Friday, December 23, 2016

The Cloth Napkin, A Primer

Stand your ground: use substantial paper or a righteous dish towel or bar wipe instead of flimsy cotton imports that are better suited to use as handkerchiefs. A top quality Irish linen napkin costs around $35 a unit and is worth every penny. Lower thread count linen from the Great Big Northern European Home Furnishings chain runs around $6 a unit and looks alright line dried, folded smooth, and set on the table without benefit of iron.

A lap generously covered with absorbent, protective fabric allows a guest to relax -30- More after the jump.

Thursday, December 22, 2016


An acquaintance mentioned the pleasure of detailing her partner's inherited commercial drafting table, the kind that weighs hundreds of pounds, is five or six feet wide, and is supported by a chest of many drawers. Her description of the process reminded me of the best value in used goods: something that needs merely to be washed. To that, the in-house geek would add something that needs to be washed that has a blown fuse. Between us we have paid pennies for thousands of dollars in gently used merchandise.

Supply yourself with bookbinder's archival leather dressing, biker's chrome polish from Germany, pointed grooming swabs, palm-sized wipers cut from old t-shirts, the Yin-Yang grocery chain's window washing spray, and neutral pH detergent from a janitorial supply. Add neutral-colored "Bright Wax", Magical Sliding castors for feet, and markers and shoe polish to touch up dings. The North End's academic bookstore is a good place to start shopping -30- More after the jump.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Classic And Clever

The annual run to the Original Import Chain yielded the lazy housekeeper's version of Christmas baking and a quick survey of the state of the market for home entertaining. My uninformed sense of design and production suggests that the chain, that started business in a ramshackle space in North Beach, has shaped the course of tabletop merchandising.

The outfit can be counted on to supply nifty versions of otherwise expensive amenities. I noted a $25 shallow rectangular tray in irresistible red certified non-toxic by the state of California. That clearly is one of the chain's keepers. Their cake stand is a pet, too.

I picked up a year's worth of gift wrap accessories to supplement the bandannas I use as furoshiki -30-

More after the jump.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Winter Wear (and Tear)

In my experience, careful attention to life support and pedestrian transportation keep metabolism at its best during the dark days of winter cold. I speak as a fifth-generation western Washingtonian who has listened to many a recent arrival bemoan seasonal affective disorder.

Light therapy and medication did not exist when my elders were protecting their families from the subtle despair of borderline malnutrition and equally borderline hypothermia. Firelight is no small ally. Set tea lights in votives (small canning jars or, ideally, fake snowballs molded out of clear glass) on a highly polished brass tray if you don't have a real hearth. Wear wool if you can tolerate it. There is no substitute. Wool costs less per use than fleece.

I find it easiest to monitor and plan my food consumption if I avoid alcohol, recreational drugs, and commercial food. My alma mater recently advised shunning media and burying myself in the library-a bonny move, it turns out. Life in the slow lane is healthy and profitable.

The pantry is stocked with the basics of low-tech nineteenth century life support. Dried and canned staples protect inventory from power outages. Smoked pork and salmon products supply ready protein. This is as old-school as Seattle can be. The current breath taking abundance of fresh market vegetables and fruits, not to mention the local coffee supply, provides the other half of the best of both worlds.

Disconnecting the television has freed the time and attention I need to visualize the down home cuisine I most enjoy when the weather is foul and the sky too dark. Small appliances like an electronic pressure cooker provide the unattended back of the cook stove slow food I learned to appreciate over a winter spent snowbound gazing at ten-foot icicles. That was a happy period, one I have found simple to recreate a stone's throw from downtown -30-

More after the jump.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Faking A Grand Table

Set forth a groaning board by copying the original groaning board. It was a board. In the middle ages, planks laid across trestles formed the table for a hall house. There is no difference between that and the hollow-core door set across a pair of folding plastic sawhorses that lives on the south wall in my family parlor. A folding table from an office supply embodies the spirit of the medieval original.

Disguise the structure by draping it to the floor with a painter's cloth. Finesse the corner excess so that no one trips on it. There are charming pastel cloths in plastic bonded to paper. Brown kraft paper will do, and the putty-colored low thread count cotton version has become a furnishing staple in my interior. I would use a plastic tarp if it seemed to make sense. A mylar emergency blanket would be spectacular under the right circumstances.

Top the table skirt with a waterproof layer to protect it from stains, and add an upper cloth for the meal in question. "Cloth" can read "more paper"-guests enjoy writing on the table covering. You can set out a glass of markers or crayons.

