Plaza Mayor

The present-day Plaza Mayor, with San Fernando Cathedral

The present-day Plaza Mayor, with San Fernando Cathedral


That is what they were called in towns and cities in Spain – the main plaza or town square, which served as the center of civic life, around which were ranged the important civic buildings, the biggest church; this the regular market place, the assembly area for every kind of public spectacle imaginable over the centuries. Every plaza mayor in every Spanish town is alike and yet different; different in size and shape, and in the confirmation of the buildings around it. Some are bare and paved in cobbles, and some have trees and gardens in them now. This custom carried over into the New World, and San Antonio is no exception. The town as originally laid out early in the 18th century was more or less in the shape of a cross, outlined by four intersecting streets, incorporating a large square with the church (later cathedral) of San Fernando in the center of it. This essentially split the plaza into equal halves – Main and Military plazas. The oldest streets in town – Soledad and Lasoya, Navarro, Dolorosa and the road which led out past the mission across the river, the Alameda – now East Commerce – are the heart of historic San Antonio. Well, that and the old mission, out at the then-edge of town and over a loop of the San Antonio River. The house belonging to the commander of the Spanish presidio’s garrison – which may have been the largest of the early dwellings – occupied part of the western boundary of Military Plaza. Late in the 19th century, San Antonio’s city hall would take up much of the center, where once soldiers had drilled, and General Lopez de Santa Anna’s soldiers had bivouacked. The Bexar county courthouse would take up another side of Main Plaza – but not until the Plaza had been the center of life for San Antonio de Bexar for more than a century.

It is a curiously restful place, these days, considering that invading and resident armies fought over San Antonio and around the Plaza several times. A momentous peace treaty between the residents of Spanish Texas and the eastern Apache was marked by a formal (and one assumes eventually rather raucous) ceremony in the Plaza involving the ritual burial of weapons of war … including a live horse, while the Apaches and the Bexarenos danced in celebratory circles. The catastrophic failure of 1842 peace negotiations with the Comanche at the Council House – a civic building on the Plaza set aside for that sort of thing – led to a running bloody fight in the streets and gardens of San Antonio and more than three decades of bitter warfare with the Comanche. The first stagecoach to arrive from the east stopped in the Plaza – the first commercial hotel was there. At the very beginning of the Civil War, according to some stories, a senior U.S. Army officer commanding the Department of Texas was unceremoniously hustled from his residence on the Plaza by Confederate sympathizers, taken to the edge of town and told in no uncertain terms to leave at once. As the story has it, the officer had voiced it as his opinion that assisting in a Texas withdrawal from the Union would betray the principles of the Founding Fathers. In a private letter, the officer had condemned the so-called Cotton States for a selfish and dictatorial bearing, and for wanting to re-establish the commerce in slaves from Africa. Kidnapped or not, Colonel Robert E. Lee went to spend some quiet quality time at the cavalry post at Fort Mason, before returning back East and withdrawing his services from the U.S. Army upon the secession of his home state of Virginia from the Union.

Everything happening in San Antonio until the arrival of the railway tended to happen in the Plaza Mayor; a lively and eccentric community split into three different ethnicities by the mid-19th century, as Frederick Law Olmsted realized during his visit to Texas in the mid-1850s.
One of the local peculiarities which Olmsted and other visitors noted were the numbers of open-air restaurants – moveable feasts in various public squares, beginning with the most august of them – the ancient Military Plaza – local cooks, most but not all Hispanic – set up tables and benches, and cook-kettles full of chili simmering over mesquite-wood fires. Local musicians played – often hired by the proprietresses to entice patrons … as if the taste of peppery meat and bean stew for hungry patrons wasn’t enough. The picturesque spectacle of the ‘Chili Queens’ tables – as they would come to be known – enchanted locals and travelers well into the 20th century. Imagine – good, simple – and tasty food – all eaten in the open air. The after-sundown breeze rustles the leaves of the trees fringing the swift-flowing San Antonio River, oil and kerosene lanterns flicker, the musicians play, while stars sparkle in the sky overhead and the evening business of certain establishments spill out into the relative cool of a South Texas evening …yes – that would be a draw, especially to people accustomed to cooler and less highly-spiced localities. The popularity of things like canned chili and specialty chili seasonings came about when an enterprising cook and owner of a saloon and beer garden in New Braunfels – Willie Gebhardt – developed a process for making and packaging a dried seasoning powder – chili powder. Up until then, the chili had been a local and seasonal specialty, but Gebhardt’s process, which preserved the flavor of the chili peppers, and which he sold himself from the back of a wagon, grew into a million-dollar business and inadvertently popularized Mexican food … including chili … when his company published a small cookbook instructing cooks who were unfamiliar with Tex-Mex cuisine in how to use his product.
From civic architecture – to chili powder; how eccentric is that?

Harbingers

I’ve been surfing my usual internet hangouts over the last week or so – in between working on various editing, formatting and sales projects for the Tiny Publishing Bidness – so although I did surf, and read and observe reports on a number of different and rather disturbing events – I didn’t have time to write anything about them until after I had finished the biggest of the current projects on my plate.

The biggest of them was the new-old range war of the Bundy ranch. I suppose that technically speaking, the Fed Gov had some small shreds of technical justification in demanding grazing fees … but the longer one looked at the whole of L’affaire Bundy, the worse it looked … which is doubtless why the Fed Gov backed down. A tactical retreat, of course; The optics of a shoot-out between the minions of the Fed Gov and the various Bundy supporters would not have been good, for Harry Reid and his clan and friends most of all, although they may eventually act – seeing that they have a position which will be at risk by tolerating defiance.

First it was state land, then it was Fed Gov property, and all this supposed to be for the benefit of desert tortoises? Dad did an early life study of the California desert tortoise, back in the day. Tough little critters, and seemingly in no particular danger of extinction in the Mojave, unless and until they paved over the desert with solar panels, which was why Dad was tasked with the research. (He went out into the desert near Needles, California, every six months for a number of years, rounded up the randomly-assorted selection of 50 tortoises fitted with radio-transmitter devices, and hauled them into a veterinarian’s office for an x-ray, and for other examinations. No, I don’t know of anything else that Dad discovered, peculiar to the tortoises, only that they seemed pretty easy-going about the whole process…)
Say, the Bundy family has been running cattle on that range since the late 19th century, and now they are the last ranch family standing in that part of the world? Hmm, says the observer, upon seeing a sudden interest by the political powers that be in otherwise pretty unspectacular desert property owned by someone else. This plot was played for laughs in Blazing Saddles – I guess this time around, Harry Reid is doing the Hedley Lamar part. A bit ago, one of the regular commenters, (Subotai Bahadur, if memory serves or perhaps it was Wretchard at Belmont Club), speculated that the cold civil war would turn hot in earnest at the point where a locally respectable, well-thought of and otherwise respectable good citizen was unjustly and viciously brutalized by the minions of the Fed Gov, or as in the case of the following – by a governmental body or several acting in collusion. As a note to L’affaire Bundy, a lot of people not living in flyover states, or in rural areas – have no idea of how heavy the hand of the BLM or the Forest Service lies upon those in the rural west. Living in Texas, I have little personal experience in this regard, since by a historical twist of good fortune, most of Texas is privately owned. One does hear stories, though. Do not underestimate the resentment felt by residents of western states toward representatives of the Fed Gov when it comes to the BLM or the Forest Service. There is a pile of dry tinder there, well-soaked in gasoline, only wanting a lit match or two.

