Elsie the Contented Cow was created in 1936 first as a cartoon corporate logo for the Borden food products line; a little brown Jersey cow with a daisy-chain necklace and a charming anthropomorphic smile. Three years later, a live cow was purchased from a dairy farm in Connecticut to demonstrate (along with several other likely heifers) the Borden Dairy Company-invented rotary milking parlor – the dairy barn of the future! in the Borden exhibit at the 1939 World’s Fair. The live Elsie, originally named You’ll Do Lobelia (no, I did not make up this bit) came about because an overwhelming number of visitors to the exhibit kept asking which of the demo-cows was Elsie. Of the cows in the show, You’ll Do Lobelia was, the keeper and administrator of the dairy barn agreed – the most charming and personable of the demonstration cows, especially for a generation of Americans who had moved on from a life of rural agriculture and likely never laid eyes on a real, live cow. So, Lobelia/Elsie was drafted into service for commercial interest (much as young American males were being drafted at about the same time for military service). Elsie, her assorted offspring, spouse (Elmer the Bull – the corporate face of Elmer’s Glue) and her successors continued as the public face, as it were – for the Borden Dairy Company, appearing in a movie, even – and the Macy’s department store window, where she gave birth to one of her calves. Her countenance adorns the labels of Eagle Brand condensed milk to this day.

But what – one might reasonably ask – has Elsie the Cow have to do with the Alamo?

There were cows in the Alamo – or at least, at the start of the 1836 siege. William Travis’ open letter from the Alamo, written as Santa Anna’s army invested the hastily-fortified old mission on the outskirts of San Antonio, included a hasty scribbled post-script. “The Lord is on our side—When the enemy appeared in sight we had not three bushels of corn—We have since found in deserted houses 80 or 90 bushels & got into the walls 20 or 30 head of Beeves.” A facsimile of the letter – a plea for immediate assistance – was printed at once, and published by the two major Texas newspapers of the time: the Texas Republican, and the Telegraph and Texas Register.
The Telegraph and Texas Register was owned by a partnership; a long-time settler in San Felipe de Austin named Joseph Baker, and a pair of brothers, originally from New York – John Petit Borden and Gail Borden, who served as editor, although his previous profession had been as surveyor and schoolteacher. Baker and the Bordens published their first issue almost the minute that revolution broke out in Texas, with the “Come and Take It” fight at Gonzales in late autumn, and subsequent issues of the Register covered the various issues and controversies in the mad scramble that was the Texas Revolution. And scramble meant literally – for by early spring, the Telegraph was the only functioning newspaper in Texas. John Borden left to join the fledgling Texas Army, and a third brother, Thomas, took his place in the partnership. On March 30th, the Borden brothers and their partner disassembled their press and evacuated San Felipe with the Texian rear guard, a short distance ahead of the advancing Mexican Army. They set up the press in Harrisburg two weeks later, and just as they were about to go to press with new issue – the Mexican Army caught up to them. The soldiers threw the press and type into the nearest bayou and arrested the publishers. Fortunately, the Bordens did not remain long in durance vile, for in another week, Sam Houston’s rag-tag army finally prevailed.

Gail Borden was still raring to go in the newspaper business, and mortgaged his Texas lands to buy a replacement press. The Telegraph resumed publication in late 1836, first in Columbia, and then in Houston – but on a shoe-string. The Borden brothers had sold their interest in the newspaper by the following year, and Gail Borden moved into politics, serving as Collector of Customs at Galveston, and from there into real estate, before developing an interest in – of all things, food preservation. His first essay was a sort of long-lasting dehydrated beef product, called a “meat biscuit”. The product won a prize at the 1851 London World’s Fair, and proved to be popular with travelers heading to California for the Gold Rush, and with Arctic explorers – but the US Army – which Borden had been counting on for a contract to supply meat biscuits – was not enthused, which left Gail Borden casting around for another likely product. There was a great concern at the time with the contamination of milk, especially in cities, especially since diseased cows could pass on a fatal ailment in their milk.
It took Gail Borden three years of experimenting, developing a vacuum process to condense fresh milk so that it could be canned and preserved. After a couple of rocky years, Gail Borden met by chance with an angel investor, who saw the utility of Borden’s process, and had the funds to back an enterprise called The New York Condensed Milk Company. Although Borden developed processes to condense fruit juices and other food products, milk was and continued to be their best-seller, especially when the Civil War broke out, and demand for the product rocketed into the stratosphere. By the time that he died, in 1874 – back in Texas and in a town named Borden, after him – no one could deny that he had not been wildly successful as an inventor and innovator.
In 1899, the New York Condensed Milk Company formally changed its name to the Borden Condensed Milk Company, to honor their founder. (There have been a number of rejiggering of company names since – currently the Elsie logo appears on the Eagle brand of condensed milk, through corporate machinations too convoluted to explain here, if anyone even would be interested.)
And that, people, is how Elsie the Contented Cow is connected to the Alamo.

