Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Chilly Tropics

Long ago, it was a revelation to learn that the local woods are classified as temperate rain forest. At the same time, I experienced tropical rain forest conditions thanks to a summer in Puerto Rico. On the way there, I transferred airlines on a New York July morning and seriously wondered whether I would live long enough to make the trek across the humid ninety degree runway into Saarinen's terminal. Long island weeks of ninety degree days of ninety percent humidity taught me how to pace myself. Air conditioning was not a factor, but traditional local architecture was. 

Since the local woods were logged in the late Seventies and early Eighties, Seattle weather has not been itself. My sense is that regrowth has restored the pattern of fragrant damp chill that was an aspect of our environment I could count on. Clean air is the key, as is avoiding the destructive rhetoric of broadcast weather reporting. Get it right, and every day is a good day. 

New construction south of the house has eliminated the passive solar gain I had long counted on over the dark months when the sun sleeps in and retires at three-thirty. It's no so different from PR in the mid-Sixties, though the days were a little longer. It is necessary to pay attention to conditions to stay comfortable and happy. A now-shaded interior coupled with high humidity is where the similarity lies. Enough artificial heat to forestall borderline hypothermia keeps my engine running, just as careful attention to physical activity reduced stress over that tropical summer. 

Wardrobe suited to local conditions is an interesting consideration. Western Washington Indians wore little more than long hair, salmon oil and cedar bark skirts similar to traditional Hawaiian wear. For outdoors they added glorious rain shedding hats and substantial rain capes. I find that a heavy wood sweater, boonie hat, and coated nylon poncho suffice for most conditions. Shoes are barely necessary in the winter as long as one is healthy and active. Flip flops round out heavy warmth in the upper body.

Interestingly, the comfortable traditional food of Puerto Rico hardly differs from the old-fashioned cuisine of my ancestors along the Mississippi. Long gentle cooking, easily managed with small appliances, is the key to the mint-30-
More after the jump.

Monday, October 22, 2018


Some years ago I added a sturdy German bathing suit spinner to my batterie de laundry. It's hard to imagine life without it now. I'd sooner forgo the washing machine itself. The spinner is a small variant of the daunting stainless steel centrifuge that used to be found in every laundromat. A rigorous spin wrings cups of water from a finished load of laundry, slashes drying time, and can even produce clothing ready to wear.

I daydreamed about having an ultrasound function on the spinner so that I could simply load clothes into it, push a button, and get finished laundry from fewer cubic feet than even my small machine occupies. Learning about machines that heat their own water makes the idea even more beguiling. A rectangular case that is stout enough to sit on would be useful in small space. The corners of the case could hold washing products. Ideally the machine would include a filter to protect the environment from micro-plastic residues. Set up side by side, two such machines could halve water consumption by transferring the rinse cycle's volume to wash a second load. If such a thing exists, an ultrasonic wand component could add a degree of versatility to washing that would rival hand work. One could process large items in a bathtub, perhaps even window blinds, or use a sink for special items. Possibly one could also wash dishes in a pan of water. 

A small washing machine designed for daily use has non-obvious environmental advantages. The capital and space the machine requires eliminates the vast amounts of resources necessary to produce clothing. Given the profound advantages of hand-made clothing, a machine designed for ultra-careful handling would make it easy to justify the time and expense of a custom wardrobe. The Mallory expedition to Mt. Everest examined the clothing found on his remains, copied it, and tried it on a later climb. Carefully tailored wool was as effective as high-tech down in conserving body heat. Rose Wilder Lane's history of American needlework details the labor, value, and preciousness of handmade textiles in the early years of settlement. My limited personal experience of hand-spun, hand-woven, and hand sewn garments is that the elasticity of hand work generates a comfort and durability that surpasses industrial textiles -30- 
More after the jump.

Friday, October 19, 2018

The Best Use for a Very Sharp Kitchen Knife

Cut a maple bar horizontally as if it were a sandwich roll. Heat it briefly in a microwave. Fill it with bacon jerky heated briefly as well -30-
More after the jump.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Residual Heat

I had a couple of eggs to scramble the other day. After baking cornbread from a mix, I turned it out of a small skillet, wiped the thing clean, and poured the eggs into the 400 degree piece of cast iron. The eggs cooked just enough to be edible, and I didn't have to fuss with another set-up -30-
More after the jump.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Quality Control

A recent story about an aircraft mishap with a happy ending brought to mind a fundamental aspect of Seattle culture. In the Fifties, the automatic response to a story about a plane crash was to ask who had manufactured the air frame. I thought nothing of it until I tried to explain it to an immigrant from the East Coast. It seemed like a callous reaction. Further consideration reminds me that there are more lives at stake than those of the souls on board -30-
More after the jump.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Stationer's Dots

It's hard to imagine a more powerful housekeeping aid, after a washing machine, than these inexpensive circles of colored paper. They eliminate all the heavy lifting, as long as one has willing volunteers. Simply stick a color-coded dot on something you want moved from one place to another. The dots give confidence to helpers and eliminate the need to supervise a job -30-
More after the jump.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Urning Their Keep

Recent modifications in the landscape led me to on-line offerings of galvanized steel containers-stock tanks and the like. The tanks are used in the neighborhood as planting containers. I noodled around garden sites as well, checking out the large planting urns on the market. Nothing contemporary appealed, but I realized that a pair of twenty-five gallon trash cans would make an elegant set of cache-pots for five-gallon landscape plants. In this neighborhood of expedient contemporary multi-family architecture, a rose at either side of an entrance would poke welcome fun at pretentious ornamental plantings -30-
More after the jump.

