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Oh, wow – is the first week of October already done? Guess it is; the pension got paid, and all the bills are lined up like dominoes. The biggest one is for the roof replacement, and the Magnificent Catio, which will not be completely paid for until after the end of the year. Still, I don’t regret the expense. The roof was about three or four years past it’s ‘best if used by’ date, and the Magnificent Catio, now houses full-time those cats taken on by my daughter whose careless toilet habits render them unsuitable for indoor residence. Seriously, they are the feline equivalent of guys who cannot hit the urinal, prompting the lament, “Couldn’t you just stand in it and aim out?” The Catio makes it easier to keep the house clean and ready for visitors at a moment’s notice, and at some day in the next decade, given the fact that the oldest offender must be almost twenty years old already (he’s one of the cats we inherited from Mom), we will have a very pleasant covered screened-porch patio, although we might have to have it pressure-washed hard enough to take a layer off the concrete brick flooring materiel.

The oldest of the dogs, Connor the Malti-Poo is now twenty or even more (he was an older dog when we found him, dumped in the next neighborhood over, and that was some years ago), and beginning to fail, so that is another sorrow to face, in the very near future. I have already determined that I will not coax out another few months of existence for him through heroic medical measures. He is already half-blind, mostly deaf, sprinkled with excessive moles, getting senile and with a slightly diminished appetite for food or walkies … Sometime in the next few months, I think, while he still has a little joy in his doggie life, rather than torment him with endless and futile trips to the vet. I wish that I have – as Dad did – those means of doing it relatively painlessly at home, but Connor has always been a very social little dog, and he will likely take considerable enjoyment out of that last trip to the vet, and we will stay with him to the very last. But enough of that.

Luna City Lucky Seven is done – out to the volunteer alpha-readers. And I had an impulse, once I was done with my work for the Teeny Publishing Bidness today, to scribble a bit on one of the proposed next books, the one set in the lead up to and in the Civil War … but here it is, almost time to start fixing supper. The Teeny Publishing Bidness client is coming tomorrow, to collect the most recent installment of his manuscript, now with even more pictures which he judges worthy of inclusion, and the first version of the cover design, which was the Daughter Unit’s artistic inspiration. The Daughter Unit has also taken on – with insane thoroughness – a paid research job for a mutual friend who has real estate property interests in what amounts to an underdeveloped portion of the city. The Daughter Unit describes this as administering a community-based colonoscopy – sorting out the things that would work, and what real estate development would best work, plus a myriad other interesting stats, like the registered sex offenders per square mile. This actually involves going and talking to people in the targeted neighborhood and drafting a prospectus for potential investors. This is a job that came out of the blue – and the Daughter Unit is making the most of it. So far, the client is pleased. It’s a short-term assignment, but we hope that it will lead to other assignments of this kind, for this client and others.

For myself, I am now onto the second chapter of the Civil War novel – with a fortyish heroine who becomes an abolitionist lecturer before the war and a nurse during it. (Great-Aunt Minnie Vining, who appears briefly in Sunset and Steel Rails.) Overall plot is still a little unfocused, but I am starting to be drawn into the world of mid-19th century feminist activism, possibly as a strong reaction to the current version. There were so many strong, passionate, nonconformist women involved in the abolition movement – and other social movements – who did not seem to be the least constrained by Victorian conventionalities; Julia Ward Howe and Clara Barton were not singular curiosities. They had plenty of company.

10. August 2018 · Comments Off on New and Interesting – The Young Adult Version · Categories: Random Book and Media Musings

I am not principally a writer of books for children, although I admit to dabbling in creating adventures for the tween and teen reader, that which is mostly called ‘young adult’. After all, kids should be encouraged to read; you know, explore the world(s), vicariously sample challenges, encounter strange new world

In Pursuit of Justice

s, have a go at establishing an adult identity. Alas, of late, the fashion in YA books seems to be for force-feeding the young reader with heaping helpings of despair, dysfunction and dystopia. For kids experiencing despair, dysfunction and dystopia in real life this would seem to be an exercise in rubbing salt into an oozing wound, rather than offering an escape. For those readers who aren’t … well, they’ll find out about that on their own, soon enough; why rush things?
Over the last decade and a half, I’ve hung out on-line with other authors and in a couple of readers groups; you know, people in the same kind of work do have fun talking shop, and people who like books like to share the word about good ones. So, a group of us has gotten together in a semi-organized fashion to pass the word on; none of us being favored by the mainstream publishing establishment and handmaidens of the establishment, like the NY Times bestseller’s list. We have decided to mutually support each other; this week I’ve picked some YA books to highlight: Check them out. Better yet, have the young adult, tween and teen readers in your life check them out.

