Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Nothing New -- Courtney and I Vow to Make No New Purchases for One Month

While turning over the Dream Of Less in my head and discussing it with my like minded wife Courtney, we developed a little challenge for ourselves: purchase not one new item for an entire month.  At the end of the month, I hope to write the next installment of the dream: To Dream of Less Stuff.  Also, if the month goes better than expected, maybe we will extend the challenge for an even greater period of time.  For the first installment, however, we will begin on September 1, and attempt to buy nothing new until October 1.

Of course, a challenge like this would be meaningless without some clearly defined terms, some ground rules, and some expectation up front of a reasonable amount of failure.  So I describe for you now the plan:

  • First: food is not counted here, for obvious reasons.  What is counted, however, is any kitchen utensil, crockery, flatware, or other durable good associated with the preparation of food.
  • Second: semi-durable and disposable goods do count, including napkins, towels, clothing, shoes, kleenex, etc.  Also counted are things purchased for us in the process of a service we pay for, such as car maintenance.
  • Third: Cleaning products are to be avoided unless absolutely necessary.  We will try to use what we have sparingly, and find alternatives (vinegar and baking soda, e.g.) when we run out.
  • Fourth: items essential to health care (medicine, bandages) for both ourselves and our pets do not count at all.  I will not put myself, my wife, or any of our furry children in harms way for this or any other experiment.
  • Fifth: "new" shall be here defined as anything which is not previously owned, not re-purposed or recycled, not refurbished or re-anything-ed in any way.
  • 6th: when the need for some stuff arises, we shall follow this rubrick for satisfying the need:
  1. Try to repair the broken stuff (reuse/repair)
  2. See if we can make something else work for the same purpose (re-purpose)
  3. Try to borrow or barter for it
  4. Try to find it used or refurbished
  5. Reconsider if we can do without it
  6. Finally, break down and buy it new
However, if we get all the way to step 6, I am hereby bound to write a blog post about the item and the process of trying to achieve steps 1 through 5.

I think that about covers it.  I can tell you right now that at some point we will fail, and most likely because of my wife's car, which we are in the process of fixing up to sell.  But the failures are an anticipated part of the experiment, and we will not be deterred by a few set backs.

The purpose of this exercise is to actively monitor the amount of stuff we buy, and the amount of waste that we generate, and furthermore attempt to actively reduce those categories.  I am very optimistic that we will achieve some success in this endeavor, and I hope against hope that you will find this either a little inspiring or least somewhat entertaining.  Either way, I am really doing this for your benefit, so you better read!
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A Weekend at Theo Chocolate with the IFBC -- Day 1

Taken from theMaykazine's Flickr Photostream under CC license
After staying up late attending the Urban Spoon welcoming party at the ultra hip Cafe Purple, I got to the International Food Blogger Conference with only 5 hours of sleep.

Saturday morning, 6:25am, I walked into the conference hall at Theo Chocolate and found a dozen or so people bustling around in very efficient form, carrying things, moving things, cleaning things, generally doing things to other things in a near frantic state -- the sense of 'panic on the verge' that overwhelms the front line of employees at any conference.  Within a minute of arriving, I was carrying cartloads of POM drinks from Theo's industrial fridge to the hall.  Being one of only two male volunteers, I figured that I was in for some heavy lifting (people under duress default to traditional gender roles very quickly).

When my first task was completed, I asked about coffee, and was met with a deeply apologetic, wearied, hangdog look.  "The coffee vendor isn't here yet, but as soon as they are, you can drop whatever you are doing and get some coffee."  I was not about to argue with the severity of that expression, particularly because it came from staffer Reno, who aside from this one moment was the most persistently upbeat and cool guy I met at IFBC.

A photo of a cup of coffee.Image via Wikipedia
Once Caffe Vita arrived, the general level of optimism and energy was instantly elevated from "why did I agree to this?" to "Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho."  The best way to keep volunteers and employees happy, especially through long or early hours, is with lots of caffeine and sugar.  When those volunteers and employees are all foodies, the caffeine had better come in a delicious package.  Vita did not, in any way, disappoint.

