The Studio Gallery, Unit A and the house heat system

Last summer a guest staying a night in The Gallery asked me from the porch:  What have you done to your home!  Imagining of course I had demolished the entire house to rent out apartments
I had to laugh, as it would never cross my mind to occupy a house of this size solo, and my mother was not yet alive when the Odell House became apartments.
There have been many renovations and updates over the years, yet the boiler and radiant heat system are original to the house, and have gone largely unchanged.
Why?
Because they work so very well.
The house thermostat is another issue entirely.
The thermostat, controlling the massive boiler in the basement, used to be in The Gallery–the front apartment on the ground floor, facing First Avenue.
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We recently rewired and replaced the thermostat, moving it to a more protected area of the basement–a place not influenced by the opening of doors, or the use of the small space heaters we provide for the various unit.
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(Those of you who have stayed in The Gallery in the winter may be glad to hear this!)
With all those windows The Gallery runs cooler than some of the other apartments, and its nice to be able to tweak the heat a bit at will.
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The house has had, from the time the boiler was converted from coal to gas, one central thermostat regulating the supply of hot water to all the apartment radiators.
There are little trails of confusingly-abandoned thermostats around the house.  None functioning currently, but the one that does function–in the basement.  Originally the thermostat was in apartment B, but the previous owners deemed that unit A was a better choice.   (Probably largely because they lived there on a part time basis.)  But unit A was a problem because unit A both runs cold and is used for short term guests–many of whom did not understand why we locked the thermostat: for the good of ALL the guests!
This “whole house service” means that heat levels have to be decided by consensus of the residents.  General agreement rules. Cooler at night is appreciated, and temperature increases timed to make use of the inevitable spikes that one gets with this sort of system.
But people, particularly new guests who are not familiar with the heating pattern of the house, often want things a bit different when they arrive–even just for a little while.
So rather than explain, “Just wait a bit,” which modern folk unanimously interpret as “bad service,” we have a series of  dedicated plugs, served by their own circuits, for small auxiliary heaters, as well as the air conditioning units in the summer.  These were never meant to be the primary heat sources of the building.  And, the heaters, when used, have to stay exactly where placed.  Our engineers insist!  Please don’t move the heaters to any other plugs, or fiddle with the voltage. 
(We are not engineers, we try to do as told. . . .)
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(I think what “those in the know” are giving caution about the variably-aged electrical circuits in most older buildings.  It is important to use only new, dedicated circuits for high voltage items that did not exist when these buildings were constructed.  But it is also sensible to keep the load down in general.  Quick is not necessary with heat–steady is.)
Speaking of construction and the physical plant of these huge old homes, Browne’s Addition was a very progressive neighborhood right from the start.  The mansions had carriage houses, not barns.  (Barns meant flies and manure.  Horses were considered a source of pollution–before the car took over that role) .  So livery, “rental horses” were called for from town and arrived with a driver to be hitched to the owner’s carriages.)  For heat, all the homes had coal boilers at first, but both gas and electric were run in the original construction, used for lighting and small tasks.
And there were of course telephones from the very start.  How else to call for your horses to be delivered?
It was all very modern.
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That scene lasted a scant thirty years.
With the twenties, came a nation-wide depression, a dip in the price of silver, and a slowing of construction.  Silver, lead, lumber, Spokane staples of wealth, all plummeted, and Spokane’s great luxury building boom was over.  But, there was government money for conversion of large private homes to much-needed apartments.  Most of the large local houses were purchased and transformed.
So the buildings were originally and correctly wired in the last part of the 1890s, and then gradually updated as things changed within them.  But even into the seventies, people had little idea of the numbers of electrical items that would eventually be in common use.  So sensible electric consumption is still indicated.  Even a modern house will trip breakers if, while making toast, you plug in your hair dryer to the same circuit your microwave is warming your coffee!  It is all about load and that is why we have circuit breakers.
The boiler-fed gas heat system  is a much more elegant and efficient system than the slight electric “tune up” heaters we provide.
Why have them at all?
As one guest cleverly said: “To accommodate various thyroid levels.” 
Some (most) of the old radiators are gorgeous.
