Halfway Through the Holiday Season

Well, for us, it started with the fall market in Bulverde in October, and now it is ramping up to full steam ahead. The Christmas Market in New Braunfels is this weekend, then Thanksgiving (and blissfully, no market scheduled), then Goliad on the first Saturday, for Christmas on the Square, and a final arrival—puffing breathlessly—at the Boerne Market on the second Saturday. Then we can all sit down, count up the take and see if we have come out ahead. These are the events to launch Lone Star Sons, of course. I try and organize my writing and books so that there is a new one to take around to the Christmas market events.

So far so good; a nice round of sales at the Bulverde Craft Fair last weekend, not so much at the library sale at Harker Heights, and a fair amount in Bulverde at the fall market. The next three, being closer to Christmas, I have somewhat higher hopes for. And I have already bought my Christmas present to myself – a set of china for every-day use. After the Bulverde craft fair, we looked in on another sale – mostly of odd bits of ranch equipment, rusting machinery, moldering furniture, and unidentifiable oddments, all sitting out in a field. But there was some stuff arranged on tables underneath a canvas pavilion roof, which didn’t protect it much as the breeze was blowing intermittent rain-showers, and among them was a soggy cardboard carton half-full of china, with a stack of luncheon plates, bread-and-butter plates, saucers and eight tea-cups on the tabletop nearby. They were white, with a random and pretty blue-flower pattern; kind of European-peasant folk-art in appearance. It looked like someone had started to inventory the box and lost interest.

The New Everyday

The New Everyday

This was the one thing I was interested in, as it looked like there was a full set of eight place settings, if the teacups were anything to go by. Once upon a time, I had bought six or eight of everything in the basic white-with-a-blue stripe restaurant china from Reading China and Glass, when they had a store in the outlet mall in San Marcos. Thinking that it was a well-established place, and would go on forever and ever-amen, I assumed that whenever anything broke, I could replace it readily, piece by piece. Alas, this was not how it turned out; the Reading China and Glass store closed, vanishing like the mists of dawn under the morning sun between one trip to San Marcos and the next. For a while, I was able to get the same thing through Williams & Sonoma, at approximately twice the price per piece, and then Williams & Sonoma stopped carrying the white and blue-striped bistro-style china. Meanwhile, my stock of everyday china dwindled gradually – a drop to the concrete floor here, a crack in the dishwasher there – and soon we reduced to a random assortment of survivors, augmented by a set of jewel-colored glass plates and bits and pieces that my daughter picked up at a yard sale.

Enough of random – I wanted a full set of pretty blue and white china for every day, and enough plates of various sizes so that I wouldn’t have to wash them incessantly. The stuff in the soggy box would do just fine. I asked for a price on the whole lot – it was from a good manufacturer of fine Japanese china – and got it, having sufficient in my Paypal account from recent sales to get it.

Of course, once we got home, and looked up the manufacturer and the pattern … we wondered if we shouldn’t have been wearing masks and brandishing menacing weapons, for I got the whole lot for only ten dollars more than a single dinner plate in that make and pattern sells for on the discontinued china pattern websites. But – random assortment out to the garage in a cardboard carton (what – I should be wasteful of perfectly good albeit random plates?!) and we’ve been eating off the new stuff ever since. Blondie says, “Good eye, Mom.”

Categories: Book Event, Domestic | Leave a comment

Redoing Stuff

Stud-Muffin Approved

Stud-Muffin Approved

So, my own books and the Teeny Publishing Bidness are doing rather well in these last few months – to the point where I have enough money on hand to consider spiffing up the little suburban cottage that has been our home for practically longer than anywhere else that I have ever lived. No kidding – in the military, the longest stretch I was ever in one place and one home was six years. Growing up, the longest period of time in one house was only a couple of years longer than that – in the Redwood House, which was taken by freeway construction when I was in high school. Anyway, the last round of heavy redecorating – painting the walls, new curtains, and slipcovers and all … that was in 2003, when my daughter was in Iraq for the start of the second Gulf war … and there’s been a lot of wear and tear and dogs and cats on certain items since then. Now we are researching the costs of new kitchen cabinets and countertops, having reached peak exasperation with what was originally installed by the contractor who build the house. In the meantime, as we try to find out the real cost involved in doing the kitchen, we are messing around with the small stuff.