Friday, October 12, 2018

The Midden Approach

The horizontal file pile was recently rehabilitated in an on-line presentation by a software guy. I forget the general principle he quoted, but the basic message was that the stuff on top of the pile is in the optimal place for being used again.

I decided to conceptualize paperwork as information housekeeping. Much to my surprise, the teetering stacks and complex contents of my high school home study desk have turned out to be productive and relaxing to work with. I just pick my way down the midden one thing at a time. I was relieved to discover that a month-old backlog looks no different from three years of delay -30-
More after the jump.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Sidling Into The Holidays

Minor effort now pays off handsomely during the domestic marathon that starts the week of Thanksgiving. The heavy rains of October are due to start any day now. Tidying the garden produces a serene landscape to contemplate over a plate of turkey.

Any entertainment preps that happen ahead of time can happen in multiples. The principle is that it's just as easy to give two dinner parties in a row as one. Deli treasures like imported sweet biscuits, choice preserves, and various pickled things make good hostess gifts. The actual gift is of time. One section of my pantry is an arsenal.

Get the silver polished, if you do silver. Casual reading of the southeastern tabletop replacement site brought the staggering news that the stainless steel flatware I chose long ago is now selling for more than sterling. Plan which linens to use. A once a year rotation is good for the stuff. Trying to figure out how to make millennials comfortable at the table led to my concluding that it makes sense to cover a buffet with the heirloom cloth and use the matching napkins on a bare table or with a plain low thread-count linen cloth.

A long now approach to the holidays eases deadline-itis. Christmas's twelve days dilute the intensity of the three back-to-back major meals of eve, morning, and dinner. The good part of the twelve days was related to me by a friend who studied and lived in New Orleans. The day after Christmas ends is opening day for carnival season, that closes on the Tuesday before Lent starts. When the sun is going down at 3:30, we need that perspective -30-
More after the jump.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018


Keep the house clean-able. Investing the odd fifteen minutes now and then pays off in faster turnaround times for maintenance and greatly accelerated production. That said, there is renewed respect for the horizontal filing system known as a pile -30-
More after the jump.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

I Think I'll Call It America

In memory of Colville elder Mary Marchand

Mr. Vespucci came along for the ride on voyages that followed Columbus into the "New World". In 1963 I was shown a letter he wrote home asking for money. How the letter got there was not made clear, nor was the nature of home. Amerigo's handwriting was barely different from Sumner Stone's digital font Palatino. If you want to reproduce the effect, use bold italic. Yesterday, Wikipedia pointed out that Medici money funded Vespucci's explorations. 

Anyone with a computer has at their disposal Renaissance treasures of the historic European horizon of occupation of the Americas. Palatino, the Lucida family, Optima, and Times New Roman are all designed in the best tradition of the early printed book, in which Steve Jobs was trained at the demand of his undergraduate classmates. See Jobs' Stanford commencement address for details -30-

More after the jump.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Mass Extinction Event

English graffiti vandal Banksy just killed every single one of his competitors -30- More after the jump.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Drive-by Food Critic

One of the joys of living in this dense neighborhood is overhearing the neighbors' comments about our cooking. It's convenient to fry on the back porch, and not seldom I have received impromptu reviews of my process. The snicker that accompanied a burning roux is particularly memorable.

Last steak night, the cook did himself proud. As I waited for the dinner bell, an old-school customized muscle car roared down the block while someone shouted "Steak!" -30- 
More after the jump.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Low-hanging Tasks

Mopping up after a recent episode of home improvement reminds me of how valuable it is to do the easy chores first. Long habitation at this site is a history of figuring out what will produce the best effect for the least effort. Simple tidying often is enough to make a room look its best. Clearing horizontal surfaces so that they can be cleaned is an amazingly productive change: light reflects engagingly from a clean worktop, and the bare space invites further production. Vacuuming an apparently clean floor renders it more reflective-even the light off a carpet looks fresher.

Getting solid waste out of the way is a no-brainer. In my book, any redundant artifact is solid waste. Sometimes I store it, and sometimes I store it in a bag marked thrift -30-
More after the jump.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Corvid Design

In the mid-Seventies. a local outdoorsman assured me that the crows that frequented the drinking fountains near the neighborhood ball field spent their nights in Duvall. At some point in the late Eighties, crows stopped commuting. A hen built a nest in the crown of a 1926 hemlock in my back yard. She did a hostile fly-over one day when I was walking down the back path. I told her irritatedly "I'm not going to hurt your babies!", and I got friendly clucks ever after.

