30. April 2017 · Comments Off · Categories: Military, War

Or as another Open Saloner called it, some years ago, “The semi-annual national unity game of chicken”; that is the ostentation round of saber-rattling which has been played by North Korea every six months or so since … since the armistice which divided the Norks from the Sorks about the time that I was born. I wrote in 2013;

“The Norks do this every six months, usually when they want to squeeze some concessions out of the outside world. It’s like an overgrown toddler throwing an international temper tantrum. Likely, all of his generals (or uncles, even the generals who are not his uncles) have to go along and make the usual noises and poses for the cameras, in spite of the fact that for all their resplendent ribbon-salad displays – they have not fought an all-out, balls-to-the wall war since 1954. Which war was nearly sixty years and three wars ago, as Americans are counting it, which means that their equipment must be getting pretty worn-out as well as their tactical schemes and field practice for using them – outside the boundaries of a pretty tightly-controlled war game which will allow no margin for making the Kim dynasty’s pet soldiers look bad in any way, shape or form … while they might have been able to buy some new stuff on the international black market – which hints that those drug sales by their diplomatic staff must really be paying off, big-time, and they might actually be able to hit what they might be aiming at, on a good day, depending on what they have purchased, and if their vendors didn’t rob them blind, and if the Chinese actually gave them some of the good stuff … I do believe they can hit Seoul on a good day with their artillery, and kidnap lonely strangers off the beachfront towns in Japan in the wee hours, and possibly come close to hitting Japan with something high-explosive … whacking the continental United States with a ballistic missile is a bit of a chancy prospect.”

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29. April 2017 · Comments Off · Categories: Domestic


So, I have been a little … absent from the blogs for the last week or two. There are only so many hours to the day, and I have been caught up in finishing Luna City IV, for publication at mid-May, formally to be launched at the Wimberley Book Festival on the second Saturday in June. Which book is actually a little ahead of schedule; I had thought it would be completed in another month, so I am running ahead of the self-imposed schedule – even with a couple of Tiny Publishing Bidness projects to spend time upon.
This will give me a head start on the sequel to Lone Star Sons, which I hope to have done in time for the Christmas marketing season. Rather like I had hoped for The Golden Road, only what with one thing and another, that particular book missed all but one day of the Christmas marketing season and that one day was a bloody, cold, wind-whipped disaster. Plus, in that wind-whipped disaster, I lost the information for the one person who had paid to order a copy in advance. (Sorry – please PM if you are that person, still looking for your pre-paid copy! Give me the date and place where you ordered it! You’re a fan, and I OWE you a copy!)
Other than that – real life, the garden, the dogs and cats and chickens. Last month’s project was the construction of a set of gates, a lattice gate to keep the chickens in the back garden, and another at the front of the property, to allow a long open garden along the sheltered and south-facing side of the house, dedicated to flowers and vegetables. Plants in the ground, plants in pots along one side, a couple of lattices now half-covered with pole bean vines and lemon cucumbers, and a long bed of native plants and a pair of tomato trees along the other. All of these projects take time, either out in the garden or chained to a hot computer – but I have hopes of both paying back bountifully over the remainder of this year.

When we do a market or book event – my daughter takes care to put out all of my books along whatever table or display space that we have in chronological order. Eight of them are historicals, and can be described as a family saga, in that a good few characters appear in various books – although not always as a main character. Even so, I have taken good care that all my books (Chronicles of Luna City excepted) are self-contained; it’s not one of those series where you have to read each book in rigid order to make sense out of it all. (Personally, I hate those kinds of series.) But the Adelsverein Trilogy, and the five books which share the same four family trees span the years between 1825 and 1900 – mostly, but not exclusively in Texas. To Truckee’s Trail is set in 1844-45, on the California-Oregon Trail, but stands apart from these eight. Lone Star Sons is set in Texas in the 1840s, and has Jack Hays as an ongoing character – but is also stands apart. The Luna City series is set in modern-day Texas, and is completely different in tone, being more a gentle comedic diversion.

With that out of the way – this is the breakdown, in chronological order, for those readers who do want to read them that way:
Dot cover - smallerDaughter of Texas: Runs from 1825, and begins with the Becker family arriving in Texas: Margaret, her brothers Rudi and Carl, her parents Alois and Maria. The narrative deals with early days in the entrepreneur settlements of San Felipe-on-the-Brazos, and Gonzalez, Margaret’s marriage to the local school-teacher, Horace “Race” Vining, the build-up to and the outbreak of the War for Independence, the Runaway Scrape and the battle of San Jacinto. The remainder of the book tells of Margaret’s life in the tiny settlement of Waterloo, which became Austin, up to the year 1840 and the death of her first husband, under circumstances which set up plot elements of Sunset and Steel Rails – which is set a generation and forty-five years later. Besides Margaret, her brother Carl and her son Peter Vining as an infant, this book introduces the characters of Daddy Hurst, and sisters Hetty and Morag Moylan, carpenter and part-time soldier Seamus O’Doyle and Dr. Henry Williamson. Sam Houston, Harry Karnes, James Bowie, William B. Travis, Susannah Dickinson and her daughter, and those members of the Gonzalez Ranging company who went to the relief of the Alamo, Deaf Smith, Mirabeau B. Lamar, and Angelina Eberly are some of the historic figures which appear in this book.

Deep in the Heart Cover - 800 pxDeep in the Heart: This book runs from 1841 to 1847, and overlaps some of the events and developments in Adelsverein: The Gathering – although there is a brief “bookend” introduction and afterwards set in 1865, as the Civil War ends. This narrative follows Margaret and her four sons and her friends: she is a widow running a boarding-house in Austin catering to members of the legislature. Her younger brother Carl serves as one of Jack Hays’ Rangers, fighting Comanche war parties in the unsettled Hill Country, the invading Mexican army at the Salado Creek fight, and barely surviving the Battle of Monterrey during the Mexican-American War. The main narrative ends with Margaret’s second marriage. Historical figures appearing in this book include Sam and Margaret Houston, Angelina Eberly, Jack Hays and many real-life residents of contemporary Austin.

 

The Gathering Cover - smallAdelsverein: The Gathering runs from 1844 to 1849. Carl Becker is a major character here; Margaret makes a very brief appearance. This book is about the recruitment and emigration of German settlers by the Mainzer Adelsverein and their arrival in Texas – in this story, represented by the Steinmetz and Richter families: Christian Steinmetz, his wife Hannah, step-daughter Magda Vogel, his sons Johann and Friedrich “Fredi” and his daughter Liesel, who is married to Hans “Hansi” Richter and has two children with him; Anna and an infant named Joachim. The narrative follows their journey – first by sailing ship across the Atlantic, and by wagon train to first New Braunfels, and then to the new town of Fredericksburg, where they happily settle and begin to build prosperous new lives for themselves. The Steinmetz and Richter families are fictional, as are their friends, the Altemeullers – but most of their neighbors in the new settlements are historical figures, including John Meusebach and the innkeeper C.H. “Charley” Nimitz. Prince Karl of Solms-Braunfels appears in this volume, along with his retinue, Jack Hays (again), Indian agent Robert Neighbors, Samuel Maverick, his wife and their household. One minor character – Porfirio Menchaca, the Tejano horse-wrangler at Carl Becker’s ranch, who appears at the end of this book, is the son of an old friend of Horace Vining’s, as mentioned in Daughter of Texas. Porfirio appears as a minor character in the subsequent Adelsverein Trilogy books, and in The Quivera Trail.

9780989782289-Perfect.inddThe Golden Road: This book follows the teenaged Friedrich “Fredi” Steinmetz to the gold fields of California during the years 1855-59. It was mentioned in Adelsverein: The Sowing, and in Sunset and Steel Rails that Fredi followed the Gold Rush, but without any particular success that he wished to talk about later. During those years, Fredi works as a cattle drover, freight hauler, washes dishes in a saloon, sells newspapers on the street, rides for an express mail company, and serves as bodyguard/stagehand for Lotta Crabtree, as she and her mother tour the gold mines. He does pan a little gold, too, in company with a mysterious and musical Irishman named Polydore O’Malley, who may be wanted in England for an attempt on the life of Queen Victoria. Or not. O’Malley is fictional, but Fredi does encounter a number of historical characters, some before they became famous – or notorious – including Sally Skull, Jack Slade, Charles Goodnight, Roy Bean, Juaquin Murrietta, William T. Sherman, Mary Ellen Pleasant, Old Virginny Finney, Lotta Crabtree, and Ulysses S. Grant.

Cover The Sowing - smallAdelsverein: The Sowing. The second volume of the Adelsverein Trilogy covers the Civil War years, 1860-65, chiefly following the lives of Carl and Magda Becker and their family, Hansi and Liesel Richter and their children during that time. The main narrative ends with the wedding of Magda and Liesel’s adopted young sister Rosalie to a returning Confederate soldier at the end of the war. There are a pair of brief “bookends” – opening and closing the book, set around 1910 with the aged Magda telling several of her grandchildren and greatgrandchildren of what happened during the war. Magda’s brothers Johann and Fredi appear briefly, as does Porfirio Menchaca. Historical characters appearing in this book include (again) Jack Hays, Dr. Ferdinand Herff of San Antonio, Dr.Wilhelm Keidel of Fredericksburg, and a leader of the notorious “hanging band”, J.P. Waldrip.

 

The Harvesting Cover - smallAdelsverein: The Harvesting – This book picks up at the end of the Civil War, slightly overlapping events in the last chapter of The Sowing. The first chapters deal with the experience of Peter Vining, the youngest son of Margaret and “Race” Vining returning to the family home in Austin. He and the small son of his oldest brother are the only surviving males in the family. His three older brothers died at Gettysburg, he is an amputee – and both Margaret and Dr. Williamson have died as well. For lack of a better alternative, he travels to Fredericksburg in the Hill Country and takes employment with Hansi Richter, who has gone into the freight hauling and general store business, along with Fredi Steinmetz and Carl Becker’s oldest son, Dolph. The main narrative concludes in 1876, with Magda receiving news that Dolph has courted and married an Englishwoman. During the course of this book, the younger generation moves more to the front and center: Dolph Becker, his younger brother Sam, Peter Vining, Hansi Richter’s daughter Anna, and Magda’s daughter Hannah. Again, there is a ‘bookend’ beginning and ending, set in 1918, with Magda recollecting events for her youngest daughter Lottie, serving as a volunteer nurse at a military hospital during the great influenza pandemic.


