(Yes, I have been working on the next Luna City installment, wherein the path to a happy romantic conclusion for Kate and Richard is never without some deep potholes! Richard’s parents have just walked into the Cafe, as Richard has finished unburdening himself to Jess and Araceli. Kate accepted his proposal, and the ring … but then she walked out, and will not answer his calls and messages. just then, the chime over the front door rings, and Richard’s parents walk in…)

“Darling!” Exclaimed Mum, exuberantly rushing up to Richard, and flinging her arms about him – really, it was most uncharacteristically English of her. Not for dear old Mum the undemonstrative upper-class stiff-upper lip. Must be all that French influence, Richard thought, as he returned the embrace. And the prior influence of Gram, working-class, opinionated and fiercely proud of that, too. “I’m so happy to see you, at long last! You look so well! Is this your dear little restaurant! Everyone says that the menu is so absolutely scrumptious, and that you have done a marvelous job with it! Are you happy, darling? We so worried for you, early on, but we thought it best not to interfere… you didn’t want us to interfere, did you, Richie? Your father said no, it was best that you find your own feet… you have found them, haven’t you, dear?”

Mum looked up at him anxiety clouding her eyes, and the fresh fair countenance, the English rose look, hardly burnished by a suntan in all of her half-century of life, although her hair was gone to a faded blonde, intermixed with grey. Obviously, there was no decent hairdresser in Saint-Didier.

“No, Mum – I’m fine,” Richard, initially stunned. He hadn’t expected to see his parents for another couple of months, at least. “I’m at a crisis at present, though …”

“And is this your Kate?” Mum smiled brilliantly at Araceli. “How marvelous to meet you at long last. Richie left us absolutely stunned when he announced that he was going to propose…”

“No, that’s my cousin Kate,” Araceli replied, sturdily. “I just work for Ri – for Chef. Pleased to meet you. Araceli Gonzalez-Gonzales. Excuse me, we’re still working the breakfast rush. Can I show you to a table?”

“Of course, dear,” Mum replied, with a charming laugh. “That would be marvelous – we were so done in by traveling all this way, we missed breakfast at the hotel. They’re quite awfully strict about hours, even for room service. Dorothy Astor-Hall, but everyone calls me Dottie.”

“Dottie by name and nature,” Richard’s father added, with a look of tried affection which took out any malice from his words, as Araceli gestured them toward the small couples table, just out from the door into the kitchen, and handed them a pair of menus. “Alfred Astor-Hall. So pleased. You haven’t introduced us to your other lady, Richard.” There was a slight tone of reproof in his voice, and Richard sighed. Dad was so very much the Englishman, the pukka sahib of legend, tall, lanky, imperishably polite, and completely unshockable, a lean and angular face graced with a neatly trimmed mustache. No wonder he had gotten on so well with the wine-growing denizens of Saint Didier – he was the archetypal imperturbable upper-class Englishman of song, story, and movie, come to life.

“Jessica Vaughn,” Jess replied, switching her briefcase to her other hand. Richard wondered briefly if she would render a proper military salute – Jess had that ‘noticed by a worshipped senior officer’ expression on her face. “CPA – I do the financial management for the owners of the Café. Rich and I have worked together for … a good few years.”

“An accountant!” Alfred Astor-Hall’s expression warmed and lightened, as Araceli vanished into the kitchen. “How very marvelous, and what an interesting coincidence! I started out as an accountant. Been in finance for more years in the City than I like to think! Moved on, now I make fine wines – so very much more relaxing.”

“I’ve been guided by Mrs. Vaughn’s towering efficiency and competent good sense in money matters for the last few years,” Richard interjected.

“What a refreshing change,” Alfred murmured, and Richard winced. No, Dad still had the gift of the verbal stiletto, even though he had been indulgent far, far beyond the tolerance of normal parents when it came to Richard’s chosen career, and the inevitable, spectacular flame-out of the crash over the disastrous Carême opening. It came to him that his father had mostly been left to cope with the resulting financial disaster, after Carême. There was a hell of a lot about that disaster which Richard didn’t remember with any accuracy at all. But through it all, Dad and Mum had been good sports, against every natural human impulse to write off their only son as a dead loss on the human calculation. Richard was grateful, grateful beyond all words for their continued indulgence. For that, he could overlook the occasional verbal jab from Dad.

