So, it’s silly and stupid, and I really put off this house improvement chore for far too long, mostly because I assumed that I would have to pay a massive ( MOAB-style, as more than $1,000) bomb for it – which I really couldn’t afford, because I am still paying and will for the next three years or so) the work done on the exterior of the house: the new siding, paint and windows. Which have made the house all ship-shape, water-tight and fit for service for probably at least three decades. At least, that is what the wording on the warranties says, and I won’t argue with that.

But I came out ahead this month, having a nice amount of money left over at the end of my month thanks some nice royalty checks and the work done and paid for with regard to a couple of new clients for the Teeny Publishing Bidness on the “assisting authors to self-publish” track. (I do the agreed-upon editing and formatting prep-work, cover design to their satisfaction, and hand them files they can upload to Ingram Spark, under their own name and ISBN.) I thought that I might as well eliminate another bit of household shortcoming by having some electrical issues remedied. This was caused by two of the male cats; they now live in the Splendid Catio, where they can do no more damage. At least to the inside. They were prone to spray on stuff. I have no notion of why they did this, habitually, but between them, they managed to demolish a number of household electrical outlets and appliances, with the result that some of the outlets and appliances were pretty much frelled and several connections to overhead fixtures were rendered non-functioning, though generous applications of cat pee on the linked electrical line. A good few years past, I paid a licensed electrician at their going rate to replace half a dozen of the outlets … which promptly were ruined when the little (explicative deleted) went through and did it all again within six months. Money wasted, as far as the long-term went. I did have a neighbor who was a licensed electrician and agreed to a couple of hours of work replacing outlets at the neighborhood friends rate, but I talked to him months ago, and he never responded to text messages and phone calls last week, so I went and appealed to Roman The Neighborhood Handy Guy, who is adept with all kinds of maintenance skills and possesses a more-than-full array of appropriate tools  … as a matter of fact, Roman TNHG is one of Wee Jamie’s Honorary Uncles, the one who will teach him carpentry and tile work, the very moment that Wee Jamie can pick up a power tool. Roman TNHG came on Friday and spent most of a day replacing nine outlets, a light fixture over the kitchen sink that we thought had been totally ruined as it was a cheap thing to start with, and a pair of light switches which had also been generously peed on. (Thanks, kitties – your contribution to the well-running of this household is so noted…)

(Daughter Unit to me, upon regarding the extracted switch elements. “Umm … I suppose we were lucky that the house didn’t burn down…”)

Bonus to that – the garbage disposal, as near-rusted out as it is, does function again. So do the lights and outlets in the kitchen, for which we are so grateful. We can actually use appliances in the kitchen plugged into more than a power strip on a single outlet and a cheap desk lamp on top of the refrigerator. And we can turn on the lights in the kitchen. Another step on recovering a fully-functional, somewhat energy-efficient house and small garden…

For some curious and mostly unexpected reason, I had quite a lot of money left over, coming down to the end of the month, and the Daughter Unit was feeling a considerable touch of cabin fever. For the last two months, she has been dedicated to tending Wee Jamie, the Grandson Unit, and studying for her Texas real estate agent’s license. This program was interspersed occasionally with trips to the grocery store, or maybe in a moment of daring, to Lowe’s for gardening and household maintenance stuff. On seeing that we could swing a brief road trip, we made a spur of the moment decision to hit Granzin’s in New Braunfels, and then to go eat a meal that we hadn’t prepared ourselves – to Blacks’ BBQ. We have rather missed the Red Hat ladies association that we belonged to for better than a decade; we met once a month for a lunch at a local mid-priced eatery; alas, four long-time members dropped out or moved away, another three died or developed serious health issues, and finally the last and youngest member besides the Daughter Unit moved with her husband to the Caribbean upon his retirement.

So, we fed Wee Jamie in mid-morning, and set out as soon as he was burped, calculating that we could be to New Braunfels and back before he would need his mid-afternoon feeding. I had it mind to check out the JoAnn store there (which is much nicer and more fully stocked than the San Antonio outlet, don’t ask me why) for suitable cotton fabric for another 19th century costume comfortable for summer wear, but the fabrics that would have worked for the vision that I had in mind were not on sale, and prices for fabrics have sky-rocketed to the point that I just cannot countenance paying them, not when I need them for a costume that requires at least eight yards of 60” fabric, plus all the extra notions like buttons, lining, thread, trim, et cetera. Eh – I found everything I wanted and could afford through an on-line outlet later in the day. Really, I wish now that I had pigged out even more than I did on fabric when Hancock Fabrics was having their closing sales.

