When Getting There Was Glorious

Created Wednesday, 24 February 2010 14:22

When Getting There Was Glorious

Once there was a time – and that time is long out of memory for anyone alive in the United States today – when traveling on land was an arduous, uncomfortable business, and dependent upon muscle-power, either one’s own muscles or those of draft animals. To go as far as fifty or five-hundred miles was a considerable project, well up to the mid-19th century – and then it seemed that the nation and the world itself were suddenly spanned by steel rails and steam engines. The railway had arrived – and a journey from the upper-Midwest to the West Coast, which once took six months of grueling travel, could be accomplished in comfort over a matter of days. Going by train became the way to go – and at the very high end, one could travel in considerable luxury, in a private parlor car. Even the ordinary traveler could feel like a person of consequence, walking through a railway station the likes of Grand Central Station in New York, or Paris’ Gare de Lyon.

And burgeoning cities everywhere paid homage to the railway by constructing ever more magnificent temples to progress in the form of railway stations; combining comfort and efficiency with every possible technological advance – and no small display of architectural grandeur. Late 19th and early 20th century architects copied elements of everything from Roman baths, Greek Temples, Italianate towers and Moorish palaces. San Antonio’s own Sunset Station was done in Spanish Mission Revival style; completed in 1902, it is an absolute period jewel, although combatively modest in size. It was the pride of San Antonio, when completed: along the upstairs galleries in the old Depot building there are pictures of a lavish banquet being held to celebrate it’s completion – a banquet held to coincide with the arrival of the first train. For more than half a century, the Depot building was the waiting room and arrival hall for passengers departing and arriving. Presently it serves as a banquet hall again – and the current Amtrack station doesn’t pack anything like the same glamorous and historical wallop of the grand old Depot.

The old station is the anchor of the slowly reviving historical St. Paul Square district, a cluster of various turn-of-the-last-century buildings which once housed a number of lively and vital businesses dependent upon rail transport and traffic – warehouses, hotels, grocery stores, cafes and the like. One senses that it might have revived a little sooner if the highway had not so brutally amputated that part of downtown from the rest of it. Still and all, it’s a lovely place on a warm spring day, to explore the old neighborhood – and to marvel again at how elaborate a public facility like a railway station could be, in the days when the railway was the only way to go.


LegalZoom to Move Up To 600 Jobs to Austin

Created Friday, 19 February 2010 17:14

February 19, 2010

Gov. Perry Announces LegalZoom to Move Up To 600 Jobs to Austin

AUSTIN – Gov. Rick Perry today announced the state will invest $1 million through the Texas Enterprise Fund (TEF) in LegalZoom.com for the relocation of certain office functions from Los Angeles to Austin. This investment will create up to 600 jobs and more than $11.7 million in capital investment.

“Texas is the best state in the nation for business, thanks to our low taxes, reasonable and predictable regulatory environment, skilled workforce, and incentives such as the TEF, which continues to be an essential deal closing fund for Texas,” Gov. Perry said. “This investment in LegalZoom will bring up to 600 jobs and millions of dollars in capital investment to Austin, and strengthen Central Texas’ economy.”

LegalZoom provides online legal document services including LLCs, incorporations, last wills, living trusts, trademarks, patents and copyrights. The Austin office will include sales positions, order fulfillment, customer service and technical support representatives. LegalZoom plans to begin hiring immediately, and become fully operational in the coming months.

“We’re thrilled with the City Council’s vote and are very excited to move forward with our Austin expansion plans. Since we started in 2000 we’ve been based solely in Los Angeles. So selecting our first location outside of Los Angeles was a very big decision for us, which we carefully considered for over 6 months,” LegalZoom President and Chief Operating Officer Frank Monestere said. “We sincerely appreciate the efforts of Governor Perry, the Austin City Council and Chamber of Commerce in crafting a very attractive incentive package through both the Texas Enterprise Fund and the City’s Economic Development Program. Their hard work and warm welcome were instrumental in our selecting Austin as our second home.”

At Gov. Perry’s request, the legislature created the TEF in 2003 and re-appropriated funding in 2005, 2007 and 2009 to help ensure the growth of Texas businesses and create more jobs throughout the state. TEF projects must be approved by the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the House. The fund has since become one of the state’s most competitive tools to recruit and bolster business. To date, the TEF has invested more than $388.6 million and closed the deal on projects generating more than 55,580 new jobs and more than $14.3 billion in capital investment in the state.