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You can see how the water would flow in on one side and out on the other.
The hot water boiler system is a very clean, healthy and efficient way to heat.  It consists of a huge system of paired pipes filled with hot water (outflow and return to the boiler). It is a circulating loop.  There are no dusty air ducts or shared air flow between the apartments.
I grew up with boilers in New England and obviously like them.
(Many fusty New Englanders, traditionally felt creepy about central air heat, calling it the “instant hot and instant cold” method.
Never mind, “Particles of ‘who knows what’ blowing all about”, my grandmother used to fuss.)
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(This is the barn of my great grandfathers summer home which sadly had no boiler (nor insulation!) as it was always shut down in the winter.)
Not so in Browne’s Addition.  These houses were built for the cold.   Radiant heat–now all the rage in concrete floors–was here from the start.
But, though a wonderful system, radiant heat is not fast or easily customizable on a moment to moment basis.  The boiler is either actively running hot water, or it is not.  Like the more modern floors,  radiators are designed to store heat and give it off gradually.  There will be moments when they are quite hot to the touch.  Moments when they are cooler.  This is the nature of the system.  It does not mean that it is “off,”  just not running at that moment.
The radiators have valves that can crudely shut them on and off by not allowing the hot water to run through them. Shutting individual ones down–something the boiler hates–has nothing  to do with if hot water is flowing through the system–the thermostat controls that.
Over the course of time there have been many more complaints that the house is too hot than too cold.  And if it is routinely so for you, then we can shut off one of the several apartment radiators–and leave it off.  (That way we can anticipate the water pressure needed in the system.)
The worst heating season is not the dead of winter.  Ten degrees outside?  No problem.
The house boiler (AKA The Beast In The Basement) is more than up to that.  The trouble arises in the shoulder seasons when it does not get quite cold enough in the morning to trip the boiler on, and folks are a bit chilly come 8 AM.   And then, like the saying, “We would all be worse off if God said “yes” to all our prayers,”  it gets just cold enough to make hot water start circulating.  The radiators get nice and warm–and then the sun comes out and it goes to 80 degrees outside.  (This is Spokane, after all!)  And then all that hot water has to cool . . .  Trust me, it is better to err on the side of a little too cool in those situations than to inspire the Beast in The Basement to go to work on a day expecting high temperatures.
Anyway, we discourage turning the radiators off and on for two reasons: first, the valves are inclined to leak and need tightening if used much–please tell us right away if you see this.  Second, randomly turning them on and off isolates the apartment from the main heat source. In some cases it is actually better to open a window for a moment–and tell us you had to because it was too warm–than to try to influence the system by shutting yourself out of it.   Because it is very likely you will on the next day be too cold!
I’m going to repeat myself here, this is Spokane, land of boom and bust in more than just the economy.  Last month (November 2014) had a period of daytime high of -5 degrees.  Yesterday, (December 2014) I think the high was 62 degrees.  This makes a four month range of, let’s see, since August, (105 degrees) November ( -5 degrees0. . . . er. . .  110 degrees F.
That said, if you visit Spokane, “layering” is a clothing strategy we live by, and if you live here long term we can pretty easily customize your heat to suit you–though possibly not like the union rep who worked here many years ago during an election season.  The young activist complained pathetically of cold in unit F–the top floor.  When I came to check his radiators I found him lounging in front of his computer in a swim suit, watching the snow fall.
Correct dressing for the basic climate aside, there are a couple of units that do get too hot and turning off one of the radiators on a more or less permanent basis can help with this. (The bedroom in F and the hall of D are examples of this).  Units A and E tend to run cool, and that’s not too surprising as they both face north and have huge banks of bay windows.  Units C and B are practically perfect in every way–show offs!
So if you are too hot or too cold please tell us–there is a lot we can do to help with either situation that has nothing to do with the central boiler–though with proper feedback that is also possible.
(Obviously it does no good to turn up the house heat if for whatever reason the radiators in a particular unit  have been turned off!)
Just let us know how its going–or beforehand if you know you tend to be cold or hot–and we will help you stay at the right temperature for you.
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The Odell House Ballroom Unit F

The Ballroom takes up the entire third floor of the Odell House.  It is the largest of the apartments and looks out in all directions from the dormer windows.  It has two porches, the north face is open and has a small sitting area.