Then some people spoke, it was cool, but the real point, I think, was lunch (just kidding, of course, Barnaby Dorfman gave a very informative talk on SEO; I missed the other morning sessions due to duties).  Four wines from the Walla Walla region were paired with small plate offerings from Seattle Chefs.  There was also a well received GF table, but since I was flying solo (without the GF wife), I did not partake.

The winner for lunch, in my opinion, was a plate of spicy citrus chick peas topped with a whole marinated baby octopus.  The texture of the purple and white octopus was just about indescribable: slightly tough like squid on the outside, a little crunch on the inside, and wholly unique.  The red tinged spicy chick peas were a perfect accompaniment to the octopus too, for both their tooth pleasing combination of crunch and give, as well as the acidic tang of the (I think) lime juice.  It was prepared by Chef Shannon Galusha from Bastille Cafe and Bar.

After lunch, I was able to sneak away from my volunteer duties to see the session on the Law and Ethics of Food Blogging, which was largely about copyright.  The rock star of that talk was Robin Goldstein (sorry Barnaby and Robert) whose presentation was titled "Reducing Bullshit in Wine Writing," if memory serves.  As desperately as I wanted to stay for dinner, being completely floored by the fare thus far, I was exhausted and ready to be "off" for the day.  If it was a one day event, I might have pushed through, but I could not bear the thought of missing the food trucks on Sunday.

I could write a whole seperate blog post about the Walla Walla Wines, but I will post some links instead.  Hopefully that will help to reduce the overall level of Bullshit in Wine Writing.
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Monday, August 30, 2010

Panorama of IFBC 16 Hours Later

Just wanted to share this quick photo collage of Theo Chocolate's hall where we attended IFBC, about 16 hours after the guests left.  I thought some of the attendees might get a kick out of the quick work we made of their mess : )

I was volunteering at the conference (mostly for the food) and came back Monday (very briefly) to help out Anneka, Andrea, and the rest of the crew with the clean up.  You guys were great, you worked much harder than us volunteers, and I wanted to let you know that you were appreciated too.  Also wanted to say thanks to Audrey from Theo for being so cool.  Finally, thank you to Foodista and Zephyr for hosting the event.  Hope to see you all soon, I will tweet (@newaxiom) next time I come to Seattle, maybe we can meet up then.

IFBC Theo Chocolate 16 Hours Later
I will surely put up one or two posts describing the event and the food, glorious food in the next few days, but wanted to share this quick pic with you all while it was still hot.
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Friday, August 27, 2010

At Foodista IFBC

I am volunteering at the International Food Bloggers Conference, and I could not be happier.  After helping the guests register, I was told to wander around and partake before getting my next assignment.  Next comes you being jealous.

I started by tasting the Deadlift Imperial IPA from Widmer, which was hoppy in a very mellow way for an IIPA, and their October Fest, which was one of the best malt dominant beers I can remember having in a long time.  As I was finishing my beer, I was treated by chef Lisa Dupar to a grilled steak Bahn Mi on a mini baguette with mango sriracha.

Immediately after thinking that was the best sandwich ever, I was forced to question myself.  Alaska Seafood gave me there version of a BLT, with Black Cod (smoked) instead of bacon.  Alaskan fish is generally the lowest mercury of any seafish, and this smoked cod was absolutely divine in flavor, texture, the very definition of perfect fish.

Speaking of sustainable seafood, I had a taste of Tonnino Tuna packed in olive oil with garlic.  Served with a touch of spice on a bed of asian slaw.  Tonnino is all line caught, verified by a third party, and their packing plant finds creative uses for their waste.  I am told that their waste water is so clean it is potable.  I washed that down with a wonderful spicy sweet gazpacho made with watermelon, cucumber, cilantro, cumin and about 10 different peppers, by chef Josh Silvers from Bistro Syrah.

