11. November 2019 · Comments Off · 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 · 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 »

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 · 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 »

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 · 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 · 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 · 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 · 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 · 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 · 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 · 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 · 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 · 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!

So – Luna City Lucky Seven is finished, changes suggested by the Beta readers have been incorporated – and the latest installment of the Luna City Chronicles is ready to roll, pending arrival of the final cover. Which should happen over the weekend, or perhaps early next week. While I wait on that happy event, I’ve been scribbling away on the first couple of chapters of the Civil War novel, and mentally mapping out a few plot points. This novel, tentatively entitled That Fateful Lightening, follows Minnie Templeton Vining, a Boston lady of certain years. She is a die-hard Abolitionist in the years before the war, and a volunteer nurse during it, as outlined in Sunset and Steel Rails, in which she was a secondary or even tertiary character.

This new project requires me to really begin reading up on contemporary accounts and memoirs – of which there exists a large number. Many of the lady volunteers who took up this heartbreaking task of nursing soldiers under desperately primitive conditions wrote about it all afterwards; after all, the Civil war was the pivotal event of 19th century America. For better or worse, the issue of free-or-slave roiled politics and intellectual life for twenty years before, and the aftermath of the fighting left scars which, as of a century and a half later, are still vivid and raw. Thanks to having been a devoted reader of American Heritage as a tween and teen, thanks to Mom’s life-long subscription, I have always known this in outline, and in small tableaus – but not in such depth and detail that I could write convincingly and authoritatively about it from the point of view of a woman completely immersed, day to day, in both these issues.

So – another long, deep immersion in memoirs and letter collections – facilitated by the fact that most of the women who penned accounts of their heroic labors in field hospitals, in organizing fairs and markets to fund the purchase of medical supplies and comforts, and the rounds of public speaking and article-scribbling – are mostly obscure these days; their memoirs, letters and diaries are mostly in the public domain and free. Which is another nice benefit, since I am not anywhere near the income level of those authors who can command huge advances from a publisher, a guest shot on the Today Show, or The View, or a carefully-engineered position on the New York Times best-seller list.

Me at a recent Halloween market, as Queen Victoria

The other nice benefit reading this kind of material is that one is able to absorb the vocabulary, those thought-patterns and attitudes of the time. To me, there is no bigger crime in the historical-novel-scribbling set than that of ‘presentism’ – that is, basically dressing up modern characters in period clothing and having them walk through a 21st century plot. The past is a foreign country – they do things differently there. One might as well start with reading the authentic words of the residents. Histories are a useful adjunct to all this, but the problem with that is that the professionals all have their own biases and perceptions – and since so many of the female Civil War memoirists were concurrently, or later involved in various feminist crusades … I do not want to be put through the necessity of fighting my way through a bramble of biases. The original biases of the ladies involved is quite sufficient, thank you. The third nice benefit is that I can count on running across events, characters, small exchanges which will inspire plot twists and secondary characters for That Fateful Lightening. This turns up interesting things as a result. Well, interesting things to me, hunting scavenger-like for interesting bits of fact, turns of phrase, coincidences, and personalities – I swear, most of the plot turns in the Adelsverein Trilogy came about because I ran into something in the research reading and thought, “Ohhh! This has to be in The Book!”

The first such volume I have begun reading is a collection of letters, letters from and to a once-notable Quaker activist named Abigail Hopper Gibbons; who campaigned for various worthy charities benefiting women and orphaned children, the elderly, abolition of slavery, the Sanitary Comission (which provided medical care for soldiers during the war) the welfare of veterans and woman’s rights. She was happily married, it appears, and raised six children with her husband. Alas, one died as an infant, another at the age of five years old, and a third while in college after an accidental fall. She was a good friend of Lucretia Mott, who was also a very good friend of Elizabeth Cady Stanton – all these people tended to know each other, I gather – or at the very least, knew of each other. These ladies and a dozen others of whom I have collected up their memoirs would appear to have been very far from being meek, submissive, conventional image of a Victorian lady, sitting passively in her parlor embroidering and murmuring, “Yes, dear,” while her husband pontificated.

In fact, these ladies, in their corsets and bonnets, and skirts to the toes of their high-buttoned boots, threw themselves into battle-field nursing, operating field kitchens, fund-raising to purchase supplies, and personally overseeing the delivery of those supplies to hospitals. They were real fire-crackers, these ladies – and it’s going to be an adventure, exploring their world and their words.

