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

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

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

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

That would be the poisonous racism of Jew-hate, of course. And it does not dare say its’ name in the headlines and newsrooms of the mainstream news media – much less in the classrooms of the educational industry in this great nation of ours, which is a pity for all, as the news media is exactly that element whom we had trusted for decades, as that saying in the ‘60ies was – to tell it like it is. Only the fringe conservative media, the bloggers, and various iconoclasts like Breitbart dare to call Jew-hate for what it is and nail the most egregious of those perpetuating it.
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27. December 2019 · Comments Off on Looking Back, Looking Ahead · Categories: Domestic

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

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

24. December 2019 · Comments Off on The Christmas Countdown Continues · Categories: General

Another of my favorite Christmas carols –

23. December 2019 · Comments Off on The Christmas Carol Countdown · Categories: General

From the Christmas Revels Collection –

22. December 2019 · Comments Off on The Christmas Carol Countdown · Categories: General

Another of my very favorite Christmas carols…

21. December 2019 · Comments Off on The Christmas countdown continues… · Categories: Eat, Drink and be Merry

A selection of the Christmas carols that I like the best!

20. December 2019 · Comments Off on For Christmas; A countown of my favorite carols · Categories: Good God, Local

For today – “See amid the winter’s snow!”

I swear, every time I think we have reached peak stupid, reality says “Hold my beer and watch this!” The ruckus this past weekend over cadets at the Army-Navy game appearing on live camera making a variant of the “OK” gesture now has elements of the national media, as well as authorities at the two service academies plain old coming unglued. And this is because this gesture is somehow supposed to be associated with so-called ‘white power’/ racial superiority. Great has been the twitter-tornado launched by the particularly clueless activists who happened to notice the upside-down OK gesture; I can only imagine the numbers of boggarts, ghouls and haunts which are currently living under their own beds and in their closets. More »

09. December 2019 · Comments Off on Kamala Down and other December Follies · Categories: Politics, Rant

The potential slate of Democrat Party nominees for next years’ presidential election is down by one, as of last week with Kamala Harris withdrawing from consideration. I thought she would hold out a bit longer, appearing to be electorally ballot-proof, as a woman of (at a long squint) color, privileged (not to say exotic) upbringing, and reliably progressive inclinations, plus the establishment national media were already giving her the ‘buffed lightly with a flannel cloth as she is a luminous pearl’ treatment that had been previously administered to Barak Obama. More »

01. December 2019 · Comments Off on A Sad Note: Tim “Timmer” Tracy · Categories: Good God

I am really beginning to wonder if the holiday season is dangerous for me and mine – truly. Dad passed suddenly at Christmas, Mom’s crippling fall came three days after Thanksgiving, and now we find through Facebook posts that former contributor to this milblog, Tim “Timmer” Tracy passed away late last week following on unexpected medical complications following routine surgery. His obit is here.

Timmer, as noted, was a contributor to this blog when I recruited a second round of veterans to post here. We were long-time blog-friends, friends on Facebook. I will miss him – and I can only imagine the grief and loss to those friends and family who knew him much better than I did.

30. November 2019 · Comments Off on The Start of Christmas · Categories: Literary Good Stuff, Local, Working In A Salt Mine...

Yes, we’re sort of traditionalist – Christmas doesn’t really start for us until the day after Thanksgiving. And yes, I spent a lot of years overseas where the Christmas presents for the family had to be purchased early, packed and mailed home in early October … yay for prior planning preventing piss poor holiday performance … but otherwise; the decorations and all went up on the day after Turkey Day.

And no, dear ghod, none of that lining up at the doors of some big-box outlet for the chance to engage in some full-body scrum with other shoppers in the wee hours for the opportunity to purchase some marked up to be marked down bit of electronic or toy tat. Just … no. I’ve maintained the habit of picking up items throughout the year, intended as gifts for specific family members. So Black Friday for us – at least the morning thereof – was spent hitting a couple of stores for specific things; some specialty foods at Ikea, Tuesday Morning for a set of flannel sheets for Mom, HEB for assorted groceries and a Collin Street Bakery fruitcake for my brother (who adores their fruitcake) … and the post office for one of their priority boxes to fit all of this and the above in, for posting to the family in California. The Daughter Unit spent some few minutes ordering items from Amazon – and there we are; sorted! Leaving the afternoon free to put up decorations; this program of putting up the seasonal ornaments will continue this weekend.

