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

The first of two projects for 2019 – part of the grand Five-Year Plan for improving Stately Hayes Manor is nearly accomplished. That is, the renovation – in one portion down to the very wall studs – of the master bathroom. (The second will be clearing out the garage and installing a new garage door.) This was an utterly bland, undistinguished pair of small rooms, completed in contractor-grade fittings, tile and features sometime in 1985. I most particularly hated the tub and the tile enclosure surrounding it, for the tile seemed to be incapable of ever being scrubbed clean, as the grout between the tiles shot through with mold. The tub finish was also disintegrating. I had refinished it once myself, to cover up a patch where the porcelain had worn through to metal, but even the refinished portions had become incapable of being cleaned. The dressing area was filled across one wall with a vanity and single sink set into a fake stone countertop – also nearly incapable of being cleaned, without being sand-blasted, and a wall-to-wall mirror. Both of these features made the dressing are seem small and cramped.
So, after refinishing the small bathroom last spring, the master bath was on my list; and I began collecting pictures on Pinterest and from other sources, of bathroom spaces which appealed to me and were readily doable: newer and smaller vanity, a walk-in shower with a glass door instead of a tub, and definitely a newer toilet with a more efficient and powerful flush … and as for the rest, a kind of refined country, early 20th century look emerged from the collection of pins and pics. A pattern of tile which went on sale for less than $3.00 a square foot on Wayfair set the colors … and in mid-January I started clearing out what I could. Over January, Neighborhood Handy Guy and his hard-working #1 Minion finished demolishing that which I could not manage myself … and the new elements began going in: anaglypta wallpaper from Wayfair on ceiling, woodwork, bead—board paneling, and floor tile from Lowe’s, a pair of light fixtures from Amazon … all the necessary bits and bobs. The woodwork got painted white, the upper walls blue, to match – and as of this week, it is all but done. I did the painting and wallpaper, NHG and #1 Minion did the rest. Behold the before, during and after!

03. February 2019 · Comments Off on What Do They Drive? · Categories: Luna City

One of those things that I have practically had to make a chart for, when writing about Luna City – is keeping track of the vehicles which the various characters drive; they are mentioned now and again, and over seven (and this year to be eight books) I have to try and be consistent. Car ownership – make, model, style, color and condition – say something about the personality of the driver/owner. Herewith the run-down; as near to complete a listing of those motor vehicles (not necessarily automobiles or trucks) which I have noted in passing:
Berto Gonzalez: he routinely drives an assortment of luxury town cars and limousines as part of being employed by his Uncle Tony, who owns a car-hire service catering to the up-scale market. Berto also routinely drives a rather down-at-heels pickup truck owned by his father; a vehicle with a cracked vinyl seat patched with duct tape. He does not yet own his own personal vehicle, as he has no real need to do so.
Jess Abernathy-Vaughn: a bare-bones yellow Jeep Wrangler.
Joe Vaughn: ordinarily behind the wheel of the Luna City PD’s one cruiser, or one of the department’s sport-utility vehicles. His personal vehicle is a pickup truck, model unspecified, but of solid quality and well-maintained. Joe is fastidious, that way.
Doc Wyler: a very recent model Ford F-150 King Ranch model pickup, with the cattle-brand designed logo of the Wyler Ranch on the doors, and all the add-on bells and whistles. Doc is a man accustomed to the best and has the means to acquire and maintain such.
Sefton and Judy Grant: The Grants operate – and barely manage to keep it street-legal in the eyes of the motor vehicle licensing authorities – a vehicle pieced together from an old Volkswagon bus, with a pickup-truck bed welded to the back half of the chassis, behind the driver and passenger seats. The sides of the truck bed and the doors to the driver/passenger compartment are spray-painted with flowers, peace signs and vintage hippie mottoes, in between the rust.
Miss Letty McAllister: she does not drive.
Richard Astor-Hall: he does not drive, either.
Chris Mayall: a recent model Mitsubishi hatch-back; bright red in color. Chris, like Joe, is fastidious about vehicle maintenance, and is still annoyed at the bill for bodywork incurred when he collided with a deer – even though the Gonzalez Motor and Auto Body shop gave him the friends-and-family rate. Chris blames the deer for reckless grazing.
(to be continued)

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

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

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

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

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

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

18. December 2018 · Comments Off on The Christmas Gallery of Memories · Categories: Domestic

Oh, Christmas Tree!


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

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

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

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

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

12. December 2018 · Comments Off on Inherited Trauma · Categories: Domestic

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

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

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

Where Santa arrives, mounted on the back of a longhorn, and not in a silly sleigh pulled by wimpy reindeer…

Santa in Goliad, on the back of a suitably-embellished longhorn!

There is a lovely little classical piece by Maurice Ravel – Le Tombeau d Couperin, composed shortly after the end of the war, five of the six movements dedicated to the memory of an individual, and one for a pair of brothers, all close friends of the composer, every one of them fallen in a war of such ghastliness that it not only put paid to a century of optimistic progress, but barely twenty years later it birthed another and hardly less ghastly war. Maurice Ravel himself was overage, under-tall and not in the most robust of health, but such was the sense of national emergency that he volunteered for the military anyway, eventually serving as driver – frequently under fire and in danger. Not the usual place to find one of France’s contemporarily-famous composers, but they did things differently at the end of the 19th century and heading all wide-eyed and optimistic into the 20th. Citizens of the intellectual and artistic ilk were not ashamed of their country, or feel obliged to apologize for a patriotic attachment, or make a show of sullen ingratitude for having been favored by the public in displaying their talents.
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