Friday, May 1, 2015

The Peg Bracken Strategy

A Portland, Oregon, advertising colleague of the father of “Simpsons” Matt Groening, Ms. Bracken contributed mightily to the black humor of Fifties’ housekeeping. Her I Hate to Housekeep advocates committing all reserves in tackling a day of maintenance. The place will be awful until it is better. The process is similar to building a geodesic dome: wrestling  an argumentative bundle of sticks into a featherweight structure strong and stable beyond imagining.

Abundant solitude over the last few weeks has given me a chance to tune the house in response to the drastic changes in daylight generated by new construction around the building. Bracken-style, I start at the far end of the attic setting things where I want them, displacing redundant stuff to be reconfigured somewhere else, preferably in solid waste, and writing notes to myself about what to do next. I sweep through the building ridgepole to sump, posting bold sticky notes on this and that so I only have to make a decision once.

Now that I only climb a ladder with a spotter, an overhaul can take days to resolve, but the process is worth the trouble. I end up with a support facility that works like greased lightning. Every time I go through the exercise, the gains are greater. Basic principles are to store things where I use them first and to leave them ready to use again after I am finished.

More after the jump.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Boudoir

The word, Euro equivalent of “menstrual hut”, is a lovely and useful term that translates into “sulking room”. My first retreat was an eight by eight ventilated closet in a railroad flat. It held a drawing table and a cot, opening up a whole new universe of tranquility and self-determination.

A wise elder who held a black belt in social engineering advised me to reply “I can’t” when asked to do something I didn’t want to do. If pressed, I was to repeat “I can’t, I just can’t” with a little histrionics thrown in.

Now and then when things get thick, I remember the nineteenth century pope who insisted that people be allowed enough rest to behave well. Fair enough. A current and equally useful rule of thumb is that down time, in knowledge work at least, is productive time. The boudoir is an ace. The trick is to recognize when one is about to lose it, and then lose it in private.

More after the jump.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015


I trained in housekeeping with my grandmother, some of whose people had been innkeepers. I am just now capable of appreciating her genius for biochemistry. Old school matrons safeguarded the health and happiness of the family with etiquette and cooking pots. The art was occluded by science, medicine, and consumer culture.

When I came home after a day at work, Nana would call out reminding me to take off my hat and coat, hang them up, and come into the dining room to sit for a while and catch my breath. I’d have a little something to eat and drink, enough to get my blood sugar up so that I could relate and enjoy the process of serving, consuming, and cleaning up dinner.

Enforcing a simple break after arriving home is, I find, enough to demolish the frantic multi-tasking that turns so much of private life into an exercise in air traffic control. The rule of thumb is to work no faster than one can maintain good form and to quit when form begins to deteriorate. 

In the mid-Fifties, when the first suburbs were proliferating, the American Heart Association commissioned cartoonist Robert Osborn to write and illustrate a book that addressed stress. Medical studies had just identified type A and type B personalities. Osborn on Leisure was the result. I was raised on Heart’s edition, and as I stepped out the front door the other day, I looked at the yard and remembered Osborn's simple question, “How much lawn are we going to mow?”

More after the jump.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The First Of May, Old School Seattle Style

It was standard practice for kids to make paper May baskets, fill them with whatever flowers were blooming, and hang them on neighbors’ doors. The first brought a May pole dance to my north end grade school, and the girls broke out pastel cotton skirts. As late as 1986, Broadway on Capitol Hill enjoyed short tours from Morris dancers, who jingled their way through the concrete and overcast dawn of early busses and the local greasy spoon.

More after the jump.

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Ponytail

The thread-covered protective bands sold in the hair care aisle at my friendly local drugstore work just as hard in housewares. When I fold a director’s chair, I use them to lash together the uprights. They’re good for bundling the odd bunch of artifacts, too, like cheap flatware.

Custom-cut nylon tape with hooks on one side and loops on the other controls the wandering vine of an electrical cord. I also stow a small roll of it in the wheeled backpack I use in lieu of a truck.

Gaffer and mounting tapes anchor circuit-breaking multi-tap outlets at convenient places. After losing a thousand dollars worth of energy slaves to a power surge, I now keep everything on a fuse.

Zip ties rule the world, or at least my piece of it.

In the beginning, Henry Ford announced that car buyers could have any color they wanted, as long as it was black. I am finding it convenient to stock staples like the list above only in black. One less variable in my life is one more bit of ease.

More after the jump.