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In two more years, the mortgage on my tiny patch of suburban paradise will be paid off. This is a consummation that I have longed for, especially when I tossed aside all expectation of working full-time for other people, about ten years ago, and resolved to make a living from writing, and from doing freelance publishing with the Tiny Publishing Bidness. I had an almost wholly unexpected bout of good sense when I purchased the house in 1995; which resulted in a) not buying into too much house, and b) ensuring that the mortgage did not consume more than a quarter of my total monthly income, as it then stood. Since then, the mortgage has been paid monthly, on the dot, even in months in which I just scraped past, economically, by the skin of my teeth. Something always showed up in time to rescue us from disaster; the sale of the California property allowed me to install a direly-needed new HVAC system, for instance.
The situation now is that I have sufficient income to make serious and concrete plans for fixing various things about the house. Alas, I have concluded that unless and until I get offered a bomb of money for film rights to Luna City, or the Adelsverein Trilogy, the vacation home/residence in the Hill Country is off the table. The rational course is to work with the house I have in the real world, and not the one in dreams, and so the plans have been mapped out in best Soviet Five-Year Plan style. The end of the month will bring about the first of them; the patio project – or more precisely, the ‘catio’ – a residence for the cats who we have inherited or have claimed us as their permanent servant class. We have designed a covered, screened shelter for the cats; full of climbing stands, ramps, platforms, hammocks – what Roman the Neighborhood Handy Guy terms “a Disneyland for cats!” This is Phase One. Honestly, I will be glad to get their litterboxes out of the house itself and have them – or most of them – living in a place that we can clean with a spritz from the garden hose. One of the cats we inherited from Mom has a dicey digestion, the other is willfully and deliberately incontinent … and I am just that tired of dealing with the mess, the smell, and the puddles of liquid or not-so-liquid matter.
Phase Two; a renovation of the guest bathroom, which is the one mainly used by the Daughter Unit. Easy peasy, relatively. The bathtub/shower is in relatively good shape, but the toilet and sink vanity absolutely have to go. It’s a very small bathroom, those two items are the original contractor-installed, and besides taking up too much space, they are ugly, and well past their best-if-used-by date. (We’ve seen other home-owners in the neighborhood put them out for bulk trash collection in the last ten or so years.) We plan to replace the sink vanity with a pedestal sink, a better grade of toilet, and paying Roman the Neighborhood Handy Guy to tile the floor with tiles which we got from a neighbor – leftovers from her own home renovation. Hey – the price was right, and there should be just enough of them to retile a tiny cubicle of a bathroom. Our plan also calls for tiling the wall behind where the vanity was with some nice bits of ornamental tile, which we will have to purchase, before Roman can install the new sink and toilet. Aside from that – Phase Two is relatively easy on the budget, although the Daughter Unit wants Roman to build a shelf-and-basket-drawer unit to go up the wall and replace the storage space lost with the vanity. More »

As a matter of fact, the pantry closet is for one, not lamentable. It’s about the size of an old-fashioned telephone booth, and my daughter kindly saw to sorting out several weeks ago while I was nurturing what I hope was a light case of the current flu. Yes, we have a decades-worth supply of bottled BBQ sauces and condiments, and an equally substantial collection of pastas and dried beans, all now neatly arranged on the shelves, not that pictures of the results would get  hundreds or thousands of likes on Instagram from what seems to be a sub-culture of women obsessed with neat pantries full of things in matching designer containers.

Look, I go for function – if I can find what I’m looking for in my pantry without thirty feet of rope, and one of those safety helmets with a miner’s light attached – it’s good. And such is now the case, although I do wonder what on earth I was were thinking of, when we ended up with two bottles of Fisher and Weiser Roasted Blueberry Chipotle sauce. I guess we thought it would be as good as the raspberry version … but seriously, dark blue sauce?

