Monday, December 31, 2018

Do You Want Ten Gallons of Cream?

My actual experience of a working agricultural household can be counted in minutes. I was along for the ride when a friend stopped at a farm to take care of a minor errand. We were invited in for coffee, and I can't remember a more edifying visit.

I had heard and read that the owners of a working farm will equip production areas before they furnish the house. The interior of the turn of the twentieth century farmhouse where I was seated bore witness to those priorities and to the advantages of careful maintenance in pristine air. Part of the space had been remodeled, and there was a vertical line of demarcation between the update and the original surfaces of the dining room. My hostess served coffee on a table furnished with original pressed glass dishes, an American technical innovation that stimulates aggression in collectors. The table service had been procured once, procured well, and used carefully for generations. Not a penny had been squandered. When it was time to leave, herself casually asked my friend if she could use an extra ten gallons of cream.

With so many people working out of their domiciles these days, such values hold true for city living as well. The cream, in urban terms, is the amazingly rich product of the knowledge work that claims so many hours of so many lives that are busy paying off student loans -30-
More after the jump.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Production Line

Over the last couple of years I have acquired four or five utility office tables, the cheapest 30"x60" ones I could find on line. These featherweight folding work tops seemingly designed for the un-tall have greatly accelerated production of entertainment and work projects. It's a luxury to have a work top dedicated only to one task. The arrangement makes it easy to concentrate.

Recently I ordered a lot of brown paper shopping bags with folding handles. Coupled with a dedicated table, I was able to sort and wrap Christmas gifts for the family in half an hour -30-
More after the jump.

Thursday, December 27, 2018


A remembered comment in my limited reading in the classics stuck with me as a sensible and interesting housekeeping strategy. Greek housekeepers covered sleeping surfaces with sheepskins. That makes sense of flokati rugs.

The Great Big Northern European Housekeeping Chain sells lambskins at a good price. They're excellent padding for hard seating. I find their simple dignity a welcome note in the front areas of the house. Interestingly, the animal's anatomy is congruent with furniture designed by and for homo sapiens. The hind end of the skin sits neatly on the seat of a Windsor chair while the forequarters work in well with the structure of the back and arms.

Fragments of a worn skin are useful for polishing things. The fleece can be cut into comfortable old-school insoles for shoes and boots -30-
More after the jump.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Lasting Value

I have a weakness for marine-quality hardware and accessories. A lifetime of observation leads me to conclude that the rigors of flotation demand uncompromising quality. Though I haven't spent much time actually on the water, I've had ample opportunity to use and evaluate marine accessories on the beach and to discover them in thrift shops. The floating life makes the most of cubic inches of space and demands versatility. 

Seattle's long-time ship chandler has a rich web site. The hats alone are worth a look -30-
More after the jump.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Persuading the Tree

I spent a good hour staring stupidly at a living Christmas tree trying to work out an ornamental container for the landscaper's pot. Everything I would ordinarily use was just wrong.

I realized that the tree was new to its pot, as hydrated as a conifer can get, and might easily be root-pruned to fit into a cache pot that was on the small side. Doing so would make the tree look bigger. Two minutes later the problem was solved. Since the tree is going into the garden after the holidays, the pruning procedure won't faze it at all -30-
More after the jump.

Friday, December 21, 2018

A Simple, Elegant Dessert

I began to reconsider traditional holiday baking when I realized that something that makes me sick and fat might not be a treat. For dessert on Christmas eve, I like to serve half a very good pear with the center filled with the best chocolate sauce I can lay my hands on. A piece of shortbread on the side and a little cup of the best coffee I can field round out the experience, as does a presentation of other small goodies like fine chocolates, marzipan, and choice nuts. Absent a carefully home-ripened pear, a canned one from a premium commercial brand does very well -30-
More after the jump.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

The Tickle Tree

My childhood pack of buddies centered on three brothers whose mother kept the show sane and balanced. When she realized an ordinary Christmas tree with its fragile glass ornaments lasted ten minutes in the hands of her two year old, Maggie switched to blue spruce with its needle-sharp leaves. My own son gave blue spruce the name in the title.

Spruce proved good at repelling my family's rambunctious Siamese kitten some years later.The cats are an arboreal guardian breed developed to patrol the roof beams of temples. 

