I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar …

… and then turn around and whine because some cis-male said something, or looked something, and I feel so … so threatened! Look, girls…ladies … possessor of a vagina or whatever you want to be addressed as this week in vernacular fashion; can you just please pick one attitude and stick to it? Frankly, this inconsistency is embarrassing the hell out of me (sixty-ish, small-f feminist in the long-ago dark days when there was genuine no-s*it gender inequality in education, job opportunities and pay-scales to complain about and campaign for redress thereof). This is also annoying to my daughter, the thirtyish Marine Corps veteran of two hitches. The Daughter Unit is actually is very close loosing patience entirely with those of the sisterhood who are doing this “Woman Powerful!-Woman Poor Downtrodden Perpetual Victim!” bait and switch game. So am I, actually, but I have thirty years experience in biting my tongue when it comes to the antics of the Establishment Professional Capital-F Feminist crowd.

See – it’s an either-or proposition. Either you are strong, capable, intelligent and have thick enough of a skin or at least a toleration and sufficient understanding of the world in general, and the male of our sex in particular to forge your way enthusiastically through the world, throwing off the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune, the occasional sex-based misunderstanding, the overheard crude joke, the inability of many of the males of our species to attend to details of housekeeping or good organizational order, and their juvenile enthusiasm for sexual congress under circumstances and with co-conspirators which – the less said of that the better. That is the attitude that my daughter and I personally favor; we take no stick, and when someone – male or female tries it, we hand it back face to face with generous interest. That’s what strong, capable and intelligent women do.

It’s either that or the conventions of womanhood which held sway in popular Victorian culture. That is – one who is too fine, too delicate and too gentle to endure exposure, even by the slightest suggestion to any of the above … like tweeting a picture of two guys overheard making a crude joke and setting off an internet meltdown which resulted in firings, internet shamings, death threats and everything but the burning of Atlanta. Seriously, what Ms Richards overheard and took exception to – essentially complaining to a wide audience that “Ohhh – those awful men were making me feel threatened! Make them stop!” was relatively mild when compared to some of the conversations I overheard (or sometimes participated in) while in the military. I can only imagine the degree of absolute meltdown if Ms Richards had heard some of them … and yes, both my daughter and I have often been the only woman, or one of a handful of women in a sea of men.

So, strong, capable and equal … or frail, sensitive and desperate for that fainting couch; pick one or the other and stick to it consistently. At the very least, don’t talk like one, and act like the other. It only confuses the guys and embarrasses the heck out of women like me.

(Crossposted at Chicagoboyz)

Ichneumonoidea

I was reading a slightly ick-making article the other day about certain wasps which prey on caterpillars in a peculiar and parasitic manner – the female wasp injects her eggs into the body of the chosen prey, where they hatch into grubs and feed from the host … from the inside. In certain varieties, it appears that the inserted eggs/grubs affect the biochemistry of the luckless host, which eats and eats, but never to benefit itself. Entomologists who specialize in this kind of thing find this adaptation immensely fascinating, which is why I was reading about it, through a link form some place or other. It’s all very Alien, on a insect level, and the likeness to the movie doesn’t end there; eventually, the wasp grubs chew their way out through the body of the caterpillar … and wait – the dying caterpillar serves to the last gasp as a sort of insectoid bodyguard to the developing wasps, even sheltering them in the silk which would have made its own cocoon. And then the caterpillar dies and the fully-developed wasps fly away, to start the cycle all over again.

Then I read about how the Obamas took separate presidential flight aircraft from the east coast to the west in order that the president and his spouse could appear on two different shows, videoed at two different studios barely miles apart and within the same time frame, at great expense to the military organization which operates the aircraft in question. Really, couldn’t they have shared a flight and halved the expense … or is it that they just don’t care for each other or for much else besides their own comfort and convenience. The Obamas do appear to like the bennies and goodies that the office provides, and enjoy them with a hearty carelessness wholly befitting the court of Louis the 14th. Save that Louis and Marie Antoinette weren’t quite the feckless, arrogant aristos that they were portrayed by contemporary propagandists. Still – the reputation endures; of aristocrats enjoying themselves in a bubble of privilege and luxury, while all outside the bubble goes to rack and ruin.

The whole process of the parasitic wasp and the helpless caterpillar struck me as a metaphor for the current administration, and indeed, our current Ruling Class, in the Angelo Codevilla sense; an alien organism injecting itself into the American body politic with the sole selfish intent of surviving and enriching itself at the expense of the host … and then, of course, flying away to some gated community, fat with privilege gained from destroying the host. Of course, the ruling elite of every civilization have always rather distained the common working folk, the bourgeoisie, the working class who made up the body of those ruled – t’was ever thus, the exploiter and the exploited. At the very least, the ruling elite have condescended to them as the ‘backbone of the country’. Our current ruling class elite has also distinguished themselves by adding to the injury of exploitation the insult of holding the larger body of citizens in active contempt … contempt which verges on hatred, depending on the person voicing it.

Discuss.

Spring Forward

That time of year again – the last week before the recorded date of ‘last frost’ in this part of Texas. I suppose that in some year or other there was a spasm of frost after March 15th – this is Texas, after all, where if you don’t care for the weather at any particular moment, just wait for five minutes. But March 15th is the traditional ‘ladies and gentlemen, start your garden engines’ moment. We actually started last weekend, moving out the tender plants which had been sheltered on the back porch, protected by sheets of plastic hung from three sides to make a sort of temporary if terribly cramped greenhouse. It has been pouring, drizzling, misting and oozing rain off and on for the past week, and … well, really, the rainwater is good for plants, and they might as well get all the good out of it.

So it begins – another year of attempting to have regular backyard supply of fresh vegetables, in a variety of raised beds, pots large and small, and hanging patented tomato planters. Last year saw us add three sapling fruit trees – apple, plum and peach, along the back fence, where they all graciously consented to leaf out, and to produce blooms in the last couple of days. This week, we added another apple tree – it seems that it is necessary for the purposes of cross-pollination. Blondie’s Montero awaiting a new engine, it was necessary to bring it home in my Accura – and not a problem at all. I opened the sun roof, and Blondie lowered it in, and we drove home with the apple tree’s upper branches waving proudly in the breeze. We planted it today, and I took down the last of the sheltering plastic sheets and swept out the back porch. This seems like the first sunny, mild day in weeks, so we did take a few minutes to sit down and relish it all. Tomorrow – top up the big raised bed with garden soil and plant potatoes. Last year we had a lovely crop of them; not as many as we had expected, but oh, were they delicious – and smooth, like vegetable velvet.

We also installed a number of small items which came from Mom and Dad’s place – things which had no particular value, particularly – so likely they would have been sold at a yard sale for a buck or two, or put into the trash by new owners cleaning up. A good few of them had survived the fire in 2003 which destroyed the house and garage, but left the garden relatively unscathed. There was a cast cement gargoyle, a hanging glazed ceramic bird-bath, a pair of cast-resin ducklings, a wind-chime, a glazed spatter-ware jug and some other oddments. One of them was the Moche-style face jug I made in the sixth grade, which always amused Mom enormously as it so looked like Grandpa Al. Blondie brought all these oddments back from California with her, and we scattered them about the garden in appropriate places.

The plants which did survive outside on their own did so in style; especially the one artichoke that I moved from a raised bed into a pot and thereafter ignored for the remainder of the year. I so love artichokes, and the ones in the store are usually as expensive as they are tasteless and tough. Here’s hoping for some likely blooms from it this year, and may the other two from Rainbow Gardens thrive just as well.

We might also have a respite from field rats, raiding the almost-ripe tomatoes and eating leaves off the pepper plants. We have detected a semi-feral ginger cat, lurking meaningfully in our yard, who might have set up occasional housekeeping underneath the shed. Blondie has nicknamed the cat Smeagol; if it turns out that he is a mighty hunter before the Lord, a dish of kibble now and again will so be coming his way.

The 19th Century Internet

Work continues – at a rather slow pace, admittedly – on the two books I have currently under construction, while I do research reading for them (in a small way) and work on projects to do with the Tiny Publishing Bidness. Which has just had two old corporate clients appear out of the woodwork; I don’t know how much we can do for the second, as the electronic files for their project are nonexistent, as their corporate history was produced and printed in about 1990. Thus technology marches on. I am wracking my memory, to see if I can come up with my own estimation as to when electronically-composed documents became the norm. I would guess around that time. I used to go back and generate training documents and various reports on a computer which also ran the automated music channel at EBS-Zaragoza in the late 1980s. This usually involved two large floppy disks (one for the operating system, one for my document archive) and a tiny screen of brilliant green letters on a black background. This writing process usually had me seeing white objects in shades of pink for at least an hour afterwards.
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The Question at Hand

I read of this particular school-administered survey the other morning on one of the news websites which form my morning reading, in lieu of the local newspaper – which I gave up some years ago upon realizing two things; practically every non-local story they printed I had already read on-line through various sources some days before appearing on the (rapidly diminishing) pages of the San Antonio Express News, and when it came to opinion columnists and cartoonists, most of the local offerings were … pathetic. Seriously – when I could read the best and most incisive opinion bloggers like Wretchard at Belmont Club and Victor Davis Hanson – why would I bother to read a dead-tree version of whatever lame establishment national columnist had offered a cheap rate to the SA Express-News?
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Another Day, Another $ … Or So.

