21. July 2023 · Comments Off on Sorting Things Out · Categories: Domestic

Automobile things, mostly; to do with the Montero Sport SUV which has been the Daughter Unit’s chief mode of transportation since 2007. It has increasingly become a money pit, and the final straw was reached when the garage told us that the head gasket had not much longer to live, and the cost of replacing it would be more than the Montero was worth. Rather than wait for the Montero to die at an inconvenient time, my daughter decided to explore alternative, rather than pour any more money into it.  This after replacing the transmission gaskets two years ago, the brakes last year, and just last month – reviving the air conditioning system. The Montero had become unaffordable.

It was a bit of a wrench, admitting this. I felt the same way about giving up on the Very Elderly Volvo in 2009 for similar reasons, the car which I had driven across Europe and several Western states for almost thirty years. (I sold it to a young Volvo motorhead from Shertz, who likely is still working on it.) My parents had funded the Montero and my daughter paid them back over several years. We had the science down pat, for packing everything into it for market events, including stock, tables and the 10×10 canopy … but the news about the head gasket was the final straw. We explored several options, and Wee Jamie’s godfather put us in touch with his favorite car salesman at the dealership that he favors… and what with one thing and another – and me co-signing … we now own a new car. An entirely new car, which was almost against my parents’ deepest and most fundamental beliefs. Well, the car warranty and dealer service will take care of a lot of basic maintenance things for the next few years, and the new car gets amazing mileage, which the Montero didn’t. And if there is one thing that a working real estate agent does, it is put a hell of a lot of mileage on a car. The decision to buy the new was made a bit easier when my daughter realized how very much she had been paying every month to keep the Montero in gas … it took some of the sting out of the car payment.

We thought we might keep the Montero for the occasional trip hauling something heavy or awkward from Lowe’s, or to a market event … but the other day, I had to take Wee Jamie to a dental appointment – and the Montero wouldn’t start. And that was a kind of final straw for us. Even with Triple A membership in case of auto trouble, and only occasional use perhaps prolonging the life of the head gasket … the risk of either one of us and Wee Jamie getting stranded by a breakdown at an inconvenient or even dangerous time was just too great to accept. I went through all that too many times with the Volvo. The most hassle-free means of letting the Montero go was to donate it to the local public radio station. I honestly doubt we would have gotten much for it, due to age and the head gasket issue, and why go on paying the basic insurance on a car that we hardly dare drive anywhere? At least, I can get a credit for tax purposes, this way.

Still, a bit of a wrench – it’s almost my daughter’s last tangible link to her grandfather. But she hopes it is an omen for the future; that having a new car and commencing work for another and much larger real estate brokerage will put us a little more ahead on the economic staircase.

20. June 2023 · Comments Off on A Reprise Post from 2005 – The Chalk Giant · Categories: Domestic, Memoir

Granny Jessie, tiny and brutally practical, was not particularly given to fancy and fantasies. When she talked of old days and old ways, she talked of her girlhood on her fathers’ ancestral acres, a farm near Lionville, Chester County, Pennsylvania; of horse-drawn wagons, and cows and cats, and how pigs were cleverer than dogs. Of how she and her sister and brother would have to stop going down to the pig-pen early in the fall, lest they become too fond of an animal whose fate it was to be butchered for ham, and bacon, roasts and sausage and scrapple to last the winter through. Of how she played on the Lionville boys’ baseball team, since there were not enough boys, and she was a tomboy and skillful enough to play first-base, and how her grandfathers’ house was once a fall-back way-station on the Underground Railway. (It was the inn in Lionville itself was the main way-station, with a secret room and a concealed access to the woods, or so said Granny Jessie.) It was all very prosaic, very American, a breath away from the Little House books and so very familiar.

Granny Dodie’s stories, even if she did not have a spell-binding repertoire, were touched with fire and enchantment because of the very unfamiliarity of the venue… a row-house in Liverpools’ Merseyside, a few streets away from there the Beatles had come from, where Granny Dodie had grown up the youngest of a family of nine, sleeping three in a bed with her older sisters. “The one on the side is a golden bride, the one by the wall gets a golden ball, the one in the middle gets a golden fiddle, “she recited to me once. “Although all I ever got of it was the hot spot!” All her brothers were sailors or dockworkers, and her ancestors too, as far as memory went. Even her mothers’ family, surnamed Jago, and from Cornwall— even they were supposed to have grafted onto their family tree a shipwrecked Armada sailor. Granny Dodie insisted breathlessly there was proof of this in the darkly exotic good looks of one of her brothers. “He looked quite foreign, very Spanish!” she would say. We forbore to ruin the story by pointing out that according to all serious historic records, all the shipwrecked Spaniards cast up on English shores after the Armada disaster were quickly dispatched… and that there had been plenty of scope in Cornwall— with a long history of trans-channel adventure and commerce—to have acquired any number of foreign sons-in-law. She remembered Liverpool as it was in that long-ago Edwardian heyday, the time of the great trans-Atlantic steamers, and great white birds (liver-birds, which according to her gave the port it’s name) and cargo ships serving the commercial needs of a great empire, the docks all crowded and the shipways busy and prosperous.

