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(This is a short-story version of an episode in Adelsverein: The Sowing, which I reworked as a free-standing Christmas story a good few years ago, for a collection of short stories. The scene; the Texas Hill country during the Civil War – a war in which many residents of the Hill Country were reluctant to participate, as they had abolitionist leanings, had not supported secession … and had quite enough to do with defending themselves against raiding Indians anyway.)
It was Vati’s idea to have a splendid Christmas Eve and he broached it to his family in November. Christian Friedrich Steinmetz to everyone else but always Vati to his family; once the clockmaker of Ulm in Bavaria, Vati had come to Texas with the Verein nearly twenty years before with his sons and his three daughters. “For the children, of course,” he said, polishing his glasses and looking most particularly like an earnest and kindly gnome, “This year past has been so dreadful, such tragedies all around – but it is within our capabilities to give them a single good memory of 1862! I shall arrange for Father Christmas to make a visit, and we shall have as fine a feast as we ever did, back in Germany. Can we not do this, my dears?”
“How splendid, Vati! Oh, we shall, we shall!” his youngest daughter Rosalie kissed her father’s cheek with her usual degree of happy exuberance, “With the house full of children – even the babies will have a wonderful memory, I am sure!” Her older sisters, Magda and Liesel exchanged fond but exasperated glances; dear, vague well-meaning Vati! Read the rest of this entry »
I was kind of intrigued by last week’s Buzzfeed article, attempting to whip up the internet mob for the purpose of going after Chip and Joanna Gaines, who have a hugely popular home renovation show on the HGTV channel, and cannily have never said a word on the show regarding their more or less mainstream Christian beliefs, or their attendance at a mega-church where the pastor apparently is on the record as having expressed disapproval of the concept of the institution of formal marriage being anything other than that of a man and a woman. (Note: I’ve never watched the show myself, although my daughter has. Blondie avers that Joanna Gaines is a one-note designer; her thing is shabby chic. All to the good, since that is my own preference, well-mixed with Laura Ashley comfortable country antique seasoned with a splash of William Morris/Craftsman. And … well, most people have items of décor and large furniture of which they are fond … who the heck clears the deck and redecorates every year or so, in response to the fashion of the moment? Only the very wealthy and socially insecure, I surmise.)
More power to them – the Gainses and their redecorating business; not the internet lynch mob, always ready to be whipped up to a fine frothing frenzy. Really, this early 21st century is increasingly resembling the 16th, in the ruthless search for the ritual burning at stake by officials or by the annoyingly self-appointed for individuals who refuse to give lip-service to the prevailing social/political orthodoxies. Read the rest of this entry »
Today is Thanksgiving Day; my daughter and I will share a feast of delightfully orange-flavored brined turkey breast (a recipe lifted from the current issue of Cuisine at Home) plus some sides; as a small dish of baked stuffing using some heels of pumpernickel bread from the bounteously-stuffed garage deep-freeze, oven-roasted Brussel sprouts, garlic mashed potatoes, all served with a dash of the lingonberry sauce from the jar I purchased last weekend from the Ikea grocery department – it tastes very much like cranberry sauce anyway — and finished off with a slice of pumpkin pie, baked this week. The enduring trouble that I have with Thanksgiving is that I don’t much like most of the traditional dishes. Of those that I do, I don’t want to eat leftovers of them from now until past mid-December. Seriously, in many years, I was so tired of sorting out the remainders of a whole turkey I would choose anything else vaguely birdlike for the main entrée, and for Christmas, practically anything else. On some years when it would be just me, I threw tradition to the winds and did a tiny half-pound frozen poulet from HEB Central Market, or a rock Cornish game hen, accompanied by the traditional autumnal dishes that I did like. (These solitary dinners were a treat for me; single servings of exotic and/or expensive dishes that I would never have sampled otherwise.)
Yes, I did some Thanksgiving days with just me, myself, and I, contra every existing holiday tradition. I experienced some uncomfortable Thanksgiving Day dinners at the houses of acquaintances, but the worst of them was an excruciating dinner wherein I with preschool daughter in tow had been invited by my military supervisor to share his familial table … except that he had somehow forgotten to tell his spouse until the very last minute that he had invited us. Her resentment was a palpable thing, hovering over the table like a fog and curdling every bite that I took. That was the year that I resolved to break no bread on Thanksgiving with any but blood family; if it meant only the two of us or myself alone, then so be it. I did manage to get home for that traditional dinner with blood relatives now and again – which varied the solitary meal program to some degree.
