Friday, December 22, 2017

Editing Christmas

The traditional back to back holiday menus of Christmas eve, Christmas breakfast, and Christmas dinner are a marathon challenge to forward-thinking and responsible behavior during the rest of the year. My elders started shopping and baking in July. This year is different from all other years. Such were the work and travel commitments of various members of the family that it looked as if Santa would be out of town. The rest of us sketched in a minimalist overnight, since two thirds of us would be working (with luck) twelve-hour days up until the eve.

The traditional, and laborious, presentation on Christmas eve morphed over the course of twenty years into home-made pizza. I elected this year to have the food delivered from a favorite local vendor. That decision made, the crew turned its collective judgement to Christmas Day. We decided to celebrate Santa's unexpected early return with an extravagant version his favorite breakfast, laid on late Christmas morning after a head start with coffee, leftover pizza, and stockings -30-
More after the jump.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

An Elegant Toe

A chance conversation with a budding cordwainer led me to draw his attention to the classic sneaker that the foundation of my uniform. Understandably, before I could comment, he snorted something about a five dollar shoe. I pointed out, though, that the design has been in production since 1916 and that the shape of the toe is characteristic of high-end London custom work -30-
More after the jump.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The Simple Table

At one point I decided that white linens and candles would eliminate two of the maddening number of variables involved in presenting a meal at home. Thirty years later, I'm still glad for having made that choice. The secret of white linen is that it's the easiest to wash and most durable of all table coverings. The secret of white candles is that they don't stain white linen, and that they resemble beeswax, the very best.

The minor formality of white accessories can enlivened with flowers and trivial goofy artifacts. In fact, during the Middle Ages, little ornamental figures made from almond paste were meant to be eaten at the end of the meal. It would be fun to set kids loose with marzipan and food coloring to keep them busy before Santa shows up.

I've had a continuing and edifying conversation with younger friends who are setting up their first household. Space is tight. When I recently offered them a coffee set, it was carefully declined with an added comment that anything that goes into the house at this point must be matched by something that exits. Interestingly, the design of the glass carafe that came with their automatic coffee maker echoes that of the high-end Italian designer whose stainless steel was chosen to furnish the Concorde. His work, in turn, echoes that of a radical turn of the twentieth century silver service produced in Vienna. The short version of the critique is that a vessel that is wider at the base than the lip holds heat.

The focus on using one set of gear every day is a sensible one that saves resources. In my world, attention is the asset in shortest supply. My friends are influenced by the popular domestic culture of 1950s southern California, that swept the West Coast all the way up to Seattle. It would be kind and good to revive the old custom of setting up a "hope chest" for young adults. Back in the day, a girl was encouraged to consider her choice of dishes and flatware. By the time she married, she would have fabricated by hand a full collection of bedding and table linens. Young people hone different skills nowadays, but actively considering essential home furnishings is always a good use of time. At the very least, basic cookware (field gear will be a good start) allows one to get the most from easily-stored basic ingredients rather than squandering money and health on junk food -30-
More after the jump.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Shop The Cupboard

Though my food service inventory is pared close to the bone, I overlooked the cream pitcher I spent a couple of hours shopping to replace the other day. Next time, I'll excavate the corners of the bottom cupboards-30-
More after the jump.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Candle Yoga

For clean burning, make sure the wick is trimmed short enough to prevent flickering. Extinguish a candle by using a snuffer or, as Mrs. Stewart recommended, by placing a forefinger in front of the flame and blowing toward the finger.

The safest candle holders I have found are the northern European heavy glass snowballs that hold tea lights. Increase security by anchoring them in place with museum wax.

Simplify life by burning only the off-white candles that most closely resemble genuine beeswax, or spring for the real thing -30- More after the jump.

Friday, December 15, 2017


For winter in Seattle's mercurial weather, I carry extra layers. A fine wool balaclava, gloves, a medical face mask, and a pair of produce bags to line shoes take up little room in my bag. Paired with a mylar blanket, the extra gear is enough to assure me at least of a warm trip home on public transportation -30-
More after the jump.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Unbreakable, Anti-bacterial, Energy Efficient, And Out Of Fashion

As the nest emptied, I shunted quite a bit of kitchen and table-top gear to the new, younger household that was being established. I left myself with the most formal things in my collection, paper plates,  and a handful of beloved utilitarian pots and accessories.

The first round of holiday entertaining is about to happen. As I fetched the "best" coffee pot out of storage, I realized that heirloom silver plate is a pretty good deal. A couple of candles are all it takes to turn a buffet table into a light show. The flatware can be a toxic pain in the neck as it wears, but serving vessels store in little space and are all the better for being used often. Doing so eliminates polishing. Once the base metal begins to show through the plate, demote the piece. 