The second local story of which I speak – is the case of a family in Colorado who own – for now – a tiny cabin, a little island of private property within the boundary of a national park. The Forest Service appears to be colluding with the local county to confiscate the property, with the stated purpose of making the park all pristine, by means of eminent domain. No, this park is the preserve of the general public who don’t have any existing property rights, so for the good of all, the property of the one must be confiscated. This will be another stick of tinder for the National Forest Service, by the way.

The third instance is a curious one, of a reclusive collector of a wide variety of artifacts in a little out of the way neighborhood in Rush County, Indiana. Suddenly the FBI is descending on a modest house and supposedly confiscating certain items for examination … and what? The owner appears to be a wholly respectable collector who acquired the items legally, through a long career as a missionary and as an archeological enthusiast? What gives, really? The few news stories concerting the matter are unrevealing when it comes to the question of – what brought this on? Why now? And why is the elderly owner being treated as if he is an international art thief with millions of dollars in looted Nazi art stashed in a warehouse somewhere? And would the same consideration be given to a multimillionaire with a private gallery and a house in the Hamptons? Especially if he were a generous contributor to acceptable Dem Party political causes? Yes, one really does wonder.

The final story regards the recent dismaying policy of the IRS to scoop up tax refund monies from descendants of people who – mirable dictu – are found to owe money to the Fed Gov. Usually, according to this story in the Washington Post (who astonishingly, now appear to be committing acts of journalism) the debts were incurred by long-deceased parents and grandparents, and the legal means established for going after such long-time debts was in an obscure provision of a farm bill passed some years ago. Well, as Speaker Pelosi once so airily remarked, we would have to pass the bill to find out what was in it. This case is curiously illustrative.
I take away from all this a somewhat more discouraging insight – that the various offices of the Fed Gov now seem to see themselves as above the original intent of the law.
Which would be worrying enough; but the underlying tendency that I sense in reviewing all this is a bit more worrying, as a property-owner and one with the odd bit of original art and small artifacts collected in legitimate sale from distant lands, as well as having parents and grandparents who might in the distant past have been briefly in debt to the Fed Gov. Extrapolating from these separate stories, one can’t help coming to the conclusion that if you have something in the way of real property (even just as paltry a thing as an income tax return) and the Fed Gov has a reason for wanting it – they will come and get it.
If such is the case, we are not citizens any longer – but sheep to be sheared whenever the Fed Gov needs a few more pennies. In which case, the Fed Gov sees their prime duty as mulcting the citizens of what items of value they possess, by fair means or foul (usually foul and by the misuse of the laws they choose to enforce), in order to pay for the towering edifice of the Fed Gov as we know it, or to pay off those to whom they owe favors. Discuss.

(cross-posted at Chicagoboyz.net)

You Know, I Always Wondered…

… about the egregious Al Sharpton, whom I will not dignify with the title of reverend, first because there is no record of the fat, illiterate, race-baiting rabble-rouser ever having attended a seminary of any sort, and secondly because … oh, good lord, just look at those old pictures of him from the 1970s and 80s; jheri-curled, velour track suit and gold pendant the size of a man-hole cover. People, trust me when I tell you that I require a smidge more dignity from those who hold churchly office in any denomination, a standard from which Al Sharpton fell so far that he would need a bucket-truck with a three-story-tall extension even to get close.

Yes, in the interests of keeping abreast of news events in the pre-internet days, your Dear Author bought or subscribed to a great many print publications, to the point where on days when bulk mail came in to the military post office, I practically had to use a crow-bar to extract them all from my post-box. One of the regular reads – gotten from the Stars & Stripes bookstore, since I didn’t particularly feel the need for a subscription – was The Village Voice. So – yes, I had heard of the unsavory Mr. Sharpton some years before he burst upon the wider world of New York with the Tawana Brawley affair in the late 1980s.

Subsequently, I always wondered why the wretched little man seemed to be legally untouchable, even in spite of being ordered to pay out in the case of the Pagones defamation suit. The Crown Heights riots, the Freddy’s Fashion Mart fire – all of that had Al Sharpton’s smeary fingerprints all over them … and yet … he seemed to talk away always, unscathed by any meaningful payback. Falsely shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theater and setting off a panic which kills people – that would be actionable, surely?

And yet, nothing ever happened to the so-called reverend; he appeared to thrive as a particularly scummy and public race-baiter – and indeed, even to recent times, ascending to a presumably well-paid position at a major broadcast television channel. Which again – this really gives one cause for wonder, seeing as that the egregious Sharpton, who appears to have lost some weight and refined his sartorial taste – has gone vaulting up into higher and higher levels of visibility and social authority. Still – why?

Part of the answer, according to this story, courtesy of the Daily Mail, is that Al Sharpton was an FBI snitch. (Why again, are so many stories of this kind appear on a publication like the Daily Mail, which seems to have semi-literate high school students write their headlines, cut-lines and badly re-write stories lifted from other places? Well, at least they do, which is more than what can be said of our very own dear national media.) And if you believe he volunteered to be a snitch with regard to the FBI investigating two prominent Mafia families out of the goodness of his heart and as a fine upstanding citizen with a deep concern for the welfare of his community … then bless your heart and I have some fine Nevada swampland that I’d like to sell you. I’ll throw in a small bridge in Brooklyn, just because I am a good upright citizen myself.

No, Al got leaned on by the Fibbies, and I hope I live long enough to read in the headlines exactly what they held over his head and threatened to charge him with to ensure his cooperation. I’ll break out a $20 bottle of champagne or maybe a fine Fredericksburg Winery Fredericksburg and Northern vintage red Zinfandel and drink a toast. Al was a valued informant, and therefore Teflon in his subsequent career. Interesting also that it is revealed now – and I also wonder if there is some FBI agent a couple of weeks from retiring with a good pension who decided to square things by slipping the word to The Smoking Gun. Discuss.
(Cross-posted at chicagoboyz.net.)

The New McCarthyites

Seriously, I am wondering how on earth the politically correct of this blessed nation manage to keep a straight face and their heads from exploding; ritually demanding sympathy for the so-called victims of the 1950s black-list of various Hollywoodians of distinctly Communist sympathies, while in this present century demanding that those who are not vociferously laudatory with regard to same-sex marriage be cast into the outer darkness. Not that I can specifically put a finger and a link to a person or body doing exactly that – but it is noted for the record that same kind of so-called liberal, generous and tolerant thinker who routinely condemn the antics of Joe McCarthy with regard to Communist infiltration half a century and more ago, is in these degraded days prepared to drag those who decline to enthusiastically support same-sex marriage to the stake, the courts, or the unemployment line. The irony abounds … and is likely to achieve such a density as to drop it all the way to the core of the earth and out the other side.