Hawkwing

Dragontamer’s Daughters

WWI Veteran Laid to Rest

Luna City First Methodist Church

From the Karnesville Weekly Beacon – By Katherine Heisel, Staff Writer

A brief memorial service was held last Saturday at the First Methodist Church of Luna City, to honor LCpl. Michael Delaney Walters, USMC, late of Marlton, New Jersey. LCpl. Walters was a survivor of the horrific battle for Belleau Wood, and badly wounded in later fighting along the Asine-Marne front. Disabled, with a disfiguring facial scar, and eventually homeless, he lived for a brief time in a makeshift encampment on the outskirts of Luna City in 1935, before succumbing to exposure during severe winter weather early in 1936. It has long been assumed locally that his presence in Luna City gave rise to the legend of the ‘Scar-Faced Tramp.’ His remains were discovered last fall during the early stages of construction of expanded recreational facilities at Mills Farm. Over subsequent months, he was identified through painstaking efforts by members of Luna City’s VFW post, and frequent visitor to Luna City, Allen Lee Mayne, host of the popular Food Network series Ala Carte with Quartermayne.

Following the service, conducted by the Reverend Peter Dawkins, senior minister at First Methodist, LCpl. Walters was interred with full military honors in the Luna City Municipal Cemetery, in a procession led by members of the Luna City Volunteer Fire Department, and representatives of the Luna City Police Department. The honor guard was made up of members of the Karnes Company Historical Reenactors group. The Mighty Fighting Moths Marching Band performed the Marine Corps Hymn, and other suitable selections, including the hymn, “Eternal Father, Strong to Save,” and the “Washington Post March.”  Chief among the mourners were the family of Mavis Harrison, of Toledo, Ohio, LCpl. Walter’s grand-niece. Costs for burial, and a memorial headstone were met by funds raised by local Boy Scout Robert A. Walcott, as his Eagle Scout project, and a donation of services by the owners of Rhodes Funeral Home, of Karnesville.

I cannot say how much the ditching of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name for a yearly award for the best in published books for children and young adults distresses and disappoints me. I am one of those millions of readers who read and adored the Little House books early on, which various volumes my parents presented to me for Christmas and my birthday from the time that I could read – basically from the age of eight on. I would sit down and read the latest gift from cover to cover almost at once, so much did I love the books. After so many decades of honor, respect, and dedicated fanship, after having basically created (along with her daughter) a whole YA genre – historical adventure novels set on the 19th century frontier – LIW is now writer-non-grata, in the eyes of a segment of the American Library Association which deals primarily with library services to kids. Henceforward, sayeth the Association for Library Service to Children, the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award will now be called The Children’s Literature Legacy Award, or something equally forgettable. The public reason given for this are two-fold, as nearly as I can deduce.

In certain brief passages of her nine-volume retelling of her childhood on the post-Civil War American frontier, LIW reflected the attitude of wary dislike with regard to the presence of American Indians common to those 19th century Americans, especially those who lived in close proximity to them. In the eyes of tireless social justice warriors, which appear in oversupply in today’s hypersensitive age, this is practically the same as preaching genocide on every page. And in one single chapter, her father and several men of the town put on black-face makeup and performed a minstrel show to entertain their friends. Such a form of entertainment was as popular then as it is considered disgracefully racist today.

So, rather than look honestly at the mores of the past – and perhaps entertain the thought that many of those notions which today we accept merely as conventional wisdom will, in a hundred years or so be held in as much, or greater disfavor than those attitudes held by LIW’s family and neighbors. I wonder though, if the motivations of the members of the Association aren’t just a little more complicated than polishing their social justice credentials. The Little House series presents – more than anything else – the quiet, intimate epic of a strong traditional family; a hard-working, resourceful, loving family, equal to every imaginable hardship going, from frontier isolation, to plagues of insects, bad weather, and grinding poverty. The Ingalls do not lament their lot, as LIW presented them; they make the most of it, and eventually achieve a quiet and modest degree of prosperity.

The Little House series, originally written and published a little short of a hundred years ago, remain overwhelmingly popular. Thousands visit the places which LIW immortalized in her books – the places where she and her sisters lived and grew up, the farm which she and her husband eventually established in Missouri. The TV series very loosely based on the series continued for years. I cannot help wondering if the kind of family and community life thus portrayed in the book series runs counter to everything in those young adult novels currently being pushed upon the younger generation by teachers and the child librarians; books which revel in gloom, despair, dysfunction and nihilism, a kind of literary filboid studge, in which in every grim trope embraced on the page discourages kids from reading. So – a burnishing of social justice credentials or sabotaging a classic series to advantage of contemporary but unreadable books intended for the juvenile consumer? Discuss.