Interestingly, writer Mark Twain documented the huge Virginia City silver strike that enabled the nineteenth century tabletop explosion of middle-class silver. Scope out the southeastern replacement specialty vendor to get an idea of just how specific and varied was the design that was presented as necessary to set a proper table. I can live without mango forks, but a gumbo spoon looks pretty tempting -30-

More after the jump.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Dressing Down

I slowed enough to spend part of a morning folding clothing with the meticulous care that so many are now learning to exercise. After going through my inventory, I realized that being spread out and folded exactly on grain is right good for the clothes I'm lucky enough to own.

The laundry process is one of recreating the original manufacture of a garment. Ideally, a freshly maintained piece is "as good as new". I line dry everything to extend the life of the collection. Drying carefully on grain and folding with equal care for storage produce a garment that is a joy to wear.

"Squared away" says it all. "Dressing down", that I first heard as a disciplinary term, is an exercise applied to hanging fabric, as well. To dress down is to pull the vertical grain straight and then to arrange folds in an orderly way. The petty demands on manual skill described above yield huge returns in the household -30-
More after the jump.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Fast And Delicious

The other day, I was moving too quickly to second-guess myself in the kitchen. I accidentally produced a tasty version of the commercial rice bowl using mediterranean ingredients. Work with raw ingredients that are at room temperature. I used a hot pot, small cast iron skillet, and a small enameled cast iron pot to cook this dish.

Layer one: freshly cooked pasta done in the hot pot.
Layer two: gently scrambled eggs, relaxed rather than fluffy. Cook in the skillet.
Layer three: a quick sauce made with chopped canned tomato and thin strings of red onion sauteed in an excess of olive oil. The Geek's Favorite Grocery Chain sells bags of small onions that are just the right size for a small household. Cook the onion first in the enameled pot, then add to the  tomato and simmer until it approaches dryness. Add a dash of balsamic vinegar to the tomato mixture.

Layer four: zucchini browned hot and fast in the remaining olive oil. Cut the zucchini across into two-inch lengths, then slice them into 3/16" by 3/4" julienne. Grind black pepper over the zucchini toward the end to bring out the flavor of the spice.

Sequence: get pasta going, saute the onion (with a little garlic) and set aside. Saute the zucchini and set aside. Reduce the tomato. Scramble the eggs. Assemble. Total elapsed time about twenty minutes plus a few seconds now and then ahead of time to get things ready to go. There was enough leftover tomato and zucchini to garnish a small steak the next night -30-
More after the jump.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Wear And Care

Every garment reflects its history as it ages. With luck, an old piece of clothing conveys the same discriminating choice as that which was reflected in its acquisition. Patterns of wear tell the habits of the user: one knows a chemist, for example, by a series of small holes across the front of a shirt. Scribes and mechanics wear black for good reason.

Very little in my wardrobe must be ironed, but doing so ensures that wear over time will reflect the respect I have for the threads. A couple of denim work shirts can always pass without being ironed, but doing so will eventually produce poetically worn collars, cuffs, and plackets to match their fading elbows -30- More after the jump.

Friday, December 8, 2017


It was not until 1987 that I was willing to accept that electricity is here to stay. That was the year I gave up grinding grain by hand. It still makes sense, though, to maintain basic housekeeping systems that can kick in when the power goes out.

Friends who are new to the region live in an area where the power often fails. Their digs have an enormous refrigerator that stands nearly empty most of the time. They could store emergency water in the freezer. Filling it with containers of ice will cut their power bill, protect the contents in case of a blackout, and give them a ready supply of ice water. Do the same in the main body of the appliance to reduce the cost of keeping food cold -30- More after the jump.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Notes On Housekeeping

Some time in the Eighties I read a book about housekeeping written by the wife of a career naval officer. I failed to note the author and title, but a few key concepts stay with me. The woman had set up house in postings around the world, getting the most out of the military salary she had at her disposal. There is rigor and elegance in her advice that enriches any domicile.

First, keep the yard picked up. Put toys and domestic amenities away at the end of the day. [Send a message that you value your inventory.]

Second, no matter how modest the quarters, set out geraniums by the entrance.

That's all it takes to get things in hand and keep them there. Every Deft post has been influenced by this book -30- More after the jump.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

An Easy Little Meal

At times I want good food, easy food, fast food, and good nutrition all at once. The other day I picked up a package of skinless, boneless chicken thighs, a double handful of salad mix, and a few ounces of pesto on a speed run through the market.