And another client from Watercress’s distant past … well, not all that distance, only 1988, but sufficiently far enough in the past that there are no existing records at the firm who worked up printing and binding of the original publication for Alice. I know – I called and talked to the company sales rep. Alice, though, is probably doing cartwheels in heaven over joy that a big corporate client is returning to us in a small way, for a reprint of their book. Likely she is also planning to send me a rocket of a memo through a handy medium, lecturing me on failing to charge every penny possible to an entity who can bloody well afford it. This is debatable, considering the state of Teeny Press publishing these days, and I had this spirited discussion with her many times. In the days of digital and POD printing, charging everything the market would bear and then 10% was increasingly untenable. I still believe we lost certain very promising prospects over this. Clients willing to pay in five figures for a private publication, even one done to the highest quality and aesthetic standards, were becoming dismayingly thin on the ground by the time that I went into partnership. I still am certain that we lost certain high-value publishing projects because of inflexibility in this regard. But – inside baseball. As a saving grace, there are those clients who are perfectly willing to pay a little extra for the privilege of dealing with a publisher whose representatives are happy to to meet personally, answer telephone calls readily, and work on their project with an attitude of ‘can-do’. These clients are our bread and butter these days. This is how I compete with the big and impersonal national POD publishing houses.

All we are needing to do for this latest project is to take apart an existing print copy, carefully scan every page, and then reassemble into a new file, upload to the contract bulk-printer, scan and tweak the existing cover, and do the same. We are doing most of this in-house. Back in the day, this kind of thing would have had to have been farmed out to someone who had expensive high-end software, an equally expensive high-end scanner, exalted word-processing and photo-editing skills, and therefore felt justified in charging a very high price for this expertise. But such now is the availability of scanner/copiers and relatively inexpensive software that much of which had to be farmed out to experts twenty years ago can now be done in-house with relatively inexpensive and off-the shelf technology. I saw this happening in miniature yea on two decades ago in the military. Once every unit acquired a nice copier-printer unit, which could do all kinds of quality B&W or even (horror!) color print jobs, there went the base reprographics office, which was reduced to issuing plaintive memos requesting that units refer all print projects of over so many pages and so many copies to them, and not to do them on the unit printer. Which was merrily ignored; in my time, the base office with the duty of keeping the current library of military forms was also reduced to obsolescence by having every form imaginable distributed on compact disc to individual units. Doubtless the time of the clerks tasked with this was re-routed to duties more immediately useful. I’m an optimist, so I can hope.

We are doing this current project with a printer-scanner-copier bought from Sam’s Club on Wednesday. Alice’s chosen expert for formatting manuscripts – that is, putting them into proper book format – billed her almost $5 a page. I can do it myself easily for less than half that, and when it is text-only, it feels a bit like highway robbery in asking for more than a couple of hundred or three for the entire book. (Pictures are complicated, especially those requiring captions. Again – inside baseball.) This book will be knocked out by this weekend, just in time to go back to work on the epic biography, for which the client wants more photos inserted. And a section in color, too. As soon as the pictures are finalized, then I have to work on the index … But this is one of the biggest clients Watercress has had in a long time, so yes, I am attentive to this client’s wishes.

Well, that is it for the income flow – I did manage to get my income tax figures sorted and over to the accountant who has looked after my interests for lo these many years. And there has been enough income flowing in that certain household things can be repaired, refinished or reupholstered. The two chairs and the tuffet were done and delivered this week, installed behind the bifold doors to the den which will hopefully keep the cats from testing their claws on them. With this, the main part of the house now looks good enough that I wouldn’t feel embarrassed at having someone visit. And even though it is not snowing around here, it is still cold enough that cocooning inside the house is a pleasant and comfortable option.

Carefully Following All Instructions

“You should be very glad,” I told my daughter a couple of weeks ago, “That I used to help my brothers assemble airplane models.” I did, too – JP was quite fond of putting together detailed 1/48 and 1/72 scale model aircraft, which he bought with his allowance money. He paid great attention to detail, fitting the parts together so that only a hairline crack showed – and often filling in those with putty and sanding the piece so it that the join was invisible after being painted. He was just as careful in painting the models and their visible component parts, even to painting a miniscule silver zipper down the front of the pilot’s flight suit. At a later date he went to the extent of fabricating battle damage with fine wire and bits of tin-foil. So that was my introduction to following instructions and identifying the bits and pieces involved. Eventually my brother put away childish things like Airfix models, and moved on to tinkering with real automobiles, to the horror of his first wife, whose family was wealthy and in their world, one just didn’t pop up the hood in the driveway and investigate the mysteries within.

Myself, I moved on to another form of kit-building – that of miniature furniture, and then of full-sized functional furniture. Dad’s facility with, and collection of a wide assortment of hand-tools meant that I had a fair grasp of their various uses, and a tendency to have a bash at fixing whatever might need fixing. And following Dad’s many examples – once I became a home owner, there I was, replacing light fixtures, re-wiring table lamps, applying a finish to unfinished furniture, painting the house (inside and out), putting in new faucets in the kitchen and bathrooms… Piece of cake. Just follow the instructions.
What brought on the recent round of assembly was a jaunt through the Ikea store in Round Rock two weeks ago to collect some shelving units for my daughter’s work area/office. She has a corner of the living room for her computer desk, the various office items and storage for the materials for her origami art. Much of this was previously stored in plastic tubs and a couple of plastic drawer units which had been cheap to begin with and now looked even worse. So – a pair of shelf units, with some cupboard door, drawer and basket options were in order, all of which came packed with fiendish ingenuity in an assortment of flat cartons. I do have to say the assembly instructions were quite logical, and the language hurdle was gotten over by being completely pictorial. Still – all the side and shelving panels had to be sorted out, and the various connectors identified. It wasn’t a patch for thoroughness on the last bit of office furniture I had put together; a pair of wooden filing cabinets from Amazon, which had every single panel and piece identified with a little sticker, and the hardware packed in a blister pack with everything labeled. With Ikea and the usual kind of flat-packed items it’s more often a process of having to sort everything out of a bag, and identify by measuring, counting and matching descriptions.

This weekend’s assembly was a pair of bi-fold closet doors, to sequester the den from the cats. I was able to have some furniture reupholstered; two chairs and an enormous tuffet, and the last thing I wanted after having gone to the trouble and expense was to see the cats sharpening their claws on it all … as they had shredded them before. (The den used to be closed off with a pair of louvered doors, but I repurposed them in the last remodel and used them for my bathroom and closet, and used a long pair of curtains in the opening.) So – I was off to the Home Depot website, to order a pair of wooden bi-fold doors to fit – and with generous free home delivery, instead of having to pick them up in the nearest store, too. The doors were delivered Friday, we stained and finished them on Saturday, and installed them today – again, carefully following every instruction. They fit perfectly, met in the center and matched up exactly – and now I may rest assured that the chairs and tuffet will be safe, once they are delivered on Wednesday. And that’s my weekend …

Still Here

Yes, I am – really. And still working through a vast amount of work that needs to be done in support of the Tiny Publishing Bidness … like the income tax return. Which I got done with after two days of number- and- account crunching last week, and dropped the whole lot off at the office of the nice gentleman who does my income taxes. He, bless him extravagantly – is very fond of me because I turn in all my stuff in February (March at the very latest!) – so he can complete it all at leisure, instead of in one frantic marathon in April … look people, this – like Christmas – happens every year. Putting it all off to the last minute will not make it go away. It won’t. Like necessary dental work, get it done and get it over with.
Most years, I have gotten my return and spent it well before the final rush begins … this year, there will be no funds returned, as I have broken even. Between the costs of buying the business from the founder of it and her heir, the various expenses associated with paying for printing and copies of books for resale, buying tables and a pop-up pavilion, display racks and a new printer … and the shed for the backyard to store much of this in … I am square with the government.
Next year will be an adventure in exploring how to strategically protect that income stream from my writing and the Tiny Publishing Bidness against the diabolical machinations of the vampire squids, but as Scarlett O’Hara so famously observed, ‘Tomorrow is another day.’ This coming year is a foreign country, to be sorted out as I venture farther into it.

I might just re-do this website again, since I have re-done the book website… the final handful of readers have been duly warned.

The Trials of Foggy Bottom

Well, I see by the headlines that the Lucy and Ethel of Foggy Bottom have covered themselves with infamy in recent days. Marie Harf and Jen Psaki have outdone themselves as improv comedians – the dim blond in outsized glasses, and her even dimmer sort-of-brunette and horse-faced sidekick. I can only hope that the few remaining State Department professionals are cringing and pounding down another stiff drink every time one of them opens their mouth on national news. God save us – the psychotics of ISIS/ISIL are only being driven to char-roast and behead prisoners – because they are poor and don’t have jobs. Jen and Marie, sweetie, I will say this only once, so I hope you can put down the latest hashtag campaign and pay attention – the ISISlings have jobs, and ones which they appear to enjoy very much, have volunteered enthusiastically for and which enjoy the approval and support – monetary and otherwise – of a fair portion of Muslims.

It’s tragic to think that this hapless pair of ditzes are the best and brightest that the Obama administration State Department can field. I can only hope that they were hired to make John “I served in Vietnam, you know” Kerry look like a towering intellect. And that he’s not all that bright himself, so I suppose this was the best they could do without raiding the ranks of Special Education classes.

Home Renewal

I would never say that I am as house-proud as Granny Dodie – whose home was always immaculate, scrubbed clean, everything polished to an inch of its life, all bits and bobs put away in a proper place, and whose garden was a marvel – groomed of every stray leaf, the gravel raked and the shrubs trimmed. If there is such a thing as reincarnation, likely Granny Dodie has been brought back as a USMC drill sergeant with particularly stringent housekeeping standards. Me, I never had the time for that degree of Better Homes & Gardens/Martha Stewart perfection. Full-time work and single parenting will do that to you. You couldn’t eat off my kitchen floor, but I could almost guarantee that nothing would bite you on the ankle as you walked through.

However, things did descend perilously close to slum-hood a couple of years ago, inside and out. A very bitter winter and temporarily sheltering a pair of particularly destructive half-grown dogs did for the garden. But slowly, slowly, I began to make it work again, and some of the plants which had gone dormant either recovered or re-seeded. Planting vegetables helped as well. It’s mid-winter here, so the garden is not currently at its best, and all the delicate plants are crammed into the back porch – which is hung with plastic on two sides, so as to make a temporary greenhouse.

