Tuesday, March 19, 2019


Deft is temporarily slammed, but the archive is deep. See you soon -30- More after the jump.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Stocking Stuffers

 It's not too early to order an extra of a small useful item. At the moment, lead testing swabs for dishes and adhesive residue removal pens top my list of favorites. Fresh toothbrushes are welcome, especially foolish ones -30-
More after the jump.

Friday, March 15, 2019


Trade books clamor for attention in unwelcome ways once they get home. It's a small matter to cover an intrusive volume with the same kraft paper that school kids use to protect texts. Properly folded, a  cover needs no adhesive. Burnish the creases of folded paper with a bone folder or the handle of a table knife handle. Refold and burnish from the other side for the cleanest effect.

A full sheet from an artist's drawing pad is more elegant than a grocery bag and is faster to execute. Scissors are not necessary: just fold and tear. I prefer the toothy "Faux" paper that is nearly the same color as a kraft bag. Higher end printmaking papers are worth using to protect better quality books from ordinary wear and tear. Once the cover is in place, remove it, note the author and title on the spine, and replace -30-
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Thursday, March 14, 2019

It's helpful to define standard formats when designing life support systems. Doing so fosters focus. Any amenity that offers multiple consumer options is ripe for editing.

At the moment, I'm evaluating note-making systems. A paper to-do list keeps the day simple, handwriting being a consciously low-tech choice. It's been gratifying to cut standard business-sized cards out of sweet-writing cover stock. The format is so easy to pocket and sort that I have recategorized sticky notes as social writing paper.

In my world, white linens rule. Bedding, table cloths, wipers, and napkins are all the same size. It's time and cost effective to buy in bulk. All food storage containers are the same size. Wardrobe is uniform or closely co-ordinated. Closely defined basics provide a neutral background that sets off exceptional artifacts or events to best effect -30-

More after the jump.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Poverty Is Your Jewel

Francis of Assisi assigned that valueto a minimal burn rate. Recently a minor hitch in options for arranging furniture in the keeping room sent me on line in search of castors. I wanted to raise the legs of a bench by a quarter of an inch. More than an hour later, I concluded that the number of times I was likely to want to slide a foot locker under the bench did not warrant the hassle of refitting the thing -30-

More after the jump.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019


The house is a keyboard. It's useful to set aside everything that is not relevant to the current mission. It's even more useful to set extras ever-closer to an exit rather than keep them in dead storage -30-
More after the jump.

Monday, March 11, 2019


It's convenient to use things as cues to behavior. An empty wrapper says shopping list. A vacuum cleaner says clean. The practice clears the mind -30-
More after the jump.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Shoji Blinds

These convenient, featherweight window coverings are amazing value. They're washable and a cinch to customize. Cut them to size using a straight-edge, marking width with graphite using one side of the blind as a reference. A #11 stencil knife with a fresh blade makes short work of cutting between the bamboo ribs. Use diagonal cutters to finish. 

Modify length simply by trimming and using hot glue to establish a hem. Aluminum push pins or ordinary thumb tacks will secure a blind to a window frame. No doubt foam mounting tape would do so as well. Be cautious about securement if there are children or animals in the interior. A spring-loaded adjustable prefab curtain rod would leave the window frame untouched.

Eliminate cords by cutting them away altogether. Cut a slit in the pellon at the desired height when it is raised and insert a short length of linen bookbinder's tape or ornamental ribbon to secure the rolled bulk of the blind -30-

More after the jump.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Counter-productive Efficiency

Using liquid soap leaves the sink clean and a room easy to ignore. Setting out bar soap for hand washing keeps a plumbed room fresher than the liquid that is touted for saving work. The daily wipe that keeps soap residue at bay initiates clean-up motor sequences. I keep a stack of cheap washcloths in the cupboard. The mirror gets the first pass, then the sink and the commode. The process keeps the room sparkling -30-
More after the jump.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Revisiting A Comfortable Old House

I spent my high school years in a classic Dutch colonial house. That particular architecture replaced Victorian in high fashion after industry offered more appealing employment to the service staff and electricity automated much of the heavy work of life support. My house was a little jewel. It had been built as a honeymoon cottage for a child of the wealthy family that lived across the paved alley. The scale was about three quarters of other similar houses I have seen. The cabinet work was excellent, and there were many built-in storage areas in corners of the structure that would otherwise have gone to waste.