So – in this last week, the “Gaystapo” managed to get the CEO of Mozilla/Firefox resign, on the grounds of having contributed to a political cause defining the establishment of marriage as consisting of a man and a woman; husband and wife, one each, for the propagation and nurturing of the next generation. In the eyes of the militantly tolerant, this is enough to qualify one for a nomination as the Worst Person in the World, and deserving of being cast out of the human race, if not out of polite company. This is kind of like throwing Pablo Picasso out of the art department because he was such a toad with women. Which Picasso was, arguably; he was also one of the great artists of the 20th century, or at least most everyone claims now that he was. Being a total cad with the ladies was not against the law, although at the rate things are going these days, it very well soon may be. So it doesn’t matter a lick to the militantly tolerant that Brendan Eich, the founder of the company, and the inventor of Javascript, exercised his personal beliefs with his own pocketbook and categorically refused to do penance for it. It’s clear – or it should be to the dimmest of bulbs by now: express the wrong opinions with regard to gay marriage, global warming, and fiscal responsibility on the part of the government … and the militantly tolerant are on your case.

How much longer this can go on is anyone’s guess – but I am definitely loosing patience with the hysterical demonization of opinions counter to the current politically-correct ones. I am also pretty certain that a lot of other people who have been paying attention are loosing patience, also – just look at what happened with Chick-fil-A, and then Duck Dynasty, over the expression of personal sentiments with regard to marriage. Chick-fil-A must have had the best week ever, they were boycotted so thoroughly, and the Robertsons pretty well won their slugging match over having Phil Robertson continue on the show. I seriously don’t envy anyone employed this week at Mozilla. I dumped Firefox as the alternate browser on my computer and so did my daughter on hers. A small thing, admittedly, like a pinprick to an elephant, but I am fairly certain the pin-pricks accumulate.

(Cross-posted at Chicagoboyz.com)

Iztvestia and Pravda

Ah, yes – The News and The Truth, although in the bitter Soviet-era saying; there was no news in one, and no truth in the other. Our own very dear mainstream news establishments have not quite descended to that naked degree of lack of news and truth, but bless their hearts, they are trying, and at the current rate of progress, may achieve the ultimate goal of being a slavish organ of the state sometime around the end of this year, or possibly in time for the next presidential election. That Piers Morgan was bounced from whichever one of the alphabet networks that was misguided enough to assume that just because he had a British accent that he was intelligent and perceptive is cause enough to hope that a sense of reality might be in the cards – but that Great Britain won’t take his supercilious Limey ass back again doesn’t give cause for hope. (Note to the egregious Mr. Morgan – yes, in Texas we like big guns and we cannot lie… and we can even use them, in defense of our home and hearth.)

Now and again there are heartwarming stories of little old ladies who – upon being threatened by some scum-bag low-life attempting forcible entry into their humble abode – have given fair warning, and drilled the miscreant through the front door, dropping him on the doormat, dead as a doornail. This does not excite any more comment among law officials than subdued congratulations for having taken out the trash – unlike England, that blessed green jewel, set in a silver sea, where lately this kind of citizen resistance to criminal depredation draws frowns and prison sentences upon the good citizen. The larcenous scumbags are apparently a protected species, to be coddled and cherished; and anyone objecting forcefully to being depredated upon by them is landed upon with the full force of the law and the shrill disapproval of the intellectual and the ruling classes. Let it be here noted that I am so very glad that three of my four grandparents decamped from the Isle of the Blessed early in the 20th century, and that the Air Force fortuitously deposited me in Texas, which seems at the beginning of the 21st century to be emerging as the last, best hope for a middle class-based, free market economy and constitutional democracy … which is kind of ironic, considering the degree of free-wheeling political corruption in certain Texas counties back in the day. But I digress…

Back to truth and news, then; from a couple of different sources, the appearance of Ms. Valerie Jarrett, the President’s closest and most trusted advisor – his office wife, as it were – on a certain television program oriented towards women, not just urging the audience to sign up for Obama-care, but asking the producers of TV shows to include an Obama-care friendly plot-line … Damn. Well, at least they are being out in the open about it. Time was, when the Hollywood Reds had the decency to be subtle, and not advertise their allegiance to the Party line … although when called upon it, they did kick and scream mightily.

So, here we are – the current administration is nakedly, openly calling upon the purveyors of the entertainment to flack for Obamacare via popular entertainment. It’s anyone’s guess as to how this will work out; everything from a throw-away line of dialog to a whole Very Special Episode dedicated to a government initiative that is shaping up to be an even bigger and more unpopular disaster than Prohibition. Because this is how it is going to work out at my house – given that we’ve bagged cable and now to to Hulu, Amazon Prime and Acorn for our television watching – we’ll immediately drop any consideration of watching any scripted programs that comply with the desires of the current administration in this regard. Last week, it seems that Rachael Ray went all sobby and ostentatiously grateful for Obamacare, which moved me quietly to not only never, ever buy any of her cookbooks, pet food or kitchen implements again, but also to skip any of her recipes available through internet searches. There will be a cost paid, for any highly-visible flacking with regard to Obamacare – a cost which will, I hope, become painful very, very soon.

On Ice

Just this week and thanks to gaining a new book-publishing client, I was able to complete the purchase of a new refrigerator-freezer. Oh, the old one was staggering along OK, still keeping the refrigerated foods cold and the frozen food frozen … but there were so many dissatisfactions with it, including the fact that it had such deep shelves that in cleaning it out we discovered an embarrassingly large number of jars of condiments whose best-if-sold-by-date were well into the previous decade … not to mention a couple of Rubbermaid containers with leftovers in them that we had quite forgotten about. Well, out of sight, out of mind, as the saying goes. Truly, I don’t like to waste leftovers, but in this case, we had a good clean-out and as of now are resolved to do better, cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die. The new and larger refrigerator-freezer has relatively shallow and many adjustable shelves in its various compartments; so that we dearly hope that the buried-at-the-back-of-a-deep-shelf-and-totally-forgotten-about syndrome will be banished entirely.

