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OK – so here we are on the downhill slide of the year, and the Daughter Unit and I are getting ready for the serious-marketing part of our year. The Daughter Unit, BTW, is returning from California – on the train, specifically the famed Sunset Limited – bag, baggage, laptop and all associated goodies. It will take about twenty hours – she’ll be back early Friday morning, exact time unspecified. Just about everyone in the neighborhood lately has been asking after her – either where she has been since February, or when she is coming back? Our special friends in the ‘hood miss her, I miss her, the dogs and cats miss her with especial feeling … maybe the chickens miss her too, although I suspect that creatures who lavishly crap where they sleep and eat are possibly not sufficiently sentient to feel the higher emotions.
Anyway – the marketing season for us will begin with a couple of events in San Marcos, with her origami earrings. The time in So-Cal has not been wasted, however. She returns with a nice collection of Japanese origami papers from a couple of different sources, a metric butt-load of finished product for her own enterprise (Paper Blossom Productions) and an arrangement with a local consignment shop specializing in the arty and crafty, which has paid off very well over the last month. Hopefully, the arrangement will pay off even more as the holiday gift-giving season approaches. It’s all about diverse income streams in this decade of independent enterprise, as I keep saying, since other indy producers have been saying so to me.
I am working on the next Lone Star Sons adventure collection – to be called Lone Star Glory; again, a collection of half a dozen adventures to do with Texas Ranger Jim Reade and his blood-brother Toby Shaw, to take place in pre-Civil War Texas. I have gotten ambitious – if I finish the Lone Star Glory adventures in the next month or so, we may be able to generate the next Luna City installment in time for Christmas. Which I would really want to do, as the doings of Luna City are insanely popular (as my books go). I end each one with a cliffhanger related to the plot of the upcoming book, having resolved at least two plot threads in each book. (Cliffhanger endings with the main plot unresolved are a bane and an unkindness to the innocent reader, and I would never do that in any of my books. The main plots will always be resolved – Scout’s Honor.)
I had to set the latest sewing project aside to do some housecleaning and laundry today – so that my daughter will not return home to a pit of nonfunctioning domestic despair and overflowing litter boxes. But I will pick up that project again, since nearly all the pattern pieces are cut for an 1880s bustle dress, or at least, Butterick Patterns version thereof. This was one of the patterns that I bought last fall, when they had a massive sale wherein most or all of the costume patterns were marked down to about $2 each. And, yes, in the middle of the Christmas market season, I bought every darned one of them in my size, since doing vintage dress for book events has worked out so splendidly. This one posed somewhat of a challenge, since it required a lot of materiel, for long A-line skirt, gathered apron overskirt, contrast panels, a long jacket bodice and a fair number of elaborate trimmings and ruffles. The actual construction of the pattern is not so much a challenge – but the yardage requirements of a suitable fabric and the cost thereof – is, most definitely. Until I took a page from the blog of another vintage fashion enthusiast, who also operates with a strict budget, and reworks all kinds of thrift-ship finds into authentic vintage. While sorting out the contents of the backyard shed, I found the set of curtains that I had made for the house, until we replaced those window-coverings with wooden blinds. Hmm – I had made those lined curtains myself, when we first moved into the place. Nice, heavy striped dark-blue and cream-color fabric. And I had enough dark blue velveteen left over from making a cape and bonnet for the Daughter Unit to wear in the event that we get a place at Boerne’s Dickens on Main … so it was settled in my mind. The bustle dress made from curtains. Good enough for Scarlet O’Hara, good enough for me.