For more information about the TEF, please visit http://www.texaswideopenforbusiness.com/financial-resources/texas-enterprise-fund.html or http://www.governor.state.tx.us.


When all you have in your yard is dandelions

Created Friday, 19 February 2010 15:24

When all you have in your yard is dandelions . . .

Then it’s time to make dandelion wine. When my Granny Jessie passed on, in the early 1990’s, one of the things that came to me was a little square wooden box full of recipe cards, although to be frank and fair, Granny Jessie probably did not use the recipes in it; some pre-printed on standard stock, cut out from magazines, others hand-copied in pencil, or merely cut from newspaper pages – and most of those are as brittle as ashes. No, I think she saved them because they intrigued her, or someone at a church pot-luck supper who brought something that she liked the taste of, scribbled it down for her, and she thought that she might make them someday. Some of the recipes cut from the newspaper have dates on them – from the 1970s mostly. Some of them, of course, may be older. But Granny Jessie wasn’t that much of an adventurous cook – even before Grandpa Jim died; Grandpa Jim being one of those who thought salt and pepper was about as far out on the culinary edge of things as any human being ought to go. No, Granny Jessie did basic, early 20th century American cooking – which, when it was good, was very good. Her rice pudding (with raisins in it!) and her version of shoo-fly pie was sublime.

Among the adventurous curiosities in the little wooden recipe box was a newspaper clipping which so intrigued me that I copied out all the recipes therein – the topic was dandelions. Everyone knows what dandelions are, and people who are proud of their lawns spend a great deal of effort, expense and toxic chemicals eradicating them . . . and expense and effort which might not be necessary if we considered dandelions as a garden crop, instead. Yes, indeedy, the darned things are edible – at least when they are tender and young, and have not had any of the aforementioned chemicals poured upon them. Instead, what about a salad of dandelion greens – with bacon! Everything goes better with bacon! And what about dandelion wine?

Dandelion Green Salad

Fry until crisp – 3 slices bacon. Arrange in a flat, shallow dish, several cups of clean, dry dandelion greens, and crumble the bacon over it. Garnish with finely chopped chives and parsley. Dress with 2 TBsp vinegar and 1 TBsp olive oil, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper.

Dandelion Crowns

Trim leaves from whole plant, just where they turn green. Trim off root, just below crown, and clean thoroughly. Simmer for 5 minutes in water, then drain and simmer in fresh water another five minutes. Serve with a little melted butter and fresh pepper. Crowns may also be marinated for at least four hours in ½ cup olive oil, ¼ cup vinegar, 1 sliced garlic clove and a thinly sliced onion.

Dandelion Wine

Clean sepals from and wash thoroughly 6 cups dandelion blossoms. Place in a sterilized jar and cover with 3 quarts boiling water. Add rind from 2 lemons and 2 oranges, Cover mouth of jar with plastic wrap and allow to set for 2 days.

Strain liquid into another sterilized jar and stir in: 2 ½ pounds sugar, juice of 2 lemons and 2 oranges, ½ lb raisins, coarsely ground, and ½ package yeast. Cover and set away for one week. Strain into a gallon jug, adding additional water to fill, if necessary. Seal tightly and allow to ferment for 3 months. When it stops fermenting, pour into another jar and allow to stand until clarified. Bottle, and seal, and allow to age.


Statement by Gov. Perry Regarding Plane Crash in Austin

Created Thursday, 18 February 2010 23:12

February 18, 2010

AUSTIN – Gov. Rick Perry today issued the following statement regarding the plane crash in Austin:

“In true Texas form, first responders and everyday citizens responded to today’s plane crash with selfless acts of heroism, securing the area, evacuating the building and controlling the fire, and are to be commended. My office continues to communicate with local, state and federal officials on this incident, which is currently an open criminal investigation. With details still emerging, it is important to refrain from speculation and let the law enforcement experts determine what exactly unfolded.”