Add tea lights in faceted glass canning jars or salvage from the recycling bin. Carefully folded paper towels will challenge no decent sensibilities. Plain white paper plates send a dignified message. Substantial plastic forks and spoons are better than nothing and much better than cheesy ones. They might cost more than a handful of stainless from the local thrift store, though. I appreciate a consistent appearance. Disposable chop sticks make short work of green salad. Fold a twist of paper to use as a chop stick support. Plan a menu that does not call for a table knife.

Go truly medieval by asking guests to bring their own cutlery. Go Afro by asking them to bring their own chair.

Serve in new brown bags with the tops folded into a double hem. Turn cardboard cartons inside out to their clean brown side and line them with foil or plastic. Decorate the table with flowers from the grocery chain simply trimmed and laid on the surface. Trim weary petals from bargain flowers. Straightforward place cards written on the back of business cards allow strategic seating. 

A buffet sidesteps seating. Crowding adds fun to a carefully considered presentation -30-

More after the jump.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Warm The Honey

Every morning starts with oatmeal. I sweeten it with honey. This time of year the squeeze dispenser needs a power assist. I began to warm the container in a bowl of boiling water. In the process, I discovered that warmed honey has subtle overtones of flavor that surpass any flavoring agent or liqueur -30-
More after the jump.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Trembling In Town

At a leisurely week-end breakfast table, the lighting was just right to reflect the surface of the dregs of a cup of dark-roasted coffee. I noticed that the surface was rippling. A few moments contemplation revealed that the cup was a low-tech seismograph.

I lifted my hands from the table and the coffee stopped moving quite so much. Setting my hands back on the table brought up the pulse that was being transmitted. Footsteps in the house and ambient traffic kept the surface gently moving no matter what.

I draw two conclusions from these observations. First, this 1890 structure built from fir cut from virgin rain forest is indeed a resonating unit.  Second, the Sixties' consideration of "vibes" is a literal exercise -30- More after the jump.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016


Over the week-end I enjoyed a particularly delicious lunch of many leftovers. Unsalted potato chips pulled the menu together. It's taken a long time, but I have grown to appreciate a diet that omits salt and sugar. The foods that seem most healthful all seem to leave a neutral or pleasant taste in my mouth -30-
More after the jump.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

A Sheet Of Paper

I like to ground my life in low-tech systems.  Organizing yesterday, I happened to glance at a sheaf of eight and a half sulfite bond destined for the file folder that supports the printer.

A fresh sheet of utility-grade paper is no small feat. Behind it lies a forest, a factory, shipping systems, and a collection of carbon-expensive facilities that keep it smooth, dry, clean, and ready to use  -30-

More after the jump.

Monday, December 12, 2016

This Old Sink Revisited

The 1890 hand washing sink off the kitchen dates from the period when American plumbing was the envy of the world. Raw materials and train transportation were cheap and abundant. The sink is a thick casting of iron coated with an equally thick fired layer of white enamel. Its long history has been a fortunate one of careful and diligent maintenance. From time to time I have contemplated having the sink recoated, but the evolution of the neighborhood still makes making do the more rational choice. Consequently, I can contemplate the sink and realize that it represents a living encyclopedia of cleaning techniques.

Before the Seventies, it was standard practice to abrade the surface of a plumbing fixture with coarse pumice. Go figure. Someone realized that leaving sand out of the cleaning product would protect the surface one was trying to refresh and keep the drains from silting up in the process.

It took a while to find ways to manage the porous surface of the powder room sink, but over time I have discovered ways to make it presentable. When I was using bar soap, it left a waxy residue that was the devil to remove. I would fill the sink with boiling water and detergent, let it soak, and then drain and scrub with the white nylon pad that is sold for cleaning floors. A rinse and boiling soak with bleach followed, and then I drained the sink, toweled it dry (always a good way to finish), and polished the brightwork with biker's chrome polish. I've only had to do that several times over the last few decades. It's a good way to restore any vintage fixture. 

Once the pores of the porcelain are clean and sanitized, relatively minor attention will keep it fresh. I find that sloshing the surface with the undiluted neutral pH janitorial cleaning liquid I use on floors, letting it sit for a minute or two (Don Aslett calls this dwell time), and then rinsing keeps the surface clean.

Different cleaning agents remove different fractions of soil. Regular attention with one product will leave subliminal residue that eventually becomes apparent. I switched to sloshing window cleaning solution from the YinYang grocery chain over the sink when I could see the residue with my glasses off. A brief dwell and scrub got me a clean fixture.

