28. February 2024 · Comments Off on In the Garden – Spring 2024 · Categories: Domestic

So I am going to try again in the garden this year, since I have the greenhouse that I purchased and assembled last year – too late in the year to do vegetable starts from seeds in a sheltered environment, but this year in the nick of time. The last predicted freeze in this part of Texas is for mid-March, and I have a whole specialty scrapbook of seed packets assembled from various sources. The last couple of winters – cold, frozen and miserable – and summers (boiling hot and dry) have done a number on a lot of gardens. I think my back-yard Santa Rosa plum is entirely dead, and so are all three of the potted citrus plants. But this year, the local HEB chain has favored us with a nice assortment of roots for things like rhubarb, potatoes and onion, so I am having a go at the first two. I may go back and try a crop of onions – the trouble is that onions are so very inexpensive that it’s hardly worth the hassle of making garden space for them.

Rhubarb, on the other hand … I love fresh green beans and peas, garden cucumbers, tomatoes, and peppers of various sorts. And I’ve had excellent luck getting them started from seed, as well as herbs of every description. Nothing beats having fresh basil, thyme, sage, parsley, chives, and cilantro instantly on hand. When I was just newly established in San Antonio, I regularly went to the yearly Herb Festival, when it was set up at a local park pavilion and bought a small potted bay tree one year. That sprig in a small pot graduated to larger and larger pots, until I finally planted it in the ground out in the front yard – to my recollection, I have not bought dried bay leaves in years. Neither, I don’t believe, have any of my neighbors. The tree itself got to be thirty feet tall, until nipped by Snowmagedden – but it bounced back and now is about fifteen feet and densely packed with leaves. The birds love it, for the shelter thus provided. As for other herbs, I once had a parsley plant establish itself so firmly that the stem became the size of a small pinecone. The pot of chives comes back, year after year – maybe the thyme will. If not, I have seeds for it, and for sage.

On the other hand, depressingly – growing zucchini escapes me entirely. Which is exasperating, because that is one of those vegetable garden plants which is legendarily supposed to over-produce, to the point of stories of gardeners abandoning sacks of zucchini bounty on the doorsteps of strangers, ringing the bell and running away. But I am going to try it anyway. Costco had super-big bags of raised-bed/container garden soil at a very reasonable price, and I bought two of them. I’d have been out planting zucchini, cabbage and squash seeds today, but I had to spend some time securing and closing up a gap in a corner of the Amazing Catio, where a large racoon was getting in and raiding the cat’s food dispenser – a gap about six inches wide near the eaves, where the bugger was getting in, and sending Benji the dog absolutely spastic in the middle of the night. Sigh. Renovation of the house three doors down has been going on for nearly a week, now, and a whole colony of racoons and other rodents were evicted from those premises – and obviously, they are now looking for alternate digs.

And there are no citrus plants anywhere but Costco, and those are big ones, at a price that I am reluctant to pay, especially as none of them were lemons or limes, which is what I really, really want, in order to replace the ones killed by winter. Sigh – perhaps a visit to a local nursery – but they might be even more expensive there. I swear that Snowmagedden a couple of years ago must have demolished the plant nursery business the length and breadth of South Texas, and prices for potted plants almost immediately doubled – well ahead of the price of everything else doubling as well.

As it happens, the sale of that ‘hoarder house’ was finalized on Thursday this last week. This was the house several doors from mine, built pretty much to the same plan, which had not been lived in for nearly eight years, when the woman who lived there passed away suddenly. She was a hoarder, and gradually became somewhat unbalanced. The technical owner of the house was her estranged husband, who finally was prevailed on to sell it to an investor entity whom my daughter had done work for as a real estate agent. The investors originally wanted to take possession early this month, but the owner’s handyman nephew was still clearing out stuff … and more stuff … and even more stuff, most of it in a ruinous condition, since the place had been invaded by rodents and racoons. The roof had also leaked massively, and part of the ceiling drywall had fallen in places …the hot water heater, bathroom fixtures, and HVAC system were all original contractor-grade installations from when the house was built in 1985. As my daughter observed cheerfully, there wasn’t anything in the place that couldn’t be fixed by a gallon of gas and a book of matches.