In Home: A Short History of an Idea, Witold Rybcznski outlines the origins of the Dutch colonial design. Unlike England's stately homes and elaborate staff structures, a Dutch household was limited to a staff of three. That's three service people plus the family in an environment where maintenance has to be perfect or the house will literally sink, because the land is below sea level. It useful to contemplate this concept when I am feeling slothful. The rigor of the circumstances dictates efficiency in the design of the structure.

Few neighborhoods are more demanding about housing than Capitol Hill is at the moment. Nearby pods house single adults in eighty square feet. In 1973, the legal minimum per person in this neighborhood was five hundred square feet. Five years ago, the rent for a view pod exceeded the mortgage payment for a brand new suburban house with three bedrooms and a master suite. In an idle moment recently, I revisited my memories of the Dutch bijou in which I learned to manage a domicile. The outstanding quality of the house was comfort, in the root sense of the word meaning that which gives courage. Casual reading in the history of domestic architecture opened my eyes to the ways in which the living space had been arranged to the best advantage of the family. I realized that restoring centuries-old functions to the mid-Twenties structure would add two extra sleeping rooms and a full story of living space with no additional construction or tax assessment.

A Dutch house had a sleeping cupboard in a corner of the principal room. The northwest house had an alcove off the living room that could easily have been adapted as a sleeping space. Each end of the living room had an arch that most likely was intended originally to have been curtained with heavy velvet hangings. Curtains are very effective for controlling heat flow and for audio privacy. I'm partial to dining at a fireside. Were I to live in that house again, I'd place a generous table by the hearth to support meals and work at home endeavors. All the rooms in the house were beautifully daylighted with small traditional windows.

The dining area off the living room would set up comfortably with a sofa and leisure seating for socializing and reading. It's divine to lounge and offer helpful suggestions to a cook bustling around in the next room. Since guests congregate near the kitchen, switching living and dining functions enables casual use without structural changes.

Upstairs, the house had a cramped sewing room built in under the eaves. It would be trivial to adapt that space as a child's bedroom. The basement was first-rate for a northwest structure. It seems to have been designed for the convenience of the laundress, who may have been, for the first time, the mistress of the house. The head room was high and the deep concrete foundation in perfect condition. There was a separate room that could have been restored to its original function as a drying space or that may have been a maid's room. The stairs to the basement landed in a small hall that opened into the actual laundry area. It had been neglected for decades after an automatic machine was installed near the kitchen, but a few days work with paint would refresh the tiny shower/bath area and surprisingly charming work room. The basement door to the garden was glazed, and there was a generous window over the double sink that certainly had supported a wringer washer back in the day. A comfortable corner in this space could could easily support a daybed, and there was plenty of room for a small table.

When my present nest was full, I experimented with using the attic as a combination drying space and family closet. It saved massive amounts of time and aggravation simply to store damp garments on a plastic hanger on a very long pole that ran the length of the space. I could take inventory in seconds. Black nylon hanging shoe bags accommodated other storage needs. I ran the notion of a family locker/mud/laundry room past an aunt with twelve grandchildren, and she like the idea very much indeed. The immaculate basement room in the Dutch colonial would serve beautifully with drying racks improvised from powder-coated high tech industrial wire shelving, always on wheels. The deep cupboard built in along one wall could continue to house luggage and bulky items. A common dressing area would free the closets in the formal bedrooms to store other personal gear. Doing so greatly expands usable space and simplifies housekeeping. 

That Twenties house had old-fashioned features that are as useful today as they were when it was built. Each room and storage space could be locked. When interior spaces are arranged to best advantage, a vintage structure lives as openly and eficientlyas a contemporary one -30-
More after the jump.

Monday, March 4, 2019

The Spring Collection

I follow fashion much as a meandering toddler follows a parent in a mall, which is to say just barely. Often seasonal innovations offer a way to enhance or upgrade an existing wardrobe for minimal expense. A national newspaper ran a fashion column over the week-end that illustrates the point. The review was of an established house, and the collection was not quite panned as a boring revisitation of the Seventies' ethic. Given the news stories of countless households' downsizing and dejunking over the winter holidays, it looks as if thrift store pickings will be sparking joy for young 'uns curious about quality fabric and classic cut.

Just add a copy of Caterine Milinaire's "Cheap Chic" to lay a solid foundation of minimal cost per wearing workhorses -30-
More after the jump.