When the spray bottle of hydrogen peroxide I use to sanitize salad greens was nearly empty, I sloshed the dregs over the sink, forgot about them for the day, and returned to wash my hands over a pristine surface. Now and then I spray the sink with white vinegar, the other half of the salad-sanitizing duo. 

Aslett, a house-cleaning guru, says that, like teeth, surfaces accumulate plaque. When the sink is clean and garden tools out of the room, the space smells fresh and immaculate -30-

More after the jump.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Hominy Salad

Find a can of hominy that's sized to your liking. The small ones are hard to find, but an oversized unfamiliar brand from Eastern Washington turned out to be delectable.

Drain and rinse the hominy. Heat a skillet and melt a little too much unsalted buter. When it's bubbling, add the hominy and fry until the kernels are half their size and starting to pop in the pan. Grind black pepper over the pan, turn a bit, and pull off the heat when things start to brown. 

At this point, I spoon the hominy into the small, shallow glass baking dishes that are my all-purpose refrigerator storage units.

Sanitize leaves from the best head of butter lettuce you can lay your hands on. Rinse and dry carefully and dress with olive oil and a generous squeezing of fresh lemon. Use the fried hominy in lieu of croutons. I'd just set it on top of the torn lettuce in a big noodle bowl.

The butter coating on the hominy interacts with the lemon juice to produce, frankly, a gobbling good dish of fresh greens -30- More after the jump.

Thursday, December 8, 2016


A graphic arts instructor emphasized the importance of margins in the design of the page. A classic layout devotes just fifty percent of the frame (exterior dimensions) to copy. I find that managing my time in a sustainable way demands the same, or nearly the same, proportion of production to rest.

For many healthy years I have been privileged to attend a weekly support group for persons afflicted with a dread disease. The chaos inflicted on household systems when that particular black swan sails by is greatly reduced by orderly rows of ducks.

I shut the television off a month ago and finally gained the summit of my paper midden -30- More after the jump.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Bucket Etiquette

Store upside down to protect innocent insects from being trapped -30-
More after the jump.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Easy Peas

Drain and rinse a can of black-eyed peas. Add chopped pickled red pepper, the little round ones. Scrape out the seeds before chopping. Mix with a pinch of powdered garlic and wine vinegar ordinaire. This is my quick take on a carefully composed side dish from Tanya Holland's cookbook.

I am finding it convenient to assemble a giant bowl of sanitized salad greens to use as an underlayer for deli and leftovers -30- More after the jump.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Tea Cups

Bethany stopped by for morning therapy after losing a mutual friend. We consoled ourselves with a pot of tea and my grandmother's hand-painted dishes and cut-work napkins. Much solace is to be had from heirlooms that have been offering comfort ["that which generates courage"] for generations.

Bethany remarked that another mutual friend is as ready as I to rattle off details about a little vessel that's in hand. Beth is the fastest take I have known about quality and good design. She assessed her cup and commented that the handle was agreeable and that she'd suffered unusable handles on other tea cups. Whether to discuss possessions at all is a subtle point of etiquette.

The conversation could be summed up as what is it about dishes, anyway? a question that can be answered over a convenient number of hours or days. My short take on the Western Washington version of the topic is that dishes from a reputable manufacturer, generally English, back in the day could be counted on not to contain poisonous glazes. It is only recently that government regulation has more or less protected the general public from the heavy metals that produce such alluring color. Careful consideration of table top design is the consumer feedback mechanism for the ceramics industry.

Victoria, B.C., was the nearest shopping destination for quality goods when Seattle was young. It was routine to take the ferry up for an overnight visit that qualified one for a free pass on the way back through customs. Victoria is still the destination of choice for fine table linens, tweed jackets, and discreetly designed travel clothing. High-end items are the most serviceable and cheapest per use, and English goods most suited to the local climate.

In the late nineteenth century, local tribes were still the dominant presence. European occupation of the area was brand new. It was a major statement to be able to present a meal according to the best traditions of the old world by the open hearth of the family log cabin. At the time, there were no restaurants, and private hospitality was literally a matter of life and death. The Victorian etiquette of the period survives still in this westernmost outpost of Anglo culture, as old school Spanish etiquette lingered on in Puerto Rico long after the region changed hands. Victoria's oldest house museum represents a domestic tradition that prevailed on both sides of the Straits of Juan de Fuca, when ownership of the Oregon Territory had not been determined. Tacoma's Fort Nisqually restoration presents telling details about living at the end of a supply chain that stretched halfway around the world. Being able to claim blanket space at the foot of the stairs in the blockhouse was a privilege, and being able to eat off blue willow pottery a stunning achievement. 