From last year - a representative sample of our neighborhood Christmas gift

From last year – a representative sample of our neighborhood Christmas gift

Seventeen days to Christmas and counting … yikes. It’s coming at me like a freight-train. We finished the custom fleece blankets for the nieces and nephews … but have yet to package and mail them. I have yet to order some Christmas presents to be sent to family … seriously, where the heck does December go? And we’re just a week into it, too.
Of course, I am distracted by the weekly market events. Blondie’s Montero has been kept loaded since mid-November with all the market impedimenta; the pavilion and the weights, the tables, folding chairs, signage, display racks, table dressings, the strings of lights and extension cords for the events which require them, the tool kit for emergencies, the Rubbermaid tub with the folder of extra flyers, postcards … and of course, the other tubs and boards of merchandise which are the whole purpose for these excursions. We have not even unpacked the Montero between market excursions. The purpose for all this is pure basic capitalism: We have goods – books and origami creations, to exchange for cash or occasionally in kind – with people who desire to own said books or origami creations. This – leading up to Christmas, and the customary exchange of sometimes frivolous consumer goods between consenting adults, and presented to the immature specimens of our species of whom we are fond – is the reason that most vendors of consumer goods make their nut in the last quarter of the calendar year. I have no critique to make of this arrangement; it’s our custom, and not only do I demand respect for it, I participate willingly.
But enough about the commercial aspect of the season – now about the neighborly and altruistic aspect. It has been a long-established custom in our family to make home-made treats to present to hapless acquaintances and neighbors. My mother’s practice was for cookies – a fairly decent basket-assortment of butter-cookies and slabs of cake and fruitcake, which we attempted to emulate for a couple of years. Then we tried out giving small gift-baskets of other gourmet items, since simply everyone does Christmas cookies … until my daughter hit upon the notion of boxes of gourmet fudge, after visiting a candy store in in Fredericksburg some four years ago and sampling – and purchasing a few bits of their finest specialty fudge. Oh, a hit – a very palpable hit! Boxes, tins and plates of various flavors, made from the very best ingredients. High-quality chocolate, real butter and cream: We knew that we had a winner after the first year, when in late November of the second year, various neighbors began to hint, wistfully. “Say, are you gonna be doing that fudge again … that was soo good…”
This was the week that we scheduled for making up batches of eight different kinds of fudge; chocolate with nuts, chocolate with nuts and cranberries, brown-sugar and toasted-pecan, white chocolate coconut, raspberry-creamsicle, peanut butter, and Bavarian mint chocolate, and brandy-alexander chocolate. That was Monday thru Wednesday; Thursday and today are dedicated to packaging and delivering. We do a massive pair of boxes for the local fire station, and the nearest police substation to us; a smaller one for the Frost bank branch where we do business, for Alfred the mailman, and the guy who drives the trash collection truck. Those all went out yesterday, to great appreciation from the receiving staff at the fire station and police station, especially. Today – it’s another round of packing and delivering boxes for the near-in neighbors. Another Christmas objective achieved; tomorrow, it’s all day at the Old Courthouse in Blanco for the next to-last Christmas market. Sunday – perhaps we’ll feel sufficiently energetic to hang out some ornaments on the bay tree, and to sit down and do mail-order gifts for the family in California. And that was my week …

I cannot, for the life of me, figure out why the burning social question of the moment has to do with transgender persons and bathrooms, locker rooms and changing facilities, both those for the convenience of the public and those dedicated for the use of school children. First and foremost, I will not believe that there can be all that many genuine transgender persons of any age wandering around, outside of a few very limited locations; very few and those who have not taken the plunge entirely would, I believe, not be all that damned flamboyant about it. It is remotely possible that I might have been in a public facility at the same time as an undecided or a totally committed transgender and been unaware of it, but frankly, I believe that my personal chances of having done so and knowing about it are about on par with my chances of being abducted by aliens.
After all the recent sturm und drang with regard to the actual proportion of gays across the general population – give or take 2% of the whole, and I don’t CARE how high the representation is in certain neighborhoods or occupations, or how many gay characters there are in any given movie or TV show – gays are only about two in a hundred, and genuine transgender persons are considerably less than that. So the tender concern regarding them using the bathroom of choice is a tempest the size of Hurricane Katrina in a demitasse cup – and again; why? With all this talk about safe spaces, and a so-called “war on women” – isn’t facilitating the presence of male sexual predators in a female bathroom, locker or changing room a little – I don’t know – counter-productive? Is there a method in this apparent madness?

Is it, as some have suggested – a sort of Gessler’s Hat; an exercise in petty authority on the part of a petty and vindictive man, designed to remind ordinary citizens that they must and will obey the dictates of the ruler? There is an argument to be made in that. Our current president gives every appearance of one accustomed to snapping his fingers and seeing the underlings fall all over themselves to obey.

Or is it another salvo in a continuing effort to jam the controlling tentacles of a federal government vampire squid more thoroughly into the public school system – a system more generally controlled at a local, city and state level – under the extremely thin guise of being a matter of civil rights for an all but invisible minority? Could be; and I personally think this would be the likeliest motivation.

Is it a deliberate ploy to distract – chaff thrown out direct public and news media attention away from something else, something much more serious, and if so, what? Candidate Hillary’s problems with security, and bungling Benghazi? What other catastrophic failures is this a distraction from?

Or – could it be a calculated effort to goad us farther into open defiance?
Discuss.

A society as huge and complex as the United States can run economically only on the basis of acceptance and trust. This has been true for so long it is no longer noticed, like the air. People accept the rules and generally follow them whether or not there is a policeman in attendance. …. All over the the land people go about their business secure that arrangements will be honored and carried out. A high-trust society is a low-cost society.

