Monday, June 30, 2014

Downsizing House And Home

Remember the time when you could pack everything you owned into a car?

A few years ago I had the pleasure of meeting my sister-in-law's nephew and his wife. They were a military couple at the time, now a family of four with another addition arriving any day. With mobility a confirmed reality in a military career they decided to forgo the usual periodic investment in a house built on the ground. Instead, they elected to purchase one on wheels. But this is no ordinary house. Not only have they gone mobile, they've also chosen to go small. Very small, yet very functional. In fact, multi-functional. 

Stick-built from the wheels up, the mobile home was constructed by a general contractor in Oregon using plans developed by the firm and the buyers.

Kitchen, dining, den, shower bath and extensive well-hidden storage on the first level:

Separate master and kid's sleeping space located in the loft:

Such an arrangement will not be for everyone but I believe this family's search for practical, affordable, and mobile housing has great appeal among young adults. But the concept has not yet caught up with city planners. That raises the big question for buyers: "Where can I park my house?" Blogging at Old Urbanist, Charlie Gardner provides some answers for what he describes as:

...nearly the only type of single-family detached housing that is allowed to be both very small and built on very small lots. Much of the affordability of this housing type, it seems, is attributable not only to the efficiencies of mass production or the frequent separation of the cost of land from the cost of ownership, but the common exemption of areas zoned for mobile homes (setting aside for now the curiosity of why there should even be such zones) from the standard restrictions of single family zoning, including minimum lot sizes, front and side setbacks, parking requirements and even minimum street widths.
The prospect of mixing a variety of house types and lot sizes Gardner alludes to opens many exciting possibilities in community building.   

As for our household, twenty years ago we were five residents living in 3000 square feet. Today only two of us remain and over a third of that space goes virtually unused. While I doubt we'll become part of the Tiny House movement, the concept of divesting ourselves of 
thousands of pounds of "stuff" has great appeal. Let the cleansing begin.

Photos: Chona Wiesehan

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Centennial Of World War I Begins

The Daily Telegraph (London) reports the news of the day in 1914
The assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz-Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo, Bosnia - occupied by Austria-Hungary at the time - took place on this day one hundred years ago. Within weeks, the event exploded into war across the face of Europe. Although the United States remained neutral throughout most of the conflict Germany's unrestricted submarine warfare in 1917 brought American soldiers into the conflict. In eighteen months the U.S. suffered almost 325,000 casualties including just over 116,000 deaths. 

Europe was devastated by the war. Over 8,500,000 soldiers died. More than 21,000,000 were wounded. The conflict not only impaired a generation but it's end in the draconian provisions of the Treaty of Versailles (1919) seeded even more conflict ending in World War II two decades later.

Today's coverage by The Telegraph provides an extensive multimedia look at the assassination. Readers can expect excellent interpretation from this site over the next four years. For a bit more of an American perspective, the outstanding KCET/BBC co-production of The Great War and the Shaping of the Twentieth Century is available here.

For an in-depth history of the conflict, Power Line's Scott Johnson recommends Winston Churchill's The World Crisis as essential reading.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Summer Solstice 2014

Summer Solstice Sunrise at Stonehenge, Wiltshire, England     NASA photo

For Northern Hemisphere folks the sun reaches its highest point in the sky today. It is the longest day of the year. Although the sun begins its descent tomorrow, insolation from our star will continue to raise atmospheric temperatures until late July. As this day marks the end of the season of renewal and the beginning of the season of growth and flower, I am reminded of this quote by D. H. Lawrence...

The greatest need of man is the renewal forever of the complete rhythm of life and death, the rhythm of the Sun's year, the body's year.

...and this music by Johann Sebastian Bach:

Shout with joy to God, all the earth!....  Psalm 66

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Father's Day 2014

This is my dad at seventeen, a high school graduate, and holder of his class medals in English and debate. The year was 1925. He was a mill town boy with high ambitions tempered by the security of a good-paying, full-time job in the midst of the Roaring Twenties. He never got the college degree he wanted but he was successful, building on his strong faith, a solid marriage, and a remarkable work ethic.

When I look at this picture I am reminded that he only had four "good" years before the Great Depression and World War II brought him and the country he loved into sixteen years of hard times. Through it all he survived as a member of the "Greatest Generation" to see his nation prosper. 

