Friday, March 6, 2015

Steak Night

Photo courtesy Flickr user brewbooks
In the early Sixties a friend and I hiked Olympic National Park’s wilderness beach. When it was time to find a ride north back to his truck, my companion instructed me to thumb at the roadside while he hid in the ditch with our packs. A gallant young logger pulled over in his Morris Minor and proved a good sport when Sam jumped out of the tules. The driver mentioned to my hearty buddy that the outfit he worked for was looking for choker setters.

I’m barely qualified to make this comment, but my understanding is that setting chokers is a good job to have if you’d rather not bother with a 401K. Sam was in employment crisis, having been offered responsible positions with both sides of a hotly contested issue in his home state. He was willing, and incidentally able, to contemplate spending the summer leaping around in the brush trying to slip a gyrating loop of chain onto a large piece of wood. Sam followed our host to an interview in the tented mess hall that fed a hundred or so members of the crew. Fifteen minutes later, he emerged white as the proverbial sheet.

Before the driver got back to the car, Sam turned and gasped over his shoulder, “There’s a cougar in the tent.     It’s steak night.     The cat is so wild no one has the nerve to chase it out.”    No doubt the tribesman who introduced him got a few chuckles out of the moment.


More after the jump.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Flexible Room

Photo courtesy Flickr user joseph a
People who lived in a traditional Japanese farmhouse slept wherever was convenient on a given night, couch-surfing under a home roof. The ordinary cycles of a year and occasional variations in the local soundscape provoke changes in how we use this place. 

Most of the rooms in the house are decorated the same. Most of the furnishings have been placed in most of the rooms at one time or another. After several decades, the useless and inharmonious is gone. What remains can turn on a dime when weather or a noisy festival suggest using a different corner for a good night’s sleep.

Centralizing storage in the least appealing room on each floor slashes the amount of time it takes to set up a new arrangement. Not long ago, I singlehandedly reconfigured three rooms in under an hour, including cleaning.

A key to this system is the personal side bag that holds a computer, telephone, water bottle, and small kit of emergency essentials. The flashlight and multi-tool from the kit support internal mobility by eliminating dependence on a bedside table lamp or fixed tool depot. A solar-charged task light and battery-powered fan complete a comfortable, flexible sleeping set-up.

At the moment, I’m contemplating improvising a supplemental sleeping arrangement on the ground floor of the house. The area is next to the kitchen and powder room, making life support straightforward. A traditional Anglo house was always designed with a sleeping area off the kitchen to support birthing and home nursing.

More after the jump.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015


Photo courtesy Flickr
Speed through life with the following:

film industry gaffer’s tape
mounting tape
bookbinder’s linen tape
double-sticky tape
super-sticky nylon tent mending tape
easy-tear clear mailing tape.

I supply myself at the North End Academic Bookstore and the Great Big Hiking Co-op.


More after the jump.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015


Photo courtesy Flickr user nick.garrod
From time to time the ordinary progress of tasks through various domestic pipelines increases suddenly. I notice minor repairs, bits of mending, inventory sorting, obscure maintenance requirements, and find myself staring stupidly at uninvited petty challenges.

The temptation is to ignore tune-ups in favor of more “important” tasks. Doing so is as productive as ignoring an oil change in the car. Standard procedure here is to store things in a home position close to where they’re used first and leave them ready to use again when I’m finished. Standard procedure defines a clear pattern of flow in inventory. When maintenance is necessary, I set up tools and materials close to the task or move the task close to a convenient work space. Jobs live on the stylish cafeteria trays I use for meal service or in legally acquired industrial dairy crates. Disposable nitrile gloves halve the time of any chore.

A houseful of work set-ups parked here and there looks disorganized, but I have learned to respect the mess. If I hide tasks, they abscess. A waist-high stack of crates tells me clearly that it’s time to carve out a day to catch up. Most things claiming my attention take only minutes to resolve. Hidden, they can take years and cost hundreds.

More after the jump.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Mrs. Fumbles

See footnote. Photos courtesy Flickr user florriebassingbourn.
Legendary Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist Doug Welch wrote about his neighborhood, a “pride of ownership” area that as far as I know still steps in to lend a hand to residents who are, uh, getting behind on maintenance. Welch describes a housecleaning intervention where a group volunteers gathered to sanitize the kitchen of a woman noted for her lack of fine motor skills. The phrase I remember is “Mrs So and So drew the floor by Mrs Fumbles’ stove and cried”.

The politics and psychology of housekeeping intervention are beyond even my ability and willingness to meddle, but the basic idea makes sense for volunteers. It’s like a barn raising that concentrates on the ground. In the early Seventies, women cleaned each others’ houses to earn Social Security credit.

Decades of casual reading in housekeeping and etiquette leave me with an appreciation of standard practice. Conforming to cultural norms makes it simple to lend a hand or to accept one. Cheryl Mendelsohn wrote the bible, Home Comforts, the British National Trust Manual of Housekeeping defines archival practice, Andy Warhol drew table settings for Amy Vanderbilt, and Miss Manners’ Star Spangled Manners supplies the laugh track.

Welch was famous for his Park Board reports, in which he described the ladies’ fetching outfits and-in the mid-Fifties-those of the gentlemen as well. His archive is housed in the UW Library’s Special Collection.

NB: Old pros doing a two-person job. Start lengthwise, pull square  and tight. bottom side out.  Knot a flat sheet at the corner to fit it-more versatile and easier to store. White is the easiest color to manage. 


More after the jump.