When I got home, I let the meat come up to room temperature, sanitized the greens with successive baths of diluted hydrogen peroxide and white vinegar (rinsing, too), rolled the greens in towels to dry them, and poached the chicken in just enough simmering water that it would not cool significantly when I added the meat starting with the largest pieces. The trick is to keep a close eye on the poaching: it's fast and simple but like cooking an egg.

I pulled the meat out to cool when it was nearly done in the middle. I could have cooked a handful of pasta in the remaining light broth, an old trick of my grandmother's, but I forgot and set up a hot pot of boiling water. The hot pot is a great convenience as long as one remembers not to heat anything with fat or oil in it. Compounds in the plastic may leach into fat.

I dressed the salad, topped it with bite-sized slices of chicken, tossed the pasta with pesto, and I was good to go. Total elapsed time was about twenty-five minutes, but I had two days' good leftovers to show for my efforts. Rolled in a damp napkin, the sanitized salad greens will keep for days -30- More after the jump.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Slow Learner

A thoughtful houseguest added an automatic drip coffee maker to the inventory. I've been wary of having too much brew available on demand. This morning I realized it's not the brew, it's the ratio of water to beans.

I can set up the maker with a rational amount of ground coffee and add as much water as I want to the reservoir. The first cup, that I always pour before the machine is finished, will be strong enough to open my eyes; later ones will merely hydrate and keep me alert -30- More after the jump.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Santa 101

Not long ago, I accompanied a friend who was stopping by a shop of fine gifts to pick up something for her foster son. As Julie inquired about her order, I overheard a dignified man explain to a clerk that he was shopping for four daughters-in-law, so it was imperative that he give them all the same thing -30-
More after the jump.

Friday, December 1, 2017

The Lumpy Lawn

Such is the nature of Western Washington's growing conditions that some years it is necessary to mow in every month. When the grass looks a little irregular, give it a fast pass. Doing so will ensure deep roots and a healthy-looking sward all year 'round -30- 
More after the jump.

Thursday, November 30, 2017


I like to rearrange rooms as demands on interior space change. State of the art hiking gear is the core of the inventory. I am pleased and relieved to find that the following space-and money-saving items are modular: a deluxe self-inflating memory foam topped air mattress from the Great Big Hiking Co-op, standard-issue World War Two army foot lockers, Oregon Round-up blankets, a king-sized cotton blanket from the Big Name Designer, hollow-core doors, and legally acquired industrial grade dairy crates -30-
More after the jump.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Ownership Shifts Visual Perception

I spend a few days house-sitting for friends and couldn't understand why their possessions looked so odd to me. Their tastes are different, but that did not account for the visuals. I realized after a day or two that most of the time I look at things I own. When I looked around as if I owned what fell under my gaze, it was as if an additional dimension had been added -30-
More after the jump.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Seven Cycles Of Wipe

My housecleaning system is good enough to allow me to ignore the place for a while, if necessary. Several years of construction on the block left the future here up in the air. Now that things have settled down, I've had attention to spare for the kind of detailing that used to be routine.

One bathroom floor that seemed clean enough yielded an appallingly grubby cloth when I finally wiped down the far corners. It took some days of repeated, simple wiping with a damp cloth to burnish the layer of dust off the tiles and produce a used wiper that is acceptably soiled.

All it takes to keep the place feeling polished is an occasional damp wipe with a flimsy terry washcloth. It's amazing what a difference that makes, though. A closely repeated routine of gentle maintenance keeps the light reflecting happily off interior surfaces -30- More after the jump.

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Keyboard

Talking easy housekeeping the other day, I was saddened to hear a buddy voice her distress at the notion of getting rid of beloved possessions. That's not the point. The idea is to set up a domicile so that it is simple to get the basic work of life support accomplished. Warehousing and museum conservation concerns are another set of tasks. 

It's helpful to conceive of a workspace as a keyboard or the dashboard of a vehicle. Neither of those areas is ideal for dead storage. Keep things you use several times a day front and center. Place seldom used objects ever closer to the exit until it is time to consider the future. If you enjoy the visual richness of decorative objects, set them out of the main way. I like to store knick-knacks behind glass.

My favorite ornaments are simply the things I use every day to get the basic tasks of life accomplished. I find it stressful to house artifacts that are slowly deteriorating. If I can't keep something in good condition in my present circumstances, I find a better home for it. Not having to worry about possessions allows me to bring my full attention to bear on immediate concerns -30- More after the jump.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Really Cheaping Out

At the height of the Seventies' craze for carpeting, I enjoyed an illuminating chat with a wise older friend. Daisie was frank: she said her hand-knotted oriental carpet had been less expensive over time than the wall to wall her friends had installed and replaced and installed and replaced. A true friend of the hand-knotted rug will buy a small one to set in the center of a room rather than subjecting a larger one to the assaults of furniture legs. Spare the sport shoes and spike heels as well. Removing footgear at the entrance reduces maintenance in all areas.