Friday, March 1, 2019

The Gaze

With spring approaching, it's time to fine tune the keeping room. Demands on the space vary from month to month. I simply to pull up a director's chair and look at the space. The process often generates hundreds of dollars worth of home improvement for the price of a cup of coffee and an hour or so of time. The trick is to shift the chair here and there to vary the point of view slightly -30-
More after the jump.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

The Moat

Coffee on the keyboard syndrome is not kind to the ears, so I set the cup on a small table next to the furniture desktop. Where or however it spills become merely a housekeeping problem -30-
More after the jump.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Low-tech Furnishings Stay Relevant

Over decades, I have acquired, accepted, and donated several truckloads of amenities from friends and family. The process is not unlike the feeding habits of the baleen whale. Well-designed human-powered pieces like a cast-iron frying pan or folding director's chair hold their value through the whirlwinds of innovation that are the new norm. Time and resources are smartly invested in the cutting edge of that which changes and is probably electrified -30-
More after the jump.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Always Useful, Always Different

Guru-janitor Don Aslett described a certain class of storage devices as junk bunkers. There's a whole big box industry dedicated to marketing the stuff. Aslett argues that it's more effective to edit inventory than stand on one's head figuring out how to house it.

Nearly every room here holds a version of the classic foot locker. With child safety assured by devices that lock the lid, these small trunks more than earn their keep with the versatile storage and seating they afford. Magical Sliding Castors enable flexible positioning -30-
More after the jump.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Washday Miracle

I replaced a small portable automatic washer with an equally small and portable unit from another manufacturer. The new machine cost twice as much, washes twice the load, and was delivered directly to the laundry room by a crew from a long-established local appliance company. The electricity bill is noticeably smaller this month. I will be back -30-
More after the jump.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Cooking the Landscape

The steep bank across the front of the property is a typical Seattle feature. It was the very devil to maintain. One could mow one's toes or engage in an unrelenting two-fisted struggle with weeds that had backed themselves into the granite bunkers known as a rockery. I opted to copy the flowering road cuts on the Olympic peninsula, reasoning that Capitol Hill was urban enough.

The plan was to amuse the many tenants who walk by in the course of a day. I hired a fellow to strip the sod off the bank. Doing so exposed soil in pitiful condition. I broadcast Alaska daisies, dug in some native iris, and added a few miscellaneous imports before I committed entirely to native plants. The first four years of weeding were punishing. We cut the bank to the ground after it dried out and went to seed in late July. We mulched it with fallen leaves from the noble native hardwood shade trees across the street. Forty years on, the soil is so obliging that I can simply lift a weed whether the ground is dry or not. 

Last fall's layer of mulch settled in with October's rain. Recent snow set it in place, and recent flickers of sun promise to accelerate the composting process into visible morning vapors redolent of the burst of  spring to come. Last year's casual survey of bee species turned up five varieties, all buzzing and happy -30- 
More after the jump.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Flyweight Furniture

I decided to organize the spaces in the house like an original SoCal hacienda. Since we work out of the domicile, it makes sense to lay out production space on the ground floor to take advantage of easy access. There's a proper parlor at the top of the stairs, on what I understand is known in Europe as the piano nobile, or first floor. Implementing the change wiped out the conflict between middle class domestic propriety and getting things done. White collar production, minor projects, and domestic life support all happen within steps of each other and in arm's reach of deliveries.

Casual study of the furniture supply available to Gen X used to make me sad, because laminated plastic and sawdust are not to my taste. The cost per use on this stuff is very high. I have a few pieces of solid early twentieth century furniture parked in the parlor and enjoy improvising in the rest of the building. Neighborhood finds are the most fun, especially when I reinforce them with nifty field gear from the Great Big Hiking Co-op down the hill.

The Plaidish hiking supplier, the original high-tech design source, has an eye for color that suits my own exactly. Their low-end rectangular sleeping bags, freestanding shower, and now a generously sized eighteen-pound cot supplement old school inventory with elegant options for improvising comfortable quarters. The stuff is not essentially different from Thomas Sheraton's field furniture. Set up with a floor length cover the same color as the sea grass matting, and padded with a luxury self-inflating air mattress, the cot looks parlor legal. Once covered with an Oregon Round Up blanket that matches the one on the teak garden bench across the room, the cot becomes an elegant traditional day bed to support a slothful week-end.