Anyway – enough of my failings as a thrifty housekeeper; the thing that I was marveling on this afternoon was that the new refrigerator-freezer has an automatic ice-maker. Better than that – an automatic ice-maker and ice-water dispenser in the door, and a small light which winks on when depressing the lever which administers ice (in cubes or crushed) and ice-water and then gradually dims once released. And if all that is a small luxury compared to the previous refrigerator-freezer, it is a huge luxury compared to the electric ice-box that made my Granny Jessie’s work and food-storage capabilities somewhat lighter than those of her own mother. It’s monumental, even – and no one thinks anything of it today, unless the electricity goes off.
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Ice, Ice Baby

So, we finally got the new refrigerator-freezer delivered today. In Late January, when the washing machine turned up it’s toes, metaphorically speaking, and went to join the appliance choir eternal, I had to go straight out and buy a new one … from my favorite purveyor of cut-rate quality appliances, the local scratch ‘n’dent store. This enterprise does a thriving business in slightly dinged new appliances, floor models, returned merchandise or rehabbed second-hand ones. I had bought the original refrigerator-freezer, the washer and dryer new for the house in 1995; just your basic economy Whirlpool models from the BX, and so everyone tells me that almost twenty years is darned good for such appliances, and that the new ones are much more energy efficient. So much more efficient that as a matter of fact, CPS offers a rebate for replacing a refrigerator-freezer manufactured before 2001 with an energy efficient model.

Anyway the upshot if it all is that Blondie noticed the rather nice side-by-side refrigerator-freezers on display at Scratch ‘n’ Dent when we were shopping for the washing machine. Truth to tell, the old one was giving honest cause for concern, even though it still kept the cold stuff cold and the frozen stuff well-frozen. The supports for the two crisper drawers had fallen apart ages ago, the molded shelves in the door were beginning to develop hairline cracks at certain stress points, the pebbled finish on the outside collected tiny lines of grime that were impossible to clean thoroughly – and being just the average standard 19-cubic-foot sized model meant that stuff gravitated to the back of deep shelves, not to be seen again for months. The side-by-side model was slightly taller, and all the shelves, to include those in the doors much shallower. Stuff in it could be easily seen, in other words. Most of the shelves slid out, and there were three drawers. It was just about the size to fit in the space designated in the kitchen. So … no, I didn’t need my arm twisted very much.

What it looks like now!

What it looks like now!

Because there was also the matter of the automatic ice-maker and the dispenser of ice and drinking water in the door; as Texas is hot enough in the summer to historically warrant being compared unfavorably to Hell, ice water and ice are highly-valued. I had meant to buy the automatic ice-maker kit for the original refrigerator, but never got around to doing so before that model became a back-number. We rather envied those of our friends who did have the jazzy, side-by-side models with the ice and water dispenser … and so, with the payments from several clients, I was able to put the gorgeous side-by-side model on layaway. When I went to Scratch ‘n’ Dent to make payments, Blondie would go along to admire it, murmuring, “Soon, soon, my pretty!” until they moved it to the back area with the ‘Sold’ merchandise.

So, they delivered and assembled it to day, two guys horsing it through the sliding door on the patio – and very kindly moved the old one out to the patio, where the recycling contractor will come for it at the end of the week. We had spent some hours this morning, taking most everything out of the old unit … quite a lot got pitched, especially some jars of condiments with best-if-used-by dates in the last decade. (Damn, that jar of black bean sauce was from 2008?) Hereby also resolved, that we use leftovers within four days, or if not, label and freeze it. Blondie spent an hour or so, reattaching all the magnets, and cartoons and stuff to the side of the new one and I don’t think she was muttering, “My Precious, my Precious!” But she might have been …

The magnet and clipping collection - confined now to the side.

The magnet and clipping collection – confined now to the side.


Anyway, we have to let the icemaker cycle through and throw away the first batch, but the water is fit to drink now, and the contents are beautifully organized and visible. It does take up a bit more space, top to bottom and side to side, but on the whole we are quite pleased with what is essentially a big-money purchase not driven by absolute necessity.

I Was Always Told …

Not to speak ill of the dead. But in the case of Fred Phelps, of the loathsome Westwood Baptist Church (which actually had no connection whatsoever with the formal Baptist church establishment save the name, and that was doubtless a bit of self-serving publicity. I’d lay any amount of money that the regular Baptists would have liked to have paid a pretty penny to make him promise to call his nasty little sect anything but Baptist … where was I? Oh, back to the convoluted sentence…) I could be tempted to make an exception.

God is infinitely merciful, and He is the ultimate judge, so I’ll leave it to Him to decide if Fred Phelps should be eternally deep-fried like a basket of French fries in the everlasting boiling lake of Hell … but I would argue that he richly deserves that fate for several reasons: One – he and his loathsome little sect coldly and deliberately used the pain and grief of other people. This was either to torment them for their own micro-sectarian jollies, as a means of getting in front of the TV cameras – or provoking outraged mourners into laying violent hands upon their disgusting and manipulative persons for the purposes of extorting money out of them by means of a lawsuit. All three reasons are sufficiently loathsome, IMHO, to justify hellfire. This judgment is not mine to make. It was not theirs, either, but this realization didn’t seem to instill any degree of Christian humility in the members of the cult.

Two – their actions noted in the above paragraph certainly did not reflect any credit on the Protestant denominations, or on American Christians, generally. Likely, they served to drive ordinary people away from an understanding of God and his many mansions.

On the other hand, I am told that Fred Phelps was a long-time Democrat party activist. So he can and probably will go on voting. There is life after death, you know.

Airplane, Airplane, Who’s Got the Airplane?

I speak, of course, of the missing Malaysia Airlines Boing 777, which took off last week from Kuala Lumpur and came to earth … or sea – we know not where. The whole saga just gets weirder and weirder as reported. Possible terrorists? Piracy and ransom? Complicity of the flight crew? Transponders turned off, and flying in a zig-zaggy pattern, and then vanishing entirely? There’s a new angle almost every day or so. Increasingly those who wonder about such things are wondering if those who do know or suspect with good reason what really happened to Flight MH370 are keeping their mouths shut as well. Yes – the oceans are wide and deep, and an airplane – even a Boeing 777 – is large and full of stuff, and people.

Wherever it came down, on land or on sea and if catastrophically … well, searchers usually have found something by now, especially by following along the original flight path. But MH370 went rogue, although why, how, where and at the hands of whom is a puzzle most extraordinary – in the words of Hercule Poirot. I’ll make no pretense of being an expert in investigating missing aircraft, but I only remember one other such case of a large aircraft vanishing so thoroughly and completely in the last decade or so. (It was in Africa, under weird circumstances, flight crew of three and … no one knows what happened to it after it took off.)

Usually, three days max, and somewhere along the expected flight path – the searchers find what’s left of the aircraft, and begin to make an educated guess at what happened, even if all there is to go on at first are some floating seat cushions and a fuel slick. But this, as I say, is just weird. Everything that is reported – and what is reported is sketchy, contradictory and filtered through the news media of several different countries – only adds to the weirdness. Speculation runs all the way through the possible, the probable to the ‘thriller-novel-plot’ and into the frankly extraordinary. But the thing is that once you have seen a plot to hijack four passenger airliners and crash them into tall buildings get carried out, one knows that what was once ‘thriller-novel-plot’ and conspiracy website fodder may very well turn up among tomorrows’ headlines.

