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-
More after the jump.

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-
More after the jump.

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- 
More after the jump.