Next I tasted some organic olive oil from Spain.  There were about 20 olive oils displayed, so I just told the girl manning the table to blow my mind.  She gave me an olive oil that had a strong aftertaste of cucumber (Abbe D Queiles, I think).  It blew my mind.  She also gave me an unfiltered oil (Nunez De Prado) that tasted distinctly of Kalmatas. 

There was lots, lots more, including Wonderful Walla Walla Wines, but that will have to wait for tomorrow.  All I can say for now is: NOM NOM NOM NOM NOM...

Friday, August 20, 2010

Electic Vehicles: the Pros and Cons and Pros and Cons...

Gasoline spill fire under the furniture calori...Image via Wikipedia
Re-Posted From the iPinion Syndicate

It’s  complicated.  Cars are complicated.  First, we want to stop burning fossil fuels, and for most of us the gasoline going into our tank is the only fuel that we actually come into contact with directly.  You can look at a light bulb glowing and think abstractly about coal burning in a far off plant, but when you refuel your car you can smell it.  So most of us have a visceral feeling about how our cars use fossil fuels which is somewhat disproportional to the actual carbon emissions they generate.  Cars get vilified more than A/C units, even though cooling big office buildings generates much more pollution.  Not to downplay the carbon emissions from cars; transportation (as a whole) is still among the top 3 sources of green house gasses.  The result, however, is that we tend to feel worse about our cars than anything else.

Still, most of us can’t get around without a car.  In other words, we want to be better but we feel like we can’t.  Enter the electric vehicle; drive all you want and never deal with gasoline again.  The trouble is, you haven’t actually solved the problem.  Now your car is just one more light bulb; you plug it in and it juices itself up, but you are really just burning the fuel somewhere else.  All you have done is stopped smelling it.

So we’re back to feeling like there is nothing we can do, right?  Well... maybe.  There is one thing that electric cars can do which conventional cars cannot, and never will.  They can get their energy from anywhere.  Most places in the US coal is the only option for energy generation, so that point can seem moot, but it isn’t.  Where I live in the Pacific North West for example, a substantial percentage of the power comes from hydroelectric plants, so driving an electric car up here is really vastly more sustainable than an internal combustion vehicle.

In many states like California, the legislature has made a commitment (and appears to be keeping it against all odds) to steadily increase the percentage of energy production from renewable sources.  So if you buy an EV in CA, it will get greener every year.  That is a really big deal when you think about the fact that the sustainability movement is gaining steam.  If more states commit to green energy, then EVs are suddenly a really great alternative.

However, when you really think about it, why does transportation require any energy at all?  Sure, it is just about impossible to imagine getting across the country without burning fuel, but why is it that most of us can’t imagine getting to the grocery store and back without driving a car?  Or to work?  Or just out to a restaurant?  Have we forgotten how to walk?  Does anyone own a bike anymore and use it to get places, not just to exercise?  Have middle class white people forgotten how to ride buses?  It certainly seems so.

YOW TRANSITImage via Wikipedia
Of course this is not true.  Some of us still use the bus.  Some of us bike.  Some of us, even in LA, walk (I did when I lived there).  Some people do it just because it is convenient, or they even enjoy it.  Some people walk into town without even thinking about the fact that they are saving the planet, maybe without even believing in global warming.  The fact is, once you get out of your car, you realize that life is more fun when you’re not driving.  Every time you walk instead of driving, you are choosing not to burn that fuel at all, which is much better than burning it somewhere else.  In other words, the simplest solution is avoiding cars and the complications that they bring entirely.
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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Poaching Eggs: a Few Tips and Pics

The poached eggs were so delicious yesterday that we had them, exactly the same, this morning as well.  This time, however, I snapped a few pics to help explicate the process.  As I mentioned last yesterday, poaching eggs directly in water (as opposed to in using an egg poacher) can be a little intimidating.  I was nervous the first time I tried it, but I was surprised to find how easy it really was.