A long life filled with hand-me-downs, thrift follies, and expedient imports has taught me that biting the linen bullet to pay for first quality dinner-sized shamrock napkins is still a smart move, especially if I factor in the time and travel cost of acquisition. Get white. It's the most serviceable and can be bleached. I'm still using my grandmother's collection from 1948. 

A large linen napkin makes guests feel safe. It doesn't have to be ironed, although ironing from the back to raise the grain of the fabric is an elegant move. Never iron a crease: linen's tubular fibers will crack before long -30-

More after the jump.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Two Minutes

For a couple of months, I groused about dusting an elaborate 1895 knick-knack shelf every time I walked past it. The English National Trust housekeeping manual recommends delaying dusting until one is rested and motivated. When I finally emptied the shelves and set out a vacuum cleaner and a photographer's equipment dusting brush, that resembles a shaving brush on steroids, dusting the what-not took two minutes.

The piece is a twentieth century housekeeping nightmare, but a nineteenth century small space whiz at storing necessities. Aping a carpenter, I get the vacuum going to collect dust with one hand while I raise it with the other -30- More after the jump.

Monday, November 20, 2017

The (Relatively) Slow Lane

When I buy stamps, I buy first-class "forever" stamps. Now and then a new design is issued before I use up the ones I have. It has been interesting to observe new graphic style as it emerges. These stamps are turning into the correspondence equivalent of classic wardrobe design. A slowly accumulating collection allows me judicious choice of style when composing a written message.

I had been planning to commission writing paper embellished with a snail. A retired letter carrier told me how offensive he finds the rhyming term, so I'll save some money and revert to USPS -30- More after the jump.

Friday, November 17, 2017

As If

Live to evacuate. Long hours listening to friends and acquaintances puzzle out how to manage their inventories, acquired or inherited, has taught the wisdom of conscious ownership. Recent experience of first-hand accounts of FEMA sites taught the obvious wisdom of preparedness.

Last week's triple whammy of e-room visit (false alarm), windstorm, and power outage taught the value of a key chain flashlight, even a featherweight zipper light, and possibly that of a tactical flashlight. Keep a week's meds in the sidebag -30- More after the jump.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Cheap Pens Sabotage Critical Detail

It's easier to remember to carry pen and notebook if you value the pen. With note-taking materials always at hand, one can record every flash and memo, protecting the here and now from anxious preoccupation -30-
More after the jump.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

A Simple Advantage

At a Pike Place cutlery, I learned to understand trying to cut ingredients with a dull blade as "fighting with one's knife". A keen edge is as great a labor-saving asset as any I can describe -30-
More after the jump.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

The Punch List

I learned this term from a housepainter whose work is going strong eleven years later. The list is one of tasks to be completed to bring the job up to the expected standard.

Another meaning is a list of urgent matters to attend to. The recent massive data breach of personal information has put the punch in my security to do list -30- More after the jump.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Poetry By The Yard

San Francisco's Union Square legacy fabric store is the go-to home sewing, quilting, and costume design resource. Their web site offers an illuminating collection of yard goods and ribbon, not to mention what to me is a novel approach to historic preservation.

Since I began to use woven ribbon and entertaining cloth (surf furoshiki), I frequently spend more on the wrap than the gift. No one has complained so far. Wide grosgrain makes a good hatband -30-
More after the jump.

Friday, November 10, 2017


Fast food by another name. The Geek's Favorite grocery chain offers unsalted pretzels filled with peanut butter. Unsalted nuts, tiny carrots milled from big ones, grape-sized tomatoes plus grapes themselves, chocolate with a sugar shell, dried fruit, little crackers, all come easily to hand to support the current thinking that six small meals a day are better than three squares-if you're doing knowledge work. Check out the Corporate Athlete training initiative. Chow down at the desk.

The butcher shop at the main intersection of the Pike Place Market offers an entertaining version of trail mix for carnivores. The concept is simple: cut cheese, sausage, and jerky into bite-sized cubes or the irregular pieces of a rolling cut. A millennial dinner guest was delighted by the mix, and I discovered that a handful tossed onto a salad the next day made an instant meal.