“Rich, I’ll see you tomorrow,” Jess replied, and with a polite nod to the gathered small clan of Astor-Hall, she was gone with the silvery tinkle of the bell over the Café’s front door.

“What a lovely woman,” Mum commented, “I so like her!

Alfred murmured, “Got a modicum of financial sense, then – pity you couldn’t marry her, instead.”

“She’s happily married already, Dad,” Richard snarled, “With three children, and a husband who looks like a tattooed human traffic bollard. And he is the chief of police in this place. Did I mention his extensive gun collection? And that his absolutely fascistic devotion to law and order is legendary? I daresay I did not.”

“You didn’t, dear,” Mum replied, soothingly. “But never mind about all that. We … your father and I came for the professional tour of wineries in the Hill Country, officially as other wine-involved professionals, you see. A business expense. But our main reason is to see you and your lovely bride … she is lovely, I am certain, knowing of your … umm, tastes. Oh, don’t clear your throat at me, Alf – we both know that Rich has a certain standard. Which is nice, considering the appearances of the resulting children. There is something to be said for breeding, you know. Attractive parents rarely birth unattractive children. This saves the poor little mites so many nasty schoolyard jibes over unfortunate physical features…”

“Mum!” Richard exclaimed, exasperated – yes, Mum was the most charming and possibly the silliest and least-tactful woman in the Home Counties, and Saint-Didier combined. The theory that a male was programmed to be attracted to the same kind of personality-type as his mother had caused him many an episode of misgiving over some of his sexual choices. “There is a crisis on … I proposed to my lovely Kate, and she accepted … but for some reason she has become annoyed with me.”

“I can’t possibly imagine what might have brought that on,” Alfred sank another mildly sharpened stiletto into Richard’s quivering ego.

“It was because …” And Richard drew in a deep breath, resolved to spill all, once and for all. “I am applying for American citizenship – and Kate assumed that my reason for proposing was an ill-conceived tactic to jump the queue, as it were – by marrying a citizen.”

“Oh, Richard – how could you?” Dottie exclaimed, her eyes already welling over. “How could you do such a thing?”

“It seemed most sensible, logical!” Richard protested. “I mean – I have lived here for five years, worked my fingers to the bone at all hours, taught people to appreciate fine cuisine, trained up the next generation of cooks…”

“No, I didn’t mean that!” And Dottie sniffled a bit and wiped her eyes. “How could you let her go on believing such a thing…”

“Because she won’t answer my phone calls!” Richard exclaimed, goaded beyond all tact. “Or my messages! Or that of her friends – also my friends, those ladies whom I introduced just now, they are going to plead my case! It’s a crisis, Mum – what am I supposed to do?”

“Breakfast,” Alfred replied, calmly. He had been perusing the menu. “I think that breakfast would do us all a world of good. Cinnamon buns, one each, I think. Scrambled eggs. And coffee. I have been accustomed for the last few years to have coffee with breakfast. Café au lait if you please. And nothing of this chalk-artificial-muck for creamer…”

“Dad – we do straight cream, half-and-half for the slimmers!” Richard protested. “It’s one of my inviolable principles, here at the Café!”

“Oh, good,” Alfred waved in a vague manner. “Carry on, then. And come and sit with us if you can and your kitchen duty allows. We need to tell you how you stand, with your current economic situation.”

“I can hardly bloody wait,” Richard snarled, as he went into the kitchen.

Why was this happening to him, now at all the times possible in the world?      

01. August 2021 · Comments Off on Lights Upon the Subject · Categories: Uncategorized

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…

26. July 2021 · Comments Off on Midsummer Moments · Categories: Uncategorized

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.