Besides, sometimes the Thanksgiving holiday was an opportunity to do serious work – the year that I replaced the back fence myself, and ate my supper mid-project from a tray (the tiny poulet year) sitting in the living room and regarding the fence in mid-project. This year is no different, with substantial projects in mid-accomplishment: we have the three-day market event in Johnson City to prepare for; the full-on display of the pavilion, with Christmas lights, special displays and three days’ worth of stock; my books, her earrings. This is a huge event – justifying some preparations above and beyond the usual. Christmas dinner will mark the real end and celebration for us – another year, well-done. Read the rest of this entry »
(In the light of the mostly depressing news this week and today – I present a short chapter from the next Luna City Chronicle – which we aim to have completed for release in November, 2016)
Dance with the Bunny Boiler in the Pale Moonlight
Some weeks after Romeo Gonzales arrived and set up his own campsite in the near-deserted Age of Aquarius, Richard pedaled up the road – deftly avoiding the ruts, bumps and puddles that nature and the passage of the occasional heavy vehicle had scoured into the clay-like soil with the skill of experience. It had rained lightly the night before, so puddles there were in plenty, and the fresh new grass had begun just raising tender new blades coyly between the old dead hay of the previous season.
On the whole, he had found Romeo Gonzales to be a congenial neighbor, given that it was hard to be anything else at half an acre space between their trailers and workplaces some blocks distant from each other. At least, Romeo showed no inclination to conspire together with malignantly-inclined micro-media operatives to ambush him at the door with lights, cameras and harassing commentary, unlike the egregious Penn. Who, in concordance with the injunction delivered through Jess, showed every inclination of making himself scarce whenever Richard was around. Richard was profoundly glad of that, not least because he treasured his afternoons of solitary contemplation of the pleasant but uninspiring landscape and his studies in Larousse. Read the rest of this entry »
(Yes, the two Chronicles of Luna City are selling very well, and my daughter and I have generated sufficient plot for the next volume – Luna City 3.0. For your delectation and amusement, below the fold is some cheery and diverting humor, set in a little South Texas Town which could, if you bent down and looked at it sideways, bear a slight resemblance to Cecily, Alaska, or Lake Woebegon, Minnesota…) Read the rest of this entry »
(A brief account of Memorial Day in Luna city, from the Second Chronicle of Luna City, which we brought out at the beginning of May, in response to a chorus of pleading from readers who want to know how the cliffhanger at the end of the first Chronicle was resolved.)
Luna City is well-equipped with military veterans, as are many small towns in fly-over country – especially the old South. The draft is only somewhat responsible for this. After all, it was ended formally more than four decades past. But the habit and tradition of volunteering for military service continues down to this very day, with the result that veterans of various services and eras are thick on the ground in Luna City – while a good few continue as reservists. There are not very many pensioned retirees, though; Clovis Walcott is one of those few, having made a solid Army career in the Corps of Engineers, and then in the same capacity as a Reservist. He is the exception; Lunaites mostly have served a single hitch or two, or for the duration of a wartime mobilization. They come home, pick up those threads of the life they put aside, or weave together the tapestry of a new one. What they did when they were in the military most usually lies lightly on them, sometimes only as skin-deep as a tattoo … and sometimes as deep as a scar. Read the rest of this entry »
The Chronicles of Luna City proved to be so popular and my daughter and I had so many ideas for further plot developments, that it was only a small chore to produce a sequel, involving the search for a trove of gold coins and ingots supposedly hidden somewhere on Mills Farm by the reprobate bootlegger Old Charley Mills a hundred years ago, and a movie being shot on location around Luna City, which might very well be not all that it seemed when the project was pitched to the residents of Luna City. The Second Chronicle of Luna City is now up on Amazon and Barnes and Noble in Kindle and Nook ebook versions, and will be available by next week in print. (It’s also available direct from us, through the Luna City website.
(From the second collection of the Luna City Chronicles, which I hope to bring out early next month, and will be taking orders for as soon as I have a cover completed. The second collection concerns the long-sought-after Mills Treasure, and the movie being shot on location, and features the usual cast of Lunaites, plus a bad-tempered and notoriously unsuccessful treasure hunter, a suspect movie production company, and an old friend of Richard, the runaway celebrity chef, tracking him to his current location.)
The Age of Aquarius Campground and Goat Farm celebrates their 48th anniversary this year at mid-summer – a well-established institution after a rocky beginning during the Summer of Love. And rocky would be the correct term to describe the original property; five forlorn and overgrown acres in a gentle bend of the San Antonio River, a bare quarter-mile from the pleasant little town of Luna City. The property was in the distant past, a part of a generous tract granted by Spain to Don Diego Manuel Hernando Ruiz y Gonzalez or Gonzales. Over the last quarter of the 19th century, much of the tract was sold off to various new owners, including the family of Morgan P. Sheffield, a moderately well-to-do gentleman from Philadelphia. Morgan Sheffield was diagnosed with tuberculosis around 1895 and advised to move to a more temperate climate for his health.
