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Late last spring, I was inspired to do a little more, sartorially speaking, when I appeared at a book event. I had always tried to dress up a little, half-heartedly doing a sort of Dale Evans/cowgirl/Santa Fe western style as a means of at least looking the part. A member of the old on-line writers’ group who had written several historicals set in 19th century China had a magnificent set of mandarin robes, with accessories, which he wore to book events, to wild acclaim – so I seemed to have been on the right track, if not with the right selection of my chosen ‘author drag.’
The inspiration last spring came from my daughter insisting on a trip to the nearest Handcock Fabric store, as it was announced they were going out of business within months. My daughter wanted to check out their assortment of embroidery threads, both for hand and by machine embroidery. And I went off to flip through the pattern books in a desultory manner, more or less to kill time. However – in the Butterick catalog, there was a section for ‘costumes’ – a market for providing such to reenactors and cosplayers must have become significant in the last couple of years. Only logical, when you think on it. People are still sewing, but not for making every-day clothing as it was when my mother made all my school clothes, and I made the same for my daughter. Every-day wear is cheaper to purchase ready-made; those sewing garments today are more likely to be making special occasion outfits; prom and bridal dresses … and costumes.

Among the costume patterns was one for an Edwardian-era walking suit, which I liked the look of, the more I contemplated it. Tailored jacket, ankle-length skirt – not very much removed from what I wore when I worked in an office for various enterprises which required standard women’s business attire. The Edwardian suit wasn’t from the era in which most of my books are set – but I nixed the idea of going full corset-crinoline and bonnet to a book event, not least because stuffing me and all that into the front seat of my daughter’s Montero and then helping to set up the pavilion and the tables of goods in that get-up was simply out of the question. But an Edwardian, or even late Victorian outfit, with a narrow, ankle-length skirt or perhaps a slightly fuller skirt and modest bustle; that was doable, and potentially very eye-catching. I bought the pattern and a length of marked-down suiting and lining materiel, and went to work. That first outfit came out OK, but I did another one in even more marked-down brown tweed suiting which came out very, very well (it’s my favorite, actually) … and then I got ambitious, once I had my long-disused Singer sewing machine tuned up.

I bought a Butterick pattern for making various vintage-style hats. Millinery is just a special sort of sewing and requires an ability to follow written directions and nothing in the way of raw materials that is not readily available from places like Joann’s or Hobby Lobby. The hats and bonnets, bashed from various patterns available here and there all came out so well that by fall I had a different outfit for every day of a three-day event; something to wear for every book event over the Christmas season. My ambition now is for a wardrobe of six or eight different 1880-1910 period outfits with all the appropriate accessories – an evening gown, a couple of lightweight cotton day dresses in cotton or lawn, plus the walking suits. Hats, gloves, reticule, whatever …

The eye-catching thing worked out, which is why I decided to expanded the wardrobe of author drag in the first place. All attention is good, when it’s a lead-in to talking about books: “Hi – I write historical fiction, so why not dress the part?” is a fantastic ice-breaker, and a lot more dignified than a bald, “Hey, wanna buy my books?” There is another very curious effect, too – the effect that the whole thing has on males of a certain age – say, older than forty, or so. And let me put it out there right away – I am not movie-star spectacularly attractive, and never was, really. I am sixty-plus, overweight, and in the bloom of youth might at best be described as “cute,” or “not bad looking.” But when I am in one of my full author drag outfits – hat, gloves, reticule, and all, it absolutely astounds me how courtly and full of gentlemanly deference certain men become. It’s almost as if they are channeling manners from a more courteous era than this present one. It’s quite charming, actually. And another good reason to go full out with the period wardrobe and accessories.

16. February 2017 · Comments Off · Categories: Domestic

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.

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?

01. February 2017 · Comments Off · Categories: Domestic

The outfits to go with these numbers aren’t finished yet – but I already have the hats! A black riding topper (for a bodice and skirt combo that will look like a riding habit) and another Edwardian walking suit; a pink jacket with contrast trim in black and white hounds-tooth check, and a pleated skirt in the same  black and white hounds-tooth. By my hats you will know me!

24. January 2017 · Comments Off · Categories: Luna City

Offices of the Karnesville Weekly Beacon

Offices of the Karnesville Weekly Beacon

(From the next Luna City chronicle, which is aimed for release in mid-summer)

In the Offices of the Karnesville Weekly Beacon

“Kate! Get in here and tell me what in the name of Dog has been going on in Luna City!”

Kate Heisel, bright-eyed and ready to plunge into another week of work on the regional newspaper on the morning after the last of the holidays, was in the chief editor’s office almost before Acey McClain finished bellowing, and as a sprinkling of superannuated dust from the ancient light fixtures in the offices of the Karnesville Weekly Beacon ceased sifting down like a gentle benison on the various desks below.

“Yes, Chief – right away, Chief!” she chirped. Acey McClain, grizzled, slightly hung-over and well over twice her age, scowled thunderously.

“Dammit, Kate – do you have to be so cheerful first thing in the morning? I’m not Lou Grant and you are not Mary Tylor Moore. And don’t call me Chief!”

“Sure, Chief,” Kate grinned at him and took out her notebook, perching on the narrow wooden guest chair opposite her boss. “It’s a legitimate form of aggression, being offensively cheerful first thing in the AM. Think of it as a workout for your liver. Get the old blood flowing … the birds are singing in the trees, the sun is shining, God is in his heaven and all’s right with the world…”

Acey McClain gave his pungently expressed opinion on that state of affairs and Kate’s grin widened. She made a show of jotting down several of the more interesting terms of abuse, and when he had finished, remarked, “Wow, Chief – that last isn’t even biologically possible … unless one is maybe triple-jointed and has a taste for … never mind. You were asking about Luna City over this last week.”