As for … book and market stuff; Christmas on the Square in Goliad is on for this weekend, and we’ll be in Miss Ruby’s Author Corral on Saturday – this year the corral is again in the courtyard of the Mustang Cantina, just off the Square by the awning over the enormous Bull Durham sign. There’s another couple of markets the weekend and week after that. I hope to be able to roll out the print versions of the Luna City compendium volumes in time for the Third Thursday in Seguin. As for status on the works in progress; I am about halfway through the first draft of my Civil War novel, “That Fateful Lightning” – getting to the point that actually deals with the Civil War and Miss Minnie Vining’s work as a hospital nurse. Also, starting on Luna City #9 – yes, an explanation of what Xavier Gunnison-Penn saw on the town Christmas tree, and what on earth will happen when Clovis Walcott returns from the Dubai job … and comes to the Café for a talk with Luc about what his intentions are with regard to Belle Walcott. Among other interesting developments in Luna City. I could do with some more stories about small-town shenanigans to fill out this volume, so hope that I hear some more in Goliad and at the remaining market events.

And that’s my Thanksgiving weekend plans…

 

The reenacted Civil War, at Liendo Plantation this last weekend. I went with a camera, in search of some good pictures, to use for the current Work in Progress – That Fateful Lightning.

20. November 2019 · Comments Off on The Seemingly Unending Schiff Show · Categories: Ain't That America?, European Disunion, Fun and Games, My Head Hurts, Rant

I was going through my routine at Planet Fitness this morning, as is our habit – three times weekly, usually around 8 of the clock; half-past at latest, for an hour on the elliptical and the stair-step with a cool-down on the recumbent. There is a bank of television screens across the middle of the gym, offering all the alphabet networks, plus CNN, Univision, the Planet Fitness channel, and something that has Friends and Seinfeld on rotation during the time that I am not watching any of them. (I have perfected the art of reading my Kindle while stepping and pedaling; after all, being able to read makes the whole exercise thing bearable.)

All the news feeds – four or five of the screens had the same damn unending Schiff show; which is to say that interminable search for solid grounds upon which to impeach a sitting and duly elected president of the USA. More »

Being myself a person of decided pallor, and increasingly cynical about current social-justice principles being inflicted on captive campus audiences at every level from kindergarten on up through graduate school, I am over in a corner snickering uncontrollably about the current mass freak-out in educational circles over the appearance of anonymous and unsigned posters with the simple declaration that “It’s OK to be White.” No, seriously – these things are apparently “hate-filled … sick and outrageous behavior … revolting actions,” and those found to have participated in distributing the flyers, “subject to the severest disciplinary actions, including dismissal as well as possible civil and criminal actions.”

So much for freedom of speech, open-minded discussion of differences in the realm of academia. So much for respecting differing points of view. Well done, wokiest of the woke in the sacred groves and campus.
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11. November 2019 · Comments Off on A Day at the Marketplace · Categories: Domestic, Eat, Drink and be Merry

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

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

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

05. November 2019 · Comments Off on Crusade · Categories: History, Literary Good Stuff, Media Matters Not

A bit of a loaded word, isn’t it? But a label that American anti-slavery activists would have felt entirely comfortable with, in the first half of the 19th century. Such was the knowledge that taking up the cross of a cause could be hazardous, indeed – but the fight was for the right, and the eventual prize was worth it and more; the promise that every man (and by implication, every woman as well) had a right to be free. Not a slave, as comfortable as that situation might be to individuals – but to be free, answering only to ones’ conscience, as was expressed in the Declaration of Independence. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…” Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, never mind that one might have varying degrees of success in that pursuit – one had the right to decide how to go about it, in whatever method and manner than one chose. One had the right to not be property, as if an ox or a horse.
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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!

