This last weekend, I had a tiny and depressing demonstration about the facile nature of local news – the news making machinery behind the popular song as the pop song used to go. I did local news-gathering myself as an in-house broadcast professional, doing a daily radio news program for Armed Forces Radio, Seoul Korea edition. I know how the pudding is made; have the basic framework for the story, go out and talk to people for the bits that fill in the story already mentally mapped out in your mind – and go and do it again the next day, and the day following. Daily news is sausage; stuff that casing with whatever the story requires, a judicious combination of meat or filler.

There was a house fire last Sunday afternoon in our neighborhood – the first I knew of it (since I was working the final edit of Luna City #9) was when the Daughter Unit flung open the door, saying that a nearby house was on fire, that the dogs from the house were running loose on the street, and could I bring some doggie treats and help everyone catch them?

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21. May 2020 · Comments Off on Consent of the Governed · Categories: Domestic, Fun and Games, Health and Wellness, Media Matters Not

“…to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”
“The consent of the governed” – and what a concept, hey? And outlined in our very own Declaration of Independence. That the government has authority only as far as those it governs permits, allows or tolerates; a notion which seems to have escaped the more stubbornly authoritarian among us, such as the governors of certain states: among them Gavin “Gruesome” Newsom, of California, the Unspeakable Kate Brown of Oregon, Gretchen Witmer, the Grand Karenator of Michigan, J.B. “Jabba the Hutt” Pritzker of Illinois, Ralph Northam, the Baby-Killer of Virginia and the weaselly and nipple-pierced autocrat of New York, Andrew “Missed It By That Much!” Cuomo. All the above-listed, and a good few others of lesser notoriety and office went on an authoritarian kick: “Close all the things!” seemed to be their rallying cry, after first ignoring the first warning signs of the Wuhan Coronavirus, aka the Chinese Commie Crud, and then losing their damned minds when the National Establishment Media lost theirs.

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18. March 2020 · Comments Off on Pottering Around · Categories: Domestic

Well, I have to say that social distancing – or even more pronounced social distancing than is normal for me – is letting me get stuff done around the house. The Daughter Unit has work obligations, and a social life of sorts, which the Great Wuhan Coronavirus Panic of 2020 has not yet impacted to any degree. We stocked up at the beginning of the month, topped up over the weekend, so there is nothing I particularly need for projects at the moment. The gym has closed for two weeks – and here was a place which routinely sanitized for your protection anyway. We walked the dogs energetically this morning, in place of an hour on the elliptical, and then the Daughter Unit went off to her place of work, assisting her employer with sorting out their personal and professional expenses for the year. It turns out today that the IRS will generously grant us another ninety days to file, due to the Great Wuhan Coronavirus Panic. Well, it’s a very ill wind indeed that blows no one any good.

I may eventually have to go to Lowe’s for wallpaper paste, and some more paint rollers. The new back door awaits installation now, being painted on all sides, so I moved on to the trim around the hallway doors, and the underside of the attic space access ladder. When the new and toweringly efficient HVAC system was installed some years ago, replacing the decrepit and leaking original contractor-grade system, they put in a brand new ladder and a heavy wooden panel covering it into the hallway ceiling – and I never got around to painting it. So that is done, and tomorrow I will haul in the tall ladder and do the trim around it. I watered the garden, and planted some lettuce, and an assortment of basil seeds. We already have garden tomatoes, by the way – from some starts in 2-inch pots that I bought last fall and protected through the winter, and a wayward plant left over from last year – and the first couple of cuttings of spring salad greens, from seeds I planted early last month. It’s been that warm, you see.

Laundry – done sheets, and blankets. What an onerous chore was lifted off the shoulders of women, with the invention of electric washing machines and dryers? What might have been the weekly-occurring project taking up several days of brutal labor over a boiler, wringer, and clothesline now takes a turn in the washing machine and two hours in the dryer. Listen, you could never sucker me into going into one of those ‘history-house’ projects. I know very well what doing household laundry in the 19th century involved – at the very best, sending it all out to an industrial laundry in the big city and hoping that you got all your stuff back again in one piece, or at least, the pieces you sent it out in. Plus having to sew on all the buttons again, unless you had a maid to do all that needlework. The late 20th century to start of the 21st is the best century ever, thanks to household electricity and plumbing (not to mention air conditioning!) and don’t ever you let some freak afflicted with nostalgie de la boue a la The Life Primitive tell you any different. (An all-over bath once a week. Indeed – spare me. The ancient Romans had the right idea, as far as frequent bathing went.)

And – I processed the bag of small sweet apples through one of those patent apple-peeling/slicing gadgets, dropping them into a bath of water acidulated with a little lemon juice, and put them into the patent dryer that I am supposed to do a review of, when all those little apple slices are dried. And only then, did I turn to writing…

I had been half-expecting that San Antonio would cancel or delay the yearly Fiesta; this was made official Friday morning: put off the celebrations until November. Fiesta San Antonio was originally focused on Sam Houston’s victory at San Jacinto – which took place in April of 1836. (Lot of other events being cancelled as well.) Since Wednesday, I had been getting emails from various companies who I do business with, at least enough business for them to have my email: Costco, Sam’s, Petco, Frost Bank, the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, the Texas author’s group (who have put off the Wimberly book event from June until November)the senior center in Bulverde who hosts a fall craft fair, Lowe’s and Home Depot – I think. All had pretty much the same message: “Aware of the Covid-19 thing, taking every precaution – deep-cleaning, sanitizing, encouraging sick employees to stay home, those who can to work remotely, concern but doing what we can, customers encouraged to wash hands, self-quarantine if feeling ill …” I wonder now if there wasn’t a degree of coordination going on, or if all the corporate public relations departments simultaneously came to the same conclusion. Reasoning? I rather thought the city and the Fiesta Commission would have to do something of the sort, after reading of Disneyland closing, and the LDS temporarily suspending meetings at every level.

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13. March 2020 · Comments Off on March Marches On · Categories: Domestic, General

I had a client make the final payment on a finished project late this week, and the two potential clients whom we met with earlier in the week are deferring a decision or a start on their projects until later (if ever) so I could take a break from their stuff and do a little bit more on the ongoing house project; a replacement door for the back door into the garage, and one for the second bedroom, which the Daughter Unit currently occupies. We found a quite acceptable metal-reinforced panel door at Home Depot for a reasonable price, but the door for the bedroom is another matter. We were looking for a door with a glass panel in it, for the bedroom is at the end of a hallway with only a single ceiling light, and no natural light from the outside whatever. So – the Daughter Unit has been pushing for the door with a translucent glass panel in it, so as to allow natural light from the bedroom window to seep into the hallway. Only problem was … expense and availability. Such a door is a special order; not in stock at either of the big-box home improvement outlets. Although Wayfair had very nice ones available – the very cheapest of them was $300, which is … a little out of budget. I had to go and order from Home Depot, and the door will be delivered early in May. Until it arrives, my attention will be focused laser-like on the rest of work in the hallway; specifically, covering the ghastly popcorn texture with beadboard panels and cornice molding, and the peel’n-stick lino with cork flooring and new baseboards. (This will be a test run for the look of the rest of the house …) Until I can begin on that, though – I need to replace the narrow set of shelves along the hallway which houses a simply huuuge collection of paperback books. This will involve boxing up all the books, and taking down the metal brackets and MDF planks in order to complete painting that wall, and seeing to a complete-floor-to-ceiling shelf unit just wide enough to accommodate paperback books… no, really, I would rather work on my income taxes …
All the bits and bobs and lists of expenses and profits from sales in various venues, are all tallied up and ready to be delivered to the nice gentleman CPA who has done my income taxes since 1995. What I will do when he retires for real, I have no idea. I can just hope that he is one of those who will carry on out of habit, looking after a diminishing pool of clients, rather like my late business partner did with her clients – and she handed them all onto me, those who survived. I can only hope that my CPA has a younger apprentice handy.
In other news, it seems that springtime has arrived – alas, not in the trees to the back of the property, which is mystifying. The plum and peach are still bare sticks; no blossoms or budding leaves at all. Neither is there any fresh spring growth on the thrice-cursed hackberry weed tree, just the other side of the fence line – a tree which I hate with the passion of a thousand burning suns for the manner in which it scatters nasty, weedy sprouts all across my yard. I hate the hackberry, so I do. If the wretched seedlings aren’t pulled up entire by the time they are about three or four inches tall, they send a tap-root halfway to the center of the earth and defy extermination … only cutting damned thing off at ground level and painting the bleeding stump with a chemical concoction available from the local nursery keeps it from propagating… This weekend, plant out the various seeds and seedlings, as mid-March marks the last possible frost in South Texas. I did get a jump on this, in sheltering some tomato starts through the winter; they are just now bearing a handful of tomatoes ripe enough to eat, and a tub full of spring greens is nicely ready for salads … and that was my week.

01. March 2020 · Comments Off on You Can’t Go Home Again · Categories: Domestic

Well, you can, sort of – but in the larger sense Thomas Wolfe was right: you can’t physically go home again, not after a good few years have passed. I’ve amused myself, since discovering google earth and street view by looking for and locating the houses that I have lived in, and seeing how they appear now. That is if I have a clear memory of the address, and if the house itself still exists. Which is not always the case: the GI student housing in Santa Barbara was gone shortly after Dad finished the graduate level program at UC-Santa Barbara in the mid-1950ies. I have no notion of where to even begin looking for the house in the backwoods of Beverly Hills (yes, Beverly Hills does, or did have a backwoods, per se.) With unpaved roads, even, although it probably isn’t the case now. The White Cottage at the corner of La Tuna Canyon and Wheatland in the Sun Valley end of the San Fernando Valley is still there, although it looks as if the massive sycamore tree that shaded half of the back yard is gone, and La Tuna Canyon road has been widened and had sidewalks installed, so the fence line has been moved back. I can “walk” up the half-mile of La Tuna Canyon to Vinedale Elementary. The shapes of the hills looming over the canyon, as it funnels back into the Verdugo Hills are still familiar. Many of the roads which ran back from La Tuna Canyon were unpaved then – they’re paved now, it seems.