The Quivera Trail
: This book slightly overlaps Adelsverein: The Harvesting, as it begins in 1875 with Dolph Becker courting Isobel Cary-Groves, a titled English aristocQuiveraTrai; Cover 1 - Smallerrat with a desperate need to marry … marry anyone. The main narrative follows Isobel and her very young ladies’ maid, Jane Goodacre as they journey to Texas and begin building new lives for themselves. Alternate chapters deal with their experiences and perceptions as Isobel builds confidence in herself and trust in her husband, and Jane – against her own expectations – develops a sense of independence and falls in love. Magda and her daughter Lottie, Hansi and Liesel Richter appear as supporting characters, as do Peter Vining and his wife, Anna Richter. Hetty Moylan and Morag’s daughter Jemima-Mary also appear. Historic characters appearing include the gunman John Wesley Hardin, and Lizzie Johnson Williams, famous as a woman rancher of the period. The character of Wash Charpentier, champion cowboy, is based on Nate Love, an early rodeo champion – who retired from cowboying to become a Pullman porter. The narrative concludes in the late 1870s, although there is an afterward, set in 1918.

 

9780989782050-Perfect.inddSunset and Steel Rails: This narrative is divided into three parts, set in 1884, 1890 and 1900, following the experiences of Sophia Brewer, the granddaughter of Horace “Race” Vining by his wife in Boston. Jilted by her fiancée, bullied and exploited by her older brother, Sophia escapes by taking another name and employment as a Harvey Girl. Finding love and happiness at last, Sophia’s family and friends are threatened by the horrific Galveston Hurricane of 1900. Fredi Steinmetz is a major character in this book. Magda Becker, her daughter Lottie and daughters-in-law Isobel and Jane also appear, as do Peter and Anna Vining, Peter’s nephew Horrie, and George Richter – an infant in The Gathering, and a Confederate Army teamster in The Harvesting. Wash Charpentier, the cowboy turned Pullman porter also appears. Historical characters include Fred Harvey himself, his son and business partner David Benjamin, and cowboy-turned Pinkerton detective Charlie Siringo.
And that’s the run-down – all in order, for those who wish to follow the fortunes of several linked families over 75 years, or who have favorite characters among them. Enjoy!

Some time ago and in another blog-post I wondered if it were possible for those with conservative and libertarian leanings to develop some kind of secret password, or handshake with which to identify themselves to new-met acquaintances who might possibly share those inclinations. We tend to be polite, do not relish open confrontation – and really, why pick unnecessary fights with neighbors, casually-met strangers, distant kin, or fellow workers? Most times, it just is not worth the hassle, or the chance of turning a casual social interaction or relationship turning toxic. Most of us do not eat, sleep, dream, live politics twenty-four-seven, anyway. But it certainly is pleasant to discover someone of like sympathies, usually after a few rounds of warily sounding them out, and assuring them that no, we will not come unglued if they confess to having voted for or liked (insert political figure or philosophy here).

But I think that I have hit upon a handy shorthand method for discerning the political sympathies of another without coming outright and asking. This insight came about through following a couple of libertarian-leaning or conservative blogs – Sarah Hoyt and Wretchard at Belmont Club being two of the more notable – and noting that the principals and many of their commenters all seemed au courant with Kipling.

Lines from “The Gods of the Copybook Headings“When ‘Omer Smote ‘is Bloomin’ Lyre”, “The Sons of Martha” “The Three-Decker” and “Dane-geld” or “The Wrath of the Awakened Saxon” and any number of other poems from the pen of the Glorious Rudyard were tossed about with abandon, along with references to various short stories and novels. Tags and lines from these poems and others were almost a currency in comment threads at these websites and blogs.
If you like Kipling … then you are likely to be some stripe of conservative, libertarian, or an original independent. I have not much of an explanation of why this should be so, other than that Kipling was an unparalleled master of storytelling, and his poems – traditional in the sense that they had a rhyme and meter – sometimes are still topical and always quotable. He has been out of fashion among the mainstream intellectuals and tastemakers for going on a century; In the place of the story-teller and poet there is a massive straw-image of him, labeled with every nasty -ism that can be applied; imperialist, racist, and so on and so forth. Die-hard fan of British imperialism – or not – he certainly was an acute observer of the institution and of his times. Perhaps it is the clear-eyed observer part of the Glorious Rudyard that appeals. Any other explanation would be welcomed, but the correlation between a liking for Kipling and conservative leanings is pretty well marked in my mind. Your thoughts?

The lovely mulberry tree at the back of my little suburban paradise – which shaded half the back yard and most of the house itself from the afternoon sun – contracted some sort of dreadful and ultimately fatal tree plague several years past. With sorrow my daughter and I arranged last fall with Roman, the Neighborhood Handy Guy to take it down in time for the regularly scheduled curbside brush collection. At least a quarter of the tree was dead, the rest of it didn’t look well at all, and the prospect of damage caused to the house by a falling branch, or even the whole thing toppling over in a high wind was not a comfortable one. So, the tree came down, leaving a bare and relatively unshaded expanse – and afternoon sunshine blazing pitilessly onto the back of the house from about three o’clock until sunset. I do have a row of three young fruit trees along the back fence-line (and a volunteer hackberry shrub on the far side of it), but it will be simply years before they are tall enough and leafy enough to provide even a portion of the shade provided by the late mulberry. I considered the matter, and decided after some research that some kind of arbor about four or five feet out from the house would do the trick – especially if I could encourage vines to grow up the support posts and romp freely over the shade part.

But the shade arbor was just half of the planned projects for this spring. At the same time as the mulberry tree was dying, so was the short gate by the front door which divided the narrow garden space along the side of the house into two unsatisfactory portions. My daughter had long wanted to see a tall new gate put up at the front. This would afford more privacy and an uninterrupted space from the front to the back of the house, which is really more of a cottage, long from back to front, narrow across the street-facing side (which aspect is mostly garage door, with a small portion of living space façade.) One of our neighbors, with a residence and lot size of roughly the same plan and dimensions – and with a gate in that position—showed us their garden some years ago, and we were bowled away. Yes, in a space about fifteen feet wide, by about thirty long – there was the possibility for a long, skinny garden, a meandering path to the front door, and thence to the wider space at the back, a garden richly planted, with charming resting places all along, paved with flagstones set in decomposed granite … and we were eaten up with envy. I don’t imagine that we can replicate their little patch of paradise, since James was a retired city landscape gardening supervisor, from a very large urban space, and he had professional education, life skills and expertise beyond my ken … but still. He and Bess did amazing things with a tiny space, a limited budget and with stuff they got from the local Big Box commercial outlet in season.

Yes, something like theirs was what I wanted – although they had a covered screened porch at the back, which made them a perfect little outdoors room, and shade from a number of their neighbors tall, established and healthy trees. An easy decision, therefore, to go with the fence and gate moved up to the front of the house. Really, I was amazed at how open it made the resulting space, although I should have expected that from seeing Bess and James’ place. No longer two small spaces, chopped unusably into two, with all the growing plants and vegetables crammed into one half of it. Because … Chickens.

Chickens. For the eggs, naturally. The suburban situation suits them, and we like the eggs. So far, I haven’t lost any to predators, although we had a close brush with an ambitious hawk, who had his eye on the smaller of the Bantam Wyandottes. But the chickens are death on just about anything within reach that is leafy and green, save possibly for the leaves of the potted citrus. This makes it necessary that either green and growing stuff be out of their reach, either through a fence, or suspended out of reach in hanging pots or baskets. So, I worked up a plan for another fence, a lower fence of lattice to the rear of the lot, something to keep the chickens at the very back of the yard. And – we could re-use the 4×4 posts from the demolished fence, as well as the hinges and gate hardware, and some 2×4 lumber left from the last fence repair project. The only thing new was the lattice panel itself.

Two weekends, and it has all been accomplished – we even had unused lumber, a lattice panel and some hardware to return for a refund. Now to finish planting for the spring, including some new grapevines to grow up along the support posts and into the trellis for additional shade. At the very least, this will take less time than to grow an entirely new tree for shade.

22. March 2017 · Comments Off · Categories: Fun With Islam, Good God, Media Matters Not

You know, I’m getting to the point of being numb about this sh*t. Herewith the graphic predicting the angle of news coverage of this and other outrages. (Sorry for the long absence – real life, writing and home reno projects. I’ll be back, I promise.)
exjon_media-narrative-chart_3-22-17

I honestly thought that once the election was done and Donald Trump duly sworn into the highest office in the land that those whose’ favored candidate lost would calm the heck down. You know, sort of the way that those of us whose chosen candidate lost in 2012… you know, disappointed but sporting about it. We went home, sniffled a little as we communed via the internet with equally disappointed friends, assumed the fetal position and turned the electric blanket onto “high” and got over it in a week or so. That’s the way the constitutionally-mandated cookie crumbles. The day after the election, I assumed that Hillary and Bernie voters would have had the maturity to do the same; morn a little, snivel a little, write editorials in the national media-of-record rationalizing their unfortunate reversals, perhaps throwing a little blame against whomever, and then pull themselves together as put as good a face on it as they could muster, promising to do better in 2020.