I really like channeling the home furnishings budget into things that are easy to pack and store. Doing so frees a good many cubic feet of expensive space and a good many dollars for other projects, like getting images framed -30-
More after the jump.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

An Unanticipated Consequence

A two square foot under-counter refrigerator suffices for this small household, since there are ten groceries within easy walking distance of the kitchen plus delivery options. When articles about the wisdom of storing food in glass began to appear, I gradually replaced plastic with small, shallow rectangular dishes from a long-established American manufacturer of heat-resistant glass. The dishes amount to storage cartridges for meals ready to eat. For simplicity, they're the only ones I use. I label each dish with dry-erase marker. The refillable marker is most stable and easiest to wash off.

My alma mater inspired me to copy the offerings in the cafeteria. Mystery meat had been replaced by numerous bins of salad, fruit, and legumes. In that context, the richer main courses further along the chow line were meaningless to me. Airline meal-sized glass storage dishes enable replicating those healthful offerings at home. For the main meal, it's usually only necessary to prepare one dish. The rest consists of a casual buffet. Made with organic ingredients, the arrangement supports the early Seventies' legendary natural high -30- 
More after the jump.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019


For a quick rendering of a handwritten letter, tap out a rough on a laptop using a font that resembles your handwriting. Then eyeball the spacing on the final draft -30-
More after the jump.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Going Light

I am indebted to the Sierra Club for the title of this post. Six months ago I opted for Dry Africa's smallest side bag. A full sheet (just shy of 18"x24") of Phony's toothy kraft drawing pad folded into four tucks conveniently into the back section of the bag. I use the sheet as a protective place mat in a coffee shop. It works very well as a file folder both in the bag and in my storage area. 

One piece of this paper serves for a couple of months. When the surface enrichment becomes counter-productive, I can chop it into card-sized pieces to use for notes. By tearing the cover off the main pad, I can set it on my standing desk top and use it as a blotter -30-
More after the jump.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

The Elegance of Just Enough

This time of year is a good one for outfitting my person and household for the active months to come. At this point, I know how much I need of any given thing to minimize the cost of acquisition and the cost per use. Balancing sufficient inventory against the holding capacity of the building is nearly an aerodynamic exercise. Clumsy attempts to construct and fly paper airplanes taught me the subtleties of that low-tech engineering. When I get the balance right, the household flies and stress flies away right along with it-30-
More after the jump.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The Pantry

Delivery services are a boon to life in town, and the fees are well worth the price. In an effort to shave costs, I planned to place orders every other month by multiplying the usual numbers of regular items. It's a balancing act with cupboard space that has yielded huge savings in time and aggro. Relieving the burden on attention is not a trivial advantage -30-
More after the jump.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

A Gift of Snow

Being snowbound brought me the time to look over the Seattle fire code. Reading it is good homework for personal safety at events, in public accommodation, and for devising armor-plated housekeeping systems that keep the insurance man happy -30-
More after the jump.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Utility Grade Logger Chow

Weather prospects suggest this post. I make no claims to any competence except long familiarity with local folkways. Eat so you don't die. See Ken Kesey's 'Sometimes A Great Notion" for details. 

When the snow really hits, the old low-tech cuisine makes the most sense. A cardio breakfast of eggs, smoked pork, fried potatoes, and buttered toast is just the ticket after clearing a sidewalk (with careful attention to one's heart rate). This is a good time to keep the gut active with salad, stewed greens, and various root vegetables. Make sure that the menu is loaded with adequate red and other meat. How the offerings are balanced and quantified is an individual decision. A crock pot will be your best friend. Bear in mind that meat metabolizes over a relatively long period of time and that low blood sugar is an invitation to hypothermia. Check the end of your nose with the back of one hand. If the nose is cold, get warm and stay warm.

This aspect of Seattle's climate is essentially Baltic. Contest the weather as if you were on the open deck of a ferry. A vintage hard wool pea jacket is the ideal garment, as are wool thirteen button bells and a worsted wool mock turtle neck sweater -30-
More after the jump.

Friday, February 8, 2019

People Just Coped

I got an email from across the country wishing me well in the so-called snowmageddon that is promised for Seattle. Patience is in order. Omitting the melodrama of broadcast video weather reporting has saved me days of aggro since I quit tv. I can scan the weather report on line in two seconds. The e reserve is in good order. What else do I need? It's fantastic luxury to face the week-end knowing the go-fer will bring home abundant vegetables and fresh fruit to see us through whatever develops. 

