05. May 2023 · Comments Off on Projects · Categories: Domestic

Oh, yes – projects, I’ve got a few, and hoping to get most of them done with them by the time that my daughter and Wee Jamie return from California, after visiting family by next weekend. The tenants renting a house a couple of doors away from us move out – and leave a bunch of stuff. The tenant seems to have had hoarderish tendencies and told us that they are moving with family to Hawaii … so the pruning of household stuff has to be pretty drastic. Indeed, so drastic that there was a dumpster parked in the driveway for a couple of days.  Among the items discarded on the curb were some footlockers; my daughter snagged the two in best condition and … sigh … assumed confidently that I could do something creative with them, something that would return two battered and fairly cheap items to attractive functionality; one to be a toy chest for Wee Jamie, and the other to be storage/transport/display for Matilda’s Portmanteau merchandise … that would be the American Girl 18-inch doll dresses that I make for craft markets, out of scraps from sewing projects and this and that. I have a small trunk from Hobby Lobby that I fitted out for this purpose, some years ago, having purchased it with one of their 40% off coupons, but it wasn’t in the least satisfactory, being too small and too flimsy to hold more that a couple of items … the rest of the Portmanteau inventory is stashed in a couple of plastic tubs …

And anyway – part of my grand plan is to put all the Portmanteau inventory and Miss Matilda herself together in one container – the biggest of the footlockers and use the two plastic storage tubs for other purposes, like my daughter’s vast collection of Christmas stuff.

So far, the footlocker renovation project has necessitated two trips to Lowe’s for spray paint, a can of clear top-coat, and an assortment of small machine nuts and bolts. I will probably need one more trip for some slightly longer machine nuts and bolts to fasten on the replacement lock/latch on the smaller footlocker, which turned out to be metal-clad, with a composition wood-fiber interior that was sadly warped and needed to be stabilized with wood strips along the bottom. Plus I had to place an order to Amazon for the replacement latch, for peel-and-stick wallpaper rolls to adorn the inside, and a couple of replacement strap handles … and then there was a quick jaunt to Office Depot for heavy brochure paper and a roll of paper paste. The larger footlocker, which had a cheap cardboard casing, instead of metal, was damaged when I ripped off a couple of stickers … but never mind, those damaged patches will be hidden by a series of new stickers and the whole varnished over. An array of home-printed versions of vintage hotel stickers and shipping labels lifted from the internet will cover the damage, as Miss Matilda Doll is an experienced international traveler and only stays at the very best hotels in London, Paris, Venice, Rome, Bombay, and Singapore, while traveling by sea on Cunard, White Star and Hamburg-America. I may fit out the lid with rods to display the doll outfits on hangers.

At this juncture, with a week to go before Wee Jamie and my daughter return from California, the smaller trunk for Wee Jamie’s toys is all but finished, and the larger for Matilda is just started. I painted over the whole thing with brown paint yesterday and have begun masking off the main areas with painter’s tape now that the first coat is dry and hardened, so that the edge trim, corners, latches, hinges and handles can be painted a metallic black – a tedious and finicky process.

Almost as tedious as scraping and sanding off all the finish on the oak child’s armchair – which is also about half done.

One more week.

03. May 2023 · 1 comment · Categories: Domestic

Well, today I had a reminder of how those of us on the scene of, or immediately after an incident are the ‘first responders’ on the scene – generally beating out the police, fire department and ambulance, by minutes and sometimes hours. As this happened in a suburb, and on a heavily-trafficked intersection where two four-lane roads meet not half a mile from the fire station, the professionals were on the spot within five minutes. I’m certain other people had their cellphones out and calling 911 within seconds, as did I.