Mom and I, on the front porch of the GI Bill Student Housing

The next house, which I always thought of as Redwood house, was at the corner of Hillrose and Rosetta, at that corner of Shadow Hills which touched the edge of Sunland. Again, a dirt road, and lines of olive trees which had once been part of an olive orchard. That house is long gone – it was where the 210 Freeway drops down into Big Tujunga Wash, halfway between the Ralphs’ on Foothill Boulevard, and the fire station on Wentworth. I can “walk” from Sunland Elementary to Olive Grove and up a block to Hillrose … and that’s where the road ends, at a chain-link fence overlooking the highway.

Redwood House, from the hillside below

The house after that, the second house on the left up Cedarvale from Estepa, was curiously only a stone’s throw from the White Cottage, geographically. Not by road, though – it was a drive of at least half an hour between the two, going around through two different canyons. It’s been remodeled, extensively from when we lived there, and the new owners cut down most of the trees around the house. We liked the trees for the shade, but now the view is spectacular, or so I can judge from street view. The pool is still there, but I can’t see if the well still exists. There was a small spring/seep in the hillside, and a small well which never dried out entirely. I lived there from the age of sixteen, until I enlisted in the Air Force. My parents sold that house when my youngest brother finished high school and decamped to Northern San Diego County.

In the driveway of Hilltop House: Little Brother, Dad, the family station wagon and Mom.

I think the barracks where I lived at Misawa AB is gone; that whole base was revamped when the F-16 wing moved in. I can’t even begin to find building in the R housing area, out the POL gate where I rented the little sliver of apartment. That whole area has been revamped. The Wherry duplex in the enlisted housing area at Mather AFB where we lived for a year – that’s all gone. It looks like all very upscale condos, now. That was a very bare-bones kind of place; conblock walls, industrial linoleum on the floor, and metal cabinets in the kitchen. I had no furniture other than a rattan rocking chair, a couple of book cases, and my daughter’s crib when we moved in, but by the time we moved on, I had managed to purchase a single arm chair, an upholstered small sofa, a round wooden table and two chairs. There was a trailing rose bush by the front door. The housing office inspector gave me grief for trying to train it up the porch supports. This experience and the chore of cleaning that place before checking out of that base cured me of any desire to live in base housing. Uncle Sam is a sucky landlord.

The barracks at Sondrestrom AB in Greenland is still there; they’ve jazzed up the grey concrete slabs with red and white stripes, and green paint, and put a modernistic entryway to what was the dining facility; not much has changed with all that, at least on the surface. Looks like there are some restaurants, and a B&B, but the general aspect is still gritty grey dust, and bare rock mountains looming above. As we used to say grimly to each other: it’s not the end of the world, but you can see it from there. In the winter – when it was midnight-dark for most of the day with perhaps a pale twilight at mid-day, it was an amazing and unearthly sight; to come down the hill from the AFRTS station, and see the whole base lit by glowing yellow lights. In the dry arctic air, the vents from the buildings filled the head of the fjord with billowing golden clouds of water vapor.

For three years after that, we lived in a second-floor apartment on a corner in suburban Athens; a narrow balcony ran around two sides of the apartment, which took up the whole of a single floor, at the intersection of Knossou and Delphon.  From the windows on the street side, we could look out at the Saronic Gulf and the perfect triangular island of Aegina; it looks like they have built another three or four story apartment block across the street, so likely there is no chance of that same view from the apartment today. The little tile-roofed villa across the road in the other direction is still there, but the empty lot which was next door, in which an elderly man kept chickens and rabbits and a bit of a garden with lemon trees, has been replaced by another three or four story apartment block. But the building itself looks well-kept; whoever is living in the second-floor apartment has a series of nice plants in pots along the balcony.

Spain: the place where we lived the longest until we settled in Texas. I had no taste for a high-rise city apartment, which was all that was on offer, until the friend who was helping me house hunt said, “Let’s go see if there’s anything in San Lamberto…” This was a complex of duplexes and low-rise apartment buildings outside the city, which once had been American base housing, but now was in private ownership. There was an empty unit available for a reasonable rent, at the corner of what is now Calle Placido Domingo and Calle C. A ground-floor unit with a garden, and a shaded terrace. It is barely recognizable, now, although the two palm trees are still there and thriving. The new owners added a swimming pool, a small addition where I used to stack wood for the fireplace outside the dining area window, and a covered shelter for a car. The low wall and pillars are still there, but they have put in dark green fencing panels above, and the lawn looks a little better than when I lived there. My daughter went from kindergarten to the sixth grade in the time we lived there. I tried tracing the route that I usually drove from San Lam, past the Spanish regional airport to the Garripinellos gate, but again – too much has been changed. It used to be a narrow wandering country road; now there’s some fairly substantial interchanges.

The little white and grey house in the middle of the block of Jefferson between 36th and 37th was the perfect small house. I wish I could have owned it, so that I could have fixed it up properly. A perfect dolls’ house, with a big window on either side of the front door, and a long garden in back, with hedges so thick on either side that the lights of other houses could barely be seen in summer. Lilacs along one side, a row of apricot trees on the other, a bearing cherry tree, a shed where we might have kept chickens, a green lawn and a garden plot which I managed to rototill for two summers. In the spring, lilies of the valley came up at the edge of the front walk … we were there for two and a half years. The sun came up in the morning over the iron-grey wall of the Wasatch front, and in the afternoon, light poured in through the back of the house through an enormous picture window which gave on the yard. Paradise. I am still angry at the assignment detailer for my career field, who did not send me back there; this after hearing for years how they would reward you for years overseas by making certain that your last assignment before retiring was to the base where you most wanted to be. The house looks good, though: the present owner has taken down that cheap metal awning over the porch, and put in a planter and a new set of steps where the front porch used to be, and taken out the ragged hedge which formerly bisected the lawn.

The Jefferson St. House when I lived in it – in winter

Korea: a year in a barracks building, across the road from the Navy Club at Yongsan Army Infantry Garrison. It looks as if that building isn’t there, as far as I can see. The whole garrison has relocated to Camp Humpreys, but the Dragon Hill Lodge still exists, as a recreation center and hotel run by MWR. No luck in tracing anything of my route to work at AFKN, on the hill above the main PX.

The one home that I most deeply regret loosing was not a home which I lived, although my daughter did, during the year that I spent in Korea; that was Mom and Dad’s retirement place, the house that Dad first designed and oversaw building on a rocky knoll with a view down into the Guajito, in the hills above Valley Center, Northern San Diego County. They spent five years doing this, having initially expected to get it done in three, but had a marvelous time anyway. When we came home between tours in Spain (having saved the government a bomb of money through signing on to a second tour in place, so we had a free round-trip home as a reward) the house was coming down the home stretch, and we shared the RV with Mom, Dad, and their dogs. It was far enough along that we celebrated Christmas in the house, among the sheets of drywall stacked up in the dining are – drywall which Dad would teach me to hang and mud. Mom designed and laid out the garden – and when the house burned in the Paradise Mountain Fire in 2003, Mom and Dad moved into another RV on the site and built it all again, with improvements. (They hired out all the tough jobs that Dad had done, first time around.) We made a road trip from Texas to California most years. And then Dad died, suddenly in 2010. Mom didn’t want to leave the place they had shared, although … we all worried about her being there alone with the dogs. My youngest brother even brought up how risky it was, only to be slapped down. A few years later, his fears were realized when Mom fell and injured her back so severely that she was paralyzed from the shoulders down. Their house had to be sold, of course. My sister, who took over care of Mom, needed to have her own house renovated to accommodate a semi-paralyzed invalid. Originally, we were all four supposed to inherit a quarter share of it, and I entertained thoughts of buying out my brothers’ and keeping the property as a kind of family compound. Not to happen. I used the proceeds from the sale of my own California real estate to fix up the current Chez Hayes. Likely, I will never return to California. But I look at the view from the dead-end road past Mom and Dad’s house, and follow the dirt road back, looking at all the places that we went past, and think of the view over the Guajito, of how I would run on the dirt roads in the early morning, and the quail pattering through the thicket by the gate because Dad was in the habit of throwing out seed for them, the bends in the Woods Valley Road, the stench from the chicken farm at the foot of the last leg of road up to Mom and Dad’s…

It doesn’t look like the new owners have done very much, at least, not that we can see from the road view. But the owners of the next property over seemed to have established a nursery; greenhouses, and sheds and all. The previous owner of that place had let it go to wrack and ruin; basically returning to nature after the fire, save for messing around incompetently with an earth-mover on weekends – to the detriment of the watershed down into Mom and Dad’s driveway.

My daughter looked at the satellite view, and said, “Don’t say anything of this to Mom.”

No, you can’t go home.  

07. January 2020 · Comments Off on Domestic Organization · Categories: Domestic

We finished taking down the Christmas tree and the holiday ornaments over the weekend, and having gotten into an organizing mood, we decided that it was time to tackle two more household locations in series need to a good reorganizing; the spice cupboard, and the pantry. The pantry is a tall cupboard about the size of an old-fashioned phone booth. A couple of years ago we ripped out the original wooden shelves – which were deep and impractical – and put in narrow wire shelving all along the back,

up to the very ceiling, and even narrower wire shelving along the sides, and on the back of the door. This let us be a good bit more organized with the staples, canned and packaged goods, but … well, it had gotten to the point where we couldn’t find anything, or we had three or four containers of stuff because we bought more when we couldn’t find it. I mean, really – four packages of fajita seasoning, and three of celery salt? And to our hideous shame and embarrassment, some of the packaged mixes, for bread, cakes and frosting were more than four years past their ‘best by’ dates. Bread mixes definitely lose their mojo very shortly after their expiration date; this we know for certain, through experience. And there were some home-canned items that … we just couldn’t. They were on a high shelf at the back, and I didn’t even want to salvage the jars, the contents looked so nasty.
Set to work on the spice cupboard, first; helped by a set of 12 4-ounce lidded spice jars gotten through Amazon Vine for review. The set came with a small collapsing funnel, as an extra. Sorted, amalgamated, repacked, and a half dozen jars of spices actually thrown away – I mean, I could not remember how long ago I bought that little jar of dried fennel; not that I needed it any more as I have a large fresh fennel plant going great guns in the garden. And the powdered horseradish root absolutely has to be something that I packed in the last move. In 1994. (A couple of years ago I found a jar of Spanish saffron on the shelves. From Alcampo, the Spanish equivalent of Walmart. We rotated out of Spain at the end of 1991…)
And then to the pantry, which went rather faster than I had expected – but oh, my – there was a lot of stuff in there. A nice portion of the more-than-time-expired baking mixes went straight to the trash; the Daughter Unit and I felt rather bad about that. All those news stories about how Americans (or whatever) throw away so many pounds of food – eleventy!!! Well, we threw away our yearly share in one fell swoop, but honestly – most of the packages and jars had best-by dates of at least four years ago and were purchased from the ‘severely marked-down’ shelves at HEB … and if we hadn’t gotten around to using them in the last four years, then the odds were that we would never do; why prolong the agony? There went three or four bottles of cooking sauces, and a Fisher & Wieser blueberry sauce that we had never found anything to do with, and otherwise we love Fisher & Wieser; all the other F&W products were reprieved, and the Daughter Unit sorted them into ‘marinades/sauces’ and ‘salad dressing’ categories on the shelf.