I've experienced my share of significant northwest weather events, and there wasn't that much to them, because I keep house the way my grandmother did in her parents' homestead cabin on the Olympic peninsula. Some depth in low-tech food storage and a meaningful supply of down bedding fill immediate needs. 

It was my sad privilege to join a friend at a historic restaurant in the Pike Place Market during the bitter days after Katrina hit. New Orleans was blacked out and drowning. My friend had lived, studied, and partied in the city for twelve years. We met to drink breakfast and pray. The waiter found out why we were there and brought a round on him. Karen, who was never able to resist joking that every Seattle woman owned her own chain saw, said that the people of the city had no tradition of field experience and no place to practice anyway.

Smug is not in order. I made an executive wardrobe decision a year ago based on the assumption that global warming made a down stadium coat redundant. I'm stuck in the house unless I decide to emulate street style to layer trousers and cover them with a skirt -30-

More after the jump.

Rooted Projects

I have some cuttings to propagate later this year. The project has me thinking about root development. I realized that if I set out a project in anticipation of completing it and it sits in one place more than a few days, it begins to strike roots. Use or lose makes a pretty good mantra -30-
More after the jump.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Data Glut

When surfing an interesting topic, I routinely save massive amounts of information to a file. On a good day, I purge nearly everything in the spirit of the list technique I learned from a canny mentor. Dot advised me to make a list, look it over, tear it up, and throw it away -30-
More after the jump.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Winter Kills

This time of year is a good time to evaluate inventory and decide what to keep and what to share. The process is like editing copy -30-
More after the jump.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Craft Project Versus Minor Repair

There's a grey area that lies between realizing a repair can happen in two minutes or become item 86B on a to do list that is metastasizing. I work at comparing the value of a project at hand to the value of my time, energy, and attention. Short turnaround time keeps life fresh-30- 
More after the jump.

Monday, February 4, 2019

Petty Refinements

Often a small and careful modification in the house yields a major improvement in the standard of living. I tried an environmentally correct laundry product that is mixed with lavender oil and sensed the change immediately. The scent is calming, and I won't have to think about moths quite so much.

An electric knife sharpener lit a fire under the cook.

The garden has been rigorously edited to a minimum of native plants. I salvaged an old rose and set it in a galvanized tub of what I hope is rose heaven soil. It's a daily treat to check how it's doing without having to lean over.

Most meals in the house are taken at a small round table that demands a low centerpiece. I lost a beloved pottery syrup jar that had been my go to for decades. It took quite a few years and severe editing of the dish cupboard to reveal a tea service waste jar and unused sugar bowl that will each substitute nicely for the rustic dark glazed freebie I still miss -30-
More after the jump.

Friday, February 1, 2019

You Know You're In Seattle When...

The senior Chihuahua sports a hand-knit Norwegian dog sweater -30-
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Thursday, January 31, 2019

The Casual Table

I am not patient with the tables known as occasional. Taking the term literally, a stool or flat-seated chair serves nicely as a side table once in a while -30-
More after the jump.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Select for Versatility

School shooters take all the fun out of wearing black, but I have yet to find a better choice for building a simple, compact, and versatile wardrobe. Over the last twelve years, I have replaced nearly every classic garment with a mid-range black equivalent. Careful choices add to the vocabulary of expression my very small closet affords. A visit to cutting edge design sites once or twice a year gives me the courage of my convictions. 

Considering the tabletop inventory the other day, I found myself longing for a shallow serving basin like one I had spotted in an antique store but passed over. I toyed with ordering one from a northeastern supplier of excellent traditional pottery, but stayed my hand with the plastic, preferring empty shelf space to yet another vessel to administer. A brief break on the couch let me realize that last year's break-the-budget enameled cast iron saute' pan was the very thing and already hanging on the pot rack.

Oregon Round-up wool blankets have slowly displaced every other soft furnishing and supplemented vintage upholstery as well. 

I decided that a standard bed pillow was going to be the only pillow in the house. I fashioned street-legal easily washable cases from white and khaki coarse-textured cotton dish towels. Leaving the pillows in plain view slashes long seconds from making the bed. Standardized units make it trivial to rearrange soft furnishings for guests or seasonal variation -30-

More after the jump.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Poverty Is Your Jewel

Frances of Assisi said that, and more than a few times I would have replied, "Sure. Tell me another one." Spending money is an art form with a long time line.