It was all very startling – and as these things usually do – happened in a matter of split seconds. I had concluded that I needed to make a run to Lowe’s for some more spray paint and other stuff for a couple of furniture renew projects and stop by the HEB grocery store for pet food on my way back home. So there I was, waiting in the left-hand turn lane on Nacogdoches, to turn left onto O’Connor, with one or two cars ahead of me, also waiting for the signal to turn green for us. The intersection seemed to be mostly clear; traffic waiting in both directions on Nacogdoches – first for the line of cars behind a small white compact, waiting to turn left from O’Connor, then for the other lanes to move.

I am not certain where the blue car came from – either flying up O’Connor from the direction of the highway, or up Nacogdoches in the other direction from me and trying to beat the red light. It was going at a good clip, at any rate. And it crashed head-on into the little white compact, just as it edged out into the intersection on seeing the light for the turn-lane go green. No matter which direction the blue car came from, it was going so fast that the impact flipped the white compact clear over, front to back. There it was, wheels up to the sky, and everything frozen for a moment.

It’s a peculiar metallic crunch, the sound that an auto crash makes, a sound that sticks with you. Several of us agreed on that, later. It’s the sound that an aluminum baseball bat the size of a small telephone pole makes, upon striking a pallet of empty cans.

It was a bit past noon on a working day, so there was a lot of traffic at the intersection – there’s a HTeaO outlet on one corner, a Black Rock Coffee outlet on the other, and across from those two enterprises on Nacogdoches, a CVS, and a Chase Bank with a good-sized HEB and a row of other enterprises behind it. I don’t imagine there was more than a moment before people began piling out of their cars, and going to the aid of the driver and whoever else was trapped in the white compact. It reminded me of the dash-cam video of the concrete pedestrian bridge over a busy artery in Florida a couple of years ago. A moment of shock … and then car and truck doors opening, and people – mostly men – running towards the scene of the collapse.

I was at a place where all that I could do was call 911 – and when I got through, the dispatcher already knew there had been a rollover at that intersection. I did manage to weave through the parking lot of Black Rock and make a way through the CVS parking lot – by that time, two police cars, an ambulance and a fire truck were already on the scene, and the police had all the witnesses that they needed for their reports. By the time that I came back through that intersection an hour or so later, everything was cleared away, all but a couple of piles of absorbing grit poured onto fluids leaked out of the crashed automobiles.

Reminder to self; remember to count to three before venturing into an intersection, upon the light turning green. Also – keep an eye out for a-holes coming the other way who don’t seem to be slowing down…

28. April 2023 · Comments Off on Pottering Around · Categories: Domestic

My daughter and wee Jamie, the Wonder Grandson are in California to visit family – notably my sister and her family, and to introduce Wee Jamie to them all. They are having a glorious time, so far … and meanwhile, I am getting things done, now that I do not need to schedule them around Wee Jamie’s naptime, appointments, walks, scheduled playtime with the therapists, bath time … all of it. So this was how I was able to write one book in a matter of three months, a trilogy the same length as Lord of the Rings in a mere two years … anyway, I am filling in the hours, pottering in the garden, refitting a couple of inexpensive steamer trunks that my daughter snagged from a pile of discards from a neighbor who is moving lock-stock-and-barrel to Hawaii. One trunk is to be Wee Jamie’s toy chest, the other to be the storage, transport, and display for Matilda’s Portmanteau goods. Both are battered, and rather dirty, and … well, I’ll see what I can do with them. I also must refinish and repair a small oak armchair for Wee Jamie, against the day when he outgrows several other baby chairs.

Then there are a couple of sewing projects, notably a white cotton early 20th century blouse from Past Patterns, sized up to fit me in my present incarnation and trimmed with crocheted ecru lace. The Seguin book festival has been moved back to late in the year, which I am grateful for, as it is a two-day outdoor event, and April in Texas is about the last time of the year that I can endure such, in my customary Victorian/Edwardian costumes.