20. June 2018 · Comments Off on Working on the Five Year Plan · Categories: Domestic

I had – rather optimistically – decided to begin with the first couple of projects on the Five Year House-Improvement Plan at the beginning of the year, before the Daughter Unit even left for California. I had hoped to see the Catio done early in spring, and the small bathroom completed in the time she would be away. As it turned out, those two projects and the new roof as well, were all done in a rush, throughout the crowded month of May. However – I cannot make any substantial move at the next projects – that is, a new garage door, and renovating the master suite bathroom until the roof and the Catio are paid for. This will take until late fall; the company I contracted with is being enormously generous about this. There are some advantages to being one of the company owner’s old neighbors, and a previous customer vis-à-vis a roof that had to be replaced in 2004 after the mother of all golf-ball-sized hailstorms. Also, I have lived in the house since 1995, and it is just not something that one can hitch up and take to another state. And I have rebuilt my good credit rating … All that helps enormously. But the remaining projects will all be done on a ‘me buy the materials and have Neighborhood Handy Guy do the work’ basis or paid up front to a specialist. I’d rather not refinance, as I only have two more years to go until the mortgage is paid in full.

We will not be sitting on our hands in the meantime, though. The rest of the garage needs to be cleared out and reorganized. A lot of stuff from the Daughter Unit’s hold baggage is still out there, plus some odd bits of furniture. Some of the furniture I was holding onto with a thought for eventually furnishing a Hill Country weekend retreat, or possibly the Daughter Unit’s separate establishment. Having concluded that neither of those things is likely to happen, may as well have a good clear-out. We already did a run to Goodwill with the first installment of “Stuff No Longer Required.” There will be a good few more trips, as we clear away even more. The embarrassing thing is that we do have empty shelves and spaces along the walls … but we can’t get to them for all the stuff piled up in front! When the garage is cleared out enough that they can get in to replace the door, I’d like to be able to keep at least one of the cars inside, as well as the pavilion and the market-event things, rather than have to haul them back and forth from the shed in back. The Daughter Unit wants to be able to have a workspace in the garage for doing stained glass, since she brought home all the stained-glass tools that Mom used in her studio. I’d guess we have most of the summer to get this done. We might very well have a small glass window and an AC unit put in, to make the space a little pleasanter for working in.


And then there is the renovation of the master bath, to plan and consider. I want a vintage Victorian look, with tiny hexagonal times on the floor, blue-figured wallpaper and antique-looking fixtures. All in good time … all in good time.

06. June 2018 · Comments Off on A Luna City 7 Story · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book, Luna City

Or, half of one, anyway. Titled Memorial Day. (I’m easing back on writing for the moment, being taken up with some other projects, including research for the next couple of historicals. And the household stuff, of course.)

Memorial Day

Jess Abernathy-Vaughn, being of that pale tint of skin which burned and freckled rather than tanned, lounged under the shade of a dark and ultra-violet-ray protective umbrella, planted at a rakish angle, deep into the beach sand at the Gulf-shore side of Galveston Island. She was also slathered with the highest SPF-level sunscreen available over the counter. In spite of not being a fan of sunbathing until one looked more like a leather saddlebag, she was truly enjoying this holiday. A second honeymoon, everyone called it, now that she and Joe had been legally wed for more than a year, and their son was now almost ten months old, and well-able to withstand the baby-sitting ministrations of his great-grandparents, living in the high-ceilinged apartment on the second floor of the ancestral hardware store on Main Square. She watched Joe – as fit and muscular as a classical Greek bronze of an athlete – mastering the use of a boogie-board in the indifferent surf with the same single-minded attention that he brought to every enterprise which took his interest. It killed Joe to not be the best at anything, so he applied himself relentlessly; football, soldiering, law enforcement – and of late, to dedicated fatherhood.

“We’ll be happy to have a baby in the house, once again!” Martha Abernathy exclaimed, even before Jess had ventured the casual boat of her suggestion – that she and Joe spend a luxurious weekend at a Galveston resort destination – onto the tranquil sea of familial relations over the Memorial Day holiday weekend. “Do make the reservations, Jess – you need to take a break now and again! It’s good for a marriage, to make a little time for yourself and your man. Don’t trouble yourself in the least, worrying about Little Joe!”

 

“Your grandmother has been longing to get her hands on our boy,” Joe grinned when Jess had first tentatively broached the question of a holiday in the sun, surf and sand. That was the evening in Spring Break week, and he had just come home from a tedious day of upholding the law in Luna City, and on the stretch of Route 123 which adjoined the municipality. “Let’s do it, Babe – go back for a weekend, and try and recall the people that we were before becoming a life-support-system for the rug-rat. I’m trying my best to be patient until the day that we can throw the ol’ pigskin around, but I need a break, too.”

Jess sighed. “I can hardly wait until he can cook … Richard swears that he will start teaching him to make a lovely proper mayonnaise as soon as he knows how to handle a whisk…”

“When will that be?” Joe spun his white work Stetson onto the old-fashioned coat-and-hat-rack which stood by the front door of the old cottage on Oak Street and collapsed with a sigh onto the overstuffed sectional sofa – an overstuffed and sprawling thing which took up altogether too much space in the old-fashioned front room, but which was too comfortable to give up entirely. Jess dropped their cooing offspring onto Joe’s mid-section and he yelped, “Ooof! What have you been feeding him, Babe – bricks?”