As for the inside of the house; the territory of cats and dogs. One of the now-deceased dogs was insensately fond of piddling on rugs and she was sneaky about it; eventually the rugs were cleaned, rolled up and banished to the garage. Two of the geriatric and now-deceased cats were also very fond of making deposits in unexpected and hard to find places, and making them faster than they could be discovered and cleaned up. Eventually, we despaired of ever banishing the smells of such accidents from Blondie’s barracks-inherited armchair and one of the household sofas – a cheap find anyway, and the last bulk trash day out they went.

Between profits from the Tiny Publishing Bidness, sales of my own books, and the sale of the California land – I could afford to do some serious and long over-due repair and replacement of household stuff. Totally renovating the HVAC system was just the start. Having the shed built out in back provided a storage space for garden and kitchen things, as well as the items needed for participating in the gypsy markets. Over last winter, the curtains in all windows but the sliding glass door were replaced as I could afford them, with wooden blinds, which gave the place a whole new look. Daringly, I replaced the every-day china with an extensive set found at a flea market, giving mealtimes another whole new look. A new dining area table (new to us – a vintage number from my daughter’s favorite thrift shop) helped reclaim that corner. The original table was a pedestal style, and one of the legs loose beyond repair, and the resulting sudden tilt pitched the cats regularly onto the floor, in their own version of the sinking Titanic. Replacing various rush chair seats last month with cowhide was another step towards reclaiming a livable and attractive space – and also one which is a little more pet-proof.

This month we advanced another big step: getting the love-seat/sleeper sofa, two chairs and a tuffet all reupholstered – in heavy and leather-look vinyl, replacing the original fabric – and making them all look as if they are in a set. This is an aesthetic improvement, and offers a higher level of pet-proofing, in that accidents can be readily sponged away. The upholstery shop will have the first piece done by next weekend, and the rest completed two weeks later. Two rugs returned from exile in the garage; so far, so good; the surviving cats don’t seem inclined to make messes anywhere but in the small area around their litter-boxes. The cat-tree has a couple of sisal-wrapped columns which they seem to prefer sharpening their claws upon, so there is hope for the furniture to escape unscathed. So far the cowhide seats have done so. The final element in renewing the house involved accommodating oddments from Mom and Dad’s house; a few pieces in silver and crystal, a framed stained glass panel, and some kitchen things which no one else wanted … so, some things had to be put away, others Goodwilled, and some of them just plain thrown away in the interests of space. But the den and the main room look quite good now – better than they have in a while, if not quite as spic-and-span as Granny Dodie would have had them.

The Way of the Warrior

So, the wailing, the sobbing, the gnashing of teeth from the so-called intellectual and cultural elite over the runaway box-office success of American Sniper is pure music to my ears … all the more so since I started calling for this kind of movie to be made … oh, in the early days of the Brief, back when it was still called Sgt. Stryker. It didn’t take the WWII-era studios to get cracking and crank out all kinds of inspirational military flicks within a year of Pearl Harbor, the disaster in the Philippines and the fall of Wake Island. Of course, those were full-service movie studios, accustomed to cranking out movie-theater fodder on an assembly-line basis. There was, IIRC one attempted TV series, set in an Army unit in Iraq, which was basically recycled Vietnam War-era military memes, and died after a couple of episodes, drowned in a sea of derision from more recent veterans, especially after an episode which featured an enlisted soldier smoking dope. On deployment. In a combat zone. The producers of the show had obviously never heard of Operation Golden Flow. Or maybe they had, and assumed it was something porn-ish.

We did get at least a cute and military-knowledgeable TV comedy series out of the last ten years of the military experience – Enlisted – which barely lasted a single season. And then there were a whole long series of well-meaning movie flops, out of which only Hurt Locker seemed to come within a country mile of realistically dealing with the military experience in this last decade. And so now we have Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper, which is packing them in at the mega-plexes and sending entertainment figures like Michael “Jabba-the-Hutt” Moore and Seth Rogan into epic fits of pearl-clutching, and inspiring dark warning of everything from Nazi-style propaganda to a possible anti-Muslim backlash. Said backlash, by the way, is rather like the Loch Ness monster, or the chupacabra; there are people absolutely convinced that it exists, but only rare and usually blurrily-photographed sightings provide any evidence at all.

One might think that the success of American Sniper, in contrast with previous mainstream movie offerings might effect some kind of turnabout when it comes to making movies about the military experience in the last ten years. One should not count on it. Michael Medved pointed out decades ago, in Hollywood VS America, that most major players in the movie business were too much invested in making movies that were artistic, and ‘risky’ and ‘stuck it to the establishment’ (whatever establishment suited, presumably those that it would be safe for Hollywood to stick it to). Rather than make movies that were broadly appealing, refrained from excessively epatering the poor old bourgeoisie, and upheld our common values – and which would make a mint at the box office – they would prefer the accolades of critics and peers.

My own crystal ball likely could use a re-calibration, but from where I sit – at home and preferring to watch movies through streaming video on a modest flat-screen TV – it looks like mainstream Hollywood prefers to make movies for each other, rather than the rest of us. Discuss.

Tales of the 19th Century Road Warrior

Tales of the 19th Century Road Warrior

He was the entrepreneur who came up with the bright idea to bring fine cooking and peerless customer service to the rowdy far West, and do so on a grand scale … and as a sidebar to that feat, also supplied thousands of wives to settlers in an otherwise female-deficient part of the country. He was a Scots-English immigrant from Liverpool named Fred Harvey. He arrived in New York at the age of 17, early in the 1850s. He took up employment washing pots and dishes at a popular restaurant of the day, and within a short time had worked up the kitchen ranks to waiter and then line cook. He only remained there for a year and a half – but in those months he had learned the restaurant business very, very well. He gravitated west, but only as far as St. Louis, where he managed a retail store, married and survived a bout of yellow fever. The restaurant business called to him, though. On the eve of the Civil War, he and a business partner opened a café. Which was successful, right up until the minute that his business partner, whose sympathies were with the Confederacy, took all the profits from the café and went South.

Nothing deterred, Fred Harvey went to work for the Hannibal & St. Joseph railroad, which eventually was absorbed by the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy. He rose as swiftly in the corporate structure of that railroad as it existed in those freewheeling days as he had in that New York restaurant. His work necessitated more or less constant travel; he was in a way of speaking, an early ‘road warrior’. As such, he couldn’t help but notice that customer service in station restaurants was almost non-existent and the food available usually explored those limits between completely inedible and totally vile. The Western road food experience had not appreciably improved in the fifteen years since Mark Twain had so memorably described it in Roughing It.

“The table was a greasy board on stilts, and the table- cloth and napkins had not come—and they were not looking for them, either. A battered tin platter, a knife and fork, and a tin pint cup, were at each man’s place, and the driver had a queens-ware saucer that had seen better days … The station-keeper upended a disk of last week’s bread, of the shape and size of an old-time cheese, and carved some slabs from it which were as good as Nicholson pavement, and tenderer. He sliced off a piece of bacon for each man, but only the experienced old hands made out to eat it, for it was condemned army bacon which the United States would not feed to its soldiers in the forts, and the stage company had bought it cheap for the sustenance of their passengers and employees … Then he poured for us a beverage which he called “Slum gullion,” and it is hard to think he was not inspired when he named it. It really pretended to be tea, but there was too much dish-rag, and sand, and old bacon-rind in it to deceive the intelligent traveler.”

Fred Harvey suffered along with every other traveler – but as it turned out, he was the right man, with the right background, in the right place, and with the right friends to be able to do something about it. In the Centennial year of 1876, he struck a handshake deal with the superintendent of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe railroad to open and manage restaurants and lunch counters at AT&SF stations. The AT&SF would not charge Fred Harvey rent, or haulage for necessary supplies. Originally chartered to connect Santa Fe, New Mexico Territory, to the settlements in Kansas, the AT&SF cleaned up in hauling Texas cattle to the stock yards of Chicago. They would eventually connect reach the Texas gulf coast, reach into Mexico to the port of Guaymas on the Gulf of Carpentaria, connect up Albuquerque and El Paso, and service Los Angeles over the route which had been favored by the ante-bellum South when the prospect of a transcontinental railroad was first suggested.

And Fred Harvey’s restaurant establishments were everywhere that the AT&SF ran. There would eventually be nearly 50 Harvey House restaurants, fifteen resort hotels and thirty dining cars, attending to the needs of the traveling public. Harvey establishments were spotlessly clean, the food expertly prepared and served by staff trained to the highest standard … or else. Fred Harvey was a hands-on manager; he was noted for whipping out the tablecloth of a badly-set table, sending the plates and silverware crashing to the floor and leaving the chastened wait-staff to re-set the table correctly. But he was also passionately interested in hiring and training the very best personnel available, promoting the able and the loyal, and in providing for their welfare.

Another Fred Harvey innovation – and likely the best-remembered in the 20th century – was the wait-staff force itself; all-female, generously-remunerated, and strictly chaperoned. The Harvey organization was a respectable institution, and wanted no breath of local scandal attaching to female employees, many of whom worked in towns geographically-distant from their families. It was a sad reality that quite often in Western boom towns, those single women who came to work in eating establishments and dance halls were suspected (often with good cause) of being prostitutes or just promiscuous with their favors. Fred Harvey wanted none of that. He was going to run respectable, middle-class places. It was one of his site supervisors who first suggested hiring young women. It seemed that many of the waiters at his location were black – and too many customers who were white and Southern males were picking fights with the staff, absconding without paying for their meals and otherwise wreaking havoc. This would not do; it was bad for staff morale, hell on the profit side of the ledger and hard on the furniture.