Spruce is easy to decorate: just stuff dried flowers into the dense branches after the lights are up -30-
More after the jump.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Nimble Space

The latinate terms for furniture translate to "movables". It's an efficient attitude that blows away the dormant behemoths of the interior nineteenth century. Over the years, I have rid the household of nearly all furniture that I can't move by myself. With small furnishings stored in one room on each floor, the rooms are spare and inventory interchangeable. When a new demand on the space materializes, I can reconfigure a room single-handed in about ten minutes. Super slick hard nylon sliders for furniture feet are the key to this particular mint. They act as wheels, protecting floors and old glue joints in furniture -30-

More after the jump.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

In Lieu of Waxed Paper

I bought a set of silicone pan liners and then promptly stopped baking because a superb facility opened around the corner. I use a small microwave and freestanding oven. It's convenient to park things on their tops. The silicone sheets make good non-skid pads for preps and dishes that I set on the small appliances -30-
More after the jump.

Monday, December 17, 2018

A Cautious Approach

Recent hard weather generated a wardrobe reconfiguration. The exercise happened to coincide with a lengthy browse in an unfamiliar glossy fashion title, so unfamiliar I still haven't located the masthead on the thing. That said, I'm always grateful to see photo coverage that makes the style mysteries of the Ave a little more accessible. I enjoy the bulky layering of current runway presentations. 

I was able to pare a few variables off the surface of my inventory. A second browse in a glossy shelter just now reminded me of an old-school design limitation instilled by my grandmother: avoid machine embroidery and machine-made lace. I still can't bring myself to deploy that kind of ornament. Ignoring it lays a simple foundation in the wardrobe and frees money for good fabric -30- 
More after the jump.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Winter Basics

The outdoor community recommends carrying the ten essentials of survival whenever going into the woods. This is earthquake country, so I carry the minimum every time I go beyond walking distance of the house. Because there are bodies of water between home and my usual destinations, I carry the ten most of the time. The list is shorter during warm weather, but not by much.

      razor blade
       half a book of matches
       water purification tablets and a vessel
       energy bar
       poncho, dust mask for warmth, and two produce bags for  dry feet
       mylar blanket
       soap, tissues, Band-Aid
       birthday candle
       loud whistle, short length of lumber crayon, phone

       footgear and tote  -30-

More after the jump.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Feeling At Home

It takes constant, gentle attention to inventory to mange the contents of the house so that it serves me rather than my serving it. I feel best and am most productive when my surroundings replicate my last undergraduate dorm room. I had only what I needed to fulfill my mission. My mission has expanded and contracted over the years. Being realistic about necessities has been as convenient as having an assistant on call. I can observe and do rather than wait and maintain -30-
More after the jump.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Historic Restoration

A long life in a comfortable piece of 1812 architecture (built in 1890) has been a rewarding exercise in historic restoration. This is a neighborhood in constant transition, so we have not been tempted to turn the place into a money pit. 

Now and then I realize that a design choice made for convenience has recreated one of the traditional ways of managing life support. Moving a top of the line locking tradesman's tool cabinet into a corner of the original unfitted production kitchen transformed the space into a secure home office. At the turn of the nineteenth century, all doors and storage pieces had locks and keys-30-
More after the jump.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Low-tech Happiness

Handmade basics are offered at breathtaking prices in British Conde' Nast's "World of Interiors", the glossy shelter of choice around here. Four figures for a pair of scissors is not on my current shopping list, although if it included the services of a skilled cutler, my blink rate might decline a little. Fostering that level of iron work is not a trivial service to the culture. I'm still using a pair of scissors my great-grandmother brought from Sweden. They're of a size to have been useful when my hands were four years old, and they're still my go to for nearly every cutting need. The cost per use of even four figures would be trivial in such a case.

I recently passed great-grandmother's nickel steel frying pan to a young cousin. Dating to around 1895, it has been in daily use. Again, the cost per use is trivial. The thing could not have been inexpensive when it was new. It first saw service in a homestead log cabin on the Olympic Peninsula. That neck of the local woods appreciates solid quality. Back in the day, the lines of supply went around the tip of South America or Africa or straight across the continent. Being able to field a hot meal over an open fire was a matter of life and death. Having one's hands on a relatively lightweight and unquestionably well-balanced skillet was no small advantage. Recovering from a broken wrist brought the value of the design home in no uncertain terms.  My experience of first-rate cookware is that the high end low-tech stuff is even better in the field than on an induction surface.

