17. February 2014 · Comments Off on Weekend Summer, Weekday Winter · Categories: Ain't That America?, Fun and Games, Home Front

Starting Anew

Bizarrely enough, that’s what it has seemed like around here for the last few weeks. Winter during the week, with temperatures in the twenties, summer on the weekends, with a high that just barely escapes the threshold for turning on the AC. While the British Isles seem to be considerably more soggy than usual (old joke – English roosters don’t crow, they gargle) and just about every part of the US but for the west coast and south Texas are snowed in, we are here able to contemplate spring planting. That, and taking the tender plants from the plastic greenhouse and hanging them out in the open air. My daughter’s hibiscus has gone back to it’s accustomed place, and I have two packets of seed potatoes ready for the big raised bed. The winter cold here – such as it was – did for most of the perennial vegetables which were on their third year anyway; pepper, okra and eggplant. The first weekend in March, though – off to various outlets to replace all of the above and tomato starts, too. Historically the final freeze of the year in these parts is March 15th. After that, it’s full steam ahead.

Having the overgrown photina cut down kick-started the garden projects this year, too. The front entryway is entirely re-vamped, and planted with a new rosebush, some interesting bulbs and seeds, and some ornamental garden bits. The narrow flower bed alongside the walkway to the front door will also be cleaned up and fixed with brick, pavers and gravel, with a few plants allowed in certain places. I trimmed away all the dead stuff from the three pots of gladioli – and the new green growth is already putting up little green fingers. I believe the plants know that hard winter is already over.
The various spider plants wintered over in the greenhouse without much harm, and return to their usual places … or close to some of their usual places, since the limbs of the mulberry were pruned back quite severely. The frost-nipped bushes in the back which grew to a great height and attracted swarms of butterflies and humming-birds have all been tidied up – and my daughter has been filling the bird-feeders again, to the great joy of the various wrens, sparrows and doves. This is also to the great joy of the cats, who sit on the windowsill, with their tails twitching, and impotently watch the birds through the glass.
We meant to begin planting things – the potatoes, onions, beans and lettuce, but the day got away from us, with sorting out the back porch. It had become a kind of dump, with the bicycle parked in the middle of it. I hated sitting on the glider with my back to the garden, so we switched around the glider and the gas barbeque, threw away a pretty hefty bunch of accumulated stuff – and there we are; a back porch that I can sit on once again, and look out at the garden.

14. December 2013 · Comments Off on Countdown · Categories: Health and Wellness, Home Front, N. Korea, Rant

A week and a half to go to Christmas – and I am slightly bummed, although in rather better financial shape than I have been in some previous years. The last of the Christmas craft sales events – Christmas on the Square in Goliad – was pretty well wiped out by cold beyond the capacity of large crowds to endure. We came home with two tubs of books, not having sold a single thing, and it’s been ages since that happened.

I have set up a week-long direct sale through my book-website; 15% off the regular direct sales price, but I am beginning to get the distinct impression from personal experience that fourth-quarter holiday sales are definitely down. Well, it could be worse – it definitely has been worse. The sale of the California property affords a bit of a cushion, and that it allowed us to revamp the HVAC system is bliss, especially as it continues cold. I’m thinking that we owe the Jon Wayne people a lavish Christmas card, for the work they did resulted in much superior system to that originally installed, which heated and cooled sluggishly and sparsely, and with a horrifying degree of inefficiency. The new system heats or cools the house within five minutes of turning it on, and every room is comfortable.

Countdown – three weeks and a bit to the New Year, and also the time for all us ordinary peons not exempted for one reason or another to get right with Obamacare, or the Unaffordable Care Act. Well, not us, personally – so far, Tricare Prime for me remains relatively unscathed, save for a not-insupportable increase in the quarterly fee. Blondie’s Humana policy is also relatively unscathed, at least for the next year. The cost of a Un-ACA compliant policy for her also costs almost three times as much as the policy she has now – and both of us are extremely wary of entering anything personal into a usgov site as frelled as that one seems to be. We’re actually hoping that the whole ungodly mess is revoked sometimes over the next year – although it may just implode of it’s own.

Really, if schadenfreude had calories, I’d be as fat as Oprah Winfrey was at her max-girth; watching Obamacare implode and seeing the Obama administration look like fools – like a laughing selfie at a memorial service. Could anything in public be more crass, more juvenile? Meanwhile, North Korea – yet again – is edging closer and closer to total breakdown, what with Li’l Pudgy going all Henry VIII on his closest kin and advisers. Dennis Rodman seems to have appointed himself the chief envoy to the place, which only goes to prove that these days, satirists must have a devil of a time staying ahead of reality.

12. November 2013 · Comments Off on Books, Origami and Chocolate · Categories: Ain't That America?, Geekery, Home Front, Technology, Working In A Salt Mine...

Our Booth  After Rearrangement
That is what our booth at the Boerne Market Days contained this last weekend – the first time that we have done Boerne Market Days as a vendor and not as a strolling shopper. Saturday morning was rainy in San Antonio, and the skies were overcast all day. None of the vendors minded not having any sunshine – as long as it didn’t rain! We had a nicely-placed booth space, about midway between the bandstand at one end, and the food-trucks parked at the other. By the way, the gorditas are fab. Sometimes they make the chicken gordita with cut-up chicken chunks, instead of ground chicken meat – but still tasty, anyway. Another good thing – one of the big trash cans was right in front of us, so no need to set aside a bag for our own trash. And it was a landmark for anyone looking for us.

My daughter and I have done a lot of book events, some of them in conjunction with a craft fair, like Goliad’s Christmas on the Square, so we pretty much know the drill; bring tablecloths, plenty of stock (packed in plastic tubs with lids) plenty of change, receipt books, lots of flyers, postcards and business cards, and something to ornament the table with … and chocolate candy. Most everyone likes chocolate, although one of the most relentless book marketer I know has a cookbook with recipes incorporating lemons – she makes lemon cookies or cake, and gives away samples.

This time, we had two more improvements to our retail efforts; a folding dolly hand-truck, which can carry one of the heaviest tubs and one of the lighter ones at a time, and folds up very compactly… no, it isn’t industrial-strength, but better than schlepping the heaviest tubs of books by hand for half a block or more. $20 bucks at Sam’s Club, which might very well be the best and most useful $20 ever spent there, over the long haul. The other was a little attachment for my daughter’s cellphone, which allows us to process credit card payments to her Tiny Bidness Paypal account. We couldn’t process credit/debit accounts before, which has sometimes been a bit of a bind since … well, not too terribly many people carry around checkbooks any more, or cash, either – and going to an ATM and getting cash for a sale is sometimes a bit of an inconvenience for people.

If we keep this up – this making an appearance on the regular market circuit – there are certain things that we will just have to get, in addition to the storage tubs and the hand-truck. We rented the pop-up tent, two folding tables and a chair from the Boerne Market Days management, but eventually we will have to get our own 10 X 10 pop-up; most of the other regular vendors had them, in varying degrees of quality, with zip-up sidewalls for additional privacy, security and shelter from the elements. We will also probably invest in a pair of banners, either to clip to the front of the pop-up or to the front of the table, advertising our various enterprises.
We made back and a bit more the amount that we paid for the space, and rental of the conveniences – but not very much more. We talked to many other vendors, who were similarly disappointed. Either it’s just not close enough to Christmas to loosen the purse strings – or that everyone is looking at the current economic situation with a very tight hold on the pocket-book.

Even so, this last weekend was a learning experience – and one of them was that Boerne Market Days is very animal friendly. A lot of shoppers had dogs on leashes, and one iconoclast among the vendors eve had a pair of infant goats on display. They were such cute babies – but I am told that when they are fully-grown, they can be evil in the extreme.

23. October 2013 · Comments Off on Adventures in the ‘Hood · Categories: Ain't That America?, Domestic, Home Front, World

I guess that it must be proof of sorts that we live in a pretty OK residential area … and also that Blondie and I are snoopy and stand on our rights and obligations as citizens, in that we have had cause to call the San Antonio Police Department twice in three days, and both times officers of the gendarmerie appeared within about twenty minutes or half an hour of the time we called. Yes, we are those neighbors … well, not the kind of ‘those neighbors’ who unite the other neighbors in disbelieving horror, but the other kind of ‘those neighbors’ – the ones who know other neighbors casually to speak to, who note and recognize things which are curious and out of normal order, and are not afraid to speak up and tell someone in ostensible authority. Like whoever is on the other end of the non-urgent telephone number.

This is what good neighborhoods are made of – not gates, security fences with combinations, private patrols, and not middle-class values and paychecks. It is also a relatively fragile construct, because once the forces of darkness and unrestrained disruption/criminality take over, it is damn hard to get control back. The people who live in a place must have an element of effective control over it through the soft power of social control – backed up by civil law, otherwise it’s a straight shot to gangbangers shooting up at random, kids sleeping in bathtubs or on the floor, and 24-hour mercantile establishments with their cashiers behind bullet-proof glass bastions and metal shutters over the windows.