 

There was a bit of excitement a couple of weeks ago in the suburb where I have lived since the spring of 1995. I should make it clear that this is a working-class to middle-class suburb on the north-eastern fringe of San Antonio, a city which has pretensions to being Democrat-run and a smidge on the libby-lefty side. After all, this place did spawn Julian Castro, of whom I am convinced there is a picture in that Great Universal Dictionary in the sky next to the definition of that German word which means “a face in need of a good punching”. San Antonio may be well stocked with representatives of the lunatic left, but we are pretty far from being Austin, and the fact that one cannot throw a rock in this place without hitting at least four retired colonels and a dozen retired senior NCOs (Army and Air Force, primarily) – well, that keeps a ration of sanity in play. I’ve only spotted two signs for Beto “Blotto” O’Rourke lately, for whatever that counts for.

The houses in the development tend to be small, and relatively affordable for people with moderately-paid jobs or a retirement income; I’d guess, from observing the various lawn signs over the years, that just about all are lived in by owners. Most of the houses are well-cared cared for; a few have spectacular gardens. The trees planted by the original developers are all well-grown, now. There are only a handful of rentals. The talk among the neighbors is that the neighborhood is desirable, in a quiet, unspectacular way, being close to various bases, good public schools, and shopping centers. I’d guess that the racial makeup of the neighborhood tracks very closely with the national average, with a tilt towards slightly more Hispanics; this is Texas, after all.
We have pretty much the same kind of petty crime that happens everywhere, or so I suspect; teenagers egging cars, theft of packages from mailboxes and doorsteps, drunk driving, and speeding; for a time six or seven years ago there were rumors of a peeping tom. The most spectacular crime was a double murder almost six years ago … and then there was last week’s ruckus. A deeply substance-addled moron took it into his head to work his way along the street (a well-traveled and well-lit street which traverses the subdivision), breaking into cars parked in driveways, looking for items of small value to steal. We suspect one of the rental houses is tenanted by a free-lance entrepreneur dealing in illicit recreational substances. Just about everyone on the street adjacent suspects this as well. No one will be the least surprised when they are busted by the police, except possibly the absentee owner of the house; likely this home-based enterprise was what drew said moron into the neighborhood to start with. Although the guy did think far enough ahead to station is equally substance-addled girlfriend act as lookout, he began this burglarious project at an hour when people were beginning to get up, go through their early morning routine, and depart for work. One of the vehicles broken into was the work truck of a guy who installs cable TV, from which he grabbed a bunch of tools and gear. And then, he went to the front door of the house where the truck was parked – and tried to steal the doorbell camera! Which resulted in a lovely picture of our Suburban Criminal Mastermind, with a stack of stolen items in his other hand. He didn’t get the doorbell camera, BTW, but the picture was posted on the Next Door Neighborhood app almost at once, so most of the neighbors were following this saga with appreciative interest.

The owner of the work truck, and another neighbor whose vehicle had also been broken into, gave chase almost immediately, the aspiring Criminal Mastermind vanished down a side street, outdistancing the pursuers for a time. They eventually found him, passed out on a lawn, hog-tied him with an extension cord, and called the police – who when they arrived were generally appreciative to find their job of apprehending a suspect already accomplished. This interlude was the talk of the neighborhood, naturally; we even had a television news crew visiting again. I’m fairly certain that if word has gotten around, it will be a while before another free-lance, substance-addled moron sees breaking into vehicles as the solution to his cash-flow problem.
And the reason that I am ruminating on this small incident? By coincidence, it was the very week that Victor Davis Hanson wrote,

“I live on a farm beside a rural avenue in central California, the fifth generation to reside in the same house. And after years of thefts, home break-ins, and dangerous encounters, I have concluded that it is no longer safe to live where I was born. I stay for a while longer because I am sixty-five years old and either too old to move or too worried about selling the final family parcel of what was homesteaded in the 1870s.”

The rest of his post outlined some of the awful, unchecked and unpunished criminality over the past twenty years which has led him to that sad conclusion: vandalism, destructive trespass, rampant looting of practically everything not nailed down … everything. And local law enforcement seems unwilling or incapable of remediating the situation. VDH’s community has reverted to a lawless jungle. It is no longer a self-organizing, functional place, where neighbors can look to each other, and to local authorities for defense and redress. When the lawless element can intimidate and overwhelm the law-abiding – indeed, when the authorities appear to take the side of the criminals – the law abiding will leave. With sadness and regret, but they will leave. My community still functions – and for that I am grateful.