I like to furnish the house with a solid base of low-tech essentials, because there's no knowing when low-tech might be the only option. Traditional designs respect the hand and make the most of its energy-30-
More after the jump.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Griz Housekeeping

Several years ago I was surprised and not happy to find myself setting up camp for the night in grizzly territory. A night on the cold, cold ground zipped into featherweight tenting like a snack bar with a pulse did nothing for my sense of sport. It did prove to be a useful reminder of the basics of  housekeeping, though. I did my damnedest to make sure that the only scent of food in the tent was, unavoidably, me. My hands and person were clean, there were no food spills on my shirt, and there were no crumbs around the camp site.

I chanced to compare notes with another member of the party recently and was happy to learn that she, too, had gone into housekeeping overdrive. Laura got up in the middle of the night to patrol the cooking shelter to make sure no one had forgotten a fruit rind or morsel of something that might attract a predator. You know you're in real bear country when the garbage cans seem to have been manufactured in a shipyard.

Previous outings with the same party honed my crumb-control skills, because field mice carry hanta virus, a source of problems with blood pressure. It's easy to get careless in town, where the built environment seems more forgiving. My house predates structural innovations in vermin-proofing, so housekeeping has always been the front line. Basic table manners protect the individual and the group from the low-profile but surely mortal threats of pest and micro-organism and from the lessee risk presented by an angry housekeeper -30-

More after the jump.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Front and Center

Accelerate ordinary tasks by clearing shelves of anything that is not in daily use. There's usually a spare shelf somewhere nearby to hold things that are used at longer intervals. The principle holds true for any storage area of things large or small -30-
More after the jump.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

The Floor Room

My back enjoys spending the night on a flat, hard surface. A hiker's luxury self-inflating air mattress with memory foam layer makes the experience a pleasant one. Sleeping on the floor in a piece of Western architecture can feel like lying in the bottom of a not especially inspiring bucket, though, even if house rules veto wearing street shoes indoors.

 To simplify housekeeping and make the interior spaces more nimble, I turned one bedroom into a gallery. I suspended framed works from the built-in picture rail and embellished a corner with a classic Victorian scrap screen, four panels covered with, in my case, neighborhood concert posters. The scrap screen brings the visual horizon in the room down to floor level, enriching time spent on the rug. The screen turned out to be the finishing touch in an experimental process that has transformed a conventional bedroom into a combined display area, sleeping space, and home exercise facility. An empty closet lets me stow bedding out of sight during the day. An electric heat mat under the rug melts the kinks out of tired back muscles in no time.

I use a different room to store clothing, but it would be trivial to move my wardrobe back into this space. There's plenty of room for the cedar chest that holds most of the collection. The rest of my things take up about fifteen inches of pole-30-
More after the jump.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Getting A Grip

It has been my privilege to work with a collection of hand tools fabricated by a man trained who as a knife smith in Europe's far north. His design of the interface of human body and business end of a blade, commonly known as a handle, shines the brightest of lights on how to take best advantage of physical energy, especially if said blade is sharp.

Many of the complexities of marketing and production of powered tools could be simplified by making skilled handle design available at the retail level. Digital milling and the sophisticated analysis of bio-mechanics that is the fruit of international sports competition would make it relatively trivial to produce custom handles for a given individual.

The tools I have access to have been in ordinary use since around 1900. They show no signs of wear or weakness except for the paint on the handles. Some of them are as beautiful as the Shaker and African work I have seen in museums. The planet paid one carbon price for their production that is barely measurable in 2018. The inventory takes little storage space and requires nothing but a good meal to power it -30-

More after the jump.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The Wrap

I am uncharacteristically early in setting up for the holidays. Yesterday I brought out the stocking stuffers I'd been tossing into a drawer since June. The next (small) drawer down holds gift wrap. A morning's fiddling and sort proved the value of investing in reusable wrap.

I pick up bandannas to use as furoshiki. Not seldom, the wrap costs more than the gift, but no one has complained. It takes seconds to wrap an awkwardly shaped object in a scarf and tie up the ends. It takes just a few seconds more to tie a decorative thing, like the plastic tentacle that has become a staple of fun, into the knot. A to-from cut from stick-on label stock handles communications. Tiny cards in matching envelopes from a high-end stationer are right for major presentations. 