I don’t want to live in a neighborhood like that – probably neither did George Zimmerman – and so this why Blondie and I take our phones with us when we run in the wee hours of the morning, and walk the doggies in the slightly-less-wee-hours. Mess with our neighborhood – we will dial 311 and explain the mess to the obliging dispatcher. Maybe this explains the difference between red and blue states at the working-class level. Here in the last redoubt of red-land, we still believe that we can hold fast; we can keep our neighborhood a place where you can walk the dog, let the kiddies play in the front yard, put garden ornaments of nominal value in the front yard and have faith they will remain there – and go running and dog-walking at all hours with a feeling of relative security. It’s just how we roll.
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23. August 2013 · Comments Off on Give Me Land, Lots of Land… · Categories: Ain't That America?, Fun and Games, Home Front

… And the starry sky above, don’t fence me in. So goes the old pop song – but I’m not asking for lots o’land, just some small bits of it for which I will pay. Not too much will I pay, though – since I am not one of the economic or political aristocracy, for whom corners are cut and favors rendered. But I do have a point and I am getting to it, round-about.

A long time ago, when Sgt. Mom was first-term enlisted airman and only newly a mom, I reenlisted into a high-demand military specialty, for which act of reckless patriotism I was awarded a rather generous reenlistment bonus. (The last one ever awarded, since the broadcaster career field began contracting shortly thereafter, and the Air Force had sufficient broadcast technicians and managers on hand to meet administrative needs.) Of which the federal government skimmed off their usual cut for taxes, since I was not canny enough to hire someone to do my taxes for me who would find a way to minimize the ‘mordita’ abstracted from the bonus. But I was sufficiently foresighted to invest the remainder in a long-term CD (after purchasing my baby daughter the biggest damned stuffed bear that I could find on the local market) and to continue to reinvest the interest. And then I believe I rolled the CD over into another one, when it matured … which left me with a sufficient nest-egg by 1985, when my daughter and I scored a free round-trip home from Spain to our home of record – this being a bonus for signing up for another tour in place at the current assignment. It costs a bomb to pack up and shift a family to another base – so by way of reducing expenses, the Air Force encouraged a military family to do another three years by offering round-trip airfare home for the whole family in between tours.

By that time, my parents’ home and mine of record was the building site on their scenic hilltop outside of Valley Center – so we went back for a very pleasant stay over Christmas of that year, and I began to consider following Mom and Dad’s example. That is, to buy a nice little bit of rural acreage, and eventually retire and build a house on it. So – we popped around while I was there, and looked at some nice bits of rural and semi-rural land – not long enough to find anything that I liked straightaway and could afford, but for Mom and Dad to get an idea of what I would like. Eventually and after my daughter and I had returned to Spain, they located a nice little 3 acre plot of unimproved howling wilderness in the mountains near a scenic little burg called Julian. I approved their choice, sank my nest-egg into it as the down-payment and for the next ten years, every month I sent a check to a nice retired couple in Iowa. I think I actually visited my land precisely once in all that time … but it figured in my long-term plans, when I finally came to my last assignment at 20 years of military service. I’d buy a house through the generous auspices of the GI Bill, work for another twenty years after leaving the military, then sell that house and use the funds for building the retirement house; just as Mom and Dad had done.

And then … that plan was diverted. I began to like Texas very much … and realized that sale of a house in Texas probably wouldn’t bring me enough to build much more than a garden shed in California. And then the current political and economic situation put me off that plan even more. In the meantime, one of my jobs is for a local ranch real estate guy – I bring some order to his office, and put together the brochures for the properties that he is working … and I won’t soon forget the one that I was putting together, when I decided that I would sell my California real estate and take up something in the Hill Country instead. It was for a multi-million-dollar property near Leakey, with a beautiful green natural spring-fed creek lined by huge cypress trees, and I kept looking at the pictures that I was editing into the brochure and thinking, “I want a bit of that.”

So, about three years ago, I consulted with Mom and Dad (who was then still living) and told them that my plans were changed. I wanted a bit of the Hill Country, which I could at least visit on weekends, not something I needed to drive for two days to see. I was partner in a Tiny Bidness which was so locally-focused that taking it anywhere else just wasn’t possible, I was connected through an interesting array of people, I was a member of a local Tea Party, and I had written three novels about the place … heck, I even have a pair of ornate western boots, although the pick-up truck and the hunting rifle are still in the future. The die was cast. I listed the three acres with a local realtor, and waited and waited and waited. Honestly, it’s a hard tract to sell, not being appealing to every taste; on the edge of a national forest, miles from any seriously scenic attractions, no electricity (most of the neighbors depending on generators) and having to dig a well for water. Well, that was why it was affordable to me in the first place. But this week I finally got a bid on it which would allow me to break even on what I paid for it. And I took it. Honestly, what I wanted was something close to what I had put into it in the first place, although I think my ranch real estate friend is convinced that when it comes to land sales I oughtn’t to be allowed out without a responsible keeper. He thinks the terms are eh-to-barely OK. But I have accepted them – the sale goes into escrow today, and in another few weeks, the ranch real estate friend and I and my daughter will take a long drive into the hills to look at what we can see. I am looking forward to that – and having my own little bit of paradise close by.

Still, it’s a bit of a wrench – I loved living in California very much, loved growing up there, hiking and riding in the hills, being able to go from the seashore to the high Sierras in a few hours. I loved the smell of citrus orchards, and the look of the hills, golden-tawny and spotted with live oak trees, dusty blue in the distance, the little pre-war cottages like my grandparent’s house, purple jacaranda blooming at Christmas, and palm trees rustling in the wind. That California still is there of course – but in increasingly smaller patches. Time to move on.

(cross-posted at www.chicagoboyz.net)

20. August 2013 · Comments Off on One of Those Weeks · Categories: Ain't That America?, Home Front, Local

And it’s only Tuesday, too. It’s also Red Hat evening, for the ladies of the small group who are in the habit of sampling the delights of a select restaurant, on the evening of the third Tuesday of the month. Hey, I need a social life, or so says Blondie. It’s about the only darned time I do eat a restaurant meal – and the informal rules of the club are that the person whose’ birthday falls in that month picks the restaurant, and that it be a reasonably priced one. So an evening out in the offing tonight – although it will be a goodish drive over to the venue for this evening.

Otherwise, it’s been kind of a mixed bag; this morning I had an email from the California realtor who is listing the once-wooded and now-possibly-wooded again acreage that I own in Julian, California. I’ve been trying to sell it for almost three years now, and the realtor finally had a good solid offer for it, which he wanted to run by me. Well, the offer is for $5,000 more than I paid for it myself, which I am perfectly happy with. The last serious offer was for $10,000 less – and that I considered a bloody insult. So … when the check is in my hot little hand, then I will go to my ranch realtor friend and sometime employer, and see about a couple of acres in the Hill Country. I did up a brochure for him yesterday, with pictures of a little place in Frio County – not that I want that place, but it is something like it that I would be looking for. Meadows dotted with large oaks, a water well and two tiny and rather ramshackle appearing cottages on it. Something like that, I told him – something small and unpretentious. If it’s structurally sound, repair and renovate the house (or houses) and if not, tear down and build something like it. I wouldn’t be interested in a big house, either – just a small one with room for a little guest cottage or two. So, if the sale goes through – then, one step closer to my dream Hill Country retreat.

The Tiny Publishing Bidness has a couple of clients on board, and a prospective big project in the offing – but my business partner, the original owner of it – has not been entirely well this year. She’s in her eighties, and this week is going in for treatments. Both her mother and her brother died rather painfully from pancreatic cancer, and so of course she is dreading the same fate. Naturally, her mind is not the least focused on work. Still, she is in better shape than one of Blondie’s regular employers, another sweet elderly lady living around the corner. (Blondie cleans house for her once a month, and is on call for errands and to drive her to doctor appointments when the sweet elderly lady’s daughters are not available. She has not been well either; and has been hospitalized for several weeks. Her chronic problem is back again, and she is not strong enough for chemotherapy … or anything, really. She was released from hospital, into home hospice care, and it’s a matter of just waiting, now. Blondie is gutted, of course – she is very fond of both these senior citizens.

The friend that Blondie was going to go into business with – to found a little art enterprise which would eventually support both of them – that one fell by the wayside, although we both rather saw it coming. The friend loves drama, having that traditional artistic temperament. We thought that she could at least focus on business matters sufficiently to be able to avoid inflicting the drama on Blondie … but nope. All is not lost, though – Blondie is going to forge ahead with the origami art, and set up a website of her own, and go through all the hoops and requirements of getting the sales license, and setting up a boutique business of her own.

And I am just fiddling with the final format of The Quivera Trail – the next book, which will roll out at New Braunfels’ Weihnachtsmarkt in November. And as soon as I am done with that, and the other Tiny Publishing Bidness projects, I will start on the next book…
And that’s my week. Yours?

17. January 2013 · Comments Off on A Brief Memoir of Guns · Categories: Ain't That America?, Domestic, History, Home Front, Memoir, Military, Old West · Tags: , ,

Oddly enough – guns were not a terribly real presence in the household – or even the neighborhood where I grew up. Dad, and our near friends and neighbors didn’t hunt, and as near as I can recall, none of them were obsessed collectors. I never even saw a firearm, in use on on display – save in the holsters of law enforcement personnel – all the time that I was growing up. The use of firearms of any sort was an issue so far off the table that it wasn’t even in the same room. Oh, my brother JP had cap pistols, and Dad did possess two sidearms – a pistol, which may have been a Luger, and with which he nailed a particularly annoying gopher one evening with a clean shot through the nasty little buggers’ head – and a Navy Colt (actual model unspecified), which was rather more of a relic than a useful firearm. I saw it once and once only.

