Friday, January 9, 2015

Five Hundred Tiny Steps Forward

Photo courtesy Flickr user stevehicks
In their new book, Messers Schmidt and Rosenberg share the wisdom of Google. Those five hundred tiny steps go somewhere. Long ago in a formative moment, I sat in an Outing Club meeting and listened to sophomores debate the wisdom of cutting off the handle of a toothbrush and trimming the bristles to save grams of weight on a climb. One of the participants became the first woman to summit K-2. A lifetime of similar modifications has gained me enough domestic slack to drive myself nuts in other areas.

Industrial efficiencies have been applied to home life since Christine Frederick adapted Frederick Taylor’s principles around the turn of the twentieth century. Cleaning guru Don Aslett’s recommendations transformed my weekly three-hour vacuum marathon into half an hour every other week. The gist is to take your shoes off in the house, store a thing where you use it first, and leave it ready to use the next time you take it up.

The culture tends not to appreciate the attentive approach that generates speed and flow in life support, but it’s worth the trouble literally to keep an eye on what one is doing. Treat the house like a sailboat and it will treat you like the captain rather than a deck hand. Click on any of today’s key words to bring up all the posts on the subject.  

PS: Hiker's note-to use leg muscles most efficiently, take tiny steps on a steep grade


More after the jump.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Horse, Then Cart

Photo courtesy Flickr user Chuckumentary
In a rite of passage, the pressure of events can obscure priorities. Particularly with a funeral, the stress of final illness and bereavement burdens judgement and cognition at the very time the most sensitive decisions must be made: a friend was recently left out of the loop for a memorial service in which she was scheduled to do a reading. The ceremony was planned by a woman who had been up for three days straight after years of elder care. A grieving daughter’s clerical error and a grieving niece’s failure to notice that something was missing combined to produce a no-show.

On a smaller scale, I set up an elaborate Easter breakfast for a gang of cousins, waited at the table for a couple of hours before rising to make some guilt-inducing phone calls, only to discover that my enthusiasm for polishing silver and ironing the ancestral tablecloth had trumped actually notifying the family of the basics: who, what, when, where, and why.

Prevent miscommunications by maintaining a meticulous address list with entries noted exactly as they are to be copied. Designate a trusted associate to act as social secretary. Years of freelancing calligraphic social invitations left me familiar with the many chapters of many print versions of etiquette books. I encouraged clients to choose one volume as a reference so that I could avoid unintentionally insulting people’s grandmothers.

There is standard practice in funerals and memorial services just as there is standard practice in a wedding. Convention is a powerful ally that allows one to delegate. Just read the manual and set up a check list. The key phrase to remember is simply to say, “I’m sorry” to the bereaved. Do not improvise.

More after the jump.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Always Getting Ready

Photo courtesy Flickr user elPadawan
Historian Susan Strasser’s housekeeping trilogy starts with the blockbuster Never Done describing the history of European-American domestic responsibilities. In her subsequent volumes, Strasser goes on to explain the evolution of consumer culture, now capable of considering just-in-time supply via a thirty minute wait for a drone air drop.

I find it both heartening and unsettling to contemplate Strasser’s history of life support as we know it. A recent visit to the home of a dear friend struggling with the multiple demons of chemo, an avalanche of heirlooms, paperwork, and establishing a live/work situation reminded me of a showing of aboriginal culture that a local gallery presented some years ago.

I knew Cape Dorset prints from a beautifully printed card a painter friend had sent me. The card was designed by the woman who brought her village to the attention of the arts community. The gallery titled its display “Always Getting Ready”. The printmaker explained that traditional Inuit life progressed through the seasons, taking advantage of the bounty and challenges of each.

As a young adult, I loved and reveled in the seasonal rhythms of private local life. Matrons of European descent gathered the same berries as the Squaxin and Suquamish. Unusual for her cohort, my mother worked outside the home. She was no chambermaid. I learned young to run a tight operation, forgot it as soon as I was free to do so, and went over my notes as fast as I could after the baby arrived.

With a long and hard-earned perspective, I can finally say that getting ready is far more than half the fun. With the right ducks in the right rows, labor simply disappears. The trick is to lighten up and simplify. I find it helpful to ask myself if I would value a thing if I had to carry it on my back for three hundred miles. Since anything I carry in inventory does sit on my back in effect, the question has knocked many an unproductive artifact into the Goodwill bag.

More after the jump.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

At The Door

Photo courtesy Flickr user Another Pint Please
Now and then, I flip on broadcast television and the screen lands on Bert Wolf. It’s like finding a true prize in a package of Cracker Jack. Wolf’s subject matter might seem sedate-most of what I’ve seen is travel-but his writing and research are superbly witty and realistic. I first imprinted on Wolf in the Seventies while watching him prepare a dish on a local food show. The interviewer asked him if he ever used a food processor, and Wolf interrupted his furious chopping to declare, “I’m a food processor. I can’t stand the competition.”


More after the jump.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Hot Wash

Photo courtesy Flickr user elana's pantry
The term describes the discussion and analysis that follows an event and its related actions. Christmas taught me the following:

set a discreet Goodwill bag close to the exit and use it, fast

off-load sweet treats onto the nearest fifteen-year-old boy, right away

calendar planning safe and sane menus for mid-November

buy a stack of fine Italian nougat treats to use as hostess trade goods

stock sparkling fruit juices in lieu of champagne

half a pear loves a good chocolate sauce

the Original Import Chain stocks a riot of sweet treats and good colored tissue for gift wrap 

a small live Christmas tree decorated with cordless lights can be carried here and there like a beloved lap dog

the same live tree can be planted in the garden and later harvested to use on Christmas Future

exercise “preventive simplicity” in holiday planning to leave slack for unexpected stresses

it’s easier to stuff a parcel into a mailer than to spend half a day herding a vehicle around city streets.

Happy New Year, and thanks for reading Deft!

More after the jump.