Friday, November 4, 2011

Right Under My Nose

Photo courtesy Flickr

One year, Santa left me an inflatable, weighted vinyl toy designed to be knocked over so it could right itself again. I saw a designer version in the Seattle Art Museum gift shop not long ago.

An art history instructor told us this toy was inspired by a traditional piece of Japanese folk art. It’s a paper mache model of Boddidharma, the man who brought zen buddhism from India over the mountains into China. Chinese and Japanese artists like to draw sumi cartoons that make fun of Boddidharma’s big East Indian nose and baleful eyes.

I learned that the little darumas are appliances. They are made with blank Little Orphan Annie eyes. When one gets one home, the drill is to make a wish and fill in one eye. When the wish comes true, fill in the other. Wikipedia has the details.

Now and then I bring a fresh daruma home, sometimes simply because one is irresistible. The current Naples yellow model lives in the punk-furnished Playmobil house I rent from my grown child. I use this toy to indulge my passion for arranging furniture: it’s easier to lift grams than pounds.

At the moment, the house is sitting on the dining table, and the other day I tested the daruma’s ability to right itself. Thirty-three years after buying the first one, I finally discovered the equilibrium that is inherent in the design.

-30- More after the jump.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Back to the Future

Hetty Green photo courtesy Flickr

A watch that doesn’t run is more accurate than one that works, since twice a day the time it indicates is exactly correct. Now and then I get something right, but it’s always by accident.

The great art and physics department hardware store in the University District, that occupies an unimpressive Victorian commercial building, has several Steam Punk aficionados on the staff. I was chatting with one the other day-the store functions as the neighborhood cracker barrel-and I mentioned I had had a chance to wear some of my great-grandmother’s clothing. The memory of her wool gab suit reminded me that Victorian style is the right choice both for conserving heat and for maintaining core strength. The suit had a tight bodice, leg o’ mutton sleeves, and an ankle length generous walking skirt edged with abrasion resistant heavy cotton courduroy.

My 1890 house pre-dates central heating. Originally it was warmed room by room with gas fires, a wood-burning hearth in the front parlor, and a kitchen cookstove. The many doors can be used as valves to direct or conserve heat. Although we’ve restored the full set of storm windows, only one room has been insulated. We use that as a winter “keeping room” for sedentary activities.

For my mother, who grew up surrounded by the wilderness of the last part of the continental United States to be mapped, wardrobe was serious business. My most vivid memories of her care center on being dressed in the hand-knit wool sweaters with which she protected my brother and me from the deadly damp chill of the Northwest climate. There’s seldom a blizzard, but hypothermia takes many an unwary hiker each year.

Wool’s the key. Far more durable than synthetics, it’s just as warm when wet, equally easy to wash, and not that much heavier. Cashmere performs even better. Without intending to, I’ve accidentally assembled a Steam Punk wardrobe. Long, wet, and flapping hems are no fun to wear on the street, but at home, ankle length skirts earn their keep as movable lap robes. In the old tradition, I can add skirts to form the multiple layers of petticoats that fend off chill while I tap laptop keys. Long "hostess" and evening skirts are long because they never got shortened in the Twenties, not because they've been extended.

A while ago the word went out that galoshes and fleece boots with a sloppy fit are not safe to wear when driving. I seldom get behind the wheel, but a couple of near misses on the stairs convinced me not to replace my in-house footgear. The old-line American canvas shoe company often sells cutting-edge design on line, and I found a sheepskin laced boot that worked as a super-slipper last winter and will do the same this year.

Between the boots, the long skirts, and the hair that’s growing out, I can teeter between looking hip and resembling the legendary trader Hetty Green.


More after the jump.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


San Francisco Union Square bronze plaque. Photo courtesy Flickr

Isamu Noguchi laid out the haiku interior: tatami and a “rice paper” lamp. Not just any cheapo import will do. He emphasized the importance of light weight and portability. So did futurist Bucky Fuller, who calculated the weight of actual buildings and recommended tents.

I’ve been downsizing in place, and the process becomes ever more rewarding. A day or two ago the in-house archaeologist told me the rooms look lighter, and I was glad to hear it. Simple furnishings are easier to maintain. Diligent dust control keeps surfaces reflective.

Since we live in earthquake country, the heart of the household is two full kits of hiker’s field gear. Light weight is built into the system, and featherweight furnishings are gradually displacing obsolete behemoths.