And the garden … I’ll go on planting seeds and transplanting seedlings, as I have a goal of eating fresh garden-grown vegetables daily and freezing any surplus. The pea plants did so very well, I will probably want to plant more, as they mature and die off. The beans are doing so nicely that I’ve had a good few side dishes of fresh green beans in the last couple of weeks. The first crop of bush beans are likely soon to age out of productivity, but I have several pots of pole beans coming along. I rather like pole beans, since they grow up, rather than producing only at ground level. Tomatoes … I also have a good lot of tomato plants coming along at various stages of development. Yes – tomatoes; infinitely variable in use.

And this might be the year that I have edible squash of various sorts (cross fingers here) – especially the small green ruffled patty-pan squash, which I deeply adored as a kid. They were cheap. readily available, tender, and tasty, and Mom bought them frequently – but where are they in markets today? I haven’t seen patty-pan squash in ages in the supermarket.  As for zucchini, they are often seen, but expensive, so I’d like to grow them. I’ve never been able, save for one single year, to have a good zucchini crop – and the joke is that anyone can grow zucchini and have enough of the darned things to inflict on your neighbors, by leaving a bag full of them on the doorstep, ringing the doorbell and running away. The only year that I did have a couple of edible zucchini squashes was the year that I tried out some exotic hot-weather variety from Lebanon, in a raised bed … and I think I had all of two or three. The squash-borers get to them, it seems, unless one is very lucky.

And that’s my week, since getting up very early Sunday morning and sending off my daughter and Wee Jamie on the train to California. Yours?

My daughter and the Wonder Grandson, Wee Jamie, are off in California for three weeks, visiting family,  showing Wee Jamie to his living ancestors, cousins, great-aunt and uncles and assorted other kin, and giving my sister and her family a bit of a break, in looking after Mom, who is mostly paralyzed and bedridden, since a fall in her kitchen some years ago. This leaves me alone in the house, or as alone as one can be with a pair of dogs, three cats and two hyper-energetic kittens. (They all seem to be extra-clingy to me, in the absence of my daughter and Wee Jamie, though.) Is there a feline version of Ritalin for kittens… no particular reason for asking. Really. I am under strict orders from my daughter to check in with the next-door neighbor, Miss Eileen at least once a day, or else a welfare check from SAPD will be ordered up. No kidding. On an occasion in the early Oughties, when the Daughter Unit was still in the Marines, one of the cats knocked the bedroom telephone extension off the night table, and I didn’t notice. The Daughter Unit tried to call me for most of a day and only got a busy signal. A nice patrol officer from the local substation rang the doorbell early in the evening…

I’d rather not have that happen again.

Not having to work my day around Wee Jamie’s naptime, activities, exercise and appointments allowed me to get an enormous lot of stuff done, over the last several days – laundry without worrying if the noise from the washer and dryer would disturb his nap, time at the computer without little hands grabbing for my phone, keyboard or mouse, or keeping an ear on rotating alert for dangerous noise or even more dangerous silence … and time in the garden without worrying.

The range of potted herbs and veggies by the front door

The Greenhouse, with one of the newly-paved sitting areas

Yes, the garden. The greenhouse is done, and altogether splendid, although I made some mistakes in installing the eave panels, mistakes that I can’t go back and remedy, not without tearing it half apart again. Better just to adjust and move on … move on to covering more of the side garden with pavers to permit sitting areas and clusters of potted plants; the soil here is so dense and clay-like that I have long given up trying to grow anything in it. Better to pave with ornamental pavers and pea gravel and containers on top, or larger metal-sided raised beds full of purchased garden soil … the container garden is burgeoning with green, after a number of days of rain. We’ve already had several side dishes of fresh beans and peas. Last night I had two small red potatoes from the raised bed, and they were delicious and creamy. I’ve depended for weeks, nay, months! on the blessings of fresh basil, parsley, oregano, fennel, cilantro, sage, and dill from the pots by the front door. The container garden holds a tempting promise of tomatoes of all sorts, okra, squash and peppers of all kinds, from Bell to various exotic hot peppers. I’ve managed to fill an extended raised bed with topsoil, leaf mulch from the mulch pile, and maybe I’ll be able to plant some more beans, corn and pumpkins in it by the end of the week.