Wretchard, at the Belmont Club

Of all that has changed over the last decade in the general culture of the United States, I wonder if a widespread loss of trust in the political, media, intellectual and bureaucratic establishments is the most quietly catastrophic of all the damage done to our society of late. It is axiomatic that once trust in an individual, a friend or a spouse is lost, it can almost never be regained; one of those things which is easily, almost casually done, never to be completely repaired. I suspect that we will discover over the next few decades that the thinking and observing portion of our society will never regain that unthinking trust in our institutions, now that we have seen them become weaponized in open and politically partisan ways. We have observed the national news media become politically partisan, more intent on hiding matters of significance than informing the public about them. What doesn’t appear above the fold, so to speak, or even in the back pages is sometimes more revealing. And the hate for ordinary American citizens in flyover country, frequently expressed by those residents of the wealthy bicoastal enclaves has been mind-boggling. There are personalities who have been so casually offensive in this regard that I have made it a point to avoid patronizing with my pocketbook anything that they have had anything to do with. I suspect that I am not alone in this – it’s another element of that ‘cold anger’ that I wrote about some days ago. How has it come to be that the so-called ruling elite of a nation now appear to hold their fellow-citizens in such deep contempt? (This contempt has begun to be returned with interest of late, although the ruling elites are predictably mystified by such quiet demonstrations as in the Chick-Fil-A appreciation day, the failure of certain lavishly promoted moves and TV shows, and heavily attended Tea Party rallies of a few years ago.)

My daughter has been watching old television series, on streaming video as she worked on various artistic projects for the upcoming Christmas bazaar season. This week’s choice was McGyver; over walking the doggles one morning she commented that two things about the show slightly boggled her mind; that the character didn’t have the internet (she kept thinking ‘Why didn’t he just google … oh. Never mind’) but the most striking feature was that government agencies like the EPA were seen as as benign, even competent and worthwhile. I did explain to her, how it used to be – how the EPA once did good work, or at least in the eyes of the general public, used to do good work. Other governmental agencies also used to be seen as the good guys … but not any more. Interfering, partisan, abusive busybodies, without much of a mission left, but more passionate and bullying in wielding authority of the crushing sort. When federal regulatory agencies established in-house SWAT teams on their table of organization marked the change from benign to malign.

One of the points that Wretchard makes in the essay linked above is that the low-trust state is fearfully inefficient, frequently corrupt and usually poor; energy that might be turned towards innovation, creation, building – is instead wasted, when a proportion of its’ subjects become enforcers, tirelessly surveilling, documenting, prosecuting and punishing the rest – who as a result spend their own creative energies into twisting, turning, evading and escaping that control. When nothing larger than a toy train layout in the basement can be done without a bribe or the influence of someone within the governing system, innovations and businesses are held down to being marginal, or illicit, and usually both. The nation keeps two sets of books, essentially; the official set and the black market set. Progress dies, strangled at birth, so to speak. Nothing moves, unless the State allows – because unapproved change will upset the comfortable establishment; that just can’t be permitted.

Obama is the man who promised that “…we are going to fundamentally transform America.” That certainly seems to have been accomplished. We still have some space for ourselves, of course. The shelves in the grocery store are still full, gas in Texas is at and around $2.00, Christmas and the local bazaar events are around the corner, our hens are laying, and the pantry is full, so there is cause for optimism.
But not much. Discuss.

(Crossposted at www.chicagoboyz.net)

07. October 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Eat, Drink and be Merry

Granny Jessie kept chickens during the Depression – quite a lot of them, if my childhood memories of the huge and by then crumbling and disused chicken-wire enclosure, the adjoining hutch and the nesting boxes are anything to go by. Some of her neighbors went on keeping backyard livestock well into the 1960s – we occasionally sampled goose eggs at Granny Jessie’s house where we could hear a donkey braying now and again. Mom had to help care for the chickens, as child and teenager – and wound up detesting them so much that this was the one back-yard DIY farm element that we never ventured into when we were growing up. Mom hated chickens, profoundly.

But my daughter and I were considering it over the last couple of years, along with all of our other ventures into suburban self-efficiency – the garden, the cheese-making, the home-brewing and canning, the deep-freeze stocked full, the pantry likewise. I put off doing anything about chickens until two things happened: we finally encountered the woman in our neighborhood who keeps a small flock of backyard chickens, and she took us to see her flock. She told us that it was not much trouble, really, and the eggs were amazingly flavorful. In comparison, supermarket eggs – even the expensive organic and supposedly free-range kind were insipid and tasteless. (And – it seems that other people in other places have come through bad times by keeping chickens.)

The Coop with WindvaneThe second thing was spotting a ready-made coop at Sam’s Club a good few months ago. We kept going back and looking at it, whenever we made our monthly stock-up. It had a hutch, an attached roofed run with open sides secured with hardware cloth, and an appended nesting box accessed through a removable roof. But still … the price for it was what I considered excessive. Then, at the beginning of the month, the coop was marked down by half. Seeing this, we transferred some money from the household savings account, and with the aid of a husky Sam’s Club box-boy, stuffed all 150 pounds of the box which contained all the necessary flat-packed panels into my daughter’s Montero.