It is deeply, solidly ironic that at almost the very hour that US forces were bagging Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, fearless leader of the ISIL/ISIS-established caliphate in the Middle East, that the catastrophically-unfunny cast of Saturday Night Live had just finished ragging on President Trump for supposedly coddling ISIS by pulling out of Syria. There hasn’t been a case of timing this bad since 70ies Weatherman terrorist-turned-educator Bill Ayres launched his memoir of bomb-building and social mayhem the very week that Osama Bin Laden’s merry crew of jihadis murdered nearly 3,000 Americans and others in a single day, on September 11th, 2001.

Well, who would have thought that our intelligence services were actually performing the hard graft of tracking down dangerous international enemies, instead of attempting to reverse the results of an election, and harass domestic political opponents? Seeing that our military leadership was dead-as-a-doornail serious about taking care of business, in facilitating Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi date with his seventy-two cranky virgins or white grapes, or whatever – was grimly satisfactory. This is the jolly lad whose ISIS/ISIL hardliners set a standard for psychopathic cruelty to captives which might have 19th century Comanche and Apache warriors saying, “Oh, hey, guys – don’t you think that’s going a little too far?” (Or maybe not – those fellows had some stomach-churningly inventive notions about killing slowly.)

It is additionally rather delicious that al-Baghdadi was chased by a military working dog into his last hide-out, and that it was a female working dog at that. And there, the wretched man chose to blow himself up, with three of his kids, although Jamie Lee Curtis expressed some indignation and sorrow on his behalf. Did she or anyone else among the Hollywood Trump-haters express any such tender feelings about those captives of al-Baghdadi who were burned alive, drowned in metal cages, executed with det-cord around their necks, and beheaded in job-lots? Anything about the Yazidi women and girls sold into sex-slavery? So help me, I can’t recall, but then we have come to expect this kind of one-sided concern from the denizens of the celebrity world.

Finally – that the whole operation was kept from the Dem leadership on grounds of operational security? Ah yes; I won’t go as far as to say that Nancy Pelosi would have picked up the phone and called a contact at the Washington Post, saying, “You’ll never guess what is going down – the Special Forces are going after al Baghdadi – but don’t tell anyone, it’s Top Secret!” but at the rate that stuff keeps getting leaked from Dem offices into the media … good call. Yes, someone on a senior Dem leadership staff would have spilled to a media contact, likely out of sheer ignorance and malice toward Trump. The kind of mindset what sees the lower serving military ranks as disposable pawns, only useful for holding umbrellas, or as background for a nice photo op … or if their deaths can be used for a purpose. Yes, I’m that cynical. Discuss as you wish.

For some peculiar reason, the political commentariat this week are bending their bulging brains towards the question of which one of the progressive Democrats currently angling for a presidential bid next year will catch the brass ring. We have a year and a few days to go until Election Day, 2020, and nine months until the Democrat Party convention when the final decision on a candidate will be made; I speculate that the fierce urgency of defeating Orange Man Bad has a lot to do with so many hopefuls running early and often, and the overwhelming media interest in their assorted prospects.

I can’t claim ownership of a finely-tuned predictive crystal ball, or have any informants within the inner party, but I have been following the political scene as reflected in the crazy-house mirror of the internet since about 2002, and before that through a variety of print publications, and over time one does develop a sense of how things may develop with regard to next years’ presidential campaign.
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The irony of very well-recompensed nominally-American basketball players of color reacting with wild indignation to American criticism of China with regard to heavy-handed treatment of citizens of Tibet and residents of Hong Kong is of a density so thick and heavy that it threatens to drop through the core of the earth and come out the other side. This of course, after months of rather public displays by professional athletes of color making a big thing of knee-taking and demonstrations of disapproval during the playing of the American national anthem at the start of various games. This cheap display of woke-virtue sporting world division may already have sunk the National Football League, in the minds and hearts of those fans of football in Flyoverlandia-America. I suppose now we can look forward to seeing the same fatal holed-below-the-waterline-and-sinking-fast pattern in the round-bouncy-ball franchise; honestly, it’s as if the NBA is basically saying, “Hold my beer and watch this!” More »

12. October 2019 · Comments Off on Occupation: A French Village · Categories: European Disunion, History, That's Entertainment!, War