The French and Italian words for furniture translate as “movables”. It dawned on me that there’s no need to maintain a room as a set piece for people who aren’t here. When visitors arrive, comfortable, light weight side chairs can easily be carried in by one person as needed. Carry a chair by placing one hand on each of the rails under the side of the seat. Lift with your legs. A brief study of film taught me the value of a room full of Award Winning director's chairs.

More after the jump.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Bristles Are Green

Photo courtesy Flickr

To simplify housekeeping, use the right brush for ordinary maintenance. Brushes save space, use no electricity, are gentle on possessions, and often allow one to work faster start to finish than will a machine.

A photographer’s equipment dusting brush resembles a badger hair shaving brush, but there’s more snap to the bristles. I get mine mail order from a local photographer’s supply house. They’re not cheap, but they’re such solid workhorses I buy a few extra to give to friends. I use a photo brush to dust the boom box, gritty crevices in table lamps, and intricate detail in other sturdy furnishings. The other day I discovered that the brush gets certain plastic tableware cleaner than the regular hand-held mild nylon scrubber.

A carpenter taught me to hold a small vacuum cleaner in one hand when generating dust with a tool held in the other. In his case, it was a pad sander. I find that using a well-designed brush while I hold the vacuum sans hose to gobble motes gets the staircase cleaner faster than any other method. If I run the HEPA air filter at the same time, very little sediment settles after I’m finished.

On the stairs, I use a small equestrian currying brush, like a scrub brush with flexible natural bristles. It fits my hand, so my fine motor skills are not strained. Both brushes are edged with gaffer’s tape to protect woodwork from accidental strikes from the ferrules. The balusters on the stairs are just an inch and a half apart, so I use the photo brush to detail them and the edges of the runs. It takes more time to describe the process than to perform it, and it’s easier than wrestling with a hose and attachment.

Searching for the right combination to maintain this old-fashioned house over the last twenty years, I’ve bought more vacuum cleaners than I probably should have . Often a mid-grade vacuum comes with nylon brushes that are far too harsh to use as they’re intended. These so-called upholstery brushes with their sharp-cut bristles are, I find, best for scrubbing porous old sinks. The photo and grooming brushes do right by old wood finishes and decent cloth. Combined with the hand-held vac and air filter, brushing and vigorous patting make short work of getting dust off velveteen cushions.

The British National Trust Manual of Housekeeping contains sane operating instructions for a stately home. My favorite recommendation is to delay dusting until one is well-rested and free to focus on the task at hand. Most damage in a house happens when it is being maintained.

Hardware and janitorial suppliers sell large toothbrush shaped objects with either nylon or brass bristles. I keep both on hand to use for the odd grubby chore. A toothbrush is the right choice to clean the junction of faucet and sink. Brass is a dire selection, but now and then only it will do.

I use a bronze suede brush to groom knits.

This post was generated by a brush I saw on line while shopping for a hand-cut comb that will be gentle to hair. (Combs like this are welcome in Christmas stockings.) It was delightful to discover that the old-line hair specialist also produces utility brushes in the splendid tradition of English housekeeping. One of their offerings is an ornament dusting brush with several round clusters of soft, natural bristles a couple of inches long. I’m not prepared to invest in a brush I’ll use on the one bunch of porcelain flowers to which I give house-room, but it’s good to know a source. Several artist’s brushes taped together along a cardboard rectangle would give a good approximation of the special-purpose brush I found on line.

The National Manual has it right for dusting precious artifacts. Since one can cost more than a housekeeper’s annual salary, it’s good to know the drill. Well-rested, with plenty of time, and no caffeine in one’s system, get out a sturdy shallow wicker basket with a handle. Pad the bottom with a folded turkish towel. Place the item to be cleaned in the basket and carry it to the sink wearing flat shoes. Pad the sink with another towel, and place the item on it. Dust carefully with a brush and reverse the process. A former museum preparator listened to this paragraph with rapt attention and reminded me that careful workers use a cart to transport precious things.

That’s why I keep elaborately ornamented possessions behind glass. I don’t have to worry about paying for damage I do to someone else’s inventory, but a wedding gift can appreciate quietly over the decades until the stakes become higher than one realizes.

-30- More after the jump.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Matching Colors By Mail

Photo courtesy Flickr

Back in the day, household linens were white, period, as in white sale. After decades of fooling around with alternatives, I have concluded that white makes sense for my here and now. It always matches, it can be bleached, and it’s the most versatile color.

Attention, I find, is the rarest commodity, and establishing a household design policy in favor of one scheme protects attention. It’s okay to be boring sometimes-to do so frees enthusiasm for the growing tips of the culture.

-30- More after the jump.