“That’s what I like about you, Kate,” Acey McClain sat back in the monumental and heroically battered leather executive chair which had been the badge of office for editors at the Karnesville Weekly Beacon since it had been the Daily Beacon, sometime around 1962. “And why I put up with your flagrantly disrespectful attitude. You’re the most purely un-shockable female that I have ever met. So – back to my original question: what in the name of Dog and all the Angles in heaven has been going on this last week in Luna City? I swear, if it weren’t for them, we’d have nothing to print except the legal notices, the minutes of the last garden club meeting and the police blotter.”

“About the usual, Chief.” Kate licked her pencil-point – an affectation adopted from her close watching of old movies about the news business. Kate was a great believer in professional traditions. “Let’s see … there was a fire at the old hippy hang-out by the river, just before Christmas. Burned the main establishment to the ground, but no one hurt and nothing much lost. The place wasn’t insured, though … but neighbors are weighing in. The new marketing director at Mills Farm has offered them one of their residential trailers for the owners to live in, while they rebuild.”

“What caused the fire?” Acey McClain was always curious about that. The answer to that question in his own hard-bitten crime-beat reporter past had earned him a more-than-average number of  above-the-fold, huge-typeface-headline-stories during a very long career in the big-city print news business.

“They think that a fire in a sweat-lodge wasn’t properly extinguished,” Kate replied. “The investigator for the LCVFD is all but certain about that. No story, Chief. Now, the mass-brawl that happened immediately before the fire …”

“Now you’re getting to the nut, Kate,” Acey McClain sat forward in the leather office chair, all eager attention. “What was that all about? I heard that some *sshole got bitten in the *ss by a rabid llama – true?”

“Not the rabid part. The llama in question did have all his required shots.” Kate flipped over to another page. “I double-checked with the veterinarian … Doc Wyler. Doc Wyler of the Wyler Lazy-W Ranch.”

“Oh, Dog,” Acey McClain shuddered, almost imperceptibly. “This *sshole didn’t pick a fight with him, too? The biggest ranch and the richest guy in Karnes County? And a man who lovingly cherishes his grudges like they were prize breeding stock?”

“Not so far,” Kate replied, still chipper as a squirrel with a winters-worth of stored away acorns. “As a matter of fact and according to eye-witnesses – and I have a list of them,” she flipped through another couple of pages. “Names available on the Talk of the Town blog. The *sshole is one Gunnison Penn of no definite fixed address other than Canada. He struck the llama in question first; I have photographic proof of it. You know, Chief – it’s great how everyone has a cellphone with camera capacity in their pocket, these days. There is a clear case of self-defense to be made: Gunnison Penn clearly hit the llama first.”

“That Canuck treasure-hunter guy?” Acey McClain looked even more alert. “He’s back again? Guess he must have beaten the last injunction – the one filed for harassing the family of that kid that found a pristine 1892 20$ gold piece at Mills Farm?”

“You don’t have to remind me, Chief – I was there, and the kid’s mom is my second-cousin. Yeah, that guy, and he’s gone again, lucky for Luna City. He definitely got the message. He packed up and went, as soon as he got a stitch or two and a shot of antibiotics at the Med center …” Kate snickered. “I cornered him in the parking lot there after he was released, asking him for his reaction. “

“Good girl, Kate!” Acey McClain radiated approval. “Sixty Minutes material, no fooling, kid – you’ll be in the big-time, any time!”

“God no, Chief – I’ve got some standards! Back to the all-hands punch-up on the banks of the San Antonio River. Another party of individuals charged in the brawl – three guys trying to do a stand-up for a YouTube feature about the mysterious Luna Lights…”

“What was it about those lights,” Acey folded his hands together and regarded his most energetic and enterprising young reporter with happy anticipation. “You find out anything about them? Optical illusion, secret Pentagon aircraft, mass hallucination – what?”

Kate fetched up a deep sigh from the depths of her news-hungry yet strangely ethical soul. “Fire lanterns, Chief. All that it was. I talked to Sefton Grant and his crew of superannuated hippies. They were celebrating the Solstice, or some such crap. They launched fire lanterns – you know – those paper hot-air balloons, with a candle burning under them, about twenty minutes before that guy with the cellphone recorded three of them drifting over the road. I even checked with the weather service – the prevailing wind at that time would have sent them in a westward direction. Fire lanterns – nothing more.”

 

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23. January 2017 · Comments Off · Categories: Uncategorized

I have added two more items to my wardrobe of vintage clothing and accessories this week –

The purple-trimmed small late Victorian bonnet, and a small vintage-style handbag - all made by hand.

The purple-trimmed small late Victorian bonnet, and a small vintage-style handbag – all made by hand.

The bonnet is really not much more than rows of ruffled ribbon, lace, tulle and flowers all piled onto a small beanie. The bag is made of textured fabric made to look like patterned suede. Must get ready for the spring and summer author events!

03. January 2017 · Comments Off · Categories: Domestic

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.

 

  1. Books – at last finishedThe 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?”

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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: Uncategorized

And a lovely carol to go with it – sung by the chapel choir of King’s College, Cambridge, England.

(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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