Friends who save ribbon love to save the real thing. When I first paid for double-faced satin ribbon to tie up a gift box, l wheezed. Years later, that first length of ribbon is still going strong. Last year, it embellished the wreath on the front door. No minor part of the economy of reusable gift wrap is how small the time and travel cost of acquisition grows with each successive reuse -30-

More after the jump.

Monday, December 3, 2018

In Time

Most clothing is so well made these days that I rarely have to sew on a button. Heavy mileage on a favorite coat left one button hanging like a loose tooth, though. Like a loose tooth, I pulled the button off as soon as I realized it might be lost, stowing it in my wallet until I got home. I sew so seldom that when I do it feels like working with my feet.

I set up the mending kit under a lighted magnifier. The lamp was so comforting I didn't actually have to use it except to thread the needle. It's always amazing to discover that two minutes with needle and thread generates years of life for a garment for which I paid dearly -30-
More after the jump.

Friday, November 30, 2018

The Micro-lamp

I ordered a purportedly eighteenth century stoneware jar to replace a similar vessel that had been a favorite casual vase. The new piece let water seep through-it was probably a snuff jar-but I was reluctant to let it go, because its well-honed practical form is irresistible. It sat around for a couple of years until a moment of folly suggested I take it to the Wallingford lamp specialist and have it wired. It was pure indulgence to commission a miniature cone shaped clip-on shade for its night light bulb. 

I am delighted with the result. Nothing says Seventies living room leisure like that kind of reading lamp. I now have a one-fifth scale version that doesn't eat the room the way the original would do -30-
More after the jump.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Pillow Origami

A hiccup in the flow of laundry led my partner to cover a pillow with a t-shirt, skater style. It's an engaging effect that I decided to leave in place. Aping a remembered commercial housekeeping practice, I tucked the sleeves into the back to tidy the pillow for presentation. A nurse taught me a fine point: set the open end of a pillow case to face away from the entrance to the room -30-
More after the jump.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018


The traditional Japanese wood house with its paper doors and cedar roof offered little protection from fire. Possessions were stored in a fireproof mud structure to the rear of the main building. Known as a kura, the store had walls three feet thick and was entered through a stoutly-constructed timber door. 

The design makes sense of the country's elegant tradition of packaging, where each artifact has its own cubical storage box, placed chock-a-block in the kura to conserve space. Presumably the textile wrapping of the box offers subtle air circulation to protect from mold. The kura concept makes great sense these days. Any arrangement that simplifies security simplifies daily life -30-
More after the jump.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018


I got behind last month, and when I reconnected I discovered that several urgent tasks had simply evaporated. Negative feedback about one rendered it useless. A faster, cheaper strategy for another made it redundant. Koberg and Bagnall's Universal Traveler is a gold mine of good ideas. I live by their question "What's the worst thing that can happen if I...? -30-
More after the jump.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Notes on Winter Clothing

A friend from the East Coast sent along her surplus hats and mittens. In a good year, Seattle supports a four-season wardrobe, but there are circumstances when sturdy wool outerwear is a welcome resource. It doesn't make sense for most hiking, because weight is a meaningful variable when one is carrying all the essentials of life support. For day use in the field, though, when close to home or vehicle, a thick resilient layer of fire-resistant fiber that stays warm when wet is just the ticket.

Stout wool blocks wind, insulates, and protects from thorns and branches. The gear my friend sent will be serving its second generation of users, melting without a ripple into an inventory acquired dearly thirty years ago. The kids are proud of their heirlooms, and I'm grateful that they are -30-
More after the jump.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Jimi's Bronze

Some years ago my kid skated past the music company that occupied the defunct Pontiac dealership on Broadway, 98102. He said someone approached him and asked for $5 to fund a memorial statue of Jimi Hendrix. He happily complied, though he assumed he would never see a result. Several years later during a visit home he was delighted to discover the statue that is now a shrine -30-
More after the jump.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Old and New Again

A morning's tour of my grandmother's 1931-1946 edition of the Joy of Cooking paid off as handsomely as always. Whenever I find myself contemplating a meal but feeling unwilling to mush out to the store, Rombauer comes through. Her personal history spans Victorian through mid-century American kitchen technology and is grounded on the farm.