The Ballroom is typically not rented for shorter stays because, frankly, people don’t like to climb the stairs with all their belongings for a very short stay.  And it makes such a nice secure spot for a permanent resident that we encourage that.

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It is a crow’s nest, and if the fit is good people tend to stick there.  Most say it is the nicest unit in the house.  I’ll say more about the positives and negatives at the base of this post.

The south face is a lovely small sun room that can serve as an extra bedroom.  (It currently contains a twin couch with futon mattress.)

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The Ballroom apartment’s large main living room on the other end also mimics the shape of the arched roof line.  It is rumored that dances were held there “back in the day.”  The ceiling is 14 feet at the middle.  And that room alone is a generous 300 square feet.

 

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The bedroom has slanted ceilings and sits to the west side under the eves.

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Dining room is in the center–the shot below looking to bedroom–this older picture shows the dining area with painted woodwork.  It was all stripped in 2005.

 

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The dining room has a matched pair of Art Deco brown tip slip shade chandeliers.

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The furniture has varied over time, but the small glass table is a good fit for the dining room’s size.

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The original bath and toilet are in a small room under the eves.  The claw foot tub is a five foot luxury item.

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But the guys complained about no proper stand up shower.

So we pilfered the closet across the hall and made a large shower area with tiled seat.

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The kitchen has had some updates as well.

The tile floor has radiant heat on its own thermostat.

An apartment sized Bosch dishwasher, and Electrolux under cabinet refrigerator.  There is also a tiny condiment fridge with freezer to the right, and a chest freezer in the entry.

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This older photo shows the stove and counter as is.  The portable dishwasher was replaced by the built in that took over the drawers to the left of the sink.

The good points:

On the third floor and good for your fitness.

Warm.  Nicely heated in winter, we most often keep the radiators turned down or off.

Very well updated with new electrical panel, lots of plugs and modern appliances.

A very charming and comfortable space.  Both cave-like and tree house-like.

The bad points:

On the third floor and you must if you forget your keys go back and get them.

Warm.  In the summer it is well supplied with air conditioners and sun blocking curtains, but certain areas of the roof make some of the eves hot–not all, but enough to make you pay attention.

On the third floor–you really must not mind climbing the stairs!

Peppers!

This post is actually written for my son Nick.

(But you can read it too if you want.  It’s about the peppers I’m sending him–because the guests just don’t seem to eat enough of them!)

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Hi Nick!

He’s back east without a garden, dogging his doctorate in Econ, so I’m sending him some of “our” peppers.

Background: Nick as a twenty-something, exhibiting typical Forbes social skills, put himself “into training” to be able to eat very hot raw peppers with a flat affect.  The purpose of the “skill” was tempting his “friends” on the debate team to partake as well.   A sort of culinary, come on in, the water is fine. . .”

Of course this tempted me to try to grow something that even Nick could not eat.

(The apple does not fall very far from the tree.)

So, here’s what’s on the “pepper menu” here at the Odell House.

To the right of the Poplar Street door.

The pepper Chenzo,

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A feisty ornamental, developed in England, that we planted last year in a pot.  It looked too pretty in the fall to let freeze, so we overwintering it in somewhat rugged conditions in unit 2.  Lots of heat, but little water and almost no care.  Lots of sun.

And it came back at us this spring with a perfect vengeance of peppers.

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Which remain almost unmolested.

Really, they do get almost sweet when they turn red. . .honestly.

Near them on the steps is an interesting little number, still green at present, called Hinkelhats.