Dad's been gone from this world for over thirty years. My children never knew him but I think they know him well. I've done my best to teach them who he was and honor him by carrying on his many traditions. 

We had our differences over the years - a normal course of events - but in the final analysis he was a great and careful teacher and a constant and trusted friend. Most of all he was my loving dad. I thank him every day and will love him forever.

Flag Day 2014

Happy Flag Day 2014!

Francis Hopkinson Flag                                                                                    1777

Here are some words for the day from the Francis Hopkinson entry on Wikipedia:

Hopkinson is recognized as the designer of the official "first flag" of the United States. Although he sought compensation from Congress, the letter was somewhat comical. He asked for a quarter cask of wine in payment for the flag, the Great Seal, and various other contributions. Congress used the usual bureaucratic tactics of asking for an itemized bill. After some back and forth, Congress eventually refused on the pretext that Hopkinson was already paid as a public servant. The letter also mentioned that Hopkinson collaborated with others on his designs because he was one of many contributing to the Great Seal. [6][7]
While there is no known Hopkinson flag in existence today, we do know from his rough sketch that it had thirteen stars and thirteen stripes. It is believed that his flag used red and white stripes and white stars on a field of blue. Because the original stars used in the Great Seal had six points, we might also assume that Hopkinson's flag intended the use of a 6-pointed star. This is bolstered by his original sketch that showed asterisks with six points.
The legend of Betsy Ross as the designer of the first flag entered into American consciousness about the time of the 1876 centennial celebrations. See Betsy Ross Flag. This flag with its circle of 13 stars came into popular use as a flag commemorating our nation's birth. Many Americans today still cling to the Betsy Ross legend that she designed the flag and most are unaware of Hopkinson's legacy.

It wouldn't be right to have Flag Day without some music so here's a rousing tribute to Old Glory from the 1942 film, Yankee Doodle Dandy.  If you don't know this film it's worth viewing as a prime example of wartime propaganda. For the U.S. that year morale was poor on the home front and the battlefield. Any lift in spirit would help sustain our allied fight against the evil infecting Europe and the Pacific at that time. Yankee Doodle Dandy was a patriotic blockbuster. 

Sorry about the sound quality and the colorized film.  Still works though.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

It's Been One Of Those Days

The summer weather pattern is in full force with the sea breeze at Pensacola this morning roaring into Atlanta by dinner. And what happens?


There was a time in my life when the second interpretation had greater importance. In the early days I peeled experiences in much the same way one would peel an onion for the day's salad.  A single event changed my approach.  I was with a close friend at the summit of Capulin Volcano in northeastern New Mexico. We were washed in a glorious sunset, a full pallet of color with crepuscular rays overhead and reaching near the horizon. It was a holy event. At once I began a discourse on volcanic landscapes and regional geography interspersed with comments on physics and meteorological phenomena. I didn't get far. After no more than a minute my friend said, "Shut up and look." That was more than forty years ago. Our friendship survived the abrupt lesson but unfortunately not the mobility, marriages and career paths over those years. 

I can still peel that onion when necessary, but do a lot of quiet looking and listening these days. What a joy it has been to appreciate wholeness and its aesthetic. And I never enjoy a vivid sunset without thinking of that evening and its valuable life lesson.

Capulin Volcano (National Monument)                            Folsom, New Mexico

Photo: Mike Schoonover, 2010

Friday, June 6, 2014

D-Day At 70 Years

Seventy years ago today Allied forces followed the blue lines on the map above as they assaulted the cliffs of Normandy and the Nazi occupation of Europe. The United States Army has remembered the day with a comprehensive review of the events and personalities. PowerLine's history and culture geek, Scott Johnson, has posted a notable summary with his usual fine commentary and a host of interesting links.

I think Johnson's post is so important because he emphasizes three critical aspects of the invasion. First, it was the defining event of World War II in Europe. Second, it had to result in total victory. Third, there was no assurance of victory. Reading General Dwight Eisenhower's words prepared in case the invasion failed is a chilling reminder of how close the Allied beacon of freedom came to being snuffed out by evil.

Let's hope we never forget the price of victory or the necessity for constant vigilance.

Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, Colleville-sur-Mer, France