“Growing boy,” Jess replied, with a remarkable lack of feeling. “You entertain the Soup-Monster for a while I fix supper – tell him mad tales of all the dirtbags you have arrested, and all the speeders you have ticketed … I’ve been talking to him all day about the necessity for retaining receipts for cash business expenses. Among other topics of note.” (Soup-Monster was her nickname for her son, taken from Marsupial Monster, from the early days when she carried him in a baby-sling across her chest.)

“Sounds deathly dull,” Joe replied. Jess sighed with heavy sarcasm as she opened the deep-freeze unit in a corner of the kitchen.

“Attention to such minutia pays the bills for our incredibly lavish life-style,” she called in reply and Joe responded with a hearty horse-laugh. Jess smiled. It pleased and satisfied her to know that she could make Joe laugh. He was wrapped too tight, sometimes – too earnest, too serious entirely. Now, Jamie – she had always been able to make Jamie laugh.

Yes, that pan of frozen lasagna … and a mixed salad to go with, once the lasagna was warmed and bubbling in the oven. Say an hour or so; Jess was also tired; a full day of seeing to her various clients in Luna City, Karnesville and Beeville, driving hither and yon, with Little Joe uncomplaining in his car seat. He was a good baby, for all that. But now and again she really missed the days when she and Joe went out for burgers or pizza as impulse took them, or drove into San Antonio for a meal at one of the Riverwalk restaurants, a table on one of the outside terraces, overlooking the river, the lights that twinkled like fireflies in those monumental cypress trees lining the artfully-channelized river, while live music spilled from one of the other places, and she and Joe people-watch in the twilight, as swifts and grackles swooped into their night roosts. All that without the labor of hauling the Soup-Monster and the heavy freight of his impedimenta – the diaper bag, the stroller, the baby-car-seat and all that along with them.

No – a weekend of leisure in Galveston would be just the ticket. Jess covered the lasagna with tinfoil, turned the oven to 350 and went to join her menfolk, just as Little Joe grinned at his father, an open and uninhibited grin which revealed all of two new baby teeth in his lower jaw. Jess’s heart turned over in her chest – the child looked so like Joe, it was uncanny, even to his tiny nose, which gave a hint of the ancestral Vaughn beakiness, even now. A miracle, the blending of her blood, flesh and bones with Joe’s – and yet, Little Joe was his own person, even at the age of eight months! A whole, new, original, and miraculous little person … again, Jess thanked with her whole heart for Miss Letty’s wise advice.

“Supper in about fifty minutes,” she said, as he settled onto the sectional next to Joe. “Give me twenty minutes, I’ll feed the Soup-Monster and put him down to sleep, so that we can have supper in peace.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Joe replied. “And the weekend thing, too. Let’s go for it, Babe. We need a break, some R-and-R, you know. Be good for the Monster to learn how to wind the grands around his little finger.”

“Share the blessings,” Jess leaned her head against Joe’s substantial shoulder, the one with the uniform patch embroidered with the city logo of the Luna City Police Department sewn upon it. Another brief moment of pure contentment; Gram and Grumpy had insisted that such in retrospect would be considered the happiest times of their lives. Jess had of late begun to see that her grandparents were right about that.

 

Now she watched Joe abandon the mild surf, the boogie-board under his arm, striding up through the receding surf, which cast a brief swath of lacy bubbles across the white sand. He collapsed with a brief grunt onto the spread beach towel at her side. Jess spared a covert and concerned glance at him. She’d bet anything his knees were giving him hell again. Good thing she had packed a bottle of extra-strength Motrin. She would mildly suggest that he take a few before they went out for dinner, and hope that he would take the suggestion.

“How’s the water?” She asked. Joe chuckled.

“Salty and wet, Babe.”

“It’s the ocean, it goes without saying.”

Joe lay back in the shade with a sigh. “Thought about where to go for dinner? I’ve an appetite for fish tacos. That place on Seawall with the two big-ass balconies overlooking the Gulf would suit me fine. OK with you?”

“Perfect,” Jess agreed. “A bit noisy, but we can go early… it’s an anniversary for us, you know. We can celebrate.”

“Oh?” Joe raised an eyebrow, and Jess grinned.

“The first time we seriously kissed … and umm. Other stuff.”

“Oh, that.” Now Joe grinned, reminiscently. “After the Memorial Day pig-roast at the V, you had too much to think, and I walked you home? Yeah, I remember.” The grin widened into an expression of outright lewd reminiscence. “Hoo, boy – do I remember, Babe! I was so damned glad you didn’t punch me in the nuts when I made the first move…”

“Joseph P. Vaughn, you are no gentleman!” Jess exclaimed with an attempt at a Scarlett O’Hara exaggerated Southern accent and swatted at her husband with her discarded tee-shirt top. Which launched a good quantity of sand at him – but he just chuckled again and lay back on his spread beach towel.