While the climate of South Texas proved to be restorative to Mr. Sheffield’s health, the five acres of land was too rocky to farm in a traditional manner and too small to support more than a handful of cows. When the town of Luna City itself was planned, there was some thought given to establishing a hotel and spa on what was undoubtedly a pleasant situation on the banks of the San Antonio River on the outskirts of the proposed town, as attempts to dig a deep well on the site struck a thermal spring of naturally hot water. Unfortunately, that was the last of that run of good luck for nearly seventy years. The San Antonio & Aransas Pass Railroad bypassed Luna City and Mr. Sheffield’s property. The hotel and spa were never built and the hot water well capped. During the 1930s, Mr. Sheffield’s heirs established a small motor court on the property, in the hopes of attracting vacationers; they built a row of small cottages, a combination bathhouse/lavatory built of concrete blocks, and paved areas for travel trailers, in the hopes of enticing travelers on Route 123 between San Antonio and the coast to come and stay for a night or two. However, travelers and campers remained stubbornly un-enticed; the cottages disintegrated through a combination of cheap construction, disuse, and lack of maintenance. The acreage became severely overgrown.
In 1967 the property passed into the ownership of Morgan P. Sheffield’s great-grand-niece, Judith “Judy” Stillwell, a native of Austin, mostly because no one else in the remaining family really wanted it. Judith Stillwell was then a sophomore at the University of Texas at Austin, and the despair of her upright and generally conventional middle-class family. 1968 was the so-called Summer of Love, and all things counter-culture swamped practically every college campus in the land – affecting students like Judy Stillwell and a circle of friends, which included her live-in boyfriend, Sefton Grant. They embraced practically every ‘ism’ going, with near-religious fervor; vegetarianism, pacifism, nudism, paganism, and small-c communism. At the beginning of summer vacation, Judy, Sefton and a group of about forty other devotees – most of them fellow students at UT – conceived a grand plan to establish a New Age commune, where they would all live in harmony with nature. Where to plant their ideal Age of Aquarius? Why of course, the parcel which Judy had inherited, sight unseen, would be perfect. Her family agreed, over considerable misgivings – although they did extract as a condition of their approval and initial monetary support – that she and Sefton marry. Much to the astonishment of the Stillwells, Judy and Sefton acceded to that demand, and were married before a Justice of the Peace within days. Read the rest of this entry »
As a promised follow-up to the original posting, I’ll be conspicuously attired in something resembling this (but without the hood). Well, and pants, shoes, etc. Also, there is a slight chance that I will actually talk my way into the tour of what I am calling Pierce the Younger, but it is to end at 4 PM tomorrow.
NB: Sunday afternoon is likely to be wet. I am investigating the availability of some kind of water-repellent device, ideally collapsible for easy transport and storage.
(A diversion for a Friday, from the next Luna City Chronicle, which will be launched late this month … since everyone seemed to find the first Chronicle amusing, and to be wondering about the cliffhanger ending …)
There are three official historical markers in Town Square, much cherished by local citizens. The most noted is the one marking the site where Old Charley Mills was nearly lynched by infuriated citizens, which action was forestalled by the timely intervention of somewhat less-infuriated and more clear-thinking individuals, who included Doc Wyler’s father, Albert Wyler and his younger brother Thomas Wyler, the Reverend Calvin Rowbottom, then senior minister of the Luna City First Methodist Church, and a handful of others whose irreproachable respectability was of such a degree that they were able with reason and persuasion, to turn their fellow citizens aside from such an irrevocable action. The second official historical marker is set into the wall of the building now housing Luna Café and Coffee and marks the site of the last officially noted personal gunfight on the streets of Luna City in 1919; this being a duel between Don Antonio Gonzales and Eusebio Garcia Maldonado. The only casualties were the radiator of Don Antonio’s Model-A sedan, a city street-light and a mule hitched to a wagon parked farther down the square felled by a wild shot from Eusebio’s revolver.
