Skip to content

We may not be going to Europe, but there’s plenty to see right here in my own backyard.

A few months ago I thought I’d be spending the Spring Fever months in Uzbekistan, Paris, and Llanfairpwllgwyngyll, a delightful town best known for the Bryn Celli Ddu Burial Chamber, the Plas Cadnant in bloom, and its 19 syllables, shortened from the ancient 313 when phone books were invented. Because of self-distancing and the subsequent collapse of all international travel, I am instead strolling the sidewalks and byways of my hometown of Edmonds, Washington, looking out across Puget Sound at the majestic and now inaccessible snowcapped Olympic tops, dreaming of fresh baguettes from my friend Jacques’s Parisian patisserie, of palov from a delightful street cart in Tashkent, or a big heaping bowl of Tatws Popty from the always delightful Llanfairpwllgwyngyll pub. 

We may not be going to Europe, but there’s plenty to see right here in my own backyard.

I confess I have spent very little time in my own backyard; I travel most of the time and I tend to only be here to handle the mail and change a shirt. My family is probably around here somewhere, but the kids have asked me to not “tour” their rooms while they Facetime with their friends. So let’s explore the wonders of nature right here!

My backyard is a 12’x12’ concrete pad, adorned with some delightful patio furniture my wife trashpicked from the neighbors eleven years ago. The chairs are green, plastic, and, I have to say, very comfortable, with a delightful view of the 3’x12’ strip of let’s call it a garden blooming in a sunny frame of late afternoon Edmonton light against the white fence that separates the Steves from the McAllisters, who I believe still live there, I’m really not around here very much.

But a cool early spring breeze and some moody clouds make me think it’s time to seek out a delightful cocoa and warmer climes, so off we go!

The sliding patio door is original to the house, circa 1975, and while the aluminum has acquired a pebbled patina, it still slides smoothly most of the time, representing a classic design that speaks of a culture in touch with its need to commune with nature with both a clear view and a clever arrangement for access that speaks of a philosophy based on getting up and going where life takes you. Let’s go in.

The charming kitchen catches the last of the afternoon light in an orange stripe across the family photos on the refrigerator. The room is dominated by the tornviken, or “kitchen island,” and the svenbertil, a traditional form of table designed to fit in the kitchen at a reasonable price, some assembly required. Here we meet a local woman, steeped in the traditions and practices of Minnesota cooking, but long a resident of these milder winters west of her birthplace. She’s making a traditional Edmonton favorite, multi-grain bread “sandwiching” two slices of ham with lettuce and garlic mayonnaise, or “mayo.” Having local friends or guides to bring local life to life always helps to bring local life to life, and we are not disappointed now. This happens to be my wife. “Did you...did you want one too?” she asks, I think hopefully.

“I’m going to make some cocoa,” I say, heading toward the stove where I see the kettle.

“Okay,” she responds, clearly relieved that I will be refreshed. She is the woman of the house, my wife and fellow house curator, Mrs. Steves. Under her friendly guidance, I am directed to the Hersheys, a chocolate powder produced since 1894 in Pennsylvania, an eastern state. When mixed with milk it produces a warm drink that can be quite pleasing on a chilly night. “Do you know how old this Hersheys is?” I ask.

She smiles. “I’m sure the expire date is at least 2022.” We laugh. At least I do. As the cocoa warms in the pan, I select a mug. The Steves collection goes back to my grandmother’s childhood, and includes a 1957 Roy Rogers and a 1963 Bullwinkle J. Moose. I select a widemouth SubPop (founded 1986 in nearby Seattle, better known for music), low, modern, starkly white against the deep brown of the liquid, which is now bubbling over in the pan. I am alerted to this by the gentle simmer as milk touches the stovetop and my wife says a quiet traditional snack blessing, “Oh for the love of God.”

It’s the perfect way to end our tour of this charming corner of Edmonds, Washington. My fellow curator and I retire to drive the kids from the family room and catch up on the stories of the day’s pandemic adventures, in a medley of recommendations on YouTube. It’s a feast for the eyes, and if we’re lucky we’ll catch one of my memories of the Baltic, or perhaps soft porn.

At the time Chaplin made "The Great Dictator" the full extent of the Nazi horror was years away from public knowledge, and Chaplin said later that, had he known, he would not have made the film. But it stands as a contemplation on dictators, not just the little weasel who stole the mustache look. And the speech at the end, the innocent barber disguised as the Great Dictator, pleading for peace, love, and understanding, is a timeless speech, perhaps as memorable as anything in Henry V, moreso because we have the hindsight to understand the deep horror that he was unintentionally, but poignantly, revealing to his audience. He still does, for those who will listen.

If you get the vaccine or finally dress up for a Zoom. A “button-down” shirt was designed to be worn over a t-shirt, in place of a hoodie or bathrobe.
clothes, boots
Shoes are footwear that is not sneakers, Crocs, slippers, or boots. I cannot remember why you would want them.

List: Normal Clothes, Explained

If you get the vaccine or finally dress up for a Zoom

A “button-down” shirt was designed to be worn over a t-shirt, in place of a hoodie or bathrobe. Ironically, people had less time to dress back then, yet needed to button all those buttons; most people only unbuttoned a few at the top and pulled the thing on like a t-shirt or hoodie.

Cosplay points us toward a new direction. Baseball or Star Trek uniforms are stylish, dressy, and basically track suits without being track suits, which means they are also not pajamas. This future is probably where Star Trek got the idea.

Read at Points in Case

This short McGraw-Hill film from the 1960s is remarkably accurate about 21st century homes. Surprisingly, where it's off the mark is 21st economics.

This short McGraw-Hill film from 1967 gets most of the technology right and some of the design details wrong, but it's remarkably accurate about 21st century homes. Surprisingly, where it's off the mark is 21st century economics. Even though the 2020 pandemic field-tested many longstanding ideas about working and learning from home, many of the economic concepts about health insurance and working conditions are still far distant future concepts in 2021.

Something it gets half-right: the kitchen. Between modern appliances (the microwave, the smart crockpot) and mail-order meal ingredients (Blue Apron, Hello Fresh), the Kitchen of the Future is here now, but we've dropped the idea of incinerating our dishes at the end of every meal and re-molding the plastic. We can't even recycle milk cartons properly. And imagine the smell and particulates.

The interesting thing is an interview with an industrial designer; after a tour of the glamorous new world of robotic cooking, they cut to a distinguished older man who designed this smart kitchen. "I think people will continue to make food the old-fashioned way," he says sheepishly. "Because they enjoy doing it."

One other oddity: In every 60s conception of the home of the future, from this to Disney to the Jetsons, living room ceilings are always at least 20-feet high, even in apartments.