“No regrets though, Babe?” he said, and Jess shook her head.

“No regrets, Joe.”

19. May 2018 · 2 comments · Categories: Domestic

I have to say that the first three projects – part of my Five Year Home Improvement Plan, and supposed to have been spread out over the first six months or so of 2018 – have all come to completion in the space of three weeks and some days. This is a matter of some surprise to me. I was impatient of ever getting started on the Catio of Splendor, for which I bought the materials late in January. Neighborhood Handy Guy kept being delayed by other projects, and so in exasperation with this, I thought I would explore the cost of the next substantial item: a new roof, being that the old one was likely on it’s last gasp. I wanted an estimation for replacing the asphalt shingles with a standing seam metal roof, so that I could begin setting aside money for it. I went to the company which replaced the last roof, on the grounds that they had done a great job then, and that the owner of the company had lived just four doors away from me at the time of the Great Hailstorm of March, 2005. A good few of us opted for that company, seeing that we knew where the owner lived.  Practically everyone in the neighborhood got a new roof out of that storm, which featured violent hail the size of large and small marbles. I was informed at the time that the new roof would probably only be good for ten years; this was why I included a new roof in my Five-Year Plan.

The estimator brought out his ladder, camera and measuring tape, and after a short voyage onto the roof, informed me that not only was the 2005-installed roof much decayed, my house seems to have taken some damage from the tornado which struck a year ago. I didn’t note anything at that time, but some dead sticks brought down from the tree – all the substantial damage was done by that storm to houses a good third of a mile up the hill. But it appeared that something had whanged into my roof at top-speed, punched a gouge through the asphalt tiles and into the plywood underneath, and bounced over the roof-ridge, slightly denting the chimney top in the process. I should note that I slept entirely through this event, only waking up and hearing the thunder in the wee hours, and then going back to sleep again. It’s a gift, sleeping through stuff like this. Not the first time I have slept through interesting/momentous events.

The short version turns out to be that a standing-seam metal roof on my place would cost a bit north of $20,000, whereas a better grade of composition shakes would only be about $7,000, of which the insurance company would pick up all but the deductible. As the estimator prepared to depart, he asked, casually – if there was anything more he could do. I asked him to price out and estimate the cost of the covered back porch-catio, considering that I had already purchased the necessary materials, and I was tired of waiting to get on Neighborhood Handy Guy’s crammed work schedule. So – the Reliable Neighborhood Company’s bid for a replacement roof plus addition of Splendid Catio was … reasonable. This week I was on the schedule for the roof, which was knocked off in a day, starting first thing. Which actually meant ‘first thing’. They worked full-out, four or five Hispanic guys (of whom only one spoke colloquial English) and bashed it out by early evening – even to installing the rooster weathervane on the roof-peak over the garage. And better yet – on Thursday for Reliable Neighborhood Company’s carpenters to come and begin on the  Catio of Splendor. Which they did, on the dot of half-past eight, and had the corner support post installed before I even came back from walking the dogs. But Thursday was the first day of Summer Brutal Heat in Texas, so they knocked off in mid-afternoon, returning on Friday (also first thing) to finish installing the tin roof panels, and tying the whole thing into the existing new roof. Which I can totally understand and empathize with, as I agreed to paint the resulting structure over the weekend, so that the master carpenter can return – first thing on Monday, of course – to attach the heavy mesh hardware cloth which will enclose the Catio of Splendor, wall to wall, and hang the screen door. Everyone agreed – this would be better, painting the wooden frame-work, before attaching the hardware cloth. So – that was my project today, at which I could only last until about 3:00 or so. Drenched with sweat, splotched with paint, exhausted and dehydrated. I got it about three-quarters done. The rest tomorrow.

I understand there was some kind of big social bash on, early Saturday morning: an unemployed American actress (on a show I never watched) married an English veteran of the war in Afghanistan, from a family dependent on government payouts. Did I miss anything else, while painting the Catio of Splendor?

14. May 2018 · Comments Off on So Here It Comes… · Categories: Chapters From the Latest Book

So … even as I am starting research on the American Revolution-era novel, I am moved to start on another —  about Minnie Templeton Vining, who was a peripheral character in Daughter of Texas, and in Sunset and Steel Rails.

A blue-stocking and a crusader, and … stuff. At mid-century, where there were a lot of things going on.