Nope; the march of the disappointed pussy-hatters the very next day, riots and protests in deep blue cities, the absolute frothing at the mouth Trump-hate at the Oscars and on the national news broadcasts, the impassioned print editorials, the ranting, raving, stompy-footing, the mass-defriending and insanely hateful rants on Facebook: Trump is a Nazi-fascist-anti-Semitic-racist-who-pulls-tags-off-mattresses and trips old ladies hobbling along on canes, and so is everyone who voted for him. Yes, over the last few years, we have kind of gotten the idea that the Ruling Class; the bi-coastal comfortable and well-connected (including the intelligentsia, the national media and bureaucracy) were contemptuous of the ordinary working and middle class residents of Flyoverlandia. Now we know for a certainty that those who form the coalition of the Ruling Class and many who aspire to be a member of that Class in good standing despise us. They despise us with a passion and fury that renders them incoherent, and unashamed of displaying that hatred.

The present-day proxy American or trans-national Ruling Class, no matter how they may define themselves, feel no sympathy for, or connection and loyalty to the Americans of Flyoverlandia. There is no common ground, no mutual respect, no feeling of shared nationality. For a long time, there must have been; I am pretty certain there was when I was growing up, but that’s been a long time gone. They would just as soon that we all die screaming in a fire – after having cast a vote for an anointed and approved Ruling Class candidate, and paid our taxes and fines so that the Ruling Class may continue their good work without any unseemly objections.

I suspect that the last month of irrational fury is because we did not do as we were bidden by the Ruling Class. They became accustomed to being obeyed, having their way in most things. And now they don’t have that way anymore – and they are furious. And possibly very, very, very frightened. Discuss.

16. February 2017 · Comments Off · Categories: Ain't That America?

Keeping chickens for eggs is the one bit of home economy that we never did, growing up, although we could have done so quite easily. Mom was adamantly opposed to doing so, as Granny Jessie had done so all during the Depression and probably up through WWII. Mom did not like chickens, thought they were smelly, ugly and inclined to be vicious – roosters especially have a talent for aggression, which is their purpose in life. They are there to protect the flock, and to ensure continuance of the chicken tribe, of course. Mom continued to buy eggs from the supermarket, or from a local outlet in Valley Center. Which smelt comprehensively, and could be detected at some distance, especially when the wind was in the right quarter, so Mom did have that part correct.

The whole reason for the backyard chickens...

The whole reason for the backyard chickens…

But the Daughter Unit and I entered on the prospect of keeping chickens for eggs with an open mind, aided by the fact that doing so seems to have become rather fashionable lately. Rumors of epidemics among commercial egg-producers two years ago, the fact that eggs seemed to be getting pricier … well, it made sense to establish at least some small degree of food independence. When a price of a small coop and run at Sam’s Club was slashed in half, it seemed to us that it was the right time. So – coop assembled, an enclosure in the yard set aside for it, and off we went to a local supplier for three pullets; as the Daughter Unit called them, the Three Chicken Stooges. She wanted to name them Larry, Moe and Curley, but since they were supposed to be females, I said they would have to be Loreena, Maureen and Carly. As it turned out, sexing Barred Rock chicks is not an exact science; Loreena turned out to be a Larry after all; Larry Bird. For a rooster he is pretty mellow – also pretty quiet, compared to some roosters that we have heard tales of from other back-yard chicken fanciers. Even so, I threaten to post the recipe for coq au vin prominently in the coop, as a warning to Larry.

The magnificent Larry Bird and his chief hen, Maureen

The magnificent Larry Bird and his chief hen, Maureen

Maureen and Carly lay pretty consistently – an egg every day, or at least, every other day. They did not lay for a couple of weeks last fall when they were molting, but their feathers all grew back magnificently. The whole project was such a success, overall, that the Daughter Unit became ambitious; knowing that Maureen and Carly would eventually age out of egg-laying, she proposed that we acquire some younger hens. One of the other back-yard chicken fanciers in the neighborhood had a pair of Wyandotte pullets extraneous to needs, so we paid her for the two, named them Winona and Dottie and added them to the menagerie. Unfortunately, Winona and Dottie were at the very bottom of the established pecking order. Several mornings later, the Daughter Unit found them with their heads pecked raw and bloody – she was half-afraid that

Winona and Dottie, the banty Wyandottes

Winona and Dottie, the banty Wyandottes

Dottie wouldn’t survive. We had to segregate the Wyandottes in their own section of yard, and purchase another small coop for them to stay in at night. They survived, thrived and began laying … and only then, when they hadn’t gotten much larger, we realized they must be bantam Wyandottes; about a third the size of Maureen and Carly. Their eggs are tiny; the size of a Cadbury’s chocolate egg. Handy, when it comes to halving a recipe that calls for an odd number of eggs. The big chickens and the little chickens do not mingle; they leave each other pretty much alone.

All in all, we are quite happy with the flock. Well, Larry Bird tends to tune up at 5ish, many mornings, but I don’t mind it too much. Our neighbor on one side works nights, the neighbor on the other has her bedrooms at the far side of the house – and she rather likes the sound of them coming and going about their chicken-things. We give away a fair portion of the eggs anyway, in exchange for general goodwill, for venison from one neighbor who is a bow-hunter, and another for vegetables – she is a more successful gardener than I am.

Amid some pretty stiff competition news-wise this week, these two linked stories were particularly infuriating – mostly because the matter received relatively little attention, in comparison to coverage of the protest itself. But such is the towering hypocrisy of these times. The establishment national news media continues to conduct itself in the manner that, sadly, we have come to expect of them. Mostly, they cover stories like this with a pillow, until they stop moving.

But the sheer gall of a protest encampment called to protest potential-possible- maybe environmental damage caused by construction of a pipeline … which then actually does damage to the local environment by the sheer quantity of stuff abandoned over the past six months, and the possibility of seepage of human waste into the nearby river. Well, really – one might have very good reason for doubting the sincerity of those protesters with regard to protecting the environment in the first place. More »

10. February 2017 · Comments Off · Categories: Domestic

That is, without the Daughter Unit, who left last Thursday in the very wee hours to spend six months in California, helping take care of family matters. My mother took a very bad fall two years ago, which left her confined to a wheelchair, and living with my sister and her husband. So, my daughter – whose Tiny Bidness is a bit more portable than mine, volunteered to go out to stay with my sister and help with Mom until August. So – I took the Daughter Unit down to the San Antonio Amtrak station, and settled down to a strict round of getting everything about my household done myself, once again. Six months is a walk in the park, although I do mind having the maintain the cat’s litter boxes, since the current cats are hers – mine having all passed over the Rainbow Bridge. We were worried that the cats would miss her, but so far, they seem to be quite insouciant about it all. The dogs insist mostly on being in the same room where I am, curled up and sleeping
And on the up-side, I can fix myself a BLT, or sautéed onions for my own patty-melt, and watch the rest of Downton Abbey, if I want to. And I thought about watching Indian Summer, once I am done with the latest available season of Longmire. Otherwise, I am trying to stick to a regular schedule; a few hours of housework and gardening in the morning, plus any errands, an hour of sewing on the vintage wardrobe project, and then the rest of the day split between working on my own next book, and on a book for one of the Tiny Bidness Clients – a project regarding the Civil War Nueces Massacre, which involved re-doing a lot of the maps and diagrams which the client provided; tedious to be certain, but it will make the finished book look good. I also generated an index for it, which was about a week’s worth of work in itself. I also got the figures for income tax return, and had a meet with the CPA this week to turn everything over to him. No, I am not the most organized person in the world, but things like – the income tax return must be done every year, you know the deadline is mid-April, so why not knock it off as soon as possible, and get back to doing other more enjoyable things. Yes, it’s a chore, but putting it off until the last minute never makes chores any less unpleasant.
I will have a few marketing events before August, though – Texas library convention downtown in late April, a book event in Wimberley in June, and possibly the spring market in Bulverde in May. I’ll have to recruit one of my daughter’s friends to help me with that, as setting up the pavilion and keeping the marketing going all day is a two-person job. So – that was my week. Yours?

We have a neighbor several doors down the street who has – over the years that we have known her – been somewhat of a trial. Not only is she is a gossip with an appallingly low degree of accuracy in the stories that she passes on, she is also a keen consumer of local news, and takes the most sensational crime stories to heart. She was in her element, the evening that we had a double murder in our neighborhood, having claimed to see the murderer running down the street past her house and begging one of the other neighbors for a ride. She provided a description of the murderer to one of the police patrols who went screaming through the neighborhood – a description which turned out to be inaccurate in every detail save that the escaping murderer was a male. As for the what she sees on the news; let someone across town be carjacked in their own driveway, she is totally convinced that everyone in the neighborhood is in dire peril of this happening to them. She lurks at the community mailbox of a morning, bearing dire warnings of all kinds of unlikely scenarios. She never goes much beyond the community mailbox, having successfully frightened herself out of going any farther on most occasions. In earlier times, I would try and talk her into taking a more realistic view of things. Eventually I realized that she purely enjoyed scaring herself into conniptions, and those irrational fears provided a handy all-purpose excuse for her not to go and do much of anything with herself when her only child went to college on the other side of the state and her husband moved out.
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I had an appointment with my primary care health provider at the dot of 9 AM Wednesday morning, down at the primary care clinic at Fort Sam Houston. Some years and months ago, they moved that function from the mountainous brick pile that is the Brooke Army Medical Center, into a free-standing clinic facility on Fort Sam Houston itself. I would guess, in the manner of things, that this clinic facility will undergo some kind of mitosis in about ten years, and split into another several facilities … but in the meantime, this is where I get seen for my routine medical issues … mainly high blood pressure. So; minor, mostly – immediately after retiring, I went for years without ever laying eyes on my so-called primary care provider. A good few of them came and went without ever laying eyes or a stethoscope on me, as well. But this last-but-one moved on, just at the point where he and I recognized each other by sight and remembered each other from one yearly appointment to the next. But once yearly, I must go in and see my care provider, and get the prescriptions renewed, and Wednesday was the day …

Fort Sam Houston – what to say about that place? Historically, it was the new and shiny and built-to-purpose military establishment after the presidio of the Alamo became too cramped, run-down and overwhelmed by the urban sprawl of San Antonio in the late 1870s. I have read in several places, that if the place is ever de-accessioned and turned back to civil authority as the Presidio in San Francisco was, that the inventory of city-owned historic buildings in San Antonio would instantly double. Yes – San Antonio is and was that important. It was the US Army HQ for the Southwest from the time that Texas became a state, the main supply hub for all those forts scattered across New Mexico Territory (which was most of the Southwest, after the war with Mexico), the home of the commander and admin staff for that administrative area. Every notable Army officer from both world wars put in serious time at Fort Sam during their formative military years, and the very first aircraft bought by the Army Signal Corps did demo flights from the parade ground. (I put a description of this in the final chapter of The Quivera Trail.)