I believe simple hygiene is the key to understanding fine tabletop furnishings: silver is anti-bacterial and does not generate carcinogenic rust, fine ceramics are durable, non-toxic, and do not harbor what my grandmother called wigglers in discoloring  cracks. The waterproof imagery of fine dishes must have been very welcome in rustic areas. Highly polished metal and glazes amplify ambient light in a low-tech room illuminated by candles and fire. Light is a nutrient desperately needed over a Northwest winter.

Fine home furnishings were a reservoir of wealth that was untaxed until the collectibles regulation of the Eighties. That period and the late Seventies were ones of ravenous acquisition of old things that had not previously been fashionable. The economic pressures that drove women into the outside work force generated the simplification and outsourcing of many domestic procedures. I comprehend the household as having been transformed from an end to a means.

Norma Skurka's New York Times Book of Interior Design and Decoration is a reliable survey of the period of transition. Faith and Edward Deming Andrews' Shaker Furniture is the benchmark guide to an alternative vision. The owner of a Seventies New York deli, whose name I do not remember, set the course of the future by using chrome-plated commercial wire kitchen shelving and white coffee shop china in her domicile.

The straightforward good sense of white restaurant china echoes the so-called casual living style that migrated north from California during the Fifties. The difference is who is setting the table. Experience in commercial food service reinforces direct, no-nonsense presentation rather than the borderline ceremonial ritual that can be traced back to groaning medieval boards -30-

More after the jump.

Friday, December 2, 2016

The Wiper

I can't keep house without a generous supply of wipers. My current favorite is the terry washcloth with a hanging loop that is sold at the Great Big Northern European Home Furnishings Chain.

A veteran housekeeper and mother of four clued me to the value of a flimsy washcloth. It's especially good for cleaning babies, she said, and I agree. The same canny dame used tip towels as napkins.

For years I have experimented with various bar and shop towels and napkins trying to find one all-purpose wiper that can gradually migrate from table to bath to cleaning cupboard to paint locker. The risk of cross-contamination is too great, it seems, and so I simply demote a wiper to painting duty as stains accumulate.

Housecleaning guru Don Aslett points out the value of using a hemmed wiper rather than a rag for doing the best work. A well-stocked cleaning cupboard (or locked tool kit) is a cost of labor  -30- More after the jump.

Thursday, December 1, 2016


Keep the morning room warm. People are reptiles when they first wake up -30-
More after the jump.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The January Edit

Now is a good time to plan post-holiday changes in the interior. Gifts and new acquisitions rightfully displace aging and redundant gear. Make the most of every precious cubic inch of space by passing along things that have been improved on.

Doing so is not waste. Doing so protects the most valuable asset of all, attention. In my world, at least, it is trivial to acquire needed gear. Industry refers to the principle as "just in time supply" -30- More after the jump.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Best Landlady Ever

I had the privilege of occupying a waterfront apartment in the home of a Greek couple. Early on, I ran upstairs to pay the rent, and mine hostess invited me to take a cup of coffee. As we sat in her elegant living room, Anna pointed out the threadbare carpet and observed,"Every time we get the money saved up to replace it, we go back to Greece instead."

On an earlier trip, she and her husband had planned to adopt a child. They found a pair of siblings and cheerfully came home with two, instead -30- More after the jump.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Air Sofa

The padded furniture in the house is perfectly serviceable, but some years' experimentation has proven the value of field mattresses as a sleeping surface on the frame of a conventional couch.

I held on to the ancestral three-seater's steel-spring cushions, but a newer, lesser piece was ripe for changes. I threw out the foam cushions with their poly floral covering and simply laid on a deluxe self-inflating car camping mattress from The Great Big Hiking Co-op. The mattress was modular with the couch.

The piece is now lighter and ready to do triple duty as a sleeping surface and reserve piece of field gear. I could have upholstered it with hot glue and any yardage, but I chose to toss a couple of queen-sized quilted  bedspreads from The Great Big Northern European Home Furnishings Chain over the frame and fold an Oregon Rodeo blanket around the pad. The visuals fit the casual room they serve, and the blanket is heaven to snuggle on during the rainy months.

Secure a loose cover by rolling newspaper tightly and tucking it into the edges of the underseat. Finish by adding Magical Nylon Sliders to the feet. The sliders act like wheels -30-
More after the jump.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Easy Feast

I grilled carrots and onions separately in a basket in a very hot convection oven, spraying them with baking spray and grinding generous amounts of black pepper over them. I shook the basket frequently to ensure even browning.