On the strong recommendation of David Foster, the Daughter-Unit and I began to watch: A French Village, that seven-season long miniseries which follows five years of German occupation and a bit of the aftermath as it affects the lives of a handful of characters in a small town in eastern France close to the Swiss border – from the day that the German invaders arrive, to the aftermath of the occupation, in a fractured peace, when all was said and done. (It’s available through Amazon Prime.) A good few of the occupants of that village did not really welcome liberation and had damn good reasons – guilty consciences, mostly, for having collaborated with the Germans with varying degrees of enthusiasm. (A benefit is that this series stars actors of whom we have never heard, in French with English subtitles. Given how the establishment American entertainment media has gone all noisily woke, anti-Trump and abusive towards us conservative residents of Flyoverlandia, this is a darned good thing. Seriously, for years and years I used to only personally boycott Jane Fonda and Cat Stevens, now my list of ‘oh, hell NEVER! actors and personalities is well into the scores.)
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Age and guile, so the saying goes, beats out youth and speed by a long chalk. (As does possession of generous insurance policies.) Age and experience also build up an overflowing reservoir of cynicism about a lot of things; protestations of enduring love, promises by politicians campaigning for election, and belief in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, among a long, long list of other things.

So it is with heartfelt convictions when it comes to media and academic protestations of “OMG, The Earth Is Gonna End and We Are All Gonna Die!” Sorry, if you’ve been around long enough (as I have been, long enough to collect Social Security while it still exists) you have been to this rodeo before. And to a good many performances, usually championed by the national media with their hair on fire; Existential doom – how many are there, shall I count the ways? The biggie when I was myself in grade school and for a goodly few decades thereafter was Immanent Nuclear War and Annihilation. Nuclear Winter afflicting any of us fortunate enough to survive that! Then there was the catastrophe of Global Cooling – the New Ice Age descending on us all! (insert extraneous exclamation points here.) We were all gonna freeze! More »

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

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

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

18. September 2019 · Comments Off on Training Wheels · Categories: Geekery, Literary Good Stuff, Local

This last weekend was the start of the fall book market season; I spent three days in Giddings, Texas, as one of the local authors invited to participate in the yearly Word Wrangler Book Festival – which is sponsored by the local library, and supported by practically every civic institution in Giddings, including the local elementary and high schools. Last Thursday, the first day of Word Wrangler, certain of us authors volunteered to go and visit schools for readings, or to just talk about writing. This year, I visited three middle-school classes, to talk to sixth graders about writing, the stories that they liked, and what they could write about. I like doing this with fifth and sixth grade students, by the way – they are old enough to read pretty well, but not so old as to be jaded by the whole ‘visiting writer/storyteller’ thing. The kids were lively and responsive; it helps that they were being taught about plotting, about the narrative voice, and how to create a story. In each class of about twenty or thirty kids, I would guess that two or three are terrifically keen on creative writing, another eight or ten are interested, and the remainder are not completely indifferent. I went around and asked each student what they liked to read the most; adventure stories seemed to be most popular, followed by mysteries. Two boys in separate classes were enthralled by World War II stories. Horror and fantasy seemed to be about equally popular; and there was one girl with quite gruesome taste in exotic forms of murder. Well, it takes all kinds, and I am not her analyst; she’ll most likely grow out of it, once puberty really takes hold …
Then I went around again, asking each one what they would write about; what story would they want to sit down and write. For those who couldn’t think of one, I gave them a character and a situation, and encouraged them to go to town. And one more thing I told them – it is perfectly OK for a writer starting out to venture into scribbling fanfiction. You like a certain movie, book, TV series, videogame, are interested in that world and those characters? Take the characters you really like or identify with and write them a new set of adventures in that fictional world. Saves the time and trouble of building a whole new world from scratch … and isn’t imitation the sincerest form of flattery? Go and do it; practically every writer I know did the same. I certainly did; and the reams of juvenilia is something to eventually be consigned to the shredder by my literary executor. Just be careful when unleashing revised fanfiction into the world – chose the venue carefully and file off all the identifying serial numbers. Otherwise, it’s excellent practice, I told the kids; the literary equivalent of training wheels when learning to ride a bicycle.
I’ve been publishing independently since 2007; the first big wave of independent writers, although there were a small number of specialists in the decades before that. There were always writers publishing their works in a small way, mostly through arranging a print run with a local printer and bookbinder, but that method usually cost more money than was available to those of us in that big wave in the mid ‘Oughts’. The development of publish on demand, the ability of printers to do small print runs at a reasonable cost, the rise of Amazon, the popularity of eReaders, and the disinclination of the establishment publishing houses to continue backing midlist authors while pursuing only huge blockbusters … that all left the field wide open to indy writers like the ones I spent last weekend with. It astounded me all over again how very good, and professional the books at Word Wrangler looked. The covers of most books – and they covered the range of kids’ books through adult fiction; adventure, mystery, western, historical – all looked as good as anything produced by mainstream publishers. There is such a wealth of good reading available, through independent and small publishers, and readers in places like Giddings know it very, very well,