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In our climate they may never look like they are supposed to above, red, but are so incredibly hot that Nick may be the only one to make a report on their flavor.

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For those of you that must know “Hinkelhatz” is Pennsylvania Dutch for “Chicken heart” and they have been grown since the 1880s, according to Seed Savers Exchange, “Traditionally used for pickling and making pepper vinegar. Small fruits (¾” wide by 1-2″ long) ripen from green to glossy red. 80-90 days from transplant. HOT.”

Chicken hearts–they do kind of look like that.

To the left of the door, a lovely and prolific pepper that I have made more than one meal totally inedible by not taking out the seeds.  It is innocently called “Lemon Drop”

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Rare Seeds reports “Seasoning pepper from Peru ripens to a clear lemon yellow, sometimes with a dark purple blush. The flavor is a very clean, uncomplicated, slightly citrus-y heat. 2-foot plants are covered with the thin-walled, conical fruits which reach 2-3 inches in length, with very few seeds”

Our advice?  Even if it has just one measly seed, take it out.  Left of the door, eat all you can. Take some home.  (Prolific).

Then on the other side of the house there is a stash in our private area

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These are Hungarian Wax and Sweet Banana.  (Nothing sweet about them.)

And some which you are quite free to ask for if you are in the mood to really hurt yourself.

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The upward facing longer ones (1.5 inches or less) are, as they report, Super Chili.

The middle a somewhat intimidating “Vietnamese Tear-Jerker”.

The ones to the right of there, (up in the picture below,) the very small ones, are described as “tiny slivers of fire”.

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Or by the very short Hmong woman that I bought the plants from this spring at the farmers market,

“Very hot.”  (Sly smile.)

One seed source identifies them as “Chinese Ornamental”  Later saying they are great for containers.

My question, containers of what? 

I have been too frightened to touch them–except when I packed up a couple of handfuls for Nick. . .

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So there you have it!  If you want some left in your unit now is the time to ask!

de·co·rum

de·co·rum

Noun: decorum

Behavior in keeping with good taste and propriety.
“you exhibit remarkable modesty and decorum.”
And of course “good taste and propriety” depend entirely on where you are.
When traveling in India it is an unthinkable insult to touch someone with your left hand.
Yet in some circles if you do not offer that same arm, it is rude.
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A surprising number of people report worrying about how one acts at a “Bed and Breakfast.”

What are the rules?

We at the Odell House are of course the classic introvert’s  B&B, offering perfectly private, self contained apartments for shorter and longer term stay.  Breakfast with the neighbors is of course an option.  But you’ll have to find some neighbors and cook for them. . .

Anyway, how do you act?  Well, just like in any communal living situation, with consideration for others and realizing some requests and actions must happen at certain times.  For example, we do not undertake housekeeping with loud vacuums at ten at night.  We do housekeeping during the day, and hopefully at a time when people will not be bothered. Same with construction.  We attempt to plan around our guests.

Likewise, not every moment that we are on site are we automatically available for guest requests in person.  Just because you can see us does not mean we are not occupied–with another task or family need or just plain not at work.  Its a fact of life with no employees and living on site.

But, (and you pessimists about human nature will be surprised,)  it is not much of an issue, because, well, we have the most wonderful guests!

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Every day I am impressed with their behavior and decorum.  (This young gentleman’s parents asked if he could enter the private area that also encloses the chicken coop.  That was great because we could advise them if a guest was in residence with a dog for instance, or someone who preferred privacy in their own area.)

The people we meet here are by in large considerate, polite, socially appropriate, and just plain great.

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I see this on a daily basis.  The Odell House has lots of spaces.  Some of these spaces are private to their specific unit–all the porches.  Some of them are public for everyone to use–the gazebo yard with gas grill and common garden area.

Our guests are sensitive to both space and time.

For example, only one single time has anyone knocked at our door at  9PM wanting a better internet connection.

Most guests discuss which wireless system (there are four) will work best for them, and read the check in note to the very end.  (All the codes are given–some are so blastedly alpha-numeric that they are impossible to remember without electronics.)

