Friday, January 20, 2012

Snow Day

Photo courtesy Flickr

The garden shows its bones when it snows. I’m grateful to have edited the landscape to native essentials that look well composed. The small orchard looks like it’s having a bad hair day: I’ll get to the winter pruning before long. One particularly graceful winter hazel that has never been pruned becomes a show-stopper when it snows. I manage it for the rare day when the lines of the branches become amplified.

There’s an old-fashioned glass conservatory up the street. One of Seattle’s great pleasures is to visit a tropical garden surrounded by a white landscape. Last week I visited a showing of Georgian silver in the art museum of a city to the south. The snowscape feels much like the magnificent reflections of the best silversmithing.

More after the jump.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Thin Veneer of Civilization

Photo courtesy Flickr

Relatively speaking, the threat of current weather conditions is trivial, but an ice storm is promised through noon today. I have not had to consider an involuntary loss of heat since 1969-usually I live cool by choice and assume the central city power supply as a given. With flickering lights and a severe chill factor, though, the prospect of domestic hypothermia is not just an abstract notion. The rule of thumb is that if you feel cold, you are cold. Check the end of your nose and act right away if it's cooling off. Be high maintenance rather than playing catch-up.

The streets are sheets of ice. Though I could mush out to a local coffee shop, I’d just as soon not bother, since I had other plans for the day. If the heat goes down, there are a couple of options that will keep me comfortable.

Working in bed is a given. Working in the warmest imaginable low-tech bed is another given.
A couple of years ago, as an act of deliberate folly, I improvised a four-poster frame for a mattress on a box base. I used galvanized iron greenhouse couplings and galvanized electrical conduit. The top of the structure is a painted slab of plywood lashed to the frame with zip ties. I happen to like high-tech furnishings, and this one is fun and elegant in an unpretentious way. The solid top is in the Elizabethan tradition of four-posters. I like to think it will protect a sleeper from cascading plaster in case of earthquake. The hangings are simple panels of high thread-count putty-colored cotton drop cloth. I installed elegant battery powered reading lights that are intended to be used in tents. Should the power go down, I can flip a down duvet onto the top of the bed for an added layer of insulation and nestle under another in the room within a room.

Not everyone happens to have a functional four-poster bed, but many of us have tents that hold themselves up without stakes. The political demonstrators in the Bangkok airport several years ago taught the world the value of freestanding tents as news cameras panned across the dozens of colorful little living units that spread across the lobby of the terminal.

It’s easy to set up a dome tent in a room-just keep the poles away from the knick-knacks. A tent and a four-poster are essentially the same critter. Improve the insulation in the tent by covering it with a warmth or two: a large comforter is ideal. The harder the circumstances, the less looks matter.

If conditions get really grim and other shelter is not available, improvise a tent with a table and any textiles on hand. Insulate the floor with layers of newspaper. Nibble and drink constantly.

Days like this one are the best argument for emergency preparedness. Unfortunately, I don’t have grounds to be smug. My supply of canned vegetables could be better and the chocolate is running low. There are ten grocery stores within a few blocks of the house, but I failed to factor in my current unwillingness to walk on ice. I wish I had a big cabbage in the refrigerator.

More after the jump.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Unscented House

Photo courtesy Flickr

Forget air freshener-just keep the house clean.

To that I’d add lose perfume: people who love food don’t appreciate scent that compromises the aromas of carefully prepared meals.

Lose refined sugar-it generates sour body odors that add extra loads to the laundry cycle.

Air the place in the morning and whenever the family gets grumpy.

Use unscented housekeeping products and cosmetics so you can keep in touch with your personal biochemistry.

As much as I love cats and hamsters, they offer intense challenges to keeping a wholesome atmosphere under the roof.

A carefully unscented interior is easy to perfume with just one or two flowers.

-30- More after the jump.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Photo courtesy Flickr
Way back in the day, I went to dinner with a fellow student and her mother, who was in town for a visit. We met Mrs. Elder at her hotel room, and I noticed that she had brought a couple of large scarves to make the space familiar. Mrs. E quipped that she could turn any home into a hotel room in a couple of minutes.

Recently, I stayed in that hotel for several days. In retrospect, turning a home into a hotel room doesn’t seem like such a bad idea.

The hotel is an elegant and dignified 1906 structure, a classical example of the local architecture known as “early lumber baron”. I like to stay there because the furniture and art don’t make me ill, because I love room service, and because for a city visit with train travel, it’s cheaper than a motel and rental car. The many amenities that come with the room mean I carry fewer pounds on the road. The owners manage the interiors to control housekeeping costs, and last week’s room was a good place to steal ideas for my own establishment.

The beds are memory foam, and the leveling qualities of those mattresses mean that the morning breakfast tray won’t tilt when I get up. A semi-informed guess suggests that a memory foam pad for a conventional mattress would at least provide the sleeping qualities of the foam. A self-inflating air mattress on the market has a memory foam layer that is as comfortable as my foam mattress at home. In fact, the air mattress is so comfortable, elegant, and easy to handle that I have considered replacing the bulky mattress with a side by side pair of inflatables.

The beds face a huge flat-panel television screen that sits on an interesting piece of storage furniture, a waist-high credenza with four doors that house the mini-bar, coffee maker, and a series of drawers. That piece would turn any room into a self-contained living unit. I’d just as soon do without the black hole of the screen, though. Any waist-high worktop is a useful surface for the speedy execution of tasks.

The room combines the spare and dignified functional essentials of a classical Roman interior with the comforting soft furnishings suitable to the local climate and mainstream market. I wouldn’t copy every element in the space, but the overall feeling suits right now just fine.

-30- More after the jump.