The color of an egg yolk is from the xanthophy...Image via Wikipedia
Eggs are an excellent way to get protein in a vegetarian, or partially vegetarian diet (sorry vegans).  Egg yolks contain some important vitamins (like biotin) which are not found in many other foods, and almost no vegetables.  This makes eggs an excellent addition to your diet no matter what diet you are on.

First of all, you should select the freshest eggs you can find, as fresh eggs coagulate better and less fresh eggs tend to dissipate in the water.  Since it is hard to tell when a supermarket egg was collected, I recommend buying from a Farmer's Market or local farm, as they can tell you exactly how fresh the eggs are.  Fresh, organic eggs are more expensive, so this is a special treat for anyone who isn't raising their own chickens.

First, fill a large frying pan and a smaller pan with water, about 2 inches deep.  Bring them both to a very low boil.  Add a little vinegar to the large pan, as the acid will help the encourage the eggs to stay together while cooking.  Add a little salt to the small pan, and turn it down to a simmer.  This second pan is just a bath to rinse the vinegar and add a little salt when the eggs are done cooking.

When the two pans of water are ready, start the eggs one at a time like so:

  • Crack the egg onto a small saucer
  • Slide the egg into the acidified water, with the saucer as close as possible to the surface of the water
  • Using a slotted spoon, gently roll the white around the yolk as the white hardens
  • Repeat, until up to four eggs are in the water
By the time you done with the fourth egg, the first will be just about done.  Test it by lifting it gently out of the water with the slotted spoon, and see how much the white giggles.  It should have just a tiny bit of give, the yolk should be still liquid, and the white should be almost entirely solid.

When the eggs are done, gently lift them out of the acidified water and drop them briefly into the salted water, then transfer them to a clean kitchen towel or cloth napkin.  Serve before the eggs cool, on buttered toast or muffin, or as your favorite variation of eggs benedict.

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Monday, August 16, 2010

The Lovely Town of Oakridge, and What To Do With Fresh Eggs

Tributaries of the Willamette RiverImage via Wikipedia
This past weekend the wife and I visited some friends in Oakridge (featured in a recent NPR show: State of the Re:Union), a beautiful little town an hour outside Eugene/Springfield.  Nestled in the Cascade Mountains, this former logging town is fast becoming known as one of the best mountain biking/ hiking locations in central Oregon.  The quiet, natural beauty of the mixed deciduous and evergreen forests crisscrossed with rivers and creeks of clear snow melt is remarkable.  We soaked it in with our friends and their family while visiting a swimming hole that is part of the Middle Fork Tributary (I think) to the Willamette river.  The ice cold water was a perfect complement to the 100 degree weather.  A few large rock formations did a fair job of impersonating diving boards.

After a swim and picnic by the river, and after picking up more trash than we made (apparently other swimmers had been a little less conscientious), we packed up and headed back to our friends' place to visit with their chickens.  Hens which are raised and socialized by people are very friendly, and love to be held and pet.  They make sounds kind of like purring cats when you scratch their neck.  They also, as you may have heard, lay eggs.

When you see eggs from chickens on a small farm or from a home garden it suddenly becomes very odd that eggs in the grocery store are all white or uniformly brown, and all exactly the same size.  This is most unnatural.  Our hosts in Oakridge provided us with a dozen eggs, most of which were either brown or speckled brown, and one of which was green.  No two eggs were the same size or color.

2/3 of a dozen fresh eggs
(the four missing were used in today's breakfast)
White hens lay white eggs, brown hens lay brown eggs, and green hens... you get the idea, I think.  The point is that the eggs resemble their hens, and a dozen eggs that are all identical speaks to our drive to master nature, make it uniformly productive and predictable.  Several shelves of cartons and flats of eggs from several different 'farms' that are identical speaks volumes, and is a pretty good picture of what industrial agriculture is all about.

Fresh, organic eggs taste quite different as well.  I don't really know how to describe it except to say that they taste 'cleaner.'  The best way to experience this difference in flavor is to poach the eggs, and serve simply with a dash of salt and pepper with (or on top of) buttered toast.  Poaching has the least influence on the flavor of the eggs, and is the easiest way to get perfectly cooked whites with completely soft yolks.  It can be a little stressful if you have never done it before, but the results are well worth it.