At the end of this exercise, we had a bit more shelf-space (enough for the eight-pack of canned diced tomatoes from Costco) and the Daughter’s stash of exotic teas and her favored brand of coffee. With luck, we might actually be able to find stuff in the pantry … and the Daughter Unit has sternly warned me to consider what we might have in the pantry when planning the menus over the next couple of months.

27. December 2019 · Comments Off on Looking Back, Looking Ahead · Categories: Domestic

Every couple of years, I am driven by circumstance, reflection, ambition … something! To look back at the year so nearly done with and look ahead at what I’d like to get done in the new one. Pretty much everything that I hoped to get done in 2019 has been accomplished, or nearly accomplished, as I wrote a year ago, “…for 2019: new bathroom, cleared-out garage, and a size 10/12 in jeans again. Piece of cake, eh?”
Two out of three isn’t bad and the size in jeans is currently about a 14/16; say two and a half goals accomplished. The renovation of the master bath was completed by late spring and now almost completely paid for, the garage is mostly cleared out and organized – especially as I put some of the contents on Nextdoor for sale, which funded some Christmas gift-purchasing frivolity. In addition to this, I got the two Luna City collections done and launched, both print and eBook versions. But I did not get the new garage door installed – that must wait on the new year. That will be the first of the goals for 2020; getting a functioning garage door. The existing door was, I believe, either installed by the people whom I bought the house from in 1995, or even one installed by the original builder of the house late in the 1980s. In any case, it’s falling apart. Constructed of wood and composition panels, it is so much decayed that much of it might actually be broken apart by hand. Installation of a new door is not something which Neighborhood Handy Guy wants to venture upon – rather dangerous with the necessary springs and cables, as I understand it, so I must call on the services of a small company who did the same for a near neighbor. In a fit of efficiency, I asked for, and received their business card, and it has been magneted to the refrigerator door ever since. Being able to put one of the cars inside the garage, and to do workshop stuff inside the remaining portion is the main household goal.

The second goal is to finish the Civil War novel, That Fateful Lightning, and two Luna City episodes during 2020. Being that I have committed to Third Thursday in July at the Court Street Coffee as the launch for That Fateful Lightning, and for Luna City #9 means … well, I have found that nothing is quite so inspiring to literary output as a deadline. Which gives me the rest of the year for Luna City #10, and yes, there is plenty of material to work on in that regard.
There are some secondary household goals for 2019. In no particular order of importance – which means they will be sorted as soon as the bargains for required supplies and elements present themselves, those goals are:
1) Start on replacing windows and the patio slider door. All of these existing are original to the house, and as the writers of Victorian novels would say – are in a much-decayed condition. The window replacements will mean replacing and painting the window trim boards, and patching/replacing the siding. The most-weather-exposed sides of the house – the western-facing – are the worst-affected. Fortunately, this is a small house, and those aspects are relatively small and well-within the abilities of Neighborhood Handy Guy, who also has a small sideline in exterior painting. And I have the veteran discount at the Big Box Home Improvement stores. (Both of them.) Eventually, probably when just about all the windows are replaced – a total painting of the exterior will be involved but depending on how much it costs for the windows, probably not until 2021. The Daughter Unit and I did the last exterior paintjob; the long-term plan is that I will pay Neighborhood Handy Guy to do it. Of this s**t I am too old and tired to do any more. I’ll count this job as well-begun with the worst two windows and the patio slider door done and dusted.
2) Replace the Chicken Abode – likely with something moderately-priced or on sale from Tractor Supply – and add a couple of more laying hens. The senior surviving hen has stopped laying, and the coop which we bought at Sam’s Club is falling apart. In the spring we will get three young pullets from the source where we purchased the original Three Chicken Stooges and thank you for a guarantee that none of them will be a young rooster. We already have one of those, and while he is being quite mellow and not noisy in the early morning any more, I wish not to endure the crack-of-dawn serenade.
3) Sort out more of the garden: a better garden of raised beds and containers for vegetables and herbs in the sheltered space behind the front gate, and to install a paved patio area opposite the front door. I’ve managed to nurse some discount tomato plants thus far through the last couple of chills, and some of them have blossoms on them. Hope springs eternal in the gardener’s mind; a triumph of hope over experience, at least as far as tomatoes are concerned. We already have the benches and a ceramic patio table, thanks to the generosity of Amazon Vine; all that waits on this project is a bunch of pavers, and a solar-powered water feature. Something with water playing over pebbles in a ceramic pot, cascading down to a hidden reservoir is my own particular dream.
Well, those are my goals for 2020; I believe that at least three-fourths of them are doable. Progress will be posted here, and on the FB page

11. November 2019 · Comments Off on A Day at the Marketplace · Categories: Domestic, Eat, Drink and be Merry

Well – actually two days in the marketplace, one day spent selling and the other buying, out of our gains in the first. This first day was spent at a craft market in Bulverde – which, after a rocky beginning a few years ago – now has a good crowd of regular Christmas shoppers, looking for the hand-made and unique. (The very first year that we did this market, I spent all of my takings on the way home, at a nearby place selling junk cleared out of sheds and barns. I happened to spot a rain-sodden box of blue and white china plates, platters, and cups-with-saucers, which apparently once had been someone’s best china setting. I wanted a good set of plates to use for every-day … and yes, I did very well out of that sale. We have used them ever since, and only two of the plates are slightly chipped.)

We did pretty well at the sales; a lot of shoppers admired the American Girl doll clothes, lamented that they had no need of purchasing them – but enough did. Oddly enough – the three mermaid costumes left over from from last years at the San Marcos Mermaid Splash market sold. Also one of the Hispanic Folklorico costumes and both of the Civil-War era dress and pinafore combinations. A good few purchasers remarked that my prices were very good – which is nice to hear, although some of the outfits which sold were actually made from fabric that I bought … rather than scraps from the bale of leftovers resulting from years of home sewing. The Daughter Unit advises that I ought to make a few more contemporary outfits. Like – nightgowns, PJs and bunny and kitten slippers.

Well enough pleased with the day and our takings, we immediately went out to spend some of it, on Sunday morning; beginning with late brunch at Ikea in the cafeteria, and a quick peruse of certain departments. To our amazement, there is a little corner tucked away in the soft goods (bedding and pillows) for fabric by the yard. On a previous visit, the Daughter Unit discovered the bargain section, for slightly dinged, shop-worn, or extraneous display items – and in the very last leg of the long trip through Ikea, the real purpose of our visit. They have seasonal, and holiday items there now; one of those items is marzipan! I’ve always like marzipan, but quite often the stuff you get in stores here is old, dried-out and distinctly stale-tasting. Ikea has it stocked now in the little food area, in one of the freezer cases, which explains why it probably tastes so good. We bought four bricks each and set aside a place in the garage freezer. Very likely, the marzipan stash will be added to, as long as Ikea carries it.
The Marzipan Stash
On to Trader Joe’s; with Thanksgiving in two weeks, and another market next weekend, time to make plans. The Daughter Unit had her eye on another seasonal special – a frozen brined turkey breast, which will do very well for us. Final stop – the HEB, for a few more bits and bobs. The thing is that neither of us really likes the traditional Thanksgiving side dishes, and especially not when left-over. OK, a bit of home-made sausage and bread stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy … but that green bean casserole is just plain disgusting, and sweet potatoes doused in syrup and topped with marshmallows is a culinary crime against humanity. We like a medley of oven-roasted Brussel sprouts, red onion and kielbasa, and all of that is already in hand. So that was my weekend – and yours?

So this is what I get for being a ‘seat of the pants’ plotter – having to set aside some really nice scenes and conversations, just because my research into the time-line of the movement to abolish slavery in America in the decades before the Civil War suggested that my lead character would be coming really late to the party, in developing serious abolition sympathies if I started in the year that I tagged for the first draft. Miss Minnie Vining, blue-stocking Boston intellectual, abolition lecturer and war nurse (as was suggested in Sunset & Steel Rails) would rightfully have been marinated in abolition sympathies from about the 1830ies on. Having an epiphany and coming to the abolitionist fray in the mid-1850ies would have been … not quite credible. In other words, very late to the party … so I had to adjust that epiphany back about fifteen years, which meant going back and tweaking certain details to make everything fit. Ages of characters, even the existence of a character, development of technologies, topics of conversation to do with current events – like before the Mexican-American War, instead of after, way before the Gold Rush, instead of after, ascertaining that certain developments were in place … (note to self – Richmond-Fredericksburg Railway; check on that, too…)

All this plot points also must jibe with what I had briefly about the Boston Vinings mentioned in Sunset and Steel Rails, and in Daughter of Texas and Deep in the Heart also. This is a hazard of ‘pantsing’ background elements – of throwing in relatively unconsidered details for a bit of color and corroborative detail – and then after having to make a well-developed narrative out of those casually-mentioned little scraps. I did not sit down and write the Texas Barsetshire series chronologically from earliest (1825) to the latest (1900, with brief afterwards set in 1918), mapping out the lives of each and every character, nor did I particularly plan to have minor characters in one book take front and center later on in another. The Texas Barsetshire novels grew organically – from the middle, and in both directions, backwards and forwards in time – starting with the two German emigrant families (the Steinmetz/Richter) and the American-established Becker families. The Vinings – both the Boston and the Texas branches were grafted on later, when I needed to establish the marital woes of Margaret Becker. And now this latest WIP means that I have to expand on the Boston Vinings, along with lashings of materiel leading up to the Civil War … and keeping in mind that the next book after that, which is just now beginning to take shape, will reach back to the Revolution, and the doings of the Boston Vinings and a young Hessian soldier named Heinrich Becker …

Yes, it would be sensible to write it all in chronological order – but it’s much more fun this way. Complicated, but fun!