It was the freezer which I kept delaying doing a good clean-out, until this week.  It was packed, every shelf with … stuff. Those disapproving articles published or posted here and there, chiding Americans for wasting however many pounds it is of edible food that we are currently wasting? I just threw out my share this week. This is really the only aspect of housekeeping where I have always fallen short; raw kitchen scraps like potato and carrot peelings go to the chickens, used tea leaves, eggshells, and scraps like onion peelings unsuitable for the chickens go into the compost bin … but the freezer is where leftovers of cooked foods in Rubbermaid containers go until they are ready to be thrown out – freezer-burned, covered with frost, dried out or just plain unidentifiable. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. Good thing it has been bitterly cold this week, so the unidentified frozen blocks of … whatever … did hot have a chance to ripen into a substance which would gag a maggot at fifteen paces while waiting for the CPS trash collection truck had a chance to come and carry them away.

So – herewith my belated resolution for the new year; to make a dedicated effort to freeze leftovers, and on the following day to vacuum-seal, label, and date them. The vacuum-sealer is a great invention, BTW – essentially, what this does is to transform leftovers or extra portions of things into a home-made ‘boil in a bag’ entrée; fantastic for things like soups and sauces. Other things, like enchiladas and mac-n-cheese, I can put into a plastic bag, freeze to shape in the casserole dish that they will eventually be cooked in, and vacuum-sealed after they are hard-frozen. Next week – if still cold; the garage deep-freeze, of which nothing much will need to be thrown out, as most of it is vacuum-sealed already.  And that was my week, cleaning out the house freezer because it was too freaking cold outside. What about yours?

30. December 2017 · Comments Off on End of the Year Considerations · Categories: Domestic

All well, then for the closing out of the year? For a couple of years running, I had a list of ‘stuff’ to do, and would tally up at the end of the year what I had managed to accomplish on the list – what I had done, and what I had left undone. Most of those stated goals have been done and dusted several turns of the Earth ago. The main one left unaccomplished is my ambition to become the Margaret Mitchell of the Texas Hill Country, and earn sufficient from the book-writing to buy my very own little patch of valley – say around Sisterdale – and build a modest country dreamhouse bungalow on it. That is more of a dream than a readily-achievable goal, so my breath on this is not held with any great conviction. I should work more social media in marketing my various books, as I was able to do in November and December, but I had two books out in those months, and I would really like to take a bit of time and care with further historical installments … any way, as far as the achievable goals are concerned –
The main one is to renovate the back porch. We tore down the existing rather flimsy structure, with the aim of putting on a more solid roof, and screening in the sides with hardware cloth to make a ‘catio’ – where my daughters’ cats can live. And sleep, and eat, romp to their hearts content, and piss on stuff that doesn’t matter. We have a lovely design worked out, and Roman, the local handy-guy is keen to make it a veritable Disneyland for cats, with ramps, shelves, rope-wound columns for them to climb on, hammocks and hidey-holes … all of which can be cleaned off by a spritz with the garden hose. Roman has more business doing handy-guy stuff than he can shake a stick at, these days. He lives in the neighborhood himself, does splendid work and gets even more work by word of mouth reference.

The second goal is to do the patch of front garden to the left of the driveway – Miss Irene, our next-door-neighbor, an elderly and long-time resident of the neighborhood, now has a near relation (along with one of her grandsons) now staying at her house. Myron, the near relation, is keen to set up a small neighborhood yard-maintenance business. He wants to use the embarrassingly-neglected patch of my front yard as a sample garden and advertising for his business. It’s a piece about 15 x thirty, and it used to look nice, until the butterfly bushes all died, and a species of scraggly purple ruelia took over. It’s also right at a corner where practically everyone coming through the neighborhood stops and turns right to go farther into the neighborhood. We have a handshake agreement with Myron; I’ll buy or scrounge materials, he’ll do the same, I’ll buy or supply plants and come up with a design, and he’ll do the work.

I’m also doing his business cards and flyers, and when the garden patch is done, there’ll be a discrete little sign, referring admirers to his business. He and Miss Irene’s grandson are all gung-ho for this project. This will reap benefits for us both; Myron will have his perfect little patch of garden-services advertising, I will have a perfect little patch of suburban garden, and hopefully, Myron will be doing a ton of business on the basis of it. We have already introduced Myron to Roman, and they got on like a house on fire, being of much the same hard-working and perfectionist character. This is a neighborhood – our little patch of suburban paradise, which gets along perfectly well on the lubrication of personal acquaintance and references.