Like the window coverings. The house came with a set of extraordinarily cheap and cheap-looking plastic venetian blinds, which lasted only as long as it took me – after buying the place, courtesy of the GI Bill – to rip them down and put in home-made white and blue striped fabric curtains with an insulating liner. Alas, those curtains reached their own limit – and window by window, we’ve been replacing them with those 2-inch wooden blinds available from Home Depot … or as my daughter calls it, Home Despot. A bit on the pricy side, as Home Despot goes, especially since all of our windows are odd sizes, but they let a greater amount of light into the rooms, block the outside heat/cold … and look amazing … clean and less fussy than my curtains. The profits from a couple of projects let us complete installing the last blind in the biggest window this last weekend. And – it looks amazing.

This last weekend, we also trekked up into the Hill Country, to Spring Branch/Kendalia, to where one of my daughter’s good friends has a weekend job at another animal-charity oriented shop; The Goose is Loose Antiques and Collectables. Kaz ran a wonderful resale shop in Boerne, where we first met her until it closed because of having the lease on the building increasted, and then another one in that same city, which had the bad taste and bad judgement to fire her, but The Goose is Loose has the excellent good taste to hire her on a part-time basis. Kaz works social media like a pro, and my daughter had spotted a charming small table with folding leaves which would fit in the dining area admirably – but we would have to take a look at it, before I would commit to spending on it. Fortunately, the table was even more appealing in person, and a good fit for the dining area, which is even smaller and more cramped than the kitchen itself. We lined up the chairs, and put a beaten copper bowl shaped like a lotus flower in the middle … no, nothing breakable anywhere that the cats are likely to lounge in the sunshine, after clearing away anything that will take up space better used (to their way of thinking) for a cat’s many leisure hours.


Categories: Domestic | Leave a comment


AAs it stands now - a black hole of clutter

As it stands now – a black hole of clutter

The first definitive day of fall/winter has finally gotten here , and never been more welcome than here in South Texas. It has actually been cool to chill … and even more welcome … rain. It’s been raining more or less constantly since about 9 PM last night; from sprinkles to drips, to heavy downpours and back to sprinkles and drips again. I presume that the plants in my garden are reveling in the abundant moisture, after a good few weeks – or maybe it has been months – of a little grudging moisture alternating with day after day of bone-dry. The arrival of this happy moisture and chill coincides with a good few days of us not having to go anywhere, after a solid week of long-distance trips to Killeen in one direction and Brownsville in another. And I have a book project to work on for a Watercress client, another (a reprint of an existing book) to shove out the door as soon as possible, a third waiting for the client to review and for me to request the art-work for – all so that I can clear the decks for yet another client, the one with an extensive autobiography with lots and lots of pictures to incorporate … Alice would have been so happy to know of this project, and of the other potentially big one, coming up. (Also involving a lot of pictures and a complicated lay-out and a generous budget.) All the better that I have this week and most of next week to concentrate on it all.

My daughter is adamant about using some of the profits from the big projects to renovate the kitchen. Not in any way complicated, or involving extensive rebuilding, but incorporating more efficient cabinets and a nicer countertop. The kitchen in the house is relatively tiny – about 9 feet by 9 and U-shaped – and it has always annoyed us that the two corners on either side of the stove are wasted space. The original builder just whanged in some relatively narrow rectangular cabinets at right angles to each other, slapped some cheap laminate countertop over the null space in the corners and called it a day. Everything in the kitchen was basic contractor grade stuff, and brought into the development by the box-car load, and now it is more than twenty years old. I repainted the doors, and the fronts of the cabinets more than ten years ago, which made it look at least OK, but it didn’t help the basic bad layout any. So – researching means of upgrading to something more useful and visually attractive, and for a fairly reasonable price, as these things go. I am working on that as well, running out to the kitchen with the tape measure every now and again, to see exactly how far (to the half-inch) the windows, the pantry door and the plumbing stack are from everything else.

We are tending towards some elements from Ikea – like an archaic looking range hood, and a country sink – and maybe some of their cabinets or countertops. I think that assembling such cabinets is within our abilities, and hiring some local handymen who have redone kitchens in the neighborhood is within the realm of possibility. Or buying some quality cabinets already assembled from an outfit like Kitchen Resources Direct may also be doable. It’s not like we’ll be needing a whole lot of them anyway. Get the knobs and drawer pulls from a local place we know, organize the countertops from one of the big-box stores which has a nice selection. We did consider going to them for the whole thing, because of the veteran discount, but we made the mistake of showing up and asking for a consult after walking the dogs and working a bit in the garden, and I think the consultant took one look at us and figured that we weren’t a good prospect at all. The lack of enthusiasm and interest was thick enough to cut into slabs, even though we had a whole raft of necessary measurements. Ah well – cut-rate place here we come.