The in-house field science guy has been observing the local flock from his dawn bus stop for about twenty years. The gray squirrels that scamper up and down the towering shade trees on the block are an invasive species that's on the fish and wildlife hit list. I've never had the heart to contemplate taking any action, though I used to remind them that they'd make a good first course at Thanksgiving. Several years ago, the squirrels thinned out. I don't recall seeing a one last year. This spring's sightings have been of grays crouching and looking over their shoulders. Field Guy says he's observed the crows faking squirrels into the path of oncoming vehicles. 

A pair of juvenile squirrels is making its way around the block, and their body form seems different from the bold and glorious imports that were transplanted from London to Central Park in the nineteenth century. The pair is oddly sleek, with shorter fur that lies close to their bodies, almost like seal fur. The tails are shorter and less bushy. The limbs are shorter in comparison to the  torso. On the whole, the body form seems to be shifting to resemble the Douglas squirrel. Presumably, responding to a native predator demands modifications in the direction of a native survivor.

The crows also seem to have driven away the starlings that were common in the early Eighties-30-
More after the jump.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Coating the Interior with Ink

I emptied the bathroom cabinet to support a restoration job in the space. When the time came to replace daily necessities, I whipped out a bottle of window spray to clean first. I was startled to discover that the wiper looked as if I had been clumsy filling a pen.

Last summer's bout of smoky air left residue in surprising places in the house. Given that first-quality ink is pine soot bound with animal glue, it's not surprising that the wiper turned up sumi -30-
More after the jump.

Monday, October 1, 2018

The Return of the Housecoat

I call it a shop coat now, but early and mid-twentieth century women covered their base layers with a lightweight washable long smock while managing the domicile. It was easy to change into street clothing when the time came to sally forth.

I often wear three or four hats in the course of a day. A lab coat from the North End Academic Bookstore is cut to afford ample movement in the shoulders and is thick enough to protect under layers from wet paint. An indigo linen duster from the Northern European All-time Boutique close to the Market is easy, generous, and stylish for dry but grubby tasks. A black version of the same design is ideal for working with ink and as a protective summer layer on public transportation -30-
More after the jump.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Old School Chow

I inherited several early twentieth century cookbooks and used to amuse myself in the Fifties by reading improbable recipes aloud with a neighbor girl. Time and experience suggest that those early cookbooks record the agricultural lifestyle of the continental breadbasket before rural electrification. As late as the Seventies there were areas in Western Washington that still had no electrical service.

I've had the privilege of living off the grid for a total of nearly a year, through all seasons. Grocery stores were twenty miles away, at least. Managing the meat and dairy supplies took planning, skill, and many consultations with my grandmother, who had been born in a for-real homestead log cabin. Life in 1966 Berkeley with its emphasis on vegetarian and Mediterranean food supplemented family recipe files for Lent and the rest of the calendar year.

Presumably, the cookbooks' numerous "receipts" for all-vegetable dishes cooked to varying degrees of doneness are a knowledgeable response to using garden produce in its many stages of life. What look like unnecessarily elaborate and over-rich side dishes like nut loaves and soy patties substitute easily for a meat course that might be missing because no slaughter had taken place. Even rich desserts like layer cake are heavy in animal protein and fill a reasonable nutritional void for someone who does heavy labor all day.

This is the time of year I plan what to stock in the pantry over the cool months. Since I began to have almost all of the food supply delivered, it's easy and natural to revert to the food ways that are part of the original supply system for this 1890 house. A hidden benefit of the old way is that the food supply is protected from power outages -30-

More after the jump.

Thursday, September 27, 2018


Last summer an enthusiastic volunteer pulled up the patch of native snowberry that was attempting to rule my typical Seattle front bank. He did a first-rate job: only a few shoots appeared last spring. This year's growth of native flowers on the area was more lush and beautiful than any season I can remember in nearly four decades.

The second year here, I decided not to risk mowing my toes while grooming the area, so I asked someone to skin the sod off the bank. It was hot, itchy, two-fisted work. The exposed soil was bare and bleak, so much so that I decided to imitate one of my beloved Clallam County road cuts, generally covered with native daisies, sword fern, foxglove, and salal. The design deliberately integrated the curbside view with other grassy banks in the immediate vicinity.

The first four years were not impressive, but I managed to keep the bank looking as if it had been groomed. Each fall I cut down the summer's growth, laid it flat, and covered it with ash leaves from the towering shade trees across the street. Year five saw the planting scheme become sustainable, and the demands for water diminish.

I can't say for certain that decayed snowberry roots have wrought a miracle of tilth on the bank, but I have a strong hunch that the soil is now richer than ever and eager to grab what rain and irrigation water falls on the slope. The hunch is based on the traditional Japanese gardening practice of planting and composting deep-rooted daikon on hard soil to break it up and condition it for further use -30-
More after the jump.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Loose Parts

The key to keeping rational house is to behave as if one and other members of the family are literate. This is easier said than  done when habit and "Where's my...?" are the default communications modes. Much of effective housekeeping is museum and warehouse work. The arrival of digital hardware discombobulated my systems to the extreme. I don't even know the name of a thing that's missing, or even if it is missing but necessary nonetheless. Deliberate refusal to learn is not a behavior I respect, but learning a whole new field of nomenclature is not something I have time for, either, especially when the rate of change is significant.

