Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Please Turn Out The Lights

Photo courtesy Flickr

The recent Boeing machinist’s union vote brought back memories of Seattle in 1970. The local version of the Concorde had failed to materialize, and property values plummeted. In 1970, Boeing had bet the company on its supersonic transport. The machinists appear to have bet the union on their recent ballot.

In ’70, I could have bought a waterfront bungalow a few doors south of Jeanette Rockefeller for $26k. Every local had a could-have story, and quite a few did. As local news covered the recent voting process, I found myself wondering whether the membership was old enough to recall 1970. 

Visualizing a worst-case real estate scenario in the suburbs, I wonder whether property values will hold here in the center of town close to the digital employment that has transformed the city. Tiny rental units within walking distance of work are popular (neighbors moved fifteen blocks west to halve their commute). Concentrating population in the urbs is a conscious strategy for reducing the number of people the environment must carry in the next century.

When mass suburbs were new, a free-standing single family home was intended to be nearly self-sufficient. World War Two had taught the value of access to cropland and of a haven out of harm’s way for starving city dwellers flinching at bombs and artillery. Dear friends and role models defied convention and raised their children in the rental heart of San Francisco during the Fifties and Sixties. They retreated to a waterfront tree farm over the summer. 

If outlying neighborhoods fall out of demand in the next few years and covenants permit, it might make sense to own an older suburban house sited on the good farmland that is so rare in Western Washington. Install a caretaker/intensive farmer to work the place, and use it as a week-end retreat from life in town. Ideally, a property would be located within easy walk of public transportation. Garden catalogues list electrically assisted carts with substantial carrying capacity. I’m not talking American dream here, just the down to earth practicality of a tiny country estate, which is what the suburbs were, originally.

I could see portable small scale canneries and abbatoirs appearing to preserve crops, on-site recycling of all bio-waste to enrich the soil, and friends and relations enjoying the benefits of a small share farm.

More after the jump.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013


Photo courtesy Flickr

The annual trek to Northgate’s theatrical, display, and costume supply store happened last week-end. The Christmas section is a reliable vital sign of the economy: it’s three times the size of the last couple of years.

I love to cruise this place looking for products that are so fundamental and innovative that they enrich the household far out of proportion to their price or weight. Strings of ornamental lights have become year-round staples: in this climate, they’re a medical necessity. The store features a huge unbreakable red plastic ornamental ball about fifteen inches in diameter. It ain’t cheap, but just one would furnish a Charlie Brown style tree.

I found a set of forty finger-length clear plastic spoons that are decent, elegant, and a reasonable investment for the number of times I am ever likely to want a tiny coffee spoon. A cupcake outfit sells a ready-to-assemble three tier cardboard pastry server so festive and agreeable that I bought one to give to a baker as a minor Christmas present. It inspired me to plan on using mounting tape to stack a large tray, immaculate flower pot, medium tray, and footed candy dish for a potluck that’s coming up soon. 

I contemplated strewing mylar confetti over the same potluck table, but backed off because mylar does not compost. Specks of mylar confetti have evaded the vacuum cleaner for as long as fifteen years. I’ll substitute the colorful shredded crimped paper sold as gift packing. 

The carnival store is located at one edge of a neighborhood that was designated an urban village a couple of mayors back. The area centers on Seattle’s first shopping mall, built on land clear cut from virgin rain forest, turf that’s never been logged, like Brazil. Over the last year it’s been transformed from the dreary remains of a post-war veteran’s paradise into not an urban, but a truly global village. Mermaid Coffee was simmering with real estate closing, student orientation for a veiled girl, and countless frisky family tables of internet-savvy young adults. A new twenty-four hour breakfast dive offers welcome respite for the feet.

On our way from the bus stop to carnival central, we happened across a boutique specializing in batteries and light bulbs. Prices on familiar items were very good, and this is the greenest store I’ve run across in years. It stocks whatever source of illumination one might want to keep an existing light fixture in operation. One display shows the effects of differing light technologies on the same charts of color while another quizzes the shopper about which light source is affecting which surface. It’s comforting and challenging to browse a space that assumes I am educable.

The bus ride home was interrupted by a cell call, and I changed my travel plans, discovering Metro Route 68 in the process. This route links several favorite shopping destinations that became well-nigh unreachable after I discarded the car nearly twenty years ago. The 68 links University Village, upper Roosevelt, and Northgate in a neat loop with the UW campus.

More after the jump.

Monday, November 25, 2013


Photo courtesy Flickr

Healthy chow. Yesterday's Sunday CBS Morning show broadcast useful insights about what we’re up against in the grocery store, as well as inspiring industrial food concepts like “the bliss factor”. The segment is titled "marketing healthy snacks like junk food"

The bliss factor, or the absence thereof, explains why the neighbors sniped at my cooking the other day when I was not doing justice to a batch of raw ingredients.  Even the visiting locksmith sniped. I like living on a block where foodies diss careless preparation. 


More after the jump.