Dad kept those firearms in some secure place in the house; I do not know where, never wondered and none of us children were never motivated enough to search for them. We just were not that curious about guns, even though the Colt had a story behind it. Mom and Dad had found it secreted away between some rocks on the beach, in a battered old-fashioned leather holster, I think about the time that they were living in Laguna Beach when Dad had just gotten back from a tour of Army service in Korea – or possibly this happened when we were all living in GI-Bill student housing in Santa Barbara. From what Mom had said, some six or eight months before they found it, there had been a robbery of a local gun collector. They didn’t hear about the robbery for months or possibly years afterwards – so, they kept it. I don’t imagine Dad ever attempted to fire it, although being a tidy and logical person, he might have cleaned it up before putting it away.

Being a west-coast suburban sort of person, and since Dad and none of his friends were hunters – guns just were not a presence in real life, save in holsters on the hips of law enforcement personnel. As strange as it may sound to a European, or to someone from an American inner-city sink, it is entirely possible to live for decades without ever seeing anyone but a law enforcement officer carry a weapon, or witness an act of gun violence or the aftermath thereof. Just chalk that up to being a middle-class person with absolutely no inclination to walk on the wild side … of anything. It is possible that any number of my friends and neighbors at the time, or since then, had a side-arm or long gun which they kept quietly in a closet, or in the glove box of their car. Taking it out and waving it about was just not the done thing.

In point of fact – I never even handled a weapon personally until well into my military service; first an M-16, which I had to qualify on sometime in the early 1980s, and then again with a Beretta pistol in the early 1990s, upon being suddenly faced with a TDY to Saudi Arabia, better known as the Magic Kingdom. American military personnel with orders there had to be qualified to handle that sidearm. Fortunately, the orders fell through once the powers who issued them realized that I was not the flight-qualified documentary photog they were looking for.

And then I finished up settling in Texas, and turning to writing historical fiction, in which guns of various sorts do play a part. Again, although Texas is supposed to be the wild, wild, gun-loving west, personal weapons generally they aren’t any more visible here then they were back when I was a kid … although I do believe more of my friends and acquaintances here do have them – mostly as collectors and historical enthusiasts. Again, usually only the law enforcement officers carry openly … unless it is a historical reenactment event, and then it’s katy-bar-the-door. Through the offices of another blogger, I did manage to get a brief course in the use and maintenance of an early Colt revolver, and through the good offices of another friend, we enjoyed an afternoon of black-power shooting on a ranch near Beeville. But all of that – and a bit of ghost-writing about early revolvers is about all that I have ever had to do with guns. I should hate to think that I might need more than this – because it will truly mean that my world has changed, and not for the better.

(Crossposted at my book blog)

23. May 2012 · Comments Off on L-D-S · Categories: Domestic, Fun and Games, Home Front, Local, Pajama Game, Politics, Tea Time, World

It looks like Mittens is our man, as far as the GOP presy-nom goes in this year of Our Lord 2012. Not my personal first choice, as I retained a sneaking affection for Rick Perry as one of the very first among our dear establishment Repubs who glommed onto the Tea Party from the get go … but, eh … this is not a perfect world, probably will never be a perfect world. Speaking as an amateur historian, it’s more interesting as an imperfect world anyway. As far as I’m concerned in this current election season, Anybody But Obama will do for me. I don’t care wildly for establishment career Republicans, especially the ones embedded in the Washington D.C. establishment like an impacted wisdom tooth … but in a realistic world, we work with what we can get.

Of course, one of the sneaky push-backs generated as the campaign season wears on through summer and fall will be objections and veiled – or not so veiled – criticisms of Mitten’s Mormon faith. That is, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, LDS for short, the common reference within those communities particularly thick with them. (In Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, which saw the Enterprise crew voyage backwards in time to our tumultuous century, Captain Kirk attempted to cover for strangeness in Mr. Spock’s conduct by saying, “Oh, he did too much LDS in the Sixties. That line raised an enormous horse-laugh in the theater in Layton, Utah, where I saw that movie in first run: Probably not so much as a giggle, everywhere else.)
In the event of his nomination as GOP candidate, I remain confident that every scary trope about Mormons will be taken out and shaken vigorously, as representatives of the U.S. establishment press furrow their brows thoughtfully and mouth the successor-to-JournoList talking points, and members of the foreign press corps (such as the BBC) worry their pretty, empty heads about those crazy fundamentalist Americans going at it again. Christian fundamentalists on steroids, is what it will boil down to, I am sure. Polygamous marriage, every shopworn cliché about Religion American-style that you’ve ever seen in books, movies and television will be put out there. How our press nobility can accomplish this and still look away from the nuttier-‘n-squirrel-poop ravings of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright of Chicago without giving themselves existential whiplash, I can’t imagine. I am confident that a prospective Romney presidency will be painted as about one degree off from A Handmaid’s Tale, and there will be plenty of blue-state punters who will eat it up with a spoon. I would hope that the sensible ones would be able to stop hyperventilating long enough to listen to reason about all this.
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20. April 2012 · Comments Off on All Things Doggish · Categories: Ain't That America?, Critters, Domestic, Home Front

It has happened to us again; we came home from morning walkies on Thursday with an extra dog, to the bafflement and apparent disgust of the Lesser Weevil and Connor … who seem to be getting over it, even as I write. The current canine find is small, attractive, and relatively well-behaved and seems to be agreeable to cats. Which a dog in our house had damn-well better be … the cats outnumber the dogs, and are Superior Beings – at least, as the cats see it, and woe betide the canine which doesn’t acknowledge this superiority immediately.
We have done this quite often – arrived home with another dog. Usually we can locate an owner almost at once – either the original owner or someone who will step up to the plate and take said dog on. Now and again we have had to turn them over to the county animal shelter; a concern which is trying their damndest to re-house the amiable and healthy animals which are turned into their facility. This time we do have some hopes of locating the owner who is missing him. How many people in a short range of our neighborhood have managed to misplace what appears to the expert eye (of a breeder just a short way away) to be a young pure-bred male Pomeranian, of an appealing reddish coloring, an amiable personality, and agreeable to other cats and dogs. He (an unmistakably un-neutered he) was running around on one of the main streets through our neighborhood. It took a bit of effort to catch him, as they are fast-moving little b****rds. Two of our neighbors stopped and told us – as we were carrying him home – that they had tried to catch him, as he was merrily skipping about in the traffic along that main feeder avenue. We were the first to be successful, probably because he was curious about Weevil and Connor, so that after about three blocks of pursuit, feints and dodges, my daughter managed to scoop him up in her arms and carry him homewards – all eight pounds and some. Of which I think a pound or so is in the weight of his fur and about half a pound in the weight of his balls … un-neutered male, as I said.
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29. January 2012 · Comments Off on Weekly Miscellany · Categories: General, Home Front, Media Matters Not, Politics, sarcasm, Veteran's Affairs

It’s been another one of those weeks, sportsfans; all kinds of odd things going on, some of them personal and some of them in the larger world. Kind of hard to see which of them are more important in the big scheme o’ things, and not many of them worth a full blog-post.

1. So King Barry I did his state of the union address this week. Meh … I didn’t watch, although we did catch a few seconds of it while channel-surfing. Just enough time to wonder why on earth he appeared to be such a garish orange color … seriously, he looked like a giant Cheeto with ears. I gather the speech was the same paint by the numbers blah-blah-blah. It must not have gone over all that well with the partisans, because I distinctly heard an announcer or a guest on a certain classical music program make a crack about it; something about a certain classical music performer getting more applause than the state of the union address.

2. Gingrich or Romney, Romney or Gingrich. I am underwhelmed. The sniping between the partisans is unseemly. My one wistful desire is that it were possible to take elements of all the candidates and mold them into one single candidate: Gingrich’s fire and take-no-prisoners attitude, Romney’s skill at organization, Santorum’s constancy to principle, Perry’s experience as a governor … but it isn’t, so I’ll just have to deal with the easy decision of who to vote for in November. Anybody but King Barry, of course, but I might give the Dread Cthulhu a look-in.

3. Working all week on an editing job; a novelette supposed to be a horror story, but in actuality it was what I call secondary guy-porn. Primary guy porn is what you think it is, secondary guy porn has lots of loving detail about weapons and vehicles in it. Secondary fem-porn has lots of loving detail about clothes and accessories. Hey, it’s a living. And it’s not the worst project I’ve ever edited.

4. The second edition of the separate books of the Adelsverein Trilogy has been uploaded to Lightning Source, the proofs are approved, and it should be listed on Amazon and the usual suspects by the end of the week – and at a price of a couple of bucks cheaper than the first edition. I’d always winced, looking at the retail price, and winced again, whenever I had to purchase a bulk quantity at my author discount from Booklocker. Here’s hoping that the Trilogy chugs along just as steadily as Truckee does – both e-book and print versions … and the German translation sells like hot-cakes.