But Wednesday morning, I was interested to know if the clinic administration had changed out the pictures of the personnel in the chain of command yet. (Military custom – someplace in the foyer of many units are a set of pictures; President, SecDef, and so on, down to the unit commander and the First Shirt. Part of the materiel which has to be learned in basic training are the names of the various authorities on it. The pictures are for the edification of those of lowly rank who often go for years without ever seeing the higher-ups of their chain of command in person. I went for a year once, without ever seeing my squadron commander, although I think I might have spoken to him on the phone once.) Anyhow, there was a link going around among some of the mil- and veteran blogs to the effect that a number of units had not yet received their official photographs of President Trump and General Mattis – and had filled in with print-outs of some of the more viral meme-portraits of them: President Trump standing on a tank, rolling through a battlefield, and Saint Mattis of Quantico, patron saint of Chaos with the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch in one hand. I was looking forward in any case to seeing the new pictures, and yes, they did have the new one of President Trump on the wall, but only a sign with the name on it where General Mattis’ picture should be. Ah well – the Army is notoriously humorless and Fort Sam/BAMC is the showplace of Army medicine, but as I walked past the display, I started thinking about how bizarre it all was. I think I first read about Donald Trump in the Village Voice, in the mid-1980s, or perhaps in some other publications in the late 1980s when he and Marla Maples were huuuge tabloid and gossip-column fodder: an almost richer-than-god and bigger than-life real estate developer, flamboyant, combative, crude, even – a hound for publicity even more than for pussy.

And now he is the commander in chief. It’s been like seeing Paris Hilton, or (god save us) one of the Kardashians with a heretofore unheard of skill set, suddenly developing political ambitions, going for it … and getting there. Who on earth would have foreseen that, twenty-five years ago? It’s weirder than anything made up by an author of political novels.
Discuss.

19. January 2017 · Comments Off · Categories: Politics, Tea Time

As the Deity be my witness, I have never – not even since 1968 (which I am sufficiently old enough to remember, being 14 years of age in that cursed year) – seen such a massive and public temper tantrum as that which we have been observing since November, 2015. Let it be said that I am observing all this with appalled and horrified fascination. It used to be that only certain very far-leftish intellectuals and college students were given to briefly melt down in such an over-the-top fashion – but over the last month and a bit this appears to have become the chosen reaction to their side losing an election on the part of most Hollywood A- B- and C-Listers, all the social justice warrior front, most of the establishment media, a good chunk of our public intellectuals, a good few businesses (looking at you, Kellogg) a generous selection of our Democrat Party establishment, and a representative sample of leftish freelance political freaks. (As an aside – good show; displaying your contempt of at least half of your prospective audience/consumers/& etc is a sure winner, when it comes to the consumer market. This household will never purchase Kellogg brands again. Or go to amovie with Meryl Streep in it.)

So – why the Cat-5 hurricane degree of hysteria, which shows not the slightest degree of diminishing? A number of reasons, I would venture; and for many of the most demonstrative “Never Our President” virtue signalers it may be a combination of several of these.

Inside a bubble, either consciously or inadvertent. The old Pauline Kael trope – about not knowing anyone in her social or professional circle who voted for Nixon. The bubble is also geographic – someone living in one of the prosperous coastal enclaves would have only the slightest connection to the Rust Belt, the Deep South, practically any place in Texas outside of Austin. Flyover America barely registered in the coastal bubbles. Until now. The national news media establishment does not help in piercing the bubble. Nor does Hollywood, or most popular television programs save a few exceptions. So – maximum shock and horror when the bubble is shattered, the reality breaks in, and the frantic denials begin. You mean – there are people out there – those irredeemable deplorables, clinging to their Bibles and guns who don’t agree with us?

The absolute hatred of would-be modern mandarinate for those stupid, unbiddable serfs who just will not obey their betters. Really, the nerve of those dumb working-class proles, thinking that they can run their own lives better than those well-connected experts who went to a top university and scored a six-figure income at some non-profit, or civil service activity! Codevilla’s Ruling Class vs Country Party, written out in real time.

Baffled fury that the usual political campaign voodoo just didn’t work this election. The political strategists must be over the moon with this; after all, they have made very profitable careers in working that old black magic; Spend a heap of money on political advertising, splashy media appearances, the love and loyalty of the mainstream media giving adoring coverage wall to wall, lots of popular stars going all out for Hillary, polls that consistently favored her, plus pulling a few dirty tricks to smear or embarrass the other candidate – all that stuff in the playbook which always worked before, suddenly didn’t. But it must work – it simply must work, since it always worked before!

In conclusion, I offer the following thoughts – and it’s not an original thought with me, since I have seen the same in comments here and there across the libertarian-conservative quadrant of the blogosphere – but perhaps this is the defiant flowering of a political state of mind whose first seed was the Tea Party. Remember them? Their stated devotion to fiscal responsibility, free market, and fidelity to the Constitution? Who for all their care in being civilly-responsible, thoughtful, conscientious good citizens – got smeared as illiterate, cousin-humping violent racists by all of the above – the bicoastal elite, the mandarinate, the political operators, the news and entertainment elite. The news media lied through their teeth, most of them, about the Tea Party – so, no credibility left there to burn with those of us who voted either for Trump, or against Hillary.

Discuss.

I didn’t watch very much of the horrific YouTube tape of four inner-city “youths” of color tormenting a special needs white kid – a tape that was all over the alternative media last week, and miracle of miracles, even made it to the national media, where incidents of black-on-white violence usually get to be covered, like with a pillow until they stop moving. It goes without saying that if the skin colors of victim and perpetrators had been reversed, just about every other national news story would have been driven off the front page and out of the first twenty minutes of national news for weeks. (Save perhaps one of the Kardashians bursting out of her dress like an overstuffed sausage in the middle of a top-drawer celebrity event.) I know that, you know that, we all are most tiresomely and cynically aware of that. Many would have been the chins tugged, NPR would have been consulting their golden rolodex for the most plummy-voiced commentator with an air of spurious authority over matters racial, CNN anchors and the correspondents of main-line news broadcasters over the world would have been hyperventilating in their efforts to keep up with the currently-fashionable expressions of condemnation of American racism, brutality, racism, cruelty to the ‘other’, white privilege, racism, the center-city of places like Chicago, Baltimore, St. Louis, Detroit (aside – is there anything left in Detroit to burn?) would have been going up in flames … so on and so forth, und so weiter.

Only this was the other way around, and so noxious and horrific a brutality to an inoffensive and harmless a young person; attention must be paid, no matter how the usual plummy-voiced commentators drag their metaphorical heels. Here it was – the perps filmed it themselves, and posted their nasty, deed on-line … for what? A brag to their friends, a trophy … seemingly unaware that a recording of their actions would be used against them. Did they not expect law enforcement to somehow, magically not see? Or did they just not care, assuming they would be untouchable. There has been a long, long, long series of horrific black-on-white atrocities – the Newsom-Christian torture/rape/murders in Knoxville ten years ago, come to mind as one of the most brutal and the most little-reported, outside of local media, plus any number of flash-mob attacks, of white or Asian pedestrians suddenly attacked on city streets through the “knock-out” game, of organized looting of retail venues and white visitors to mid-west state fairs threatened as they try to leave the venue.

It’s a soulless brutality demonstrated through these incidents. In the mug-shots of the perpetrators their eyes are dead. They seem to have tormented the kid for fun and no other purpose than that of showing off to peers – akin to pulling the wings off of flies, I suppose. I also suppose this kind of game is encouraged by inner-city thug culture, excused and rationalized away by intellectuals and politicians who one would have expected to know better. Such incidents are hastily covered up by the very same national establishment press, who break out the headlines and commentary by their pet race relations experts ad infinitum when it comes to a Black Lives Matter-manufactured storm in a teacup. I have no idea why it should be this way, but I have read suggestions that secretly the national news establishment are afraid that white flyover country would go all indiscriminately punitive on the ‘hood in the manner of the 1921 Tulsa race riot – or something of the sort.
It is ironic, isn’t it – that the current inner-city black thug culture is demonstrating itself to be as feral, brutal, and ignorant as the 19th century KKK considered that blacks were. There are no chains quite as binding as the ones that you hang on yourself.
Discuss.

Yeah, I’m late again, with reviewing the past year, and look to the bright and shiny new one, with regard to personal and professional goals. I’ve looked back every year about this time (so, sometimes it been a pretty good stretch around. So, I’m an independent small businesswoman. I make my own schedule.) Every year, I have been in the habit of assessing the last year, thinking about what I want to get done in the coming year.
As always, the score is about 75% achieved.

1. The back yard is still not the bountiful truck garden of edible fruit and vegetables. This is an enduring challenge. Part of this is due to my own laziness with regard to watering, a serious hard freeze a couple of weeks ago, and the depredations of the chicken stooges, or as my daughter calls them, “the wup-wups” – from the sound of the gentle clucking they made when they are satisfied with life but still feel chatty. Indeed, the magnificent rooster, Larry-Bird, and his Barred Rock harem of Maureen and Carly, are death on any green edibles that they can reach. They chase the two bantam Wyandottes, Winona and Dottie, mercilessly … but the girls all produce eggs, which is all to the good. (Except Winona, who appears to be permanently broody.) The bantam eggs are handy when it comes to halving a recipe which in the original calls for three or five eggs. We have not had to purchase eggs from the supermarket since Maureen and Carly came on line, although there was some trepidation when they molted for about a month. Resolved, renewed; make the bountiful truck garden happen.