I put it together over Mother’s Day weekend, painting it the same colors as the house: sort of a primrose-peach color with cream trim. The coop and run was constructed of rather soft pine, with some kind of greenish wood-stain slathered over it all, which took two coats of paint to cover entirely. I wish that I had gotten out the electric drill with the screwdriver attachment a little earlier in the game; the side and roof panels were all attached together with 67 2-in and 2 ½ inch Phillips-head screws. Yes, I counted; I did about the first forty by hand … sigh. The remains of half a can of polyurethane spar varnish went on the roof to make it entirely waterproof. We topped it with a wind vane ornamented with a chicken, and it all went together on a bedding of concrete pavers set in decomposed granite, wedged underneath the major shade tree in the back yard. By municipal guidelines we are permitted up to three chickens and two of any other kind of farmyard animal: goat, cow, horse, llama, whatever – as long as their enclosure is at least a hundred feet from your neighbors house. The chicken coop may not, strictly speaking, be 100 feet from the next door neighbor’s house on the near side, but he is the one with the basset hounds, one of whom can hear a mouse fart in a high wind, and can be heard about a block away when he really puts his back into his bark.

We went out to a feed store in Bracken for feed pellets, bedding chips, a feeder and a water dispenser. The feed store also had artificial eggs made from heavy plastic, but so cunningly textured they looked very real. The feed store manager said that what they are also used for is as a means of dealing with local snakes that prey on chicken eggs … they slither into the nesting boxes, swallow an egg whole and slither away. If you suspect your nest is being raided in that fashion, you bait the nest with a plastic egg. Snake swallows it, but can’t digest, pass or vomit up the egg and so dies, in the words of one of Blackadder’s foes – “horribly-horribly.” (Ick-making to consider, but then I’ve gotten quite testy about critters predating on my vegetables, and set out traps for rats and dispose of dead rats without any qualms.) From many different places; Sam’s, our local HEB which now offers stacks of chicken feed in the pet food aisle, and now the semi-rural feed store – we are getting the notion that keeping back-yard chickens is getting to be a wide-spread thing. I wonder how much Martha Stewart is responsible for this development.

This morning we were off to the south of town, to a small enterprise in Von Ormy for three pullets. We

The Three Chicken Stooges - Laureena, Maureen and Carly - in the back of the Montero

The Three Chicken Stooges – Laureena, Maureen and Carly – in the back of the Montero

had wanted Orpingtons, but they weren’t available at any of the close-in providers, and the owner recommended Barred Rocks – those are those pretty black and white chickens with bright red combs. My daughter wants to name them Lorena, Maureen and Carly – Larry, Moe and Curly, feminized. They are supposed to start laying when they are mature, in about late summer, according to the owner of the bird-providing enterprise. Our three pullets are about ten weeks old, and somewhat timid yet – little knowing that they have won the grand prize in the chicken lottery of life. Eventually, they will have the run of the garden; we are assured they will brutally diminish bugs of every sort, gratefully fall upon green vegetable scraps, and come to be quite friendly with us. Early days, yet. And that was my week. Yours?
(Cross-posted at ChicagoBoyz and at www.celiahayes.com)

10. May 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Domestic, Eat, Drink and be Merry

One of the things that my daughter and I have considered – now and then, and in a desultory manner – is the matter of keeping a handful of chickens. For the fresh eggs, mostly; I suppose this is a natural development to having a vegetable garden, and to experiment with home-canning, home cheese-making and home brewing. Likely it is all of a part with keeping the deep-freezer fully-stocked, and having a larder full to the brim with non-perishable food supplies; beans, rice, flour, sugar, bottled sauces, milk powder and the like. In the event of an event which keeps the local HEB/Sam’s Club/Trader Joe’s from being stocked … we will have our own food-banked resources to rely on.

But having only a sliver of suburban paradise acreage and an 1,100 square foot house taking up at least three-quarters of it, means that mini-farming can’t go much farther than chickens. No, not even a goat; which one of our neighbors did have, back when I was growing up in a very rural southern California suburb. They had chickens, too … and the people across the road kept domestic pigeons – but these suburbs also featured half-acre to acre-sized lots and the biggest of them corrals for horses.
And then, three things happened: several weeks ago, we made the acquaintance of a neighbor who does have a small flock of chickens – and a rooster, too – which is how we knew they kept chickens for months before we actually met up with them. They showed off their flock, and the morning harvest of fresh eggs … and we began to think of it as a possibility for ourselves. The fact that the local HEB is now carrying sacks of chicken feed in the pet-food section is an indication that other people are keeping chickens. If anything, I imagine that the great brains at HEB who decide what local demand is for have twigged the popularity for keeping backyard chickens, and that our neighbors with the flock are not the only ones.
This very spring, Sam’s Club added a chicken coop to the aisles with the seasonal merchandise; the tents, barbeque grills, camping gear and gardening supplies. My daughter looked upon it wistfully, whenever we went into Sam’s: it was an attractive thing, with a gabled roof, and a lower gable-roofed enclosure with hardware cloth sides, so that chickens could be somewhat sheltered. We talked about it, each time – but the price of it always put us off the notion. Until the first of May, when we noticed that the coop had been marked half-off. Yes – that was doable. We bought the coop, and a sturdy box-boy helped us stuff all 150 pounds of the box that it was in into the back of my daughter’s Montero. (We had a hand-truck at home, so it wasn’t necessary to beg for any help in getting the box around to the back of the house.)

It was in my mind to site the coop under the mulberry tree, where the soil is so intermixed with roots it is difficult to plant anything there in the first place. It’s also so shaded in the summer that anything sun-loving which can be planted has a tough time. It was also my notion to paint the coop the same color as the house: a sort of primrose-orange with cream trim. That was what took the most time – painting twelve out of the sixteen panels that made up the coop and run and letting them dry. The wood was lightly stained a dusty green, and it took two coats to really cover adequately. Well – that and setting out the concrete pavers to set the whole thing upon, and filling the interstices with decomposed granite. I really should have unleashed the screw-driver attachment for my electric drill earlier on: that would have saved some time and sweat. (The whole thing is held together by more than 70 Phillips-head screws of various lengths.) I did the touch-up paint work this morning, and re-sited some plants – and all but finished. The roof will have to be painted with waterproof varnish, but I have half a gallon left from doing the front door, and tomorrow is another day. And doesn’t it look simply palatial, as chicken coops go?