Categories: Domestic | Leave a comment

Another Long Saturday Drive

This one not as long as the trip to Brownsville on Monday/Tuesday, which was more in the interests of Watercress business rather than a book event – but anyway, it was long enough; to the main library in Harker Heights, which seems to be a bedroom slipper to Killeen. We zipped up there in the wee hours of Saturday morning, with a tub of books and some freshly-printed postcards, on the promise of about eighteen other authors, and a very popular local event – a book sale to benefit friends of the library.  Alas for us – the event was one of those which ask $1 for hardback books, .50 for paperback, and no one staggering away from the main event with a bulging bag of books and change from a $20 bill seemed inclined to pay full price for any of ours. But I handed out a lot of postcards about my books, and talked to other authors, and on the way back … we decided that we would stop in Round Rock and enjoy the Ikea experience.

The fabled Swedish meatballs of Ikea

The fabled Swedish meatballs of Ikea

Well, not enjoy as one thoroughly enjoys something like a clever Disneyland ride … This was more like a Teutonically-organized forced march through an endless household goods warehouse, following the arrows on the grey linoleum pathway which took you through precisely every department, even the ones you weren’t interested in. Ve Haf Vays Of Making You Shop!

There are shortcuts available – but they are not obvious, and seem to be a secret held only by the employees on the floor. They will cheerfully point them out to you, upon asking … but still, this is not a store where you can run in and pick up just one or two small things and run out again in fifteen minutes. No, this is an expedition which requires a significant degree of planning, most of an afternoon … and a certain amount of money. Not terribly that much of that though; to be absolutely fair, even if someone setting up a whole house of Ikea-sourced stuff must be prepared to write a large check. This must be where the yuppies who turn up their nose at Walmart but haven’t very much change to spare come to shop. To be honest, the goods on offer were of good quality, attractively designed and priced very fairly. They were the sort of thing that my daughter and I remembered very well, from seeing them in Europe when we were stationed there. But by the time we had staggered three-quarters of the way through the store – after looking at kitchen cabinet options and stuffing ourselves on a most-welcome lunch in the Ikea cafeteria – we were moaning, “I’ll buy anything, I promise – just let us out!”

We did escape, eventually – discovering the cash stands at the end of the long trail winding – and a small deli-grocery store on the other side of them, where they stocked all kinds of Swedish delicacies – including the lovely small Swedish meatballs featured in the cafeteria. And they were scrumptious. We came away with a family-sized bag of them, frozen for later use … for when we don’t feel like driving up to Round Rock …



Categories: Domestic | Leave a comment

Tomorrow ….

LSS_Cvr_Comp.1 (1)Up in the wee hours for us – no sleeping in this Saturday! For I have a book event at the Harker Heights Library, tomorrow morning from 9 to 1 in the afternoon. The library is at 400 Indian Trail, Harker Heights, Texas … and at a stretch is about a two-hour-and-a-bit drive. There are other Texas authors promised to be there, and there will be a Friends of the Library book sale going in, in addition. Now, I don’t think the sale will be as totally massive as the yearly NEISD book sale in the NEISD indoor basketball court here in San Antonio … but books!
I’ll have copies of all of my books, including plenty of copies of Lone Star Sons … so, see you there!

Categories: Book Event | Leave a comment

Annals of the Tiny Bidness

So – how to begin the story of how I became a business owner? I suppose that the very beginning came about when I realized that I was sick to death of working for other people, answering to sometimes erratic bosses, metaphorically (and sometimes in reality) punching a time-clock or logging my hours as an admin/office-manager/executive secretary or whatever the temp agency sent me to perform. I had also realized that I was good at writing, wanted to write professionally, and was on the cusp of transforming the amateur word-smithing into a paying job. I was encouraged in this ambition by a number of early blog commenters on a certain milblog who basically said I was very good at the writing and story-telling thing and they wanted more – mostly in the form of a printed book – while some other bloggers with slightly more extensive and professional writing credentials also said I was very, very good and ought to consider going pro myself… and then there was one commenter who didn’t have internet at home, and wanted to read my posts about my admittedly eccentric family – so he inquired after my mailing address, and sent me a box of CD media, so that I could put an extensive selection of early posts about my oddball family on it – one for him, the note said, and the rest for any other readers of the site who wanted a such a collation. I swear unto all, this was about the first time that it ever occurred to me that yes, I had an audience, and one willing to pay money, or at least, for a box of CD media.