Enjoy. I don’t quite know where this will finish out … but Minnie is a ferocious abolitionist. And perhaps has other involvement in the Underground Railroad. It all depends…

 

Chapter 1 – A Lady of Leisure

 

A week after the reading of her father’s will, Minnie Templeton Vining sat in the old-fashioned parlor of her father’s tall house on Beacon Street with her sister-in-law Annabelle, while an errant spring breeze stirred the curtains … as well as the festoons of black crepe which adorned the façade of the Vining mansion. Narrow windows of the austere classical style that had been the height of architectural fashion early in the century now overlooked the broad avenue and leafy avenues and meadows of the Common and the public gardens beyond. The room within was furnished in the old manner; chairs, tables and shelves made in the austere style of two generations past, of polished wood sparingly ornamented, for the late Lycurgus Agrippa Vining resisted any change in the mansion in which he had ruled over as absolute dictator for half a century. The paintings and portraits, blue and white China trade porcelain, ranks of books in solid leather bindings, somber dark-red brocade upholstery, and very old-fashioned crewel-embroidered curtains – all testified at least as much to the wealth and pride of the family as to their magnificent disinclination to follow mere fashion … and thereby waste any portion of that wealth on transiently popular fripperies.

“So the house and a substantial income are yours to control absolutely!” Annabelle marveled, as she added sugar to the cup of tea which Minnie had poured from a silver pot which was one of the Vining’s treasured possessions, coming as it had from the workshop of the great Boston silver artisan, Paul Revere. In one of the account books in the old Judge’s study and library was preserved a bill made out in Revere’s own spidery handwriting, for that very teapot and a dozen silver spoons to be adorned with acorns and oak leaves.

“Indeed,” Minnie set down the teapot with a gentle clinking sound and took up her own refreshed cup. She was a confirmed spinster, being something somewhere in her fourth decade; a woman of decidedly firm opinions – and yet attractive to the eye for all of that, at least to those who entertained a taste for fine-boned features, and arresting blue-grey eyes, animated by a formidable and unsparing intelligence. “Cousin Peter is to be my trustee – but he is too sensible a man to attempt any thought of treating with me as if I were a silly child in need of correction and protection.”

“I should say not!” Annabelle chuckled. “One might very well try to rope and ride one of those wild bison creatures of the plains. Your dear brother – my late husband – told me such a tale of the President of Texas shooting one of those dreadful beasts in the streets of the capitol of that benighted place!” The humor briefly departed from Annabelle’s pleasant countenance. She was a slender woman of about forty years, the same age as Minnie – and like Minnie, garbed in the darkest black of mourning for father and father-in-law. They had been friends since their earliest childhood, indulged by their parents, friends of the heart, as well as of marital and distant blood connections. And Annabelle was a Saltinstall connection, which counted for something in Boston.

“My brother had many tales to tell of his travels,” Minnie acknowledged, although she held deep in her heart the one which she would never distress Annabelle by telling – of that low-bred woman in farthest Texas, the one who had cohabitated with her youngest brother, and bred four nasty brats with him, or perhaps some other man, no matter what her brother claimed was a proper marriage in that benighted place. That was a deathbed secret and confession she would take to her own grave, rather than distress Annabelle with revealing it. Annabelle was his wife in the eyes of the law and of Boston. That woman in Texas was a nobody and of no character at all. Annabelle – dear, innocent Annabelle – deserved a measure of peace of mind, if not happiness, in the wake of a marriage-not-marriage to a husband who was never present in Boston but always gone on interminable ocean voyages and travels in a vain attempt to recover his health.

“Telling the absolute truth can often be a brutal cruelty,” her father, Judge Vining was wont to say. “Consider well the costs of relieving your own conscience, Minerva, if that cost comes at the expense of another’s peace of mind and happiness.”

“He did, indeed,” Annabelle smiled, ruefully. Her husband – Minnie’s youngest brother – was dead some eight years past, in this very house. The consumption took him, painfully, on his final return. Minnie did not like to think of that even now, or the embarrassing situation which had brought him home for that one last time. “You were such an angel, Minnie – nursing him through those last awful days. Need I say again how grateful I was for that? It was all such a tangle – Sophia having just married, and in such difficulty with her first child. It was all that I could do to attend on my dearest little girl, night and day … I feared so much for her! Richard was a treasure in her travails, of course – but a husband is not so attentive as a mother – or a sister would be!”

“It is what we do, my dear – for those whom we love,” Minnie replied, whereupon her sister-in-law sighed.

“So we do, Minnie,” and her expression brightened with genuine curiosity. “Now – that you are a spinster of independent means, and your dear father is enjoying his heavenly reward; what will you do with yourself, and this establishment?”

Minnie set down her teacup and regarded the parlor; hers and hers alone, to do with as she thought fit. This was a heady feeling, and Minnie longed to stretch her wings and soar, soar on the pleasant updraft of a generous income and control over it, after two decades and more of being bound by obligation to family. Truth to tell, she had not minded all that very much. Papa-the-Judge (for so she always thought of him) may have been a magisterial and terrifying parent to his sons, employees, and those brought before him at the Bar, but his only daughter had always had an especially affectionate bond with her father. Her mother – dead in childbirth with her – had been the Judges’ second wife for a brief time.

“A clever woman,” Papa-the-Judge had often said, on those rare occasions when he had been moved to speak of such personal things. “Bold as brass, fearless – she was a spy in the late war, Minnie – did I tell you of that?”

