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.


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…