5. Sigh. We found another lost dog. And no, we’re not keeping this one, as we did with Connor. German shepherdish, youngish, fairly clean and well-mannered, unneutered male, bouncing around in the empty field back of St. Helena’s. He followed along with us, all the way home; did not take well to having a leash put on him, so we deduce that he was never taken for walkies. Of course no tags. He’s already listed on fido-finder, and tomorrow we’ll go through the usual rounds. The other two dogs are freaked out by this. The Weevil has taken over Connor’s bed, wedged underneath my desk, and Conner has had to take the Weevil’s bed, which I moved over next to my chair.

And that’s been my week – yours?

In no particular order of importance, I contemplate the following:

1. Regretfully, Morgan Freeman has now joined my personal celebrity s**t list, for pronouncing the Tea Party to be racist. Usually those who fall into my list have a long track record of offences; he has done it in one fell swoop of a lengthy TV interview. Yes, I know that most actors and entertainers are political morons – especially those who feel obliged to piss off a major portion of their fan-base.

2. So . . . thirty years ago, there was a rock on a hunting lease in West Texas with a racial epithet painted on it . . . which was painted over by the lease-holder, at the urging of his son, who is now presently the Governor of Texas. And this is all that the WaPo can find by way of criticism of the man. Hoooo-kayyy. From those wonderful people who brought us Watergate, this is a sad come-down.

3. And speaking of Watergate – it didn’t actually kill anyone, which is more than you can say for Operation Fast and Furious, or ‘hey boys’n’girls, lets have the ATF take the lead in supplying serious weaponry to the Mexican drug cartels!’ Seriously, if the Mexican government was to demand extradition of Attorney General Eric Holder, the head of the ATF, and every other numbskull who expedited the various gun-running operations on charges of criminal misconduct and accessory to murder, I’d say – have at it. Deliver them all to the border in handcuffs, with a big pink bow around their necks. Impeach now.

4. Michelle Antoinette’s little excursion to Target? Oh, please, woman – if you had any nerve at all, you’d have gone to Walmart.

5. Will Amanda Knox dethrone Casey Anthony when it comes to criminal justice tabloid fodder? Should I or anyone else not in the immediate family or social circle of either one really care one way or the other?

6. And why is it now October and we are still having to run the air conditioning?

PS – and one more thing: every time I hear something being flogged as ‘green’ and ‘environmentally sound’ or ‘renewable’ … I am fairly sure the object in question is a rip-off, and/or completely unsatisfactory compared to the non-green, environmentally unsound, and non-renewable version.

10. September 2011 · Comments Off on 3,650 Days · Categories: Ain't That America?, Fun With Islam, General, History, Home Front, Memoir, War

Three thousand, six hundred fifty days, more or less,depending on leap years – since the end of the 20th century. Oh, I know, calendar-wise, only a year or two off. But we don’t count strictly by the calendar. Afterwards, we count by events. Myself, I have the feeling that the 19th century didn’t truly end for good and all until 1914. That’s when the 20th century began, in the muddy trenches of WW1. All the previous comfortable understandings and optimistic assumptions of the earlier world were shattered right along with three monarchial dynasties, over the course of four years. When it was over, the world of the time before seemed impossibly far removed, to those who could remember it – a number which, as the decades passed, became steadily fewer, until that world was entirely the stuff of books, paintings and relics, rather than true human recollections. We eventually adjusted and accepted the new reality of things. The old way, and the shattering events in which it passed – became a date on a monument, a paragraph in a history text, a book on the shelf.

Being that humans are mostly optimistic and pretty adaptable, we patched together some new understandings and assumptions, which worked pretty well – or at least we became accustomed to them . . . until the 20th century ended on a glorious autumn morning, ten years ago. One day. And then we had to become accustomed to the new reality. More than three thousand dead, a hole in the New York skyline that will never be filled in again – the ghosts of twin silvery towers showing up in the backgrounds of movies, now and again, drawing your sudden attention with a catch at the heart and memory.

And three thousand-something men and women who went off to work one morning, families who took a vacation, catching an early morning airplane flight, firefighters going on shift, everyone living out those thousands of petty daily routines, most of them probably quite boring. I am certain that practically every one of those who became casualties on that morning – a name and a face on a makeshift poster, a black-framed picture on the mantel or in the obituary pages – were looking forward to the end of the workday, the end of their journey – to coming home for a good dinner, wrapping up that business trip and getting on with that portion of our life that is ours, and belongs to us and our families and loved ones alone.

But they were never allowed that luxury, of having a tonight, a tomorrow. Those lives which they might have had, would have – were brutally wrenched from them, in an organized act of terrorism, wrenched from them in fire and horror and blood, while the rest of us watched or listened – watched in person, on television, or were glued to a radio – ten years ago today.

Ten years. Time enough for children to grow to middle-school age, never remembering that time before, or the loss of a father or mother, who worked in a department in the outer ring of the Pentagon, or in an office on a high floor of the World Trade center. A foreign country to them, is that place, where once you could go into the airport terminal and go all the way to the gate to meet an arriving friend . . . and for travelers not to have to take off their shoes to go through security. Or even have to go through security, come to think on it. A world where one could have no reaction but idle curiosity upon noticing a woman in full black burka, or a nervous-appearing man of Middle-eastern appearance, taking pictures of an otherwise undistinguished bridge or power station. A world where a familiarity with the dictates of the Koran and the Hadith, the maunderings of Sayyid Qutb as regards America and the workings of a desert tribal autocracy are an eccentric interest and hobby – not a professional necessity.

Ten years. The world that was passes from memory, and we have the brutal world of ‘now.’ As an amateur historian, one of my own comforts on this anniversary is that – it was always like this. We will survive, we will live in a world that is made new and eternally renewed by events, events that will eventually fade . . .

But today, we remember.

Past anniversary posts –
I didn’t write a specialized post for 2009, and last year I only reposted some music videos.

11. July 2011 · Comments Off on Well, Then · Categories: Ain't That America?, General, Home Front, Politics, Rant

I am so spoiled for choice when it comes to political idiocy of the week, but this particular bit of arrogant ‘the proles are too stupid to live without the guidance of the best’n’brightest of the current administration’ just about tops my list when it comes to a list of people who – in a just world should be pelted with rotten vegetables and then shunned by all decent citizens. Words fail – but only momentarily, upon following the breadcrumb trail to the original account in the Wall Street Journal – which is unfortunately subscriber only – just the first few sentences only are quite enough:

“In a conference call with reporters, Mr. Chu said the more-efficient bulbs required would save consumers money over the life of the product, even if the up-front price is higher.
“We are taking away a choice that continues to let people waste their own money,” he said.”

Excuse moi! Or to put it in blunt military language – who the f**k died and made you god – that you and your disgusting ilk think yourselves have the right to dictate what or what we shouldn’t do, when it comes to personal choices as regards the care of our households? Or by extension, what we should eat, wear, drive, drink, where we should live – I had a bucket-load of that when I was in the military, bucko, that’s why I am a prickly libertarian today. And – you kids, stay off my lawn! Keeping people from wasting their own money, forsooth? How about closing down state lotteries? Or Indian casinos? Yeah, thought not.

So, here’s the down-low, Mr. Chu darlin’ – the only possible way that I accept someone dictating to me what is a waste of my own personal money, is either to be my dad (who has passed on) or to marry me (and a couple of million other citizens). Pucker up, buttercup – or take your worthless dictatorial *ss off and get yourself another hobby. Otherwise, this – *0 – is a rotten tomato, headed in your direction with considerable force. And I will be purchasing another case of 100w incandescent light bulbs as soon as possible. Anything to put the tiniest crimp in our government’s grand intentions of foisting off all those insanely expensive curly-whirly, un-flattering light-producing, un-dimmer-switchable, so-called energy-saving bulbs . . . which really don’t last all that longer than incandescent bulbs anyway.

You heard me, Mr. Chu. I’ll spend my money on the light bulbs of my own choice . . . and if you don’t like it – come and take them. Be warned, though; it didn’t work out all that well, the last time someone in Texas tried to come and take it.

03. March 2011 · Comments Off on Because You’re Pissing Us Off · Categories: AARRRMY TRAINING SIR!!!, Ain't That America?, Domestic, Home Front

I saw an online headline in the past couple of days that read, “Teachers wonder:  Why the scorn?”  Had a similar question pop up from an old friend from high school on Facebook.  It also came up up last election season when yet another old friend was running for some position in California (he’s a teacher by trade) and wanted to know why military people seemed so dismissive of “Teacher’s rights?”

I can’t say it’s the right answer or the only answer, but it is my answer:  Military people teach every day.  We train our subordinates, in and out of the classroom.  We help them develop their careers.  We act as mentors, counselors, teachers, friends, parental surrogates, and boss.  We don’t think it’s all that big a deal.  Yes, some people are better at teaching in a formal situation than others, but the passing on of information is not magic.  Not in 2011 when people actually get degrees without interacting with a teacher other than via email or online forum.

One old friend argued that because she has more formal education than most lawyers, and certainly more than “most idiot Republican” politicians, she’s entitled to more money.  I asked if she were teaching MORE as a result of that education?  No.  Was she teaching harder material as a result of that education?  No.  I asked her how her level of education effected how well she taught a standardized curriculum and she got downright pissy.  “There is NO such thing as a standardized curriculum, if you’d ever REALLY taught, you’d know that.”  I ignored that entirely and drove home my point:  A teacher’s level of education has little to no effect on their ability to communicate a set collection of information to their students.  Follow up questions, in-depth subject background, oh-by-the-way-you-might-find-this-bit-of-minutia-interesting, THOSE all benefit from you’re having an advanced degree IN THE SUBJECT YOU’RE TEACHING.  Your advanced degrees make YOU a more informed person, but you’re not doing my kid any more good than the fresh faced youngster with a new BA and teaching certificate who may actually still CARE about teaching.