I keep the hassle factor for little pieces of mystery hardware under control by making a name tag for everything, using the pricey black gaffer's tape that has become my one default strip of useful gummy stuff. A white-out pen or white jelly pen notes name and function. I stow the thing in a zip bag that is equally labeled, and sometimes I tape the hardware to the device it is meant to serve. Often, I post a similar label on the principal device. Everything has a date as well.

The strategy works equally well for furniture, upholstery patches, alternative lamp parts, and any meaningful artifact. I juggle the time and trouble it takes to archive a thing against the cost of replacing it with a fast visit to an on-line supplier -30-
More after the jump.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Wading Through Details

I like to hit the ground running on Monday morning. The inertia carries me through the rest of the week. An irregular schedule over last week-end, though, interrupted my preparations. The first of the week brought countless petty and not so petty demands. Fortunately, a recent (to me) and simple management precept, do the most important task before eleven, set up a pole star for the day.

Coping with the rest is like walking on a warm mud flat through an incoming bark tide. I just slide along pushing flotsam aside. Once I start to burn out, I can pluck minor concerns off various piles and be done with them.  Dwight Eisenhower's decision-making matrix gives me leverage on real-time demands -30-
More after the jump.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Housecleaning This Fall

Housecleaning guru Don Aslett recommends thorough cleaning late in the year rather than in the spring. He says it's good to get things right after the doors and windows are closed and the thundering small herd is back in school. I made the change several decades ago. The cumulative minor improvements in efficiency have added up in meaningful ways. September's raking sunlight makes it easy to see what I am doing.

This summer's smoky air left the interior covered with a light layer of soot. The family archaeologist would describe it as a marker horizon, and I have no doubt that despite my efforts quiet corners of the structure will retain a record of this period. Realizing that smoke residue is corrosive galvanized my unenthusiastic approach to fall cleaning. 

A shopping experiment in a county hardware store accidentally yielded a dynamite portable cleaning kit. I need very few supplies for the ordinary routine, but they are just enough that I can't lash them to the vacuum cleaner tank or stow them in a pocket. The Old Line Black and Yellow Tool company designed an inexpensive rolling case that is loud to look at and slick as can be in the way it functions. I toted it home on public transportation, where it generated curious and envious glances. I felt like I was impersonating a carpenter, but heck. The rolling case is sized just right for me, and I can sit on it at a bus stop.

A small canister vacuum with Big HEPA filtration sits tidily on the top of the case, and the bottom compartment somehow manages to swallow the extension wand I salvaged from another unit in the distant past. A fluffy synthetic dusting thing fits in as well. With a handful of the veteran terry washcloths I use in the kitchen, that's nearly all I need to get the floors clean enough to eat off.

The case is easy to move from room to room, gives me a spot to perch and catch my breath, and stows neatly in any of the closets. I carry a HEPA air filter from room to room as cleaning progresses so that the air is vacuumed as the floor is maintained. That double whammy means I'll be able to wipe the floors with a dampened terry wiper and extend the vacuuming interval by a couple of weeks under ordinary circumstances.

Removing street shoes at the entry is the key to the mint -30-

More after the jump.

Friday, September 21, 2018


Somewhere in a forgotten notebook I recorded the wisdom of Mario Andretti: "If everything's under control, you're not going fast enough." -30-
More after the jump.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

An Obliging Fellow

I couldn't resist twitting a bow hunter about the gentrified touch on the table in his campsite, a potted chrysanthemum. He quietly offered to gut and skin a deer on the spot. It took me several hours to appreciate his accommodating attitude -30-
More after the jump.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018


It's embarrassing not to have figured this one out for myself: establish separate wet and dry coolers when housekeeping in the field -30-
More after the jump.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Planting Season

This is the beginning of the growing year in Seattle. At this point, with the vegetable patch long established, corn salad has seeded itself (if those sleek pigeons have left anything) and the alliums are up and running again. I have a small order of walking onions coming in to replace the ones I foolishly let go in a moment of bad judgement. They're a great plant for a person who prefers to give the garden as little attention as possible. Walking onions plant themselves from little bulblets that develop at the top of a stalk.

The rains of October signal the smart time to put new landscape plants in the ground. They'll be naturally watered and have a long comfortable winter to develop roots. Just keep an eye on them during the invisible drought of February and March, when a freeze can desiccate rain-deprived shrubs. If you have reason to doubt that a woody plant has survived, scrape the bark carefully with a thumbnail. A green under layer means there's hope -30-
More after the jump.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Back To School

It's time to close the doors and windows and change the bag in the vacuum cleaner. Super-janitor Don Aslett taught me that now is the time for major cleaning.