A home-grown Yukon potato volunteer treated the same way turned out to be the tastiest fry I ever ate. There was little left over from my feeding frenzy.

The grilled roots were planned to keep on hand to use for improvising meals. They proved to be good back-up for a couple of pork chops that were lightly breaded and pan-broiled in an excess of canola oil. When I pulled the chops out of the frying pan, I tossed in the leftover roots to heat them up. The pan juices and extra heat added a layer of complex flavor and caramelization to the roasted roots that made a delicious main dish with next to no effort  -30- More after the jump.

Monday, November 21, 2016


Fly through housekeeping by housekeeping on the fly. Close out a room when you finish a task. Put every artifact in its next destination or at least set it closer to its destination. Take a moment to look around and see that things are in order, and you can forget about the space and move on to the next enterprise. Do the same with a digital desktop.

This approach integrates with David Allen's Getting Things Done, that lays out ways to turn paper management into familiar housekeeping procedures -30-
More after the jump.

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Loaner

Keep a small pocket knife in your collection of guest amenities. Back yourself up at airport security by carrying a self-addressed padded mailer for items that won't pass inspection -30-
More after the jump.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Vital Sign

The amount of edible food that goes into the compost receptacle is an unerring indication of how the household is being managed. The USDA web site lists shelf lives of various products. Now and then I am horrified by a listing.

We are fortunate to be able to have too much food on hand to eat it in a timely manner. Being careful about the timing of procurement means eating good ingredients at their freshest. I don't much worry about the composition of an informal meal any more-we just eat what's on hand, knowing it's tasty and taking satisfaction in not adding unnecessarily to the massive energy consumption it takes to bring a calorie to the table -30- More after the jump.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Field Skills

Concerning an off-grid Thanksgiving dinner for twenty, a gifted local hostess observed, "I've done that. I know how. Let's do something else." -30-

More after the jump.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Grandmother's Dishes

A dear neighbor looked around her dining room and observed that she never used her grandmother's place settings because they couldn't go in the dishwasher. Then she, the last person in the world I ever expected to say such a thing, declared that this will be the year the best goes on the table.

A young friend known for joking about a fussy tabletop recently married. After planning table settings for ninety, he was able to empathize.

Etiquette maven Judith Martin, aka Miss Manners, recommends setting a proper table once a week, "Wednesday best" if another day is not convenient. I find it efficient to set a careful table now and then, because doing so ensures that the best dishes and flatware are clean and ready to use at any time. I reshelve to the bottom of the stack to make sure things are rotated.

When I was young and even more foolish, vintage damask linen napkins from a thrift shop were cheaper than paper. For a while, I ironed the hand towels I set out in the powder room. The behavior was not rational in a contemporary economy, but it was a genuine pleasure to dry my hands -30- More after the jump.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Grunt

Chatting with an acquaintance, I learned that she had Mayflower ancestry. I also learned that, from her perspective, anyone who came over on a later boat, even the next one, was a "grunt", "immigrunt", she explained. A Mic-Mac liked to joke about his people meeting the vessel -30-
More after the jump.

Friday, November 11, 2016


Here's my favorite for the holidays:

No ordinary meal
a sacrament awaits us
on our tables daily spread.
For men are risking lives 
on sea and land
that we may dwell in safety and be fed.

More after the jump.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Life Span

Extend the storage life of fruits and vegetables by treating all produce with the sanitizing sprays used to ensure that raw lettuce is safe to eat. Spray or rinse first with hydrogen peroxide and then with white vinegar -30-
More after the jump.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016


In 1968, Julia Child's television cookbook introduced me to vegetable-based soup enriched with pistou. The net is a mother lode of variations. Making this soup took several hours the first time I put it together. Over the decades in low and high tech kitchens, I have learned that any variation of any ingredient will produce a good bowl.

I came to suspect that pistou might have originated as a way for the cook to use odds and ends that were coming ripe at different intervals in the kitchen garden. Last week, cooking for one, I improvised a one-bowl version based on Japan's traditional ramen noodles.

I put enough water into an enameled cast-iron pot to cook one package of soba, added a vegan bouillon cube, one thinly sliced carrot and potato, and a handful of juvenile chard leaves. The noodles went in after the roots were just tender. When the noodles were done, I turned off the heat, added a dollop of pesto sauce, and chowed down. Total elapsed time including the harvest was five minutes -30-

More after the jump.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Great Moments In Housekeeping

In 1964, CBS gave me $5 to report election results from an Oregon precinct. Local residents kindly gave me a place to wait for the count, and I spent half an hour in an immaculate parlor.