25. September 2019 · Comments Off on At Home With the Homeless · Categories: Ain't That America?, Domestic, Luna, Politics, Rant

The homeless, like the poor are, as Jesus depressingly observed, always with us. Admittedly the American poor are darned well-off, when compared to the poor in other times and in other places. It was reported last week on one of my go-to sites, that of all the homeless in the USA, half of them appear to have taken up residence on the streets, alleys and byways of California, although a fair number of the technically homeless are well-adjusted and employed, and merely living out of RVs, vans, trailers and automobiles parked on streets and parking lots because they cannot afford a rental of a dwelling-place without wheels on it. My daughter has brought home some pretty chilling observation of street people in Pasadena, over the last couple of years; the ubiquity of substance-addled and hygiene-challenged street people and their scratch encampments still shocks her, on every visit to family out there.

Not that we didn’t ever see street people, or vagrants here in San Antonio; there always were a handful, panhandling at certain intersections with a cardboard sign, hanging out at the bus station, or wherever there were services of any sort catering to the down-and-out. Sometimes when I had to use the city bus system because my car was at the garage, I’d see some truly odd people at the stops or sometimes on the bus. More »

04. September 2019 · Comments Off on The Way Things Were and Are · Categories: Ain't That America?, Domestic, History, Media Matters Not, Rant

Separately, the Daughter Unit and I watched a series on Netflix (don’t hate on us, there’s still some good stuff there, and I don’t want to bail out until we’ve milked it dry) about the last Czars of Russia – specifically the series which mixed fairly serious commentary about the Russian Revolution with interestingly high-end reenactments of events in the life of the last czar and his family. (Seriously, though – I doubt very much that Nicky and Alix made mad hot whoopee on a fur coat underneath his official czarsorial desk, while the household staff made a heroic effort to ignore the amatory noises coming from behind closed doors. Just my .02. She was a Victorian, for Ghod’s sake. Really; Queen V.’s granddaughter. Who privately thought that Dear Alix wasn’t in the least up to the challenge of being Czarina of all the Russians; Alix may have waxed poetically amatory about her affection and trust in Father Grigory Rasputin, but to do the nasty on the floor, in daylight? Even with your wedded husband? Just nope. Nope.)
I will accept that the orgiastic interludes involving Rasputin were likely and wholly believable. And that Nicky and Alix loved each other, that their four daughters and son with medical issues all loved each other with a passionate devotion that lasts through this world and the next. The last shattering sequences in the Ipatiav House rings true. That was the way it was, and that was how it ended. (I reviewed a book on this, here.)
I was meditating on all of this – with a consideration towards royalty; the old-fashioned kind, and the new-mint variety. More »

05. August 2019 · Comments Off on One Book To Rule Them All · Categories: Domestic, Home Front

A cookbook, that is – one cookbook to rule them all. A good few years ago, what with the popularity of so many food and cooking websites, we got in the habit of printing out recipes that sounded good, and if they did turn out really, really good – putting them in sheet protectors in a three-ring binder for easy referral. That binder is the every-day reference for putting together an evening meal, only as time went on – the book got terribly random and unwieldy, with the recipes inserted in any old order. There were also pages of recipes that had once looked interesting, but not enough to actually cook them, or that we tried once and went ‘meh’ or alternate recipes for a dish that we had a recipe for that we liked better … and the pages themselves got sticky from use, or being splashed, the binder began falling apart … and I swear that one of the cats (now exiled to the Magnificent Catio) was in the habit of spraying on the back of the binder …so, time to cull, re-print, re-arrange, put into fresh page protectors and a brand-spanking-new binder and also to create a duplicate book for the day when the Daughter Unit has her own domestic establishment.

So that has been the current project, now that Luna City #8 is fairly launched. I started with going through and pulling out all the recipes for chicken. A few of them I had to just copy into a fresh document, most of them I retrieved from the various websites where they had originated, and copy-pasted into a new document. Doing this let me change the size of the font – look, it’s a bear to have to fetch my reading glasses to read a 8 or 9 point font, while reducing the recipe itself to a single page – because flipping over three pages to follow the same recipe is … not helpful, especially when half of it might be taken up with pretty pictures. (No, I don’t need the pictures. Ingredients and instructions are sufficient, thank you very much.)

After a weekend of working at this project, I have gotten all the way through the chicken recipes, and all of the beef/pork/lamb/venison recipes, which I think must have made up more than half of the original binder. The remaining sections – for vegetarian, fish, and miscellaneous side dishes and sauces should go much faster. And that – along with another chapter of the Civil War novel – was my project for the week.
Oh, still waiting to hear from the garage
regarding my poor little car. Getting a replacement side light seems to be the main remaining challenge – it may very well have to come all the way from Japan by special order, although I would think that a little creative metal bending and plastic fabrication, such as Dad used to do in his garage for some of his automobile projects, would do the trick. It absolutely fries me that the idiot whose’ rotten driving caused the accident had no damage at all to his car – whereas I have now been without mine for a month and a half.

A longish and somewhat exhausting morning – this the day that my social security is paid into my bank account – (Yes, I collect it, having put into it for all those working years since the age of 16, and having no more patience for working full-time for other people) so we went up to New Braunfels for the semi-monthly purchase of meats and sausage at Granzins, then a little farther to the new super-HEB for assorted groceries, and then a loop around to Tractor Supply for flea spray, drops and collars for the critters. Who are all afflicted with the summertime plague of fleas, and the most seriously effective yet most reasonably-priced remedies are all available at Tractor Supply, including a carpet/surface spray which has a strong yet pleasing odor of citronella and only seems to be available at Tractor Supply. I wish that I drove a pickup truck – I wouldn’t feel like such a townie, pulling into the parking lot there. I might even pull on those vintage Ariat boots that I bought at a charity thrift shop a couple of years ago.

Anyway, loaded up at Granzins on chicken breasts, quarters, a small steak (which is my monthly treat) and some of their divine locally-made sausage, which makes a splendid main dish when rubbed with a little of Adams Reserve Steakhouse Rub, spritzed with a bit of olive oil and then baked until done. At the super-HEB, a 7 ½ pound pork tenderloin at a good price, to be chopped into roasts and boneless chops … and when returned home, an hour of time with the vacuum sealer, packaging it all up for the freezer – set with meat options for supper for the next month or maybe even longer. Look – we flirt with tasty vegan options at least one night a week, but that’s just for the variety of it. Otherwise, we are unashamed carnivores.
Part of the journey to New Braunfels involved a fitting … for a costume to be worn at a book-launch party in Seguin late next month by one of three – the author and my daughter Blondie to be the other two. I committed, in a moment of weakness and affectionate friendship for another author, to sew frontier ‘soiled dove’ outfits for the launch party bash. Easy enough – a white cotton shift, a flashy skirt with lace trim, and a fitted and laced bodice. The skirts and the shift are simple enough, the laced bodice must be fitted to each individual; the pattern is one I am not happy with, since I will have to add some extra lacing to the back of the bodice to ensure that the shoulder portion will not be slipping down … eh, the outfits will be marvelous when I have completed them.

Tuesday mid-day was likewise consumed by a necessary errand – to the cardiologist at BAMC for the yearly check-up. Yes, I seem to have developed a noticeable heart murmur in the last couple of years. Such was was noted when I was in my twenties, but was written off to a) pregnancy, b) a doctor doing research who apparently wanted to find such in healthy young adults for the purpose of generating a research report, and c) a bout of viral myocarditis discovered during a routine physical required when I was putting together an application for an officer commission – a condition which eventually healed on its’ own, although at the time it scared the bejesus out of my supervisors, my parents and the hospital administrators at the Misawa AB hospital. The comforting thing in the current iteration is that it doesn’t appear to have gotten any worse since being first observed. EKG – same as last year. Sound of it all – same as last year. Barely over the line for concern, according to the cardiologist. Hardly rating any concern, considering the appearances of other patients in the waiting area of the cardiology clinic – yeah, the full collection of canes, walkers, and wheel-chairs. Look – we all die of something. A dicky ticker over the next two or three decades appears to be my fate. I’m OK with that, considering some of the other alternatives.

I don’t imagine that any sentient human of the center-conservative bent has escaped hearing about how a reporter for the centrist-academic website Quilette had the snot beaten out of him in downtown Portland by the black-clad streetfighters who represent themselves to be anti-fascist. Apparently, this was punishment for Andy Ngo daring to report on their unsavory antics and not being in slavish accordance with whatever political delusion the Antifa-ites hold close to what passes for their hearts. For myself, I prefer to call them the Klantifa, as the natural successor to the KKK as the thuggish arm of local Democrat Party government. (They do the dirty work, while the official Party maintains semi-plausible deniability.)
The Klantifa appear mostly to be a bunch of pasty-faced, dread-locked inhabitants of their parents’ basements with a taste for public live-action role-playing, combined with delusions of street-fighting adequacy whenever they outnumber their targeted opponent at least five to one. More »

11. June 2019 · Comments Off on Adventures in the Indy Author Trade · Categories: Ain't That America?, Domestic, General, Literary Good Stuff

The Daughter Unit and I spent most of Saturday morning in the lovely little town of Wimberley, Texas. Wimberley is situated on a particularly scenic stretch of the Blanco River, in the hills to the west of San Marcos. It’s closer to Austin than to San Antonio and seems to have become even more of a weekend tourist draw, since we first visited it in the late 1990ies. Then there were just a handful of little shops catering to tourists, and one restaurant with had memorable hamburgers and an outside deck which overlooked the riverbank, all grown with cypress trees, great and green. There were a fair number of hippie artisan types; potters, glass-blowers, metal-fabricators and the like, plus the usual number of antique shops, which tended more towards the ‘quaint old country junk’ side of the scale. On the first Saturday of the month, Wimberley stages a mammoth open-air market – something we’ve been to a number of times. It’s supposed to be the oldest and biggest one in Texas.
More »

07. June 2019 · Comments Off on The Next Book Project · Categories: Domestic, History, Literary Good Stuff

I scribbled the last words of Luna City #8 early Thursday afternoon. Left it all in suspense on the final page, as is usual with the Luna City series; resolve all the main story lines, wander down a few amusing byways as regards the (created) local history, explore the lives or experiences of characters, set up hints regarding the next installment, and then leave it all on a (temporary) cliff-hanger.
Yes, I’m evil that way. I want readers to buy the next installment, ‘kay? Just so they can find out what will happen next. Look, this has been the stratagem of story-tellers since the very art of story-telling began.