The third project will be to sort out the garage, and replace the garage door. At least a quarter of the sorting out was done when I had to replace the hot water heater, and throw out all the stuff that had been ruined by soaking in water leaking from the unit. But there is still stuff that needs to be sorted, and if required, pitched. Much of it is my daughters’- but the expense of replacing the door itself will be mine. I hope that at least two of these projects can be completed by next year – but not holding my breath on the third.

The feverish, body-aching, racking cough sort of cold, which I most assuredly did not catch through running briefly barefoot through the sudden miraculous snow-fall a week ago, nor from sitting out in the cold on a Sunday evening at the Pour Haus in New Braunfels for nearly eight hours. No, it is just the result of having been out and about among a lot of people during the cold-n-flu season. (I was originally going to give a miss to the Pour Haus event, but my daughter sprained-damaged her foot in taking a picture of the snow, when she climbed on top of one of the tree rounds in the back yard, in order to take a picture of the field behind, all covered in virgin white … and well, mothers do this kind of thing.)

So, in between nursing my low-grade temperature and wheezing bronchials, providing a human hot-water-bottle for slumbering cats and dogs, I have been working on a Watercress Press project, and sorting out the last of the Christmas shopping – ordering those gifts which will be drop-shipped and mailing those which we purchased locally … all without ever having set foot in a mall, or in a retailer any more complicated than the brand-new HEB on Bulverde Road. Yes, internet shopping is great, no, a cram-jammed mall or big-box retailer full of vaguely-haunted looking shoppers and endless Muzak versions of twenty-year old pop Christmas hits is not my notion of fun, even when I do not habe a code.

The last big Christmas project is to purchase the last few ingredients and begin constructing the seven or eight varieties of fudge that we make for the neighbors; fortunately, I am starting to feel well enough to be up to this. Besides the neighbors, containers of home-made gourmet fudge made with the finest ingredients – chocolate, butter, cream, and all – goes to Alfred the mailman, the guys who drive the CPS disposal truck, the express service delivery drivers, staff at the bank branch where we do business, the fire house across the way, the police substation on the north-east side, a couple of favored employers and clients … oh yes, we will have the good stuff on the way to you all by next weekend.

13. December 2017 · Comments Off on Winter Meditations · Categories: Domestic

 

Bare Footprints in the Snow

The last of our winter market events are done; our season was rather truncated, as the earlier markets proved not as profitable as hoped, and one – for which we had great hopes – filled up with other vendors before we could send payment. And what profits we did gain were dented by a computer melt-down on my part, and the necessity of purchasing a new tire for the Montero on Blondie’s. Even though the economy is supposed to be improving, you couldn’t prove it by the small merchants doing the mobile weekly markets this last quarter. And I am coming down with a horrific cold, and Blondie managed to injure her foot last Friday morning, trying to take a picture of the snow-covered field behind our house … yes, it snowed, seriously in San Antonio last week, much to everyone’s surprise. We were expecting a cold spell overnight, and Thursday afternoon delivered cold-blustery-rainy-water-sodden kind of weather, of a degree that made us grateful to retreat to a warm house, eat supper from a tray in front of the television – and then suddenly there was a horrific ‘whoomp’ sound from outside, and all the lights and the TV went off.

Yeah, power outage. Blondie assumed at once that someone had skidded through the T-intersection at the front of our house and piled into either the light standard, or the tree in the front yard. But no – “It’s snowing!”

Real snow – fat, fluffy flakes of white snow, falling as thick as they ever did on the night of a full moon in Utah, where we lived in the early 1990s. That’s one of those snow-falls where the clouds, the snow falling, and the snow fallen combine to reflect the light and make everything – if not as bright as noon, then at least as bright as twilight. I’m told that in Russia this phenomenon is called a “White Night.” The trees were laden with fluffy white snowflakes, the ground below thickly covered … it was beautiful, it really was. It doesn’t snow in San Antonio oftener than every thirty years or so, and this was real snow! We even took of our shoes and socks, and did what we did in Utah for the first heavy snow-fall of the year, which was to run barefoot through it, barefoot in our front and backyard through the fresh-fallen fluffy snow.

Didn’t last beyond midday the next day, of course – it didn’t even stay cold enough to harm any of the plants, even the blooming Christmas cactus. But it was beautiful, and a bountiful gift of the season. And best of all, it didn’t last long enough to do any real harm to the plants in the garden, which a sudden, rock-hard freeze would have done.