So Fred Harvey opened an office in Chicago to interview potential employees, and advertised widely in the eastern and mid-western newspapers: young unmarried women between the ages of 18 and thirty, who would sign a contract to work for a set period of time (usually a year). They would have to be literate, well-spoken and accustomed to hard work – and willing to go west, to wherever they were needed. Some estimates have it that over the next thirty years, 5,000 women worked as Harvey Girls, everywhere from Kansas to California. Their working uniforms were plain black dresses with narrow white collars, black shoes and stockings, with white aprons, and their hair tied with a white ribbon. They were not allowed to wear makeup – which likely only became a real trial in the 1920s. Fred Harvey paid wages of $17 monthly; generous indeed at a time when laborers were lucky to earn $11 a month. The Harvey Girls lived in company-provided dormitories, their uniforms were often provided to them, and they were entitled to perks like free transportation on the AT&SF, and after a period with the company could request a specific location. Seniority in the Harvey organization could be accrued – unless a Harvey Girl chose to marry, as many did – she could work her way up to senior waitress or even manager.

(to be continued.)

The State of the State of Sgt. Mom

Yes, I’m still here – and working hard at stuff, which is why I have had to let the intertubules go for … a couple of days. A week, maybe … what am I, a public blogging utility? I had work – serious paid work to perform, either for the Tiny Publishing Bidness, or through the required paperwork to do the sales taxes due to the State of Texas for my retail activities for the past year. Which – since Blondie and I had a full schedule of sales events during the last quarter of 2014, and I had two other book events earlier in the year … I had to sit down with a calculator and the printouts from the Tax Collector of the Right Noble State of Texas, and figure out what portion of the states tax due on retail sales during the past year were due to which city, school/library/transportation district, county, et cetera … depending on where those sales events event took place. This works out to amounts from between .85 cents to 5.00 due to bodies like the Bulverde independent school district, the city of Goliad and Kendall County as-a-whole. Really, I hope that they do not fritter away my tiny contribution to their yearly budget on frivolous stuff … likely not, since this is Texas where fiscal sanity (outside of certain …ahem … rather more bluish districts) tends to rule. It is unlikely that I will ever have much of a sales presence in deeply indigo-hued locales so I can rest in the assurance that my my own microscopically small contribution to their local economies will not be frivolously squandered.

The other project – the big book project for which I cleared my work calendar so that I could work on it undistracted – is finally within sight of being done. This is the biography of the well-to-do South Texas rancher, who actually had us come down to Brownsville in October to sign the contract … and for us to get an idea of what he wanted for his book. Which finished up having way, way more pictures than originally expected … and it has turned out to be a very elaborate design project. Much more complex in lay-out than I have ever done before, what with all the pictures; many of them had to be re-touched, or scanned in, converted from color to black and white. It took me about three times longer than I expected, and I could only work on it for three or four hours at a stretch without getting twitchy. There’s a lot riding on the client’s satisfaction with the overall look of the project – but so far, he is quite pleased. And I am on schedule as far as getting the book out there, too.

I set my own writing aside in mid-November, because of this and the press of doing all those seasonal market events. I had seven solid chapters of The Golden Road completed, and visualize another fourteen or so, incorporating certain plot twists … and then I had an idea for yet another adventure. This was sparked by reading another writer blog – she does historical romances – and she posted a bit about the Harvey Girls; how the transplanted Englishman Fred Harvey had the radical notion of providing excellent food and sublime service to railroad travelers in the far West … a time and a place where up until then, the fare available pretty much covered the ground between execrable and disgusting. He also had the radical notion to staff his restaurants with female wait-staff, pay them well, and treat them otherwise generously. The Harvey chain provided many an adventurous, middle-class eastern girl with an opportunity to go west – and the more I thought on that … well, I had already ‘done’ the notion of being a school-teacher in a frontier school.

Way back when I was working on Daughter of Texas, I mentally made a note of a leading character having had another family, back in Boston … and that some day, I might have a means to work out one of his descendants coming west. Inspiration works in weird ways. The entire plot and the characters involved sprang into mind, almost fully-fledged – what might lead a respectable young lady of Boston to chuck it all and go west as a waitress in a railway station restaurant? It turned out her reasons were pretty horrific … so now I am back to working on two books simultaneously. This worked very well for me once before; when I got bored or stuck with one, I could work on the other.

Blondie was out in California in January, helping Pippy and Alex sort out Mom and Dad’s house, and getting Mom herself settled in a good assisted-living situation in a place a short distance from Pippy’s house. She’s heading back tomorrow, with Mom’s two cats, to be rehomed with us, some oddments from the house which no one else wanted. And that’s been the tale of my last two weeks. Oh, and the chapter of the newest venture is up at my book website.

The Inconoclast Brann

WCBrannIf ever there were a 19th Century journalist more deeply wedded to the old mission statement of comforting (and avenging) the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable with energy and fierce enthusiasm, that person would have to be one William Cowper Brann. In the last decade of the 19th Century, he possessed a small but widely-read newspaper called the Iconoclast, a reservoir of spleen the size of Lake Michigan, and a vocabulary of erudite vituperation which would be the envy of many a political blogger today. Born in 1855, in Coles County, Illinois, he was the son of a Presbyterian minister. Upon losing his mother when barely out of diapers, he was placed with a foster family. At the age of thirteen, he ran away from the foster home and made his own way in the world, armored with a bare three years of formal education. He worked as a hotel bellboy, an apprentice house painter, and as a printer’s devil, from which he graduated into cub reporting. He and his family – for he did manage to marry – gravitated into Texas, settling first in Houston, followed by stints in Galveston and in Austin, working for local newspapers as reporter, editor and editorialist, and attempting to launch his own publication – the first iteration of the Iconoclast – terming it “a journal of personal protest.” For William Cowper Brann had opinions – sulfurous, vituperative and always entertaining, even for a day when public discourse not excluding journalism was conducted metaphorically with brass knuckles – and he despised cant, hypocrisy and what he termed ‘humbuggery’ with a passion burning white-hot and fierce.

The first launch of the Iconoclast failed, but nothing discouraged, Brann sold the name and the press to another writer – William Sidney Porter, who much later became well-known under the nom-de-plume of O. Henry. Brann knocked around between big-city Texas for another couple of years, which makes one wonder if a) his wife ever entirely unpacked the Brann household goods, and b) what she said in private to her peripatetic spouse at hearing of yet another move. At the start of 1895, Brann – now working as chief editorialist for the Waco Daily News – re-launched The Iconoclast as a monthly periodical. Eventually, he had a subscription list for it of over 100,000, a fair portion of it national and even international. Which is quite understandable, given his talent with a well-turned phrase and a savagely telling choice in description; in this century he would have been a blogger, and a very well-read one at that. A selection of his pieces (linked here) are readable and highly entertaining, very much on par with luminaries like Mark Twain, in my opinion. (He had written a couple of plays, and at the abrupt end of his life was working on a novel.)

Brann had his list of favored targets – and in what his near-contemporary Mark Twain termed ‘The Gilded Age’ (and Twain did not mean that as a compliment, but rather as something cheap and nasty, all tarted up to look rich) he was rather spoiled for choice in the targets of his broadsides. His remarks on one of the signature social events of the decade – the notorious Bradley-Martin masquerade ball are one of the most savagely-slashing preserved.

Mrs. Bradley-Martin’s sartorial kings and pseudo-queens, her dukes and DuBarrys, princes and Pompadours, have strutted their brief hour upon the mimic stage, disappearing at daybreak like foul night-birds or an unclean dream—have come and gone like the rank eructation of some crapulous Sodom, a malodor from the cloacae of ancient capitals, a breath blown from the festering lips of half-forgotten harlots, a stench from the sepulcher of centuries devoid of shame. Uncle Sam may now proceed to fumigate himself after his enforced association with royal bummers and brazen bawds; may comb the Bradley-Martin itch bacteria out of his beard, and consider, for the ten-thousandth time, the probable result of his strange commingling of royalty- worshiping millionaire and sansculottic mendicant—how best to put a ring in the nose of the golden calf ere it become a Phalaris bull and relegate him to its belly.

In a word, he detested Europeans, particularly British, the new rich of America, vulgar excess, excess of every sort, the deviousness of cows, cant and hypocrisy of every stripe, and Baptists – of which last he opined, “I have nothing against the Baptists. I just believe they were not held under long enough.” (It has to be admitted here that he detested blacks and didn’t think much of women, either.)

Since he was living and working in Waco – the home of Baylor University, which Brann described as “that great storm-center of misinformation” – and thus a kind of Vatican of Southern Baptists, these openly expressed and published remarks regarding Baptists did excite considerable local comment and resentment. Brann paid a price, personally – in being occasional apprehended and assaulted by partisans. His popularity, locally and elsewhere, soared, however. Local anger became especially marked when he published accusations that college administrators and their family members had imported orphaned female child converts from missions in South America … and not only exploited them as domestic help, but sexually as well. I am given to wonder if this didn’t hit Brann in several personal ways, having been given up by his own father, the Presbyterian minister, into the care of people who cared so little for him that he ran from their tender care the minute he was able to do so. But Brann was just getting warmed up. Next, he alleged that male faculty members were pursuing female students sexually. Any father contemplating sending his daughter to Baylor as a student was putting her at hazard of being raped; the university was nothing but – in his words, “A factory for the manufacture of ministers and magdalenes,” – magdalenes at that time being the socially acceptable term for ‘whores’.