“Back where I come from, we have universities, seats of great learning, where men go to become great thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts and with no more brains than you have.”  ~The Wizard of Oz to Scarecrow.

Unions:  At this point, unions aren’t helping teachers one bit.  When teachers’ unions were formed, they were necessary to ensure that teachers could make a living wage.  And they ARE making a living wage.  They don’t get paid a lot, in most cases, but they now have pay and benefits that are above the poverty line by a good margin.  Good teachers, exceptional teachers, get paid exactly the same amount as really crappy teachers.  Why?  Unions.  The unions are for equality, across the board, no matter how much you suck.  They are a beast that must be fed and to be fed, they must get more for their union members so the union members can feed them more.  They’re like many another bureaucracy, the initial reason for their existence has LONG passed, but they must justify their continuation and the way they do that is to insist that their members are some sort of victims, insist that only the union can keep the evil political machine at bay, only the union can “fix” what is broken.

The problem is that these days we’re all victims, we’re all not making enough, we’re all working harder for less money and teachers unions trying to argue that they’re still worse off than most of the rest of us, just isn’t flying.  If you’ve got a salary AND insurance these days, you’re doing pretty damn well.  We’re broke too, and for you to ask more of us while we’re still struggling to get back on our feet, is just damn insulting.

THAT’S why the scorn.

25. January 2011 · Comments Off on On the Edge of the Wilderness · Categories: Ain't That America?, General, Home Front, Veteran's Affairs, World

Well, it’s not the wilderness, actually – that place where my parents built their retirement house, but it would certainly look so to someone more used to living in the city. No streetlights, and the houses are set back from unpaved roads, so a possessing good stock of flashlights and fresh batteries are something that every household out here needs, especially if people are planning to go somewhere and return after dark. I had to work the combination to the front gate by the light of my cell phone at one point, so no – I won’t forget a flashlight on my next visit, especially if I am going someplace after dark. There may be starlight and moonlight on occasion, but underneath the trees, it can get as black as the inside of a cow.

Which some of the neighbors have, by the way. A cow. And some goats. At least half of them have horses, too, now all winter-shaggy and bored, mooching around in their corrals, next to the road. At once place, the horses managed to chew away a lot of the three-rail wooden fence. The previous owners used to keep it all in good repair and painstakingly painted white. The new owner doesn’t seem to care quite so much. Everyone has dogs in their yards. At my parents’ place, one can track a pedestrian around the neighborhood by following the sounds of sequential dogs barking. There are also coyotes on the prowl, especially at night. This does not make it healthy for outdoor cats; my parents and most of their neighbors have lost cats to coyotes and other predators, in spite of taking every care. It seems that the only way to keep cats entirely safe is to keep them indoors.

For some strange, atavistic reason, my parents have always loved living on a dirt road, out in the hills. Possibly this cuts down the numbers of door-to-door evangelists and vacuum cleaner salespeople, but it’s heck on automobile suspensions … especially when a heavy rain has gouged huge gullies across the roadway, and what would have been the gutters on either side became canyons capable of swallowing up Mini-Coopers. Or they would, if anyone was demented enough to drive a Mini-Cooper along some of these roads. This last December was nothing but wall to wall rainstorms. A couple of their close neighbors are contractors, with small businesses and earth-moving equipment. They have a lot of fun playing around, re-grading the road, although one of them, known as the Bad Neighbor, didn’t helped much at all. He tried to fill the ruts with adobe, scraped up from his property. Alas, wet adobe turns into slippery mud; in the next heavy rain, one particular spot will be a kind of automobile slip-n-slide for an unwary driver traveling at more than 20 miles an hour. The water and power authorities offered more useful assistance by dumping concrete and asphalt rubble into the deepest of the gullies.

The rain made everything even greener than the winter rains usually do, though. The big fire seven years ago cleared away a lot of undergrowth, and of course, the various fire departments since then have cleared even more. The familiar marks of an old brush-fire are evident everywhere: the parti-colored dead branches of a tree or a shrub, bleached white in some places, soot-blackened in others, sticking up out of the middle of a lush thicket of new green growth.

Birds were everywhere – humming-birds squeaking like rusty hinges, and quail rustling through the undergrowth. I would surprise rabbits in the morning, when I walked down the hill for the newspapers: tan-colored, with a little white-cotton powderpuff for a tail. They lolloped lazily out of my way, as if humans didn’t frighten them very much at all. Probably they don’t: dogs and coyotes must be more of a real danger to the rabbits.

And that’s what it’s like, back in the hills. Given a choice, I’d have my own country retreat … but I think I’d skip the unpaved road part of it. Asphalt paving is a wondrous invention.

11. August 2010 · Comments Off on Just Another Small Note · Categories: Domestic, General, History, Home Front, Literary Good Stuff, That's Entertainment!

…a note in C-sharp.
I have a couple of horrifically impending deadlines, so blogging is at a minimum until I can meet them – and it is important to meet the most impending of them since it is a paid writing project.
Another of them is the follow-on to this book, A 21 Story Salute
Finally, I have to carve out some time after these two projects are done to finish the next book, which will be called Daughter of Texas, although the working title all along has been Gone to Texas.
In September, I will be at the West Texas Book and Music Festival in Abilene, Texas to promote the books now available. May I ask a favor – of those readers who have read To Truckee’s Trail and the Adelsverein Trilogy? If you haven’t done so, can you post a rating and review on Amazon for them? Nothing especially lengthy; just let readers know what you liked about it – and if you have criticisms, be honest about that, too. It’s kind of embarrassing, they’ve been out on the market all this time, and have only a handful of reviews each. (Although oddly enough, they still continue to climb in the ratings. But slowly … like an arthritic snail crawling across a hot asphalt parking lot.)

Sgt Mom

02. May 2010 · Comments Off on Land, Lots of Land · Categories: General, Home Front, Memoir, Veteran's Affairs, Working In A Salt Mine..., World

Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above,
Don’t fence me in.
Let me ride through the wide open country that I love,
Don’t fence me in.
Let me be by myself in the evenin’ breeze,
And listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees,
Send me off forever but I ask you please,
Don’t fence me in.

So, I came to a decision about a week or so ago, one that I sensibly should have come to a couple of years ago . . . except that a couple of years ago might not have been the time, either. This was just one of those things that I don’t think about very much, except twice a year when I have to figure out how to pay the taxes on it. Yes, when I get the bill from the San Diego assessor’s office for the three acres and some of unimproved howling wilderness that I own – that’s when I remember that yes, indeedly-do, neighbors – I am a landowner. It’s a nice little tract, which would have been covered with black oak, pine trees and mountain laurel, on the edge of a national forest – save for a plague of bark beetles throughout the 1990s, topped by a massive forest fire in 2003. But everything should be fairly well grown back by now – look at how Yellowstone looked, a decade after fires there. I saw the pictures in the National Geographic; natural cycle and all that. As far as So Cal goes, my land is so far back in the woods that they have to truck in sunshine. The roads are graveled, but the electrical lines have crept gradually in, as other owners built little cabins on their patch of Paradise. Me, I have only visited it once in twenty years, although I have a fair number of pictures.

About halfway through my career in the military – a career spent almost exclusively overseas, my daughter and I came home to visit my parents, who had retired to build their own country hideaway. For one reason or another, I thought – well, I shall retire eventually, and why don’t I start by purchasing a bit of land close by, something that I could build on? Having lived in a series of drab rentals and equally drab military housing, the thought of a bespoke home of my own was understandably enticing. And so, my parents drove me around to look at some nice little bits, eventually focusing on the mountains near a charming little town called Julian. We hadn’t actually fixed on a suitable tract – but my parents knew my tastes by then. Basically, I bought my property on their advice. Used a reenlistment bonus granted when I re-upped for a second hitch in the Big Blue Machine for the down payment, and religiously for the next ten years or so, I mailed a check to an address in Ohio. I don’t think I thought about it too much then, either. I think I was stationed in Utah when I came to the final payment – even then I had written to the former owner, asking plaintively if June or July’s payment would be the last, for I had rather lost track.

So – I had the property; now to sort out how to build a house on it. When I finally returned from overseas, I had pretty much resolved that I would buy a house to live in for the rest of my time in the Air Force, rather than continue pouring money down the rental-rat-hole. I’d continue working until the mortgage was paid – then sell the house and use the equity to fund a new house on my land. When I first formulated this plan, I had kind of half-expected that my last active-duty tour would be at a base of my choosing: the assignments weenies for my career field used to be rather good at this. You could retire in a town where you already had done the ground-work for a post-service career, bought the house, got the child or children established in a local school. Lucky me – I got sent to Texas. Which was third on my list, by the way – but I did buy the house.