Distribution systems that pre-date electricity and the personal automobile were aimed at stocking a low-tech pantry with staples  meant to be supplemented by a kitchen garden and fresh deliveries. The miraculous restoration of my original central city neighborhood in Seattle means that the supply system for this 1890 house has been restored as well.

I can put a four-course Sunday dinner together with a quick trip to the patch of greens that are growing themselves in the compost border, a dive into the chilled leftovers in the fridge, and a step into the dry stores. Old school country cooking produces gentle, nutritious cuisine that can be prepared at leisure and served when the moment suggests.

I heartily recommend early twentieth century cookbooks. A brief look at the Joy's introductory canape' and sandwich chapter revealed many prototypes of industrial convenience food that are a snap to cobble together out of stores. Those early cooks had many a trick up their sleeves to make a good lot of something out of apparent nothing -30- 
More after the jump.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

The Tool Shed

Mass-produced imports allow me to take tools for granted. That market makes sense for commercial operations where securing implements is more trouble than it's worth. I have found, though, through inheriting and stumbling across minor treasures, that a well-designed hand tool is worth investing time in careful maintenance. The right one does half the work. It deserves a clean, well-oiled handle (use linseed) and a business end that's scrubbed and dried after use. A good shovel or rake will last generations. Current communications technology seems right to support the old-fashioned tool-sharpening truck that used to make the rounds of neighborhoods -30-

More after the jump.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

The Candle Stand

Images of eighteenth century rooms show small round tables that hold a candle to support reading. The architecture I live in is turn of the nineteenth century, although the house is turn of the twentieth. Over the years, though ignorant of the style, I have found that eighteenth century furnishing strategies make the most of the interior space. 

The inventory is now as spare and honed as convenience suggests. By accident, I came by a couple of small tables that qualify as candle stands, and they are ideal for supporting reading set-ups. I use electric lamps and lash the cords to the legs of the table for security. I also adhere the base of the lamp to the tabletop using the sticky museum wax recommended to protect artifacts from earthquake. An added nineteenth century fillip is the high-tech doily I picked up at the art museum's gift shop. It's a silicone paint dribble -30-
More after the jump.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Wardrobe Shorthand

From a long-ago source, I learned that the key to managing one's closet is to dress for the weather, for who I am, and for what I intend to do. That simple checklist slashed long confused minutes off the process of getting dressed and generated many a cubic foot of storage space -30-
More after the jump.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Gumbo Revisited

Chef Paul Prudhomme's chicken and sausage gumbo is one of my favorite dishes. A recent casual Sunday dinner was a truncated version very simple to produce. Meats from the Market formed a base for various vegetables that were on hand. Since green pepper is the Delicious apple of its species, I substitute poblano or whatever and gain a substantial boost in flavor. A couple of celeries were creeping up on their pull date so I processed them fast, whacking off the root ends, shucking the coarse stalks, and cross-cutting the tender inner ones. Prudhomme's note to add vegetables to the roux process in stages to gain interest from the differing degree of doneness encouraged me to cut the celery and onion with little finesse. I cooked in a wide, heavy enameled cast iron pan that is none too deep. The format allowed rapid release of excess moisture from the saute' and an easy reduction of the contents of the box of chicken stock I used.

For a major meal, I make Prudhomme's pecan sweet potato pie. This was not a major meal, but I was long on sweet potatoes. I microwaved one in a series of two and three minute bursts over the course of an hour, as I happened to cruise past the appliance. The tuber was done to a soft turn, so I simply scooped the pulp out of the skin, mashed it with a fork, and mixed it with a well-beaten egg, a couple of tablespoons of turbinado sugar, a slug of vanilla, and a large pinch of sweet baking spice.Then I turned the experiment into a shallow glass baking dish and set it in a medium oven to coast after I had pulled out the corn bread skillet. The dry pudding was delicious as a spread on commercial Swedish gingersnaps, aka pepperkaaker. A dollop of whipped cream would have been a good topping, with minced candied ginger a glorious excess for a special occasion -30-
More after the jump.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Nature's Course

Fundamental changes in both the landscape and solar exposure of the lot provoked a rethink about lawn management, such as it was. Cheerful volunteers have allowed me to concentrate on interior chores, so the other day I ventured onto the autumn turf for the first time in several years. I was toting organic lime to tilt the forces of growth favor of grass rather than buttercup.