Eggs should be poached in just barely boiling water which has been slightly acidified with a bit of plain white vinegar.  The Cooks Book (my kitchen bible) recommends cracking the eggs onto a saucer one at a time and gently sliding them into the water, to minimize the splashing effect.  Then, using a slotted spoon, gently roll the white over the yolk until it is enveloped.  Repeat with the next egg, up to about 4 at a time.  Cook them for 2 minutes or so, and then plunge them into a simmering pan of salted water to remove the vinegar and season a little.  Set on a dish towel to drain for a few seconds and serve immediately.  With fresh eggs, very little seasoning is required, and Hollandaise sauce is kind of overkill (though delicious overkill...).

Unfortunately, fresh organic eggs are pretty expensive, so we are very lucky to have friends producing their own.  Still, for a special occasion, perhaps to impress your significant other on valentines day, fresh eggs are a relatively inexpensive and effective splurge.  You can find them at most Farmer's Markets.
beautiful basket of chicken eggsImage by woodleywonderworks via Flickr
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Friday, August 13, 2010

How to do Everything Wrong in the Garden

It's kind of amazing, looking back, that we have anything growing in our garden at all.  We have done everything imaginable wrong.

You may remember a post early in Spring about starting from seed?  In which I posted a few pictures of our impromptu seed starting station, full of happily sprouting little seedlings?  Well, I promised to post updates about our garden thereafter, but was too depressed to do so, as almost all of our seedlings withered and died.  Most, we now believe, because we just waited to long to transfer them. The sprouts grew big and tall, and then toppled, then shriveled and dried right out.

The skull and crossbones, a common symbol for ...Image via Wikipedia
The seedlings that survived this first neglect had even worse horrors visited upon them by us amateur gardeners.  We failed to harden off our little upstarts before just leaving them out in the elements, and many were shocked by their first frigid night into committing suicide, or whatever the herbaceous equivalent is.  The tomatoes, previously only exposed to fluorescent light, were scorched by the brilliant sunlight.  Those that had the tenacity to withstand the cold and sunshine, though surely terrified by the treatment they and their fellow sprouts were suffering through, fared better.  But not by much.

For our next trick, we watered our plants when the sun was at its zenith, not realizing that we were splashing water all over the leaves and creating little lenses that literally burned the growing leaves alive.  We almost lost our strawberries to that one, but luckily they regrew from the roots.  Finally, we left on a trip to see family and asked someone to water the plants for us.  However, because we were afraid of being a burden, we only asked them to come by every two or three days.  As you more experienced gardeners will surely already know, we came back to a bone dry desert.

Not all of the destruction was directly our fault, there were pests, parasites and pestilence as well.  Aside from the havoc wreaked by the slugs and the inexplicable deaths that we chalked up to diseases, there was the mysterious case of the disappearing carrot sprouts.  We sowed tons of carrot seeds in a little patch, and every day a few would sprout in the morning. By sunset every single one would be gone.  No slug trails, no shriveled dried out remnants, just an empty patch of dirt.  We couldn't figure out what was going on until one day my cat Whiskey was banging frantically on the glass of the back door. I came over to see what the ruckus was about, and saw a little finch in our carrot patch, hop-hopping around, looking about in that particularly birdy way, and pecking up our carrot sprouts one by one.  Peck peck, hop, look around, hop, peck, until there was nothing left but dirt.  Apparently he was a bit of a sprout connoisseur, because he neglected every other type of sprout in the garden, just ate the carrots and split.

In short, as first time gardeners, Courtney and I unwittingly perpetrated a tiny vegetable holocaust in our little backyard this spring.  We were shamed and saddened by this, of course, but luckily nature's abundance knows no bounds, and there was plenty of summer left for us to give it a second go.