And then . . . well, things happened. It’s called life, which happens even when you have plans. One of those things which happened was that Texas – rather like bathroom mold – grows on you. Really; after a while, practically everywhere else seems dry and savorless, devoid of an exuberant sense of place and identity. And the countryside is lovely: east and central Texas is nothing like what it looks in Western movies. It is green, threaded with rivers lined with cypress trees, interspersed with rolling hills dotted with oak trees and wildflowers star-scattered everywhere. I put down roots here, made friends and connections, both personal and professional. I wrote books, set mostly in a locality not very far away, books which have garnered me readers and fans, and a partnership in a little specialty publishing firm. I have come to love San Antonio; which I have described for years as a small town, cunningly disguised as a large city. (Really – you can connect anyone with anyone else in this town in about two jumps. There’s only about two degrees of separation here. You simply would not believe how many people I know who are connected to other people I know. And I don’t even belong to the San Antonio Country Club, though I was a guest there, once.)

Another of those local connections is to a semi-occasional employer, the gentleman known as the Tallest ADHD Child on Earth. He runs a tiny ranch real estate bidness from a home office, but since he is hopelessly inept at anything to do with logical organization, computers and office management, I put in a small number of hours there, every week or so, just to keep his files and documents from becoming a kind of administrative black hole, sucking in everything within range. I put together his various brochures for the various properties that he has listings for – and last week, while assembling one of them, I was thinking all the while, “I so want a bit of that.” I’d rather have a bit of land, maybe park a little cabin on it for now, where I could go and spend quiet weekends. I’d rather have something I could drive up to in a couple of hours, rather than in two days. So, I told Mom and Dad to put the California acreage with a local realtor, and my friend the ranch real estate expert that I would be looking for a nice acre or two. It feels good, it really does.

I expect that I will eventually be driving a pickup truck. But the gimme cap, the gun rack and the hunting dog are still negotiable.

12. April 2010 · Comments Off on What I Saw at the Milblogger Convention · Categories: Ain't That America?, Domestic, General, Home Front, Media Matters Not, Military

Let’s see – I experienced air travel at the end of the first decade of this century. I can report that practically every shred of comfort, convenience, and excitement has been removed from the travel experience itself with almost surgical precision – although the ability to check in from your home computer and print up your boarding pass is a welcome development, and the lavish proliferation of food courts at the major hubs is similarly welcome. Especially as it seems that a tiny bag of peanuts, or a cookie and some juice or a soft-drink of choice is about the only thing served to coach passengers on short haul flights. I expect that the next step in the progression will be that the cabin staff will no longer actually hand them out from the narrow metal cart hauled up and down the aisles. Within a short time, I think they will probably hand them out after they swipe your boarding pass at the departure gate, and save the cabin staff considerable trouble. (It’s still better than MAC flights, though. Not much, but still better.)

The Atlanta airport is presently so big that it could possibly secede from Atlanta proper, and set up as its own municipality.

The area around the mid-Atlantic coast is green, green, green. Even from the air, you can make out vivid blobs of pink from the cherry trees in bloom. The dogwood trees are in bloom, too, and all along the parkway between Baltimore and Washington DC, there were tangles of purple wisteria. It’s very nice, to have belts of trees, along the parkways and highways, separating the housing tracts, warehouses and whatever from the highway. Looking at the ass-end of a strip-mall as you drive along is not aesthetically appealing. Sad lack of ground-growing wildflowers, though. I looked at the verges, which had grass and dandelions in plenty, but not much else, and thought, “Dandelions! Dandelions!!!That’s all you got, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia! Pah!”

I have seen the Washington Monument at a distance and close-up and from many angles, as I suspect the shuttle-bus driver actually circled through downtown DC several times. I have also seen the Capitol Building, and the White House, inspected the façade of the Department of Commerce building, and the quaint brick sidewalks and cobbled streets of Georgetown. We were stuck in traffic, so I had plenty of time to contemplate all of these structures. Teensy brick three and four-story townhouses in Georgetown about the width of a small yawn apparently sell for $500,000 when they come on the market.

This is a beautiful time to visit that part of the country; I am told that only the autumn foliage equals spring for sheer natural spectacle.

The Westin Arlington Gateway is a very pleasant place to stay, as hotels go, although slightly on the pricy side. The rooms are mega-comfortable, being designed around a tasteful luxury-spa theme, with lots of pale green, sage and white. The beds are piled with pillows and a thick comforter – all in pristine white. They have their own very special brand of scented white-tea-aloe soap and toiletries – and have them for sale in regular sizes for those who just can’t take away enough of the little individual bottles.

Contra the usual expectation of bloggers being socially inept loners and introverts, who cannot relate face to face to others of their species – the military version appear to be exuberant extroverts . . . even without having had much alcohol to drink.

No one that I talked to at the conference had been mil-blogging longer than I had. I started in August, 2002 – the Dark Ages of mil-blogging – and am still at it, although I have drifted into wider circles than a strictly military/veteran focus. Which makes me rather famous in those circles, although no one asked for my autograph.

To Be Continued – Garry Trudeau, a blogging 4-star admiral, the most gullible troop in all the world, three young men from Hillsdale, and other observations from the 5th Annual Milblogging Conference.

I’ve been invited to be on one of the panels at the 5th Annual MilBlog Conference, in Arlington, Virginia, April 9th and 10th – and Blondie and I are intending to drive, since she will be on spring break! (Route tentatively planned as Dallas-Memphis-Knoxville-Harrisonburg)

Any other milbloggers from the San Antonio or Ft. Hood area also going to the Milblog Conference? Anyone in Arkansas, Tennessee or Virgina want us to stop and visit along the way? Recommend some good eats, or something interesting to see?

01. June 2009 · Comments Off on Monday Morning Doldrums · Categories: General, Home Front, Tea Time, Working In A Salt Mine...

Still recovering from a bad allergy cough that sounded as if I were bringing up a lung – the very sound of which made people edge nervously out of range and ask, with deep concern, if I was all right. I had to beg off working the usual Saturday evening at the hell-hole telephone bank, taking reservations because – it sounds bad to the prospective guests when the reservations agent is hacking away like Camille dying of tuberculosis, and besides, I could barely talk above a whisper. So home and to bed very early, loaded up with over-the-counter stuff which is supposed to help … and this morning was the first time in a week I opened my eyes and felt something close to normal.

Which is all to the good, because I have a book club meeting in Beeville next Monday – this sort of thing is meat and drink to writers, a room full of people who have actually read the book and have serious questions. I got some lovely ideas for the next round of writing about early Texas from the last book-club meeting – so, we’ll see how it goes. Also putting together an IAG-All-Texas writers event for a bookstore in Fredericksburg late in July, the very day after another event for me at the Pioneer Museum. The owners at Berkman Books were all very keen on the idea, so here’s hoping for the best. Hard to tell, how it will all go town, with the economy apparently on the verge of tanking like the Titanic. I’m kind of worried about the other independent bookstore that carries my book, the Twig in Alamo Heights. I managed to scrape far enough ahead of the bills that I could use my royalties to buy copies of the Trilogy for consignment sales, but the Twig management only wanted one of each. When we stopped by to drop them off last week, Blondie noticed that – although there were no gaps in the shelves, they didn’t have much in the way of the other knick-knacks and little non-book items that they usually had in stock before.

I put some more work into on-line marketing, though – Amazon.com has set aside Author pages for a wider array of scribblers than formerly, so I’ve been spending some time this morning uploading the necessary files to expedite the “search inside” feature. Yea on many moons ago, I had uploaded “To Truckee’s Trail” as a Kindle book, and had such an awful time doing it and no appreciable uptick in sales, that I had written off doing so as wasted effort. This was just after Amazon had launched the Kindle Reader Mark One, so I guess the bugs in their system were to be expected. I didn’t upload the Trilogy as a Kindle book until January, when some of the other IAG authors began discussing it; lo-and-behold! Uploading them, and adding the necessary links to the paperback version suddenly was a lot less fraught. I’ve actually had a good few sales of all four books, ever since. Don’t know how or why someone suddenly added Tabasco sauce to Amazon.com’s wheaties, but I’ll play, as long as they’re in a helpful mood.

Ordinarily, my vision of Amazon is that of a huge, cavernous underground warehouse, piled highe with books and other goods, sort of like that in the final scene of the first Indiana Jones movie. Up in the dim ceiling overhead, there is some kind of vast, clanking machine, with tracks and pulleys and long arms which reach down and pick up something, and carry it away. I visualize those items being dropped into a huge hopper, and eventually they emerge on the other end – which is an anonymous UPS drop-box on an anonymous street in a featureless urban warehouse development. The point is, there don’t ever seem to be any humans involved, save for someone in a long gray cloak that slips around the corner and runs away, immediately you catch sight of them … or the whole place may be run by rubbery-tentacled aliens, like the Thermians in Galaxy Quest. In any case, interaction with a real human at Amazon is just about impossible.

Oh, and you’ll never know it, if you get your news from major media outlets, but the San Antonio Tea Party is perking along, planning our big 4th of July bash. It’ll be at the Rio Cibolo Ranch, just east of town, with live music, and speakers and singers, and games, and consciousness-raising, and hay-rides and a herd of long-horns … everything but the kitchen sink. Think of it as a conservative Woodstock. But that’s a month away, and ever so much more to do for it… sigh, back to work.