January brings good deals on basic consumer goods. Price is only part of the cost of acquisition. The rest is shopping time and travel. Those stay the same no matter what, but a few bucks off never hurt, especially for cashmere. The real way to price something is to figure the cost per use.

Seattle writer and UW faculty member Angelo Pellegrini defined domestic elegance for this locale in "Lean Years, Happy Years" -30-
More after the jump.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Planned Giving

I sketch out donations in January. Making decisions ahead of time eases the strain of evaluating appeals during the rest of the year -30-
More after the jump.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Debriding Inventory

A few years ago, I realized that life would be simpler if all the tablecloths were the same. The ones on hand still had some life left in them, though, so I was in no hurry to make a change that seemed a little extravagant. The itch to shop manifested itself over the recent winter holidays, and I took a chance on a collection of four identical traditional thickly woven reversible cotton squares from an old yankee mail order outfit.

The cloths have been a breath of fresh air ever since I opened the package. The color and pattern are gentle, neutral and calming. The set displaced several differing and moderately weary cloths. I have eight fresh covers at my disposal should I want to set up a meal for a crowd. I fussed and waffled about donating the old cloths for more hours than they were worth, considering whether they could be made up into pillow cases for the sofa in a casual sitting area. Fortunately, the colors are just off, so I have an excuse to avoid committing to an unwelcome craft project -30-
More after the jump.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Browsing Tearsheets

Forty-five years ago I began to save pages from glossy shelter magazines. The collection expanded and shrank over the years. I never spent a dollar on a publication that didn't come back ten times over, at least. I treasure the images that remain and copied them with the iDevice that often lives in my side bag. Now and then I open the file and stare dully at one page while I'm organizing myself to do something else. I did so recently when editing inventory and found useful insights in unexpected places. It's an odd and productive meditation to study long-familiar images with eyes challenged by new demands -30-
More after the jump.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Simple Maintenance

A bus jaunt past the contrasting masonry panels of a local apartment building reminded me of janitorial guru Don Aslett's critique of a work of modern archtecture. Aslett counted off the number of different materials that enrich the plain surfaces and observed that each demanded different inventory and procedures for maintenance, not to mention different know-how.

I read a professional inn-keeping maintenance guide and concluded that the more I can standardize furniture and textiles, the easier it will be to live a productive life at home. Digital culture offers a banquet of visual information every time I open up a device. I no longer need high-maintenance physical eye candy -30-
More after the jump.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Simple Sheets

I find the best economy in bed linens is to choose white cotton percale with a reasonably high thread count. If a flat sheet one size larger than the bed to be furnished is used, wear will be distributed over a generous area, especially if one ignores the orientation of hem and selvedge. It's worth the trouble to fit a flat sheet by quickly tying a simple knot into one or more corners. Anything is less hassle than trying to fold and store a fitted one.

Worn sheets can become pillow cases or backs for small tufted quilts. I line dry everything to save energy and extend the life of fabrics. It's good economy to finger press wrinkles out of the edges of a piece of flat work. Doing so will ensure that it ages gracefully -30-

More after the jump.

Friday, January 18, 2019

It's About The Content

Managing a personal library is a serious housekeeping challenge. The urge to retain everything is worth respecting: one never knows when a fragment of paper will become the only record of vital information. That said, retaining everything is a recipe for going nuts. Paper records foster allergenic mite waste like nothing else.
Speaking only as a housekeeper who has repeatedly dusted several generations of trade books, there comes a time when the editing function must take precedence over mere warehousing. Making decisions can be delayed, but sooner or later someone must. Sometimes that someone is a silverfish, fungus, or rodent.

A bound book on paper is the result of nearly two millennia of low-tech audio recording engineering. A competently designed volume protects the voice of the author, the whole point of the production. Cover, fly leaves, and margins are devices that buy time from the wear and tear that of reading. Books are fragile and live longest in the same conditions enjoyed by human beings. That said, there is a library in the far north of Europe that is renowned for the longevity of its volumes, that are protected by extreme dry cold.