Next week – the chickens: the Daughter Unit has pretty much decided on Orpingtons, since they are good layers, friendly and fairly mellow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Share and discuss – whither Britain and Europe generally?

(Crossposted at www.chicagoboyz.net)

24. December 2014 · Comments Off · Categories: Domestic, Eat, Drink and be Merry

… in England. Listening to the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, live from the chapel of King’s College, Cambridge.

(Linky here.)

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

The kitchen as it stands - a black hole of clutter

The kitchen as it stands – a black hole of clutter


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

This one not as long as the trip to Brownsville on Monday/Tuesday, which was more in the interests of Watercress business rather than a book event – but anyway, it was long enough; to the main library in Harker Heights, which seems to be a bedroom slipper to Killeen. We zipped up there in the wee hours of Saturday morning, with a tub of books and some freshly-printed postcards, on the promise of about eighteen other authors, and a very popular local event – a book sale to benefit friends of the library. Alas for us – the event was one of those which ask $1 for hardback books, .50 for paperback, and no one staggering away from the main event with a bulging bag of books and change from a $20 bill seemed inclined to pay full price for any of ours. But I handed out a lot of postcards about my books, and talked to other authors, and on the way back … we decided that we would stop in Round Rock and enjoy the Ikea experience.

The fabled Swedish meatballs of Ikea

The fabled Swedish meatballs of Ikea

Well, not enjoy as one thoroughly enjoys something like a clever Disneyland ride … This was more like a Teutonically-organized forced march through an endless household goods warehouse, following the arrows on the grey linoleum pathway which took you through precisely every department, even the ones you weren’t interested in. Ve Haf Vays Of Making You Shop!

There are shortcuts available – but they are not obvious, and seem to be a secret held only by the employees on the floor. They will cheerfully point them out to you, upon asking … but still, this is not a store where you can run in and pick up just one or two small things and run out again in fifteen minutes. No, this is an expedition which requires a significant degree of planning, most of an afternoon … and a certain amount of money. Not terribly that much of that though; to be absolutely fair, even if someone setting up a whole house of Ikea-sourced stuff must be prepared to write a large check. This must be where the yuppies who turn up their nose at Walmart but haven’t very much change to spare come to shop. To be honest, the goods on offer were of good quality, attractively designed and priced very fairly. They were the sort of thing that my daughter and I remembered very well, from seeing them in Europe when we were stationed there. But by the time we had staggered three-quarters of the way through the store – after looking at kitchen cabinet options and stuffing ourselves on a most-welcome lunch in the Ikea cafeteria – we were moaning, “I’ll buy anything, I promise – just let us out!”

We did escape, eventually – discovering the cash stands at the end of the long trail winding – and a small deli-grocery store on the other side of them, where they stocked all kinds of Swedish delicacies – including the lovely small Swedish meatballs featured in the cafeteria. And they were scrumptious. We came away with a family-sized bag of them, frozen for later use … for when we don’t feel like driving up to Round Rock …

The Magnificent Shed

The Magnificent Shed

I’m in a bit of a lull at present – having wrapped up a couple of books for Watercress in the last week or so, and it will be another few weeks before some of the others come up to the point where I have to set aside everything else to work on them, full-tilt. There will actually be three and possibly four. Two of the four are … high-value clients, the other two returning clients, so … yes, I am doing the happy dance.
I have finished the first draft of the next book, which was inspired by a light-hearted blog post regarding the crash’n’burn of the recent Lone Ranger movie, the one with Johnny Depp and a dead crow on his head. Yeah, that one; I began kicking around ways that the franchise could be re-booted, first as a joke, but the more I thought about it, the more fun it looked like – of course, not the Lone Ranger per se. That’s all under copyright, and I understand that the copyright holders are ferociously protective. But what about a narrative bearing a suitably distant likeness to the original premise – that is, a young Texas volunteer soldier-ranger in the time of the Republic of Texas, sole survivor of a massacre, with his good friend and buddy, an Indian scout, wandering around pre Civil War Texas on missions of goodness and niceness? Nix the mask, the silver bullets, the horse named Silver – indeed, just about every other telling detail – and make it more or less a historical, although with a looser grasp on the straight historical record than my other books. Believe me, there was enough strange stuff going on in Texas during that time, and certainly enough in the way of real historical characters and incidents to generate any number of adventures. I scribbled out six initial historical romps, my daughter suggested that I aim it toward the YA audience, especially boys who have nothing since the final Harry Potter tome and aren’t interested in the adventures of sparkly vampires … and there it is – gone to some alpha readers recruited through the Ace of Spades Sunday morning book thread for critique and analysis. I will incorporate their suggestions, plus any additional additional inspirations that their suggestions spark … and the book will be out in late October, likely. Just in time for Christmas shopping.
So – that’s done. Until I hear from the alpha readers (or really, anyone who wants to check out the adventures posted at my Celia Hayes website and drop me a line), that project is on the back burner.