2. Books – at last finished The Golden Road. This was planned as being the adventures of wide-eyed seventeen-year old Fredi Steinmetz in Gold-Rush era California. The good news – finished, after about three years of back-burnering it. The bad news – the cover wasn’t finished in time for me to have print copies in time for the various Christmas markets. Two Luna City Chronicles were finished and put on the market in 2016 – they being light, contemporary comedy, they are fairly easy going as far as the writing is concerned. More light blogging, actually. Another Luna City episode is planned for release in mid-year, and a fifth … well, the various elements of both are being skulled out even as we speak. I have also resolved to do a second Lone Star Sons set of stories. The first Lone Star Sons sold very well at Christmas markets, especially as I button-holed every tween and teen passing by our booth, saying, “Hey, kid – do you like to read and do you like Western adventures?”

3. Home reno … the budget for that was shot over the last year, in having to pay for some repair to insulation of the condensation drain. Which, unrepaired, was dripping through into the kitchen. Being able to pay for repair out of pocket was satisfactory – but this gutted the budget for new kitchen cabinets and countertop, as well as the reno and installation of the vintage Chambers gas stove which Blondie inherited from her spiritual godmother. Resolved in the coming year to get at least some new cabinets installed, as well as counter-tops. The kitchen is small – and we desperately need to maximize the space.

4. The mulberry tree which shaded the back garden was dying over the last two years of some ghastly tree-plague. Attempts to save it were in vain. We paid for it to be removed, working in concert with the neighborhood handy-guy – but now the western-facing side of the house is exposed to the full fury of the afternoon sun. We finagled a deal to have the insulation topped up, such is the power of my revived credit rating – but the new plans include installation of some kind of pergola which covers windows on the west-facing side of the house. Which plans also include moving the existing dilapidated fence farther up towards the front of the property … Alas, budget constraints. Resolved to earn enough from the writing and from the Teeny Publishing Bidness to be able to afford the pergola and the new fencing.

5. Which brings me to the management of clients for the Teeny Publishing Bidness. I have decided over this last year to offer our services to other indy authors, in helping them to set themselves up as their own Teeny Publisher. I will walk them through getting an account at Ingram Spark, Lightning Source, or CreateSpace, see to editing and formatting their book for the usual editing and formatting fee, arrange for cover design … and turn them loose. I already have done this for two clients; it’s basically what I have always done for the Teeny Publishing Bidness, everything but our name on it as publisher, but this way they will have an increased level of control over their books and be able to order printed copies at a better price per unit. Several other indy authors that I have talked to in the last year are unhappy with their current facilitator/publisher, which is what gave me the idea in the first place. They want to write; and going into it as their own publisher was a terrifying prospect. There were and are a good few POD places out there which are overcharging and offering unnecessary services: Alice and I were appalled and amused at some of the itemized services that were on offer from them, and the prices they were charging.

So – that’s it. Check back in 360 days or so, and I’ll review.

24. December 2016 · Comments Off · Categories: History, Literary Good Stuff

(This is a short-story version of an episode in Adelsverein: The Sowing, which I reworked as a free-standing Christmas story a good few years ago, for a collection of short stories. The scene; the Texas Hill country during the Civil War – a war in which many residents of the Hill Country were reluctant to participate, as they had abolitionist leanings, had not supported secession … and had quite enough to do with defending themselves against raiding Indians anyway.)

It was Vati’s idea to have a splendid Christmas Eve and he broached it to his family in November. Christian Friedrich Steinmetz to everyone else but always Vati to his family; once the clockmaker of Ulm in Bavaria, Vati had come to Texas with the Verein nearly twenty years before with his sons and his three daughters. “For the children, of course,” he said, polishing his glasses and looking most particularly like an earnest and kindly gnome, “This year past has been so dreadful, such tragedies all around – but it is within our capabilities to give them a single good memory of 1862! I shall arrange for Father Christmas to make a visit, and we shall have as fine a feast as we ever did, back in Germany. Can we not do this, my dears?”
“How splendid, Vati! Oh, we shall, we shall!” his youngest daughter Rosalie kissed her father’s cheek with her usual degree of happy exuberance, “With the house full of children – even the babies will have a wonderful memory, I am sure!” Her older sisters, Magda and Liesel exchanged fond but exasperated glances; dear, vague well-meaning Vati!
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19. December 2016 · Comments Off · Categories: Domestic, Literary Good Stuff

The last of the Christmas markets was done and over for us, as of about 2 PM Sunday – when it became plain that a) at least three-quarters of the other vendors at the market had packed it in over the previous evening due to high winds and very low temperatures. Saturday at the Boerne Cowboy Market was lovely and for me, fairly profitable. The town square was packed to the limits, the weather was fair and near to summer-warm, plenty of shoppers, live music, shoals of shoppers … but the forecast for Sunday had in it a dire warning of near-to-freezing temps, and high winds that were promised to diminish by about ten AM. It’s one of those things – there is the promise of the after-church-service crowd – but the bitter cold put the kibosh on that. So, with no other potential shoppers save other venders or friends of family of venders, we packed up our stock at early afternoon and came home.

Yeah, I know that vendors in outside Christmas markets in locations less salubrious than the Hill Country of Texas are probably snickering into their sleeves at our overall lack of cold-weather-hardiness … but still. Thirty degrees or less of wind-chill cold; up with which the casual browsing customer is not willing to put. The market management who had rented us one of their canopies came and took it down in the wee hours, to prevent damage to it, I guess – so we were left canopy-less on Sunday. Those of us surviving vendors – all of whom had put up the table fee for a two-day market and were by-damn agreeable to giving the second day a good old-fashioned try on the hope of seeing the after-church service crowd … well, no hope of that, with the brutal cold, and the wind that kept tossing the surviving pavilions and their walls about – although we all had long winter underwear, heavy coats, mufflers, hand-warmers, and propane heaters available to us. None of that does any good unless there are shoppers about, and of that were there none.

So, we packed it up and came home to thaw out … revising on the way, our schedule of markets for next. This has been a kind of exploratory mission for us – working out what venues, time frames and conditions work best. We will probably not do any markets past the second weekend in December, it being our conviction that people are “shopped out” at this point – and so are we. We probably won’t do Blanco again, but will be there for the Johnson City court-house lighting on the Black Friday weekend, even if that involves a two-night stay in a hotel or RV park. The Bulverde craft fair is a keeper, and so is Goliad. Another possible is Boerne’s Dickens on Main, although that involved two weekends – and evenings, at that. Still – large crowds, enthusiastic shoppers may make the table fee worthwhile. We’ll look at other events, throughout the year, mostly in order to build up Blondie’s Paper Blossom productions business. Showing up, building up clients and fans – even branching out and providing specialty items for other vendors would, hopefully, provide a steady income stream for her – but the effort has to be made.

Now begins our short Christmas break; a time of rest and relaxation, as well as enjoying the day in the warmth of indoors. Of course – now that the markets are done for the year, I finally have received the printed copies of The Golden Road. I did have one paid order for it – from a particular fan in Goliad who bought one of my other books, and ordered a copy of the Golden Road – but the order form was lost in the windstorm on Sunday morning. Did you order a copy of The Golden Road, at Goliad, on December 3? Please get in touch with me, so that I can send it to you!

16. December 2016 · Comments Off · Categories: Fun and Games, General, Media Matters Not

The concept of “fake news” appears to be the meme du jour among the serious internet news set … well, the serious mainstream news set, anyway. Calling it the meme du jour is merely a kinder way of describing the mainstream media’s primal scream of denial. Me – I have become extremely suspicious when a meme suddenly pops up all over the national mainstream news and entertainment media and social media takes it up as if they were junior fashionistas entranced with Kim Kardashian’s latest exercise in stuffing ten pounds of avoirdupois into a five-pound sack. It’s as if there were some kind of coordinated list of talking points, similar phrasing, and suggested party lines being surreptitiously circulated among influential cognoscenti … like there was some kind of briefing paper being circulated. But that’s my nasty, cynical mind speaking there. They might have a new name for “JournoList” and circulate it by other means, but yes, that playbook is still operative.

The Primal Scream of Denial from the establishment media is all the more bitterly amusing – because they themselves played a huge part in destroying their own credibility with those citizens of Flyoverlandia who tended to vote for Trump. (With varying degrees of reluctance, I should make it clear. For every voter who went out and voted for him wholeheartedly, there must be at least one who held their nose as they voted for him, and another who regarded a Trump vote as being one big middle finger of protest, extended towards the bicoastal ruling elite.) Tin this latest kerfuffle, those major news establishments continue damaging themselves in the eyes of news junkies and bloggers who have been paying rapt attention since the rise of the internet as an internet news provider and fact-checker. The damage is ongoing, and perhaps accelerated to light-speed by the very Primal Scream of Denial. For anyone who has been paying attention over the last decade or even longer – there has been a long, long and sorry series of ‘fake news’ generated, perpetuated and splashed all over Page 1 above the fold, the endlessly hyped headline story on the evening news, or the one promoted in breathless ads for the investigative programs like 60 Minutes.

The long list of so-called ‘fake news’ might be said to begin with Walter Cronkite declaring that the US had lost South Vietnam in the Tet offensive. Four decades before the establishment of internet-enabled alternate news sources, it took years for it to emerge that no – the Tet offensive had been a disaster for the Viet Cong. But Walter Cronkite spoke … and such was his, and the national media’s authority – that saying made it so. So the established national media maintained the grand castle of their authority … for a while, until bloggers, commenters, and interested parties had the ability to publicly report, comment, fact-check and criticize. I’d date this from the early Oughts, just around the time of 9/11, which is when I became acquainted with the concept, although for some who were more technically adept, it may have been a thing for several years before then.