One Christmas, she and my great-Aunt Nan discovered a picture book— John S. Goodalls’ “An Edwardian Summer”, among my daughters’ presents, and the two of them immediately began waxing nostalgic about long-ago seaside holidays; that time when ladies wore swimsuits that were more like dresses, with stockings and hats. They recollected donkey-rides along the strand, the boardwalks and pleasure-piers full of carnival rides, those simpler pleasures for a slightly less over-stimulated age. But the one old tale that Granny Dodie told, the one that stayed my memory, especially when Pip and JP and I spent the summer of 1976 discovering (or re-discovering) our roots was this one:

“There are places,” she said, ” Out in the country, they are, where there are stone stairways in the hillsides, going down to doorways… but they are just the half the size they should be. They are all perfectly set and carved… but for the size of people half the size we are. And no one knows where they lead.”

Into the land of the Little People, the Fair Folk, living in the hollow hills, of course, and the half-sized stairways lead down into their world, a world fair and terrible, filled with faerie, the old gods, giants and monsters and the old ways, a world half-hidden, but always tantalizingly, just around the corner, or down the half-sized stairway into the hidden hills, and sometimes we mundane mortals could come close enough to brush against that unseen world of possibilities.

From my journal, an entry writ during the summer of 1976, when Pip and JP and I spent three months staying in youth hostels and riding busses and BritRail… and other means of transportation:

July 9- Inglesham
Today we started off to see the Uffington White Horse, that one cut into the hillside in what— the Bronze or Iron Age, I forget which. We started off thinking we could catch a bus and get off somewhere near it, but after trying quite a few bus stops (unmarked they are at least on one side of the road) we took to hitch-hiking and the first person took us all the way there. He was an employee of an auctioneering firm, I guess & I guess he wasn’t in a hurry because he asked where we were going (Swindon & then to the White Horse) & said he would take us all the way there. It was a lovely ride, out beyond Ashbury, and the best view of the horse is from the bottom, or perhaps an aero plane. It’s very windy up here, very strong and constantly- I think it must drive the grass right back into the ground, because it was very short & curly grass. We could see for miles, across the Vale, I guess they call it. After that we walked up to Uffington Castle, an Iron Age ring-embankment, & some people were trying to fly a kite-it’s a wonder it wasn’t torn to pieces.
We sat for a while, watching fields of wheat rippling like the ocean & cloud-shadows moving very slowly and deliberately across the multicolored patchwork.
The man who brought us out advised us to walk along the Ridgeway, an ancient track along the crest of the hill, and so we did. It was lovely and oh, so lonely. Nothing but the wheat fields on either side and looking as if they went on forever.
We looked at Wayland’s Smithy, a long stone barrow in a grove of trees & when we got to Ashford, we found the Rose & Crown pub and had lunch. It was practically empty, no one but an elderly couple and their dog, a lovely black & white sheepdog, very friendly. Then we set off to walk and hitch-hike back to Highworth, but we picked the two almost deserted roads in Oxfordshire to do it, because it took nearly forever to get two rides. One got us from Ashbury to (indecipherable) and the second directly into Highworth. Both were women, very kind and chatty; I wish I knew what impulse people have which make them pick up hitch-hikers. What I do know is that the loveliest sight is that of a car slowing down and the driver saying “Where are y’heading for?”

Thirty years later I remember how charmed we were by the people who gave us rides— the auctioneers assistant who was so taken in by my reasons for seeing the White Horse that he decided he had to see it himself, and the two women— both with cars full of children— who were either totally innocent of the ways of this soon-to-become-wicked-world, or had unerring snap-judgment in deciding to slow down and pick up three apparently innocent and apparent teenagers. (I was 22 but was frequently and embarrassingly informed that I looked younger than the 16 year-old Pip, and JP was 20, but also must have looked innocent, younger and harmless.)
With their assistance, we spent a lovely day, in the sun and wind, in the uplands along the Ridgeway, examining the form of a running horse, cut into the turf on a chalk hillside, an ancient fortress, a legendary dolman tomb, and an ancient highway along the backbone of Britain… always thinking that just around the next bend would be the stairway into the hollow hills, and the giants and fair folk of old… Adventure and peril just as Grannie Dodie said it would be in the lands of our ancestors… always just around the corner.

