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Now that Luna City IV is to the point where I can take a bit of a breath (it’s available as of this week, in Kindle and Nook and other ebook formats, and in print by the end of the month) and plunge into another vintage outfit project. Yes, back in early winter, I took full advantage of Butterick having a pattern sale, whereby for the space of a week or so, all the costume patterns were marked down to about $2.00 each, from their regular price of … considerably more than that. Quick like a bargain hunter, I was on to that, and bought one in my size of every 19th century outfit that I thought I might eventually make, although I gave a miss to the pattern for the Jane Austen high-waisted Empire dress and cropped jacket. Sorry, although that meet my criteria of having a toe-length hem and without a hoop-skirt the size of half of Texas, that look would not flatter me in any way, shape, or form. Indeed – the Empire-style dress does not flatter any woman who is not an anorectic and flat-chested ballet dancer. None of my books so far are set in that era, anyway.

Cotton summer dress

Cotton summer dress

The version I made of this dress in light cotton calico was such a wild success at the last month’s Texas Library Association conference, that I began thinking that I ought to work on another cotton dress, since there are a couple of summer and/or outdoors events coming up. My four other extant outfits are all suits, and in rayon, wool and/or poly-wool – too hot to wear in the Texas summer, even at an indoor venue. This pattern – for an Edwardian day dress, with the gathered front and lace-trimmed yoke looked like a good addition to the vintage wardrobe. I picked up a length of medium-weight cotton shirting materiel in an interesting light violet color, thinking that I would have no problem matching the color … and then I realized the whole dress is fully-lined. And … I could find nothing at the local outlets which came close to matching the pale blueish-violet color, so out went my original scheme; violet dress with a paler violet yoke overlaid with white or cream-color lace, and darker violet belt and hat and accessories to match. Nope – as I said to the kind sales associate at the cutting counter – if you can’t match, then contrast!

So, the eventual outfit will be in the pale blue-violet fabric, with black lace and black satin trim, black satin belt and flamboyant hat made from whatever is left over to match. I may have it done in time to wear to the Wimberley Book Festival next month – but if not, then to certain of the other upcoming events.

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

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

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

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

Fire engine appearing by courtesy of the Giddings VFD – The latest installation should be out by the middle of May!

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Since the regular oven died the death a couple of years ago, we have been using a countertop version with a convection and rotisserie option – which functions I have to say come in quite handy. It will be a while until we can have the Chambers stove renovated and checked for safety issues, since it is a gas model, and have the kitchen renovated to accommodate it. In the mean time, in between time – the countertop model gets a good workout. I confess that I don’t really miss a full-size oven, save when it comes to baking a pizza larger than about twelve inches. But since my daughter is in California helping with extended family matters for another few months … it’s not like I need a big pizza for supper anyway.

I have been giving the rotisserie function a workout whenever I have a whole fryer chicken from Granzins’ and a hankering for various meals using leftover rotisserie chicken. (There are numerous recipes for this ingredient, besides using it in crepes, and for chicken salad.) There are several tricks to getting a well-rotisseried chicken from this little oven – and one of the first is to stuff a whole lemon into the body cavity, and ram the skewer through it. The second is to use cooking string, or silicone ties; one around the drumsticks to secure them to the rotating skewer, and another to keep the wings tight to the body of the chicken. As the chicken cooks, it softens … and begins to flop all over the place. The lemon and the ties keep it all neat and compact as it cooks.

With this chicken, I got adventurous: I had a whole small orange with no particular purpose in mind for it – so that was what I used instead of a lemon. But I marinated the chicken for most of a day in a zip-lock bag, in about a quarter of a cup of lemon juice and a teaspoon of Adams Extract Citrus Siracha spice blend. Yes – the Adams Extract series of spices are another one of our local Texas industries branching out. Small-to-medium sized business, experimenting with bold flavors, rather like Fischer and Weiser with their sauces and jams. Both these brands are carried by the regional HEB chain – and both are absolutely freaking marvelous. One of the big HEB outlets has a food demo counter, where we first sampled some foods cooked with Adams Extract spice mixtures. Once a year, they have a BOGO sale at the HEB. As the regular selling price is not … well, this is not cheap stuff, let me tell you. But even so, they are worth it! But the BOGO event was not to be missed – so a bottle of one spice rub mix that we love and were running short of, and one … that I took a chance on; Citrus Siracha.

Once marinated, I took the chicken out of the plastic bag, dried it off, rubbed another teaspoon of Citrus Siracha on it, moistened with a bit of olive oil, and set it to rotisserie for two to three hours at 350. I could have used more Citrus Siracha – up to the tablespoon, I think, but I didn’t want to take a chance on making it unbearably hot the first time out. But it came out perfect; so tender it about fell off the bone, the skin crispy and mildly spicy. Tonight – chicken fajitas with some of the cooked meat, and tomorrow … who knows?

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.

The low lattice fence at the back of the house

The low lattice fence at the back of the house

11. April 2017 · Comments Off · Categories: Random Book and Media Musings

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,  Lizzie Johnson Williams, famous as a woman rancher of the period, and Dr. Herff. 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!

27. March 2017 · Comments Off · Categories: Domestic

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.

06. March 2017 · Comments Off · Categories: Uncategorized

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?