For me, the biggest crack in mainstream news credibility was the Dan Rather/TANG memo debunking in 2004. Here was a huge story, broadcast practically on the eve of the election, a story based on documents of a deeply uncertain provenance, relayed to a Bush-hating reporter by a man with a grudge against Bush. It came over as a breathtakingly audacious attempt to throw an election based on forged memos. Worse; I began to wonder how many other stories that 60 Minutes had broadcast over the years were built on just as shaky a foundation … which had gone unremarked, as interested amateurs with specific knowledge had never gotten a chance to examine the evidence for themselves. The list of other fake news perpetuated by the mainstream media is frankly overwhelming to contemplate; fabulists, fakes, and selective omission. I’ll skip making a comprehensive list of them, as it would make this post the length of one of my books, and those of us of a libertarian/conservative leaning have our own lists readily in mind.
It’s only gotten worse in the last election cycle, seeing that so many media establishments and reporters were so in the pocket for Hilary Clinton – as revealed by the Wikileaks memos. This had been suspected – yea, assumed – for the last decade, at least, but to see it all laid out in detail – names, networks, publications and favors rendered – was depressing in the extreme. I don’t see that the mainstream media can fight their way out of the tangle they backed themselves into. Their credibility with the conservative portion of the population is sunk as deeply as the Titanic. Once-respected weekly news magazines like Time and Newsweek are a thin shadow of what they were, once. Newspapers are shrinking, television news is going shriller, more partisan and fragmented. It may be as Sarah Hoyt observed – organizations tend to turn hard-left, just as they self-destruct. Your thoughts?

That is – one more holiday market to go, and then we can put up our feet and enjoy Christmas … well, save for perhaps regretting that we didn’t have time enough to hang out lights and ornaments on the bay tree for the amusement and edification of our neighbors. But on the other hand, we did get the Christmas fudge all done and distributed, save for the batch of Brandy Alexander which never solidified as it should have done … well, there’s always one batch that doesn’t go quite as satisfactorily as it should have, but with eight different kinds, it’s not that anyone would mind or even notice.

Blanco was cold and miserable; in the forties all day, with a sullen drizzle threatening in late afternoon. Still, there were people shopping, and we did pretty well, considering – but would have done better if the weather had been as pleasant as it was in Johnson City two weeks ago. But still – the cold! And this time we were in the pink pavilion, on grass, instead of in a place with a roof on three solid walls. I had long winter underwear on, and the brown woolen Edwardian suit, with gloves and a scarf, but my feet were near to freezing in thin leather lace-up boots. My daughter had a lovely insulated pair of winter boots, so her feet were fine, but the rest of her was miserably cold. Note to self – another pair of long winter underwear, and one of those little portable heaters that run on a propane gas bottle. The weather is expected to be milder for next weekend for the Cowboy Christmas Market in Boerne, though … but that brings up still another problem. The pink pavilion developed a bend in one of the support legs which makes putting it up and taking down even more difficult than usual. Not certain of how it happened, but the metal is quite definitely indented and broken. It was never the sturdiest of pavilions anyway, and now some of the other joins have developed bends or cracks at weak points. It was most definitely not designed for the hard use that it has gotten over the past two and a half years, so this next weekend, we have to rent one of the Boerne Market Days pavilions (plain tan and completely featureless) while we arrange to purchase a sturdier pavilion for the next market season. One of the other vendors in Johnson City had a very nice one, with much heavier top and sides; she bought it at Costco; a new one of similar design and features is on our list.

Today we went through some local favorite shops, picking up this and that with an eye to mailing gifts to family, and making our own Christmas the merrier. This included a stop at a Half-Price Book outlet, where neither of us found what we were looking for – stocking stuffers for cousins/nieces and nephews – but I found a pair of David Hackett Fischer’s accounts of two episodes in the American Revolution. The next of my historical novels is dimly to be seen, at a considerable distance – something set in that period. I thought earlier this year of what the next should be, after finally completing the Gold Rush adventure. I suppose the natural tendency would be towards continuing into the early 20th century, with the various characters from Adelsverein, from Quivera Trail and Sunset and Steel Rails. I’ve already hinted at some of those developments relative to the First World War … but I find myself curiously reluctant to go there – mostly because that was the time and place in which the optimism of the 19th century died, in mud and blood, tangled in barbed-wire. Right now – I don’t need tragedy and heart-breaking disillusion. I’d rather go back, to the start of our republic, close to the foundation of the American experience …

Besides – I have already hinted at a couple of different possible characters and plotlines: Race Vining had a relation named Peter, who served in Washington’s tiny, desperate army at Valley Forge – and Carl and Margaret Becker’s grandfather Heinrich was a Hessian deserter, who fell in love with an American woman … and perhaps the notion that the individual was the master of his own fate. Nothing more certain than that; the specifics of the plot will grow from research.
Besides – I have to write another Luna City chronicle, and another Lone Star Sons, first.

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 was kind of intrigued by last week’s Buzzfeed article, attempting to whip up the internet mob for the purpose of going after Chip and Joanna Gaines, who have a hugely popular home renovation show on the HGTV channel, and cannily have never said a word on the show regarding their more or less mainstream Christian beliefs, or their attendance at a mega-church where the pastor apparently is on the record as having expressed disapproval of the concept of the institution of formal marriage being anything other than that of a man and a woman. (Note: I’ve never watched the show myself, although my daughter has. Blondie avers that Joanna Gaines is a one-note designer; her thing is shabby chic. All to the good, since that is my own preference, well-mixed with Laura Ashley comfortable country antique seasoned with a splash of William Morris/Craftsman. And … well, most people have items of décor and large furniture of which they are fond … who the heck clears the deck and redecorates every year or so, in response to the fashion of the moment? Only the very wealthy and socially insecure, I surmise.)

More power to them – the Gainses and their redecorating business; not the internet lynch mob, always ready to be whipped up to a fine frothing frenzy. Really, this early 21st century is increasingly resembling the 16th, in the ruthless search for the ritual burning at stake by officials or by the annoyingly self-appointed for individuals who refuse to give lip-service to the prevailing social/political orthodoxies. One would go mad, trying to keep track of them. What was a conventional, blandly conformist stance yesterday or the day before appears as high crime in the eyes of the self-anointed Social Savonarolas. Believing and saying that all lives matter, that actual, official-type marriage is a one man/one woman arrangement, and that one ought to be able to choose a neighborhood to live in according to what one could afford and among a racial/social/economic demographic with which one was comfortable … apparently, all those assumptions are now the worst kind of badthink, egregious hate-crime, the worst-evah! What is an ordinary, conventional-thinking person to do, now?

It is something of a reassurance, seeing that the 21st century Social Savonarolas appear to suffer from having their torches dialed down a bit of late. The scheduled ritual burning-at-stake for the Gainses has been derailed by HGTV recalling which side their bread is buttered upon, and the Gainses themselves going tactfully above the fray by being all high-minded and decently ignoring the ruckus below them. The threatened Chick-Fil-A boycott four years ago – derailed by an outpouring of support for the company and long lines at every Chick-Fil-A outlet in the country – may have been a harbinger, an early warning of how exactly how sick and fed-up ordinary people were of being hectored, lectured, battered and ostentatiously boycotted by the Social Savonarolas. The designated targets may also have gotten a lot less inclined to roll over and apologize for these their offenses, likely having noticed that making any gesture of apology or explanation just encourages the Social Savonarolas – and that the best response is either to ignore as Chip and Joanna Gaines did, or tell them to FOAD.
Is the Social Savonarola’s Heretic-Lynching card now overdrawn? Discuss.

04. December 2016 · Comments Off · Categories: Ain't That America?, Domestic

And our Christmas marketing marketing marathon thunders on; last weekend in Johnson City for three days, and this weekend a Saturday in Goliad. Which seemed nearly as tiring as the Johnson City event, as it rained on us for nearly all the distance of a two-hour drive there, and again all the way back, as well as raining heavily on Friday night and all of Saturday night … a night which was enlivened by a massive local power outage.
The rain did not actually fall on the event itself, which was a huge relief; oh, it was a little windy and chilly, and we were in a sheltered outdoor venue next to the Goliad Public Library, but most of us bundled up in warm clothing, expecting such conditions. Although when it comes to adding to my period “author drag” wardrobe, it occurs to me that a fake-fur muff may be a very appropriate accessory. The ‘author drag’ continues to be of worth as far as attention-grabbing goes – there were many compliments from other people on the outfit, and my mastery of the art of millinery and tailoring. The outfit of Saturday was the brown wool tweed Edwardian walking suit which was almost heavy enough to be comfortable, except when the wind blew directly on me. Eventually, I hope to construct a wardrobe of five or six period outfits with appropriate accessories and suitable/comfortable for every occasion – indoor, outdoor, summer, winter, day or evening. I did add to my collection of accessories – again – with the purchase of a vintage 9-inch hatpin from an antique shop on the square. Nothing special or particularly pricy – but somewhat shorter and lighter than my first two, which are much thicker and over 12 inches long and must date from the pre-WWI era of big hair and hats the size of wagon wheels.

The shops on Goliad’s town square are looked very revived, over five years ago, by the way; the shale oil boom continues to shower a bit of prosperity on the place. The venue where we were stationed as part of Miss Ruby’s Author Corral was just renovated over the last year, along one side of an open courtyard where a building was removed a couple of years ago, revealing an almost unweathered Bull Durham advertising mural on the side of the building next door. (Now the public library.) The building on the opposite side of the courtyard is being remodeled to serve as a bed and breakfast. The owner of the property had both ends of the space with the mural enclosed and roofed over, fitted out with chairs, small tables and a couple of outdoor heaters, and graciously lent the space to the organizer of Miss Ruby’s Author Corral. Eventually, the whole place and the B&B will be an event venue, and a charming place for small gatherings – say, under 150 people, right on the Courthouse Square of historic old Goliad. Goliad and San Antonio are both within a couple of years of celebrating their 300th anniversary of being established as towns, by the way. I shall have to think of something to write, novel-wise, which will commemorate this.
A wet, tiring, but moderately profitable Saturday was had by all; my weekend. Yours?