I like to keep the place clean-able on general principles. It's helpful to remember that horizontal surfaces are for work, not storage. Set a tray or container of some kind under an accumulated and useful pile to facilitate dust control. Keeping mites at bay is good for cognition and concentration. Controlling dust improves lighting and morale. It's amazing what an effect vacuuming an apparently clean floor has on the atmosphere in a room.

We continue to pare inventory as projects are completed or abandoned. The only way to appreciate the relief that losing dormant inventory affords is to experience it -30-

More after the jump.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Historic Restoration

An eighteenth century room reflects a period when labor was precious, all artifacts produced by hand, and lines of supply were months long. When I married, my grandmother proudly handed me the bill for the first wagon-load of groceries that were delivered to her honeymoon cottage a few miles to the north. It was for a hundred pounds of potatoes and a big sack of flour. As late as the mid-Fifties in a small town to the west, the butcher boy arrived weekly to set a carton of food on her kitchen table.

Lately I've been asking that groceries be delivered to the back porch of this vintage building. The orders complete the restoration of this old house -30-
More after the jump.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Skilled Lighting, Skilled Result

This is obvious but often overlooked: flooding a worktop with light makes a huge difference in product quality. Be conscious of the light source. Different technologies effect different atmospheres. Choose whatever is most suited to a given project. Flood fluorescent light with incandescent to even out the subtle flicker of the cheaper source. Differing qualities of LED have their own virtues. I don't hesitate to switch on the fierce raking light of an incandescent spot if a job seems to call for it. Assess color with a daylight source. Factor in the end user's likely sources of illumination. For a low-tech context, I use florescent, incandescent, daylight, or even sometimes firelight. LED seems made for digital.

In a discussion of the light bulbs that vary in color, a photographer pointed out that it's more effective to warm up a cool interior than to try to cool the visuals in a warm one. He was explaining why he had chosen fluorescent white base paint to refresh a room -30-
More after the jump.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Restless Inventory

If there is even one too many piece of furniture in my abode, I can't stop arranging things. Much of the advice I have read about managing an interior has focussed on how to fit as much as possible into a given space. Now that I have relinquished my choke hold on inventory, the essentials that are left can breathe elegantly in their own situations.

It helps greatly to have seating that folds flat. I use director's chairs, that are comfortable for an amazing range of body types and sizes. Also very useful, and unexpectedly so, are the cheapest and lightest 30"x60" folding tables from an office supply. I disguise the ones that live in the front of the house with long woven king-sized cotton blankets in a neutral color. Visually "bury" a bulky piece by matching the color to the floor.

A couple of months ago I took a plunge and discarded the punishingly uncomfortable innerspring seat cushions of an otherwise elegant 1926 sofa. It took four generations to comprehend that the lines of the thing are traditional French. Steel springs are nineteenth century US. Some weeks of improvising a seat using a self-inflating air mattress from the Great Big Hiking Co-op did not pan out. Gazing idly at the sleek lines of the bare sofa led me to realize that my daydream of gutting it and storing bedding there were not necessary. The seat of an original French canape' was cushioned with an enormous puffy down-filled pillow. Perceiving no essential difference between that and the plumage in bed pillows, I fluffed up a row of four, laid an Oregon Round-up blanket over the whole works, tucked it in to fit the curves, and transformed grandmother's pride and joy into my favorite period of French antique, the latest one, known as Louie Louie. When the weather cools, I'll top the pillow array with a down sleeping bag -30-
More after the jump.

Monday, September 10, 2018

The Prop

I wanted to support a wood surface at a convenient angle for a finishing project. I happened across an exercise roller that has ribs like a truck tire. It's just the ticket, and I'm delighted to find another use for it -30-
More after the jump.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Potato Yoga

Long ago, a neighbor told me it is only necessary to buy one potato, ever. Decades of experience in the compost heap prove that potatoes grow themselves. I eat the small tubers that turn up inadvertently when burying kitchen waste and let the larger ones grow until it's time to get them out of the way with a harvest -30-
More after the jump.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Pull The Door

I had a fiddly maintenance job to do on an interior door. It seemed best to take it off the hinges and lay it across a couple of sawhorses. I'm still working on the door, but there was an unexpected payoff for removing it: an open room is easier to use when heat and privacy are not concerns.The space is obviously easier to maintain.

There's a rehab project for the room itself in the near future, and I will surely pull the door again to make life simpler for the crew that will be doing the work. No doubt I'll do the same for other spaces, dust generation permitting -30-
More after the jump.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Alternative Storage Space

Create storage and free closet space for large or awkward items by using the following:
a chest or foot locker (make sure it is child-safe by using a lock and/or safety hinges)
a table skirted to the floor with a large cloth
hooks on the wall
hanging shoe bags (a personal favorite)
stacking shoe boxes
a thrift donation bag -30- More after the jump.

Friday, August 31, 2018

The Kura

A traditional Japanese paper house had a fireproof storage building behind it. The structure was called a kura, and in it were stored household artifacts not in the working rotation. My sense is that kura storage is the design factor behind Japan's superb tradition of packaging. Everything comes with a storage box, and that box in turn is protected by a fabric bag.