Of other projects – besides finishing the Civil War novel – three of them concern items that the Daughter Unit snagged at yard savings, or from a pile of discards from a neighbor who is moving to Hawaii and ditching every shred of excess to needs items; an oak child’s armchair and a pair of small steamer trunks. One is to be fitted out as a toy trunk for Wee Jamie, the other to be an all-in-one traveling display and storage for Miss Matilda. I’m hoping to finish all three by the time that my near family returns from California.

(This is a fragment, out of sequence in the current W-I-P, That Fateful Lightning, a novel of the Civil War that I intend to finish by summer. Minnie Vining, having served as a field nurse all during the War, never knows that the patient that she and Surgeon-Major MacNelly are tending is her nephew, Peter Vining – who returns from the war in the opening chapters of Adelsverein: The Harvesting.)

At the End of the Fight – April, 1865

The last Confederate armies were dissolving, as they fell back from Petersburg, falling back west into the gently-folded hills, wet with April rain. Everyone said so. Richmond had fallen, came the word among the teamsters; the traitor Jeff Davis had fled, no one knew where he and his fellow secessionists had gone to earth. The Negro contrabands who did the hard labor of setting up a hospital in the muddy fields did so with a cheerful air that day. Still, Minnie heard the distant crackle of rifle fire, as she and the other volunteer nurses set up the wards for a hospital near a small town at the crossroads, west of Petersburg. There was no particular reason to set up in this place, save that a half-wrecked barn looked to have served as a shelter and surgery for the retreating Confederates. Most of those injured left behind were still alive, although verminous, half-starving, and very, very ill – from wound fever, malaria, semi-starvation, and camp-fever or perhaps all four in combination.

There had been a stack of putrid amputated arms, legs and blood-soaked garments left in a pile seething with flies on the far side of the barn. Minnie, holding folds of her apron over her nose and mouth, had instructed the orderlies to start a bonfire – and if the wood was too wet to burn, to dig out a trench and bury the reeking pile.

The war seemed to have dissolved into sporadic running skirmishes, as the last of General Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia fell back towards the west, towards the high green ridges that ran like a spine down the length of Virginia. Those men who fancied themselves tacticians said that Lee was trying to break south, to join up the General Johnstons’ force in Tennessee, but that ‘Little Phil’ Sheridan kept leapfrogging ahead of him, blocking escape of what was left of the largest Confederate army. Looking out from the cluster of cream-colored canvas Army tents and pavilions which made up the hospital, she could see the wet countryside, the muddy and rutted road over which an army had lately passed, see where planks had been laid down in those spots where the mud was deepest. Rumors flew that General Lee was on the point of surrendering – but rumors always flew thick and fast, among the marching armies.

“Dr. McNelly says that we are not all that far away from Richmond,” she remarked to Lavinia Dillard, as the two women stood under the shelter of a large wall tent, the front flaps turned back to admit light and air, “I visited there, once. Years ago – to visit close kin. Alas, we parted ways over the matter of abolition – my cousins’ folk were all for slave power, and I couldn’t not countenance remaining silent. I suppose that the war will be over soon. I wonder if I should venture a visit there, now.”

She wondered increasingly of late, how the war had treated Susan and Ambrose – and the husbands of Susan’s daughters, all of whom would have been expected to join the Confederate brigades. She counted back the years since that momentious visit, enshrined in her memory like amber. Yes, even Lydia and Charlotte’s first-born sons would have been old enough to serve as soldiers; if not when Fort Sumpter was fired on, then at least in the last few years.

Maybe one of those sons lay on a cot in her hospital at this very moment; wounded and sick nearly to death.

“I don’t suppose that you would be received with any more courtesy,” Lavinia replied. She fidgeted with a corner of the apron tied over her work-dress. “After all the blood and the misery, and the hatred … it will be almost impossible to put it out of mind and go back to being one country again.”