But it’s a small, compact cottage in an attractive, affordable, nicely-located, and established neighborhood (but not top-drawer expensive) convenient to two military bases, nice stores and other attractions on the outskirts of San Antonio … so it was well worth it to the investing consortium to purchase the wreck of a house. Still, we were considerably astounded when three pickup trucks and a massive dumpster materialized the very first thing on Friday morning – the day after the sale closed! – and work of renovation commenced even before the sun was well up. Everything down to the studs and the concrete slab foundation will have to go, being ruined through weather, age, and animal incursion. This includes interior drywall, all fixtures, floor covering, exterior siding, roof … everything. My daughter tells me that the investors hope to have their work crew have it all done in time to put it on the market for the summer moving season. In a single day, all the cabinets, bathroom fixtures, remaining carpets and cabinets were removed, and piled in the dumpster, which was amazing, considering – and a darned good start for getting all reno work done in time. As for myself, I’m wondering on the sequence of renovation – will they do the inside first? Or fix the roof and exterior siding, in order to preserve the new interior? In any case, my personal bet is that they will fill up the dumpster at least three times.

15. February 2024 · Comments Off on Back in the Swing… · Categories: Domestic, Random Book and Media Musings

… in the swing of things, generally. The current crud, seasonal flu, heavy pollen allergies, new COVID variant or whatever – or a combination of all of these – laid my household low for the last week. First my daughter, who was exposed to the mold, dust and assorted animal-dropping crud inside a derelict house that her investor clients were interested in purchasing and gutting. She was recovering from the massive affront to her immune system, when Wee Jamie began running a temperature high enough to be of concern. Pronounced by the pediatrician to be not in any danger, he recovered in a day and a half … and then I fell in turn. Fortunately, a lot of daytime sleeping and rounds of Theraflu knocked back the worst of whatever – but I had a seriously reduced interest in doing very much at all over the last week, beyond walking the dogs around the block, checking various blogs, answering email, and crawling back into bed.

The YA pioneer trail adventure is chugging along, though – I’m doing some refresher reading for it. Another commenter on regular weekend book post that I participate in recommended the Lockley collection, and I sent away for two volumes of the Lockley Papers. Fred Lockley was a turn of the last century writer and local news reporter in Oregon; he had a practice of interviewing as many of the old pioneers as he could corner and setting down their unvarnished reminiscences about the trail and the early days. The Lockley archive ran to thousands of interviews of first-hand recollections of all kinds of people, many of them children or teenagers at the time of the events related. It’s basically the same sort of goldmine for researchers as was J. Marvin Hunter’s collection of interviews of Texas trail-drivers; both men were from the same generation and had the same background in newspaper reporting. I’m also reading some of the Lockley volumes to get a sense of the archaic voice and vocabulary of the time.

It wasn’t all skittles and beer, either – several of the accounts were from surviving sisters of the Sager family – seven brothers and sisters, the smallest a newborn infant, whose parents both died on the trail. The Sagers were adopted by Oregon missionaries Narcissa and Marcus Whitman – and orphaned again several years later when the Whitmans were murdered by Indians angered by Dr. Whitman’s inability to save their people from an epidemic of measles which were ravaging the local tribe. Another woman related the murder of her father and three small younger brothers in another Indian uprising. Later, her mother was murdered by two white men who were convinced that her mother had some money hidden away and tried to force her to reveal the hiding place. Yep – trauma galore, but only some of this will be part of my narrative; it will be happening to other people, on the fringes of my heroine’s story.

Anyway, this was the first day that I felt up to working on a project; it wasn’t a book project, I regret to say, although it was at least as much fun – another miniature scene, this one of a garage, full of tools and car parts, and advertising for various automotive products. A fun build, and very much outside the usual project of this kind, which more usually runs to twee little bookstores, coffee shops and homey kitchens. And so – now that it is done, after a day and a half of fitting, gluing, sanding and painting – back to the book projects.

We spent most of Saturday morning doing the semi-monthly grocery shopping run; a rather abbreviated run as it turns out, as my daughter has some houses to show on Sunday to clients who work Monday-Friday. We have given up driving to New Braunfels once a month to drop a goodly lot of money on meats from Granzin. This is lamentable, as Granzin’s sausages and the various meats, fresh, marinated, smoked and dried were absolutely prime and relatively inexpensive, but with Wee Jamie, a full schedule of real estate stuff for my daughter, and the nerve-wracking drive on a busy highway … road trips like that were just not something we can keep on doing – and never mind the hours’ long trip to Pflugerville or Victoria to the Aldi outlet. (That’s for when we are going in that direction for something else, anyway.)

