flickr

Saturday I shared a lunch table with a native American who snickered about buying bottled water and paying to exercise. The man could easily pick up a steer and throw it into the back of a truck, and he’s working on a tribal project to generate electricity from “biomass”, solid waste from big cities. It seems poetic that the first, or at least earlier, people should be early adopters of green tech.

The keynote speaker at the lunch talked about the tribes’ managing local forests with controlled burns, and how hard it is to replicate their techniques. It will take, he said, several hundred years to learn how to use fire correctly in the woods. Later, my partner commented that the elders who knew forest management died without anyone interviewing them.

One of the elders spoke, and she recalled learning life skills from her mother and grandmother. Listening, I was transported back to my grandmother’s kitchen and to her tales of preparing breakfast in a homestead log cabin.

The luncheon was held in the Washington State History Museum. Over the last few years, I have discovered how deep the roots of my family run on this side of the mountains, and how looking carefully at the past has revealed a tenacious web of connections among apparently unrelated elements of memory. It can take many years to appreciate the significance of behaviors that at one time seem ordinary.

Listening to the director’s account of the legislature’s recent harrowing budget hearings, I was appalled to learn the story of the museum’s near-death experience. That brought home like nothing else the fragility of a culture and the truly heroic bootstrapping efforts of the tribes.

-30- More after the jump.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Paper Is Dangerous

Photo courtesy Flickr

An old friend told me about a woman who left town on a long business trip. Her partner stayed home and avoided opening the mail. The couple had a legal action pending, and hiding from the mail carrier lost them a judgement because they didn’t appear in court. They have since filed for bankruptcy.

Since I heard this story, I’ve decided to handle incoming mail as if it were dangerously hot. Housekeeping guru Don Aslett taught me years ago to open mail immediately. Keeping the shredder close to the mail slot has made this easier. Aslett mentioned hiding from a letter for a couple of months, only to find a large check in it when he finally found his courage and letter opener.

It’s the routine clerical procedures that make life run smoothly. When I make them a priority, stress evaporates. Well, pretty much evaporates. I still drink coffee. In this neighborhood, I can bundle a run to the copy center with a trip to the bank and grocery store, getting in the day’s recommended exercise while keeping my little ship in decent trim.

-30- More after the jump.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Short Cut

Photo courtesy Flickr

There’s been a time crunch, and the new fruit crop is approaching anyway, so I’ve been drawing down the emergency food reserve. It’s very convenient to pop the top on a can of pears for morning oatmeal, or pull a slice of crisp bread out of a packet rather than trucking out for a loaf of bread (since I stopped baking).

I’ve grown fond of repeating the bland menus of the Fifties: it’s a calming cuisine. In the late Seventies, I ran across a quote from baseball legend Satchel Paige, who was said to have avoided fried foods “that angry up the blood”. By that time, I’d been slinking past Swami Satchidananda’s advice to eat a plain, vegetarian diet for years, but Paige’s second opinion began to take effect.

It has taken decades, but the deep good sense of eating carefully is beginning to pay off. Money benefits, there’s less house cleaning, I don’t get sick, and vanity is justly served. I just hope the Big One doesn’t hit before I restock.

More after the jump.

Monday, June 20, 2011

If It Works, It's Obsolete

Photo courtesy Flickr

That’s an old adage from the US Navy research laboratory. Once I get an arrangement working smoothly, the temptation to take it a little farther is usually irresistible. A few months ago, I persuaded my partner to help me carry the featherweight twin-tub washer upstairs into the main bathroom. What I learned from the change was that doing laundry became marginally inconvenient, because the physical set-up required awkward moves.

Suddenly, paper towels and napkins began to appeal for the first time since 1978, and I discovered the balance between an automatic washing machine and environmental purism. Dodging drudgery in the laundry seems to be a matter of choosing between the environmental burden of wasteful automatic washing versus the energy costs of disposable wipers.

It’s a small matter to use textiles freely at the table and in the kitchen when washing them involves pushing a button. It becomes another matter altogether when washing involves awkward reaching and shoving to get a machine into place.

I’ve been out and about more than usual lately, and my new perspective tempts me to observe that I have better things to micro-manage than a package of paper napkins. However, any behavior that’s repeated day after day quickly becomes a significant factor in the household and environmental economy. Using paper wipers has eliminated three loads of laundry a week.

Paper wipers have also degraded table service and displaced toxic chlorine bleach. Offhand, I’d say they’re an embarrassing convenience.

-30- More after the jump.