On to Granzins’ which was jammed on a Saturday, but fully fitted with employees attentively manning the counter that stretches the whole length of the store. There are a couple of sections – the frozen sausage and Cajun specialities, which are on more of a help-yourself basis, the fresh/smoked sausage and bacon section, the deli and dried jerky and cheese, then the beef, the pork, and the seafood and chicken. On a weekend, or heading into a holiday, Granzin’s is packed with customers buying for a weekend at Canyon Lake or stocking up for a Saturday or Sunday backyard barbeque. The prices are good – almost better than HEB, and the quality is fantastic. Only a few items are pre-packaged. Basically, you can pick out the steak, or the roast, or the whole fryer chicken you prefer. And I don’t know where they get the chicken breasts – they must come off meat chickens almost the size of small turkeys. We’ve made two meals, sometimes, from one of the bigger half-breasts. They also stock a lot of local products – butter, honey, pickled vegetables, nuts, and seasonings. (Granzin’s in New Braunfels is behind Bluebonnet Ford, on a little side street called the Old McQueeney Road, which – if you are not looking sharpish for it along the access road to IH-35 – can easily be missed.)

Loaded up with various protein meats, intended to be parted out, sealed with the vacuum sealer, and stashed away in the freezer for the coming month. It’s been a couple of months since visiting Granzin’s, so we were a little low. The fresh garlic sausage, BTW is awesome, when sprinkled with a little olive oil and some Adams Reserve Texas Steakhouse Rub spice and baked. Our next-door neighbor still raves about the fresh garlic sausage that she brought back and baked for her family.

Black’s BBQ has the advantage of being one of four locations, branching off from the original location in Lockhart. Prior to a book event in Lockhart ages ago, we sampled the Kreuz Market, which was OK, as far as BBQ went, but nothing really special to our mind, in spite of all the hype. All the locals that we mentioned this to afterwards said that we should have gone to Black’s. Well, at last we made it, and the sausage and brisket was pretty darned good, although we still mourn the loss of the Riverside Meat Market in Boerne, which (cunningly disguised as a gas station on the corner of Main Street and River Road) produced the most awesomely good rotisserie chicken and BBQ beef brisket. (That space is an empty and grass-grown lot, now. Guess the Riverside was just too down-market for the upscale yuppie population in Boerne. I’d love to know the inside story, but I’ll bet it’s too depressing for words. The Riverside Market pit and BBQ doesn’t seem to have been replaced locally.) Black’s in New Braunfels has the advantage of a nice location, a roomy building designed in in the architectural style of Texas vernacular, which involves lots of rough stained beams, concrete floors and walls of galvanized tin panels, and a welcoming parking lot, which seemed to be mostly filled on a Saturday at lunchtime. The inside was cavernous and generously fitted out with heavy picnic tables and benches, which allowed diners to socially-distance as they chowed down. Wee Jamie slept happily through all of this, for which we were extremely grateful. He didn’t wake up and demand a bottle until well after we returned home.  

This, unlike the previous good eats, has a provenance, in that it is taken from Nava Atlas’ Vegetariana which I had ordered from a book catalog when stationed in Greece. I shopped in the weekly neighborhood street market, where the vegetables, fruits, eggs and cheese and all were inexpensive and often straight from the farm or orchard. We ate vegetarian, often for weeks at a time. This was one of our very favorite soups. Sometimes I have made up a gift basket for a friend or hostess of all the premeasured or prepped necessary ingredients and included this recipe with it.

Winter Lentil & Brown Rice Soup

More »

Jamie, the Grandson Unit is now two months old, as of this week. He is named for – in order, my great-uncle James (the young hero), my brother Alexander (the artist) and my father Page (the brainy scientist.) He will have any number of male exemplars among our circle of friends and neighbors other than his namesakes to model himself upon. Of them, one has promised to take him hunting, another to learn to fish, still another to work out in proper USMC form, a fourth to use power tools and learn construction and a fifth to be his formal godfather in the Catholic church.

Of course, at this point in development, sleeping throughout the night, or for more than five or six hours at a stretch is a mere, shimmering elusive dream, although he has, inconsistently, made it through up to six hours. He must be close to weighing nine pounds by our estimation, up from his birth weight of six pounds and a bit. He has definitely put on a growth spurt, as I measured his height with a tape measure the other morning – 22 inches, up from 17 at birth. He has a fringe of auburn-brown baby-fine hair, and rather long eyelashes. The dimple in his chin is still there, although with the weight gain, the chin is almost lost between the plump chipmunk cheeks. His eyes are still blue, and we hope they will remain so, although that won’t be absolutely positively certain for another year or so. He already has long, auburn eyelashes.