It was too late in the season to start from seed again, so we bought several starts at the Lane County Farmer's Market.  We started watering our plants in the evening exclusively, after all the direct sunlight was past, giving the plants all night to soak up water.  We potted everything, which helped to reduce slug attacks and diseases.  And when we had to make an unexpected trip to Seattle for Family reasons, we were not afraid to ask someone to check on the plants every day.  We are still figuring out how to repay her, perhaps a jar of homemade pesto would do the trick...

I sincerely hope that someone out there can learn from our mistakes, and avoid the sad and needless vegetable death that we brought upon ourselves.  Just goes to show, I guess, no matter how much research you do, you don't know how to do something until you done it.
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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

An(other) Inconvenient Truth

Re-posted from the iPinion Syndicate

For greenhouse gases, like so many other things in our environment, too little and too much are equally problematic.  Life is a balancing act, a tightrope walk, and anything which tips the balance one way or the other can lead to a show stopping, devastating end.  Take salt, for example: you can’t live without it, but as any sailor knows drinking salt water will kill you quicker than thirst.

Absorptions bands in the Earth's atmosphere cr...Image via Wikipedia
Similarly, greenhouse gases play an important role in keeping the earth at temperatures that can sustain life.  Too little means too cold, and too much too hot.  No one (who understands it) questions the physics behind the greenhouse effect, and no one questions that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, this was discovered long ago and has been tested repeatedly since.  Starting with the industrial revolution, we have been pumping extra greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, more every year, and primarily carbon dioxide.  The results: this summer is the hottest summer in the history of humans
recording temperatures on a global scale, with all of the crop failures and droughts that that record implies.  So why don’t we just stop generating carbon dioxide?

Well, the answer to that question is the ‘other’ inconvenient truth alluded to in the title of this column: fossil fuels are awesome.  As a friend of mine who is an engineer explained it to me: there is no other convenient way that we can store so much energy in such a tiny volume.  And it is not for a lack of trying, believe me.

Se belowImage via Wikipedia
Battery technology gets better every year, but even the most efficient electric vehicles rarely get more than 100 miles on a single charge.  The average gas burner, on the other hand, can generally go 3 times as far on one full tank of fuel.  As another example, solar technology and wind turbines (so far) cannot compete with coal power plants for energy output, and have pretty serious hurdles to overcome in the area of consistency.  So while these sources are sustainable, infinitely cleaner, and overwhelmingly more efficient, when the desired result is a light bulb that comes on at the same intensity every time you flip that switch, coal is what provides the consistency to your grid.  That is why roughly 2/3 of our electricity still comes from fossil fuels, and less than 1/10 from renewable, sustainable sources.

We can generate energy in much more efficient ways than by burning fossil fuels, which waste massive amount of energy in powering the grid.  Hydroelectric plants, for example, are supremely efficient, generate plenty of energy, produce absolutely no pollution at all, and require less maintenance.  The only downside is that the water supply is somewhat seasonal (which is usually evened out by dams), and there is no way to store excess energy.

If you were tasked with designing a system to store excess energy for later use, you would be hard pressed to come up with something as efficient (at storing energy), compact, transportable, and with such longevity as gasoline or coal.  That is precisely why we are having such a hard time kicking our habit of burning through fossil fuels to run our increasingly high power life styles.  When it comes down to it, it is very very difficult to generate the same amount of on-demand electricity with the same consistency and move the same amount of freight without burning fossil fuels.  So what can we possibly do?  The short answer: use less energy, reduce the amount of stuff we ship.

In the long term, it may be possible to generate the same amount of energy that we use today without emitting carbon dioxide, but it is not going to happen this year, next, or next decade most likely.  So in the interim, reducing energy demand is the only way that we can reign in our run away greenhouse gas emissions.  Living a more energy efficient lifestyle, in other words, is the only thing that will keep us balanced on the tight rope.
Global annual fossil fuel carbon dioxide emiss...Image via Wikipedia

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

To Dream of Less Space

My wife is designing a very tiny house on a very tiny lot for her studio project this term, so both of us (because she has to bounce every idea and every design choice off me, sometimes to the point of driving me crazy) are thinking right now about the least amount of space you could possibly fit a family into.  I have the unusual benefit of growing up in a house that is, by American suburban standards at least, minuscule.  The house in Laguna Beach that my father designed and built is located on a little wedge of land that was divided from a larger lot.  Also, the wedge is mostly on a steep hill, with just a little flat area at the street.  My parents fit a family of five into that postage stamp space and still had plenty of room leftover to play host to a surprising number of friends and family on special occasions.