Books are bulky. In my experience they provide good insulation and sound-deadening qualities in a densely populated area. That's the crude way to evaluate a library. Over the years, I have weeded yards of shelves. The first round found me determined to eliminate anything I was likely to be able to find in a public library. My time line was too short: I didn't realize that professional librarians have the same problems. On-line sales of used books helped me correct early mistakes. It is heartening to observe that books that were hard to find ten years ago have been reissued.

The home libraries of early Western Washington European-American households often held collections of literature identically bound in a series.Sometimes the series was printed in a small format to enable use in the field. It's precious, but nineteenth century books suffer from the acidic machine made paper on which they are printed. Conserving one is expensive and painstaking. 

My personal collection is now limited to a few feet of well-designed trade editions of classics and a few more feet of areas of special interest. The nineteenth century pride in scripture and family photo album is a good shorthand for necessities. A homesteaders' guide to subsistence farming, livestock management, cleaning products, health, and beauty would be a good third element. When considering books as books, I'd add Paul Shaw's "Eternal Letter" -30-
More after the jump.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

The Holiday Shakedown

I find it useful to structure the holiday timetable long in advance to protect my schedule from last minute demands. One thing is most helpful: I make notes about what worked last month. Tradition is efficient. By repeating successful behaviors, I've cut set-up time to a couple of hours. January sales make it easy to equip the household for cold weather festivities. The best part of the aftermath are the  leftover treats -30-
More after the jump.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019


Not until 1987 did I decide electricity was here to stay. I passed my hand grain grinder along and began to phase out solid fuel appliances and sources of light. However, it is foolish to keep house in Western Washington without being equipped to fulfill basic life support off the grid. The possibility of an outage is ever-present, even in the heart of town close to the hospitals that must be supported.

I don't count being able to make and bake bread as part of my emergency back-up system, though. That's why God made crackers. I stand ready to open and heat the odd can of something, make oatmeal, and keep warm in the absence of the sensors that power the furnace.

The Great Big Hiking Co-op and the Mountaineers are the foundation of local domestic reality. Pioneer log cabin days are not far in the past, and there's a practical inertia embedded in domestic inventories. I understand low tech and paleolithic life support as foundation layers that enable what one hopes are sustainable higher-tech ways of managing elementary tasks-30-
More after the jump.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Slick Little Notebook

I use a fountain pen. It's hard to find an affordable writing surface engineered to support water-based ink. The Pioneering Computer Outfit now known for its printers offers a line of papers that are heaven to write on. Unusually, both sides are equally sweet. I use a fountain pen. It's hard to find an affordable writing surface engineered to support water-based ink. The papers are acid free, so I can hold a ream or two in inventory against the day I want to record something and guarantee it some kind of a future.

I have been using the line of Italian notebooks that is styled to a subtle fare-thee-well. They offer a surface that's responsive to the pen. The tiny pocket notebook was discontinued, so I pulled out the paper cutter and chopped a few 2.5"x7" cards from my ream of cover stock. The stuff is good for 3-ring binder pages that get heavy use. I folded the cards on the short side to produce a reporter's notebook format. They have proved more convenient, and far cheaper, than the bound books I had been using -30-
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Monday, January 14, 2019

From My Cold Dead Hands

I'm facing Laundry-geddon when the new machine arrives next week. In the meantime, the European bathing suit spinner is holding its place as Most Valuable Appliance. Ordinarily I use it to turn wet wash into nearly dry wash that can be worn straight out of the spinner with little discomfort even in a Seattle winter. The machine will extract a cup or two or water from a finished load that I pull out of the automatic -30-
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Friday, January 11, 2019

Breakfast At The Jewelry Store

The high-end design outfit in New York is offering a series of utilitarian tabletop amenities recreated in porcelain and precious metal. Just one of these things is enough to communicate to guests that one does, indeed, know good form and that one has the courage of one's convictions -30-
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Thursday, January 10, 2019

The Mess Kit

Not long after an acquaintance who often visits France told me that it is now customary for restaurant patrons to carry their own flatware and napkin, I finally managed to find a coffee mug that slips neatly into my side bag. Armed with that mug and a clean cotton handkerchief, I shaved thirty seconds off my entry and exit times in my regular coffee place.