The cost of most grocery staples has gone up, making certain economies necessary. I’m accustomed to cooking most things from scratch and have lived through patches of extreme economy and a limited budget, so the shopping list doesn’t include much in the way of frozen prepared items anymore – just basic ingredients. As my daughter says – ‘We are Old Poor, compared to the New Poor,’ for whom necessary austerity must bite very hard in the last year or so. But even basic ingredients have increased in price, to the point where now the military base commissaries offer a better deal than HEB, the Texas grocery chain, which has a huge distribution center here in San Antonio, and which has run just about every other national chain out of the state. (It’s a small town indeed, which doesn’t rate a HEB grocery outlet.)

This wasn’t always the case. When I first came to Texas, assigned to the video production unit at Lackland AFB, it was honestly even money whether HEB offered better pricing than the Commissary – various HEB locations certainly offered a wider selection than the commissaries, which mostly featured national big-name brands, and offered in-store bakeries and deli counters and numerous Texas-local brands. After so about a decade and a half of having the base commissary as the only and often limited grocery option, I was glad to shift my grocery-purchasing custom to HEB, and the lavish array of staples and specialty foods on offer, and to either Costo or Sam’s Club for items we used in quantity. We still do Costco, for certain items, and Chewy for pet food … but we’re back to making a commissary runs twice a month. It turns out that the DOD has extended commissary and PX access to veterans across the board, not just retirees, which means that my daughter can shop there for baby and toddler food for Wee Jamie, as the prices for the brands that we favor for him are somewhat less expensive – one thing that has changed for the better, I guess.

19. January 2024 · Comments Off on Misplaced Sarcasm · Categories: Domestic, Random Book and Media Musings

One of my occasional internet stops is a group blog featuring analysis of costuming, hair and makeup in a wide range of movies, TV shows and miniseries set in all periods and countries, up to the late 1950s or so. The various contributors have, between them, considerable expertise in aspects of historic costuming, apparently unlimited time, access to the material under consideration, sharp eyes for detail, and a reservoir of snark the size of Lake Michigan. Now and again some of them have gone all out for diversity, inclusion and equity, but not to an absolutely insufferable degree; mildly annoying, but not enough to put me off returning. I have a mild interest in historic costuming, since I do like to dress in period Victorian or Edwardian attire for book events. And the sarcasm is occasional diverting, especially when aimed at badly done costuming, or at a variety of commonly-committed goofs in the genre – things like corsets without any shift underneath, metal grommets in lacing-up garments much before the late 19th century, a tragic lack of hairpins and hats in settings when they would have been required absolutely, zippers up the back of costumes … I’ve occasionally waxed sarcastic about some of these aspects myself.

The other limit to the range of movies considered, besides pre-1950s, is that they don’t ‘do’ war movies, ancient and modern, not having any interest or expertise in uniforms and generally no interest in war movies anyway. Which is a perfectly OK principle to maintain … but just this week, one contributor yielded under protest into watching Band of Brothers because her boyfriend wanted to watch it. Apparently she was so resentful about having to watch that she posted about the experience; just stills of the various actors with a bitter and brief tagline about what their other acting roles had been and a request for judgement on whether she was an a-hole for not relishing the series, as all those white boys looked alike when covered in dirt. Oh, my – the comments on that post were pretty fiery. I’m still working out in my own mind why I was so offended by the flippant dismissal. Likely it’s on the principle of keeping silent if you can’t find anything nice to say. You know – if you and your weblog doesn’t do war movies and don’t know anything about military uniforms, then you just might be better off giving a miss to posting about it all, rather than being spiteful and sarcastic.

But there is a bit more than that; Band of Brothers is an excellent series; the producers took every care to make it as accurate as possible (which at least she gave credit for), and to cast actors who looked as much like their real-life counterparts had appeared at the time. As a dramatic representation of what it was like for the guys of Easy Company in the European Theater 1944-45, Band of Brothers is as good as it ever gets. It just seemed like the blogger/contributor was just dumping on a generation of men because she had to watch a series about them.

I don’t know if I will go back to checking out their posts, after this. I can get my fix of costume design and historical critique at Bernadette Banner and Prior Attire, I think.