As for sleeping – he is the noisiest sleeping baby that I have ever encountered; vocalizing, murmuring, whimpering … and apparently, he can sleep with his eyes a quarter open. I predict that once he begins to talk, he will not shut up for a moment. There are already some small hints of individual character developing. He insists on being held until he is solidly asleep. He does not like being alone in a quiet room, without either the Daughter Unit or myself within sight or hearing. His belches and farts would be the envy of much larger and older males. He is already accustomed to being laid along my lap, or against my shoulder being burped while I do work one-handed on the computer. In the fullness of time, I will dress him in something 19th century boy-appropriate and he will help me flog books at literary events. Won’t he look gorgeous in a black velveteen Little Lord Fauntleroy suit with a white lace collar? The Daughter Unit nixes that – something more in the line of a knickerbocker trousers and waistcoat with a ‘Peaky Blinders’ newsboy cap is her preference.

Jamie, receiving incoming message from The Big Giant Head

There are people who say ‘enjoy them while they are little.’ Having been a parent, and now a grandparent – I can say that I enjoy children at every possible age that they are.

(Yes, I’m starting another Lone Star Sons adventure. This is the first of the new series of adventures, set in the time of the Republic of Texas. Hopefully to be done in time for Christmas sales…)

The Matter of Jedidiah

“Well, Jim,” said Captain Hays one summer evening, as they sat outside the front door of the small adobe house off of San Antonio’s central plaza, enjoying the cooler temperatures which fell as soon as the sun was well-down and the light breeze which discouraged mosquitos. “I have a curious assignment for you and Mr. Shaw as the pair of my stiletto men currently at liberty – and this one might even call upon your skills as a man of law.”

“As long as it doesn’t depend on my sharp-shooting ability,” Jim Reade replied, and his commander laughed, wry laughter. “Where need we travel to this time, and for what duty are we being charged?”

Across the plaza, the light from lanterns hung swaying in the trees above the tables where the chili-selling vendors hawked their wares. A thread of music from a trio playing guitar, fiddle and concertina, hung in the air like the smoke from the chili-vendor’s cook fires. The old town of Bexar came alive after sundown, when the heat of the day abated.

“A plantation a little west of Richmond,” Jack Hays leaned back in the leather and stave Mexican chair, and drew on his pipe, sending a small spiral of tobacco smoke upwards. “Pecan Grove; established in the earlies by one of Austin’s first three hundred settlers. A Scot named Josiah Malcolm, emigrated in his youth from Perth, settled in the Carolina, then took up land in Austin’s grant. He died about ten years ago, leaving the entire estate to his wife, Mrs. Ada Malcolm. General Sam always had a soft spot for Mrs. Malcolm, since they were neighbors. The thing is now Mrs. Malcolm died … and in the will, she willed everything, lock, stock and barrel to a certain beneficiary. General Sam has asked me privately, if I could send someone to safeguard the life of that beneficiary.”

“And there is someone contesting the will?” Jim Reade asked. “Were there no natural heirs to the property, who would inherit if there were no will?” This certainly sounded intriguing. He was aware, in a manner of speaking, of Pecan Grove plantation, and of Ada Malcom as a redoubtable woman of strong character.

Captain Jack Hays shook his head. “There was a son, but he was the supercargo on a China clipper ship lost at sea, as I understand, about ten years ago. Great tragedy, as all their hopes were invested in him. The person contesting the will and threatening the life of the beneficiary is a nephew, the son of Josiah Malcom’s younger brother. A feckless, useless sort of man – I’ve met him a couple of times. A gambler and unlucky at it, which you’d think would be an inducement to give up games of chance, but Hake Malcolm is nearly as stupid as he is unlucky. Always coming round to touch up his uncle for a loan. Old Malcolm used to indulge him for the sake of the family, but Mrs. Ada put a stop to it, as soon as she gained absolute control of the purse-strings and did Hake Malcolm resent that. Told everyone who would lend him their ears for five minutes, about what a miser she was, to flesh and blood…”

“Technically, she was not flesh and blood, but to her husband” Jim pointed out, and Jack agreed with a nod.

“Anyway – General Sam was fond of her, and he’s never been accused of being ungallant to any woman, save perhaps his first wife. He’s tied up with the Legislature in session for a few months, and he had a letter from the Malcolm family lawyer regarding the estate and the beneficiary…”

“And he’s worried about the Malcolm beneficiary?” Jim hinted, and Jack Hays nodded again.

“Well, he is the president, after all,” Jack drew on his pipe. “The one who trusts us to deal with interesting and delicate matters. And the beneficiary of a substantial estate being in danger from a resentful man who gives every indication of contesting the will … that’s as delicate a matter as they come. There’s just one thing…” Jack waited for Jim to rise to the bait. Jim didn’t; Jack was always holding back a key bit of information as a tease. Finally, Jim said,

“So, is there something we should know about this beneficiary which we are to protect, for the honor of General Sam and the nation of Texas?”

“Why, yes there is,” Jack replied. “The beneficiary whose life may be in danger is a tame macaw named Jeremiah.”