It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.
(From the musical South Pacific)

Or not taught at all. Last week as I sat in my cosy home office contemplating things, the ebb and flow of the internet brought to me the woebegone maunderings of a (presumably) white and (arguably) somewhat credentialed Millennial, who in her search for meaning and purpose in her life wound up involved in those anti-pipeline protests near the Sioux reservation. The ukase of her lament seemed to be that she had no native culture, not in comparison with those charming and dignified tribal elders. She appeared to view them as benign, terribly exotic, definitely ‘other’ – pretty much the same lens with which the old National Geographic viewed and photographed those interesting aboriginal peoples in far distant foreign lands all these decades ago.

And it was terribly sad to read, because the poor child does in fact, have a culture of her own – just that she has been deprived of it; deprived by intent or by cultivated sloth on the part of those who should have taught it to her; the unimaginably rich canon knowledge of western culture – our history, art, literature, music, technology, folkways. Homer and Cervantes, Shakespeare, da Vinci, Bach, Beethoven, Wagner and Rossini, Dickens and Twain, Michelangelo and Machiavelli, Brunel and Bruneschelli, the Brothers Grimm, the Brothers Wright, Don Juan of Austria and Ulysses S. Grant, the Duke of Wellington and whoever it was invented the toilet flush valve and the first working sewing machine. Likely all this and more were never taught to her, or what is worse – badly taught and as examples of western racism or whatever. To live without a sense of history is to be adrift in a kind of cultural sensory-deprivation tank, as exhibited by that child.

I can’t make up my mind which is the bigger crime against the minds of the young these days: the sin of omission in neglecting to teach them anything but the most anodyne little bits and bobs … or the deliberate commission involved in teaching them that western culture is one long sodden exercise in violence, racism, sexism and other -isms yet to be discovered by the tireless exploration of social justice scholars. (I have been told that we have socialist subversion on the part of malignant fools like Antonio Gramsci to blame for this sad state of affairs.) That second alternative has produced bitter, self-involved credentialed idiots like Sarah Jeong, who as of this week still has a prestigious position at our so-called national newspaper of record, the New York Times.

It is a good thing that many responsible parents are turning to home schooling, I suppose – and that many more miseducated adults are embarking on a belated program of independent self-education. Nature does abhor a vacuum, but shouldn’t our society offer a little more of substance to fill that vacuum? Discuss what can and might be done, if you can bear to contemplate the disaster that is education in the western world these days.

(Bonus – meme appropriated from the internet)
Sarah Jeung - Ask Your Grandma

San Antonio, the town that I am pleased to say is my place of residence, made the national and international news this week – and not in a good way. My particular quadrant of suburban San Antonio was the scene of the now-notorious MAGA-hat-stealing-and-drink-throwing-incident. (A good selection of the resulting headlines are here )
The Whattaburger outlet where this took place is about two and a half miles from my house, adjacent to a brand-new Walmart, and the bank branch I used to do business with, and around the corner from the bank branch that I now do business with. The arrested-and-released-on-bail Kino Jimenez lives in another outlaying suburb – apparently with his mother. He also seems to have committed a series of prior offenses; not exactly an upright citizen, it appears, and one with extraordinarily poor impulse control. Looking at the video of this incident – and keeping in mind that nothing good happens at 2 AM – I see a rather thuggish Hispanic guy getting his jollies picking on a couple of weedy Anglo teenagers in an all-but-empty-restaurant in the wee hours. I’d venture a guess that if it hadn’t been the MAGA hat, it would likely have been something else. Bullies always find an easy target, and a ready justification for their thuggish impulses.

Ah, the MAGA hat, which apparently serves as a rage-trigger for leftists everywhere. The very curious thing is that I have never seen a person wearing one in real life, real time, in my town. Not around where I live, work, do business. I brought this up with the Daughter Unit – and she couldn’t ever remember seeing any person wearing a MAGA hat either. Not any time in the last two years; The kid with a MAGA hat in the Whattaburger may have been the only person in the neighborhood choosing to wear one – although I very much doubt he was the only Trump fan. In the last two and a half years, we’ve noted pro-Trump bumper stickers on only a handful of cars, too. There were no Trump yard signs in the election run-up, either – and it’s not hard to figure out why. No one really wants to provoke a confrontation with a self-important, loose-cannon loudmouth like Kino Jimenez. No one really wants to have their drink thrown in their face at a restaurant, or make an unscheduled trip to the emergency room, or have their car keyed – or worse. As my daughter says; we’ve been schooled in the fine art of not attracting bad attention to ourselves.