All righty then – the Daily Brief site is safely transferred over to a new host – all but some posts from the first part of the month, and for putting weird little marks in all of my own posts where the quote-marks and m-dashes go. I assume this is because of my penchant for composing in MS Word and then copying and pasting… my bad. I’ll fix such of my posts as I can.

I have already applied to cut back my hours at the Hellhole Telephone Bank to a more manageable 15 hours a week, since the work for Watercress Press is ramping up. Frankly, I have gotten better at the whole ‘taking reservations’ thing, but entering uncomplicated data into an insanely complicated and antiquated DOS-based program while simultaneously pitching a whole range of add-on services and amusements while trying my darndest to keep the whole transaction under 4 minutes flat… well, lets just say I have had jobs that I hated more. Not many of them, but I did hate them more. I don’t want to napalm my bridges entirely, by quitting outright an employer which – say what you will – does at least pay on a reliable basis. At 15 hours a week (three five-hour stints a week) I can keep my loathing of the place down to a bearable level. At this point, I have taken an oath in blood that I will never, ever set foot on any of the property premises owned by the chain for which I am taking reservations. Seriously, I have begun to dislike them that much.

It’s kind of a moot point this week, as I have caught the most horrendous cold-flu-allergic reaction to mold and dust – or whatever. Sinuses running like Niagara Falls, eyes likewise, sore throat, coughing like Camille, and I can’t talk above a painful croak. Which will pretty much put the kibosh on eight hours of phone work, and honestly, I think they might very well pay me just to go home and take my germs with me. I have an editing job to work on, and when the cold misery gets too much for me, I can turn off the computer and crawl into bed.

Have to be better by Sunday, though – another signing event for “Adelsverein” – this one at a Hastings in New Braunfels. Practically the only bookstore in New Braunfels, I think. If there is an independently owned one in town, I haven’t been able to find it through Googlemaps. I was well enough to send out another mailing, targeting various history museums, or as in some cases, re-targeting them for another round. Eventually, I may get a response from some of them. Already did get an email from the bookstore at the Alamo… yes, that Alamo, the ground-zero of touristic-type attractions in Texas, and I would purely love to have the Trilogy for sale in the bookstore there. Apparently, as part of the process, I do have to send them two review copies, so they may verify that no, my writing does not suck. And at least I was considering this kind of thing far enough in advance as I was writing, that I did set two scenes at the Alamo itself. Not during the immortal siege, of course – that has been done to a turn. No, the old church and the yard in front of it serve as the background for two scenes in Adelsverein set years later, when it was an Army warehouse and marshaling yard.

My grand plan is to have the Trilogy for sale as a local interest item in every town that the plot encompasses. Except for Indianola, of course – that town is no longer there, in a meaningful commercial sense. A trickle of regular royalty payments would suit me right down to the ground, but I do have to carry on with marketing the books here, and there – follow up with letters, with phone calls and postings on various websites and forums.

It’s been said over and over, that the writing of a book is the relatively easier part – getting out and marketing it, that’s the hard work.

26. November 2008 · Comments Off on Another Day, Another Dollar · Categories: Ain't That America?, General, Home Front, Iraq, Veteran's Affairs, Working In A Salt Mine...

And another dirty shirt, so to speak. Blogging has been sporadic here; what with doing reviews, working two jobs, the odd bit of housekeeping here and there, and other stuff. Frankly, all my focus is split between setting up events in support of the “Adelsverein Trilogy” (last chance here to purchase copies for delivery by Christmas! Getcher copies of the greatest epic about the Civil War and its aftermath since Gone With The Wind! Gripping drama, true love, savage murder and bitter revenge… and cows! Be the first member of your book club to say that you have read it!)

Not much energy left over, at the end of all that. Matters military? I’ve been retired from the Air Force for ten years now. It was a blast, and a learned a lot, got to travel to the far ends of the earth, meet unusual and interesting people… but I’m in another part of my life now. I don’t want to go pounding on about being a veteran for the rest of my life, as if I had never been or done anything else.

Iraq? Looks like it’s all over, and the good guys won. What a turn-up, eh? I kind of thought it would take a couple of years longer, a slow process of institutions and infrastructure being rebuilt or constructed new. We’d keep a couple of bases there, out in the country and American forces would rotate in and out, in another short while it will be an accompanied tour, and they’d be tourist busses parked in shoals in front of archeological sites like the Hanging Gardens, and Ur of the Chaldees. Tourists would eat ice-cream from street vendors, and little bits of barbequed something on skewers, and walk up and down the promenade by the river, as it turned silver and gold, from a spectacular sunset. Bagdad would be prosperous, full of tall buildings and profitable businesses – like Seoul today. Veterans of the war would return, and look around and say ‘what-the-%#@!?’. Essentially, it’s in the hands of the Iraqis. We’ll lurk around in the background for a bit, or a couple of decades, but the heavy lifting is just about done.

Does look as if we ourselves are headed for another long, economic wobble. Been there. Seen that. I’ve already lost three jobs on that account in this year alone, and Blondie has lost one, and no one is hiring temporary sales help for Christmas this year, so it’s hard to say how much more ghastly it can get for us. Much as I dislike the whole concept and the whole soul-killing processes of the place, it looks like I will be staying on at the Hellish Corporate Phone Banks for more than the six months that I originally planned, or until book sales pick up. As it is, it looks like I am stuck there for only about fifteen hours a week as it is. I put up my hand and volunteer when the call volume falls off, and four whole roomfuls of people are sitting in their cubicles, twiddling their thumbs and chattering to each other. This afternoon, the two college-age girls in the cubicles next to me had a box of new crayons and were coloring in the pictures of My Little Pony in a coloring book.

Yeah, that’s a disturbing image. Slightly more disturbing was a talk with William, the Gentleman With Whom I Keep Company last weekend. He retired from a heroically long stint as a public school teacher, and has a pension paid by the state of California… which for the month of November was one-quarter what it was the month before. One-time-only glitch with his check? An attempt by the state comptroller to fiddle around with things at the end of the fiscal year? Or a harbinger of something more serious … like the budget of the state of California at the top of a long, slippery slope. William hasn’t gotten any credible explanation out of anyone for this… but if the December pension check is down by the same amount, he foresees having to go back to work, too.

Interesting times, for sure.

(I have just ordered copies of all three books of the Adelsverein Trilogy, so the first two or three fans to order them will be in luck, otherwise, I won’t be able to get autographed copies to you by Christmas. Books One and Two are already there at Amazon, here and here, and at Barnes and Noble, here and here

17. October 2008 · Comments Off on Getting to the Starting Gate · Categories: Ain't That America?, Domestic, General, History, Home Front, Old West, Veteran's Affairs, Working In A Salt Mine...

I’m almost there, with the Adelsverein Trilogy, or as Andrew B. called it so many months ago, “Barsetshire with cypress trees and lots of sidearms”. I began doing work for a local small publisher here in San Antonio; most of it has been spec work, but I did earn something for re-vamping their website, and have a prospect of earning more, doing writing, editing, general admin work, customer hand-holding and building or maintaining websites. The final volume is being edited, the cover is designed and approved – I even put up all three on my literary website, here. (Don’t they look georgous? I am still taking pre-orders, for delivery just before the official release date of December 10. I have a signing at the Twig Bookshop in Alamo Heights December 11, another at Berkman Books in Fredericksburg on December 19th… and the first Saturday in January I will have a discussion of the books and a signing at the Pioneer Museum in Fredericksburg. A certain number of reviews are scheduled to come out in November – links to be provided when available. I would so like the Trilogy to hit big; tell all your friends, pre-order from me or from Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Not just the Trilogy, too – Truckee’s Trail is still selling, and every once in a while someone buys “Our Grandpa was an Alien”.

I am taking a break from writing, from starting on the next project until after getting Adelsverein fairly launched. Just the odd bit of book and movie reviews, blogging and tooting my own horn, market-wise, and reading a tall stack of books to get ready for the first installment of a new trilogy; this one set in the last days of Spanish and Mexican Texas, when there were all sorts of odd characters wandering around… oh, and working for reliable (mostly reliable) pay at the corporate phone bank enterprise up the road, three and a half days a week, in an attempt to at least pay some of the bills regularly, while waiting for the publishing work, and the royalties for my own books to roll in.

It’s a corporate, customer service-type job, not as onerous as some, since it involves booking hotel reservations, so most of the people who call are happy, pleased to be going on a holiday… not furious and spitting nails because their (insert expensive bit of technology here) can’t be made to work and they have been on hold or navigating the phone tree for x amount of time. Alas, it seems that either the economy is beginning to adversely affect them; they were sending people home quite regularly for the last couple of weeks, some of them almost in the first few minutes that they walked in the door. Yesterday I find that all the part-timers’ work schedules have been cut by a day – which essentially reduces my paycheck by almost a third. I can’t say that I am entirely heartbroken about this. I am not entirely enjoying anything much about it; not sitting in a small cubicle having every word recorded, and down-graded because I spend so many more seconds on calls than the person in the next cubicle, or wrestling with entering data into a DOS based system at least twenty years old, (maybe thirty), a pointless dress-code and about thirty things you might do that would justify instant firing. I had reckoned on being able to stick it out for six months, past Christmas, but at the rate they are cutting hours, I think they may be just trying to let us go by slow degrees.

