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.