Taking a Break – Saurkraut

The raw ingredients

The raw ingredients

I never ate sauerkraut, growing up. Why Mom never had a go at making it is a mystery: the basic ingredients are cheap and plentiful, the process simple and the results tasty. Likely this was because our own ethnic background is English and Scots-Irish; sauerkraut is just not one of those things, even if cabbage is a sturdy green vegetable and well-adapted to the frozen northern hemispheres. But it is a mainstay in peasant cooking in Germany, Eastern Europe and Russia generally. Even as far as Korea, where they make a high-octane version spiced with garlic and hot red peppers known as kimchi. Plain ordinary sauerkraut is the simple to make at home; just thinly-sliced fresh cabbage and Ball pickling salt.

This week at the Container Store I bought a very large, 5-liter glass lidded glass jar, as I have long considered making it in a large batch. An acquaintance of ours in Fredericksburg picked up an old-fashioned 5 gallon crock in an antique store, which would make enough sauerkraut for an army. Back in the day it was customary to make it in bulk – the recipe I have calls for twenty pounds of cabbage, which works out to something like ten heads of cabbage. It takes about six weeks to ferment properly.
Sauerkraut - Wilty Cabbage
This is the process:

Trim off the outer leaves of four heads of cabbage, quarter the heads and cut out the solid core, then either thinly sliver the quarters, or cut into eights and run through a food processor fitted out with a slicing blade, or a mandolin – or even an old-fashioned sauerkraut slicer. I do have a huge metal mixing bowl made for restaurant use, so ten pounds of thinly shredded cabbage fills it very handily. Sprinkle over it 6 TBsp. of Ball canning salt, and knead it all gently together. The cabbage will give up some liquid – let it sit for a bit, and then pack into a large lidded jar or salt. If there isn’t enough brine from the cabbage to cover the leaves, then mix 1 ½ Tablespoons of salt in hot water, allow to cool, and top the jars with the additional brine. The cabbage has to be below the level of the brine.
Sauerkraut - Topped with whole leaf

One recipe book suggested cutting a whole cabbage leaf to size and putting it on the very top of the shreds, to keep them submerged. Either cover the top of the jar with cheesecloth cut to size – which I didn’t like to do, as it lets the brine evaporate. I’ve just closed the lid on the jar – and it is already busily fermenting away. Around the beginning of May, I’ll process it all through the hot-water canner – and there’ll be our sauerkraut for another season.

Just for Fun Linkage

iRSmRCg

How a European visualizes an American breakfast. Scroll down, the comments are hilarious.

(Found courtesy of Jeff Goldstein at Protein Wisdom. Yeah, I slum, now that I am apparently not permitted to post comments at PJ Media. Which I find to be pretty ****ing insulting, since apparently any doofus whose cousin-friend-sister’s-mother-in-law can make $70 an hour from home on their computer can post comments.)

A Simple Desultory Friday Afternoon Philippic

Thinks about going to a movie this weekend; ah-ha! Liam Neeson has a movie which opened last week; a white-knuckle thriller about a US air marshal on board a hijacked airliner.
Not my cuppa, actually – but Liam Neeson is one of the few actors around who can convincingly play an adult man doing a job … like an air marshal.

*Does internet search for reviews of Non-Stop. Look, I work for a living. Do you think I want to waste $10 on something I might not get a good two hours of enjoyment out of?*

Oh, dear. Making the villain the survivor of someone murdered by Islamic terrorists on 9/11, and a veteran, with a military member as a side-kick?

Really?

Look, if there had been a whole stream of movies from Hollywood since 9/11 where survivors and military were the good guys, maybe I might be inclined to cut some slack for an unexpected plot twist. Alas, this is Hollywood, behaving in the movie manner which we have come to expect of them since 9/11.
No sale. I hereby put on my magic Cassandra hat and predict that Non-Stop will sink at fly-over country box offices as if it had a fifty-pound lead weight strapped to it and dumped over the Mariana Trench.

As It Stands

It looks from here that Ukraine is pretty wells scrod; just as I figured a week or so ago before I caught the rag ends of Blondie’s flu. Sigh. Our “Beloved Leader” has pissed away seventy years of credibility, wasting that many decades worth of hard diplomatic work and military blood. Blondie points out that we have problems of our own, and practically no historical mission/connection to that part of eastern Europe, save for having historically given refuge to the wretched refuse of their teeming shore. All that I can lament is that once upon a time, all our president would have had to do was to look grim, issue a noncommittal-sounding statement to the effect that we were watching, and send an aircraft carrier group to lurk meaningfully in the eastern Med. But no – “Beloved Leader” hasn’t the credibility to make that kind of soft-voiced warning stick with anyone anymore.

It was almost a relief to have come down with some kind of winter crud; a cough, feverish, clogged head, mild earache. Blondie has had some of these elements for a week or so, I may have escaped with only three days of feeling sluggish, feverish and otherwise under the weather. It’s weeks like this that I am glad to not have to answer to an employer, and that my commute to the office is a short stagger across the bedroom-slash-office. Yesterday, the DBA certificates (the doing-business-as) came from the County Registrar; a pleasant surprise since I had only put in the applications for them in the last week of February. From the looks of the Bexar County website I had thought I’d be lucky to hear from them in a month, at least. But what they heck – they are really serious about being kind to small businesses in Texas. The DBAs were important because I needed them to open a business account with Frost Bank, so that my former partner could close the two accounts in her name – but in the meantime, I still needed to route payments through a bank account. So, that is one less thing keeping her tied to the business. All this week, Blondie is ferrying the publisher file copies of books and stashes of office supplies over to me. All this fills up the office corner rather thoroughly. I really ought to purge the printed files of completed projects … and come to think of it, donate a lot of the books that I have reviewed to a local book drive, especially the ones I have no interest in reading again.

The review project I am working on at present is becoming adept at Pinnacle Studio 18 video editing software. I asked for a copy as a Vine reviewer, and so … here I thought that having lingered meaningfully in the area of acts of video production being committed (ummm… some years ago) that I might be able to pick it up with some speed, right away. Nope, guessed wrong on that one. It’s a bit more complicated than Photoshop, and not particularly intuitive at all. Fortunately, I located the 300-page manual, and downloaded it. I’d like to be able to do simple, yet professional slide-shows, using collections of my pictures, and post them on the websites, but that project looks like it’s gonna take more time.

And that’s where it stands for Sgt. Mom, the first week of March, 2014. Could be better, but could be a lot worse.

TV Made the Old Way

Left to myself, I don’t think I would have watched Enlisted, but Blondie insisted, saying it was pretty darned funny a show, and had the right ‘feel’ for a comedy about the present-day military. Or at least – the US military as it was a couple of years ago. (What it is becoming as of this very moment, I have no idea.) So, I we watched the first three or four episodes together, and darned if she isn’t right. It’s a funny, rapid-fire comedy about three brothers at an Army post in Florida, which is affectionate, respectful and knowledgeable about military life … something that I swear hasn’t been seen on network television since Gomer Pyle, USMC or No Time for Sergeants, although perhaps Major Dad took some detours through that route.