Green is a little harder to get right. Sanitizing lettuce with successive sprays or dips of hydrogen peroxide and white vinegar not only protects one from antibiotic-resistant field bacteria, it extends the life of fresh produce. Rinse in fresh water and roll in a damp napkin. It's easy just to grab a leaf and eat it. Carefully trimmed broccoli boiled fast and blanched in cold water mixes well with the trail mix above and various nuts and seeds. 

Cuisine this ain't, but nutrition it is -30- More after the jump.

Thursday, November 9, 2017


One of the rooms in Martha and George Washington's Mt. Vernon home has been restored. It's now called the Chintz Room, and it would be trivial to recreate it. The classic brown wood furniture with which it's furnished is grievously undervalued in today's market. Fine reproductions dominated American production in the Fifties. A recent search for a freestanding cabinet for hand sewing produced page after page of treasures going for pennies.

Wood is a precious resource, and the brown furniture that is so out of fashion was made with cheap energy from the harvest of the planet. As late as the Seventies, the US enjoyed a hugely disproportionate amount of global wealth. To have furniture at all is a relatively recent privilege for most of humanity. We are so rich in our legacy that we can't recognize it. Norma Skurka's "New York Times Book of Interior Design and Decoration" is introduced by a compact illustrated reference of historic styles of American furniture. Once you've gazed on the pictures, it's easy to spot a bargain. Look for dovetails on the sides of drawers. An ink stain inside a desk drawer is a good sign. A classic piece of furniture is a low-tech appliance designed to support a household of privilege at a time when people made their livings working out of their domicile.

Educating one's eye takes time, but the effort pays off. The Old Family Dining Room in the White House was recently, and judiciously, redecorated. The result demonstrates how contemporary art can pop old furniture to life. Much of the original brown wood furniture valued as American antique was Afro-African in manufacture. Israel and Albert Sack's evaluations of American furniture are illuminating ones that integrate colonial and native American values -30- More after the jump.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017


It's crunch time in the recycling game. Receiving sites for urban ore are under pressure, and it's time to reconsider every scrap that leaves one's hands-and enters them as well. I won't try to rehash the early rhetoric of recycling-too many generations of school children have been indoctrinated in the wisdom of sustainable systems, and I'm not up to speed on the issues anymore. 

But it's crunch time -30- More after the jump.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Angelo Pellegrini

Influenced by his  "Lean Years, Happy Years", I fried a good steak, sliced it, and saved the pan drippings. The next day I enriched a pot of greens with the drippings and the bone. This trick works with any cut of meat.

Now I grill a piece of meat and hold it in a warm oven while I saute' a vegetable in what remains in the pan. Cover and steam for a minute, and there are two fast courses in half the cooking time with tastier results -30-

More after the jump.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Constantly Childproof

When my baby learned to crawl, I engaged in a life or death race against his new powers of exploration. It took a couple of months before I could comfortably turn my back on him in certain rooms, or catch my breath, for that matter. In the ensuing years I have tried to keep the house child-proof, but an empty nest and creeping tech change have added layers of complexity. It's time to resolve the thickets of electrical vines I have happily added to the inventory.

 One ofNeal Stephenson's sci-fi novels has an inspiring scene set in a Peninsula farmhouse. The living room is festooned with extension cords that support the geeks who live there. I took courage from the sheer expedience of the arrangement to release  most of what remained of my matronly death grip on housekeeping systems.

Geeks, however, appear never to have been subjected to the dire training in electrical safety that was the lot of twentieth-century girls. No doubt that training was necessary: I suspect that discovering safe ways to apply electricity to domestic life was as hazardous in the beginning as was the introduction of suffocating gossamer polyethylene bags into the stream of packaging amenities in the Seventies.

Wallingford's lighting boutique offers just about anything I could ask for to resolve cord clutter short of rewiring the house. With the holidays approaching and foul weather offering respite from garden duty, I'll be free to explore the world of good cord-keeping -30- More after the jump.

Thursday, November 2, 2017


When the season shifts, which in Seattle means every couple of months, I do a wardrobe thrash, laying everything out in plain sight and editing without mercy. It's a joy to toss things that are getting in the way into a pile close to the exit. I don't care how much they cost: if they're not working, they're not worth house room.

I co-ordinate everything that's left so that any garment will work with any other garment. The inspiration for this was a comment from a hairdresser who said he liked to grab things out of a milk crate first thing in the morning. Works for me. It's not unlike the skater technique of dressing from a pile on the floor, adding layers as the weather suggests.