04. December 2017 · Comments Off on A Writer’s Work · Categories: Book Event, Domestic

… Is never done. Yes, I have been trying to fill out the note entries on my enormous spreadsheet of the American Revolution, with attention towards events and possible characters for the next Serious Historical Novel … but damn, I have a cat in my lap who is interfering with my typing and page turning … and Big Princess is not even MY cat. She is my daughter’s cat. (Why, why, why does she want to sit in MY lap when I am working at my computer. Sayeth the daughter – Because she wooves you. Not helping, sweetie…)

Tomorrow I expect to hear from a potential client with some extra paid work to be done, transcribing handwritten notes into a usable file. Yes, the book project is all but in the bag, but I cannot term him a client until the contract is signed and return, and the initial payment for work has been deposited. I also expect to hear from an editing client with his clarifications to his manuscript, which I must apply to his manuscript before doing the final pass-through edit and asking for final payment. Fortunately, this client has given every evidence of being pleased as punch with my efforts with regard to his memoir of an eventful childhood, so I have that going for me…

Today was a bit of a holiday between the event yesterday, and the potential work of the week. Saturday I was a participant in the last book event of my somewhat truncated year – the Book Corral in Goliad on Saturday, which went very well, especially in comparison with certain previous years wherein it was so cold that shoppers decamped early, swiftly followed by vendors concluding that there was nothing to be gained from hanging on, save death from exposure to bone-numbing cold. We ourselves packed up from Miss Ruby’s Author Corral at about 3 PM, knowing that once the doggie Christmas costume contest kicked off, that nothing much would be happening elsewhere along the square. This year, the Author Corral was again established in the forecourt of the Mustang Cantina, opposite a lovely little brick building which is set to become a boutique hotel, when interminable construction work is completed. Yes, the shale oil bidness has been good to Goliad; the historic courthouse square is now much spiffier in appearance then it was, back when I first did the Author Corral. Was it 2010, or 2011 – swift consult of my blog archives is inconclusive. One of those years, anyway. I so wish that I had been able to purchase the tiny silver single-action Army Colt with the cow-horn grips that one of the vendors – who had a whole display case of small silver replicas of fishing and hunting gear – all beautifully detailed and many of them workable. Alas, they all a bit pricy, and I never saw him again at subsequent events.

But anyway – I connected up with a good few fans of the books, including the woman who had paid for an advance copy of The Golden Road, and then when I lost her order form the next weekend – left me owing her a copy of my Gold Rush novel. Oddly enough, this time around, we sold two sets of the Luna City novels, which is only fair, since Goliad is one of the prime inspirations for Luna City itself.

And when we packed up and went away to walk the Square vendors, for a bit of Christmas shopping, I inadvertently left behind the bag with the striped bustle dress in it – since it turned so hot late in the day that I simply had to change. When we were about halfway through the circuit of the vendors on the Square, I was bitten several times on my left knee by a stray fire ant – what the hell? And now my knee is red and inflamed, and I kind of hope that I have another day to do my own thing tomorrow…

(This essay was originally written more than ten years ago, and is included in the ebook Happy Families; a reminiscence even then of what Thanksgiving was before I left home to join the Air Force. I think I was home with my family for that holiday perhaps four or five years since then. Dad passed away in 2010, Mom is a semi-invalid living with my sister and her family. I don’t know if my sister ever fixes the onions in cheese sauce – I certainly don’t.)

Fairly early on, Mom and Dad reached a compromise on the question of where the holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas would be celebrated: Christmas at our house, and Thanksgiving alternating between the grandparents’ houses: One year at Grannie Jessie and Grandpa Jim’s little white house on South Lotus, the next at Grannie Dodie and Grandpa Al’s in Camarillo. Since Dad was an only child, and Mom an only surviving child, all the hopes of constellation of childless or unmarried great-aunts and uncles were centered on JP, Pippy, Sander and I. We rather basked in the undivided attention, even as we regretted the lack of first cousins; there was Great-Aunt Nan, who was Grandpa Al’s younger sister, and Grannie Dodie’s two brothers, Fred and Bob. Fred had been a sailor on a real sailing ship in his youth and had lady in a frilly skirt tattooed on each forearm, who did the shimmy when he flexed his muscles: he also had children, so he was not invariably with us every Thanksgiving. Great-Uncle Bob was married to Great-Aunt Rose, and her sister Nita lived with them. Rose was frail and genteel, and her sister Nita plump and bossy, but they both had neatly marcelled short hair, in the fashion of the 1920ies, and both smelt deliciously of flower-scented dusting powder when hugged.