“Yes, you did, Papa – often,” Minnie had replied.

During his last days on this earth, Papa-the-Judge had often patted her hand, at the conclusion of maundering about in his reminiscences, and promised, “Well, then, Minnie – you are to be well-provided for, my girl, since you aren’t inclined to matrimony. I’ll have Peter as your advisor, but he’s a sensible man. Have seen too it, y’see. The only intelligent female child of my blood … the image of your mother. She was a spy, you know. Carried messages for Doctor Warren’s network, back in the day when the bloody Lobsterbacks. Bold as brass, although she was only a bit of a child when I first lay eyes on her … she would want to see you holding to your own independency”

“I know, Papa,” Minnie would answer. She knew very well that she was the image of her mother. There was a small framed portrait painted on ivory in Papa-the-Judge’s monumental desk, secreted in one of the small drawers, which Minnie knew the secret to opening. When she was younger, she had often compared the painted features to her own, reflected in the small elaborate glass mirror which hung opposite the window in Papa-the-Judge’s study. And in any case – Cousin Peter, and others who had known her mother had often commented on the likeness.

No, she would not change the parlor, or Papa-the-Judge’s library, or even all that much about the house. All too dear and familiar, and now it was all to be hers, to order as she liked … but Minnie felt a restlessness in her. It was, she thought, like one of Annabelle’s songbirds, looking out from an elaborate silver cage, to which the door was open, wanting to spread her wings … yet wondering if she yet dared.

Yes. She did. Minnie sipped from her own teacup, and then set it down again with a tiny, decisive clink against the saucer.

“I have decided to go traveling,” she announced. “Oh, not terribly far, Annabelle – just as far as Charleston, and then for a stay in Richmond in Virginia. Cousin Peter has kin by marriage in Charleston. His daughter and her husband ministers – he is in orders, you know –  to a very respectable parish in Richmond. They have written, extending their hospitality. I am of a mind to accept. Would you like to accompany me? I would welcome your companionship.”

“For how long, do you plan to remain abroad from Boston?” Annabelle regarded Minnie with an anxious expression, and Minnie smiled in a manner calculated to reassure.

“Not terribly long – for the length of the summer, and return in time to celebrate Little Richie’s birthday, of course. It is …” and Minnie sighed. “My dear, I long to escape these walls for a time, and refresh my soul by gazing on new vistas. I beg you to accompany me, for the sake of respectability. And …” she shot her sister-in-law a severe glance. “It would be energizing for the both of us. We are both allowed a certain considerable degree of freedom by our status as widow and spinster? Why not explore, as far as we are allowed by the strictures of decent society? Why should we be kept mewed up in our little tiny parlors, like falcons wearing blinding hoods, when we might soar?”

“Because …” Annabelle began, irresolutely, and Minnie couldn’t keep herself from snorting.

“Because, fiddlesticks. I have a purse and the inclination, and I want to do something other than sit in my parlor, see that the maids dust the furniture properly and take calls on my at-home day. There is a larger world and great causes to fight for, Annabelle – shouldn’t we begin claiming parts of it for our own, rather than just live as silly simpering angels in the house?” She fixed her sister-in-law with her most ferociously-determined expression, and – as Minnie had been certain that she would – Annabelle crumbled.

“Of course, I will accompany you,” her sister-in-law yielded with a sigh. “But … have you set a date for commencing this … this project of yours. And … I suppose I shall not require any winter things in my trunks…”

“Next month, I think,” Minnie replied, in secret relief. “I shall have to see to the arrangements, and consult with Cousin Peter, of course. But oh!” she smiled and took Annabelle’s hand in her joyful embrace. “It will be such fun!”

 

11. May 2018 · Comments Off on Yet Another Project · Categories: Domestic

Meet Matilda – who is modeling a red-checked dress with a lace-trimmed pinafore – the first of the 18-inch doll outfits for the fall market season

I am not entirely taken up with home and garden renovations, these days – oh, dear, no. Between reading tomes about our very dear American Revolution, I am trying to clear out my stock of sewing scraps. The Daughter Unit has been asking me (with heavier and heavier emphasis) to do sewing projects for those events where we have a booth at an arts-n-crafts do. Yea these many decades ago, I had a small craft sideline in doing Cabbage Patch doll clothes for base craft fairs. Sold them from the trunk of my car, they were that popular, in the months after a Christmas market event. But that was … err … quite a good few years ago. I still have a small stock of them, as a matter of fact, and have attempted without any particular success, to sell that remainder at various recent markets. I fear that Cabbage Patch dolls, after having been the doll-fave in the last century, are now a back-number, of interest only to obscure collectors.

But the Daughter Unit, having noticed a vendor booth at a couple of market events last year, stocked full of American Girl doll-clothes, and observing that the American Girl line (plus any number of other 18-inch doll knockoffs) are now extremely popular, ventured in her artless manner – ‘Hey, Mom – you should start doing doll-clothes again! Bet there’s a market!’ Likely there is –  much more than there would be these days for Cabbage Patch dolls.