We spent the weekend after Thanksgiving in Johnson City, Texas, where they established the tradition of firing up for the Christmas holidays by covering the Blanco County courthouse with god-knows-how-many hundreds-of-thousands of lights, hanging in strands from the roof edge to the ground and noting the start of the holiday season in the Hill Country with a bang … a round of fireworks at about 7 PM Friday, as soon as it was well-dark. The firework show was lavish – and the three rows of vendor pavilions and the spectators in courthouse square were so close to it that little bits of spent ash from the fireworks sifted down on us. I hadn’t seen anything so splendid, or been so close – practically underneath it all – since a Fourth of July celebration at the Rio Cibolo Ranch in 2009.

The Blanco Courhouse - all lit up.

The Blanco Courhouse – all lit up.

The trunks of the pecan and oak trees star-scattered on the lawn around the courthouse were strung with lights, and the facades of many establishments around the courthouse square were also lavishly lit up. This whole ‘lighting for Christmas’ kicked off similar displays in other small communities and towns, but Johnson City is still the lead event. The crowds on Friday and Saturday evenings were substantial and in the proper mood for buying. My daughter and I made our expenses Friday evening, so sales on Saturday and Sunday were gravy. Our expenses were more than just the quite reasonable table/booth fee, since Johnson City is slightly more than an hour drive from home. We considered the drive to and from for three days running; two such trips at ten o’clock at night on a relatively unlighted country highway, with drunk drivers, speeding trucks, suicidal deer … and said, ‘oh, hell no.’

The nearest available affordable lodgings turned out to be at the Miller Creek RV Resort, which has three little cabins with a bathroom and functional kitchenette for rent. We booked one for two nights; the cabin porch presented a lovely view of the creek, which we were never to relish, as we were there only to sleep – long and deeply, following ten or twelve hours of active selling. The Miller’s Creek RV Park is a lovely little place, by the way; immaculately groomed and landscaped. It’s not one of those luxury destination RV resorts by any means, but a modest comfortable place, beautifully arranged – they even have a minuscule dog park, in addition to the usual facilities.

I think that the most reassuring part of our experience this last weekend wasn’t entirely due to the satisfactory sales – it was the experience itself. The people in this smallish Hill Country town came together to put on their yearly extravaganza. Volunteers from various local organizations giving it their all; families with children and polite teenagers, lined up in front of the cotton-candy vendor, right next to us. That vendor had the brilliant inspiration to sell his cotton-candy spun around a lighted plastic wand, which made the wad of candy look like clouds with a varicolored lightening-storm going on behind it. (Purchase the wand – get unlimited refills of cotton-candy!)

A look down the Market area.

A look down the Market area.

Any number of those polite teenagers came and bought origami earrings from my daughter, or inveigled their parents to buy them – indeed, there was one particularly engaging teenager who admired the earrings so much that my daughter sighed and gave her the particular pair that she favored, asking only that when Engaging Teenager had the money, to come back and pay for them. The very next night, Engaging Teenager returned with four crumpled dollar bills and four quarters. She confessed to wanting to be a writer and talked at length about what she liked in the way of books, how she kept being distracted by new ideas when writing, and how she was bound and determined to finish a story of hers for her grandmother’s Christmas present – because Gran had asked for just that thing. Engaging Teenager has the very same problem that I did, way back in the early days of my scribbling career; to whit – never being able to finish anything. We talked for a bit about that; reassuring and encouraging Engaging Teenager as an aspiring writer, though I suppose that we will never know if we did her any good. I did give her a copy of Lone Star Sons (autographed with a personal message, of course!), assuring Engaging Teenager that my one YA book venture might be a help in demonstrating the art of short adventure-writing. Such a nice kid – we hope that later teenagery won’t spoil her charm and spirit.

There was the procession of lighted automobiles, trucks, and tractors, some of them towing floats for the lighted parade on Saturday, the marching band and the senior citizen synchronized marching team with their lighted lawn-chairs … it was all very reassuring to me. Small-town America is still here, still confident, still ably conducting their own affairs, neighbor to neighbor – even when the neighbor is only a member of the peripatetic small-business gypsy-market. (I took pictures, using the ‘night’ function on the camera. Alas – none of those pictures came out very well at all.

The silver-gilt acorn earrings.

The silver-gilt acorn earrings.

Speaking of gypsy marketing; I bought my Christmas present indulgence for myself; a pair of vintage earrings from one of the other vendors. His family business specialized in vintage and estate jewelry, mostly silver and a large part reclaimed from a smelter in San Antonio. You know – those businesses who buy old silver and gold jewelry; it goes to be melted down. This enterprise has an agreement with the local smelter to let them come in, look over the takings and purchase at cost those items with artistic merit. But my Christmas present for myself wasn’t one of those so rescued; they were from an estate sale. Described as silver – I thought they had a gold wash – and reddish-brown jasper stones; this was a pair of acorn-shaped earrings. I liked them very much, especially as they go with the brown tweed Edwardian walking suit outfit. So – my present for myself.
Oh, and I wore a different vintage outfit every one of the three days. They worked very well for merchandising purposes – and yes, I will do this again. Many times.

24. November 2016 · Comments Off · Categories: Ain't That America?, Domestic

Today is Thanksgiving Day; my daughter and I will share a feast of delightfully orange-flavored brined turkey breast (a recipe lifted from the current issue of Cuisine at Home) plus some sides; as a small dish of baked stuffing using some heels of pumpernickel bread from the bounteously-stuffed garage deep-freeze, oven-roasted Brussel sprouts, garlic mashed potatoes, all served with a dash of the lingonberry sauce from the jar I purchased last weekend from the Ikea grocery department – it tastes very much like cranberry sauce anyway — and finished off with a slice of pumpkin pie, baked this week. The enduring trouble that I have with Thanksgiving is that I don’t much like most of the traditional dishes. Of those that I do, I don’t want to eat leftovers of them from now until past mid-December. Seriously, in many years, I was so tired of sorting out the remainders of a whole turkey I would choose anything else vaguely birdlike for the main entrée, and for Christmas, practically anything else. On some years when it would be just me, I threw tradition to the winds and did a tiny half-pound frozen poulet from HEB Central Market, or a rock Cornish game hen, accompanied by the traditional autumnal dishes that I did like. (These solitary dinners were a treat for me; single servings of exotic and/or expensive dishes that I would never have sampled otherwise.)

Yes, I did some Thanksgiving days with just me, myself, and I, contra every existing holiday tradition. I experienced some uncomfortable Thanksgiving Day dinners at the houses of acquaintances, but the worst of them was an excruciating dinner wherein I with preschool daughter in tow had been invited by my military supervisor to share his familial table … except that he had somehow forgotten to tell his spouse until the very last minute that he had invited us. Her resentment was a palpable thing, hovering over the table like a fog and curdling every bite that I took. That was the year that I resolved to break no bread on Thanksgiving with any but blood family; if it meant only the two of us or myself alone, then so be it. I did manage to get home for that traditional dinner with blood relatives now and again – which varied the solitary meal program to some degree.
Besides, sometimes the Thanksgiving holiday was an opportunity to do serious work – the year that I replaced the back fence myself, and ate my supper mid-project from a tray (the tiny poulet year) sitting in the living room and regarding the fence in mid-project. This year is no different, with substantial projects in mid-accomplishment: we have the three-day market event in Johnson City to prepare for; the full-on display of the pavilion, with Christmas lights, special displays and three days’ worth of stock; my books, her earrings. This is a huge event – justifying some preparations above and beyond the usual. Christmas dinner will mark the real end and celebration for us – another year, well-done.

There are so many things to celebrate, and give thanks for on this particular day: We are thankful that Mom is safely settled with my sister and her family out in California; that Mom is as sharp and healthy as ever, aside from the wheelchair-necessitating disability. We are also thankful for a couple of repeat clients for the Teeny Publishing Bidness, and a couple of new ones. This allowed us the latitude to explore other yearly markets, and with the election being done and people feeling good about spending money again, those markets may yet be profitable for us. We are thankful for our neighbors, especially the ones who tolerate Larry-bird’s early morning serenades, who exchange venison and garden vegetables for eggs, in addition to exchanging contacts and recommendations in the most neighbor-supporting way. We are thankful indeed, for a refrigerator, pantry and freezer stuffed with good food, stashed away against emergencies, that both our automobiles are in good repair and running order, that among other necessary household repairs we could afford to top up the ceiling insulation and reduce the electric bill thereby. We have our own continued good health to be thankful for… I am thankful for being able to publish three books with my name on the cover this year – including the one that I was beginning to believe I could never finish. I have probably forgotten any number of other things to be thankful for, so I’ll just stash them under the topic of “other blessings.” May you all have blessings to be thankful for, and a bounteous supper to mark the day. Happy Thanksgiving!

It has been an education, watching the mass public meltdown on the part of the not-Trump faction over the last week and a half. OK – I get the shock and denial, said to be the first stages of grief. Hillary was supposed to become the first woman elected president of the USA! (Yay, vagina!) It was her turn, per the Ruling Uni-party and a whole lot of people who should have known better. And she was supposed to be qualified – the most qualified woman evah! – although specifics about those qualifications are somewhat thin on the ground and mostly to do with her grabbing in marriage an attractive, promising professional pol on his way up, and sticking with him no matter what personal humiliations that entailed for decades.

I’d interject a personal note here: I once had a security clearance, and handled classified material for a couple of years. If I had been so damned careless with those documents as the Dowager Queen of Chappaqua was as Secretary of State, I’d still be in a cell in Leavenworth, instead of blissfully retired from the Big Blue Machine for two decades. Too, she had the establishment national media in her pocket, slavering to be of obedient service to the Queen, and a whole lineup of celebrities, likewise dropping to their knees and elbowing each other out of the way in their haste to swear fealty. Her campaign spent a bomb on pollsters, advertising, and whatever else presidential campaigns are supposed to spend megabucks on – which until now was always supposed to signal victory. It was in the bag for her, without a doubt! And yet … the dominoes dropped, one after one, after one. And the coronation was off. No wonder the Dowager Queen is reported to have had a particularly horrific tantrum on Election Night, and vanished from the eyes of her adoring public for more than a week, reappearing looking like a side dish of Death indifferently warmed over.