We have some loaner bikes and support bicycle commuting.  Knowing we don’t even have a front desk, never mind a staff waiting to assist with recreational activities, most people understand that they must make an appointment with the expert  (Rick) to be helped with a bike.  They call him and set up a time.

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Guests rarely interrupt us when we are working.  They know that while I am ironing  in the basement with the door open,

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attempting to make things flat,

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I am also working on the plot for my next book. . .

Never mind the thing (a mangle) takes a while to heat up, is tricky to gauge temperature after shut off–and quite possibly dangerous to leave running unattended.

We actually have three of these via the largess of Craigslist and Rick’s good friend Lew The Picker.

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I have on occasion offered enthusiastically to show people how to use them, because it really is fun.  So far no takers.

(And people think I am not social?   This reminds me of a story Rick told from his days as a therapist, illustrating to help a OCD patient, you must first join them.  His example was a colleague, who having a man in treatment claiming to be Jesus, suggested the following:  I hear you have a background in carpentry. . .)

Back to the normal!  Our guests call when they want something, or email, rather than rattling the door they suspect we are hiding behind.

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(We are introverts and quite clear about it–it says so in all the advertising.)

Rick below, faking it.

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Our guests know that before or after eight we might be asleep, so really only make night contact in an emergency.

And that is of course fine.

They are uniformly patient if they catch Rick or I going to work (yes we have jobs) on a horse or bike.

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They trust that if we can’t make a booking or help immediately, we will get back to them promptly.

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“On hold” does not exist for us, but busy or not near the computer certainly does.

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Re emergencies: they know an actual emergency is far different than a momentary inconvenience.

If a guest is locked out we handle it as an actual emergency.

We always have a set of spare keys stashed and can describe if need be how to access them.

Guests also tend to know the difference in service provided for a nightly stay and one for a month or longer.

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We fill both roles and it is natural for example that a nightly guest who wants the tires pumped up on their bike, and has forgotten their own pump, will ask to borrow Rick’s.  That’s fine.  If a semi-permanent resident demanded such service daily, that would be invasive.  Here for a night is different than here for a month.   Different contract, different price, different cleaning expectations.

Our guests are by in large very smart people, who exhibit sensible behavior and good judgement.  They are remarkably clear abut their roles and needs.  They are adept at understanding sharing space, resources and time.

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I have yet to have a guest ask me for more towels when I they spotted me walking the cat–they seem to intuitively know he has been looking forward to this all day, and does not understand being hustled back inside on a stranger’s whim.
Our guests know the towels will come.
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And that this moment is very important to the cat. . .

Spokane Farmers Market

We have a rather nice farmers market here in Spokane.

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Several in fact, but the one I usually use is open Wednesdays and Saturdays eight AM to 1 PM.

Mid May to Mid October on Saturdays and Wednesdays, about a month at either end only Saturdays.

http://www.spokanefarmersmarket.org/

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It is located off the Division Exit of I-90.  Just to the south of the highway.  5th and Division, 5th and Brown.  There is a small field there that you can see from the highway.

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Why this particular market?  Well, loyalty for one thing because we were involved for a number of years selling hand spun yarn from our sheep and goats up at the farm.  Finally we just got too busy and had to cut back on that activity.  (Though I still spin on occasion and the carding equipment exists in the basement.)

Locally-produced food is undoubtedly better tasting and better for you and the planet.

Alice Waters from the Wall Street Journal

http://online.wsj.com/articles/alice-waters-says-the-future-of-food-is-sustainable-and-locally-sourced-1404763421

“This movement [valuing local food] poses a threat to fast-food businesses and industrial food companies, both of which I predict will continue to shape-shift and co-opt their values for profit. As long as their products continue to be supported by government subsidies, they will be successful. The reality is that the sustainable-food movement’s reach will grow only to a point and ultimately will be limited to those with access, means and education—unless legislators dramatically change food and agriculture policy.