A Baylor supporter – the father of a female student there, one Tom Davis who dealt in real estate in Waco and the surrounding country – took personal insult from Brann’s choice of words, simmered over it … and rather than writing a fiery letter to the fiery editor, took his own gun, emerged from his office on downtown Fourth Street, and ambushed Brann as he walked past with a friend in the late afternoon of April 1, 1898. Davis shot Brann in the back, mortally wounding him. The sound of bullets sent newspaper vendors, passing innocent citizens, street musicians and trolley-car motormen, policemen and simple citizens going about their business on a busy Friday evening darting for cover. First escorted to the local police station and then carried home by his friends, Brann died the next morning. He was buried in Waco’s Oakwood Cemetery; the monument marking his grave is a square dark stone pedestal with his profile in white stone and the word “Truth” engraved on it, topped with a Brobdingnag-sized stone lantern … which since appears to have been stolen, if the comments on Find a Grave are anything to go by. The publication of the Iconoclast itself was in the hands of Brann’s long-suffering wife, who subsequently sold it … again. The new owners removed the publication to Chicago; likely it sank shortly thereafter, since it was Brann himself whose corrosive genius in print carried it all on his back.

And what of Tom Davis, who chose to ambush and shoot his bete noir in the back? He didn’t last any longer than William Cowper Brann … who in the best tradition of the Wild West – upon being shot in the back and holed through his left lung, drew his own personal Colt revolver and emptied all six shots into Davis … who fell into the doorway of a tobacconist’s establishment. Back in the day, the city fathers insisted that Waco was the Athens of the West … but the locals all called it Six Shooter Junction, for the disagreement between the newspaper editor and the real estate man was only one of many.

Oh, Hey … Hi There

New year already – which arrived with a rush, it seemed like. Here everything seemed like it was on hold for the holidays, and now the holidays are over and … everything returns to normal with a rush. I have two books for Watercress which are just about ready to push out the door – I had hoped to get them done before Christmas, but what was that which Robert Burns said about best-laid plans of mice and men going aft agley, or words to that effect? Yeah, the final approval of proofs was put off until after the holidays. And now it’s after the holidays. The good thing, from a purely economic standpoint, is that sales taxes on one will be deferred until 2015 … which reminds me that I have to sort out the sales taxes on mine and Blondie’s Christmas market effort which are due to the bounteous and beautifully independent state of Texas by the 20th of this month.
After I finish the layout for the Big Book Project, of course; this is an autobiography, and quite professionally written … mostly because the subject hired an excellent ghostwriter to perform the heavy lifting, word-smithing-wise. But the subject – who actually has had a pretty long and interesting life, and lots of … interesting friends – has about 150 photographs that he wants included in the book, and some of them are … well, family snaps. Out of focus, or with eccentric centering, or scanned at least once, and the newer ones in color, which have to be converted to black and white, adjusted as to light levels and sharpness, cropping so as to accentuate the subject … yes, I’ve been putting in a lot of hours on Photoshop for the Big Book Project. Perhaps now I am at last getting all the good out of that DINFOS shake-and-bake photojournalism course over the late winter of 1978. Anyway, that’s the top priority at this particular time. But there are other matters to attend to.
Blondie is in California for the next few weeks, attending on Mom and family concerns. Mom is recovering, but will never be able to return to hers and Dad’s house. She will be in a wheelchair for the foreseeable future and living in an assisted-living residence. The house is now on the market; it has been cleared of personal possessions, a few of which will be kept as family heirlooms – mostly those few things which survived the fire – and the rest disposed of at an estate auction. I feel at least a few twinges at the heart about this; it was Mom and Dad’s place, which they made and decorated in their own way. But Blondie was the only one of us who actually lived there … and the fire in 2003 destroyed all the furniture and just about all those bits and bobs of personal sentimental value to us. So there is that.
There has been enough taken in from various book projects and sales to do this and that as regarding my own house. Like … sorting out the home office. I bought a pair of wooden file cabinets off Amazon over the last week; very nicely made ones, originating from Vietnam. They replace one battered, crushingly heavy, non-functional (the upper drawer jammed and stuck fast about two months ago) and rather nasty oak-veneer file cabinet (it smelled of mouse-dirt and mold when I got it) inherited from Dave the Computer Genius… well, it was free, mouse-dirt, mold and all, and I was not in such an economic position at that time which allowed me to look down on such an item. But now I can, and so I bashed it all to pieces, put it in the trash, and transferred all the files to the new cabinets. I can recommend them, BTW. The units are attractive and very beautifully designed – every individual piece is labeled with a number corresponding to the instruction sheet, and even the screws and knobs are sealed in a numbered blister-pack. Best of all, it looks like a nice bit of classic furniture when assembled, not just like an office filing cabinet.
And then there is the new idea for the book after the next … another western adventure. A proper but orphaned and relatively impoverished Bostonian young lady takes her future in her own hands, and decides to go out west … as a Harvey Girl. More original than a schoolteacher, I think. I’ve sent away for two books on the various Harvey enterprises in the last quarter of the 19th century. And that’s my week.

Another Day, Another Islamic-Inspired Atrocity

… at the Paris offices of a French satirical magazine. For the usual crime – that of mocking Mohammed.

Herewith some more and vigorous mocking – the return of the Danish Motoons o’ Doom! (Courtesy of Zombie at PJ Media.) Click on the images to embiggen.

Mohammed-drawings

There is a saying to the effect that you know who your rulers (or your prospective rulers) are, by what you are not allowed to mock.

Turning of the Year – 2014-2015

About this time last year – mid-December of 2014, I tallied up my score from December of 2013 on those things that I wanted to do, or ought to do during 2013. I took stock on what I had managed to accomplish – what I had done and left undone. Now on this New Years Day 2015, I am looking at what I did manage to complete from that original 2013 list, and examining those things to work on, and either accomplish, or to try harder on in 2015.

#1 – Switching over to a Texas bank for personal business; done and this year also opened business accounts with the same bank for the Tiny Publishing Bidness. I am very happy with Frost Bank, BTW. The staff at the local branch recognize me now.

#2 – I did finish and bring out Lone Star Sons in time for the Christmas season of this year. It is a short book, and more or less written off the cuff. But – I have also committed to bringing out at least another six Lone Star Sons adventures – tentatively to be called Lone Star Blood, in time for the holiday season of 2015. I think that I can get ‘er done in double quick time. But this project is also in addition to The Golden Road – the adventures of young Fredi Steinmetz in the California Gold Rush. I’ve got about seven chapters into The Golden Road; another eleven or so to go. Goal – have them both ready and published by November, 2015.

#3 – A vow to redouble the efforts for a lavishly-productive back-yard truck garden sufficient to provide all our fresh vegetable needs. Flat fail across the board. The raised beds were a bust, and I don’t think we got more than a handful of ripe tomatoes and peppers. We did get a nice small crop of perfectly exquisite potatoes; which tasted like vegetable velvet, when lightly cooked and served with butter, salt and a dash of meat-based gravy. The apple, plum and peach saplings did take hold and provide some hope; that hope which springs eternal in the breast of the ambitious gardener. Two of the heirloom tomato plants also reseeded themselves. One of them is thriving in a pot, moved into the back porch – which has been shielded from the mid-winter icy blast by plastic sheets stapled all around. A number of potatoes in the raised bed also re-seeded themselves, although the bed is in such a scramble that I have no notion of they are red or white potatoes. This item is turning into a repeat goal.

#4 – Better track of readers and fans … still a work in progress. Book sales this year are down, total, from the year before. Apparently, so are the sales of other writers – those who have been moved to say something in regard to this. Again – resolved to work harder, or smarter on this. More book club events, more author events… sigh.

#5 – Management and recruitment of business at Watercress Press; done. I bought out my business partner, when her health deteriorated to the point where she was unable to work productively on anything. I’ve been working gainfully on books for her old clients, on my own existing clients, and have a chance at picking up more with two of the biggest projects. I have improved my Adobe Acrobat and Photoshop skilz, and the Watercress Press website is updated. But keeping the business going is a continuing goal.

#6 – Stockpiling staple foods. Progress achieved with being able to keep stores of staple foods on hand. Part of this came about through revamping the pantry closet, and through purchase of a back-yard shed, wherein to store some of the food-prep impedimenta, like the canning kettle and extra Ball jars, the cheese- and wine-making things, and imperishable bulk supplies.

#7 — The last of the creditors are paid off – even my business partner’s heirs have been paid for the business. All the outstanding bills I have are the regular monthly ones for utilities, car insurance and the mortgage. I’ll do my best to never, ever have credit card debt again. For this coming year, I’d rather set aside money for something and pay for it up front. Like – the project to get the kitchen renovated.
Which brings me to … the only really new goal for this year…

#8 – Renovate the kitchen and dining area; new cabinets, new sink, and new hood over the range … which will be the practically pristine Chambers stove which Blondie inherited. There is already a new-to-us table in the dining area, and I have recovered the chair seats in cowhide.

The Dark of the Year

The longest night, the shortest day, the turn of the year – and I think likely the oldest of our human celebrations, once our remotest ancestors began to pay attention to things. They would have noticed, and in the fullness of time, erected monumental stones to mark the progression of the sun, the moon, the stars, the seasons, the light and the dark and all of it. The farther north and south you go from the equator, the more marked are the seasonal differences in the length of day and night. Just north of the Arctic Circle in the year I spent at Sondrestrom Greenland, those mid-summer nights were a pale grey twilight – and the midwinter days a mere half-hour-long lessening of constant dark at about midday. It was an awesome experience, and exactly how awesome I only realized in retrospect. How my ancestors, in Europe, or even perhaps in the Middle East, would have looked to the longer days which would come after the turning of the year; the darkness lessening, sunlight and warmth returning for yet another season of growing things in the ground, and in the blessed trees, when the oxen and sheep, and other domesticated critters would bear offspring. And the great primitive cycle of the year would turn and turn again, with the birth of the Christ added into it in due time.

Of course, Christ wasn’t really born in mid-winter – that was not the time when shepherds watched their flocks by night, all seated on the ground – but the promise of His birth, of light and joy and sunshine was added retroactively to those pagan festivities marking the longest night and shortest day. (Likely Christ was born in the early spring.) Christmas and Easter, the pole-stars of the Christian year and liturgy; the birth and the sacrifice; I’ll not get into the other pagan parallel observances. The colors of the paraments and vestments went through their turns – green, red, purple, gold and white, and usually not much linked to the absolute seasons. But still – there you are, the turning of the year, the festivals and observances and all, marking the time and tradition.