As the garden looked earlier this year

As the garden looked earlier this year


August has descended on us – traditionally the hottest month of a Texas summer – it’s been over 100° every day for the last week or so. So, my enthusiasm for doing anything outdoors is pretty much under control. Walk the dogs, water the garden, that’s about it. This week, though – we finally got the antique Chambers stove moved off the back porch and into the shed. This chore had to wait until the shed was actually built, and we could round up two willing and strong neighbors to help us shift it the fifteen or twenty feet. Yes, the darned thing is heavy – when it was built in 1941, they made them to last. Eventually, we’ll have to remodel the kitchen to accommodate the Chambers. So – aside from starting the fall garden, I’ll also be revamping the back porch, once things cool off just a titch.. There was more than just the stove kept on the porch – and now it has all in the shed – so that I intend to reclaim the porch for when the cool weather returns.

The present-day Plaza Mayor, with San Fernando Cathedral

The present-day Plaza Mayor, with San Fernando Cathedral


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

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

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

This one laments life in a quaint old English village … where there are just too many dead bodies. Read the whole thing, and then try and watch Midsomer Murders

iRSmRCg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ah, the New Year is upon us, now that we have successfully negotiated the month-long holiday hurdles – and no, I am doing my best not to ask myself what fresh hells await, since I am barely done with the rich banquet served up to us at year-end.

It would take a heart of stone not to laugh, and laugh, and laugh at the spectacle of a boat-full of global-warmenist tourists venturing on an Antarctic expedition to prove that the polar ice is melting faster than the Wicked Witch when Dorothy emptied a bucket of water onto her … being caught in the ice … and having to be rescued by ice-breaking ships. The topper is that this is actually the summer season at the bottom of the world, and the darned stuff is supposed to be melting seasonally anyway. But apparently not, and the gales of laughter at this bit of misfortune are not quite strong enough to dislodge the ship. Was Al Gore anywhere around? The unseasonably horrible weather hitting all of the United States but a tiny band along the west coast argues the presence of He Whose Chakras Need to be Raised, or at least smacked with a bucket of cold water.

Ah, the fortunes of the ruling dynasty in North Korea have taken a positively surreal turn into I, Claudius territory, with the long-time advisor and uncle (with a handful of Uncle’s top aides) of Pudgy-Boy Kim executed by being served up naked to a pack of starving dogs – and the ruling echelons made to watch the proceedings. To encourage the others, I guess. This was reported via Chinese news media, which makes me wonder how tired the Chinese are getting of the antics of Pudgy-Boy and all the other Kims. Given that dog-meat is a traditional Korean delicacy, and in North Korea eating it is likely a matter of survival, perhaps the dogs considered this arrangement a fair turn-about. No wonder Dennis Rodman appears to be getting fond of North Korea; height and color aside, he blends right in with the general freakishness.

And speaking of a parade of … well, not freaks exactly, more a case of being freakishly out of touch, I give you MSNBC, or as I have begun to call it, PMSNBC – now in a dead heat with Time Magazine as they race to the bottom. Well, both of these media entities were once respected, popular and purveyors of the news. Now I suppose it is commentary and opinion all the way, and very strident and in-your-face opinion, too. The insults are just the extra, although I am certain Melissa Harris-Perry got an earful over that notorious segment poking mean-girl fun at Mitt Romney’s adopted grandson. Being that she was a child of color – or anyway, half-color – born to a white Mormon mother, one would have thought Ms. Harris-Perry would have been a little more circumspect. I can hope that perhaps her own mother put her straight, about how painful it would be for mother and child alike to hear sniggering cracks about how one of these things is not like the other, and one of those things does not belong.

And finally, Obamacare, sweet Obamacare, the unAffordable Care Act, now in the act of a slo-mo clash and burn even more spectacular than that of the Hindenberg. Yes, thank you, I’ll have my serving of schadenfreude in chocolate flavor, with a spritz of whipped cream, toasted almonds and a cherry on top. Harsh? I’ll save my sympathies for those people now caught within the deadly toils of trying to work out some kind of healthcare coverage for themselves and their families who did not vote Dem in the last two elections. For those who did, and are now unpleasantly confronted with the results – sorry, we warned you, over and over, and all we got for that was abuse and ridicule. Sometimes enlightenment is only achieved through pain. I haven’t ventured into Open Salon lately to see how enlightenment is progressing these days – I’m not a sadist that way. I’ll just settle for my tasty cup of schadenfreude.

Hang tight – it’s gonna be an interesting ride through 2014.

Packed and Sealed Tins
All right, then – as promised, I have set up another special sale; the Nook and Kindle versions of all my printed books ( all versions of The Trilogy, Daughter of Texas, Deep in the Heart, The Quivera Trail and To Truckee’s Trail) are 25% off from this moment (on Barnes & Noble) or by sometime this evening (Amazon) – until the 29th.

This is especially for everyone who will be receiving a Kindle or Nook e-reader as a Christmas gift this year from their nearest and dearest. I got a Kindle myself last Christmas as a gift, and although I spend too much time staring at a computer screen and really prefer print books – it is absolutely invaluable whenever I have to go anywhere and spend time waiting. It fits neatly into my purse, I have a whole library of interesting books loaded into it and will never have to pass the time reading whatever tattered magazines are laying around.