I think that those in government will come back to their senses in the coming years and begin to subsidize farms instead of factories. As access to real food becomes increasingly divided between the haves and the have-nots, food security will become even more of a social-justice issue.”

(A good example oF corporate interest shape-shifting was the Starbuck’s infamous series of field trips to actual local coffee bars to see what ideas they could come up with to seem more “real.”  Apparently they took up a lot of space for a time and bought no competitor’s coffee.)

Here by the way is one of our favorite coffee roasters:

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http://www.indabacoffee.com/

(Great coffee–you’ll find some and a grinder in your unit, but visit them too–right across the river in Kendall Yards)

The Farmers Market sadly offers no coffee, but makes up for it with several great bakers, cheese makers, organic meat (Beef, goat, pork, chicken)  seedlings, flowers, wonderful fruits and vegetables in season, and eggs.

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On weekends, when our little flock cannot possibly keep up with demand, we sometimes supplement our egg production with other home-kept chicken’s offerings.

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Anyhow, the market is easy to find and not five minutes away by car, or an easy bike ride.  Go east on the Highway to Division St exit, bear right, go right at the light and it is there to your right.  Or wend your way through town, under the highway and follow 5th east until you run into the market field.

Late July foraging in the garden

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The round Zucchini in the bales are very tender,

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and the pole beans (two colors–purple and green–) need to be picked every day.  Please do so

 

 

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In the Gazebo yard some green Walla Walla sweet onions are ready to uproot. I have planted upland cress under them. You’ll see lots of sprouts soon.

 

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There are some interesting peppers are forming in the pots.  The black ones by the door–turning red in some cases–are very hot. (Very.)

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The green ones less so–right now anyway.  The yellow generally down facing peppers are Hot Banana–but not too hot.  The yellow generally up facing at Hungarian Wax, and those will definitely get your attention. . .

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On the other side, by the chickens we have some new snow peas planted–I ripped out the old ones as the heat had stopped production.  (Peas like cool weather and it has been anything but here of late.  (left below the ones that were taking over the world.)

There are some interesting greens with Tai Chili peppers in front of them to the right.  They are doing well and should be eaten.  The beet greens to the left of there need to stay on to nourish the beat crop.

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Same for the shallots.  They will be better allowed to mature in the other raised bed.

Across the way are some bunching onions that need to be picked as green onions and some Swiss Chard that thinks it is too hot for a cold season vegetable. I have planted more of that too for the fall.

You will also find basil in the area shown above and to the left of the steps on Poplar Street. (Black oval pot on walk)

That thing in the bathroom–a Turkish Towel

A Turkish towel is a fine thing.

I discovered them hunting for “all cotton towels”–which as you can imagine we use a good number of, and replace pretty frequently. (They get washed a lot).

Up popped Turkish Towel.

And now we have some.

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Until recently, I didn’t know that a Turkish towel is a cotton or linen flat weave (no loops like terry) cloth that is soft, very absorbent and quick drying.  I found some on Amazon and some on Etsy.

Nervous at first about having things shipped from Turkey I was hesitant to go to the source with Etsy.

But after a while I got over it, lured by the deep colored ones above.  I found a very nice and communicative Turkish shop who in due time (about a week) shipped me the best ones I have come across.

Here they are.

https://www.etsy.com/shop/TurkishTowelStore?ref=l2-shopheader-name

All the towels are nice, and all are cotton and/or a linen blend, but these are thicker, came out of the bag smelling faintly (and nicely) of goat rather than petroleum.  I wash everything anyway, but there was no doubt in my mind that a bit of goat was a lot better for the weaver–and there is no doubt these are hand woven–than whatever else was being applied.

They are excellent for drying yourself after a bath, wrap and dry hair very effectively.  They are also easier on energy as they dry very well on their own, can be line dried without getting crunchy, and take less both washer and dryer space if you use the machines.

Never mind, in use they add a certain flair to the user–better illustrated than described.  :)

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A nameless Turk modelling in his natural environment. .  .