Eventually, I did produce a book – a memoir cobbled together from various posts about my family, and growing up – and there it all rested, until another blog-post sparked my second book and first novel. Again, a blog-fan encouraged me to write it, and one thing led to another, resulting in To Truckee’s Trail. About two and a half chapters into the first draft I was let go from a corporate job – a full-time job with which I had become increasingly dissatisfied. On many an afternoon, walking through the duties expected of me, I kept thinking of how I would rather be and home and writing. It was a small shock being fired, actually – but I kept thinking Whoo-hoo! I can go home and work on the third chapter! I was oddly cheerful throughout the actual firing process, totally weirding out the HR staffer in charge of processing my dis-engagement from the company involved.

I went home and worked on Truckee. Which, scout’s honor and all, I did market to traditional publishers through the established route; find an agent who would be dazzled by my brilliance, and market Truckee to an establishment publisher, et cetera, et cetera. I gave it a go, for a good few months; I did have agents interested, one of them so enthused that he asked for the whole MS. Alas – although he loved it, and said many complimentary things, he regretted that it just wasn’t ‘marketable’ to the establishment publishing trade. Historical fiction was a hard sell, he said. Especially if it was about an event that hardly anyone had ever heard of – which I thought would have been a selling point, but what do I know of the New York publishing scene? He did give some good advice overall, so the experience wasn’t wasted. The other agents that the MS was submitted to said very much the same thing on a shorter sample … and at that point I realized that I already had a nice, solid readership and fan-base, so I ran a fund-drive to publish and print Truckee through the same POD publisher which had done my first book. In the meantime, I worked the odd week or two, or even a day, through various temp agencies, and for an old friend, Dave the Computer Genius, who had his own Tiny Bidness in computers – as in teaching, repairing, de-bugging and general installation of same. Dave paid me to work two days a week in his enterprise; marketing and keeping his accounts was the most of it, but he also taught me to build websites and started me off by helping me set up one for my own books. Working for him wasn’t so much a job so much as it seemed like hanging out with a cool high-school friend. This marked a line, though, in the way that I thought of myself. I wasn’t an admin/office-manager/executive secretary who wrote on the side. After that bright and defining line, I was a writer who worked as an admin/office-manager/executive secretary or even the ultimate professional hell – a year in a corporate phone bank taking hotel reservations – as a means of supporting my writing. I will never publically say anything bad about that one firm, BTW. I had racked up a fair number of paid holiday hours during that year, which I never took. For some months after I had turned in my notice and walked away, they sent me a check for those paid holiday hours which I never took and which I had pretty much written off. So, yay, corporate America – some promises are delivered on.

And there I was – two books out there, and another one – subsequently three – in the formative stages. After giving the two-finger salute to the corporate phone bank, I never worked in another ‘regular’ job again. I had met up with Alice G., who had founded the Tiny Publishing Bidness some twenty-five years previously, after having decided that she also would rather work for herself. We had a mutual good friend in Dave the Computer Genius; Alice was one of his regular clients, and he mentioned now and again that I ought to go hook up with her and learn publishing. He thought we would get on very well … but such plans as I did have for doing so came to an end when Dave died of a sudden heart attack. It was six months before I thought that maybe I ought to give Alice a call … and Dave was right. We did hit it off, something which I hope amuses Dave, wherever he is now. Alice was in her eighties, and considerable of a night-own: Dave was under orders never to call her before 2 in the afternoon. She did her best work at night, and slept during the day. Likely being a night-owl was another reason for being an independent business owner.