I was thinking of this, listening to one of my own personal observances last Wednesday; the live radio broadcast of Nine Lessons and Carols from the Chapel of Kings College, Cambridge. I’ve never been to that service – but I visited the chapel, once upon a time. The chapel was light and beautiful, walls of glass and fragile-seeming stone tracery, a late gothic bubble floating on the gentle green-lawn bank of the Cam. The Nine Lessons and Carols has been a tradition since the end of WWI … a little short of a hundred years, a brief time as the traditions of Christianity go. And I was thinking and wondering as I listened, and wrote and surfed the Internet – how deep do those traditions actually go in these days. One of the internet stories that I scanned – about the established church in Germany – contained a riveting phrase:

Christmas in Germany is like a brightly decorated eggshell with no egg inside. The forms of the holiday are merrily observed, but not the faith. To declare one’s belief in a personal God counts for proof of mental defect here as well as in most parts of Europe, especially among educated people.

A brightly decorated eggshell with no egg inside…which reminded me again of that summer of 1976 when my brother and sister and I did England and Scotland the Youth Hostel and BritRail Pass way. And being well-brought up, we went to church services at the nearest available and interesting-looking church wherever we happened to be on a Sunday morning. To be fair and to acknowledge that anecdote is not data, on most of those Sundays we were well out in the countryside. There usually wasn’t much else to do on a Sunday except go to church … but still, even thirty-five years ago it was perfectly plain to us that most of those churches visited in England had the lovely sanctuaries, soaring music, beautiful, comforting ritual … and mostly empty pews. Only in a couple of Presbyterian churches in Scotland did there seem to be anything like a full house and passionate enthusiasm from either minister or flock.

These days, whenever I see a story in the Daily Mail or in the Telegraph which touches on matters of faith, I can depend on most of the comments posted to be utterly contemptuous of religious belief and faith – especially for Christians of whatever denomination.(To be fair, they are usually contemptuous of Muslims, but also and worryingly – of Jews.) This is both baffling and dispiriting; I’d not be surprised that readers of The Guardian and similar high-toned publications consider sincere religious belief to be infra dig and that appearance in one of those beautiful and historic houses of worship is obligatory only twice yearly and on the occasion of a wedding, christening or funeral, if that. That Daily Mail commenters seem to feel the same … is unsettling. I would guess that if anything, the Daily Mail is aimed towards exactly the demographic – blue-collar, working-class and not educated much beyond the English equivalent of junior collage and trade school. Backbone of the country, salt of the earth, they used to say, somewhat patronizingly. I must note that my three British grandparents and great-aunt Nan were exactly that sort. In the US, that exact demographic is also the backbone of the various established churches. In the main and quietly for the most part, churches are the quiet bulwark of many communities. They offer emotional support in the main, and quite often actual economic support when needed to members in good standing and often to those without any standing at all. This I know from having been involved in church work, and through having lived in Utah (where the LDS is the quiet power behind the throne of ordinary politics).

There is a cultural value in religious belief; a shared belief lending confidence and strength to a culture – strength such as in Poland within living memory led to the downfall of a Communist system – just to name one. Yes, it sometimes lead to petty and hypocritical things – unlovely sanctimony, judgment of neighbors and vicious clannishness with regard to those designated as outsiders being the least of it. But somehow, this seems to have all been drained away, the limited bad and the solid good, all together. As far as Christianity goes, Western Europe does appear as a brightly decorated eggshell with no egg inside – a hollow thing, easily smashed.

Share and discuss – whither Britain and Europe generally?

(Crossposted at www.chicagoboyz.net)

Outsized Perceptions – Twice Natural Size

When I first read of the survey (one story on it linked here) of how members of the public consistently overestimate the percentage of gays in the general population, I was not terribly surprised. Dismayed, yes – as it appeared that the younger cohort estimated the proportion of gay to straight at almost a third, which I thought would have run slap up against that cohort’s observation of the world around them. The actual percentage is round and about two percent, which tracks with my own real-world observation – but I can hardly blame the kids for assuming a much higher figure, knowing how many media creations prominently feature gay characters. Looking at TV shows, movies, books, games, the celebrity culture … one might very well assume that ‘gay’ constitutes a much larger portion of public space than they actually occupy, on a strictly numerical basis. The various media reflect ‘gay’ at several times their normal size. Like my neighbor’s basset hounds; it’s not that there are many, but the bassets are so very loud, a casual observer might assume that there are many more, based on the racket.

Anyway, I was briefly amused by the whole matter at the time – of media-cultural perception at odds with observed reality. But in the last few weeks, what with the continuing protests regarding the deaths of black men in altercations with police officers, I’ve begun to wonder if there isn’t a whole ‘nother cultural perception at odds with reality, only this time it is the reality that isn’t observed, just the perception covering it over it in a particularly opaque veil.

I ought to start off on this particular thought-train by noting that I have lived in South Texas now for a little less than twenty years; likely I am affected by the same kind of cultural veiling, in that I don’t really see ‘Hispanic’ as the ‘other’ when I look at a crowd of people here; I’m not mentally breaking down that crowd into racial/cultural components. Spoken Spanish and Spanish surnames, conjunto music and bright colors, hot pepper salsa and the Virgin of Guadalupe are all just a part of the background white noise as it were; comfortable, appreciated, and expected. Even going up into the Hill Country, where the common surnames tend to be Germanic and Anglo rather than Hispanic – it still appears pretty homogenous – and also pretty pale to medium-tan colored to me. The occasional doom-laden and/or gloating-at-the-prospect forecast that ‘white’ people will be a minority in these here United States which appears now and again in discussions of racial categories seems pretty laughable, when I look around where I live. Not saying it wouldn’t happen, of course; but consciously or unconsciously, as humans we tend to base assumptions about the relative unknown on what we do know and observe around us in real-life, real-time.

And I wonder, when considering the near-riots in Ferguson, and the principally black protests – especially in cities with a large black population – I’ve begun to wonder if the urban black population doesn’t see themselves at several times their normal size. A combination of self- or economic isolation in particular neighborhoods, media saturation, the results of affirmative action in hiring for everything from federal jobs to high-profile media personalities, half a century of media, intellectual and political stroking … has all this and more given African-Americans an unconscious self-visualization of themselves at several times natural size? When the average African-American thinks of themselves as part of the American public, are they thinking of themselves as a much larger and more influential part of it then they really are? Discuss.

(Crossposted at Chicagoboyz.net)

Market Forces

My daughter and I have emerged, breathless, exhausted and muscle-sore from two months and a bit of schlepping heavy items back and forth between shed and Montero, and Montero to venue every other weekend, or every weekend. If it wasn’t my books, then it was my books and her origami art. This last weekend in Boerne was the last of our winter event schedule. We won’t be breaking out the hot-pink pavilion with the zebra-striped top until spring … unless it will be to set it up on a sunny day this week to dry it all out. Which we should have done on Monday, except that there was too much else to do … empty out the car, decorate the bay-laurel tree in front of the house for Christmas, pay attention to some basic housekeeping and laundry – the sink and the laundry baskets both overflowing – and to carry out a couple of items to the curb for the yearly bulk trash pickup.

Our contributions to bulk trash comprised a pair of cruddy computer speakers, a flat-screen monitor which had developed some pretty distracting areas of damage, a short ornamental garden pedestal of poured plaster, and a metal and fabric lounge chair/foot-stool combination which my daughter brought home from the Marines. It was one of those inexpensive, ugly and futuristic – but surprisingly comfortable items – which had been passed around the Cherry Point enlisted barracks until my daughter snagged it and brought it home, where it took up altogether too much space. I suspect from the distinct whiff from the cushions that the cats and maybe one of the dogs had taken to marking it with their very own essence. So, out on the curb it all went, and – mirabile dictu – all these items promptly vanished, although the enormous city collection trucks have not yet appeared – although the junker trucks have been rotating like turkey vultures over our neighborhood for days.

The plaster pedestal was pretty well decayed by use and weathering. An elderly couple in a very nice late-model station wagon pulled up, even as we were unloading the car of our gypsy-market materials, and the husband asked through the driver-side window, if it was very heavy. Blondie said it was not, and loaded it into the back of their car, as we confessed that … we had actually collected it from the curbside some years ago, when it wasn’t nearly so decayed. Amusingly, a fair number of the pots and ornamental elements in our garden were scrounged from the curbside. Our own haul from the neighborhood curbside this year included a pair of barely-used dog beds and one of those folding Oriental black lacquer screens – a rather nice item, once the hinges were replaced by stout brass hardware and longer screws and assorted dings and scratches repaired by various means. The dog beds were washed in blazingly hot water, of course. They are already popular with the one doggle who had prized the barracks chair.
As for the markets – they have all been so-so, this year. There are a number of possible reasons for this, which may make another blog-post. Still, one way and another, I have come home after some of them with bargains: this weekend, it was a whole cowhide.