And then I set to work earnestly on the next … for which I had already scribbled two scene-and-character-setting chapters, and several pages of notes about mid-19th century female abolitionists, and ordinary women who took up the challenge of being battlefield nurses when the pustule of the peculiar institution burst in 1860-61 and plunged most of the somewhat united American states into a bitter and brutal war. They say that civil wars are the worst. It’s as if the hatred is all the more bitter when it’s not some alien and foreign invader burning crops, raping women, and stealing away the best, brightest and most noble of youthful manhood, along with the harvested crops: it’s all the more stinging when it’s kin and ex-friends doing all of the above. I guess that it is the aspect of personal betrayal that makes it all the worse.
It was all very complicated, you see. Human society, the interactions that we have with those of our kind most usually is more complicated that the political theorists and historians can comprehend. Just as a brief example – a recent bio of Audrey Hepburn revealed that her mother was quite the Hitler enthusiast … until the war began, Holland was occupied, and a near and dear relation was executed by the Nazis. So – serious reconsideration of sympathies, all the way around on the part of Mother-of-future-gamine-star.

Back to my original thought – the next book, set in the lead-up to, and during the Civil War, as seen through the eyes of a female abolitionist and later on, a volunteer nurse. Minnie Vining. She was briefly mentioned in Deep in the Heart, and at slightly more length in Sunset and Steel Rails, so that I must ret-conn her character and story-arc from those brief appearances and fill out such experiences which were hinted at in those books. Only daughter among four sons of a long-established and respectable Boston family, a family whose experiences in the American Revolution were also hinted at … and why am I writing all my family saga backwards? Starting from the 1830ies in Texas and filling it all in, backwards and forwards from that point? Eh … sounds like a personal problem.

So here it is – the next historical is a Civil War novel – a bit of a change in focus for me. Of the previous books, only one is set during that period, and that in the Texas Hill Country, where most key developments and events happened far offstage, and most main characters in it sincerely wished not to participate in the war effort in any way. The other books are set either before and on the frontier, or at some remove afterwards. This next one, with a working title of That Fateful Lightning goes straight into the weeds of the anti-slavery movement; how it came to be that the question of slavery roiled feelings throughout the decade before the war, and it how it came to be that partisans on both sides were more than willing to take up arms against kin, former friends, neighbors and total strangers.

I expect also to delve full into the eccentric operations of Civil War battlefield hospitals. I already have a tall stack of reminiscences by women who served in such hospitals, and in providing the necessary by organizing fund-raising bazars and extensive shipments of home comforts to men in the field. It may have been an almost natural thing for so many women to take up nursing at that time. In the days before antibiotics and notions of sterile bandages, women ordinarily spent a fair amount of time nursing the sick anyway; children, husbands, brothers and sisters. Taking up a temporary career as a war nurse was a natural extension. Organizing fresh bread, clean sheets, and tempting invalid meals on an industrial scale – must have been just another logical reach for someone already accustomed to doing so on a home-sized level. I have been mildly boggled to find out how the pre-war Army medical establishment, which was a tiny organization suitable to a tiny peacetime military, came to depend so heavily on the various local Sanitary Commission volunteers when it came to dealing with the huge numbers of casualties once the lead began to fly in earnest.
I honestly don’t know how long this will take me: maybe as early as the end of this year, perhaps into next year, say mid-2020. But in the meantime, enjoy the other historicals, the Lone Star Sons volumes, and of course – Luna City.

05. June 2019 · Comments Off on A Dismal, Chilly Chore · Categories: Domestic

Well, it won't win me any followers on Instagram for my mad organizing skills - but now we can actually find what we were looking for...

Well, it won’t win me any followers on Instagram for my mad organizing skills – but now we can actually find what we were looking for…

With the garage nearly cleared out – at least as far as we can walk around in the place blind-folded and not injure ourselves through falling on or over something dangerous – the time came to tackle another messy chore.
The garage freezer. This was an item which – since I bought it in (gulp) the early 1990ies – has served heroically ever since. It’s an up-right; no, my parents’ first freezer was a chest-style, and was it ever a pain, getting down to the bottom of that item. Mom and Dad resorted to a system of stacked heavy-duty stacked plastic baskets, which was all very nice and efficient, except that you had to shift at least three or four of them if you were going on a deep snorkel for some wanted item. So, when I finished up in Northern Utah after twelve years overseas, I bought an upright freezer through the good offices of the BX and thought myself fortunate. When previously stationed stateside, the BX didn’t offer major appliances. Something about local furniture and appliance merchants in Sacramento screaming bloody murder at not being able to gouge military members for household items … eh. Old news. Anyway – I caught the food-preservation fever in Utah. Something about a place where fifty and a hundred-pound bags of sugar and flour are freely available at commercial outlets that are not Sams’ or Costco. Must be something in the water, I guess.
Anyway, we’ve been going systematic about frozen purchases, since I came into possession of a vacuum-sealer at a yard sale a few years ago and doing a brisk round at the end of the month for … foodstuff to last the whole month-long. We had a good system going … but it came time to defrost and clean out the garage freezer, since the layers of frost became insupportable. As in ‘couldn’t shove in another blessed thing not without a crowbar and ice-pick.’
I really hesitated about this project, since I knew (from the last time I had ventured this project) that it would a) make a mess from melted ice all over the garage, and b) put us through the trouble of taking out the not-inconsiderable quantities of frozen stuff IN the freezer, and keeping it safe and deeply frozen until time came to return it to the original resting place. On the up-side, we would really be able to inventory and re-sort the collected deep-frozen items. Yes, dear readers – we took the plunge, although the Daughter Unit had to run out and purchase an additional Styrofoam cooler and a couple of insulated bags at the nearest available HEB once it became clear that the contents of the freezer would overwhelm the current collection of coolers and insulated bags.
The melted ice-water did run a good way into the garage, and we were put to the effort of mopping it up… totes expected. But a good way into this process, I realized that one of the large plastic storage tubs was THE EXACT SIZE TO FIT INTO THE BOTTOM OF THE FREEZER!!!ELEVENTY!!! Where it could collect the ice-melt without any fuss and overflow into the garage. Gee … wish I could have noted that earlier in this project. Noted for the next time, though.
So – that expedient is on the schedule for the next time we perform this exercise. The last big chunk of frost, adhering to the top inside of the freezer unit came away allofasudden in mid-afternoon, about two hours before I had expected it to melt and fall away into the commodious waiting bin.
But all to the good. We could turn the freezer on again, and show everything away … a small thing, in my schedule of household upgrades … but a decidedly needful one.
And yeah – the storage bin as a catchment for the ice, the next time we defrost. SO noted.

26. May 2019 · Comments Off on The House that Amazon Built · Categories: Domestic, Literary Good Stuff

Some years ago, when the world was young and all, Oh Best Beloved, the proprietor of a generalist blog (Blogger News Network) that I contributed content for, and who also paid me by the word for occasional professional content, came up with a means for his stable of contributors to score free books and movies. Seriously, that’s how it all started; and how could one say no to free books and movies, seeing how much new movie DVDs and hardcover books cost? He worked up an agreement with publicity firm which would provide review copies of movies … and we would do reviews for Blogger News Network. At a slightly later date, I began doing this for a couple of different on-line enterprises; book reviews mostly. Before Barnes & Noble, and Amazon evolved to the point of getting positively twitchy about duplicate reviews, we were also in the habit of posting slightly edited versions of our reviews on those sites. Later, B&N and Amazon came to frown on this practice, and I stopped doing it – for a reason which will soon become clear.

It came about, Oh Best Beloved, that one day in 2011 after I had been doing this for a couple of years (for the free book and movie swag, mostly) I received an email from something called the Amazon Vine, noting that I had apparently received a boatload of helpful up-votes on my reviews, and that was sufficient by their somewhat mysterious metrics to be invited to become a Vine Reviewer. Well, it sounded interesting, and possibly remunerative, and why not? The publicity company providing movie DVDs hadn’t offered anything interesting in simply ages – I think show business in general was going through a bad patch – and the book review places were going through a similar dry period. So, I accepted the invitation, outlined my preferences: for books, mostly, computer and office supplies, and stuff for the house and garden, sometimes gourmet food items. I still have no idea of why Amazon offered me this interesting little sideline gig, by the way – other than the boatload of helpful votes on the earlier reviews.

Over the next couple of years, I scored the occasional interesting book, a cover for the Kindle reader, a surge protector, a battery-operated motion-sensing flood-light for the back yard … nice, but nothing really to go bananas over. If there was a high-value item in my Vine queue, it was usually gone by the time I asked for it. For the first few years it continued that way. I did consider myself outstandingly fortunate to get a rather nice 17-inch laptop computer, and a couple of months later, a Canon Maxify printer. That was about a good as it got for me, being a Vine Voice. It seems though, about eighteen months ago, that the powers that be at Amazon rejiggered the Vine algorithms again. Since then, it’s been a veritable flood of household and home renovation items. A couple of interior light fixtures, an outdoor light fixture, a couple of ceiling fans, a very nice Moen kitchen faucet, an Amazon-brand bathroom sink faucet, a beveled-edge mirror, along with a number of kitchen appliances … the mirror, the bathroom faucet and one of the light fixtures were set aside and installed as part of the master bath renovation. The biggest of the ceiling fans went into the living room, and my daughter and I installed the exterior light fixture ourselves. (Not for nothing was the Daughter Unit a USMC field wireman.) The other features are set aside for the kitchen renovation in a couple of years. I am not totally mercenary about this – I only ask for the items that we can really, genuinely use – but looking around the house lately, anyone knowing where some of the features came from could be forgiven for thinking that it’s the House that Amazon Built.