Minnie nodded in agreement. “We’re doing at least something to make up for it, in tending their wounded; resolving at that moment, that she and the nurses would do everything possible to see that no more soldiers died under their care.


Certain word of General Lee’s surrender came more than a week later – at mid-morning. As if in acknowledging that miracle, the sun came out from behind the lowering grey clouds. The trees around had put out fresh green leaves – and even the bare-shorn fields where the hospital had been set up were furred with new growth. Minnie went to find Surgeon Major McNelly, the chief of the hospital and senior surgeon. She had worked with Surgeon McNelly for some months and liked him very much for his grasp of practicalities – and that he was a very good surgeon; adept and above all, swift with his bone saw and his needles. He was an older man, somewhat fat, who had served in the regular Army medical service, well before the war began. He had a wife living in Baltimore – that she knew, as he received occasional letters from her, and two sons – one in the Army, Surgeon McNelly said, vaguely, the other still in school, engaged also in learning the practice of medicine, intending to follow in his father’s footsteps.

She found him in the main ward – two big wall tents joined together, the ends open for the fresh air that it admitted. Forty cots it held, twenty to a side – all of them occupied by patients. At least half of them were those who had been left behind by the retreating Army of Northern Virginia, too sick or unconscious to be moved. Surgeon-Major McNelly sat on a folding camp stool next to the one nearest the open end, placidly puffing on his pipe. Suddenly worried, Minnie touched the back of her hand on the patient’s forehead and turned back the covers on him. This was a Confederate soldier with his left arm gone below the elbow, in a hurried surgery which had every indication of having gone in a bad way, when those survivors of a crude Confederate hospital way-station had been collected up from where they had lain in fouled coverings or none at all, in the dirty straw of the wrecked barn and put to clean cots and fresh dressings in a properly-organized hospital. With relief, Minnie saw that the black horsehair stitches over the stump where a lower arm and hand for this poor young man had once been, were no longer oozing – no blood, no evidence of putrid discharge.

“Doctor, is there something wrong with this patient?” Minnie demanded.

Surgeon-Major McNelly took out his pipe from his mouth and replied, “No … he is merely one of those whom I am glad to see that rough surgery and neglect didn’t carry off, in spite of every invitation to do so. His appearance just reminds me of my son.”

“Your son?” Minnie replaced the coverings on the unconscious patient, noting that his temperature was normal – the hectic flush of a high fever was gone. He was a tall young man, almost too tall for the standard hospital cot, with fair lank hair falling across his pale forehead, a young man gaunt with deprivation and hardship. There was a scar across one cheek and brow of that slack and unconscious face, pulling one eyebrow upwards – an otherwise pleasant and even handsome countenance. “The lad who is presently in school?”

“No,” Surgeon-Major McNelly replied, with an indefinable expression of sorrow. “My older son. Edward. He would have been … twenty-six this year. But we received word last year that he was killed during the Gettysburg fight. With the First Marylanders in Steuart’s brigade, attacking Union positions on Culp Hill. He was a believer in the rights of states to determine their own, you see. And so he went with the Confederacy, when it all began. His choice, although it grieved his mother and I no end, almost more than hearing that he had died in the slaughter there.”

“I am so sorry,” Minnie replied, shocked down to the soles of her feet in sensible boots. “I didn’t know … although I can see now…”

Surgeon-Major McNelly sighed. “The things that this war has done to us. Rending brother from brother, father from son – family against family, just as it was with your Richmond kinfolk. I had always believed – as I think that you also believe, Miss Vining – that the peculiar institution was a poisonous boil, one which might eventually have caused the death of the nation, just as such a boil would have proved fatal to one of our patients. Such a boil would have to be lanced and drained of pustulent matter, for healing to truly begin … as painful as that process might be. I wonder, though – if we had any notion of how awful a slaughter that it turned out to be, and five years of it, from here to the Mississippi and beyond! Would we all have gone to war so eagerly, as if it were all a game for boys … boys like this one, like Edward, my son? What difference might it have made, if any at all.”