The menu was unvaryingly traditional, no matter if the table was laid out in the screened porch at Grannie Jessie’s, or set up in Grannie Dodie’s dining room and living room. Both of our grandmothers followed pretty much the same recipes for the turkey and bread stuffing, the giblet gravy and mashed potatoes with plenty of milk and butter whipped in. Both of them preferred opening a can of jellied cranberry sauce and letting it schlorp out onto a cut-glass plate, the ripples from the can unashamedly displayed to the world; at Christmas, Mom went as far as making cranberry sauce from a bag of sour fresh cranberries boiled together with sugar, but as far as the grandmothers were concerned, there was a reason that God had invented canned cranberry sauce technology.

Grandpa Al invariably carved the bird, expertly transforming it into neat slices of white and dark, to the tune of Great-Aunt Nan reminiscing about how he had inherited this marvelous skill from their father, Great-Grandpa George, the maestro of the carving knife and fork. Butler and valet to a wealthy manufacturing magnate, Great Grandpa George parlayed an inheritance into a thriving society catering business. To hear Great-Aunt Nan tell it, he could toss a roast into the air, make lighting-fast passes with a knife and have it fall onto the platter in neatly fanned slices. It was Grandpa Al and Great-Aunt Nan’s mother, though, who had the wonderful, unattainable recipe for the most perfect candied yams, or at least that’s how Dad remembered it.

Every Thanksgiving for a number of years became a running contest for Mom and the grandmothers to try and replicate this marvelous confection. They experimented yearly with yams or sweet potatoes, brown sugar and butter and additions of pineapple, or orange juice, or ginger, a bit of this and a pinch of that, to no avail. Every year, Dad tasted it and said judiciously
“It’s close, but…”
Finally Great-Aunt Nan unearthed a hand-written recipe for this Holy Grail of baked yams, written in Great-Grannie Alices’ very own hand. Mom and Grannie Jessie followed it to the letter, and presented the results to Dad. He tasted it, while we hung on his reaction, confident that we had finally achieved Great-Grannie Alices’ sublime, yammy perfection.
“Not quite…’ Dad said at last, while Mom and Grannie Jessie’s faces fell, and JP and I chorused “To dream the impossible dream…” Later in the kitchen, Mom and I concluded that since it had been by that time about twenty-five years since Dad had tasted those unattainable yams, it was entirely possible that he really didn’t remember exactly what they had tasted like.

There was never any question about the other holiday side dish, the marble-sized baby onions baked in cheese sauce: we all hated it, but Mom fixed it every year for Grandpa Jim, and whichever non-family guests felt adventurous. Grandpa Jim died when I was eleven, and that next Thanksgiving, Mom fixed them again.
“Why?” I asked, as she whisked the sauce one last whisk, and poured it over a casserole filled halfway up with onions. “No one ever ate it but Grandpa.”
“It’s traditional,” Mom said sternly. She scattered toasted breadcrumbs over the top, and put the casserole in the oven.

Grandpa Jim has been gone for forty-some years. Mom has to practically specially order the onions now, for the memorial cheese sauce and onion casserole, of which only Mom and the occasional daring non-family guest ever has more than a spoonful. The elders fell away, one by one: Grandpa Al, and Great Aunt Rose, then Great-Uncle Bob, the grandmothers, and finally Great-Aunt Nan, and the holiday table is now filled with my sisters’ husband and children, with my daughter and my brothers’ wives. The feasting and thanksgiving remain, though… and so do the onions.

 

14. November 2017 · Comments Off on A Day in the Life · Categories: Book Event, Domestic

We clocked the end of a relatively satisfactory day on Monday, after a somewhat grim weekend. The craft market in Bulverde on Saturday worked out semi-OK for me, but the event Sunday evening New Braunfels was a reminder of why I aged out of the bar-hopping and clubbing scene a couple of decades ago — and intermittent rain which moved the event indoors did not help … but Monday and today made up for it, as far as things accomplished.