Alice and I went into partnership; first with a 60-40% profit-sharing arrangement. She had made a living for years with her Tiny Bidness, publishing specialty books for a variety of fairly well-off local writers, producing as many as six books a year, or as few as one. She contracted out things like layout and cover design, printing and binding, but she did editing herself, and part-timed for another slightly larger local publisher. She was absolutely one of the best and most exacting editors around; likely I will never be in her league, even with the aid of certain software functions. We used to joke (especially to prospective clients) that she had been married three times; twice to mere mortals and once to The Chicago Manual of Style. The books that she produced over the years are all beautifully done, to the highest standard. One or two of them are works of art in themselves. Such does not come cheap, though, and although Alice was well-connected in the community, business was slowing to a trickle. I thought it very likely that we were losing business to the various POD publishing houses which had sprung up to utilize digital printing – which is ideal for small print runs, rather than the traditional lithographic printing, which requires a large print run (north of 250) to be profitable. I suggested that we start doing POD books as well, setting up an imprint to print and distribute small runs of books through Lightning Source/Ingram. She was not especially keen on it, since the quality was a titch less than what she was accustomed to produce as a final product. But I finally convinced her that we had to compete, and that clients able to spend $10,000 to $15,000 on their book project were going to become mighty thin on the ground, given competition from Booksurge, Author House and the rest … as well as the economic situation overall. Finally she told me to go ahead – and for the last year that she was active in the business, the POD imprint provided most of our publishing projects.

Alice had no children, and none of her nieces, or grand-nieces or grand-nephews were interested particularly in the business. It was expected that I would take over the running of it all – and eventually the business itself. When her health began to fail, about a year ago, I had already been shouldering most of the work. By March, Alice’s niece and executor, who is a CPA for a fairly high-powered firm in Austin, suggested that the time had come: I should buy out Alice, for a sum which I could just about afford, since I had funds from the sale of some California real estate. Alice’s niece and I disentangled the various files and projects, sorted out the business bank accounts, and worked out what I had to do to get a DBA and open new accounts in my own name. I wrote a check, brought home the three shelves of Watercress-published books and several boxes of files and took over paying the hosting fees for the Watercress website. It turned out that we did this just in time, for Alice’s condition worsened rapidly over the following two months. Still, I was able to tell her that there are were some promising prospects on the horizon; people and establishments who want very much to work with a local publisher they can meet with, face to face, and not a website with an 800-number on the other side of the country. I’ve inherited the relationship with the local printer and bookbinder, quite a lot of the local connections – and there we are, since I am going to train up my daughter in what is essentially a small family business.

Categories: Domestic | Leave a comment

There Was a Lady…

There is a Lady, sweet and kind
Was ne’er a face so pleased my mind;
I did but see her passing by…
Thomas Ford 1580-1648

lottiedenoHer name was Lottie, probably short for Carlotta, and she was a lady. She was usually described as a gorgeous red-head, who arrived in the wild frontier ‘ville that had formed around the military outpost of Fort Griffin, west of Fort Worth, in the years after the Civil War. She was intent on making a fortune for herself … but not in the way that bold, pretty, enterprising and unescorted women usually intended to earn it on arrival in a wide-open frontier town. Or anywhere in the barely-tamed far West, come to think on it. She was not an investor in some chancy enterprise, a mail-order bride or an enterprising whore or brothel madam. She stopped clocks and hearts … but never a poker game.

That was Lottie Deno’s profession – and supposedly, she was good at it; very, very good, with ice-water in her veins instead of blood. One legend has it that one night in the saloon in which Lottie was at the poker-table (likely skinning a green-horn, an unwary cowboy, soldier or drummer of all the coin and valuable property on him) when a sudden exchange of lead civility broke out, and everyone not immediately involved hit the deck. When they rose up from the floor, it was to see Lottie, calm and perfect to every curl of red hair and ruffle on her elaborate dress, saying, “Gentlemen, I came to play poker, not roll around on the floor.” She came by the alias she was best known by after an evening of marathon poker matches in which she had won every hand, when an appreciative and well-likkered-up onlooker with a command of Spanglish whooped, “With winnings like that, you otta call yourself Lotta Dinero!”

She was the older of two daughters of an imperishably respectable and formerly well-to-do Kentucky family named Thompkins, educated in an Episcopalian-run academy for young ladies. Her father had business interests in farming tobacco and hemp … and breeding and racing fine thoroughbred horses at his plantation at Warsaw on the Ohio River. Mr. Thompkins traveled widely – to New Orleans, mostly but also north, to Detroit and apparently to Europe at least once. He reveled in those pleasures of life available to a man of wealth – including gambling, at which he was immensely skilled – or lucky. And for some reason – perhaps because he had some inkling that the future was uncertain and that his daughter might just need a useful skill or two – he taught Lottie to play cards, and to play them very well. Or it just may have been that it amused him to have an able opponent on those evenings at home, before television and the internet.

