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A hat to go with the lavender and black cotton day dress — and a handbag made from leather-look vinyl scraps left over from a chair reupholstery project:

Accessories to Go!

16. May 2017 · Comments Off on Another Vintage Costume Project · Categories: Book Event, Domestic

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.

14. May 2017 · Comments Off on Elsie the Cow and the Alamo · Categories: Domestic, Old West

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.

02. May 2017 · Comments Off on Perfect Rotisserie Chicken · Categories: Domestic

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?

27. March 2017 · Comments Off on Work in the Garden · 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.

16. February 2017 · Comments Off on Of Chickens and Eggs and Things · 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 on One Whole Week · Categories: Domestic

That is, without the Daughter Unit, who left last Thursday in the very wee hours to spend six months in California, helping take care of family matters. My mother took a very bad fall two years ago, which left her confined to a wheelchair, and living with my sister and her husband. So, my daughter – whose Tiny Bidness is a bit more portable than mine, volunteered to go out to stay with my sister and help with Mom until August. So – I took the Daughter Unit down to the San Antonio Amtrak station, and settled down to a strict round of getting everything about my household done myself, once again. Six months is a walk in the park, although I do mind having the maintain the cat’s litter boxes, since the current cats are hers – mine having all passed over the Rainbow Bridge. We were worried that the cats would miss her, but so far, they seem to be quite insouciant about it all. The dogs insist mostly on being in the same room where I am, curled up and sleeping

And on the up-side, I can fix myself a BLT, or sautéed onions for my own patty-melt, and watch the rest of Downton Abbey, if I want to. And I thought about watching Indian Summer, once I am done with the latest available season of Longmire.  Otherwise, I am trying to stick to a regular schedule; a few hours of housework and gardening in the morning, plus any errands, an hour of sewing on the vintage wardrobe project, and then the rest of the day split between working on my own next book, and on a book for one of the Tiny Bidness Clients – a project regarding the Civil War Nueces Massacre, which involved re-doing a lot of the maps and diagrams which the client provided; tedious to be certain, but it will make the finished book look good. I also generated an index for it, which was about a week’s worth of work in itself. I also got the figures for income tax return, and had a meet with the CPA this week to turn everything over to him. No, I am not the most organized person in the world, but things like – the income tax return must be done every year, you know the deadline is mid-April, so why not knock it off as soon as possible, and get back to doing other more enjoyable things. Yes, it’s a chore, but putting it off until the last minute never makes chores any less unpleasant.

I will have a few marketing events before August, though –  Texas library convention downtown in late April, a book event in Wimberley in June, and possibly the spring market in Bulverde in May. I’ll have to recruit one of my daughter’s friends to help me with that, as setting up the pavilion and keeping the marketing going all day is a two-person job. So – that was my week. Yours?

01. February 2017 · Comments Off on New Fashion Accessories! · Categories: Domestic

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

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

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

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

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

03. January 2017 · Comments Off on Turning of the Year – January, 2017 · Categories: Domestic

Yeah, I’m late again, with reviewing the past year, and look to the bright and shiny new one, with regard to personal and professional goals. I’ve looked back every year about this time (so, sometimes it been a pretty good stretch around. So, I’m an independent small businesswoman. I make my own schedule.) Every year, I have been in the habit of assessing the last year, thinking about what I want to get done in the coming year.

As always, the score is about 75% achieved.

 

  1. The back yard is still not the bountiful truck garden of edible fruit and vegetables. This is an enduring challenge. Part of this is due to my own laziness with regard to watering, a serious hard freeze a couple of weeks ago, and the depredations of the chicken stooges, or as my daughter calls them, “the wup-wups” – from the sound of the gentle clucking they made when they are satisfied with life but still feel chatty. Indeed, the magnificent rooster, Larry-Bird, and his Barred Rock harem of Maureen and Carly, are death on any green edibles that they can reach. They chase the two bantam Wyandottes, Winona and Dottie, mercilessly … but the girls all produce eggs, which is all to the good. (Except Winona, who appears to be permanently broody.) The bantam eggs are handy when it comes to halving a recipe which in the original calls for three or five eggs. We have not had to purchase eggs from the supermarket since Maureen and Carly came on line, although there was some trepidation when they molted for about a month. Resolved, renewed; make the bountiful truck garden happen.

 

  1. Books – at last finishedThe Golden Road. This was planned as being the adventures of wide-eyed seventeen-year old Fredi Steinmetz in Gold-Rush era California. The good news – finished, after about three years of back-burnering it. The bad news – the cover wasn’t finished in time for me to have print copies in time for the various Christmas markets. Two Luna City Chronicles were finished and put on the market in 2016 – they being light, contemporary comedy, they are fairly easy going as far as the writing is concerned. More light blogging, actually. Another Luna City episode is planned for release in mid-year, and a fifth … well, the various elements of both are being skulled out even as we speak. I have also resolved to do a second Lone Star Sons set of stories. The first Lone Star Sons sold very well at Christmas markets, especially as I button-holed every tween and teen passing by our booth, saying, “Hey, kid – do you like to read and do you like Western adventures?”

 

  1. Home reno … the budget for that was shot over the last year, in having to pay for some repair to insulation of the condensation drain. Which, unrepaired, was dripping through into the kitchen. Being able to pay for repair out of pocket was satisfactory – but this gutted the budget for new kitchen cabinets and countertop, as well as the reno and installation of the vintage Chambers gas stove which Blondie inherited from her spiritual godmother. Resolved in the coming year to get at least some new cabinets installed, as well as counter-tops. The kitchen is small – and we desperately need to maximize the space.

 

  1. The mulberry tree which shaded the back garden was dying over the last two years of some ghastly tree-plague. Attempts to save it were in vain. We paid for it to be removed, working in concert with the neighborhood handy-guy – but now the western-facing side of the house is exposed to the full fury of the afternoon sun. We finagled a deal to have the insulation topped up, such is the power of my revived credit rating – but the new plans include installation of some kind of pergola which covers windows on the west-facing side of the house. Which plans also include moving the existing dilapidated fence farther up towards the front of the property … Alas, budget constraints. Resolved to earn enough from the writing and from the Teeny Publishing Bidness to be able to afford the pergola and the new fencing.

 

  1. Which brings me to the management of clients for the Teeny Publishing Bidness. I have decided over this last year to offer our services to other indy authors, in helping them to set themselves up as their own Teeny Publisher. I will walk them through getting an account at Ingram Spark, Lightning Source, or CreateSpace, see to editing and formatting their book for the usual editing and formatting fee, arrange for cover design … and turn them loose. I already have done this for two clients; it’s basically what I have always done for the Teeny Publishing Bidness, everything but our name on it as publisher, but this way they will have an increased level of control over their books and be able to order printed copies at a better price per unit. Several other indy authors that I have talked to in the last year are unhappy with their current facilitator/publisher, which is what gave me the idea in the first place. They want to write; and going into it as their own publisher was a terrifying prospect. There were and are a good few POD places out there which are overcharging and offering unnecessary services: Alice and I were appalled and amused at some of the itemized services that were on offer from them, and the prices they were charging.

 

So – that’s it. Check back in 360 days or so, and I’ll review.