Sunday, March 31, 2013

Card catalog

In my quest for simplicity, I long ago surrendered any thoughts of reducing my book collection. I've  read many essays that offer sage advice on detaching oneself from the possession of books, but until I'm confronted with moving to Paris or a nursing home, I don't see any particular need to purge in this area. Occasionally I worry my floors will collapse under the weight of the books, and once or twice I have succumbed to this worry (or the reluctance to purchase another bookcase) by carting up a stack of unloved volumes and lugging them to Goodwill or the used bookstore. Discarding a 1980s guide to sailing around Cuba (no idea how that came into my possession) has caused no regrets; yet, I still suffer over the poor decision to give up my Fearrington House Cookbook 15 years ago.

Some of the offending shelves
So I'm reconciled to allowing books to be one category of overindulgence. Like anything of which one has too much, the primary nuisance tends to be its organization. When I'm searching for a book I know I own, and I can't find it, it's never because I loaned it out to someone and forgot. I always remember who has one of my books, even if he or she has had it for five years and I've lost all hope that it will be returned. The books that frustrate me are the ones that I know are in my house but I can't remember in which bookcase or pile. This is primarily a problem for non-fiction books because fiction is alphabetized by author. Many times I've wished for a librarian to help me catalog and organize my books. Also, some of them are rare or otherwise valuable and should be inventoried for insurance purposes.

And then, in a moment of serendipity a few days ago, I discover that a digital librarian assistant already exists on the internet! It's called LibraryThing and I had somehow never heard of it until one of my local bookstores linked a story comparing and contrasting it with Goodreads. The latter I've been using irregularly for a few years, mostly to keep track of books I want to read. It also has cataloging capabilities which I had not noticed, but LibraryThing's cataloging is more powerful, according to the Book Riot reviewer.

I immediately downloaded the RedLaser barcode reader for my iPhone and began scanning. I can scan an entire shelf of books and tag them by location, a system that will work beautifully as long as no one in the house moves a book without tagging the new location in my digital catalog. I can note signed books, sort books by century, rate them, and otherwise unleash my inner data geek to frolic in bliss with my book geek. Only two things have so far held me back from continuing to the second shelf: this takes time that could be spent reading, and I have a nagging feeling that I should wait until I'm packing up to pull out the carpet and refinish the floors, a task that has been on my wish list for years. So I have to think about that before I get too carried away. But realistically, the floor job probably won't be happening this year, and by the time I get to it, the books will need to be pulled and dusted again anyway. Let the cataloging begin!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Kitchen Makeover

The only useful countertop
Cookbooks, tea and coffee
I've dreamed of a large kitchen with multiple work surfaces, plentiful storage, a Viking range, perhaps a wood-fired bread oven, and an attached greenhouse for herbs and plants. But I have a kid in college, so no chance of that happening in the next four years, if ever. Still, something had to be done. My small kitchen was so inefficient. I had only one counter that could be used for a work area because the other countertops were filled with jars and canisters and small appliances that wouldn't fit in the cabinets or pantry. If I wanted to knead bread, or use the food processor, I had to relocate things from the counters to the dining room table, then move it back later. Plus, it was just plain cluttered and ugly. And the lighting was bad.

Cluttered countertop, no room to work
Bad recessed lighting

I've hated my kitchen for a very long time, and that's too bad, because I love to cook and spend huge quantities of time in it.

Recently, an opportunity presented itself in the form of a talented and affordable contractor who had a few days to spare and was conveniently located in the neighborhood. I had some ideas of a couple of minor improvements that would make my kitchen work better for me, primarily moving out the cookbook case and putting in some adjustable shelves for the more attractive of the countertop items. The kitchen also badly needed painting, and we could do something about the bad lighting. I suggested track lights, and Ken said that would work but he'd need to take out the soffits above the cabinets. That was more construction than I had in mind, but it wasn't a budget buster. So for a very reasonable investment, in six days I got this:

New bread-making area

Cookbook shelves have been relocated to dining room, replaced with these adjustable shelves
Track lighting makes the kitchen much brighter, and room for storage above cabinets