The third historical marker is set into the red brick and neo-classical style exterior wall of the what was once the Luna City Savings & Loan, but now houses city offices and the Chamber of Commerce. Read the rest of this entry »
Sycophants, satellites, holobionts, camp followers, groupies, collaborators, stalkers, uncommitted delegates, and newsletter subscribers are invited to check your privilege and join me and a few others in a series of environments where you can be without fear of being made to feel uncomfortable, unwelcome or challenged on account of biological sex, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, cultural background, age, or physical or mental ability. Well, OK, maybe not all of those, but age, certainly, and physical/mental ability after stuffing yourself with pizza and ingesting ethanol, will have protected status. Join for any or all of the following itinerary. For IFF purposes, I’ll wear something distinctive (ie, not maroon-and-white), which will be announced in this forum by late Friday the 8th. Read the rest of this entry »
(Because of the enthusiastic response to The Chronicles of Luna City, and because several of those who reviewed it were wondering mightily about the cliffhanger at the end, my daughter and I have decided to push full ahead on the next installation of the story, and release it in May. One of the ongoing threads in the new tale regards a movie production coming to town, to do local shooting – at first with the enthusiastic cooperation of the residents. But then, certain things come to light about the production itself …)
Three days later, two men sat on the terrace of the Wyler home place, watching the sun slide down in the western sky, and the shadows lengthen across the formal garden below, and the green pastures beyond, where cows drifted idly hither and yon. A comfortably shabby set of rustic bentwood furniture contrasted rather oddly with the pillared splendors of the mansion built by Captain Herbert Wyler, in the first flush of his prosperity in the 1880s cattle markets. But they sat at the exact best place to watch the sun go down on the Wyler Exotic Game Ranch, and on the distant trees and church spires of Luna City, and so it was one of Doc Wyler’s favorite places, even in the heat of a Texas mid-summer. The temporary headquarters for filming extensive location shots was also within view, a prospect in the farthest meadow, and now regarded by both men with extreme distaste.
“Good of you to drop everything, and hustle all the way from Houston,” Doc Wyler said at last. The pages of the script lay on the table between them.
“You said it was an emergency in the note,” Clovis Walcott replied, as grim as s stone face on Mount Rushmore. “By god, so it is. I’d like to smash that miss-representing little weasel into a bloody pulp with my bare hands. We got taken, Doc. And taken bad.”
“That we did, Colonel – that we did. They told us what we wanted to hear, like any good convincing conman does.” Doc Wyler sounded much the calmer of the two, although the half-consumed mint julep at his side may have had something to do with his air of relative equanimity. “The thing is now … what are we gonna do about it?”
“My lawyer’s going to hear from me – first thing in the morning, if not by voicemail tonight,” Clovis sounded as if he were grinding his teeth. “And my banker, as well. I invested in this travesty – and I was near as dammit about to make it a bigger investment, on account of what those bastards said. I wouldn’t have touched this travesty with a ten-foot-pole, no matter how sweet they talked. As it stands in this script, this movie will be a disaster, all the way around. I wonder if my lawyer can make a case for fraud …”
“Ah, but there was nothing in writing about the plot itself, was there?” Doc Wyler sipped meditatively at his julep. “All a verbal understanding between honorable men doing business together on a handshake understanding … sharp practice, Colonel. It’ll be the death of this world. A man’s word used to be a bond. I’ve always said ‘trust but verify,’ but when it turns out that you can’t trust ‘em after all…”
“Thought that was Ronnie Reagan who said that,” Clovis Walcott sounded as if his own barely touched julep had just begun to mellow the edges of his fury.
“Yeah, he did – but he stole that line from me,” Doc Wyler replied. “As I was saying – if it turns out to be that you can’t verify, and don’t trust … and that you have been, in fact, lied to in the most infamous fashion – what do you do then?” Read the rest of this entry »
(I meant to have a historical piece about an early and most mysterious resident of San Francisco ready for posting today, but … good intentions and all that, plus we were struck by sudden inspiration for the next Luna City Chronicle … which has been selling nicely and has some nice reviews on Amazon. Yes, there will be at least several more Luna City volumes – especially since the first book ends on a cliff-hanger, we haven’t gotten around to more than a handful of Luna City citizens, and I am convinced more than ever now, that light and amusing trifles are necessary diversions in bleak times.)
Early on an August Sunday morning, Miss Leticia McAllister combed out her long grey hair, rolling and neatly pinning it into an old-fashioned hair-net, and surveyed her appearance in the dressing table mirror. The hat, gloves and scarf that she would wear against the chill – for the sanctuary of the First Methodist Church of Luna City was enthusiastically air-conditioned against the blistering heat of a Texas late summer – all lay in order on the dressing table, next to Miss Letty’s Sunday handbag, which held a fresh handkerchief, her house keys, and the envelope with her weekly offering. Hat, bag, scarf and all carefully matched, and coordinated beautifully with the colors of Miss Letty’s flowered and full-skirted summer dress.