The family son-in-law lit a cigarette and looked around for an ashtray. Finding none, he continued to smoke until a substantial length of ash fell on the floor. His wife's mother sent a death ray in his direction, and he made a one-handed grab at the house poodle to wipe up the ash with its gray fur -30- More after the jump.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Far From Chic

A sassy insulated vinyl lunch bag has become my favorite purse. The bag sits in the middle of the bottom of a sleek tote, holding various necessities front and center but out of sight. It makes a convenient divider. No more spelunking, and I'm set in case I decide to buy raw meat on an outgoing run rather than an incoming one -30-
More after the jump.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Do Not Stand Or Jump On This Throne

A friend who drums left some gear in the living room. The little X-stool with its safety precautions is meant to support a performer but also serves as an ideal leg rest or minimal coffee table. It's featherweight, the right size to hold a cafeteria-sized tray, and it folds flat with the push of a button. I could reupholster it in ten minutes with a staple gun and a nice piece of goods, but I accept the honest vinyl of the original covering -30-
More after the jump.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Produce Bags Save Lives

In Seattle's climate, the chill of a wet foot can easily bring on hypothermia. Wear wool socks when rain threatens. Even in relatively mild temperatures, a breeze can chill to the bone. Heavy rain and wind can feel colder than wearing canvas shoes in snow. 

Copy an English climber and tuck a pair of flimsy produce bags into the daily emergency kit to add an extra layer of thermal protection to your feet. There's no telling when an earthquake will knock out a local bridge -30- More after the jump.

Monday, October 24, 2016

A Hearth

Celebrate cold, dark, and rain by setting tea lights in glass snowballs or half-pint canning jars on a well-polished brass tray. It's the next best thing to sitting by a fire -30-
More after the jump.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Grip Gloves

These sticky-palm work gloves are effective force multipliers and designed to save nanoseconds. They protect fine motor skills when heavy lifting is involved. They will substitute for a handkerchief in field conditions. The right hand is distinguished from the left by color coding.

I use them in the garden, gym, shop, and on the bus now and then for passenger safety -30- More after the jump.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Sea Grass

Now and then I look at the floor covering, notice a worn spot, and enjoy the prospect of eventually composting the rug in the back yard. I use sea grass matting, the kind that is braided and woven into squares. Presumably, choosing sea grass protects wetlands.

Sea grass is period for American interiors back to the Federal era, although I first encountered it in  SF in the Fifties. The matting wears well, stands up to family traffic, and can easily be reconfigured to fit any space. It forms a pleasantly neutral background that flatters furniture, the squares make it easy to arrange a space, and small rugs look good placed on top of it.

Grit will drift through the matting and accumulate on the floor beneath it. It is wise to cover the floor with contractor's protective rosin paper before laying the matting. A friend who grew up with sea grass said it was hard on her baby knees. Those are the drawbacks of which I am aware.

That said, I love sea grass, especially in town, where natural textures are in short supply. Sea grass is an organized version of the rushes that used to cover medieval floors -30- More after the jump.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Shovel Lotion

It's time to look over the garden tools and put them down for a nap. A friend grumbled about finding that her rakes and shovels that had been left to weather in the yard of a house she was renting out. The handles, she said, looked like driftwood and must be re-hafted.

It's easy to overlook one simple fact: we are damned lucky to own usable iron garden tools and even luckier to be able to buy them so inexpensively. Make the most of what you have by dressing the wood with linseed oil and keeping the business end clean. To make the most of your personal energy, keep your shovel sharp -30-
More after the jump.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016


Recently a gifted knitter described the raw material being offered by one shop as "not being from any sheep you'd ever want to meet". That is the essence of lesson number one for home production: use good materials.

In the Sixties, Paula Simmons of Suquamish, Washington, revolutionized wool production by searching for black lambs, that had become rare. She said the mass wool industry wanted only white fleece, because it is easier to dye. Simmons wanted wool that had its own color. She fed her sheep with the greatest care, even using vitamin supplements, an unusual practice for the time. 

Simmons named her yarn after the sheep of origin. I mentioned this to someone who had owned a sweater knit from Simmons' yarn, and he began to reminisce about Moonbeam, the sweater in question. Moonbeam was silky and warm beyond even cashmere, like the softest, finest hair.