The naturally acid soils of Puget Sound produce bountiful crops of moss, and that's fine by me. I decided to lime areas that are sunny even in the depths of the cool season. By depths, I mean shaded all day by new five-story apartment buildings. Conditions now resemble the bitter winter I spent living on a north-facing beach at the foot of a steep bluff to the south, when I didn't see the sun from October to March. 

We made a first pass with lime last year, and the turf formerly under an orchard of dwarf apple trees is recovering bit by bit. My goal is to give overlooking neighbors a small and flawless green carpet of fine-bladed old-fashioned grass to contemplate, although a traditional European garden might substitute an elaborate knot-shaped bed of ornamental plants for overhead viewing. I'll pester buttercup by any organic means necessary and leave the grass and moss to contest deep shade-30-
More after the jump.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Smart Parents

Long-time neighbors who lived in the apartment building across the alley announced that their daughter had entered college, so they were moving onto their sailboat to save money. After she was graduated, they bought waterfront property across the bay -30-
More after the jump.

Chopping the Sofa

Deft is on a brief hiatus. Here's one for Tuesday and one for Wednesday.

A friend replaced her sofa and offered me the one she had been using. It was clean, friendly, and in good condition, so I cheerfully accepted it, although I would never have chosen it in the first place. Once I got it home, I took a good look at the floral upholstery, extravagant dust ruffle, and detached synthetic pillows. Then I got to work.

The pillows went to a thrift, because synthetic filling offers no comfort to my cranky neck. I peeled off the dust ruffle and was delighted to find the straightforward lines of a classic tuxedo form, the one with back and arms at the same level. This form is comforting and versatile. It's not unrealistic to set a plywood worktop on it. 

Turning the sofa over, I found serpentine steel springs in excellent condition. It was a small matter to pry off the fabric-covered panels that fronted the arms and hot glue a couple of vintage blankets to the sturdy existing covering. I used the dangerously hot melt glue that requires a set of water-gel burn dressings at hand in case of accident. Two twin wool blankets sufficed to cover the six-foot piece. A luxury self-inflating hiking mattress with a memory foam layer pads the seat, and an additional Oregon Round-up blanket covers the seat and flips over a napper. 

Black shoe polish refreshed the legs, and Magical Sliding Castors protect the floor and act almost like wheels -30-
More after the jump.

Old and New Again

A morning's tour of my grandmother's 1931-1946 edition of the Joy of Cooking paid off as handsomely as always. Whenever I find myself contemplating a meal but feeling unwilling to mush out to the store, Rombauer comes through. Her personal history spans Victorian through mid-century American kitchen technology and is grounded on the farm.

Distribution systems that pre-date electricity and the personal automobile were aimed at stocking a low-tech pantry with staples  meant to be supplemented by a kitchen garden and fresh deliveries. The miraculous restoration of my original central city neighborhood in Seattle means that the supply system for this 1890 house has been restored as well.

I can put a four-course Sunday dinner together with a quick trip to the patch of greens that are growing themselves in the compost border, a dive into the chilled leftovers in the fridge, and a step into the dry stores. Old school country cooking produces gentle, nutritious cuisine that can be prepared at leisure and served when the moment suggests.

I heartily recommend early twentieth century cookbooks. A brief look at the Joy's introductory canape' and sandwich chapter revealed many prototypes of industrial convenience food that are a snap to cobble together out of stores. Those early cooks had many a trick up their sleeves to make a good lot of something out of apparent nothing -30-

More after the jump.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Setting the Holiday Table

Browsing through my collection of tear sheets from glossy shelter magazines, I ran across a World of Interiors story on the oldest house in Leyden. It is preserved as a museum of the first life in exile of the community who became Massachusetts' Puritans. One shot in the article shows an eating table covered with a low thread-count white linen cloth, not ironed, and set with a miscellaneous collection of period dishes. There are wooden soup spoons, a treen-ware bowl old enough to be noticeably warped, a two-handled porringer that looks like pewter, and various handmade knives sharp and blunt. Lighting is natural, but a typical brass chandelier is set on one side of the table, presumably to include it in the shot.