Well, it’s a darned good thing this woman is a well-paid CEO, because she sure doesn’t have any skills for living in poverty, no good recipes for tasty, nourishing food, and seems to be innocent of any knowledge of coupon clipping, shopping the ‘reduced for quick sale’ case or the fact that dried beans and rice in bulk are always cheaper than the canned version. And blowing a good sixth of the weekly budget on prepared gourmet pasta sauce … spare me the tales of woe concerning your one week on a tight budget – I can tell you how I lived for a year in the early 1980s on a budget of 25$ every two weeks, plus another 10$ for sundries like detergent and diapers for my toddler daughter. (Advantage being that on weekdays, she had breakfast and lunch at the child care center.) Eggs, cheese, dried pastas, home-made sauces and casseroles, home-made applesauce from a box of apples from the farmer’s market, yoghurt brewed up in the yoghurt maker, and no meat protein that cost more than a dollar a pound. Yes, I shopped with a calculator in my hand, every payday, and usually finished out the day or so before payday with small change in my purse and a dollar or so in the bank account. Other enlisted military members at the time did pretty much the same and likely still do.

How on earth Ms. Moulton even got the notion that a single person or a family on food stamps must get along on that amount is a bit of a puzzle, for it seems that it is merely the amount which has been subtracted per month for a family of four. If the well-off want to see how the other half eats and budgets I would suggest an amount more in line with what a person on food stamps actually will be receiving … and then perhaps a quick consult with those of us who have actually had to pinch our food pennies for realsies until a booger came out of Lincoln’s nose.

36$ a week amounts to $144 monthly for a single person, $288 for a couple – and a whole $576 for the much-vaunted family of four. I could make that budget easily (and have), providing three good meals a day, and no one feeling hungry or tired of lentil stew. Yes, it means no prepared foods, lots of home baking, and getting certain items in case lots or in bulk – and giving a miss to places like Whole Foods. Looking at the comments attached to the linked article, I would guess that Ms Moulton is getting well-schooled along those lines.
Any tales of heroic food budgeting are welcome to be shared in comments

Miles Per Gallon on Main Street

Dickens on Main, Boerne, Texas – December 2013

November already? I swear, where does the time go. At least we can turn off the AC – finally! – and open the windows. Although that does heighten our appreciation of our next door neighbor’s relations with his two basset hounds; one male who is alert and ready to give voice at any provocation, and one female who is quiet and sedate, and very likely pregnant. Well, when you have two young unfixed dogs of the opposite sex this kind of thing is gonna happen sooner or later. He has also not been able to housebreak them with any degree of reliability (although we have tried to tell him about crates) so they spend a large part of their day outside. This does mean that anyone who comes close to the front of either of our houses gets barked at, which does have some benefit. He has offered us one of the puppies, though.

We will have a booth at the Boerne Market Days this weekend; half with my books and half with Blondie’s origami art. This is her big roll-out for Paper Blossom Productions. She has been working away at various pieces for the last couple of months, and only this weekend got around to inventorying and packaging up a number of pieces … like $300 dollars worth of earrings featuring beads and miniscule origami cranes. I will have three plastic tubs of books – as this month is the roll-out for The Quivera Trail. Later on in the week we will turn from organizing inventory to organizing the display of it; stands, hooks, baskets and s-hooks and hangers, as well as table cloths to cover the tables with. The weather is predicted to be mild – neither too hot or too cold, which is a good thing. The Market Day is traditionally held on Town Square, under the shade of a massive stand of pecan trees, but we have to be there for two days, from 10 AM to 5. Having a broiling hot day, or a freezing cold and /or rainy one will be … uncomfortable, to say the least. This is the time of the year when I do most of the face-to-face book-selling – so, apologies in advance if the blogging is brief and to the point.

The land sale meant that there is a cushion of sorts to fall back on – and I was able to clear away one ongoing debt entirely, although having to have the transmission in Blondie’s Montero rebuilt entirely has delayed plans for replacing the windows in the house. Ah, well. On the bright side, she went through a lot of trouble early this year to procure health insurance for herself, believing our President’s assurances that if you had a plan you could keep it. So she went with an $87 a month plan from Humana – which she could afford without much stress on the budget. Call it The ACA-compliant plan offered by Humana as option B this last month cost $230. For now, she is sticking with option A, in the fond hopes that the whole unAffordable Healthcare Act will implode as terminally and as messily as the planetary monster transported through the digital conveyer on Galaxy Quest.
Spent part of the weekend setting up two crocks of homemade sauerkraut; yeah, we’ve gotten a taste for the stuff, and it couldn’t be easier and cheaper to do. Cabbage, 4 heads, finely shredded, and a scant cup of pickling salt. Pack tightly into a clean glass jar, ad a little brine to the top if the cabbage hasn’t exuded enough moisture to cover – and let ferment for three to six weeks. Then heat to a simmer, pack into hot canning jars, seal and process in boiling water. We’ve just eaten the last of the jars that I processed last summer. Oh, and the last of the mixed vegetable pickles as well, so here goes some time and fresh carrots, cauliflower, pearl onions and sliced cucumber the weekend after next to stock us up. We’re doing OK on jams and preserves, though – and still have some jars of pickled okra. And that’s our plans for the immediate future.

You know, I have never been one given to donning a tinfoil hat when it comes to pop-paranoid theories about this and that. I firmly believe that JFK was murdered by Lee Harvey Oswald (a well-known commie-symp acting alone), that the Bilderbergers are nothing much more than a fantastically wealthy international social group (a kind of Chamber of Commerce on steroids) and that there aren’t any mysterious black helicopters flying from sooper-secrit bases in the American West – after all, the damn things have to come down sometime, be refueled, crewed and maintained somewhere, and as wide-open and thinly-populated as parts of the west are – a quasi-military base with an active flying mission cannot help but attract notice of the locals. Yes, I love to puncture conventional wisdom; it’s one of my hobbies. And yes, oh 9/11 Truthers … steel does indeed melt.