“Over a quarrel that should have been resolved sensibly.” Minnie replied, stoutly. Surgeon-Major McNelly shook his head, somberly. “No. The matter was not one which could have been resolved peaceably, not when there was no intention of either side to compromise on a single iota. Not after so many poisonous words said, so many vile accusations thrown at each other. Was it all worth it, I wonder? Will it have made any difference in the end? Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when He blows upon them and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble…

Rather shaken, Minnie considered the quandary that Surgeon-Major McNelly suggested; all the lives that the war had cost – above all, the life of Richard Brewer, leaving Sophie a widow in deepest mourning, Richie and baby Sophie orphaned, the dead and dying in windrows of blue and gray, swept by a scythe of lead shot falling like hail had cut them down without mercy between one moment and the next. There must be millions of bereaved widows and children. Dying was cruel and brief, for the most part – but for those who had loved their soldiers, the living in grief would go on for years. She looked out beyond the trampled meadow, to a stream running close to the edge of the wood where the hospital laundry had been set up. Great cauldrons had been set up over fires to soak soiled bedding and clothes in hot cleansing water, and when scoured clean, to be hung from lines strung between trees. The camp-followers and laundresses, the men cutting and hauling wood to feed the fires – all of them Negros – and all now free men and women. Free to work where they wished, to marry whom they wanted, and now assured that their children, their husbands, wives, and parents would never be torn away from them, sold to another owner, never to see their loved ones again. She remembered what Miss Van Lew had said, after Pres Devereaux had successfully bid for the club-footed girl with her infant boy– what was her name? Lizetta, and the other little girl, who was all but white and now living the life of a respectable ministers’ wife in Illinois, burying her slave past as if it had never happened. ‘It is little enough, in the face of the numbers … but this little means everything in the world to Lizetta and Josephine.’

“So much to us,” Minnie replied at last, looking across at the laundresses hard at work. “But it will mean ever so much more to them.”

Surgeon-Major McNelly grunted, cynically. “A great price we paid for their freedom,” he said. “I hope they’re grateful for it.” He looked down at the sleeping patient, the Confederate soldier who reminded him of his dead son. “It’s cost this lad his hand and half an arm. I wonder if he will grudge that price?”

Minnie looked at the tall, fair young soldier, now maimed for the rest of his natural life, be it a long or a short one. “Might he be one of your sons’ comrades, do you think?”

“I doubt it,” Surgeon-Major McNelly replied. “One of the other lads says they were about the last left of Hood’s Fourth Texas Infantry.”

At that moment, there was a sudden murmuration in the camp, a murmur like a disturbed beehive, punctuated by shouts and grief-stricken wailing. Something was wrong, something had happened.

“He’s dead!” a voice cried from the margin of the trampled road. “Father Abraham is dead! Murdered!” There was a crowd gathered by a lathered horse – a courier had come and gone, leaving consternation in his wake, spreading like ripples in a pond into which a heavy stone had been thrown. Surgeon-Major McNelly sprang to his feet, moving faster than one might have thought an older, fatter man capable of moving.

Minnie followed the surgeon, running in an attempt to keep up with him. The center of a weeping crowd of black and white, soldiers and civilians, woman and men, lamenting together. Surgeon-Major McNelly reached the crowd well ahead of Minnie, spoke to a sergeant with many stripes on his blue sleeve, a man with tears running down his grizzled cheeks. It was bad news, Minnie knew, as if she had been there. When she caught up, gasping from her own haste, Surgeon-Major McNelly turned toward her, his own countenance already grief-stricken.

“The president is dead,” he said, plainly. “He was attacked two nights ago by an assassin and passed away the next morning.”

Minnie gasped in horror, grief piercing to her heart – this was even worse than when Richard died before Petersburg not even a year ago. Dear Mr. Lincoln, his bony countenance alive with humor that never quite erased the somber look in his eyes.