Most of the elements of that tabletop are readily available today. I snagged a brass chandelier with period lines at the Habitat thrift store about ten years ago. I pulled out the wiring and used it with candles. The last time I visited the Great Big Northern European Home Furnishings Chain, coarse white linen was excellent value. There was a lot of treen ware in circulation until plastic and inexpensive stainless steel bowls replaced it in the Seventies. Thrift shops used to be full of it, and of porringers as well. Any stainless steel flatware set into a molded plastic handle will resemble the historic thing. The Leyden table was free of forks and featured a metal vessel with a flat strap of a handle, like the cheapest of tin cups from the mid-twentieth century. I'd use an enameled steel camping coffee pot as a substitute.

I love recreating authentic detail that is not readily recognized as such by the contemporary eye. That coffee pot has the exact lines of high-end eighteenth century English stoneware. Emily Dickinson College Pottery recreates the traditional designs that are neolithic -30-
More after the jump.

Thursday, November 8, 2018


The outdoor community relies on a list of ten essential items to stay safe in the field. I carry an attenuated version every day, because this is earthquake country. A recent story about biohazard on an airliner suggests that three small featherweight items might have made unavoidable filth slightly less aversive. The mylar emergency blanket is a physical barrier. The disposable medical mask that promises emergency warmth would offer some protection from micro-organisms. The pair of disposable vinyl gloves would allow manipulation of circumstances without the risk of additional exposure to pathogens -30-
More after the jump.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Gluten-free Sog

I stock special crackers for a visitor. Not surprisingly, the things crumble with a harsh glance. The remnants of a package sat around for a couple of weeks in damp weather. I am pleased to report their tensile strength improved while their excellent flavor remained. I will age them on purpose when I want to put them out for snack assemblies -30-
More after the jump.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Editing Luggage

Since discarding my personal automobile twenty years ago, I have counted handbags, luggage, and backpacks as a cost of transportation. I have used the savings to justify many experiments. I like my inventory to be multi-purpose. Recents changes in procurement rendered a good half of my collection of "carries" redundant.

Now that almost everything is delivered to the house, I find that a small messenger bag and a lightweight folding hand truck with a rectangular suitcase/backpack to match are more than enough to cover any foreseeable needs for supply. A popular recent security manual points out the wisdom of carrying no purse at all, or if necessary an unimpressive one. The style wars can go on without me -30-
More after the jump.

Monday, November 5, 2018

The Iceman's Side Bag

Otzi, the ancient natural mummy found in the South Tyrol, carried a side bag about a quarter the size of my usual tote. I tested a similar one recently and found it both liberating and bag enough for an overnight out of town -30-
More after the jump.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Nab It

Mountaineers hone their gear to a high level of efficiency, even shortening toothbrush handles to save weight, last I heard. In the same spirit of minuscule gain, I realized that accumulating solid waste and recycling in paper shopping bags with handles would slash measurable seconds, even minutes, off domestic maintenance. The shopping tote with floppy handles that I support in a dairy crate functions much the same way. It's fast and easy simply to lean over slightly and grab the handles before heading downstairs. The tote is a first-rate clothes hamper -30-
More after the jump.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Poetry of the Paper Cup

It's time to deemphasize disposables, but a recent jaunt out of town turned up a clever and relevant variation on the automatic coffee maker. The hotel set up a tiny machine calibrated to fill a generous paper cup. I find the concept beguiling. The hospitality chain uses paper cups in an unusual format: they're wider at the base and a bit larger in diameter than the usual ones. Someone has been paying attention. The design is stable and useful in a wide range of applications -30-
More after the jump.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Kustom Kulture

A national news outlet posted a story about Hallowe'en modifications for kids' wheelchairs. It's wonderful idea that transformed dreary medical appliances into miniature carnival floats, magnets for other temporarily able-bodied children.