Blame me for being jaded, as regards television; a couple of years ago I realized that most shows were just the same-old, same-old, served up one more time. Same old doctor-lawyer-cop triad, same old mystery twist I had seen twenty times before, same old cliché characters, dressed up with a few 21st century attire and attitudes…

All in all, Enlisted is well worth watching – and with luck, perhaps it will last more than just one season. There haven’t been any sudden nasty thwacks of conventional political correctness, so far. And we appreciate a nice little grace note at the end of every episode; service pictures of various kin of people having something to do with show production. Who would have thought it – people working on a TV show about the military life actually having a familial connection to the military? Seriously, that alone is worth a mention.

By the way, I am not the least interested in the Academy Awards. Although … I do have a mild academic interest in what is awarded Best Picture (purely for trivial knowledge points in future), and which actress wears the fugliest dress on the red carpet. Other than that – the last picture I went to see in a theater was the latest installation of The Hobbit, and the last before that was the first installation of the Hobbit.

PS – Enlisted does have a Facebook page. Go ahead and like. You know you want to.

5 PM Follies

Sigh – now that the story of this particularly classless young Army troop has gone all the way around the world, mayhap it’s time for me to weigh in. Look, young Private Torkwad – having to stand at attention at 5 PM, or whenever the official end of the duty day is marked with the lowering of the flag and the sounding of taps – is an established custom on military bases. If caught in the open at those times, stand and render, if in an automobile, pull over and sit at attention. This is the proper procedure, and those who are cognizant of it are pretty well hep to the timing of the day. No, there is no particular shame to neatly time your errands while around and about on post/base to be indoors at 5 sharp; most sharp young troops figure this out within a year or two of going on active duty.

(My daughter figured it out within days of her first overseas at Iwakuni, where the 5 PM retreat involved not just taps, but also playing the US national anthem, the Japanese national anthem, the US Navy anthem and the USMC Hymn. Twenty minutes at least of rigid attention, facing in the direction of the flagpole.) They also figure out that making a flagrant dash for the nearest door at the first notes is obvious, crass, and extremely disrespectful of custom and tradition. Being observed to do so will draw an attitude adjustment session, either impromptu and on the spot by any NCO or officer observing that action, or in your commander/NCOIC’s office later. But going to far as to post pictorial evidence of this on social media goes way beyond all that into unexplored depths of witless self-regard.

See here, Private Torkwad, let me explain it to you in simple terms. When you are in uniform, you are seen as a representative of the military. You are essentially on duty – even if it’s your own Facebook page. Even if you are not formally assigned to the post public affairs office, you still represent the military in the eyes of civilians. Your actions reflect upon the military no less than yourself … and believe me; you have outed yourself as immature, borderline illiterate, extremely self-centered, and appear to take more care of your makeup than your responsibilities as a member of the military. In the pre-social media era, no one would have been aware of this outside your immediate chain of command, and frankly, no one else would have much cared. You would have been reprimanded, and perhaps learned from the experience and gone on to become a stellar young troop and a good example of what the American armed forces can be. Probably just about everyone who ever put on a uniform has done things – reckless, potentially embarrassing and ill-considered things – which by the grace of god, were not a matter of public record.

Console yourself, Private Torkwad, with the knowledge that you are not the only troop ever to screw up. However, now that the matter of your particular screw-up has become of passing interest outside your immediate chain of command, the repercussions will be if not more severe, possibly more personally embarrassing. The internet, dear Private Torkwad, is forever, and everywhere, so do consider this, the next time you post a picture of yourself in uniform to the internet. My own advice to you in this matter is to say no more to anyone (especially in your chain of command) than, “It’s my fault, I screwed up, I’m sorry, and it won’t ever happen again.” Repeat as often as necessary. You’ll be a better troop for it.

Establishment Media

Yes, I know very well that that is; to be the in-house media functionary. Not quite the so-called ‘real’ news media, but to be an employee/technician/writer/personality for the in-house public affairs media of a large government element – the US Air Force. I wouldn’t be so bitchy as to call the various offices that I worked in – base Public Affairs, the stint with a couple of production detachments focusing on informational elements for various departments of government, and for the largest part of my service life as a low-level minion of the keeping-up-the-morale-of-our-overseas-stationed-troops – as an in-house claque … but yeah. I’m almost two decades retired from the game, so maybe I can. Yes, I – and all the other AFRTS, PA pukes and military videographers – we were hired, paid and maintained in order to further the public affair goals of the US military. No shame in admitting that. Good outfits in the main; paid only moderately well, and a smidgen of a retirement after all that – but good on the whole to work for, and any number of former military public affairs personnel have used the experience as a stepping-stone to careers in journalism, television, and politics, to name just a few fields.

The thing is – we all knew who we worked for; the military. And one of those lessons was that we should never reflect discredit on the military in our productions or in our actions in uniform. Fair go, being employees, being seen to was the institutional dirty laundry in public, and all. Public Affairs’ mission in the event of the dirty laundry coming out, was to spin so as to make it seem somewhat less dirty.

Given that, what is one to make of reports that the FCC was (and likely will again, only under a different name) intent on instituting something called a “Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs” … a survey of the news-reporting process? And not just at television and radio news organizations, but at newspapers as well. The stated intent as noted in the linked Wall Street Journal opinion piece, was to “ferret out information from television and radio broadcasters about “the process by which stories are selected” and how often stations cover “critical information needs,” along with “perceived station bias” and “perceived responsiveness to underserved populations.” Well, well, well … and on pain of not having their broadcast licenses renewed, radio and television newsrooms would have to justify the judgment of the managing editors to the FCC operatives in answering those and other questions. And if the FCC was not pleased? What then, oh wolves, especially if and when – and it would come to when, I am certain of that – covering a story which would reflect discredit on the federal government? How long would it be until every newsroom had an official minder?

I do not like to think that it would come to that, but there are things that I thought unlikely – such as the IRS being used against Republican and Tea Party activists – which have now come about. That both the major print and broadcast media outlets (with Fox News appearing to be the exception) are not up in arms about having government minders ‘overseeing’ news production is just one more indication of how close they are to becoming in-house media functionaries. Without uniforms, of course.

(Crossposted at Chicagoboyz.net)

Awesome New Kitchen Appliance

So, we have been having fun with a new kitchen gadget – nnnooo, not the kitchen gadget what is on the to-buy list at the Scratch and Dent Superstore (the awesome side-by-side refrigerator freezer which is on layaway and due to replace the 20-year old Whirlpool in the next month or so) – but the Food Saver vacuum device which came with half a roll of the plastic medium and the instruction manual. I spotted it at a neighborhood yard sale, barely used and for the unbelievably low, low price of $5 cash. The previous owner said that it worked – but not why she was letting it go, when it is so useful a gadget. This, when new went for a cool $170 or so. I had been considering purchasing a home vacuum-packing system now and again, but was always put off by the price. Yeah, I’m turning into my pinch-the-penny-until-a-booger-comes-out-Lincoln’s-nose grandmothers. Deal with it.