No, don’t laugh – I have a set of Colonial-reproduction ladder-back chairs in the dining room, which I bought as kits from a very reputable mail-order catalogue yea on some decades ago. These chairs were designed and supplied to be finished with woven rush seats – that kind of rush made from brown paper, woven in diminishing squares to finish the seats, then varnished to finish. And I wove the rushing seats, and varnished them … but what with one thing and another, the cats just viewed them as handy scratching posts and tore them to shreds. I must refinish the darned things … again … but am just exasperated, contemplating ordering the necessary coils of rushing and reweaving the seats of five chairs for the third, or maybe the fourth time. A few weeks ago I had an inspiration – why not do the seats in cowhide, for a rustic Western look? The more I thought about it, the better I liked the idea, although tanned cowhides looked to be darned expensive, and the brown and white spotted hides would look kind of kitschy … but one of the other vendors last weekend had a booth full of cowhide rugs, runners and hangings – either pieced together, or straight as they came from the cow. Among them was a plain creamy-tan hide … and the vendor and I struck a deal for it. Business was slow at the market, the plain cream hides are not as popular as the more obviously spotted and dappled ones, and he was just tickled to death at the thought that I would be doing something so outrageously creative with it, and explained to me the best way to do the seats, with staples and ornamental nail-heads over a plywood base and a bit of foam rubber. The hide is enormous – the cow it came from must have been as big as a mastodon. There’ll be plenty of hide to do seats for all five chairs and a good bit left over. So – that will be my particular project over the New Year, now that the market events are done.

It may also lead to having to repaint the dining area in a color better calculated to match the cowhide, but that will be another project entirely.

All Apologies – Christmas Edition

It’s one of those months; the book publishing business thrives and so does the care of those clients associated with it, which has sopped up all of my writing time and energy these last few weeks. I also have to attend to the Worlds’ Tallest ADHD child – a sometime employer who is the absolute epitome of the old-style Texan gentleman, whose word is his bond but cannot remember how to download an email attachment and save it to the proper file in his computer to save his life and believe me, I have gone over and over this with him … Anyway, he has some good ranch property deals in the offing. Over the years he has been a good employer; sometimes I have worked for him on spec when he had had a dry spell in the ranch real estate business, and sometimes when he was flush with cash from a multi-million-dollar ranch sale and I was skint, he advanced me a salary so that I had to cash for immediate expenses and work it off over time. Ofttimes in the last decade or so, I have despaired of his facility for tap-dancing along the tight-rope-line between financial insolvency and economic sufficiency … but being at the age he is, I have to conclude that he must like it and be accustomed to living that way … and anyway, he has a multitude of old friends prepared to indulge him in this. Including a long-time on and off girlfriend who I wish would marry him … but as I said … on and off. He’d share his last crust with a friend, and I am in the friend zone, having zilch interest in ranch real estate, aside from an acre or two of it of my own.

Anyway – Blondie and I have our own interests and issues this year; that of making an appearance at the local gypsy markets, either for my books, or for my books and her origami art combined. These events take a considerable amount of energy. Even if it is just my couple of tubs-o-books plus the items to display them and facilitate sales, it still involves packing the car and a long or perhaps a short drive. We have one more market appearance to go – In Boerne this weekend. The last weekend was in Goliad, which was OK, as it was a free (aside from the gas for the Montero) venue, thanks to the sweet lady who has run it forever and ever. Alas, the event before that – for which I had paid a table fee for two days – I barely broke even, making only less than about half what I have in previous years at the same venue. This coming weekend is the last of our Christmas market events for this year; a two-day extravaganza on Boerne’s Town Square. Alas, rain is forecast for Saturday.
The book publishing business toddles on – I am juggling four different book projects for four different clients, three of them being repeat clients, so as soon as we are done with the gypsy marketing, I’ll be working full-out on the fourth project, and angling for another high-profile book publication.

Complicating all of this is another family crisis: Mom took a horrifically bad fall last week, bad enough to do permanent damage to her spine and resulting in paralysis. She was alone in the house at the time, and it took almost a day for neighbors to become worried. The damage is bad enough that the best outlook is confinement to a wheelchair in an assisted-living residence. Remaining in the house is out of the question. We had all been worried about this ever since Dad died, but Mom wouldn’t consider leaving the place until now. Mom came to grips with all this almost at once: the house will be sold, funds from the sale put into a trust, et cetera. Pip and Sander are scouting out the right sort of place in Pasadena, or close by. Blondie is going out to California in January to help as she can, just as I went out for a month after Dad died. So that’s how it all stands at this moment. I likely won’t write very much more about this in depth: Mom is a pretty private person, and did not like it at all when I did what she considered over-sharing.

Saturday in the Book Corral

(Hey, anyone still here? Got a post for ya – Sorry for the absence … work and all that, and somehow not being particularly moved to write something. It’s just a mood – it will pass, I promise.)

Santa arriving in Goliad, Texas, last Saturday - mounted on the customary longhorn. With a spare mount, of course. It's a long way from the North Pole.

Santa arriving in Goliad, Texas, last Saturday – mounted on the customary longhorn. With a spare mount, of course. It’s a long way from the North Pole.

Another weekend, it must be another book event. And so it was last Saturday, so it will be this coming weekend. Last Saturday it was Christmas on the Square in Goliad, a place which I hold in affection – because it is a pleasant small town, full of nice people who all know each other and are connected by one to three degrees, has some claim to historicity, but is otherwise relatively unspoiled by excessive tourism and what my daughter calls the YA contingent. Which doesn’t stand for Young Adult, but ‘Yuppie *sshole’ – that variety of well-to-do and socially conscientious arriviste who roar into some unspoiled little country locale, en mass, and gentrify the heck out of it; the kind of people who love the country and farms and quaint friendliness, but who promptly turn it into upscale suburbia, can’t stand the smell of cows or the noise of agricultural pursuits at odd hours, and condescend to their neighbors as being hicks from the sticks. This also raises the prices of everything from property, rents, and everything else from a sandwich and cuppa coffee on up. Given the chance, I would take up a place in a nice little Texas country town like Goliad, renovate a little house and live there quite happily – but I would keep very, very quiet afterwards. I don’t think I am a snob or even a reverse-snob, particularly – but I always liked the remote little suburb that I grew up in precisely for the lack of pretense and the low-key, working-class friendliness.
The weather was wonderful on Saturday, there were enough vendors to make a double-line of booths along one side of the square, my daughter was persuaded not to bring home any of the cats on display from the local animal shelter, and gratifying number of shoppers and fans fell upon my books – especially Lone Star Sons – with cries of happy joy.
Anyway – what brought that these musings about class and neighborliness? Fondness for Goliad, the fact that they have laid out the streets in the old part of town to bypass certain huge old oak trees, some say they never lock their doors at night, and that semi-rural begins very close – within a block or so to the Courthouse square in some directions – and that the authors at the event fell into two distinct groups, and another author and me. As a repeat author to Miss Ruby’s Book Corral, I readily recognized them, although some were new to me. The first group were academics – they occupy a perch at the local branch of UT, or A & M, or one of the community colleges, and they all had books out which touched on local history in someway or another – at least two of which I was tempted to buy because … I need more microscopically local references because that’s where I get my best ideas! (Blondie talked me out of it … since … hey, I hardly have any more room on the bookshelves anyway.) One or two of them talked to me as we were setting up, or during the course of the day – but since I am cheerfully PhD-less (pronounced fid-less) and a dogged amateur historian, I barely count in the grand academic scheme of things. They clustered together, bought lunches and chattered amongst themselves: I’m not certain that they sold much, between them. This may have been more of a social occasion for them. The second group in the Author Corral were authors who were personalities in the local media – writers and columnists who already had a local following for their books. They were the ones that I mostly knew from other events; I know that they did a brisk business, especially the ladies with the cookbook, which seems to be enormously popular. The single other historical novelist and I shared a table, although my collection of nine separate books very much overwhelmed hers of two – and in hardback and paperback. I eventually sold her a copy of Lone Star Sons and The Quivera Trail purely because she was so intrigued overhearing me talk about them to people who came to my half of the table.
And that was that – for last week. This weekend, it’s Boerne, and on Saturday the market will continue until 7 PM. We have been told to bring a couple of strings of lights for the outside of the pavilion and some kind of spotlight for the inside. I think it will be actually rather lovely, at night – with the music and the lights and all. See you there, perhaps! We’re in the pink pavilion with the black-and-white-zebra-striped top.

State of the Disunion

Here we are, in the first week of the last month of 2014, and by way of good cheer, I can say that things haven’t descended quite so far into the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse territory – pestilence, war, famine and death – as I had feared some two or three months ago, when Ebola was all the rage in news. People are still falling sick to it, of course, but curious that such news is no longer in the News, capital-N News, run by the professional news-gatherers, whose motto and mission does seem to be comforting the comfortable and afflicting the afflicted. Funny old world, that.

Still, certain elements of the current scene do give cause for alarm. Not new alarm, but just the same old abiding fears which spurred me to begin writing books to persuade readers of the virtue of the grand American experiment and to refit the kitchen pantry closet to allow storage of mass quantities of staple foods. At the age of 60-something, I appear to be turning into my grandmothers, one of whom conserved a box of Ben Hur brand cayenne pepper over several decades until it was nothing more than some rusty-red dust, and the other of whom had a two-year supply of on-sale-purchased canned food stashed in the garage. I am trying to advance on my grandmothers’ example, though – since I have a vacuum-sealer and freezer. I do wish that I had somehow managed to get ahold of the ancestral can of cayenne pepper; it’s probably valuable now as an antique for the container, if not the rust-red pepper dust therein. Enough for pestilence and famine – what about those oldie-but-goodie standbys, War and Death?

They seem to have taken up residence, or at least, renewed the lease on a number of different places in recent weeks, most notably in Ferguson, Missouri – a somewhat … what’s the word? Struggling? In Transition? Pre-Gentrifying? Anyway, a relatively urban suburb of St. Louis. Which, to judge from the google-maps and the various businesses involved, is not entirely unlike my own very dear suburb as far as retail establishments go. Though it would appear that Ferguson is tilted a more towards the career-welfare-benefits-recipient person of color side of the scale as far as the general population goes, whereas San Antonio tends heavily towards the military retiree side of the scale.