My mother knit a sweater from Simmons yarn to give to a young woman working for a major design firm in New York. Danielle said the staff in her office went nuts about her cabled cardigan. In 1970 Tacoma, this was a very big deal.

As we go into the soggy days of a Northwest winter, I am grateful to Sara for reminding me of the essence of local housekeeping-wool, and only wool. Blankets, socks, clothing, if you can wear wool, wear it. It's the best value out there -30-

More after the jump.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Beat The Clock

It's time to race foul weather and execute minor repairs to the outside of the house. Few things are as comforting as fresh paint in a perfect match of existing color. 

Extend the useful life of stored paint by putting it in a new can. I keep empty quart tins in stock so that I can fill and label them with source, date, and a spot of color on the lid once the original project is complete. Every time Ihappen across a can, I turn it over. Revive settled solids by rolling them from one side to another over the course of a week. A hand blender makes short work of remixing.

For tiny samples of touch-up color, I use glass spice jars. They're relatively costly, but the convenience makes up for the apparent waste of money -30- More after the jump.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Get In Your Own Way

Domestic humorist Peg Bracken suggests a strategy for housekeeping that is the foundation of my approach. The first few rounds can be trying. Choose a time when the family is away, life support is easy to come by, and you are free to devote more than a day to the process. In I Hate To Housekeep, Bracken suggests tossing the house first thing in the morning, stripping beds, emptying cupboards, and starting whatever else is hanging up easy production under the roof.

Putting things back together generates interesting decisions.

Bracken consciously recommends this strategy to compel finishing the work. I find when I'm literally knee deep in the house, it's easy to identify things that aren't doing a damned thing to earn their keep. The process is like initiating a personal tsunami. The more often it happens, the easier it is to manage. After thirty-six years in the same place, I can reconfigure two rooms single-handed in half an hour.

Secret weapons make it easy to sort live wood from dead. One is the thrift donation bag that lives on one side of the main exit. The other is the toy bank. I kept a collection of covered plastic buckets to house my child's surplus playthings. He was happy to have clear play space in his room knowing that favorite gifts and personal acquisitions waited in the basement. Every month or so he'd sort his collection, surplus things, and fetch old friends from the bank. After a year or two he was happy to share things he'd outgrown -30-

More after the jump.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Value Added

When the chill of autumn truly arrives, I routinely fiddle with the interior. Stagnant inventory interferes with air circulation and compromises energy efficiency, particularly the precious energies of home management. It is always a pleasant surprise to discover that an existing artifact can earn its keep in new ways. 

Over the week-end I adapted emergency evacuation kits to the change in weather, exchanged emergency foods for fresh stock, arranged lighting in response to the dark days to come, and fluffed bedding. Decades of this annual tune-up have produced an essentialist inventory that is as simple to manage as any can be. In spring, I reverse the process.

A generation ago, I realized how depressing it was to own things that were deteriorating on my watch. I shared excess with family and friends, sold a few things, and donated many others. What remains is healthy tissue. Some of it might be wearing out, but it is wearing gracefully. The rest is vintage and getting vintager.

A particular elegance accompanies an interior that is necessary and sufficient -30- More after the jump.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016


Setting up for the cold, damp season gives me time to contemplate upgrading or sometimes downgrading the contents of the house. At times I feel caught in a bind between green and expedient.

Picking up the latest and greatest whatever is worth careful consideration. I weigh the environmental price of, say, a new rice cooker against the environmental price of my time and productive energies.

Great-grandmother's 1870 nickel steel frying pan is the hand's down champion of value. The smallest, lightest, and fastest digital gear comes in second. All the stuff in between is negotiable, particularly if it recycles or can be repaired -30- More after the jump.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Every Inch Counts

I first became aware of the value of interior space in the cottage of a friend who was raising her family in downtown San Francisco. As we sat at her kitchen table, also the dining table, I noticed a dish rack hanging on cup hooks over the sink. Barbara observed that in her quarters every cubic inch counted. That's why the table was round.

Recently I realized that shifting furniture half an inch here and there will slash the time it takes to vacuum a space. The relatively minuscule changes will accommodate the floor attachment of my machine -30-
More after the jump.

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Soggy Crouton

A simple salad of mixed greens dressed with olive oil and wine vinegar ordinaire is greatly enhanced by fragments of foccaccia -30-
More after the jump.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Worth Mending

High-end Japanese fashion design is a reliable source of inspiration for the many daily choices I make about life support. Miyake's "Making Think, Making Things and Making Reality." is as good a design shorthand as any I have encountered. 