23. May 2023 · Comments Off on A New Diversion · Categories: Domestic

I used to do miniatures – scale interiors, mostly at the 1:12 scale – that is, inch to a foot scale. Some shadowboxes of single small rooms, a couple of buildings at that scale, which if they are houses – are pretty large. I got into this hobby and began building a collection of miniature elements when I was in college and making dolls for a lovely little shop in Montrose, California. The owner of the shop paid me, week in and week out, for five 12th scale dolls in various costumes (some to specialty order). I wasn’t the most accomplished and artistically-realistic miniature doll-maker in that part of California – but I was one of the very few practicing then and there, and that shop was one of a few catering to such enthusiasts. I made the heads, hands, and feet from a home-made composition of soda, cornstarch and water, painted with hobby paint, and hair made out of ordinary sewing-thread and white glue, set on a bendable armature of ordinary light-weight wire; the body wrapped with thin strips of sheet fabric, usually torn from outworn bedding, and then fitted out with hand-sewn clothing … no, those dolls were nothing much artistically, but they sold, reliably over half a decade. Kay Kelley, of Miniature World paid me $25 a week for five dolls, sold them at $10 each … and there I had enough from working at a craft to pay all expenses for my college education, enough to splurge on a summer in England after I graduated. Some of the money I earned at this went straight back to Kay, of course. I should search out the very first item I bought there – a little wooden silverware box, fitted out with half a dozen pot-metal forks, knives and spoons…

But I carried on with the miniature hobby for years – all the time that I was overseas. I had an enormous kit for a Victorian-style house when I was in Japan, when I had a tiny flat out the POL gate and the Daughter Unit was a baby. I remember working on it, with her in a sling against my chest, while I painted the exterior with one hand … when I PCSed from that assignment, the moving crew had to take it out through the kitchen window – it was too large for the door. (I sold that house, still unfinished, to another NCO, three moves later, to a family who wanted it for their daughter.) I went on building shadowboxes, fitting out kit structures and furniture for another sixteen or seventeen years. I went to a couple of miniature conventions, when at home in the states and I could afford to splurge on quality items … but somehow, it all stopped when I bought a house – a full-sized house of my very own, and somehow, the miniature building lost interest for me. I can only think that my enthusiasm for miniatures was a way of building a portable dream house. Once I had that real home, all my energy, time and money were focused on it, rather than sublimating all that into miniature structures. There wasn’t much difference in the concepts, by the way – only that the building stock was larger and the tools heavier.

But of late, I’ve been tempted again – and this week, I gave into that impulse and bought a miniature kit – a 1:24 kit, that is a half-inch to a foot scale. I have to unlimber all my old mini-building tools – the claps, blades, saw and all. I’ve started assembling the furniture, and I’ll take it in easy stages. It’s quite an elaborate set-up for all that it won’t take up too much space: a three-story Japanese house, fully furnished, with a pavilion, koi pond, trees and garden, mostly of about two million laser-cut wood pieces, with a paper overlay for some details, and a bag full of beads, wire and findings. Oh, and tiny electric lights, for the whole thing is set up to be wired for lights. I plan to do a bit of kit-bashing, painting some things different colors, and to route out space to pour resin and create the fishpond with tiny carp modeled from air-dry clay, and add more decorative elements and food items modeled from Fimo and air-dry clay. Yes, I have been watching too many YouTube tutorials about how to create realistic waterways and outdoor vistas…

16. May 2023 · 2 comments · Categories: Domestic

Most importantly, my daughter and Wee Jamie, the Wonder Grandson returned from the visit to California this morning … very early this morning, as I had to get up at half-past one in the morning, to meet their train, which was supposed to arrive at 2:40, but which didn’t actually pull into the station and begin off-loading passengers and baggage until well past 3:00. We weren’t home and settled until about half-past four in the morning, and our next-door neighbor’s caretaker, Miss Eileen, was sitting in the open garage to meet us. Miss Eileen’s dog, a charming but bossy little Shi Tzu named Angel apparently woke her up at that ungodly hour, and Miss Eileen thought that Angel had to pee. She went out to the garage in her pajamas since Angel demonstrated that she simply had to go out that way. Miss Eileen looked towards our driveway and noted that the Montero was not parked there. Just as she thought of us, I drove the Montero around the corner and pulled into our driveway.

Miss Eileen now wonders how Angel knew that we were on our way back at that very moment. Angel is a young dog, and rather fond of all of us, besides being excessively devoted to the main human in her little doggy life; Shi Tzus are like that. Being bred to be affectionate companion dogs, they are never happiest until the moment when they are glued to their chosen human. Although Angel is also affectionate towards my daughter, Wee Jamie and I. She barks when she hears my front door open, and Miss Eileen is sitting in the garage with the door open, enjoying her coffee and morning cigarette. I usually make a comment along the lines of ‘hark, the herald Angel sings’ or ‘the better Angels of our nature’. My daughter had brought Miss Eileen a box of specialty See’s chocolates from California, so she was able to transfer them at once. Miss Eileen has raised sons and thinks the world of Wee Jamie. She came to San Antonio to be caretaker for her aunt, our neighbor since we moved into this house – a dear sweet retired and elderly civil servant who now is suffering with progressive dementia. As someone about my age once grimly remarked – unless one is extraordinarily lucky, after a certain age, either the mind or the body goes.