With the price of groceries going up and up, my daughter and I are running through all the means of saving here and there; to include copious use of coupons, buying on sale and freezing, and making a whole lot of different things from scratch. But the trouble with freezing is that even the sturdiest zip-lock freezer bags grow frost on the inside, and the stuff gets refrigerator-burn and generally unappetizing, and within a short time you forget what the heck it is and how long it has been in there anyway.

Insert the truism about the freezer being only interim storage for leftovers, before they are old enough to be thrown away.

But the Food-Saver eliminates the frost and freezer-burn, along with the air from the sealed package. We also discovered to our joy and surprise, that it makes the package of pre-made and pre-flavored hamburger patties or marinated chicken-leg quarters so much smaller that space-saving in the freezer is achieved almost instantly. Now we can buy the family-packs of chops or chicken-breasts or whatever, and package them in two-serving-sized bags which will not degrade the quality of the meat when frozen, or leave me trying to pry apart lumps of hard-frozen meat.

I’m already considering my options as far as purchasing a half or a quarter of a cow in one fell swoop … and we are racking our brains now, for the names of people we know who hunt. I’d like to have a bit of venison or wild boar in the freezer now and again, also.

Today…

I am a business owner. My partner and founder of Watercress Press has always intended that I should take over the business eventually … and as of today, the papers have been signed. Oh, there are a couple of more things to be sorted out, and essentially I have been the active partner for more than a year … but here I start on the next big part of my life, as a business owner and raving capitalist. Although I do promise not to starve and flog the employees while chuckling manically and swan-diving into my pool of gold coins.

Too much. The blood spatters get everywhere after a good flogging, and the stains never come out.

Author Follies

When a writers’ organization forgets that its primary goal should be to assist and support writers and starts trying to look more politically correct and then to force that image on all members or else they be publicly shamed, it has outlived its time.
(From a comment by Amanda, at the discussion thread here.) For an explanation of glittery hoo-haa, go here – and remember, you have been warned.

Now, aren’t you all glad that I have taken to writing historical fiction? Those organizations which I am interested in joining, or semi-qualified to join based upon scribbling moderately competent, interesting, and OK-selling genre fiction (Women Writing the West, or the Historical Fiction Society) are not having these nuclear-melt-down-sink-through-to-the-core-of-the-earth perturbations. Or at least, none that I know of – mostly because I am interested in writing, not organizational politics, because – what was the reason for the writers’ organization again? Oh, yeah – the care and feeding of writers, and their economic interests, not some kind of neo-Stalinist clique imposing a kind of savage Mean Girls political correctness upon the membership and exiling all those who don’t or won’t go along with it.
Continue reading

Weekend Summer, Weekday Winter

Starting Anew

Bizarrely enough, that’s what it has seemed like around here for the last few weeks. Winter during the week, with temperatures in the twenties, summer on the weekends, with a high that just barely escapes the threshold for turning on the AC. While the British Isles seem to be considerably more soggy than usual (old joke – English roosters don’t crow, they gargle) and just about every part of the US but for the west coast and south Texas are snowed in, we are here able to contemplate spring planting. That, and taking the tender plants from the plastic greenhouse and hanging them out in the open air. My daughter’s hibiscus has gone back to it’s accustomed place, and I have two packets of seed potatoes ready for the big raised bed. The winter cold here – such as it was – did for most of the perennial vegetables which were on their third year anyway; pepper, okra and eggplant. The first weekend in March, though – off to various outlets to replace all of the above and tomato starts, too. Historically the final freeze of the year in these parts is March 15th. After that, it’s full steam ahead.

Having the overgrown photina cut down kick-started the garden projects this year, too. The front entryway is entirely re-vamped, and planted with a new rosebush, some interesting bulbs and seeds, and some ornamental garden bits. The narrow flower bed alongside the walkway to the front door will also be cleaned up and fixed with brick, pavers and gravel, with a few plants allowed in certain places. I trimmed away all the dead stuff from the three pots of gladioli – and the new green growth is already putting up little green fingers. I believe the plants know that hard winter is already over.
The various spider plants wintered over in the greenhouse without much harm, and return to their usual places … or close to some of their usual places, since the limbs of the mulberry were pruned back quite severely. The frost-nipped bushes in the back which grew to a great height and attracted swarms of butterflies and humming-birds have all been tidied up – and my daughter has been filling the bird-feeders again, to the great joy of the various wrens, sparrows and doves. This is also to the great joy of the cats, who sit on the windowsill, with their tails twitching, and impotently watch the birds through the glass.
We meant to begin planting things – the potatoes, onions, beans and lettuce, but the day got away from us, with sorting out the back porch. It had become a kind of dump, with the bicycle parked in the middle of it. I hated sitting on the glider with my back to the garden, so we switched around the glider and the gas barbeque, threw away a pretty hefty bunch of accumulated stuff – and there we are; a back porch that I can sit on once again, and look out at the garden.

Her Inevitableness

This is what I used to call her, in blog posts at ncobrief.com during the run-up to the 2008 primaries; Hillary Clinton; who seemed so … inevitable. She would be there, a power to behold and take seriously in the presidential primaries. “In the place of a Dark Lord you would have a Queen! Not dark but beautiful and terrible as the Morn! Treacherous as the Seas! Stronger than the foundations of the Earth! All shall love me and despair!”
Well, I am certain that some of Hillary Clinton’s supporters have loved and despaired, in the resulting contest between ebony and ovary in the 2008 primaries. Eh – I didn’t care at the time, still don’t care and can’t be made to care. I will note for the record that my daughter was taking college classes then, and both of us were annoyed beyond all reason by the assumption that because we were both women, and politically involved, that we were OF COURSE all about Hillary. Our support was taken as a matter of fact. THE FIRST WOMAN PRESIDENT! This possibility was apparently intended to make us both go wobbly in the knees and vote with our vaginas instead of our brains.

I might have considered Her Inevitableness with a little more seriousness if – after departing the White House, she had formally divorced the charming serial-abuser she was married to, and devoted herself earnestly to a political career on her own hook and her own efforts. But even if to all intents and purposes Her Inevitableness and the Big He appear to mostly live separate lives, the prospect of the wife of a former president in turn being nominated, elected and installed in the White House just gives me the heebie-jeebies; this is not Argentina and she is not Evita. As a small-l libertarian and strict constitutionalist, any whisper of a hereditary political elite in this country gives me the cold chills – and yes, I was at least as upset about the Bush family appearing to have a lock on high political office as I was about the Gores, and the Kennedys. It’s not a good thing, even if such political dynasties like the Adams family have been around from the very beginning. We should not be doing a hereditary nobility here, end of discussion.