In reading various reports of what is going on in Ferguson I am simultaneously troubled and reassured – troubled in that the mayor, governor and federal administration, at least as much as the established media – seemed to be going out of their various ways to pour more gas onto a bonfire. The various free-lance civil-rights ‘activists’ and sympathizers seem also to be doing their bit. Fortunately so far, their bit seems limited to terrorizing Christmas shoppers, alienating rush-hour drivers and pro football fans, reducing children’s Christmas-carol singing choruses to tears and otherwise alienating many of those who otherwise might rightfully entertain second thoughts about aggressive and militarized policing. The usual urban thug element have concentrated their energies on burning and looting various small businesses along Ferguson’s main drag, undeterred by any feelings of racial or community solidarity, in that a good few of them were owned and operated by persons of color living in Ferguson or nearby, and contributing to the assault and murder of incidental passersbys who just happen to be of the wrong color skin…

Frankly, I wouldn’t be in the least surprised if those local businesses cut their losses and relocated elsewhere … but I also wouldn’t be surprised to see that many decided to hang in there. People tend to be stubborn about their home community, and to give up on it with reluctance and only when there is little choice left. I am reassured reading reports of go-fund-me campaigns to raise donations benefitting those businesses which have been harmed, like Natalie’s Cakes, and that local men banded together to protect a Conoco station, whose white owner had been a friend to and employed many of them. It is also reassuring to read that members of the St. Louis Tea Party are working on ways to effectively assist residents and business owners, and that volunteers from the Oath Keepers are volunteering to guard Ferguson businesses. At a guess many of the go-fund-me contributors, Tea Partiers and Oath Keepers willing to weigh in are decidedly white, which would or should argue against the cause for wide-spread white racism in America, if we had an intellectual or a news-reporting establishment with any brains, nerve, or sense of independent inquiry. We might be safe from race-war and racially-motivated death for a little while longer, not that the establishment intellectuals can take any credit for this.

It is curious that the agitation in the wake of Michael Brown’s death is even more frantically focused than that following after Trayvon Martin. There is no doubt that it is being deliberately fomented, and finding a ready audience in the community of the professionally offended, which slightly overlaps that of the black community. I have seen a couple of different reasons suggested for this – one of them being that an all-out balls-to-the-wall race war would be to the advantage of many, not least to this Administration – but the most compelling to me is that Barack H. Obama was presented to the black community as all that and a bag-o-chips, the light-bringer, the wonder-worker, the anointed one, the champion of the racially-oppressed, who would make everything better. Six years later, it’s clear that he has made things worse, and most especially for the black community which turned out for him, heart and soul and votes. All this agitation is a kind of massive psychological displacement: they can’t blame themselves for being fool enough to believe the promises of a sweet-talking charlatan telling them everything they wanted to hear, or blame him because he is (sort of) black and is The First Black President-Evah! The anger has to go someplace. And so it goes to Ferguson. Discuss.

(Cross-posted at www.chicagoboyz.net

Feminists – Doing it Wrong

I have to say this about the sh*tstorm over what is being irreverently termed shirtgate – it’s the final and ultimate straw in moving me away from ever calling myself a feminist again … at least, not in mixed company. Ah, well – a pity that the term has been so debased in the last few decades. Much as the memory of very real repression and denial of rights in the persons-of-color/African-American/Black community has been diminished, overlaid, generally abused and waved like a bloody shirt by cynical operators (to the detriment of the real-life community of color/African-American/Black-whatever they wish to be called this decade), so has the very real struggle for substantive legal, economic, economic and social rights for women also been debased and trivialized. Just as the current so-called champions of civil rights seem to use the concept as an all-purpose cover for deflecting any useful discussion of the impact of welfare, the trivialization of marriage, and glorification of the thug-life-style in the persons-of-color/African-American/Black community, the professional and very loud capital F-feminists seem to prefer a theatrical gesture over any substantial discussion of the real needs and concerns – and even the careers of ordinary women. Women whom it must be said, are usually capable, confident, tough, and love the men in their lives – fathers, brothers, husbands and sons.

The self-elected spokeswomen for feminism certainly do seem to pop up over and over again – they must take up a good few cards in the average main-stream media reporter’s Golden Rolodex. If it’s to do with reproductive rights, the harpies of professional feminism will be there, center stage and hogging the microphone. For a particular palette of similar issues, they will also be there, likely wearing vagina costumes, tampon earrings, and screeching about the patriarchy. It appears that capital-letter Feminism is now an excuse to be a man-hating, vengeful, and easily-provoked harpy. They also seem to have a nice line in bullying those – male and female alike – who do not agree with them in every jot and tittle. For the nastiest and most prolonged episode of this in recent history, I give you Sarah Palin; a woman of intelligence and considerable political skill (acquired without marrying into a political family or being the spawn of one), monstered enthusiastically by the professional feminists, and some whom I had originally thought were above that kind of doctrinaire intellectual snobbery. (Yes, looking at you, Peggy Noonan.)

In this most recent case, the target of the professional feminists has been a youngish scientist who was part of a team responsible for landing a probe on a moving comet. This has been compared to a sharpshooter with a perch in a helicopter flying over New York aiming at and hitting a humming-bird who will be hovering over a particular flower five minutes from now in Wyoming. And the big takeaway which the professional harpy feminists took away from it? A blogger/writer at the Atlantic, one Rose Eveleth (whom I have never heard of before this; yay, chica, you’ve made yourself famous!) took one look at this stupendous achievement and decided to cry ‘sexism’ over the shirt that the scientist was wearing in televised interviews. An ‘aloha’ style short-sleeved shirt made from fabric with images of busty and space-blaster-armed women, taken from old science fiction illustrations. Apparently in Ms Eveleth’s mind, such images are harmful to women, and make them feel unwelcome in STEM fields. Of course, everyone is entitled to their own opinion – and mine is that having a public conniption-fit over a shirt with old pop science-fiction images of women on it is too Victorian for words. This mentality is akin to the legendary delicacy of putting drawers on piano legs. Frankly, my dear – if you can’t handle such horrid sights, you might be better off keeping yourself housebound, laying on a fainting-couch with a perfume-drenched hankie over your fevered brow, rather than pursuing a career in science, technology, engineering or medicine.

Strong and confident women are not threatened by the sight of such a shirt, or much else, come to think on it. Which reminds me of a small incident very early in my own career in the military; when a new bulletin board went up in the AFRTS breakroom of the station at FEN-Misawa, and some of the guys threatened to post pinups of scantily-clad women on it. My friend Marsh and I did not faint dead away, or break into tears, or threaten to sic the social actions office on them. Nothing of the sort; we simply got a copy of Playgirl, removed the male pinup from it, applied a discrete paper fig-leaf to the page, and added it to the bulletin board. Whereupon one of our male NCO colleagues (balding and a titch on the heavy side) looked at it and said, “What’s he got that I haven’t got?” and I said, “More hair and about fifty pounds less.”

And then we all laughed, and were friends, and all the pinups came down. That, young Rose, is how it is done by real women in the real world – not by coercing an apology through a hash-tag storm and public demonstrations of irrelevant outrage.

Arrived!

The first definitive day of fall/winter has arrived, and never been more welcome than here in South Texas. It has actually been cool to chill … and even more welcome … rain. It’s been raining more or less constantly since about 9 PM last night; from sprinkles to drips, to heavy downpours and back to sprinkles and drips again. I presume that the plants in my garden are reveling in the abundant moisture, after a good few weeks – or maybe it has been months – of a little grudging moisture alternating with day after day of bone-dry. The arrival of this happy moisture and chill coincides with a good few days of us not having to go anywhere, after a solid week of long-distance trips to Killeen in one direction and Brownsville in another. And I have a book project to work on for a Watercress client, another (a reprint of an existing book) to shove out the door as soon as possible, a third waiting for the client to review and for me to request the art-work for – all so that I can clear the decks for yet another client, the one with an extensive autobiography with lots and lots of pictures to incorporate … Alice would have been so happy to know of this project, and of the other potentially big one, coming up. (Also involving a lot of pictures and a complicated lay-out and a generous budget.) All the better that I have this week and most of next week to concentrate on it all.

The kitchen as it stands - a black hole of clutter

The kitchen as it stands – a black hole of clutter


My daughter is adamant about using some of the profits from the big projects to renovate the kitchen. Not in any way complicated, or involving extensive rebuilding, but incorporating more efficient cabinets and a nicer countertip. The kitchen in the house is relatively tiny – about 9 feet by 9 and U-shaped – and it has always annoyed us that the two corners on either side of the stove are wasted space. The original builder just whanged in some relatively narrow rectangular cabinets at right angles to each other, slapped some cheap laminate countertop over the null space in the corners and called it a day. Everything in the kitchen was basic contractor grade stuff, and brought into the development by the box-car load, and now it is more than twenty years old. I repainted the doors, and the fronts of the cabinets more than ten years ago, which made it look at least OK, but it didn’t help the basic bad layout any. So – researching means of upgrading to something more useful and visually attractive, and for a fairly reasonable price, as these things go. I am working on that as well, running out to the kitchen with the tape measure every now and again, to see exactly how far (to the half-inch) the windows, the pantry door and the plumbing stack are from everything else.
We are tending towards some elements from Ikea – like an archaic looking range hood, and a country sink – and maybe some of their cabinets or countertops. I think that assembling such cabinets is within our abilities, and hiring some local handymen who have redone kitchens in the neighborhood is within the realm of possibility. Or buying some quality cabinets already assembled from an outfit like Kitchen Resources Direct may also be doable. It’s not like we’ll be needing a whole lot of them anyway. Get the knobs and drawer pulls from a local place we know, organize the countertops from one of the big-box stores which has a nice selection. We did consider going to them for the whole thing, because of the veteran discount, but we made the mistake of showing up and asking for a consult after walking the dogs and working a bit in the garden, and I think the consultant took one look at us and figured that we weren’t a good prospect at all. The lack of enthusiasm and interest was thick enough to cut into slabs, even though we had a whole raft of necessary measurements. Ah well – cut-rate place here we come.