Her supporters’ first reaction seemed to be shock and denial, followed swiftly by skipping over the pain and guilt and going straight to the anger and bargaining, as demonstrated by a diverse variety of “never MY president!” advocates. Some of them may simply be virtue-signaling to their fellows, going along with the herd, as it were – like the cast of Hamilton. Others, mostly has-been celebs like Cher and Yoko Ono appear to be screaming “Look at MEEEEEE!” The celeb virtue-signaling wing appears almost universal among the glitterati – to the point where cooler heads like Oprah Winfrey advising a “wait and see” approach are treated as if they are vile Trumpist fellow-travelers.

The whole liberal meltdown and mass-virtue-signaling exercise exerts a kind of horrified fascination, like contemplating a spectacular 20-car pileup on the interstate. Out of decency, you want to look away … but you just can’t, because the vehicles involved have wound up in such bizarre positions: on-end in the median, pretzeled around an overpass support, or balanced on the safety railing like a child’s teeter-totter.

The pathetic part of it all is that right up until the day before yesterday (or so it now seems) Donald Trump was just a rich, blowhard Noo Yawk vulgarian, a habitué of the tabloid pages with a no-more-than-usually centrist-to-socially-liberal political stance, a reality-show businessman. Against that parody image, his businesses seemed to be well and profitably run. His family (divorces aside) appear well-adjusted; assorted wives and offspring to be quite happy and functional. He had a reputation, as it now turns out, for picking good people – borne out this very week as he selects a political dream team for his cabinet.

But to judge by the screaming tantrums of the anti-Trumpists, he is the very incarnation of Hitler, Genghis Khan, Simon Legree and Oliver Cromwell, all rolled together in one horrid package. The screaming, or as one pundit puts it, the freakoutrage, will go on for the next four years, unabated by any success on the part of a Trump administration. Racist and anti-Semitic, against every evidence to the contrary – the accusations fly, and fly and fly again, no matter how much evidence there is on the ground to counter them. The protests, the virtue-signaling, the routine street violence and the academic spazz-outs will likely continue for the foreseeable future no matter what events may befall a Trump administration for good or ill. Good thing that the establishment press – having revealed themselves to be so nakedly in the tank for partisan interests – appear to have less and less credibility when it comes to matters political among red-state Americans.

Trump’s run for the presidency seemed like a joke at the start, but to everyone’s surprise the car-chasing dog not only caught the car, but is sitting alertly in the driver’s seat, deftly spinning the wheel and touching the brakes as the vehicle roars through traffic.

Discuss, if you can bear it.

20. November 2016 · Comments Off · Categories: Domestic, Literary Good Stuff, Local

So passes another weekend in our grueling schedule of holiday events. Somehow, I didn’t quite grasp until this afternoon that this is the last weekend before Thanksgiving, and that was why there were so many shoppers in the local HEB buying frozen turkeys, trays of bake’n’serve rolls, sweet potatoes, et cetera. Well, of course – since next weekend is our three-day extravaganza in Johnson City, where they ceremonially light the courthouse and Courthouse Square with millions and millions of lights, and have a parade and Santa, and a market and a fair … it’s the kickoff holiday event for the Hill Country, apparently, and we have high hopes for it as far as sales go.
This Saturday was my brief turn at the New Braunfels Weihnachtsmarkt: the cost of an author table has been raised by the management, so I could only justify half a day on Saturday, which experience has taught me is the single busiest session. Since we were halfway to Austin, and a paper supply place my daughter wanted to see first-hand, we toddled on up there, after a moderately successful morning. And then – well, it was just a short jump to the Ikea store in Round Rock. Why not? See what they were putting out for Christmas, pick up some nice-quality items in the kitchenware department, and stock up on frozen Swedish meatballs and lingonberry preserves in the grocery department. We thought perhaps we might have a late lunch in the cafeteria, but it was so late in the day by then, we decided to drive home and make our own supper of them. The meatballs were as scrumptious as ever – and they had a sale on them. Our strategic Ikea meatball reserves are replenished as of this weekend. Although this schedule did push back dinnertime very late last night.

Early on, when sorting out the schedule, my daughter was considering a Sunday market in Giddings to follow on Saturday at the New Braunfels Weihnachtsmarkt, but we decided not to, because of the long drive for a single-day event. Just as well; the bulk brush pickup for our neighborhood has been set for the week after Thanksgiving. Sunday and the first part of the week were the only days that we could see to taking down the dying mulberry tree in the back yard. The original owners of my place planted it, apparently – for it was a lush, mature tree which shaded the whole back of the house, especially in late afternoon. But the local utility company went through about five years ago, clearing away branches from the wires at the wrong time of year. Then the tree was stressed by a couple of drought years, and last year fell to some sort of ghastly tree plague-fungus that was killing the exposed roots, bark and branches of about a quarter of it. Local tree expert consulted, trimmed away some of the dead bark and branches, but didn’t give much hope for long-term survival.

A View of the garden and the bare mulberry three years ago

A View of the garden and the bare mulberry three years ago


We made the decision that we’d hire the neighborhood handy-guy to bring his chain-saw, ladder and rope, and we would help. So, he knocked the price down on that account, and Sunday was the day that he could work. The tree is now down and the stump trimmed off level, half the yard is deep in bright mustard-colored sawdust, and a couple of trunk segments cut into drums to use as plant stands, and there we are. My daughter and I are totally exhausted. This is the one tree that I have had cut that I will genuinely miss, mostly for the shade it offered the back of the house in the late afternoon. All the others I have paid to be taken down were ones that I hated – especially the overgrown red-tipped photina by the front door that made the den into a dark cave. Now the entire back yard must be re-thought, with accommodation for the chickens, of course. There are certain green plants that they adore and will eat down to the stem – fortunately citrus trees in planters are not one of them, and the citrus plants adore the strong sunshine. I will fiddle with a new garden layout over the next couple of weeks, one which must accommodate voracious chickens and strong late afternoon sunshine. And that was my week – yours?

15. November 2016 · Comments Off · Categories: Literary Good Stuff, Memoir
The Front Cover - if there was ever a dust-jacket, I don't remember it

The Front Cover – if there was ever a dust-jacket, I don’t remember it

Thanks to the wonders of the fully-engaged internet, I finally got around to finding and replacing a book that I had as a kid. It was a collection of poetry, with nice little introductions to each poem aimed at enlightening the junior reader. I certain that I had this book as one of my Christmas or birthday presents sometime between the age of eight – when I began to read confidently – and the age of twelve when I was doing so voraciously. I remembered the poems in the book better than I recollected the title: there was The Lady of Shalott, and The Highwayman, poems by Longfellow, Kipling, Edgar Lee Masters, William Shakespeare, Robert Service and Robert Browning, John Greenleaf Whittier, an excerpt from The Lays of Ancient Rome, a comic bit of verse from W.S. Gilbert, Coleridge’s’ Kublai Khan and a poem by Robert Nathan about two English teenagers venturing to Dunkirk in their own sailboat to rescue the British Army. The poems were enlivened by simple line drawings. Of course, some of these poems were further set in my mind by being assigned to memorize them in Mr. Terranova’s sixth grade class, but in its way, this slim little hardback book was an excellent short compendium of old poetical standards, of the sort that once everyone knew and could recite a verse or two from … or at least recognize an illusion dropped into ordinary conversation or in a popular novel.

Eventually, just about all our childhood books devolved on me. I was the first of my parent’s children to produce offspring, and they took the opportunity of packing up just about every scrap of the remaining kid-lit in their house upon the occasion of the Air Force offering a generous hold baggage allowance after that year that she spent living with my parents. They obligingly directed the packers to the kid-book library, the few personal items of mine left behind, and dispatched them along with my daughter’s hold baggage. But the book of poetry was not among them, although I did look for it, now and again. I can only think that perhaps it was overlooked, or had gravitated to the household of my sister or brothers. In any case, I missed it. All that I could remember was that it was called The Magic Circle. Fruitless looking for it by that name – until a year or so ago when I found it among the used book offerings on Amazon. Yes – that was that very same fabric cover, dark blue with a two-color embossment on the cover of a horse-mounted highwayman under a full moon. I added it to my wish list and ordered it some weeks ago – and there it was, arrived in the mail on Friday.

Yes, the very book that I remembered – although absent the inscription in the front from my parents, noting what birthday or Christmas that it was given to me. It’s about as lovingly worn as my own copy was – and someone took a pencil and wrote “Billy” in block letters along the long side of the pages, and “St Paul” along the top and bottom. But still – the book that I remembered so fondly. I didn’t remember that it was subtitled “Stories and People in Poetry” – but that was a thing obvious.

A Poem about George Washington - Illustrated

A Poem about George Washington – Illustrated

I leafed through it – noting that it was edited by Louis Untermeyer. I presume that he wrote the various introductory notes to the poems. And another thing that I noted too – the very maturity of the poems. I mean – it was a casual expectation up until recently that elementary- and middle-school children would eagerly read this material. I leafed – metaphorically – through several recent collections of poetry for children which didn’t contain nearly as many of the classic, heavy-hitter poets of the 19th century as this single volume did. Too many long hard words, I guess. Lots of more modern minor poets in the newer anthologies, most of whom I have never heard of, and materiel written specifically for children. And the categories for the poems were quite a bit more mundane. Looking through The Magic Circle, I see “Strange Tales”, “Gallant Deeds, “Unforgettable People,” “Our American Heritage” and “Ballads of the Old Days” among others. Practically an antique, this collection is – and dear to me because many of the poems were as challenging as they were stirring, not dumbed-down pap meant to be read in a safe space.

Anyway, I’m glad to have it back – even better than I remembered.