It is a peculiarity of Amtrak service in San Antonio, that departures and arrivals are all in the very wee hours. I have entertained the possibility that the staff of the adjunct to the historic and very scenic Sunset Station are all vampires, since everything happens at night … but none the less, traveling on a train, if you are in no particular hurry, or with children, and going to and from a city with an active passenger terminal – a train may be the less fraught way to go, even if only in coach, the lowest and cheapest class. The seats are wider, movement is freer about the car, baggage allowances are more generous, and there isn’t anything like the security theater to endure. And if one springs for a roomette or a cabin in the sleeper coach – even more comfort. And free meals. My sister and her husband sprung for such, this year, so that my daughter could bring Jamie out to meet what remains of the family, supervise the care of my mother while their family took a break at their Hawaii condo – it worked out generally well. My daughter and Wee Jamie had a compartment to themselves and got upgraded to a first-class compartment on the return, a compartment with a toilet attached, since it seemed that their originally-booked roomette had been double-booked. Someone among the staff on the Sunday Amtrak from Los Angeles Central Station realized that it would best to placate an irate woman with a small child in tow, intent on returning home to Texas, on a reservation that had been done and paid for, months ago…

Anyway, on some of these midnight excursions, I sometimes wish that Amtrak would re-open the historic Sunset Station as a facility for serving passengers going east and west, instead of the mean little shed tucked away by the Alamodome. Alas, passenger train traffic isn’t anything what it used to be, in the golden age, and Sunset Station has been repurposed into an event venue. A very nice one, actually – I covered an event there, some years ago.

Several of our neighbors wondered about the perils of going downtown, in the wee hours – and I must admit that going to the Amtrak station in the pit of the night in San Antonio is probably degrees of safety greater than most other big city-downtown-train terminals at 0-dark-thirty. The Amtrak terminal may be small and out-of-the-way in regard to the rest of downtown San Antonio – but it is safe, there is relatively secure parking, and it is patrolled by security.

08. May 2023 · 2 comments · Categories: Domestic

I’ve never cared much for the Bed, Bath, and Beyond chain of stores, and the last time I remember stopping by one was about five or six years ago to buy a CO2  bottle for a countertop soda machine. (The soda machine was just too expensive to carry on with, what with the price for the carbon dioxide bottles… The thing is out in the shed even now.) I had no real other reason to go there after that, since I had a perfectly good source of home goods through the Base Exchange, and Amazon Vine has always been generous to me regarding other items for bedroom, bathroom and beyond. Anyway, it seems Bed, Bath, and Beyond is about to go bye-bye … and I will hardly miss them … but I will seriously miss the other consumer outlet chain that is set to go out of business and close all their stores.

That would be Tuesday Morning – an outlet that we have loved extravagantly, ever since one of our neighbors clued us into it. Basically, overstocks and discontinued items from the higher-end outlets. As I described it to others – “Nieman Marcus quality at K-Mart prices.”

No kidding – kitchenware, china, glass, linens, and bedding of the very best. Limited pantry items – pasta sauces, mixes, candy, exotic spices and oils, coffee – for this reason alone the local Tuesday Morning outlets were open during the Covidiocy because … they had food items, and so could be classified as essential in a time of (manufactured) emergency. Tuesday Morning was our first choice for buying wedding presents, for towels, sheets and bedding, and our particular passion for perfumed bath soaps from Italy and France.

So, shed a tear for another victim of the current economic downturn. Like Hancock Fabrics, and the late lamented Scriveners of San Antonio (which bit the dust so long ago that only the old-timers recall it), this passing leaves many of us saddened and diminished.

As for the at-home projects – the two footlockers which I assured my daughter would be renovated by the time she and Wee Jamie returned from California – they are all but complete. The metal-sided one intended to be Wee Jamie’s toy-box is complete, since the replacement handle for the front of it arrived at about midday today; a matter of a few moments to attach it and touch up the various screw heads with black paint – and done!

The other footlocker is nearly complete also – but for one small thing; although I used every scrap and inch of the peel-and-stick wallpaper roll, there just wasn’t enough for inside the long angle of the lid. For want of a thirty by four-inch strip… another roll of the same pattern is on order, to be delivered tomorrow. Well – I will have enough of it to cover a shallow tray insert, which I had considered building out of various scraps.