11. September 2019 · Comments Off on Just for Today – From Luna City 3.1 “9-11+15 · Categories: General, Luna

“I know that it’s been fifteen years as of last Sunday,” Coach Garrett mused thoughtfully, hardly taking note of the beer in front of him. “But sometimes it’s as clear to me as if it was yesterday.”
It was a perfect, autumn afternoon – a Friday afternoon in mid-September, just beginning to turn cool. The VFW had visitors’ night on Fridays, and now Richard sat outside with Joe Vaughn and Coach Garrett, at the splintery picnic table under the massive sycamore tree that shaded the back of the VFW.
“You were there in New York, weren’t you, Coach?” Joe drank deep from his own beer. “You saw the Towers go down, up close and personal. Man … it was bad enough watching on TV in real time.”
“Another life,” Dwight Garrett shrugged, but something in the look of that otherwise undistinguished, middle-aged countenance warned Richard to embrace tact and circumspection in his further comment.
“It was a splendid day for me,” Richard ventured, reminiscent for the world of just a little ago, but gone as distant now as the Austro-Hungarian empire. “I know … the irony of it all. An evening in Paris – it was mid-evening. I had just won my first cooking contest, and signed with a talent agency. Some of my old Charterhouse pals and I popped over to Paris to celebrate my excellent prospects. We were drinking in a bar in the Rue d Belleville, and wondering why they had a telly on, and tuned to some high-rise disaster movie. It didn’t seem all that big a thing, not at first. The penny didn’t drop until we saw the headlines in the newspapers the next day. In my defense, we were all enormously pissed that evening.”
“I’ll bet your hangover was epic,” Joe said, not without sympathy. “I was at Fort Lewis. First assignment to the Second Battalion … just driving into work, when it came over the radio. Airplane crashed into the World Trade Center tower. Swear to god, everyone thought it must be one of those little private airplanes, ya know – like a Piper Cub or something. The top sergeant said, ‘Oh, man, they must have gotten hella lost!’ And then someone turned on the breakroom TV, and there was this big ol’ gash in the side of the tower and the smoke just pouring out… Top said he remembered hearing about a WWII bomber hitting the Empire State Building, but that was in a fog. Two big honking silver buildings – we just couldn’t understand at first how it could happen by accident.”
“It was such a beautiful morning,” Dwight Garrett nodded. “Cool, crisp … not a cloud in the sky. I had played a concert at the Alice Tully the night before, so I slept in. Gwen … my wife didn’t wake me up when she left for work. She left a note for me … that we should meet for supper at Morton’s on Washington Street, just around the corner, when she was done with work that evening.”
“Didn’t know you were a married man, Coach,” Joe said, and Dwight Garrett sighed.
“Oh, yes – I left it late, sorry to say. Gwen and I were married for six years and three months. A dedicated career woman, and a divorcee with two sons she raised herself. We met at one of those musical soirees associated with a Mozart festival. Gwen was in finance. Did you ever notice that maths and music are deeply intertwined in some people? Anyway, we had a nice little condo in Tribeca, a stone-throw from where she worked.”
“And?” Richard prodded. He had visited New York often enough during the high-flying years of his career as a globe-trotting celebrity chef, and had only the vaguest notion of where Tribeca might me. It was not his favorite city on the American continent; that would be Vancouver, or perhaps Miami. New York was too crowded, too … vertical for his taste.