In the spirit of the kid who used to streak around the Ave kneeling backwards on the seat of his motorized chair, I hope that someone, perhaps a high school shop class, design OSHA friendly fairings to use on chairs every day -30-
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Common Decency

Give the shippers (and yourself) a break: shop early for holiday freight -30-
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Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The Hardest Thing I Do All Year

When the late October chill arrives, I organize my clothes for the new season. Usually there's a fresh version of a warm top in the supply line that often is fed by an impulse purchase in early spring. As I sort through my small collection, I find one or two things that are half dead. If I keep them in the rotation, I never wear the fresh and efficient things that will keep me safely warm until March, so weary classics go into the thrift bag -30-
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Monday, October 29, 2018

Old Things

Current concerns about global warming tell me in no uncertain terms that the carbon price of an object is one that each of us will pay, so I'm looking at existing artifacts with less demanding eyes. There's a school of domestic furnishing that appreciates the look of accumulation over time. It doesn't much matter where or when things were acquired. One of my most-admired artifacts is a modest painted china cabinet that holds pride of place in the family room of a noted physicist. It belonged to his parents. At the other end of the usual scale was Uncle Larry's armchair. As I was making myself comfortable in it for the first time, he casually mentioned that he had had it for years before realizing it was Hepplewhite, real Hepplewhite.

One of my beloved mentors built a significant collection of Asian art by shopping on Grant Avenue with her husband, he of the keenest of eyes. Over a beer at the beach one summer, Betty mentioned that they had taken their works to secure storage before leaving on vacation. I flinched slightly at the necessity and the inconvenience, and she said gently, "Don't worry. No one will ever take the things you value most." She said this shortly after her husband had approached me with a crust of verdigris on his flat and extended palm, momentarily convincing me that the fragment of logging junk was ancient bronze -30-
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Friday, October 26, 2018

Respectful Cues

In the Seventies, I coveted the original battery-powered travel clock that appears to be the model for the timepiece that lives on iScreens. The thing is still in production at the original price. I happily ordered two the minute I discovered them. The design appreciation behind my initial urge to buy the clock is still valid. A featherweight two-inch square clock dignifies a space and tosses easily into a bag. The trill of the alarm appears to have been marketed to later clumsier versions of the design from other manufacturers.

In a foggy moment of dawn, I stared idly at the clock. A little pip of color caught my eye, and I realized it was placed exactly at the time for which the alarm is set. With this arrangement, there's no cognitive labor. I glanced a little higher on the case, and a dot of the same color caught my eye. It topped the tab that is lifted to activate the alarm. I don't recall ever experiencing such a gentle and effective moment of visual communication, a far cry from the Day-Glo bellowing of so many commercial messages -30-
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Thursday, October 25, 2018

The Quartermaster

I fear I may be repeating myself with this post,  but the story is too good to ignore. I was sitting around a camp site with a buddy and a bottle of quite good whiskey. We started chatting housekeeping, always uppermost in the field. I mentioned that one of my domestic role models had told me, over gin, that she had asked an interior designer for suggestions for her solidly built ca. 1900 farmhouse. Dana said the designer looked around her living room, with its panoramic view of a harbor, smiled brightly, and said, "There are many beautiful homes on the market right now!"

Lauren shared her mother's encounter with a design professional. The family was a military one and found itself at a posting with a predictable future. Lauren's mother called for help. The elegant person who turned up at the front door one evening stepped inside, looked around, and asked down her nose, "What do you call this, anyway?" Mrs. B replied, "Early Army!" and turned her out the door.

Lauren explained that Mrs. B was accustomed simply to calling the quartermaster and asking him to send over a dining table when one was needed. There may be a market niche for a quartermaster. Solid wood furniture no matter how uninspiring is worth conserving. Having wood to spare for furniture is an environmental luxury. Busy housekeepers might appreciate being able to call one number and have something, anything,  delivered instanter. Expedience is a style all its own -30-
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Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The Floor Room

My back enjoys spending the night on a flat, hard surface. A hiker's luxury self-inflating air mattress with memory foam layer makes the experience a pleasant one. Sleeping on the floor in a piece of Western architecture can feel like lying in the bottom of a not especially inspiring bucket, though, even if house rules veto wearing street shoes indoors.

I forget why, but I turned one bedroom into a gallery, hanging framed works from the built-in picture rail and embellishing a corner with a standing four-panel screen covered with posters, a classic Victorian scrap screen. The scrap screen brings the visual horizon in the room down to floor level, enriching time spent on the rug. The screen is the finishing touch in an experimental process that has transformed a conventional bedroom into a combined display area, sleeping space, and home exercise facility. An empty closet lets me stow bedding out of sight during the day, and an electric heat mat under the rug melts the kinks out of tired back muscles in no time -30-
More after the jump.

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- 
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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-
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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-
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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-
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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-
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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-
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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.