Recently I ordered a number of gifts.They arrived in appealing, sturdy boxes and showed up just as it was time to rationalize the toy chest. It's hard, but I limit toys to one foot locker. Things had been stashed in zip top plastic bags. I decided to use the boxes to try the kura approach. Doing so yielded a phenomenally elegant and protective toy inventory. Whether a three-year old will be patient with the collection is debatable, but I know for sure they'll have a wonderful time exploring -30-
More after the jump.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

The Tack Room

Twenty years ago out of disgust with Seattle's traffic even then, I threw the car away, substituting a rolling backpack and a fresh pair of hiking boots. Over the decades, it has become easy to justify experimenting with luggage and side bags as transportation costs plummet. Like a biker or cyclist, I have discovered that it makes sense to tailor my gear to a given occasion. In the process, the household has accumulated a noticeable collection of rollers, spinners, and totes. To that I add a motley assemblage of securement devices plus runner's night safety flashers and vests.

The mess is awkward, though not critically so. I am casting about for a place in the house to stage organizing an exit. Rows of storage pegs mounted along the top of the basement walls are the obvious choice for now -30-
More after the jump.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

The Short Cut

Several years ago, I put together a few experimental pillow cases using hot glue to adhere thickly-textured soft cotton dish towels. I prefer not to sew, but I wanted to see how washable "street-legal" pillow cases that did not look boudoir would perform in the house. I would not repeat either the fabric or the glue, but the basic concept has paid off handsomely. It's now a snap to transform a sleeping place into a day lounge. 

In a perfect world, I would pre-wash and dryer-shrink unbleached artist's linen with a comfortable hand and sew it with a needle and thread. A tapestry needle would protect fabric threads from splitting, and bookbinder's linen thread would integrate the job. Washed and air dried, such a pillow case would last at least thirty years. Some of my pillows have boxed edges like sofa cushions. An artist-quality version of the packing cubes sold at the Great Big Hiking Co-op would suit them perfectly and be multi-purpose as well. A conventional pillow can be boxed by turning the corners in on themselves and tacking the fold into place -30-
More after the jump.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018


In the late Seventies, I kept track of what I spent on thrift shop clothing over the course a year. Once the total was in, I realized I could buy a good ready-to-wear suit for the same money and be better dressed (in terms of weather and social applications). The suit paid for itself in two months' worth of increased business. Times have changed, and style has surely changed, but it remains true that getting the most value out of the cost of acquisition -time, travel, and price-is still a smart way to use resources. In my world, paying full retail for a mid-range garment gives the lowest cost per use.

What holds true for clothing is also true for housewares. It's worth sinking some bucks into any well-designed traditional low-tech amenity, like a cooking pot, if only because a good pot gets the most out of basic ingredients like beans and cheap cuts of meat. My modest domestic operation now needs little more than one killer shallow enameled cast iron saute' pan with a lid that weighs more than the pan itself plus a very sharp knife.

Not every item need be top of the line. Bottom of the line can be excellent value. A tinny enameled steel coffee pot and kettle with a granite finish serve a stovetop well, if seldom. Buy from a familiar label. I use the stuff in the field because I don't have to worry about theft. Watch out for flecks of glassy enamel in cooked food-that's why this is a low-end product -30-
More after the jump.

Monday, August 27, 2018


Current atmospheric conditions demand enforced leisure and present the opportunity to train my partner, now retired and equally confined, in the particular degrees of effort needed when one has energy enough only to keep the health department at bay and retain custody of one's dependents. It's amazing how the basics can be accomplished in brief intervals on one's feet.

Smoky air leaves me lacking energy in ways I have not experienced before. I'm not ill, just slack as can be, but with attention enough to get to details I've been speeding past for decades. Tonight will be a good time to listen to early Seventies music and offer thanks that the air mixture no longer includes lead from gasoline, arsenic from the smelter, fly ash from the cement plant, or the  nitrous oxide that made breathing a consciousness-altering experience -30-
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Friday, August 24, 2018

Recent Conditions

It will be a while before I appreciate wood smoke for the subtle incense that it is. Several days' enforced leisure with a HEPA air filter yield what follows. Around 2014 the director of the Washington State History Museum observed that it will take three hundred years to learn how to manage the local forests that produced magnificent timber founded on salmon-fed grizzly bear waste. The tribal elders who gardened the region died before they were interviewed. As much as I dislike eating smoke, I appreciate fire as a pest control strategy. 

In the spirit of sleeping under my desk, I laid a thick folded wool blanket on the studio floor. (We don't wear street shoes in the house.) I discovered that the combination of high-octane coffee, solitary concentration, laptop yoga, a hard wooden flat-seated stool for my sitzbones, and intermittent floor breaks produced a gentle sequence of workout and production with no effort whatsoever. I often find that I am most productive when I quit cold, and the last few days proved the point in spades.

When conditions improve, I'll give the garden a brisk shower to clean its pores and take a look at how the native plants fared in the, no kidding, billowing clouds of smoke that blew across the neighborhood -30- 

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Thursday, August 23, 2018

The Spectrum Of Value

Paring inventory continues to be a pleasure. Casual reading in the history of American furniture turned up the comment that the splendid design innovations of the Colonies were a way of storing the wealth. Little of my furniture can be described that way, though a few good pieces remain serviceable and appealing after several generations' use. 