Sometimes the process amounts to a virtual mudslide in my wardrobe as minor changes in lifestyle, body form, and ambitions reach a tipping point. The process is not wasteful, since it protects time, energy, and attention from distracting complexity. The best part of a thrash is taking a look at the discards and discovering entertaining new ways to combine them. The rules of thumb that work for me are to dress for the weather, for who I am, and for what I will be doing -30-

More after the jump.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

How To Cut Paper

Make the short cut first.
Cut all the way across a piece of stock -30-

More after the jump.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

A Question Of Elegance

I am considering how to set the table for Sunday pot roast and two millennial guests. They went into stemware shock on our first holiday meal. I've been meditating about the contest between grandmother's practice and the expedient necessities of 2017 ever since. A brief late Seventies chat with a friend who was pouring me a cup of coffee brought the comment that her mother would never countenance a commercial container on the table. It's an interesting point: households of historic privilege took pride in their home-grown provender. Commercial packaging won't stop talking.

Genevieve Dariaux, who ran Nina Ricci's fashion showroom in its heyday, published a little book entitled "Elegance" that shares gems of design wisdom based on sheer practicality. Design pillar Ettore Sottsass asks if practicality is not a valid factor in the choices one makes, and he observes that even the best castles are fundamentally disposable. 

Setting a table is an exercise in design. Another Italian, Bruno Munari, twits preparing a feast "as if the duchess were coming to dinner". I enjoy presenting a series of courses in the traditional way as a gift of service to hard-working guests, but it's unsettling to find I have discomforted them in the process. Judith Martin, aka Miss Manners, asks what it means if one finds oneself confronted by ranks of forks and stemmed glasses at a formal dinner table and answers her own question with the assurance that what it means is that you are not going to go home hungry, that's what it means.

That's enough to keep in mind. Dariaux's notion of elegance differs little from the mathematical one. An elegant solution is simple, effective, consistent, and with luck a little surprising. My partner's impatience with handling stemware was enough to send my collection of expedient glasses from the Great Big Northern European Home Furnishings Chain to a nearby thrift store.

I'll tackle the day with my best dishes and cutlery, classic bistro glasses from 1906 France, generous cloth napkins, and foolish ornament that isn't much more than four inches high. The table will be round and small enough to be slightly crowded, which is festive. I'll be able to reach the sideboard to pass dishes without getting up, and I'll be able to clear a course with one pass of a large tray. I like to bar guests from the kitchen. Everybody needs a break once in a while -30-
More after the jump.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Hallowe'en Supreme

Washington archaeologist Grover Krantz left his bones to science because he wanted to continue teaching after he was dead. In the deal, he included his beloved wolfhound Clyde. The Smithsonian displays the two of them in its display "Written in Bone: Forensic Files of the Seventeenth Century Chesapeake". Surf Grover Krantz and Clyde rampant for exhilarating images -30-
More after the jump.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Kitchen Improv

A foodie friend with a decade of commercial experience recently moved into much smaller quarters. She inherited a small, decently remodeled space with little more than six or seven feet of counter and good quality cupboards. I was delighted to find that she and her partner had cobbled together a slick collection of serviceable accessory units out of heavy duty chromed wire shelving and butcher block tops.

Sharp knives, good pots, and running water are the essentials -30- More after the jump.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Dedicated Time

The closer I model my calendar on the comforting repetitions of primary school, the lower my level of stress. The secret is to leave generous margins, about half the available time.

Weekdays are structured around a workout schedule, as good an armature as any. Each week of the month is focussed on one topic in the domestic support system. One is for making and keeping appointments, two is for administration, three is finance, and four is procurement. I try to get tasks out of the way by nine.

I designated this month for a larger focus on finance, and the schedule is working out so well that Big Topics are taking over other months, too. December, predictably, is for family. So is August, because the northwest beckons those who swelter. Visitors share the time with home improvement, but they don't overlap.

I doubt that it will be long before I begin to designate dedicated years -30-
More after the jump.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Bang For The Buck

Recent casual reading on line brought the news that the market for silver, quilts, and what they called "brown wood" is nil. Sounds like new lamps for old to me, but I would never quarrel with the market preferences of any age group.

The last time I looked around, there was very little visual information about the brown wood vintage. Presumably, the term refers to the eighteenth century. I inherited my beloved grandmother's period reproductions and unwittingly scrounged quite a few pieces on my own. The style has served me well in this eighteenth century architectural design I call home.

My furniture is made of good, solid wood. Its judicious proportions make the most of the delicate spaces in the house. An eighteenth century domicile was used as was convenient for the inhabitants. Single purpose rooms did not appear until the staggering excesses of the nineteenth century.

The most I've paid for brown wood is $19, although I did break the bank on upholstery thirty years ago. The pieces that look so formal to a late twentieth century eye are low-tech appliances designed to serve the working needs of a household that usually made its living under its own roof. All I have to do is clear the paperwork away to look ready for a feast.