When the Civil War broke out, Lottie was 17. Kentucky, a border state with strong ties to both North and South remained in the Union. But within a short time, her father had volunteered for service in the Confederate Army and fallen in battle. The fortunes of the family declined precipitously, along with the health of Lottie’s mother. Neither Lottie, her mother, or her younger sister seemed equal to the task of running their property or the late Mr. Thompkin’s business interests, especially not in the middle of a war. The solution as the Thompkins relations and advisors saw it was that Lottie should marry a rich and able man to take on that responsibility – and she was dispatched to Detroit, three hundred miles north of Warsaw, accompanied by her maid and former nanny – a tall and formidable black slave named Mary Poindexter – to achieve that end. Perhaps Lottie was not very keen on the idea to start with, perhaps she ran out of money, or maybe the man who she did strike up an amiable friendship with in Detroit – a man named Johnny Golden, who had ridden her fathers’ horses as a jockey – was unacceptable to her remaining family. Johnny Golden was also a gambler – and within a very short time, Lottie and Johnny, with Mary Poindexter as an attentive chaperone, duenna-and-body-guard combined – were working the professional gambling circuit. Another legend has it that a brash young Union soldier accused Lottie of having cheated him in a game on a riverboat. He started for Lottie, but Mary Poindexter stepped in, and launched the soldier overboard into the river.

Before the war ended, Johnny and Lottie had split up … and Lottie, with the ever-vigilant Mary in attendance … went west. Some say she told her mother and sister back in Kentucky that she had married a wealthy cattleman. Lottie and Mary arrived in San Antonio in 1865, and Lottie took up a job as a dealer in an establishment called the University Club. She was immediately popular, even though the permitted no drinking or cursing at the poker table over which she presided – and Mary Poindexter sat on a stool at her back, just to remind the punters of the respect due to her mistress, who was always elegantly dressed, cultured and the very soul of Southern belle-hood. Very soon she was known as the Angel of San Antonio. The University Club was owned by a man named Frank Thermond; soon, he and Lottie were in love, and Mary Poindexter had soon decided to go her own way. When Frank got into a fight with another gambler and killed him with his Bowie knife, he had to leave town fast. He wound up in New Mexico, while Lottie worked as a professional gambler in various raw settlements in West Texas, where she earned her reputation as the queen of the paste-board flippers.

The end of the story? Not quite what you’d expect. By 1882, she and Frank Thermond were reunited – and married – and living quiet respectable lives in Deming, New Mexico. He went into business – real estate, mostly – and was vice-president of the local bank. Lottie also was an upright pillar of the community, helping to establish an Episcopal church in Deming. She died in 1934, outliving her husband by 26 years, but not a certain legend. It is commonly said that she was the model for the character of Miss Kitty, in the old Gunsmoke radio and television series.

Categories: Old West | Comments Off

Added To the Event Schedule

Christmas Onna LonghornYay! We gave just heard from Estelle Z. who organizes the yearly ‘Author Corral’ as part of Goliad’s Christmas On the Square! I am glad to know that the Author Corral is on again, because it’s always been a nice book event for me, although the drive is long. Where else does Santa arrive, riding on a long-horn, eh? It’s the first Saturday in December, December 6th this year, a weekend where many small towns in this part of Texas have their big Christmas shin-dig. Last year, the event was quite ruined by a brutally cold snap, which practically emptied Courthouse Square in Goliad of everyone but the poor suffering vendors in their open-air booths, and Santa arrived to a small crowd of about thirty children, most of whose parents I suspect took them home immediately afterwards and tucked them up for the rest of the day swathed in quilts, sitting in front of the fireplace or heater.

But it will be different, this year! And of course, my book for the year is Lone Star Sons, where the classic Old West rides again! (But on horses. Not on longhorns, although given a choice of things, Toby Shaw generally prefers to walk.)

Categories: Book Event, Old West | Comments Off

Retail Therapy ‘n Woes

Crazy Texas BootsWith so many other bad and dangerous things hanging over us like a Damocles sword – an Ebola epidemic in the US, ISIS setting up a new and brutal caliphate in the middle east, the final two lame duck years of the Obama administration, and the anointing of a minimally-talented yet well-connected legacy child like Lena Dunham as the media voice of a generation – and the upcoming marathon of holiday markets and book events in front of me like so many hurdles to be gotten over in a frantic two-month-long dash – where was I?