At this point, I value the rest of the collection in several ways. First, I don't shy away from things that recycle easily or are so standard and utilitarian as to have a secondary market. A second group is frankly disposable. Many of the things in this category have been neighborhood finds. I was pleased to learn that many of the antiques in New Orleans' French quarter have been passed from owner to owner in the neighborhood. I plan to make sure that the little sidewalk treasures of the Hill stay where they belong -30-
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Wednesday, August 22, 2018


A local paper mentioned a disposable paper mask as protection against wildfire smoke. It's a full-face surgical mask with loops for the neck and the back of the head. I'll use a safety respirator, but the surgical masks have numerous functions. I stocked up after St. Helens blew in 1980 and used up the collection when I was doing dusty yard work -30-
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Tuesday, August 21, 2018

The Burns Of August

Yesterday's morning sun presented the same near-lurid burnished gold circle as an odd moon. Air quality advisories have given me the perfect excuse to skip going to the gym and focus on flexibility. Conditions have produced a warm weather variant of a snow day, and I can't entirely complain. With a HEPA air filter in action, I can hole up with the laptop and detail files to my heart's content. It will be good to hit the ground running after Labor Day knowing that the digital ironing basket is empty -30-
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Monday, August 20, 2018

Bee Rally

Native Queen Anne's lace crowds the front bank. The in-house field science guy observed five different species of bee working the flowers. I was pleasantly surprised to discover the plant's delicate vanilla scent -30-
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Friday, August 17, 2018

The Awning

The gym I frequent is in a noteworthy early Fifties building. At the time, Seattle was world famous for its architecture. To get some idea of the scale of that achievement, think of Paris looking to Pe Ell for inspiration. At the time, Washington meant only D.C.

The building closed last week for its annual bout of major maintenance. The management decided to remove an awning that had shaded the east-facing entrance for years. It was delightful to discover the lofty glazing that was revealed and realize that a relatively young deciduous street tree had rendered the awning unnecessary -30-

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Thursday, August 16, 2018

Urban Wildlife

I finished rereading John A. Hunter's autobiography recently. Hunter was literally that, a safari guide during the early twentieth century heyday of African big game. Culturally speaking, the book is abrasive, but the text is illuminating.

Wild rabbits appeared in this garden that is mere minutes on foot from downtown high rises. We've been keeping a charmed but careful eye on the little animals. Yesterday I noticed a shadow gliding around the corner of the house as I settled in on the front porch for a pre-dawn cup of coffee. I wondered who had faded out of sight. A minute later I noticed a sleek long-haired cat watching me from the north fence line.

Hunter's riveting stories of lions came immediately to mind, and I realized that the front lawn is now a mini-veldt. What if anything to do about the unsupervised cat will be an issue to decide later. In the meantime, I'll research owl habitat -30-
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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Pallet

Inspired by a conversation overheard in the Great Big Hiking Co-op, I began to experiment with sleeping on the floor now and then using a self-inflating air mattress. I appreciate an instant guest room, and my back appreciates a flat night's sleep. It's most comfortable to lay a doubled wool blanket over the pad and then set out whatever bedding suits the moment. The Great Big Northern European Home Furnishings Chain carries coarse linen tablecloths that make good sheets-30- 
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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Urban Upholstery

July or August are the only Seattle months when this idea is bright. A U District drugstore has a concrete retaining wall to one side of its entrance. The wall is a comfortable height for sitting. Someone set the drop-in upholstered seat of an unknown chair on the wall to make the perch more comfortable. The mid-century modern upholstery looked just right in that context -30-
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Monday, August 13, 2018

Garden Lace

Last fall I scuffled a handful of Queen Anne's lace seeds across the newly denuded front bank. This month there's a four-foot crop waving freely, feeding countless bees, and gently concealing the ratty foliage of various other self-seeding annuals. I count the planting wildly successful. It looks spectacular with equally native fireweed and the choice strain of California poppies that shows to best advantage among its umbelliferous stems -30-
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Friday, August 10, 2018

Calming The Chain Of Supply

Long years of experimentation have left me preferring cloth napkins and kitchen wipers to paper. I tested an order of a dozen utilitarian plain cotton handkerchiefs and found them convenient and simple to manage. They take up less storage room and acquisition time than disposables -30-
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Thursday, August 9, 2018

Scrub Scrubbing

Housekeeping guru Don Aslett opened my eyes to dwell time for getting things clean. Simply dampen a grimy surface with the cleaning solution of your choice, wait half a minute (or a little longer) and then wipe the surface clean. I prefer cheap terry washcloths to other cleaning wipers -30-
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Wednesday, August 8, 2018

A New Bag

Last year I stumbled across a physician's black bag at the north end Academic Bookstore. The contemporary model is made of nylon pack cloth and seemed to be just the ticket for my daily needs. It didn't seem quite right to claim a medical accessory at the time, so I passed it up.