When I was younger, perhaps to compensate for having less personal, private space than some of my friends, I would dream of one day living in a mansion.  I imagined having a huge living room, dining room and kitchen to entertain.  I dreamed of having collectible cars in an over sized garage.  I wanted a big bedroom with a walk in closet and big bath room with walk in shower.  All of this would be nestled, of course, in enormous and multi-layered private gardens.  Basically, I wanted to be Bruce Wayne.  But hey, I was 15, what do you expect?

The older I get, though my dreams don't get any smaller, the size of my house in my dreams does.  This is due, at least in part, to the location of my dream home.  Once nestled in layers of private gardens, perhaps in some coastal town yet undiscovered by the relentless developers of CA, my dream home has packed its bags and moved to the center of a big city.  It has lifted itself off the ground, and found its way into the upper floors of a low rise building.  As such, it has of necessity folded in upon itself, sacrificed some extra space, doubled up purposes of other spaces, and generally shed a few pounds (even as I gain a few).  The gardens have been replaced with public parks, the garage full of fancy cars completely sacrificed, and the over-sized rooms scaled down to average human size (and sometimes even below average).

When you have space, you feel the need to fill it with things.  Nature abhors a vacuum, as my father is fond of quoting, and when you have more space than you need, you will fill it.  If you did not need the space in the first place, then it stands to reason that you will not in any real sense need the stuff that you find to fill it.  So the question that we should ask ourselves is "how much space do I need?"  No one seems to ask this question these days.  Instead everyone seems to ask "how much space could I use?"  And the answer to that question is almost always another question, "how much space can I afford?"

You could use more space.  We all could.  I could have an exercise room, a home office, a pool, a home theater, a game room.  And if I had them, I would use them.  Of course, if I lived in a city of any size, it would have a movie theater, a pool hall, a gym.  If I lived in a large enough residential building in an urban area, it is likely that my building would have half of these amenities that I covet.  So I have to ask, do I need any of these things?  Another important question: how much would it cost me to have all that space, to fill it with the associated stuff, and to maintain it?  Is the value that I would get out of that extra space equal to how much it would cost me?  The answer is almost certainly no.

Space and stuff are directly linked, as well.  In every home, a certain percentage of the space is devoted entirely to storage.  Linen closets, clothes closets, cabinets, shelves, chests, armoires, and don't forget garages, which are usually equal parts car park and storage for random junk that you can't stand to look at inside of your living spaces.  If you have less space, it follows that you will need to have less stuff.  There are few feelings more liberating than getting rid of stuff that (after considering it) you realize you just do not need.

And so I have been dreaming, instead of more space, of having just enough.  Just enough to be happy, to feel content and uncluttered, to have some privacy and full utility, but just that much and no more.  I dream of having that space in a context, in a place that is as important to me as the space itself.  I dream of loving a city, a neighborhood, a building, and my space within each of those contexts as well as loving the space for itself.

I dream of having storage that restricts me from accumulating stuff I don't need.  I dream of a space in which every object has a purpose and a place.  I dream of a space so well utilized that a single useless object feels like a burden not worth bearing (I'm looking at you, waffle maker).

I dream of spaces that feel bigger than they are.  I dream of spaces with double and triple uses, in which each use feels so appropriate and right that you couldn't imagine any other.

In short, I dream of maximizing utility and harmony, of wedding efficiency with comfort.  I am asking myself this question: 'how much space do I need to be happy, healthy, and sane,' and I hope to find the answer.
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