Oh, yes – amidst all the impending gloom, doom, and Bakersfield (that’s a California joke, son) my daughter and I are coping with the rather minor tragedy of a friend of ours loosing her job. Minor to us, of course – but not to our friend, a vivaciously charming English lady of certain years whom I shall call Kay, whom we met when she managed a thrift shop to benefit a certain well-established local charity, in a preposterously wealthy outlaying town within driving distance from San Antonio. When we first met her, the thrift shop was on the main drag in the historic part of town, and benefited from an enormous amount of walk-in traffic because it was on the main drag – although in a cramped three rooms and a teeny bathroom which doubled as an overflow storage room. But Kay was a pro when it came to management, coordinating unpaid volunteer workers, in attracting wonderful donations, and she used social media like a champ … I swear, many of the most enticing donations which came into the shop were pre-sold almost at once. Yes, a charity thrift-shop, of which there are already a few in the town of which we speak, but this particular one stood head and shoulders above the competition. The goods on display were often of an amazingly-superior quality and the pricing was reasonable. It’s a truism familiar to those of us relatively-poor people with high-end tastes; the very best pickings are to be had in charity thrift-shops in upscale locations. When my parents went to re-fit their own retirement house—burnt to the ground in the 2003 Paradise Mountain Fire—my mother often preferred shopping in such thrift stores. They could pick out things roughly similar to what they had lost; of superior quality and lightly used, at a reasonable price. Such things fitted their lifestyle and pocketbook; where is it written that those on a budget must settle for cheap cr*p, anyway?

So we loved the little shop which Kay ran, and brought home many fine things for a mere pittance – items like my vintage Ariat cowgirl boots, and a set of unused quality bedding – matching bed-skirt, quilted coverlet, pillow shams and boudoir pillows that originally retailed for nearly $1,000 all told. Alas, after five years of operation, the shop had to close around mid-summer. The historic building which housed it was being renovated – and the three rooms which housed the shop were no longer available to the charitable organization, nor was any equivalent premise available at a price which said organization was willing to pay. Still, we rejoiced with Kay was hired to run another charity shop in the same town, benefiting yet another and somewhat similar charity. Superficially, all was as it had ever been and at first seemed like even better; the shop was now in a larger space, a quaint Victorian cottage where there was now more room to suitably display the wide range of items which Kay attracted from the same kind of donors. Alas, there were two flies in the new pot of ointment; the cottage was a little off the beaten track when it came to walk-in traffic – and never underestimate how miserably hot it can be in a Texas summer, even in the Hill Country. But Kay’s regulars and volunteers loyally followed her to the new place, and when the monthly open market was held – there was a good turn-out. With the coming winter, and a number of special events in the town where the shop is located, there was a hope of business returning to something like the same level as in the old location.

The other fly was the peskier one; Kay now answered to a manager – an absentee manager in another state, who had very definite ideas on what the shop should accept and market – ideas which turned out to be a radical change. The take-in from the shop was unacceptable, said the absentee manager. It was simply not enough. So, henceforward, the absentee manager dictated, the shop would only carry collectables, high-quality jewelry (costume and otherwise) and original art. Everything else – shoes and clothing, household items, knickknacks and sports equipment had to go, immediately. Items should be labeled with a little price tag on a string, and be priced competitively – and none of this accepting just any old donation. Only quality stuff in a few limited categories, even if it had to be obtained from estate sales and auctions … no word on how this kind of activity would be funded, or who would be doing it, or researching the market-value of the select inventory. And the town of which I speak is thick with antique shops, collectable shops, and art galleries, most of which seem to be run by either entrepreneurs and paid professionals. At this juncture, Kay handed in her two-week notice. They let her go after a single week – and now, apparently, the shop will be run entirely by volunteers.

So, without knowing any of the economics – how much was the lease on the shop, how much it actually cost to run vis-à-vis the intake, and how much Kay’s personal connections with the donating and volunteering community contributed to the shop – I can only look at it from the outside, and what it all looks like to me as a consumer. Essentially, this one shop dominated the retail niche it occupied. It was open every day but Mondays – which put it ahead of the other shops, and Kay’s on-line marketing through social media made out-of-town shoppers well-aware of what was available. The goods were attractively and tastefully arranged by a professional. Oh, sure, some of them were the usual sort of junk which gravitates to Goodwill and the Salvation Army, but taken overall – it was a far superior shopping experience, in quality and aesthetics. And now, under the dictates of the absentee manager, it will be just another boutique in a town full of them. My daughter and I agreed – we likely won’t be able to afford anything in it, and it will only last about six months before the charitable concern running it pulls the plug.