Out there in your world, are there many people that you have observed, wearing MAGA hats and clothing, to anything other than a political rally? Is a lot of Trump support still flying under the radar – not attracting hostile attention in public? Discuss.

By the Mystic Marbles of Matagorda, I thought that last week’s bout of Trump derangement was the far frozen limit, but here it is only Wednesday and the establishment media is already running around in hair-on-fire fits of hysteria, the distributed radical insurgency known as Antifa has declared bloody war on the employees of the US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, a writer employed by the New Yorker magazine as a fact-checker has singlehandedly undermined the intellectual coinage working for that magazine, having been a Fulbright scholar and a graduate of Harvard … and after a nearly fifty year hiatus from public consciousness, Peter Fonda has hove once again into sight. Like a groundhog, only hairier and on a longer rotation.

Being the cynical person that I have become over the last two administrations, I’d bet that something like Journolist is still in operation among those media reps still desirous of seeing conservatives in general and Donald Trump in particular driven from participation in the body politic. How else for the plight of the poor, pitiful illegal immigrant children to suddenly sprout in the headlines like some dreadful kind of kudzu between one day and the next? Especially since the … urm … custody situation has been a thing since the previous administration. Especially since the previous administration exacerbated the situation vis-à-vis minor children crossing the border illegally by seeming to suggest that having the kiddy-winks with you was a kind of get-out-of-detention-free card. Having the situation of minor children separated from adults who might be their parents, or a ‘coyote’ – a trafficker transporting them over an international border for shady purposes – after being detained upon illegally entering the United States is not something that just happened this week. No, this has been going on for a while, and of course it is just now being deliberately blown up. I may have been born at night, but it wasn’t last night. Discuss: what is this attempting to distract us from? Is it working so far, or is it blowing up like something from Acme in the hands of the hapless Coyote?

09. May 2018 · 1 comment · Categories: Domestic

Well, a project progress report, seeing that one of the semi-big projects on my list of home-improvement items has been accomplished – and bountifully, at that. Well, it did run to about $300 more in labor and $200 more in stuff – specifically a wall-mounted mirror, a faucet set, and a glass shelf – than I had initially anticipated. But the small bathroom renovation is complete and gorgeous! Well, once the glass shelf arrives, courtesy of Amazon and UPS, it will be complete. I began working on the bathroom after I got back from Houston, at the middle of April – scraping disgusting wads of soluble plaster and popcorn texture off the ceiling, and alternately, those last bits of paint from off the concrete floor, while awaiting the convenience of Neighborhood Handy Guy. Neighborhood Handy Guy boogies to the beat of a different drummer, when it comes to a schedule, I’m afraid. When he says, “I’ll be over first thing!” it could mean anywhere between 8:30 and noon. When he says, “I’ll be over today!” it could be any time from mid-morning to late afternoon. This charming eccentricity is forgiven by neighborhood clients because he does amazingly good work (carpentry, tile-work, fixture-installation, painting, etc.) being a perfectionist at heart, and that his charges for labor are … well, let’s just say they are reasonable. Especially if you do some of the work, assist him, and purchase the necessary. So reasonable that he is in constant demand – another reason for being patient. So – two weeks of work from Neighborhood Handy Guy, including trips to the local Lowe’s outlet, first to pick up the pedestal sink and the new toilet, the paint, tile for floor and sink surround, good sturdy planks for a shelving unit, baseboards and trim, subsequently to collect other items as required … and now the bathroom is finished. Yay! (Pictures below. The room is so small that it’s impossible to back up far enough to take pictures encompassing the whole … and the paint color is more of a white with a pink tinge than the sort of Pepto Bismol shade that it looks under flash.)

It’s amazing how much roomier it seems, now with a nice pedestal sink, and with a custom, if simple and unadorned shelving unit installed. The original vanity was contractor-grade, and so shoddy that I bashed it apart myself with an ordinary hammer and consigned it to the gargantuan wheelie-trash-bin without any untoward exertion. And my place was built by a reputable company: homes built by the really fly-by-night builders must be equipped with cabinets built with heavy cardboard, and fixtures constructed from soda straws and heavy tinfoil.
It’s only the very first item on my Five-Year To-Do, though. I am awaiting the call from the roofing and remodeling company, in service to the second item – initial construction of the Catio and in association with that project, a new roof. Sometime in late May, early June, I think. Then the garage door – and that is dependent on sorting out all the crap in the garage, much of which is the Daughter Unit’s. She came home from her last station at Cherry Point and when her hold baggage arrived, it was all unloaded into the garage. The master bath reno must wait until after Christmas. Sigh. Another week of scraping popcorn gunk off the ceiling awaits me at that point. And likely at least three weeks of waiting every day for Neighborhood Handy Guy to appear and work his home-renovation magic. Until then, I solace myself by going down the hall, opening the door, and basking in the retro-charm of the finished small bathroom.