“She worked at Cantor-Fitzgerald – in the North Tower,” Dwight Garrett replied in perfectly level, dispassionate tones. Joe drew in his breath sharply, but said nothing, and Coach Garrett continued. “Even asleep, I heard the sirens – but so ordinary a sound in the city, I just went back to sleep. Until Gwen’s son Jeff called from White Plains. ‘Where’s Mom?’ he said, ‘Did she go into work, today? Turn on the TV – there’s a plane that hit the building she works in, all the top floors are on fire, and she’s not answering her cellphone.’ I told him to calm down. I’d walk over to the WTC and find her, make sure she was safe, and that everything would be all right …” He took a long draw of his own beer, calm and meditative, as if he were telling a story of another persons’ experience. “The sidewalks along Vesey Street were full of people looking up towards the towers – both of them just gushing smoke. Like water coming out of a fire hydrant. I started walking as fast as I could. I could see nothing moving on the street, but fire engines, lined up as far as I could see, once I got close. I kept trying to call Gwen. I thought sure that they would let me through the barricades once I explained. The South Tower fell before I got to the end of the block. It was … like a tidal wave of black smoke, dust, soot. A policeman yelled at us to run like hell. A bunch of us on the sidewalk ran into the nearest place – a coffee shop on Vesey, to escape it.” Coach Garrett shook his head, slowly. “Outside that window it turned as black as you could imagine. And the lights went out. You couldn’t see your hand in front of your face for about five, ten minutes. That policeman was in there, too – he had a flashlight, but it didn’t help. When we came out everything was grey, covered with thick grey dust. We were all covered in it, too. Needless to say, they wouldn’t let me come anywhere near the North Tower. There were too many people. And I think they were already afraid that the North Tower was going to fall as well.”
“Did you find your wife?” Richard ventured. Coach Garrett shook his head.
“No. Not that day, or afterward. Nothing left – everything and most everyone on the floors just above the impact site were essentially vaporized. I accepted right away that she was gone forever, nothing to be done. No good going to the morgue or hanging around as they excavated the pile afterwards. It was almost as if our marriage had been a wonderful, fleeting dream, and she had never been … except for the boys, of course. And her clothes and things in the condo. It was just so … curious, how it happened out of the clear blue in the blink of an eye, on so ordinary day.”
“Sorry, man,” Joe said, after a long moment. “I never knew about your wife, and all of that. That why you left New York and came home to Texas?”
Coach Garrett nodded. “I couldn’t stay. Not without Gwen. The pile of rubble burned for months. The whole place smelled of smoke and death. I packed a suitcase and took the express to White Plains a few days later. I signed the condo over to Jeff and his brother, rented a car and drove back to Texas. I meant to go back to Kingsville … but heard about a job teaching music here. It seemed like a good way to start fresh.”
“You do what you gotta do,” Joe agreed. “Another, Coach? My treat.”
“Sure thing, Joe,” the older man finished off his beer and looked into the distance; the blue, blue sky and the leaf canopy of the sycamores just beginning to turn gold and brown. “There’s one thing I do regret about Gwen. I wish that I hadn’t slept in – that I had fixed her breakfast, kissed her, said that I hoped she would have a good day, and that I loved her. I never for a single moment thought that she would suddenly just not be there. Love shouldn’t end that way, on the flip of a coin.”
“Nope,” Joe agreed, and to Richard, it looked as if Joe had suddenly made up his mind about something. “You want another, Rich?”
“Only if you’re buying.” Richard replied.
“Cheap limey bastard,” Joe grumbled.

Home delivery – the latest trend to hit retail and grocery outlets – is a boon to sick people. I say this as someone who caught the current flu last Thursday. Here I was, innocently going about my usual routine, although I did note than on Thursday morning during the ritual Walking of The Doggles, that I was sniffing and sneezing; as if something had gotten caught in my sinuses. Innocently, it all seemed to pass; at mid-day my daughter and I went up to Bergheim in the Hill Country to meet with a small book club who had done me the honor of choosing the first of the Adelsverein Trilogy as their book selection of the month. More »