12. July 2017 · Comments Off on A Square Hole … · Categories: Domestic

… In the ground, into which you pour money; that was Dave Barry’s definition of a house, which was a take-off on an earlier witticism about a yacht being a hole in the water into which you also poured money.
In my case, water and a house were both involved … in that the other night I went out to the garage to get a pan of home-made lasagna out of the deep-freeze, and noted with considerable interest that there was water everywhere. Two possible culprits – the deep-freeze itself (which spilled a considerable amount of meltwater into the garage the last time I emptied everything out and defrosted it … or the hot-water heater.
The Daughter Unit has been suggesting that some maintenance and adjustment on the hot-water heater might be in order, as she is one who enjoys long showers. I’ve been putting off draining and refilling it, because of all the stuff piled up in the garage, stuff in the way. We had agreed to sort out the garage and take care of the hot-water heater when she comes home from California, but I had to get started on that last night, after calling the friendly neighborhood service company who sees to the HVAC unit – they have a plumbing and electrical department as well. So – carried out some boxes of extraneous stuff to go to Goodwill, and a couple of boxes of … why did we have boxes of ancient mail-order catalogs out there? I guess we forgot to put them in the recycle bin and lost track. Yes, the garage is definitely getting a once-over. The trash and the recycle bin are already filled to overflowing, and yes, we are getting a new hot-water heater.
It appears that I was mistaken, when I thought that the hot-water heater had been replaced by the previous owners just before I bought the house. No, the friendly plumber informed me; it was original to the house. Which means it has been performing heroically and without failure since 1984 – darned good, considering that the usual lifespan for such is about a decade. The Daughter Unit suggests that the old one go into a plumbing museum, if only as a curiosity.
Even more critically – and adding to the expense and hassle of replacing the hot-water heater is that the local codes have changed drastically. New installs must be on a stand 18 inches above the floor, have a drip pan – which I have to say, after mopping up the leakage last night and this morning – is a very sensible notion, a special electrical connection, and other stuff which I will have to read the paperwork to totally grasp. It is being installed this afternoon, so that life in Chez Hayes will continue without interruption, in the hot water supply if nothing else. And the best part is that my credit rating is so much improved that I qualified for fairly generous terms, instead of paying for the whole thing out of pocket, draining the savings/emergency account, or go without hot water for months.
But the garage is definitely going to be sorted, first thing when the Daughter Unit comes home.

08. July 2017 · Comments Off on Dogs of Note · Categories: Domestic

Calla-Puppy; the model for Dog

As a writer whose household contains dogs, cats and chickens, it has amused me ever since my first novel to include some of those pets as characters. In To Truckee’s Trail, my daughter’s boxer-mix, Calla was dressed up somewhat with a size and intelligence to play the part of Elisha Stephens’ companion on the overland trail; Dog. Yes, his dog was named Dog – the character was not terribly imaginative. Dog makes her first appearance in the second chapter:

John looked down; not very far down at that, at one of the largest dogs he had ever seen, a huge fawn-colored mastiff bitch with a dark face. She sat quietly at his feet, regarding him with intelligent golden eyes. “Dog,” said the smith quietly, and made a quick gesture with his fingers. The mastiff bitch nudged John again, as if reminding him to be on his best behavior then, because she would have an eye on him, and obediently trotted away to settle herself underneath the wagon. From there she still regarded John and her master with those unsettlingly intelligent golden eyes. She had a clownish white splotch on her nose and another at the end of her tail. All of her toes on each foot were white, as if she wore dainty gloves.

My daughter brought Calla home with her, when she finished her second hitch in the Marines in 2006. Calla and Dog, besides having the same appearance, were both excellent travelers. Calla loved riding in the car, even on long distances, and guarded the car as zealously as she guarded the house, hopping into the driver seat and growling at anyone who came just a little too close. Alas, even though she was a mixed-breed and presumably had some hybrid vigor to count on, she was a large dog, and those breeds in her makeup were prone to age rapidly – she only lived to the age of 12.

Spike – the original inspiration for Mouse

The second dog of ours to make it into my books was Spike the shih-tzu, who came to the household as a puppy, from a couple who thought they wanted a puppy, and then decided the puppy was too much trouble to housebreak and socialize. Spike had attitude to spare, which was why we called her Spike, and adorned her with a small black leather collar studded with silver spikes. Spike was bred to be a lapdog and constant companion, and by the time we adopted her, I was already largely working from home. Her natural place was the space underneath my chair, or within three or four feet of wherever I happened to be. She was also a very good traveler, insofar as long stretches in a car; we made several long-distance journeys to California from Texas and back. She was not so agreeable to having her home routine disrupted, though: she distinguished herself by surreptitiously piddling on every one of the area rugs in my parents’ house. Spike was the inspiration for Magda Becker’s Pekinese (or rather series of Pekinese dogs) in the Adelsverein Trilogy:

There were six puppies, lively squirming little balls of fur; four of them gold like their mother, one black, and one piebald white with brindle spots. That one seemed to be more sedate, not as excitable as the others. Magda put her fingers around the pup—it was heavier that it appeared, no fragile little handful of bones and fur. It looked at her with curious eyes, as she said, “This one, Irina.”
“Very good,” Princess Cherkevsky nodded, regally. “That is a boy. Your son already brought a little collar and a bed and dish for you.”
“You and he plotted behind my back,” Magda exclaimed. She sat back on her heels, with the puppy cradled in her lap. “I know he loves dogs, but this is not a dog, it is more like a mouse!” And thus did the pup receive its name.

Spike also developed chronic health problems peculiar to dogs whose popularity leads to inbreeding. She passed away rather suddenly at a relatively young age; we think she ate some grass which had recently been sprayed with a powerful insecticide, and died almost overnight, even before we could get her to the veterinarian.