My go-to purse purveyor discontinued the slash-proof model I'd been toting for years, and I stumbled across the medical bags again when I was in the store on another errand. This time, I looked at the price and the colors, hefted one, and inspected the interior. It's straightforward and obliging. The design respects fine motor skills: the fabric is just heavy enough to be serviceable while being light enough to handle gently. I picked one up to test-haul, and so far it's working very well -30-

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Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Co-axial Storage

I needed extra crock space in the kitchen to present the tongs that are now my serving implement of choice. A clean flower pot big enough to hold them was an annoyingly clumsy space to keep them. In an impatient moment, I emptied it and set in the old-fashioned footed "spooner" that I use to hold utility flatware. The smaller vessel fills the void that made a tangle of the tongs. Together, the two vessels are four times the convenience -30-
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Monday, August 6, 2018

The Sky Is Back

Seattle's cerulean sky disappeared around 1986. My personal take on the change is that intense logging of the region coupled with problems with the ozone layer had modified conditions. I feared the change was permanent, but this year I am seeing the same impeccable blue I had always taken for granted -30-
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Friday, August 3, 2018


The in-house field science guy discovered one and then two wild rabbits in the yard. Contemplating rabbit habits, I spent two weeks oscillating between Beatrix Potter and Elmer Fudd. Fortunately, I turned to the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife website, which explains mutually humane strategies for co-existence. For the time being, I'll enjoy a neatly grazed and fertilized lawn with sides of organic weed control and unexpectedly graceful and inspiring romps  -30-
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Thursday, August 2, 2018

The Cache Pot

A thrift store on the Ave has placed a ten-gallon pot of multi-trunked parlor palms front and center in its display window. They used a sixteen-quart industrial grade dairy crate lined with a plastic bag as a cache pot. I like the idea on its own and for the simplicity of using a generic container -30-
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Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Minus Furniture

On the rare days when Seattle weather is uncomfortably warm, I migrate to sleep in cool parts of the house. My side bag comes along. The useful daytime contents effectively replace the clutter and minor tonnage of a traditional bedside table. 

Any factor that simplifies furnishing also simplifies cleaning, maintenance, and insurance expense. The emptier a space, the more versatile, profitable, and relaxing it is -30-

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Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The Elegant Garden

A long-handled ice ax is a useful all-around tool for fine grooming. Sharpen the adze and use the end of the handle as a digging stick -30-
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Monday, July 30, 2018

Hat Of The Year

One hot local day, a milliner produced an enviable combination of function and style by adding a matching corrugated cardboard sunshade to her hard hat -30-
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Friday, July 27, 2018


Last fall, I picked up a package of eschscholzia seeds at the glass boutique on the grounds of the Seattle Center. I broadcast them onto bare areas of the garden and scuffled them into the ground with an old claw-like wire rake. A thin layer of leaves protected the seed from birds, and I forgot about the planting until spring.

The first time I lifted my head to the garden as winter itself lifted, I was dismayed. The front bank had been drastically cleared of a snowberry infestation last summer, and there were no signs of life under the deteriorating mulch. Two weeks later, sprouts appeared, and the poppies made a good showing a couple of weeks after that.

This strain of California's state flower appears to be a choice one. Color ranges from white to a sharp reddish orange. After flowering, the foliage shows the usual signs of mildew, but the plant appears to outgrow it. Usually I cut poppy when mildew appears, but the flowers of this batch of seed were so gratifying, I held off. As seed set, the stems of the bushy plant curved inward like tumbleweed, and it dried to a gratifying form. The life cycle of this strain is interesting enough that I plan simply to leave it alone and see what happens next season -30-
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Thursday, July 26, 2018

Shopping The Closet

Thanks to my feckless haste in setting up a load of laundry, two key black garments died of terminal lint infestation. They are worn enough not to be worth the hours and tape it would take to groom them, so they have gone to hang with the painting clothes. The loss made it easy to rationalize my favorite area of procrastination, the wardrobe thrash.

I think about fall outfits in July. Sweltering week-days trigger memories of my first sewing class, when choosing back to school wool was the agenda. My mother clued me to wool: it's malleable and getting a good result is easier than with vegetable fibers. Some simple Seventies dress-for-success accounting about my clothing expenses turned up a gratifying result: it is cheaper for me to pay full retail for exactly what I want than to try home sewing. I shifted my attentions from pattern books to glossy magazines.

I don't follow fashion, but now and then, like the inoperable clock that shows the exact time twice a day, one of my preferences turns up on a runway. Surprisingly often, this happy accident was bought at the Great Big Hiking Co-op. I stumbled across an encyclopedic rendering of fall collections on a magazine rack a couple of weeks ago. The price caused a sharp intake of breath, but few ads clutter the pages and one good idea covered the purchase price.

1,500 outfits later, I dealt some of my rags onto a clean rug, photographed them, and filed the images along with the inspirational designs into a first-thing-in-the-morning computer file that I check to see how my life is defined on a given day. Getting dressed is a no-brainer under the best of circumstances-a little brain ahead of time gets me a better result -30-

More after the jump.