While waiting to be put into the roofing/construction company’s schedule for the ‘catio’ and the new roof – which likely won’t happen until mid or late May at earliest, I have gone ahead and started work on the small bathroom renovation. The Daughter Unit was expecting this to be done while she was in California. I was also expecting to have Roman the Handy Guy start on the ‘catio’ before she even left, but he was in two minds about the project; an entirely roofed and screened-in porch was a bit more of a project that he wanted to tackle single-handed. So – I handed off the catio-porch element onto the professionals and asked him to tackle the small bathroom renovation. This is something more in his wheelhouse anyway.

The small bathroom project is a relatively simple one; rip out the vanity/sink and the toilet, scrape that nasty popcorn texture off the ceiling, tile the floor and the wall behind where the new sink will go, repaint the whole room, and install a set of built-in shelves and a new wall light fixture. The whole room is about 5 by 9, a third of that taken up by the bathtub across one end anyway. No big structural changes, no changes to the water or sewer lines, nothing to the electrical beyond replacing switch plates to match the new color scheme. Which will be white and a sort of grey-lavender-pinkish, to match a little vintage porcelain dresser set that the Daughter Unit picked up somewhere or other and wanted to use as the keynote design element. We plan to reuse the faucet set – since it was the one that I bought to replace the original construction-grade faucet about a decade ago, when I did my first redecorating pass through my little patch of suburban paradise.

So, yesterday we were at the local big-box home renovation store, picking up the replacement toilet and pedestal sink that I had ordered last week – both items packed in big boxes, which is why I had arranged with Roman and his pickup truck, rather than try and stuff them in the back of the Montero myself. While there, I bought the other material for the project; paint, floor and backsplash tile, the grout mix, lengths of baseboard stock, and lumber for a set of floor-to-ceiling shelves which will replace the storage space lost when the bathroom vanity is taken out. The bathroom is so small, the vanity takes up entirely too much of what little space there is – hence, replaced with a pedestal sink. Roman has a busy schedule for the rest of this week, so his part of the renew-work falls into next week. My part falls into the interim: scrape up the last of the paint on the concrete floor and clean thoroughly, so that the tiles adhere properly, take down all the stuff attached to the walls, patch the holes, sand, and otherwise prep the room for heavy redecoration. And that was my week – other than the trip to Houston, which I will write up anon.

In two more years, the mortgage on my tiny patch of suburban paradise will be paid off. This is a consummation that I have longed for, especially when I tossed aside all expectation of working full-time for other people, about ten years ago, and resolved to make a living from writing, and from doing freelance publishing with the Tiny Publishing Bidness. I had an almost wholly unexpected bout of good sense when I purchased the house in 1995; which resulted in a) not buying into too much house, and b) ensuring that the mortgage did not consume more than a quarter of my total monthly income, as it then stood. Since then, the mortgage has been paid monthly, on the dot, even in months in which I just scraped past, economically, by the skin of my teeth. Something always showed up in time to rescue us from disaster; the sale of the California property allowed me to install a direly-needed new HVAC system, for instance.
The situation now is that I have sufficient income to make serious and concrete plans for fixing various things about the house. Alas, I have concluded that unless and until I get offered a bomb of money for film rights to Luna City, or the Adelsverein Trilogy, the vacation home/residence in the Hill Country is off the table. The rational course is to work with the house I have in the real world, and not the one in dreams, and so the plans have been mapped out in best Soviet Five-Year Plan style. The end of the month will bring about the first of them; the patio project – or more precisely, the ‘catio’ – a residence for the cats who we have inherited or have claimed us as their permanent servant class. We have designed a covered, screened shelter for the cats; full of climbing stands, ramps, platforms, hammocks – what Roman the Neighborhood Handy Guy terms “a Disneyland for cats!” This is Phase One. Honestly, I will be glad to get their litterboxes out of the house itself and have them – or most of them – living in a place that we can clean with a spritz from the garden hose. One of the cats we inherited from Mom has a dicey digestion, the other is willfully and deliberately incontinent … and I am just that tired of dealing with the mess, the smell, and the puddles of liquid or not-so-liquid matter.
Phase Two; a renovation of the guest bathroom, which is the one mainly used by the Daughter Unit. Easy peasy, relatively. The bathtub/shower is in relatively good shape, but the toilet and sink vanity absolutely have to go. It’s a very small bathroom, those two items are the original contractor-installed, and besides taking up too much space, they are ugly, and well past their best-if-used-by date. (We’ve seen other home-owners in the neighborhood put them out for bulk trash collection in the last ten or so years.) We plan to replace the sink vanity with a pedestal sink, a better grade of toilet, and paying Roman the Neighborhood Handy Guy to tile the floor with tiles which we got from a neighbor – leftovers from her own home renovation. Hey – the price was right, and there should be just enough of them to retile a tiny cubicle of a bathroom. Our plan also calls for tiling the wall behind where the vanity was with some nice bits of ornamental tile, which we will have to purchase, before Roman can install the new sink and toilet. Aside from that – Phase Two is relatively easy on the budget, although the Daughter Unit wants Roman to build a shelf-and-basket-drawer unit to go up the wall and replace the storage space lost with the vanity.