12. May 2019 · Comments Off on The Next Home Improvement · Categories: Domestic

This is something that has been developing over the last … decade or so. Maybe a bit longer, since when the Daughter Unit came home from the Marines with all her worldly possessions and parked most of them in the garage. A garage into which a lot of domestic detritus had flowed in addition, starting with some excess furniture, held against the day when the Daughter Unit ever had her own establishment, the camping gear from when we did indeed camp … and a number of boxes of stuff which may not even have been properly unpacked from when I bought the house in the spring of 1995 and a grateful USAF-hired subcontractor in the moving profession parked them within. My final delivery of PCS delivery of household goods, after eight moves over twenty years. I ought to take pictures of the boxes, as they are unearthed. (This is not anywhere near a record in the military world. I managed to remain at one place for six years, practically a lifetime homesteading, as these things go.) To all this was added various gleanings by myself and the Daughter Unit – but I swear, until about a decade ago, we could – with a bit of a squeeze – get two cars into the garage.
Until the garage door crapped out, and I could not afford to have it replaced at that time. And then … well, Fibber McGee’s closet had nothing on the garage. It was to the point where stuff was just lost within. A kind of domestic storage black hole, although if we opened the door from the hallway into it, there was nothing like the noisy, prolonged cavalcade of stuff falling. It was at a point where there was barely a path from the door to the freezer, and that was when the hot-water heater gave up the ghost last year. I still think that the hot-water heater should have been retained in a utility-plumbing museum someplace, for it was proved by the plumbers who replaced it, to have been the original install to the house, and had faithfully provided hot water for thirty years, when it rightfully could have been forgiven for collapsing after ten or so.
Anyway, in that grand final collapse, the hot-water heater flooded the near regions of the garage, and I lugged out several trashcan-loads of ruined and moldy stuff over the days that followed – mostly those shoes and clothes in which my daughter was no longer interested in. When the Daughter Unit returned from California this spring – we agreed to sort out the garage, now that the door and automatic lifting mechanism was on my schedule to be replaced. We have now been working on that project since Monday. Much has to be sorted, and inevitably, much of it consigned to the trash, or to the local Goodwill outlet, although we did make a side trip yesterday to a local recycling enterprise with the back of the Montero loaded with what could be construed as metal or technological scrap with a metal component. Based on our last visit there, the Daughter Unit suggested an over-under. She placed a bet on over $15, but I went for under $10. We got a whole $1.50 for the trouble.
Goodwill, though – any more trips to the nearest Donation Station, we will be on a first-name basis with the unloading-assistance people. Clothes – mostly hers, outgrown, unneeded. The futon mattress, hopefully to be reunited with the frame, which went to Goodwill last month. (Yes, it took that long to wade through the detritus in the garage to get to it.) Extraneous appliances – how on earth did we finish up with two or three coffee makers when only one of us drinks coffee? The old yoghurt-maker, from when I was a newly-minted sergeant with a toddler, living in Mather AFB enlisted housing, on a shoe-string budget, when my biggest monthly bill be for the day-care center, and I cut corners in all kinds of ways, including brewing yoghurt from milk and a couple of dollops of the previous batch. An extraneous blender, a couple of framed pictures which once ornamented the Daughter Unit’s room … and a whole raft-load of old magazines. I had subscriptions to Gourmet, the Smithsonian, and a selection of others; most of them I passed on to other readers (my next-door neighbor in Athens, Kyria Penny adored reading my old Atlantic and Harpers issues), or disposed of, once read, but like back issues of the National Geographic – those magazines accumulated. And accumulated. And accumulated. Well – nice, readable, interesting magazines, and once one has paid for them … well, anyway, it was time to do a clean sweep. I never once went out to the garage to look up back issues and keeping them seemed distinctly hoarderish to me. So – out they have gone, piled up in garbage bags next to the recycle bin.
We did a culling of the boxes of books out there, as well, as well as some stuff that once I was sentimental about – like the framed posters I had on the walls of my barracks room, an age ago. A handful of books are reprieved, the rest packed into bags and wished on the good people of Goodwill, and the posters are for the chop. Yesterday, we emptied and demolished a pair of cheap utility shelves – one from Spain, where it used to hold the kitchen things, the other inherited from Dave, the Computer Guy. Gone, waiting for trash collection, their contents culled, repacked and re-shelved if we decided to keep. Today – emptied and moved the two shelves that we will be keeping, and re-shelved stuff. The bags full of trash await collection. Next week, we’ll call on Neighborhood Handy Guy and his pick-up truck, to help us ferry a couple of box springs and mattresses (one of the box springs is unused!) and the bicycles – the old three-speed that I took to Korea for the year to serve as my basic transport, and the kid’s bicycle that the Daughter Unit had in Spain. Sentiment is all very well, but these bikes were ordinary, nothing otherwise special – and we need the space in the garage.
My ambition, actually – is to be able to walk across the garage with my eyes closed, and not trip over anything. The purpose for all this is so that we can get the garage door replaced, and be able to park at least one of the cars inside, by the time that I finish paying Neighborhood Handy Guy for the bathroom renovation.

So it seems that race-hate faker Jussie Smolett walks away, free and clear. As a three-way protected person – being of color, gay and a C-list celebrity – and one with apparently plenty of pull among the Chicago political overclass, this probably should have been expected. Race-hate fakers generally seem to get away with the proverbial slap on the wrist and a stern warning not to do it again, once the initial outcry dies down and investigators have done a belated job in proving the initial outrage to have been faked. The same-old, same-old for Lil’ Jussie is about par, in the mind of cynics like myself.

But the sheer, brazen ineptitude of his manufactured drama, the unlikelihood of a pair of MAGA-hat-wearing white men out with a noose and a jug of bleach in the middle of one of the coldest winter nights of the year, randomly pouncing on a C-list celeb in the cast of a show of which most of us had never heard … no, just no. As it eventually turned out after extensive investigation by the CPD (during which serious crime continued to crest in a tidal wave, and the supposed victim made the media rounds loudly trumpeting his alleged victimhood) Lil’ Jussie was proved to have bungled six ways from Sunday in hiring a pair of Nigerian body-building brothers to do the deed that he couldn’t get any MAGA-hat wearing white guys to do and paying them with a personal check. This is Three Stooges – Lucy Ricardo – Homer Simpson level of plotting … and as of this week, the right words were whispered in the right ear. Lil Jussie skates; free as a bird, guilty as sin, adorned with an unbecoming smirk, the kind of smirk worn by the grade-school sneak when he has managed to get another kid punished for his own misdeeds.
Not for the first time since I’ve been a blogger – I must agree with Roger Simon; Jussie Smollet is a new O.J. Simpson.

“.. another man getting away with a crime he committed in full public view. That didn’t work out very well for The Juice. In fact, he’s a pariah for life. And it won’t for Smollett either. He will be a despised person for the rest of his days and a symbol of unequal justice. He might as well have gone to jail, served the time, and been forgiven.”

By the grace of our legal system O.J. Simpson – a far more well-known celebrity than Lil Jussie — was found innocent in criminal court of the brutal slaughter of his ex-wife and a restaurant worker who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. O.J.’s good fortune for that, but practically the last time in twenty-five years that anything good happened with regard to his post-sports career as a movie actor, commercial pitchman and all-around celebrity. He was dropped like a hot rock from just about every generously recompensed job as a commercial ‘face’, and I still cringe whenever he appears in a Naked Gun movie. O.J. has a half-life. Jussie may be riding high at this moment – but I think he will have she same kind of half-life, wearing out an existence in the shadows of notoriety as a pariah. Jussie Smollet didn’t murder an ex-spouse and a hapless waiter, but he did break one of the great commandments. He bore false witness against his metaphorical neighbors, deliberately, with malice, and for his own personal aggrandizement – that of getting a pay raise, and perhaps more media visibility. This kind of calumny is not easily overlooked or forgiven. Discuss as you wish.

17. January 2019 · Comments Off on And Now to Work… · Categories: Domestic

Honestly, I just meant to get a screwdriver from the toolbox in the garage, and go about my soon-to-be-renovated bathroom, taking down the glass shelf, the towel hook and the little glass vases in nickel-finished holders – all the hardware that I am going to reuse because I liked it very much, and they were pretty expensive when I first purchased them from Crate and Barrel when I did some superficial redecorating of the master bathroom shortly after moving in.

But I found the putty knife when I was going through the toolbox (which I will need to scrape that disgusting popcorn texture off the ceiling) and the big hammer … I am going to be using all of them in the next few days anyway. Yes, I walked into the bathroom with the hammer and began bashing away at the tile surround, just to see how difficult it would be. What with one thing and another, about a third of the nasty stuff is removed. This is featureless white contractor-grade tile of no particular merit, with the grout between permanently grotty and incapable of ever being thoroughly clean … well, I just got carried away, mostly with how much I hate that nasty cheap bathtub and shower surround in the master bathroom. It turns out that although water had seeped through the tile surround at the angles, and where it joined the top of the bathtub – there was not as much catastrophic rot and water-damage as I had feared. Although the drywall immediately underneath is so decayed that it crumbles like chalk, and I can pull it away with my bare hands. Here I thought that the drywall underlay for tile in bathrooms and all – was supposed to be the extra-heavy moisture-resistant stuff with the green paper coating. This wasn’t. It was the ordinary stuff, and moisture had gotten into it. No wonder I couldn’t keep the crud at bay in the grout. This is not the first structural omission I have found in my house, but at least this one will be remedied soon.

The first shipment of the replacement tile for the shower enclosure arrived yesterday – which is what brought all this on. I ordered it from Wayfair, because I liked the looks, and it was on special-reduced sale at an acceptable $2-3 per square foot – a traditionalish pattern in what looked like pale blue on a cream background and would suit the new walk-in shower enclosure. The UPS delivery guy is going to get an extra-special large box of fudge next Christmas, because the boxes with the tile are darned heavy – and little doeth he know that there will be two more boxes next week, as well as the new vanity – which I also ordered off Wayfair, because it also came up on sale; exactly what I wanted for an early 20th century and country look – wainscoting halfway up the walls, anaglypta wallpaper on the ceiling and dressing-room walls, hexagonal white tile on the floor, archaic-appearing faucets and fixtures.

First thing today, I took one of the bathroom tiles down to Lowes’ to match the paint for the walls and woodwork. It turns out that on close examination – the background is more of a white with a bluish cast, and the figure is almost a slate grey-blue. A challenge to match, but the woman at the paint counter took it as her personal mission to do so. Now I have a gallon each of whitish-with-a-blue cast, and slate-grey-bluish paint piled up with the other stuff which will play a part in the renovation, and an ambition to clear out as much as I can, single-handed, before mid-week, when Neighborhood Handy Guy and his pickup truck and I go to collect the last of the necessary materials which don’t fit easily into the back of the Montero.