One – successfully returning Georgina the Friendly Husky dog to her family. (We found Georgina last thing on Friday afternoon, wandering casually through our neighborhood, innocent of a leash, or any identifying tags, and not recognized by anyone in our neighborhood.) Not able to take her to the veterinarian to be checked for a chip until this morning, but she was the most amiable of canine house-guests in the meantime. House-trained, relatively obedient to the usual commands, clever enough to figure out how to open the latch on the front door, sort of OK with the cats. It turned out that her real name is Elsa, she opened a gate at her house in the next neighborhood over … and wandered. Her relieved owner confesses that she is a really, really friendly dog, as well as a clever one. She is a beautiful dog, much admired wherever we went with her; a sturdy blue-eyed,  black and white husky, wirh incredibly thick and plushy fur. If we had not been able to locate her owner, we already had a good home lined up for her

Second – our friend and neighbor, the Genius Handyman successfully cleaned and repaired a malfunctioning and dirty sensor on Blondie’s Montero, saving us the cost of a replacement item – at least, until the ‘check engine’ light went on again this morning. So, maybe a bit more tinkering, to ensure that the Montero is in fighting trim for next weekend market at Blanco’s old county courthouse — an outdoor market which necessitates use of the pavilion. Which does not fit into my car, although everything else does. If the Montero little problem cannot be fixed by then,  I have a roof-rack for my car, onto which we can load the pavilion.

Someday, when the mortgage is entirely paid and I have sold a great many more books, my daughter says that she would like us to buy a panel van or a pickup truck to use as our market-transport vehicle. That project remains a dream, as the mortgage will finally be paid off in March, 2020 – a little more than two years hence.

I researched certain reports and items relevant as to how the h-e-double toothpicks that the company which does print fulfillment and distribution for the Teeny Publishing Bidness has not sent us a royalty payment for a seriously considerable length of time. Oh, yes — when I called on this matter before, I got the response of ‘returns, sales, clear-the-account-at-the-end of-the-year-blah-blah-blah.’ Monday, I spent time enough on the phone with a representative who went far and above beyond that. And seemed rather nonplussed at how long this state of affairs had been going on. I had to send documentation of certain payments, as attachments … but after spending about an hour on the phone, I do have hopes of getting this matter cleared up, although today I had to spend a bit more time explaining this via email to a higher level of customer service person. We are a Teeny Publishing Bidness, and they are a Huge Corporate Conglomerate, but according to my research, they owe us money, and I am just about irritated about this to keep on them like a junkyard dog.

And finally – have done enough work on Lone Star Glory that I can ask for the cover template, so that is one more thing checked off the to-do list…

28. October 2017 · Comments Off on Great Moments in Seasonal Merchandise · Categories: Domestic

Spotted at my friendly neighborhood HEB – Behold!

Day of the Dead Lawn Flamingos!

21. September 2017 · Comments Off on The Best Bread Pudding in All the World! · Categories: Domestic

As promised several weeks ago, the recipe for The Best Bread Pudding In All The World, which featured as part of the breakfast buffet at the Giddings World Wrangler event. The member of the library board who contributed the bread pudding went home at mid-morning and made copies of the page of the recipe book that she took it from for all the guest authors, and made notes in the margin of the things she did to make it even better. (It’s Bon Ton Bread Pudding with Whiskey Sauce from a collection of recipes called Fine Dining Louisiana Style)

Soak 1 loaf of French bread in a quart of milk or half and half, and crush with hands until well-mixed.

Add:

3 eggs

2 cups sugar, (or one cup plain sugar and one cup cinnamon sugar)

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 cup raisins.

Melt three tablespoons butter in a thick baking pan (it was served in a 9×13 glass pan) and add the pudding mixture. Bake at 350 until slightly firm throughout and lightly browned on top. All to cool, and cut into individual servings. Serve with sauce poured over – the book calls for the sauce on top and then run under a broiler for a few minutes, but we had it on the side.

For the whiskey sauce, cream together 2 eggs and 2 cups sugar and eggs until well-mixed. Melt 2 sticks butter and add to egg-sugar mixture, with 1-2 ounces bourbon whiskey.