Categories: Domestic | Comments Off

It Never Rains …

American Gothic - Texas-style

American Gothic – Texas-style

But it bloody pours. Here I am, starting the marathon of book events for my own stuff and for Blondie’s origami art, which runs from early October until well into December, (Lord willing and the Ebola don’t rise) and suddenly all the Tiny Publishing Bidness clients who have been languidly considering their potential books – some of them from last year or this summer and one of them from out of the clear blue sky – want to move ahead with their projects. Now, if not a day or so ago. It should have been a warning to me that the business bank accounts were all at low ebb … that’s when something happens to fill them all up again. It never fails – something always appears, just in the nick of time. There was the written-content job of so many chapters for a publisher of study guides who found me through the milblog; they wanted someone with military experience who could also write to order and somehow stumbled onto little ol’ me. That project upheld the lifestyle at Chez Hayes for nearly half a year; I was in two minds about committing to it, but closed my eyes and plunged in away. Then there was the document transcription project … again, good for maintaining the lavish Chez Hayes lifestyle for most of a year, when taken in together with the other writing projects and sales of my own books.

I had a lovely book event in Fredericksburg early this week – a local book club contacted me through my website; would I come to their social, and more importantly – do a guided tour of the spots in Fredericksburg which featured in the Adelsverein Trilogy? One private tour for the club members, and another the following day for the general interested public?  As it was mapped out, the tour comes out to a shade less than three miles, to cover it all – from the town cemetery and that little church building which served the black community in the mid-1840s, all the way to the Marienkirche, which served the Catholic community from the earliest days. Good thing I suggested that everyone wear comfortable shoes … and that there were plenty of stopping places with shaded benches, and that at the point of two-thirds into the tour we were at the old established town square, where there is a very clean and well-maintained public lavatories and some picnic tables in the shade. The ladies of the book club were enormously welcoming, and hospitable, having secured us a room for one night at the Sunday House – which we fell upon with gratitude, being completely exhausted by the tour and the evening meeting. Yes, I will try to come to book-club meetings which have read the Trilogy or any of my books, as long as such are in a commutable distance from San Antonio. I am not such a big-name author that I can be snotty about such invitations.

Fredericksburg was blissfully uncrowded on a Monday, and Tuesday morning, and a two-hour long walk, plus some evening socializing let us catch up on all the local gossip, and note some changes in the town: a wonderful and theatrical 1920s Spanish Colonial style house on Austin Street has been torn down, to the regret of all; an apparent victim of black mold and extensive termite damage being found upon a new owner commencing renovations. But a classic German-Texas style house on Adams – which was under renovation for as long as I can recall has finally been finished very charmingly as a day-spa. There are now little bed and breakfast accommodations all over the historic part of Fredericksburg, tucked behind old houses; one of the club members told us that there were 350 B&Bs in town now, not to mention several good-sized hotels. And there is a new museum going in – a Ranger museum, next to historic Fort Martin Scott. That makes four museums in a single small town, which must be some kind of record. Alas, the yearly Comanche pow-wow used to be held on the land where they are building the museum – and the pow-wow is banished to the Gillespie County fairgrounds.

Kenn Knopp, the local historical expert who was a considerable mover and shaker in Fredericksburg and was kind enough to read the Trilogy in manuscript and approve of it all with extravagant enthusiasm passed on last year. I had kind of expected something had happened to him, as he was not in the best of health the last time we were in touch, and he dropped off Facebook entirely … still, I wish that I had known in time to go to the memorial service.

Finally – one of the walking tour participants told me that the corner plot which I allocated in fiction to the Steinmetz family was actually his family’s town plot, and that they held onto it until the 1940s, when they sold it to the church which presently has their activity center on the site. He’s a Luchenbach, and an old friend of Monroe Behrend, the master of the fast armadillo.  Small towns – you have to love them, but also be careful, because everyone knows everyone else, or they are related to everyone else. So, that’s my week – and I’ve written this between doing up a couple of contracts and estimations for the new projects.

Categories: Uncategorized | Comments Off