13. January 2019 · Comments Off on The New (House) Project · Categories: Domestic

The new home renovation project for this year has commenced, in a small way. This is the renovation of the master bathroom – number three on my grand five-year plan for sorting out the tiny suburban bungalow – which in another two years will be entirely paid off, mortgage-wise. It was once my ambition to do a second mortgage, once the first had been paid in full, and use the profits from sale of the California raw acreage to purchase a half-acre in the Hill Country and build my dream house on it. This probably will not happen, although I still have hopes of the Adelsverein Trilogy or the Luna City series suddenly (and miraculously) attaining the popularity and stratospheric sales figures of Fifty Shades of Grey, or the Outlander series, and enable us to buy a substantial property and build a bespoke mansion on it. But hope is not a plan – and this; this is the Five-Year Plan to sort out the present house, and make it fit for a local author with modest tastes, a huge library, and a tasteful collection of career mementos to live in.
So – the master bathroom becomes the next item on the list after renovating the guest bath (AKA Blondie’s bathroom), the new roof, and the Amazing Catio. Those three items were completed last spring; the Catio is almost completely paid for. Time to move on to the next two projects; the garage – now a good part cleared out in preparation for a new door – and the master bath.
This facility is a pair of rooms about five by five feet each, as laid out by the construction firm which built most of the Spring Creek Forest subdivision over three decades. They were one of the better firms, which meant that the constructor-grade appliances and installed fixtures were not absolute dreck, constructed from paper straws, tinfoil and bottom-grade cabinets of compressed wood chips and a thin vinyl veneer, and purchased by the railcar-sized lot. (Seriously, when Neighborhood Handy-guy ripped out the small bathroom vanity last year, I demolished it myself with a carpenter’s hammer, and stuffed the remains into the ordinary trash can.) More »

29. December 2018 · Comments Off on Turn of the Year Round-Up · Categories: Domestic

It’s been a bit since I did one of these year-end and year-looking-forward roundups. Well, since I had gotten a fair number of those goals achieved, or had a good go at them, it all seemed kind of pointless. But I did get certain strategic goals accomplished for 2018 – namely the first couple of items on the Five-Year Home Renovation plan. For a good few years, I had the dream of purchasing half an acre in the Hill Country and building a bespoke retirement home on it, funding that with profits from writing, and from a mortgage on the current home, once that it was paid off – which it will be in another couple of years.

That ambition, I began to see during late 2017 was probably unrealistic. Much as I would like half an acre of Hill Country, or something on the fringe of one of the small towns, and enjoy the sun setting over the distant hills, and fields of wildflowers in spring, and the jolly comradery of a small community, and to be able to keep chickens without worrying about if the rooster is annoying the neighbors … I like the convenience of being five minutes from grocery stores, the mild ego-boost of being one of the home-owners longest-resident in the neighborhood, and internet without any hassle. I also have the sneaking feeling that upkeep of that tiny portion of suburban cottage-and-yard which I do own nearly free-and-clear is probably about all that I can reasonably manage in the future. Unlike Benjamin Button, I am not getting any younger.

While the income from sales of various books, especially the Luna City series is satisfactory, it is very far from JK Rowling ‘buy your own castle!’ territory. While I live in hope of one day making a fair pile – hope is not a strategy. Late last year, I evolved the 5-Year Plan to improve/renovate the present home and am happy to report that three of the elements have been done and dusted. The new roof was completed late in the spring – it turned out that the tornado that ripped through the upper part of the neighborhood had also damaged my own roof, which had been installed in 2003 and was well to the end of its’ scheduled lifespan. The company which first did the work, and which I called again for an estimate on replacing also does small construction/renovation, and they added the covered, hardware-screened Magnificent Catio. I am nearly done with paying the deductible on the roof and for the additional add-on. The other spring project involved renovation of the small bathroom – also done and dusted by Neighborhood Handy Guy, who is skilled at painting, tilework, carpentry, minor electrical, uncomplicated plumbing and general maintenance.
The third project done was renovating the front yard – this done mostly by my daughter and myself. We installed pavers on either side of the entry sidewalk, more pavers by the very front, put in a slightly raised bed, bought some marked-down plants at Lowe’s, put them into pots that we were given by a neighbor clearing out their garage, and had Neighborhood Handy Guy severely trim the trash tree/Arizona ash at the front. (Yes, the original owners of my house opted for the very cheapest trees, and oh, how I wish they had sprung for a burr oak, or something classier than the trash trees!) It makes now for a rather Mediterranean look, with segments of concrete pavers set in sand, and pots of various plants. It will all be lovely, when they are revived by spring, and hopefully, not killed by the next winter freeze or the summer heat.

So – on to the new year’s resolutions. The main home reno goal during 2019 is to get the master bath totally renovated and get a new garage door installed. The old one has been frozen in place for … a while. And the garage is full of stuff. Some of it is my daughters, some of it mine, and suspect that much of it is extraneous to need. We have been circling around the project of reviewing the contents – and I did a good bit of cleaning out late in 2017 when the old hot water heater gave up the ghost and flooded the near regions with an inch or two of warm water. So far, we’ve done two runs to Goodwill, filled the trash and the recycle bin, and put some chairs, two boxes of HVAC ducting (surplus from when we replaced some runs of duct ourselves) and a tall round laundry basket out on the curb. It took only ten minutes for someone driving past to take one of the chairs – I kind of hope the boxes of ducting will be gone by the weekend.

The 2019 ambition for the garage is to not only get the door replaced but clear out enough space that we can put at least one of the cars inside and use one corner as a workshop. The Daughter Unit wants to pick up making stained glass panels again – as she got all of Mom’s glass-cutting gear and certain of the supplies of class and lead caning. We’ll have all the space to do this … as soon as we clear out a bit more…
There’s going to be more stuff going to Goodwill – mostly clothes. Yes, cleaning out the closet and the dresser drawers meant moving it mostly to the garage, and that just won’t do, for several reasons any more. For one, I haven’t worked in an office for someone else in years, and so the wardrobe of business suits and blouses are seriously extraneous to needs. For another – both the Daughter Unit and I started going to the gym three times a week when she came home from California last spring. The Daughter Unit also started running last year when she was in California … nine or ten miles, three times a week. She started also being rigorous about sweets, bread, snacks and portion sizes at meals. We’ve both lost weight – to the tune of three or four sizes in jeans, which is a nice problem to have, but it means that bales of larger-size everyday jeans and casual tops are now also extraneous to needs. My additional mild ambition is to drop another couple of sizes in jeans, which would put me comfortably back in the size that I was wearing upon retirement from the USAF. This would also make my primary medical care provider very happy, since it might make it possible to dial back requirements for the high blood pressure meds.

So there we are for 2019: new bathroom, cleared-out garage, and a size 10/12 in jeans again. Piece of cake, eh?
Oh, and get a good way through writing the next historical, and at least two Luna City chronicles. Definitely a piece of cake.

Oh, Christmas Tree!


With completion of the Splendid Catio, we can have a fully-decorated Christmas tree once more. We haven’t done this in several years; the indoors cats cut a swath through the Christmas ornaments, and the tree itself, and what with the heavy market schedule and all … we haven’t done the Full Griswald in three or four years. Maybe for the outside, not for the inside. But we have three deep tubs of Christmas tree ornaments, and a tall artificial (but generally real-looking at a distance) pine tree out in the garage, and this year, my daughter insisted absolutely on having a decorated tree. In addition to the lighted garlands, tabletop displays, and assorted other seasonal doo-dads, she wanted the Christmas tree brought in and decorated to the full, at least with those ornaments which would not shatter irreparably when hitting the painted concrete floor from the height of at least eighteen inches or so.
Reader, I acquiesced – and so we brought in the tree, and assembled it, with lights and ornaments and all, although we could not find the nice brocade and tassel-and-beadwork ornamented Christmas tree skirt which I am certain that I purchased from Tuesday Morning some years ago. It’s probably still out in the garage somewhere. It may turn up eventually.
Going through the existing boxes of ornaments for the tree became a memory-venture along the maps to our family past. Not very far long it, only as far as me purchasing or contriving ornaments for my little barracks tree when I was stationed in Japan as a baby airman in the late 1970s. The Christmas ornaments that I knew as a kid were all burned in the fire that took Mom and Dad’s retirement house in 2003. Of those things, the one collection I most regret were the stockings that Granny Jessie knit for us as the first two of us kids appeared, with our names worked into the top, and a half-dozen lighted glass Santa Claus ornaments from the 1930s, still in their original box. But as I said – all those are gone, ashes swept away long since. I made an attempt to replace the stockings – but in felt, with our names worked into the top: I suppose that my sister has the lot now, since having to sell Mom and Dad’s house after Mom fell and fractured her spine and was no longer able to live without extensive nursing assistance.

The oldest ornaments I do have – they came from Great Aunt Nan; a pair of small yarn and fabric ladies. They came from Denmark, I dimly recall Nan saying. The one with the tiny bag is a newspaper vendor for the most popular daily; the initials BT must stand for Berlingske Tidende. After that – the oldest are a collection of tiny embroidered fabric animals from India. I probably bought them at the NCO Wives Christmas bazaar early on. The second-oldest I made myself; a wide selection of Styrofoam balls covered with fabric, lace, braid and other trims. Some look a bit battered now, having gone through almost four decades of Christmases and the same years of being hauled here and there in my hold baggage, and being stored in all kinds of odd closets and garage spaces. They have the advantage of being durable, cat-and fall-proof, though – which is why they still endure.
Kind of hard to say which are the next ornaments in order of seniority. In Greece in the early 1980s, I took up the habit of yearly purchasing a box or two of appealing ornaments from some high-end catalog outlet – which I can no longer recall the name of but are probably now out of business entirely. The small vintage airplanes and the papier-mâché globes are from that period. In Greece, I had a small star-pine in a pot which lived on the balcony of the apartment building I lived in. That little live tree served for a couple of Christmases; when we transferred to Spain, I left it to Kyria Penny, the Englishwoman who lived in the next-door apartment building. She and her husband, Kyrie George, used it for their holiday tree until it became too large to move in and out of doors. I don’t know what happened to it after that, although the little airplanes and the globes moved with us to Spain in our hold baggage. Passing through Rome, I bought half a dozen Anri angels.