The third of our dogs to appear in my fiction is in blissful good health – and also quite firmly attached to me; Nemo, so called because we found him wandering the streets in our neighborhood. Someone had either dumped him, or moved out of a nearby rental house and left him behind. He was wary of humans, even us, at first; but since has been so eager to become one with a pack that he has even buddied up with some of the cats – to their horror and disgust. Nemo is some kind of coarse-furred terrier of no recognizable breed; black with a strange white mohawk on the top of his head. He was cast in my most recent historical, The Golden Road. as Nipper, the canine companion of the mysterious and slippery Fenian, Aloysius Polydore O’Malley:

The mule wagon was driven by a scarecrow of a man; of indeterminate years and put together in an untidy gangle of limbs, topped with a thatch of fading ginger hair. Fredi gawked at him, as he hopped nimbly down from the wagon-seat, for he was dressed in clothing which had once been fine, yet appeared to have been intended for a much shorter man. The sleeves of his coat, and the threadbare shirt underneath it barely covered his knobby wrists. He was also accompanied by a small black dog, which followed his master with equal agility; a short-furred dog with upright ears and tail, and what looked like a comical set of grizzled chin-whiskers fringing its sharp little muzzle. The dog promptly cocked a leg and pissed against the wagon-wheel.

Like Spike, Nemo is clingy – he sleeps in the dog bed under my desk during the day, at the foot of the bed at night, whines heartbreakingly if he can’t follow me and practically turns himself inside out with joy when I come back after being away for a couple of hours.

As for the cats – I have only put one of them in a story, so far – but that’s an entry for another day.

01. July 2017 · Comments Off on Midsummer Miscellany · Categories: Domestic

Strictly speaking, it isn’t quite mid-summer, but half the year is gone with the end of June, and the sweltering heat of summer descended upon Texas – a heat predicted confidently to last until September at the earliest and into late October at the latest… (although in one ghastly year, it didn’t cool down sufficiently to open the windows and turn off the AC until mid-November) so where was I with this thought? Oh, yeah … planning out the schedule of events for the rest of the year, trying to keep what there is in my garden from perishing in the dire heat, the three Barred Rock chickens from pecking the littlest of the Bantam Wyandottes to death, the dogs in fine fettle, the house in a mostly-clean condition – or a condition which will not unduly alarm the Health Department – various projects for pay for the Tiny Publishing Bidness (which projects uphold my household economy) and oh, yeah … my own writing.
Of which I could not do anything yesterday – being that my pension payment was deposited in the bank, which meant that I could go and do the monthly stocking-up of the cupboard-freezer-supply closet on Friday, rather than today, the calendar first of the month. I frankly would rather have done all of this early on a Friday, and beat the madness of crowds on a weekend, and even more the weekend of a mega-holiday weekend. Especially at Granzin’s Meat Market, which is strategically located on a back road to a major local recreational destination … and therefore, there will be holiday-makers stocking up on food-stuffs for the holiday, as well as canny local shoppers like myself. Yes, it was busier than usual on a Friday morning – but the madness will truly descend on Saturday. And also at Costco, and the branch of the HEB chain which is in the relatively rich part of town and therefore which has a better and wider selection of certain preferred brand staples than that in my own local store. Yes, the HEB chain has a fine judgement on stocking neighborhood branches down to a fine science. I call it the Olive Oil Variant: that is, so many thousand in average income before taxes is correlated to the number of brands of olive oil on the shelves in the outlet. Thus – higher the average income, the greater number of brands available.
So – the first of the month shopping circuit; Costco (and/or Sam’s Club, depending) Granzins’, Tractor Supply, Trader Joe’s, and the Super-HEB, with perhaps a stop at Tuesday Morning if required. We have worked out where to get the best prices on various staples, you see – which makes a circuit of about 45 miles, takes three-quarters of a day – but sets us up for a month or more on things like pet food (cat, dog, chicken, and the wild bird freeloaders), meats, frozen and canned goods, household detergents and paper goods … all of which fill the trunk of my car or the back of my daughter’s Montero. We start with an empty Igloo cooler, and finish up with the vehicle piled high; some of the preferred pet supplies come in 35 to 60 pound bags. Which then must be hauled into the house, or to the shed, and then the various meats must be parted out and sealed for the freezer … so yes – one very long day. But I got it all wrapped up in a mere four hours, which means that my weekend is clear for more amusing things.

06. June 2017 · Comments Off on Some New Additions to the Vintage Wardrobe · Categories: Domestic

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.