Phase Three: the master bath and dressing room. A bigger project, and consequently more expensive, although it is really two small rooms. One has the toilet and bathtub-and-shower, the other the vanity and sink. The bathtub is totally shot – and I had a go at refinishing it about fifteen years ago, which bought about another decade of life for it. No – it is beyond all salvage. Roman redid a neighbor’s bathroom – taking out the bathtub and converting it into a walk-in shower stall. He did wonderful work – and has promised to do the same for me. I buy the materials, he does the work. My plans proceed.
I want a neo-Victorian look for the master bath, or as much as I can get, utilizing the existing fabric of those two little rooms and not paying a bomb for the various elements. I can reuse some brushed aluminum elements that I bought from Crate and Barrel some years ago – which means that I am committed to that metal for everything else. Fortunately, brushed aluminuim seems to be a popular finish, even in retro-styled fixtures, if the searches on the internet are anything to go by. The necessary bits for the shower enclosure are available at the local big-box construction outlet … and some of the smaller items are on Amazon at a quite reasonable rate. I want hexagonal white tile on the floor, dark wood baseboards, blue and white toile wallpaper, and vintage-looking lights over the vanity. All those elements are available through the big-box outlets. The room where the vanity is supposed to go is a weird space – 55 inches. Upon looking at what is available – oh, deary me. The ones I really like are either too big and massively expensive. But I did run across an a number of articles about repurposing a small dresser to serve as a bathroom vanity … and I happen to have two such items out in the garage. The small oak dresser would serve very well, especially if I can obtain locally a slab of quartz or granite, with a hole for a drop-in sink custom-cut for it … yes, the master bath reno will sop up the summer extra income, but the resulting bathroom will be amazing! It may very well take at least three months to pay for the materials and for Roman’s expertise. But I don’t mind. The deplorable condition of the master bath has long been a thorn in the side of this home-owner.
Phase Four; replace the garage door. Of course, the larger part of this project means sorting out the contents of the garage itself. It would be darned nice to fit one, or both of the cars in the garage again, especially if we can do this by the time we gear up for the Christmas market season.
Phase Five – this project is variable, as it is even more huge than the master bath. The kitchen. I haven’t thought that far ahead, practically, although we found – on our visit to Goliad last week – the image of the perfect kitchen to serve as a model. All this, and a peninsula to serve as a workspace … I haven’t even thought this far out to make an estimation of the costs, although I did buy a book for Roman to study last year, about custom cabinetry. At some point between this phase and the next, new flooring throughout the house will be involved, once the kitchen and the bathrooms are done.

Our Kitchen Inspiration

Our Kitchen Inspiration

Phase Six will likely happen next year or the following; replacing the roof. In March of 2005, a violent hailstorm ripped through my neighborhood, putting the final kibosh on my own roof and practically everyone elses’. At that time, I was told that the shingles would be good for ten years, maybe a little longer, if we were lucky. So far, I have not seen the little granules washing off and piling up at the bottom of the gutter downspouts, as I had before. We’ve been lucky, as far as marble-sized hail goes – but this will not last forever. A couple of neighbors have gone and done standing-seam metal roofs, which are good for a lifetime and then some. So – metal roof, next year or the year after.
Following upon the roof will be replacing the windows, especially on the badly-weathered side of the house; likely that will also mean replacing some of the siding, which is also badly decayed in places. I had looked into doing new windows four or five years ago but didn’t have the funds to commit to it then. And that will wrap up the Five Year Plan, finally, to improve Chez Hayes.