Azby Brown's history of the Edo period, Just Enough, illuminates the drastic economies generated by the culture's response to a near-terminal environmental crash. Brown's chapter on the home economy of samurai families shows how similar the values are to the sensible practices of navy housekeepers in the US. I find it particularly significant that samurai matrons used the same fabric in all the family garments.

Miyake is showing a version of the flannel shirt that is a witty and gently exhilarating take on the plaid cotton staple of our soggy woods. Japan has a patchwork tradition that joins straightforward rectangles of worn cloth. Miyake's printed shirt is a delight to observe.

Miyake's thinking appears to influence northern European fashion designers. The First Avenue boutique near the Market carries a couple of lines that have proved to be excellent value calculated at cost per use. Over the ten years I have experimented with shopping there, I have yet actually to wear anything out. Line drying is the key. 

I won't hesitate to invest the time and attention it will take to mend and patch one of these garments when it has become a weary friend. The sewing machine is long gone, but a needle threader, pat of beeswax, spools of cream colored and navy thread, ancestral English needles, German scissors, and an heirloom thimble remain.

Japanese design trickles down to the Great Big Hiking Co-op over four or five years. In my world, it's better value to pay three times as much on the front end when something turns up in the Market boutique. The garments are cut from such good fabric in such clean lines that they can be used for any occasion. The Christmas Miracle Department Store chain has a house label that echoes such thinking now and then. Think silhouette. The State of Maine mail-order catalogue is another source of good deals on classics of this school of thought -30-

More after the jump.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Point Of Etiquette

When inspecting someone else's motorcycle, put your hands behind your back to assure the owner that your intentions are honorable -30-
More after the jump.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

An Old-School Gift

Now and then my grandmother would open a letter to find a top-quality handkerchief enclosed. A new handkerchief came with a little sticker from the maker pasted on. It had no label. Recently I hunted up fine linen men's handkerchiefs in lieu of ornamental pocket squares. Good goods are still on the market, but I had to call Victoria to order some. Paying for the handkerchiefs taught me that finding one in an envelope is a gift indeed.

Should you opt for craft rather than disposable, accept only hand-embroidery, if any. Following are directions for laundering flat work, as pocket, table, and kitchen linens are called. 

These technical comments are for 100% Irish linen. A good handkerchief is cut and hemmed perfectly on grain, thread by thread, so that it can be folded accurately. Perfect grain ensures that it lasts as long as it is meant to.

Linen is back on the market, but the old way of indicating quality, the thread count, is not. The number of threads per inch of weave tells how fine the work is and how long the fabric is likely to last. Recent hemstitched handkerchiefs can be  considerably coarser than the old stock. They will do, though, as ritual accessories backed up by a pocket pack of disposables.

Wash a handkerchief in hot water and line dry, pulling the grain square as you hang it. When damp-dry and tender to the touch, press with a hot iron. I use a table pad, the fastest way to finish flat work. Iron from the back to emphasize the grain of the fabric on the front. Iron on the front to flatten and polish the appearance of the piece. I prefer to iron from the back because ironing causes wear.

A piece that is hemstitched, with a row of little holes along the fold of the hem, is vulnerable to tear eventually if the hem is pulled while it is being ironed, so work carefully. Those holes are perforations. If you are lucky enough to own hand-embroidered linen, iron from the back on a padded surface and cover the embroidery with a thin white cotton cloth to protect the stitching from wear. A piece of unbleached muslin or flour-sack towel will work.

For all pieces, remove from the work surface and leave flat until bone dry before folding. Store flat if you have room. Never iron a fold. The net has a world of fop-tech for folding. A straightforward double fold folded to the width of the pocket and inserted with half an inch parallel to the top of the pocket is the simplest. I would check the preppie clothing chain for current practice -30-

More after the jump.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Silver Polish

Nothing beats the combination of the first rains of autumn and a shallow action flick for freeing time to prepare the holiday table. Prudent housekeepers cut worn cotton knits into palm-sized wipers that are ideal for polishing silver. Store the wipers in an empty tissue box for easy access. I prefer polishing with the German compound sold in a yellow tube at motorcycle shops.

Once silver and brass are in good condition, keep them that way with careful storage. I use silver every day, washing it by hand and storing it in a dedicated chest. When I return pieces to their slots, I put them on the bottom of the pile to rotate the collection. Serving pieces live in specialized silver cloth bags.

When bright work is bright and windows are sparkling clean, it's easy to contemplate the long grey months of a Northwest winter -30-

More after the jump.