Of course, Her Inevitableness arrives with more baggage that Delta Airlines anyway, and she does not seem to have much of her husband’s easy charm and liking for the necessary rounds of schmoozing required. She has always come off to me in interviews as stiff, forced and uncomfortable – and shrill in making speeches. But those are superficial qualities, and not necessarily the kiss of death politically. Richard Nixon wasn’t particularly personally charming either, and watching old footage of Lyndon Johnson and imagining being in the same room with him makes me want to take a shower. No, what will be the biggest piece of old baggage in Her Inevitableness’s luggage van will be Benghazi and the deaths of four Americans there at the consulate, including the Ambassador. What exactly was going on at the consulate, and why it appears that there was no real effort made at rescue is still pretty murky. Her impatient response at the subsequent hearings will come back to bite, as much as the establishment media offers air cover for Her Inevitableness. “With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest, or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they’d go kill some Americans – what difference, at this point, does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, Senator.” Six months after the event and she appeared not to know if it was a protest, or just one of those impulsive things, cared less if it was – and was certainly getting tired of being asked about it. Some job she did there; I am pretty certain that the matter of Benghazi will not die, but come roaring back again. There were too many people involved; eventually some of them will talk.

(cross-posted at www.chicagoboyz.net)

Oh What Fun – A Weekend Round-up

I was reminded by Ace of Spades HQ that this is the 40th anniversary of a movie that probably could not be made today, although Django Unchained may have been the serious and un-comically blood-spattered version. Yes, indeedy, Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles debuted four decades ago, and certain western and cowboy tropes will never be the same, especially the scene of cowboys eating beans around the fire… which always reminds me of one of our innocent young lieutenants assigned to Det 8, Hill Combat Camera, during my assignment there. This one was especially innocent, having come from a sheltered background and done his ROTC time at Baylor University, where apparently they were such observant Methodists that they didn’t even know any rude cadence-count chants.
He also had a problem digesting MREs – they gave him such awful intestinal gas that no one wanted to share a pup-tent with him on field deployments. The major commanding at the Hill detachment heard of this, and waxed exceeding humorous, telling the young Lt. that it recalled the famous campfire scene … whereupon the innocent young Lt. looked totally blank and confessed that he had no idea what the major was talking about. The major immediately ordered him to rent Blazing Saddles from the nearest Blockbuster, to watch it in entirety over the weekend, and turn in a report to him on Monday.

Sigh. There is a website for Combat Camera – I have sent an email to the administrator, asking for log-in privileges. We’ll see. I guess it is a reflection of my experience as a broadcaster that I am much more interested in reconnecting with the Combat Camera units that I was assigned to, rather than any of the broadcast outlets. I will be sixty on the 21st of this month, and another two years will see me retired from the military for as long as I was in it.

Cold. It’s unnaturally cold here in Texas – has been for a good few weeks, off and on – even to the point of having to scrape ice off the windshield of the cars once or twice. I am fairly certain that I had some ice-scrapers in the glovebox of the Very Elderly Volvo, but I think that they went with the Volvo when I sold it, along with one or two other things in the trunk – like the roadside survival kit packed in a surplus ammo can. I definitely should have kept that; it may be still in the garage somewhere.

Ah, the garage. It’s packed full of stuff that Blondie brought home from her stint in the Corps, and additional stuff that she has bought at yard sales. There may be a small wandering black hole in there as well. We will have to sort out the garage one of these days … after sorting out some other stuff. Like the closets. We did make progress on the cupboard which houses the washer and dryer last week. The washing machine died, after twenty years of good service – and it turned out it was just easier to buy another one, from the provider of all quality appliances at cut-rate prices – the Scratch and Dent Superstore. Slightly dinged, or chipped – but usually brand-new. And they deliver, install and take away the old unit. We added some more wire shelving units to to hold cleaning supplies and sorted out a number of useless things which had gravitated there. Mose of them went straight to the trash can, and now the laundry closet is a thing of beauty to contemplate. Since it is too darned cold to work outside in the garden, we’re looking at indoor projects. The kitchen pantry closet is next. And that was my week…

Home on the Range

A house, as Dave Barry once cogently remarked, is a square hole in the ground, into which you pour money. Well, after all – it is the place that you live in, and which has all your stuff in it. How much one counts on that sort of thing – well, my parents were reminded of that, when their retirement house burned to the ground in 2003, in one of the catastrophic brush fires that Southern California is so famous for. My parents, having a liking for living away out in the country and preferably at the end of at least half a mile of dirt road, were accustomed to the risk and indeed, the possibility. Still, it was a wrench when the house went up in flames. They had half an hour to get out some of the most valuable stuff, but not many other things; Mom’s wedding dress, the family heirloom christening dress, a huge box of photographs that my daughter had intended to sort out, all of Mom and Dad’s books, the motley assortment of Christmas ornaments – to include the Christmas stockings that my grandmother had knitted in wool, with all our names worked into the top – all of the Danish Christmas plates from the AAFES catalog that I had sent Mom over the time I was stationed overseas – the letters that my uncle had written to his family during WWII. All gone – as Mom said, “They burned up real good.” Everything – and I still think about the things lost in the fire, although some of them I did not miss. The Danish Moderne teakwood dining table and chairs, for example – the chairs hit the back of your knee like a karate chop. (Mom bought them for cheap in the early Sixties, and it turned out they were valued at much, much more than what she had paid originally. In that particular case, I’d have rather had the insurance money.)

Whenever the house seems to get too crowded, the bookshelves crammed and overflowing with books and trinkets, and I think about how nice it would be not to have so many things, and to move into a tiny little cottage in the Hill Country … then I remember Mom and Dad and all the precious, accustomed bits and pieces that they had to let go of, all on a Sunday afternoon in the space of an hour.
I could probably do with less – not with fewer books, though. The constant moving at the pleasure of the Air Force did help us by whittling down the extraneous things every three or four years. But I have been in this house now since 1994, and the stuff has been creeping out of the closets and corners – so perhaps it is time for a belated New Years resolution, to sit down and sort out the storages spaces in the house, and purge the things for which we have no present or foreseeable use. The den closet, I am pretty certain, is home to some boxes from the last move which I threw in there when I got tired of unpacking them.

We had to get a new washing machine this weekend, which necessitated a good clean-out of the closet where the washer and dryer (and a few other small and relatively little-used appliances) live. Result – A much cleaner closet and a trash can filled with useless stuff – pillows stained beyond all hope of cleaning, a box of the disposable plastic receptacles for the long-gone automatic litter box – which never really worked properly and some other bits and bobs which we steeled ourselves to throw away. It got easier as we got down to the bottom of the cupboard.
So, my daughter and I have gotten ambitious; the pantry cupboard is next. It’s one of those with deep shelves, spaced too far apart, with the result that stuff gets lost in the back and forgotten forever. The plan is to rip out all the wooden shelves and their supports, repair the walls, and put in closely-spaced shallow wire shelves along all three walls, so that it will be easy to see what all we have in there – no need to go in with a rope and a headlamp next time I am looking for a can of tomato sauce.