Thursday, January 10, 2013

Scrounging Light

Photo courtesy Flickr

The other day I lunched with a friend who left town in 1986, dragged off to Orange County kicking and screaming, clutching a fir tree and declaring her undying love for Western Washington. We looked out over a Market view of gray on gray, and I asked Jane if she missed Seattle. Naw, she said, she preferred daylight.

Jane’s quip came on top of a month of semi-desperate attempts to light the first floor of the house. Construction in the neighborhood has altered the pattern of light and shadow during what passes for daytime in December and January. Now the brightest light in the house, before three, is reflected off light brick walls to the east and north.

The construction has also revised the necessary patterns of visual privacy. I’ve been improvising sheer curtains with veils of agricultural row cover. It couldn’t be less expensive or easier to handle, seems to be less flammable than a T-shirt, and can obviously be recycled by leaving it at the nearest P-Patch. 

The row cover has been a success, but lighting is still problematic. The new shadows coincided with falling back to Standard Time and the installation of a retro carbon filament light bulb in the entry hall fixture. One late November afternoon, I came home and suddenly it felt like walking into the land of dim.

There were a couple of concentric wreath armatures and a few dozen gold Christmas balls on hand, so I mounted two circles of gold balls just above the light bulb to see if shiny surfaces would amplify and scatter what little light the bulb was contributing to the hall. They do that, and fairly well, but I failed to consider that they wouldn’t make the existing bulb any brighter.

There’s still a need. Candles will fill it, and I may just use them on the hall table when a bright welcome is in order. Many of the little rank of solar task lights from the Great Big Northern European Home Furnishings Chain sit idle, and a stack of three of them would replicate a standard Victorian hall fixture. I’ll have to fiddle with some kind of mini-shade for their aggressive blue LEDs, but that will be an entertaining way to fill the odd few minutes some late afternoon.

Righteous window washing and polishing brass will add a few lumens to the mix, flowers and white linen will lighten the atmosphere. It’s always amazing what old-fashioned housekeeping does to relieve the burden on utilities.

-30- More after the jump.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013


Photo courtesy Flickr

Certain senior gentlemen had a way of using their hands. When my grandfather built a fire, he prepared the bed of ashes, slowly and deliberately set out kindling and bigger fuel, made a pile of shavings with a razor-sharp pocket knife, laid the fire, lit it, and watched it take shape.

Although he was hunkered down at the hearth, he worked with his whole body. He had spent many months of his life living off the land in what became Olympic National Park and no doubt was fully aware of what can happen if one fails to light a badly needed fire.

A friend’s grandfather, who was a physician, loved his off the grid workshop and laid it out on a bench under a north window. The tools were arranged as carefully as those on a dentist’s tray. Dr. Woods died before I met my friend, but I used his shop now and then for small projects and cooked many times in the kitchen he designed around a wood stove. His work spaces were designed to support thoughtful, rational production.

At times, I have had the privilege of working on tasks of my own alongside visual artists. One, a scribe and industrial designer, set out the composition for a sign with the careful, light handed rhythms of a pastry chef, working standing at a slanted board. The other, whom I later realized was a musician, spent long hours decorating a chalkboard with a layered series of strokes that I should have put on tape. Each was working in the first degree.

I can’t always manage my work load with a firm hand. All too often, the day is an exercise in knee-jerk air traffic control, with unpredictable circumstances dictating the pace. I treasure the times when composure prevails, though, the work flows evenly, I can think with the balls of my feet, and the end result might be called good.

-30- More after the jump.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Rule Of Half

Photo courtesy Flickr

The Dutch simplicity community suggests reducing consumption by using half of what you normally do, until the quantity begins to be inadequate. The example given is toothpaste. I have found this technique very effective with things like butter, cream, laundry detergent-any consumable product. The rule of half is a good gateway into the conscious, judicious use of material items and an effective way to start losing weight.

Flip the rule of half and start thinking about using things one more time, a good way to reduce laundry and stay decent.

These behaviors happen most happily in a clean, carefully maintained environment. That’s the best argument I know for keeping the house in order.

-30-  More after the jump.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Farmhouse Revisited

Photo courtesy Flickr

Waiting for a movie to start, two Christmas visitors and I poked our noses into a fine boutique near the Market. The shop had an exceptional collection on the racks, and the hard goods on the shelves were the usual high end design.

My young companions each commented that the only consumer products that interest them are, respectively, kitchen gear and photographic equipment. Some years ago, I had the, for me, rare privilege of visiting a working farm. The production areas of the property were state of the art; the house and tabletop were unchanged from the late nineteenth century. Makes sense-domestic and table tech hasn’t evolved significantly except for shape and color.

My friends live for cooking and photography, produce much at home, and have priorities that displace conspicuous consumption. To their comments I would add that first-rate clothing and tabletop design are one-time purchases with very low cost per use. The right clothing reduces global warming.

-30-  More after the jump.