Having done enough for the time being in the way of vintage-style costumes, middle-aged-authors for the use of, I have turned to reviewing my bag o’ scraps and cutting American Girl-sized outfits from the most suitable of them. The Amazon Vine program inadvertently aided this by offering me, gratis-but-for-the-chore-of-writing-a-review, an 18-inch doll, an American Girl knock-off, the advertising for which included the intelligence that American Girl clothing and shoes will fit this doll. I sent for the doll to use as mannequin and downloaded a bunch of the original American Girl classic pattern assortments …there are collectors and enthusiasts who have scanned the half-dozen original pattern sets and made them available on-line. (Their main benefit is that, as nearly as I can tell, they don’t use much yardage – so excellent for piecing out from scraps. Scraps of which I have, in plenty. Odd bits of lace, trim and ribbons as well. And they call for Velcro for closures, which is kind of tacky, but way less complicated production-wise than using snaps, or buttons.) My early concern was that – would they actually fit the doll? After cutting about twenty or thirty outfits from the patterns, I thought that, yeah – better make absolutely certain of that.

And they do. I seamed one of the outfits together and fitted it onto the sample doll … whose’ name will be Matilda, by the way (although her trade name from the original manufacturer is Serena) – and they fit, quite nicely. There are a heap of art markets coming up this fall – and some which involve this kind of craft as well. I really want to reduce the scrap-bag, I am not averse to spending hours over a sewing machine … and besides, Matilda and her 18-inch child doll friends need pretty outfits. Pretty, modest, and traditional outfits, I should also add. The little sideline in doll clothes will be titled and advertised as “Matilda’s Portmanteau” during the coming market season, whenever we do a strictly arts and crafts market.

09. May 2018 · Comments Off on Projects · Categories: Domestic

Well, a project progress report, seeing that one of the semi-big projects on my list of home-improvement items has been accomplished – and bountifully, at that. Well, it did run to about $300 more in labor and $200 more in stuff – specifically a wall-mounted mirror, a faucet set, and a glass shelf – than I had initially anticipated. But the small bathroom renovation is complete and gorgeous! Well, once the glass shelf arrives, courtesy of Amazon and UPS, it will be complete. I began working on the bathroom after I got back from Houston, at the middle of April – scraping disgusting wads of soluble plaster and popcorn texture off the ceiling, and alternately, those last bits of paint from off the concrete floor, while awaiting the convenience of Neighborhood Handy Guy. Neighborhood Handy Guy boogies to the beat of a different drummer, when it comes to a schedule, I’m afraid. When he says, “I’ll be over first thing!” it could mean anywhere between 8:30 and noon. When he says, “I’ll be over today!” it could be any time from mid-morning to late afternoon. This charming eccentricity is forgiven by neighborhood clients because he does amazingly good work (carpentry, tile-work, fixture-installation, painting, etc.) being a perfectionist at heart, and that his charges for labor are … well, let’s just say they are reasonable. Especially if you do some of the work, assist him, and purchase the necessary. So reasonable that he is in constant demand – another reason for being patient. So – two weeks of work from Neighborhood Handy Guy, including trips to the local Lowe’s outlet, first to pick up the pedestal sink and the new toilet, the paint, tile for floor and sink surround, good sturdy planks for a shelving unit, baseboards and trim, subsequently to collect other items as required … and now the bathroom is finished. Yay! (Pictures below. The room is so small that it’s impossible to back up far enough to take pictures encompassing the whole … and the paint color is more of a white with a pink tinge than the sort of Pepto Bismol shade that it looks under flash.)

It’s amazing how much roomier it seems, now with a nice pedestal sink, and with a custom, if simple and unadorned shelving unit installed. The original vanity was contractor-grade, and so shoddy that I bashed it apart myself with an ordinary hammer and consigned it to the gargantuan wheelie-trash-bin without any untoward exertion. And my place was built by a reputable company: homes built by the really fly-by-night builders must be equipped with cabinets built with heavy cardboard, and fixtures constructed from soda straws and heavy tinfoil.

It’s only the very first item on my Five-Year To-Do, though. I am awaiting the call from the roofing and remodeling company, in service to the second item – initial construction of the Catio and in association with that project, a new roof. Sometime in late May, early June, I think. Then the garage door – and that is dependent on sorting out all the crap in the garage, much of which is the Daughter Unit’s. She came home from her last station at Cherry Point and when her hold baggage arrived, it was all unloaded into the garage. The master bath reno must wait until after Christmas. Sigh. Another week of scraping popcorn gunk off the ceiling awaits me at that point. And likely at least three weeks of waiting every day for Neighborhood Handy Guy to appear and work his home-renovation magic. Until then, I solace myself by going down the hall, opening the door, and basking in the retro-charm of the finished small bathroom.