However, increasingly of late and upon considering the current administration, I do find myself looking speculatively at the roll of Reynolds-Wrap in the kitchen drawer. Gun-running to Mexican narco-traffickers, spilling confidential information on political opponents, the IRS coming down like a ton of bricks on Tea Party groups, the Park Service on members of the park-visiting public, the NSA listening to everyone, and whatever shenanigans was going on with regard to our consulate in Benghazi a little over a year ago … one cannot go wrong underestimating the veniality, or at very least, the competence of the Obama administration.
More »

And I did notice certain musical trends, and many of them for the worst. Enjoy

… it was a farce the first time around, and then it comes around again? I speak of Anthony Wiener’s wiener, of which the candidate for the mayoralty of the Big Apple is so insensately proud that he continues thrusting it – or the pictorial evidence thereof – into the public sphere, through the medium of Twitter … which I categorically insist is a fiendishly clever means of proving celebrity idiocy beyond all doubt and ensuring life-time employment for their public relations experts. But I digress … and yes, the grade school impulse to make fun of someone with a thoroughly risible name is something one never quite outgrows.

But seriously, Mr. Huma Abedin – how stupid are you? How stupid do you think the voting public is, that you could offend with the sexts and the pics of your unclothed bod, humiliate yourself and your spouse, and for all I know, the rest of your family and your neighbors – and then turn right around and do it again! Usually reckless impulses of this pellucid-pure stupidity involve the phrase “Hold my beer and watch this!” and a Darwin Award nomination, but since this involves a member of the bi-coastal ruling elite, that famous last-words phrase likely didn’t apply.
Sigh. Look, y’all in New York, it’s all on your heads if he is to be your next mayor. On the positive side, maybe tweeting pics of the mayoral junk far and wide will just be seen as an amusing personal foible – and a welcome distraction from fussing about salt consumption and the availability of large soft drinks.

The injudicious use of which has led to Paula Deen being booted from the Food Network, never mind that she was speaking under oath, and is a lady of a certain age and of a background where the n-word was … well, I honestly can’t say how current was the use of that word back in Paula Deen’s early days. It’s certainly scattered generously all over 19th century literary works like Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn like chocolate sprinkles on a frosted Krispy Kreme donut, and piled on by the handful in the 20th century oeuvre of rap artists and edgy comedians of color.

It’s a word that I don’t use, myself. The very first time I brought it home – in the first grade, I think, having heard it on the playground, Mom landed on me like a ton of bricks. I don’t think I actually got my mouth washed out with soap – Mom wasn’t that old-school – but the lesson came through loud and clear. The n-word was not to be used, ever. The fact that I had gotten to the first grade, or thereabouts and had never heard it is likely a strong indication of how generally it was frowned upon in middle-class and mid-century So-Cal suburbs anyway. Matter of fact, I can’t even bring myself to use it in writing my own books, where it would certainly be appropriate and historically correct. I just can’t – I have to smooth it out and write it as it might very well have sounded phonetically. No, the use of racial epithets was frowned upon, as being low-class, tacky, and rude at home – and in the military it was even more strictly verboten. So there you are – very likely I could swear honestly and truthfully to never having used the n-word, ever.

I’ve never been particularly a fan of her show or her cooking; too much fried and way, way too rich for my taste, but I might be willing to extend some indulgence to Paula Deen, being of certain age myself. My daughter, though, is most definitely not inclined to indulgence, when it comes to the n-word, although I have repeatedly pointed out that the only people who seem to be able to wield it with impunity are the aforementioned rap artists and edgy comedians of non-pallor.

To judge from some of their output, if they couldn’t use it, there would go about a fifth of their vocabulary – but I digress. I only wish to point out the basic hypocrisy. If it is an ugly, demeaning and degrading term, then it ought to be across the board, without exception. One is reminded of how a certain kind of feminist wishes to reclaim the word ‘slut’ and proudly throws it about at slutwalks and such-like events, but comes totally unglued when the term is applied to say – Sandra Fluke, proud professional feminist.

So – circling back around to the original thought – Paula Deen dropped from the Food Channel for … essentially being honest, old-fashioned and perhaps consciously or unconsciously reflecting values of a different era and at somewhat at variance with the expected TV norms, and having the bad luck to be drawn into a legal imbroglio with a perhaps-vengeful former employee. One wonders … but I honestly don’t know enough about the case, or the people involved to venture any sort of opinion but this one; what if? (Firmly donning my tinfoil hat here…) What if the Food Network has established a preference for the young, urban, urbane and smoothly trendy metrosexual male chefs/restaurateurs or decorative young to young-ish and non-threatening of the female variety, and that would account for the rush to ditch Paula Deen, simply for the crime of being not-young, urban, urbane and smoothly trendy, etc.

If such is the case, I hope that Ree Drummond (rural, devout Christian, non-minority and home-schooling) has no skeletons in her metaphorical closet. Otherwise, she might very well be next on the chopping-block.

All academic to me, though – now that we have ditched cable and gone to a Roku box and a couple of paid subscriptions – but still food for thought, eh?

(Cross-posted at Chicagoboyz.net)

Enjoy. It’s controversial, apparently, that Sting took to singing 400+ year old pop music … but to each their own.