I never had beauty or elegance, Miss Letty told her reflection, with clinical satisfaction – but I could manage chic by paying attention, and I had the brains enough to be charming. Alice was the one for elegance! Oh, my – did she turn heads! Hard to believe it has been seventy-one years to the day. Every man in Schilo’s Delicatessen on Commerce on VJ-Day – they all turned to look at her, as she came in the door. You could have heard a pin drop; I think most of them thought that a movie star had come to San Antonio, but she was really only the chief secretary to an insurance company manager, for all that she was only twenty-four. And he kept trying half-heartedly to seduce her, the wretched little Lothario. She wrote complaining about that to me, all the time that I was in England, and then in France. Alice had a hatpin, though – and she could use it, too.Read the rest of this entry »
He was an abrasive man, as his nickname suggests – and had very little of soothing diplomacy in him. A soft-spoken and conciliatory manner might have served him better over the long run through the duration of his tour as the American commander of Chinese troops in Burma during WWII, but considering the dire situation there in March of 1942, perhaps irascible and decisive better served the immediate situation. A 1904 graduate of the US Military Academy, General Joseph Warren Stilwell had a particular talent for languages – to include blistering invective, written and spoken Chinese, field tactics and the training of soldiers. He had come to Burma to take charge of reorganizing the nationalist Chinese military forces there … just the Allied defense of South-east Asia crumbled under a vigorous Japanese offensive. The invasion of Burma was intended to cut off the land route which supplied China, blockaded along the coast by the Japanese. War materiel for China reached there only by ship via the Burmese port of Rangoon and thence by truck, traveling 700 miles over the Burma Road. This ran from Lashio to Kunming and Yunnan; a perilous track hacked out by hand labor through jungle and over steep mountains several years earlier. Read the rest of this entry »
There’s actually a lot more going here than meets the eye. First, a structural model of the building is created. Buildings and bridges are overbuilt, such that the structure is capable of supporting considerably more load than it’s actually required to hold. This allows for minor failures to occur during the construction and life of the building without it collapsing. Once the model is built, they determine what support members may be removed without collapsing the structure, taking it from a safety factor of 1.5 (50% stronger than necessary) to 1 (just strong enough to stand). The analysis is carried out or overseen by structural engineers.
Next, charges are laid on some support members, like columns and beams, but not others. The idea is to leave parts of the building connected by steel girders to parts that will fall so they get pulled in that direction and fall on top of the pile. Gravity does the actual demolition, the charges just break the supports.
Finally, the charges are detonated in a careful sequence. First are a series of weakening charges that remove the 50% of support safety margin, then the building is collapsed from bottom to top and (usually) from the center outwards to the periphery, with the back and sides being pulled into the center debris pile.
It is that time of year again, isn’t it? To review the past year and look to the next, and make those personal resolutions and decisions; I’ve done a post on this subject several times in past years. I’ve made resolutions late in December or early in January and twelve months later, tallied them up. Usually the tallying up came out with a score overall of 75% achieved. Alas; the backyard is still not a bountiful truck garden and orchard of edibleness; nor are my books on any kind of best-seller list – nor even above five figures in the overall Amazon author rankings, a position which I reach intermittently and usually on the occasion of a new book being released or an Instapundit link. Read the rest of this entry »
I know that I have not been posting much lately – here or anywhere else lately; just the bare minimum of commenting on other people’s posts and other people’s blogs and websites, but I had a couple of projects for the Tiny Publishing Bidness to work on, and then the two major projects to finish, format and upload to various platforms. Yes, I decided to go all-out and finish two books in time for the Christmas marketing season this year. Amazingly, neither one was the one that I had declared at the beginning of the year that I would have all done and ready to launch by this time … yes, the adventures of young Fredi Steinmetz in Gold Rush-era California is rolled back another year. Sigh. I still have to do an epic-truck-load of reading of contemporary accounts and skull out a plot sufficient and historically-accurate to fill the last half of the book; which so far in my head will include a stint in San Francisco the year of the epically well-organized Vigilante organization, encounters with various historic personages, to include William T. Sherman, Lotta Crabtree and her formidable mother, some murderous claim-jumpers and a young woman seeking justice – while disguised as a boy. So, yes I will get on to that presently. After all The Quivera Trail was held at a third completed while I worked on Daughter of Texas and Deep in the Heart, and it didn’t seem to do any harm in the long-run. Read the rest of this entry »
I was half-heartedly working on a post about zero interest rates but my heart wasn’t even half in it. So I picked up these kayak-rolling videos from my dealer.
Last year I attended a rolling class put on by the couple who produced the videos. They are fun people and outstanding instructors. They travel and give rolling clinics around the world. I recommend them highly if you are into this kind of thing, which not everyone is.