It would not be surprising if young persons who grew up with a hovering housekeeper shooing them out of the parlor should choose less vulnerable furniture finishes, but I believe in using the good stuff. It's nearly always the most durable in the long run. I've inherited my share of dings and scrapes and added a few of my own, fortunately to a small item. I can finesse my way out of trouble with shoe polish, markers, and "bright wax". In a perfect world, I would have my own workshop just for French polish, but so far my reality is perfectly comfortable.

Northern Europe came a little late to the brown wood party, and its climate created a hunger for light. King Gustav painted the stuff white, and that's still a viable option. Consult your friendly local used furniture appraiser to make sure you don't vandalize a prize. As to silver and quilts, well, use the silver if you have it. Stow the day's cutlery at the bottom of the stack so you never have to polish it. A quilt is a quilt is a quilt, sometimes an albatross, sometimes a graceful gesture of welcome to a special houseguest. Do right by storing it in a special purpose box from Higher Academe Products and by washing it in no-rinse detergent from the same outfit. As with brown wood, a knowledgeable appraisal is a good idea -30-
More after the jump.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Harmony, Contrast, Balance, Order, and Unity

The title sums up gestalt values for a successful visual design. Applied to house cleaning, those points save a lot of trouble.

Several years ago when developers were reconstructing this comfortable block of turn of the twentieth century houses, the kitchen floor became, as it were, terminal. We were not sure of the future here, but the Thirties linoleum was moldering in heavily used areas and was beyond tolerance. I realized that there wasn't much difference between painting linoleum and painting the canvas recommended for making an old school floor cloth. 

Linoleum is a layer of pigment mixed with ground cork and linseed oil steamrolled over burlap. I reasoned that maintaining a layer of floor paint might not be any more bother than applying and removing successive layers of wax, so I painted the lino the same color as the other painted floors in the house.

Three years has been enough time for ordinary wear and tear to generate some noticeably shabby areas. Added to the marks of time on the original varnished fir wainscoting and the fading polish on a couple of senior pieces of furniture in the room, it became apparent that it was time to do something. The kitchen comes first. 

My partner volunteered to paint carefully delineated patches on the floor, as I had planned when the paint was new. I reasoned that a genteel accumulation of patches on areas of heavy wear would grow increasingly interesting to look at and prevent heaping gobs of excess paint from piling up along the margins of the room.

So far, so good, although a little more patching is in order. Nothing says progress like the faint odor of fresh paint. The wainscoting still has to be refreshed with "bright wax" and/or teak oil. I spent a coffee break anointing a tiny brown wood table with a Down East furniture polish from the woodworkers' specialty supply in the southeast. The effect is delightful, as is the scent of the product. With a vintage brass tray protecting the top, the ca. 1870 table has become a much-needed accent in an otherwise practical space -30-
More after the jump.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Housekeeping Tight And Loose

Moving into new quarters sometimes demands finesse. If the place is not in perfect repair, there may be makeshift arrangements that look like the devil. Keep things literally squared away to reassure the neighbors.

The example that comes to mind is a tall, geriatric fence whose front gate is held closed by a bungee cord threaded through the pickets. Hardly ideal, but when the bungee cord is set on a true horizontal, a welcome message comes across. The same holds true for the length of plywood that enables a hand truck to access the wood shed when the ground is muddy: square it off. The wood can be managed a little more loosely, but not the footing. Once the place is truly in order, one can relax a little.

My experience of rural living has mostly been off the grid. All life support systems must be managed with careful rectitude, but the microscopic margins of error used in high-tech areas of the city are irrelevant. Check the Boy Scout handbook for basic sanitation. Before electricity, any competent housekeeper used the same skills to keep the family healthy. In "Home Comforts" , Cheryl Mendelson describes the sheer poetry of the manual skill of hanging laundry. 

Tackle non-biodegradable debris in the garden as soon as energies permit. Stow toys and tools when they are not being used. Install geraniums by the front door and keep them watered and trimmed. Swap for evergreens over the winter. Things will look responsibly managed no matter what the pressures on time and budget.

Certain aspects of living in the woods can legitimately be more relaxed than SOP in town. Shoes and coats at the entry can be haphazard. A splinter or two on the hearth rug need not be vacuumed right away. Aim for an air of comfortable relaxation. In the boonies, a quarter mile outdoors might be a reasonable margin of error. Indoors, perhaps an inch or six -30-
More after the jump.