It wasn't long ago, relatively speaking, that guests at a generous medieval table toted their own flatware. Dishes weren't an issue, since people put their chow in sturdy small loaves of bread. When I contemplate the tabletop inventory, I think of these things. It's quite a statement of prosperity to be able to set a full table for a family, much less a crowd -30-
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Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Something Real

Edible sculptural confections decorated medieval tables. Of the custom, marzipan fruit remains. It is hard not to imagine that the insipid porcelain figurines of the eighteenth century might have been low-maintenance versions of the same thing, designed to support households that preferred not to carry a sculptor on their kitchen staff. I speak as someone who bit into a styrofoam bell from her wedding cake.

I can see that it might be irresistible to model a porcelain basket after one woven genuinely out of plant material or to throw a vase in the shape of a gourd. A gourd itself might be just the ticket for a one-shot version of that vase.

The simple kraft paper shopping bag with handles has revolutionized keeping in this particular house. The bags stand open and ready for whatever. One of my loved ones likes to give cutting edge design, and this year's product is way cool. It's a white politically correct plastic version of an open shopping bag that's been in constant use since the minute I opened the box. It took several mindless reps for my muscles to realize the thing doesn't fold flat, but I can't complain -30-
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Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Soup to Nuts

The phrase may be unfamiliar at this point. It's shorthand for an old-style full dinner menu. Soup as a first course is a frugal way to dispose of leftovers from a previous meal. Keeping a pot of stock on the fire ensures food safety. Finishing a meal with nuts, that store without electricity, is a convenient way to ensure that no one leaves the table feeling at all hungry.

Many of the recipes from mid-twentieth century and earlier cookbooks look over-elaborate at first glance. They are clever ways of making the most of leftover food. Croutons, for example, repurpose and enrich day old bread. Potato pancakes are self-explanatory, as are fritters. Taking nearly every meal at home is the easiest way to eliminate food waste. A commercial meal interrupts the natural progression of ingredients from the pantry to the compost bucket -30-

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Monday, January 7, 2019

Pedestrian Wear

Street shoes with white soles make the moving foot obvious at night or during what passes for daylight in Seattle between November and February. A necklace or scarf offers a dangerous handhold to an attacker. Jewelry has been out of the question for years, as has a stylish handbag. Gloves are welcome warmth in the winter-I find that the inelegant practicality of sticky palmed garden gloves covers warmth, transit safety, and weight room needs all at once -30-
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Friday, January 4, 2019

The Christmas Housekeeping Hangover

Now that I'm back on leaves and fruit, I have energy enough to patrol obscure corners of the house preparing to put it back together after the New Year. In the not too distant past when setting up for the Great Feast, I often cleared a room hastily enough to generate a clotted nest of small furnishings and textiles. This year was calmer. I've been through the process enough times to have stored or deleted possessions that complicate rearranging a space.

It's deeply pleasing to have inventory integrated enough to allow setting up for the holiday in minutes and to be able to contemplate breaking the decorations down with just as little effort. A key to the system is to have edited kitchen and tabletop gear to suit daily demand and to have almost no redundancy. I'm happy to mix silver plate and granite enameled steel ware on the same buffet, and guests seem to enjoy the mix.

High-tech LED lamps, with their minimal demands on space, make it easy to reconfigure table tops and seating. White napkins of varying degrees of formality makes it easy to deploy the various cloths that disguise the frankly utilitarian tabletops in our private version of a coffee shop. 

Key to the mint are the freestanding paper shopping bags that stand  open and ready to receive quickly sorted small items of inventory. Such bags greatly accelerate turnaround time in every housekeeping task -30-

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Thursday, January 3, 2019

The Throw

A friend asked my opinion of a suggested sewing project for an economical throw. Few of the current uses and materials make sense to my experience of an old house and the damp chill of Western Washington. In these parts, the finest mohair is the best deal. One is good for thirty years at least. A second best value is ready-made from The Oregon Round-up Blanket Company, especially on sale right after Christmas. As I type, I'm looking at a car blanket that's been in service since 1958. Except for a treasure of hand knitting or crochet, anything else just complicates housework without producing any R or emergency value -30-  
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Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Freestanding Furniture

Contemplating the post-Christmas family parlor of this old house, I realized once again how convenient it is to have furnishings that stand alone. Early on, I fell for a lot of design advice that recommended fastening things to the wall to make the most of space. In my experience, doing so makes the most of repair time and/or the landlord's damage deposit.

The demands on my interior space are unpredictable. It's immensely relaxing to know that I can rearrange a room without having to rehabilitate it at the same time-30-
More after the jump.