For a good few years during that period in Spain, my job there favored me with a January TDY to Ramstein, Germany, for a broadcasting squadron confab. The post exchange there had a concession there offering a vast array of traditional wooden Christmas ornaments: I brought home a good collection of them for several years running, and they still adorn the tree, being nearly as indestructible as the home-made ornaments. The NCO Wives Club sponsored a shopping trip to Turkey during one of those years; that fall, they had a booth at a craft fair offering stuff from Turkey. That’s where I bought four tiny brass and glass lamps. Miniatures of the full-sized lamps from there which were popular souvenirs.

In 1991, we rotated back to the States, after twelve years of straight overseas assignments, and celebrated a white snowfall Christmas in Ogden, Utah. In the Hill AFB BX, I had the good luck to buy a starship Enterprise Christmas ornament. I understand they were insanely popular that year, and now are rather rare as these things go. I have two more Star Trek ornaments; the Voyager and the Galileo shuttle, which weren’t quite so rare, and consequently now are available for about the same as I originally paid for them. During another TDY — to New Mexico, this time — I visited Santa Fe and bought a folk-art carved winged leopard in a shop there. By this point, the accumulation of ornaments was sufficient to make a good showing on a full-sized tree. I didn’t have to purchase them by a dozen or so at a whack. We – my daughter was earning her own spending money with regular employment by then – turned to purchasing ornaments one or two at a time. The year that we were both working at a department store, my daughter bought the little Christmas angel-mouse carrying a dove. I bought a couple of ornaments at the Hallmark store around the corner from our neighborhood, when they were on sale after Christmas. Such is our thrifty habit now – we pick up whatever has taken our fancy after Christmas, when they are marked down for quick sale. The tree, after all, is now hung thick with ornaments, most of which have a vivid memory of time and place attached.

(For the rest of December, the first three volumes of the Luna City Chronicles are available on Kindle, for a mere pittance of .99 cents each! Put up your feet, and spend the holiday in the prettiest and most eccentric small town in Texas!)

13. December 2018 · Comments Off on Inherited Trauma · Categories: Critters, Domestic, Home Front

Whilst I was perusing this story about the possibilities of trauma being a heritable thing, on my home office computer, my daughter came in to see what I was up to, and to lavish some small affection on our own bit of inherited trauma – that is, Mom’s cat, Isabelle. Isabelle was the last of those purebred apple-head Siamese cats which had been Mom and Dad’s. When their house had to be sold upon Mom becoming an invalid, my sister took the dogs to live with her (along with Mom) and Blondie and I inherited her two cats, one of whom has since passed away from advanced age. But Isabelle … sigh. Mom can’t remember how old she is exactly, since she was one of a long series of pure-bred apple-headed Siamese cats – and this iteration turned out to be as nutty as squirrel poop. Also mind-blowingly timid, unaffectionate, hostile even, unhygienically given to pee and crap where she slept (or where I slept, which was even more disgusting), and negative to the existing cats. We speculated that either Isabelle had been dropped on her head too damned many times as a kitten or was just as inbred as heck.
Anyway, upon completion of the Glorious Catio last spring, Isabelle – with her disgusting toilet habits and bad temperament firmly established – was one of those who moved in full time. There she spent her days and nights, fed and sheltered, amused by the garden outside, receiving some affection whenever we went out to sit – carefully, of course – and all was right with our world. (And it was nice to be able to clean something and have it stay clean for longer than ten minutes.)
Late in October, we rescued a dog from the streets in our neighborhood; a lively pug-chihuahua mix, whom no one recognized or claimed. We started calling him Fang – one has to call animals something, of course – and schemed to rehome Fang with an animal-loving couple of our acquaintance, a couple whose previous small dog had crossed over that rainbow bridge, and looked to us to find them another one, since my daughter and I seemed to have a secret super-power of animal-attracting. Fang seemed agreeable to cats but was (and still is) a consummate escape artist, and speedier than chain-lightening with a link snapped. We were afraid to keep him in the house, where he might tangle with our two small dogs, outside in the yard – too many gaps in the fence where he might escape. The Catio, with hardware mesh walls, brick floor and latched door, was the perfect temporary place. The cats, after all, had their ranks of shelves and perches, far above a small dog, who would perforce be limited to floor-level.
All went well for a couple of days. Our friends agreed to take Fang when no one claimed him, and my daughter went to run some errands, and I settled down to work at the computer. Until the sudden horrific ruckus broke out – howling, snarling, wailing – coming from the Catio. I rushed out there to see two cats on the highest shelves, watching with interest, and Isabelle with one hind leg up to the knee caught through the slats of one of the chairs, and twisting around, yet had her front claws and jaws firmly latched onto Fang’s rump. All too obvious what had happened; Fang had surprised Isabelle, asleep on the chair, she got her leg caught, and retaliated as cats will, with tooth and claw.
Fang, of course, did not like this situation, and commented loudly. Isabelle didn’t seem terribly pleased, either. I grabbed her scruff, eased her leg out from the chair, she let go of Fang and seemed to levitate across the Catio and hang onto the screen door for a moment before falling back to the ground. Fang, whimpering slightly, seemed relatively unhurt save for his dignity. But Isabelle was limping, badly enough to make a visit to the vet obligatory. My daughter thought she might have broken one of the long bones in her leg. So – applied some antibiotic to Fang’s rump, stowed Isabelle in a carrier, and off to the vet. (By coincidence, the one that I had brought Fang to, earlier in the day to have him checked for a chip.)
No, it emerged that Isabelle had not broken her leg – to the astonishment of the veterinarian, she had contrived to blow out the knee tendons in attempting to get her leg out from between the chair slats. The best and least expensive surgical solution he could suggest was to install a long pin through the leg bones to hold the knee rigid, and let the tendons heal. This we agreed to; for a cat we weren’t all that fond of, that to all appearances hitherto wasn’t all that fond of us, either – but Isabelle was Mom’s cat, and we felt obligated to take care of her to the best of our abilities because of that. We warned the veterinary staff of her disobliging and usually hostile nature and left her overnight for the surgery the following day.
When we went to collect her the following afternoon, the vet-tech enthused to us over how good and cooperative she had been, how affectionate she had been, even when the anesthesia wore off. My daughter and I are looking at each other and going, “OK … what have you really done with Mom’s cat, and where did you find this identical Siamese?”
We had to keep her restrained in a crate inside the house for a good few weeks – a crate just large enough for a towel-and-piddle-pad covered pillow, with a dish of food and a water dispenser. She took her daily antibiotic graciously, seemed to briefly retain her old habit of peeing and crapping where she slept, and then … didn’t. The concept of the litterbox seemed to have dawned on her. The surgical wound on her thigh healed over (she’ll go back to the vet after the holidays to have the long pin removed), and she curled up quite amenably in on of the pet beds that we have star-scattered across the household. From there, she moved into claiming the dog-bed at the foot of my bed, from Nemo and Connor (who prefer sleeping on the bed itself,) and to being actually human-affectionate. She sits on laps when offered, purrs affectionately, ‘talks’ to us in ‘Siamese-cat-yowl’ when we pet her.
Really, it’s quite astonishing, the transformation. I can only think that there must be something positive said for trauma. At least in the case of Isabelle.

(Note to all – the first three Luna City books are marked down for 99 cents on Kindle for the month of December only. Yes, as the pusher promised; the first couple of hits are free!)

06. December 2018 · Comments Off on Neighborhood Christmas Bounty · Categories: Domestic, Eat, Drink and be Merry

It’s going on four years now that Blondie, AKA the Daughter Unit and I hit upon making a variety of gourmet fudge to give as gifts to the neighbors, all attractively packaged in individual papers and pretty containers, and to the various enterprises and public service bodies with whom we do regular business: the Frost Bank branch, the mailman, the express delivery services (if we can catch them), the CPS trash collectors (ditto), the Fire Department substation across the way, and the police substation on Jones Maltsburger, among others. (The FD and PD get perfectly huge platters, because – three shifts, and unless there is plenty of it, the shift on duty when we deliver it, usually around mid-day, will bogart the largest portion thereof. So – we purchase lots of bags of premium chocolate (white, bitter-sweet and milk) from Sams’ Club when it becomes available, a fair amount of evaporated milk, cream, butter, sugar and assorted nuts and dried fruit, and get to work in the kitchen sometime around when we are finished with market events for the year. This year, we had but the one in Goliad last weekend and two publishing clients to attend to – and began on this task this week.
There is always one batch which goes disastrously wrong, for one reason or another, and cannot be salvaged – this year, the batch was the peanut butter fudge. Nothing to be done but throw it out, although some previous disasters have been salvaged and put to other use. The second attempt came out satisfactorily; this particular fudge tastes exactly like the filling in Reeses’ Peanut Butter Cups. This year, Blondie had the notion of adding a layer of milk chocolate swirled through it, so as she was beating in the last addition (of marshmallow fluff) I was melting some milk-chocolate morsels with a bit of cream and powdered sugar, to be dribbled over the finished product spread in a 9×13 pan and swirled through – and yes, the result does taste exactly like the commercial peanut-butter/chocolate fudges that we have tasted. Today – the Bavarian mint fudge, which is the trickiest to do, as one false move and with too many minutes over the double-broiler is apt to turn into grainy chocolate sludge with a layer of grease, all flavored like mint toothpaste, and another particular version, stuffed full of toasted walnuts and pecans, and dribbled with white chocolate threads by way of garnishment. Tomorrow another couple of batches – and then, when we are all done, another batch made from whatever ingredients we have left over in quantity – Blondie has found a plain recipe for butter fudge.
The slabs of cooled fudge accumulate in the refrigerator – by this weekend we can begin to slice and assemble the holiday bounty. By family custom, we stack each piece in a little candy paper, in a nice tin or box. We spend a morning with hygienic blue gloves on our hands, putting the tins/boxes all together – and then the afternoon delivering it. The list of recipients is on the refrigerator … having grown to about forty or fifty. Of course, the first year that we did this, we made a lot, and were reduced to chasing down neighbors – “Merry Christmas, we’ve spoken to you maybe twice, so here’s a box of fudge!”
By the second year, around in November, our closer neighbors were saying, with the begging puppy-dog eyes, “Hey – are y’all doing that fudge this year? That was good … are y’all doing it again?”
We are. So if you are a neighbor – look to it this weekend sometime. Merry Christmas!