Just to put the icing on the cake, Blondie was let go from her 20-hour a week job, as that little company may be circling the drain. Hardly anyone wants to install permanent shade structures, since they are a fairly big-ticket item. There was barely enough business to keep the office open, so there went that source of income. I have taken her over to my own occasional office job at the ranch real estate firm, and trained her on that she can pick up work there on days when I simply cannot. She starts school again after Christmas.

Aside from all that, nothing much to report. You?

11. September 2008 · Comments Off on Remembering… · Categories: Domestic, Home Front

No, my friends… thank YOU.

For running in when others were running out.

For heading up when others were heading down.

We can never repay you for your dedication, and your sacrifice, but we can resolve to always remember, and to always honor your memory.










cartoon by Mike Luckovich of the Atlanta Journal-Citizen
photos copyright mvy 2002

23. July 2008 · Comments Off on Well, here’s a first (and a lesson learned) · Categories: Domestic, Fun and Games, General, General Nonsense, Home Front, sarcasm

So I get an email from a former classmate today. That, in itself, is not unusual. This classmate periodically forwards emails to me, thinking that I agree with political viewpoint and will enjoy them. She’s usually fairly correct in that assumption. Unfortunately, she also seems to be one of those people who automatically assume that anything she reads on the internet or that gets forwarded to her from a friend is incontrovertibly true.

On that, we disagree. I’m a big fan of Snopes.com, and a firm believer in checking the flotsam and jetsam of my inbox before sending it on to others. And it irritates me that others don’t do the same.

Usually, I can simply ignore the bazillion forwarded items, but sometimes I just get an itch to do a public service and let folks know that no matter how much they want it to be true, Barack Obama is not the child of the anti-christ (or the devil himself), and the little boy in the UK is not still on his deathbed and trying to set a guinness world record for number of greeting cards received (if, indeed, he ever was). When this itch strikes, it’s usually not enough for me to simply reply to the individual who forwarded the email to me and her 5000 closest friends.

Not this time. Maybe it’s because I had a bad day at work today, or maybe it’s exhaustion, or the summer heat/humidity affecting my brain, but this time, I chose to “reply all” and let the entire recipient list of that email know that snopes calls it false.

Oh, maybe I should describe today’s email in more detail? Sure. More »

24. April 2008 · Comments Off on Kiplingesque · Categories: Domestic, Fun and Games, General, History, Home Front, Literary Good Stuff

I couldn’t bring myself to watch this program the other night. It flashed past as we were channel-flipping. Our neighbor Judy had come over for dinner (beer-can chicken with Memphis rub on the grill, if that is of any interest) and we had watched one of the Young Indiana Jones DVDs that I am reviewing. Judy said,
“Oh, I saw that in the TV guide and I thought it looked interesting – what was the story on that?”
“A very sad one,” I said and Blondie added,
“No, I don’t want to watch – it will only upset Mom.”

And she was right – it would have. Rudyard Kipling’s only son was only seventeen and as blind as a bat, quite unfit for military service. But in that surge of intense patriotism and sense of duty that attended the beginning of World War One, he asked his father to pull strings for him; and Rudyard Kipling obliged. He had friends everywhere, as one of England’s most famous writers, the poet-laureate and chronicler of all things Imperial. He wrangled a commission as a second-lieutenant in the Irish Guards for his son; John went off to France with his regiment, arriving on his eighteenth birthday. He disappeared in fearful combat sometime during the second day of the BEF’s attack on German forces at Loos six weeks later. Rudyard Kipling spend years hoping that he had survived somehow, more years searching for any witnesses to his son’s death, or clues to where his body lay… and finally worked tirelessly on various memorials to those dead in the Great War, the one that unfortunately did not end all war. A close friend of the family discovered from some surviving members of John Kipling’s unit that when last seen, he had been badly wounded, his glasses smashed and he was crying in agony; these details were kept from his parents. Other witnesses told other stories; at this late date there would be no earthly way to sort out which was the truth, or where his body was finally buried. Any time after 1919 was probably too late, anyway.

No, I didn’t much want to watch it; that kind of thing just comes too close to home. And I’ve always loved Kipling’s stories; the poems too. (I had a go at writing some Kipling-type stories myself, here and here) Loved the stories of the Jungle Book from when Mom read them to us as children. Later I thought Kim was absolutely sublime, and then I found the other India stories, the other animal stories, the stories about soldiers and travelers, ghosts and Masonic lodges, of madmen and beggars, railwaymen and elephant drivers, of colonial administrators and their desperate housewives, of schoolboys and small children sent ‘home’ for their health and continuing education. I loved the lot, and ploughed gamely through a copy of the complete collection which my high school library unaccountably had on its shelves. Lord only knows how that came about, because Kipling drifted out of fashion with the literati well before the end of his own lifetime, reaching a sort of nadir in the sixties. Imperialist, colonialist, racist, sexist – all the heavy brickbats of ‘ists’ flung his way! And he would have just as enthusiastically flung them right back, god love him – perhaps that’s why he attracted such enthusiastic animus.

But he was a story teller; I think an almost compulsive one. Everything and everybody interested him. Explaining how things worked interested him – everything from engines, to railway-bridges, to the workings of a lowly colonial district office and a pack of wolves. He also had a gift for writing dialog – not only dialect, which is not as common as you would think, but an ear for the way people speak and put their words together. I’ve always compared that to having perfect pitch. A perceptive listener can sort out all kinds of things from the way someone talks; and a good writer can put this down on paper! So many things can be given away in speech; age and education, origins and way of life. I think Kipling did this beautifully – even the animals that he gives speech to are consistent and unique; compare the Maltese Cat and his friends to the beasts in “Servants of the Queen.

And I still think this is one of the best explanations of journalism around; still relevant after all those years.

27. February 2008 · Comments Off on Villa Junque · Categories: Ain't That America?, Critters, Domestic, General, Home Front

‘Villa Junque’ (pronounced in Spanish as Hoon-kay’) – sounds so much better than ‘garage full of junk’, which is what mine has descended to, what with Blondie enthusiastically collecting ‘stuff’ for her eventual first apartment/house/place of her own. A couple of years ago, I saw a tee-shirt/sweat shirt with “It isn’t an empty nest until all of their stuff is out of the garage” and truer words were never printed across the parental chest. All of her accumulated stuff from two hitches in the Marines came home with her – the large TV, the stereo system, a lot of Target and Walmart bought kitchenware, a microwave, and several boxes of shoes and bedding. And a strangely comfortable metal-framed armchair and footstool which was apparently the prize of the Cherry Point single barracks, as it gravitated from room to room until my daughter inherited it from a friend and shipped it home with her stuff. She pleaded with me to re-upholster it, which I did… and to give it houseroom in the den… which I also did. As I said, it is strangely comfortable. Her TV and stereo also were allowed in, with some reluctance on my part. They were newer than mine by about a quarter-century, so a bit more complicated… but worked a little better. The classical station still receives badly, but that’s an eccentricity of their transmitter.

Her dog and her two cats were also folded into the household, and it generally works out, although three of my cats hate the dogs and prefer Blondie’s end of the house to mine. It’s all her other stuff which has made my house into the Villa Junque, although I do admit that some of the stuff I moved into the garage was specifically dedicated for her first place – the dining table that was too big for the dining area, some bookshelves superfluous to my needs once I put up hanging shelves and some other small stuff. Really, it wasn’t a patch on what I notice in other people’s garages. I could actually get my car into it, still. (Well, I could until Blondie moved in her stuff.)

Besides being drawn to the 70%-off shelves at fine retail establishments (where we have snapped up plenty of Christmas ornaments and wrapping paper for next year) Blondie is also a dedicated yard-sale shopper. Walking the dogs early on Saturday morning is nothing more than a disguise. She is actually reconnoitering for yard sales. With luck and walking the dogs, we can beat the roving pros, descending with their battered step-vans and pickup trucks and snapping up the good stuff. I don’t know where these people go with their oddly assorted gleanings; they are usually Hispanic and go for the furniture and the used appliances, but do not distain the clothes, bedding and toys. Blondie now has a nice collection of glass and silver-plate knick-knacks, garden lanterns and ornaments, chairs and crockery. She hopes that some of it may be Antiques Road Show-worthy some day.

I think our neighborhood is moving up, socio-economically; there is a better grade of stuff at yard-sales than formerly. Even the stuff put out for the trash – especially when someone is moving and is sick to death of making decisions about stuff – is a better grade. We struck a bonanza this year with pots and plants, but the absolute prize was spotted Sunday afternoon by our equally bargain-fanatic neighbor Judy. She saw a love-seat placed by the curb with a lot of other trash and made a special visit to our house to tell us where.

It turned out to be upholstered in leather, only a little worn on the seat cushions and two tears in places, and so heavy that it probably is a good grade of furniture. Well and I know that because of the chore it was for the two of us to load it in the back of the Montero and then carry it into the house. Whatever it will be to reupholster a solid hunk o’ small sofa like that is still less than it will cost to buy new. And it is amazing the difference that some cleaning solution, and some carefully placed throws and pillows will accomplish.

The Weevil loves it, since it is large enough for her to sprawl in comfort; Spike and the cats love it because the back and arms are broad enough for them to stretch out in equal comfort and all of them together. And I have to admit – it is a very comfortable place for humans to lounge as well.

But – we are swearing to everyone that we actually scored it at a yard sale for $20.