Friday, October 20, 2017


My favorite literary critique was uttered by a dame whose opinion of a bucolic effort was "I do not believe that this young man has ever smelled a sheep." I recall gleaning this quotation from John Ciardi's high school English text.

The culture of young urbanites has grown precious and rightly wary of micro-organisms, but it's possible to take caution too far. Rot is one of the glories of life in Western Washington. Gardening is brewing, essentially, a process of growing soil with produce as a by-product. Now is the beginning of the agricultural year. Be brave: a whiff of the compost bucket never hurt anyone. 

A three-bucket emergency latrine, one for liquids, one for layers of soil and solids, and the last full of covering soil will be your best friend should The Big One hit. You'll be astonished by the clean, earthy odor. Jenkins "Humanure Handbook" is available free on line. One person/one privy for the squeamish. Add snap-on plastic seats for luxury -30-
More after the jump.

Thursday, October 19, 2017


I mentioned to my friendly local archaeologist that I had spent a couple of days in the boondocks marinating in the infrared emissions of a wood fire. I was barely able to get off the couch to tend to life support.

Straight away, he said that is how homo sapiens is designed to live. "Just keep the spears close to the entrance to the cave." -30- More after the jump.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Holiday Social Reserve

Keep the week before the big day free. Design breathing room into your schedule through New Year's day so that you have a holiday, too -30-
More after the jump.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

A Word For It

I was gratified to learn that Sweden has a tradition of what is called "death cleaning", rigorous editing of inventory with an eye to what will happen when one is not around. Since the date of one's demise is, presumably, not known, death cleaning is a constant minor process.

I learned a wrinkle in the technique while house-sitting recently. The hand-me-downs my student offspring had been happy to accept years ago still irritated me in the minor ways that had led me to offer them in the first place. My new policy will be to offer only things I can't quite bear to give up.

There are small piles of death cleaning inventory accumulating here and there in the house. I'm going to slap a decision deadline sticker on each one to accelerate what the museum folks call de-acquisition -30-
More after the jump.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Good Deals

Over the week-end, I noticed startlingly good prices in an e-mail from the Tabletop Matching Service in the southeast. Startling as in sterling being competitive with stainless and as in the fifty-dollar deal page offering high-quality mid-century modern serving ware for (relatively) peanuts.

This morning an on-line newspaper ran an article about the reluctance of millennials to commit to the kind of resource-intensive tabletop inventory for which my generation of females was willing to make nearly any sacrifice. Actually, it was our mothers who funded the equipment, thanks to marriage before cohabitation.

I mumbled something to my breakfast companion about the market crashing, and he reminded me that in twenty years, the next crop of young adults will be ravenous for the heirloom quilts and mahogany furniture that this lot can't wait to escape.

That said, the art and etiquette of the table may never rightly be compromised, because sharing food is bedrock social training. Details may vary, but healthy community is absolute -30-
More after the jump.

Friday, October 13, 2017


It's time to suggest to a Northwest native that he moved home to have an excuse to buy the tweed suit he's been eyeing -30-
More after the jump.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Floor

Japanese architectural tradition distinguishes between "people of the floor" and those without one. The floor is a piece of furniture.Tending to the floor is housekeeping bedrock. Laurence Van Der Post's "A Story Like The Wind" has an enchanting and, to one who kept house during the fulminating days of Seventies feminism, deeply heartening scene in which a young !Kung woman details the floor of a cave that is sheltering her and three companions. My archaeological source tells me that keeping sharp things off the floor is the oldest, most fundamental principle of good shelter-keeping.

I've been experimenting with sleeping on the floor, using a luxury self-inflating air mattress to cushion the process. A Pilates instructor advised her class that one's ability to get up off the floor is a reliable indicator of prospective life span. I reasoned that getting up off the floor at least once in an ordinary day would be a good way to keep track of my fitness.

This particular floor is very clean, because we take our street shoes off in the front hall. The floor is also quite comfortable, because the wool rug covers an electric heat mat, ideal for basking in chilly Seattle weather. It's ideal for unwinding kinks from the back, and just hard enough without the mattress to effect an auto-massage. After a few mid-day minutes on the floor, my bod begins to do Pilates on its own.

On a block where eighty square feet cost more than the monthly mortgage of a well-designed new house in Burien several years ago, I have grown to appreciate every bit of space at my disposal. Shifting to the high-tech version of a futon has transformed the sleeping room into a daytime all-purpose resource. Because I separate sleep and dressing functions, the minuscule 1890 closet is nearly empty, and it's trivial to stow bedding after I get going in the morning.

The simple volume of the place is calming. My core strength is improving, flexibility is automatic, and the change has done wonders for my posture -30-

More after the jump.