Texas Economic Outlook Feb 12

Created Wednesday, 17 February 2010 15:22

Updated February 12, 2010

Economic Progress Report

(Change from previous year)

Unemployment Rate Increasing
Nonfarm Employment Decreasing
Sales Tax Collections, Retail Establishments Decreasing
Texas Leading Indicator Index ο Stable
U.S. Gasoline and Diesel Retail Prices Increasing

See all monthly time series graphs

Texas Economic Outlook

The Texas economy, the world’s 12th-largest, continues to fare better than those of many other states. But Texas felt the effects of the worldwide recession during 2009.

According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the U.S. economy peaked in December 2007 and entered recession. The Texas economy continued to grow through most of 2008, with employment peaking in October that year, then Texas joined the nation in losing jobs. During 2009, Texas’ gross state product (GSP) declined more slowly than the U.S. economy (-1.7 percent versus -2.5 percent.)

Despite the state’s economy contracting in 2009, Texas’ relative economic advantage should continue as the state and U.S. economies turn around and expand again in 2010. Although job growth will continue to lag the renewed expansion of economic production, the Comptroller’s office estimates that the Texas’ GSP will grow by 2.6 percent during calendar 2010. The U.S. economy should grow at a slower rate of 2.0 percent during the year.


  • Texas lost 23,900 jobs in December 2009, following two consecutive months of job gains totaling 73,000.
  • Texas’ December 2009 unemployment rate was 8.3 percent, up from 8.0 percent in November. The January U.S. rate was 9.7 percent, down from 10.0 percent in December.
  • The U.S. lost 4.0 million jobs from January 2009 to January 2010.
  • The Texas unemployment rate has been at or below the national rate for 36 consecutive months.
  • In the 12 months ending in December 2009, Texas lost 275,900 jobs.


  • Thus far, Texas has weathered the national real estate crunch without significant damage to property values but sales and construction activity have slowed. Despite its continuing resiliency, Texas is not immune from the national real estate crunch.
  • 5,048 building permits for single-family homes were issued in December 2009. The number of permits in the 12 months ending in December 2009 was 63,595, a decrease of 15 percent from the period one year earlier.
  • Multi-family building permits are down, from 2,351 units in December 2008 to 993 units in December 2009. The number of permits issued in the 12 months ending in December 2009 was 16,541, a decrease of 66 percent from the period one year earlier.
  • In December, sales of existing single-family homes in Texas rose year over year for the fourth month since early 2007.
  • In Texas, the median price for existing single-family homes increased by 3.6 percent from December 2008 to December 2009.
  • The Texas foreclosure rate has remained largely stable for the past three years. Texas experienced 12,225 foreclosure filings in January 2010.
  • In January 2010, the Texas foreclosure rate was one in every 785 mortgages. This was substantially better than Nevada’s one in 95, Arizona’s one in 129 and both Florida and California at one in 187.

Consumer Confidence Index

  • Consumer confidence has rebounded by 50 percent nationwide, but still remains pessimistic at a level of 55.9, which is more than 44 percent below its 1985 baseline level. Texas and surrounding states fared better than the rest of the nation. Texas’ regional index rose to 71.9, 9.4 percent higher than January 2009.

Oil and Natural Gas

  • The all-time high crude oil closing price was $145.29 on July 3, 2008.
  • Crude oil futures closed at $75.28 per barrel on February 11, 2010, more than double the level of one year ago. Last winter’s lowest price was $33.98 in February.
  • In fiscal 2008, production tax collections for natural gas were up 42 percent over fiscal 2007. Tax collections for oil were up 72 percent.
  • By contrast, in fiscal 2009 production tax collections for natural gas were down 48 percent over fiscal 2008. Tax collections for oil were down 39 percent.
  • Natural gas and oil production tax collections are significantly lower for the first five months of fiscal year 2010 over fiscal year 2009.


  • Texas sales tax receipts for January 2010 were down 14.2 percent from January 2009.
  • For fiscal 2009, state sales tax receipts are down 2.7 percent from fiscal 2008.
  • Motor vehicle sales tax collections for fiscal 2009 were $2.569 billion, down 22.5 percent over fiscal 2008 amount.
  • The nationwide core transaction price for a new car or truck during the first 15 days of January 2010 rose 2.73 percent to $25,631 from $24,949 in January 2009.
  • For the first 15 days of January 2010, total national industry auto sales were 568,965 units, up 32.3 percent compared to first 15 days of January 2009.
  • Nationally, the lease share of new vehicle purchases increased to 24.0 percent of new vehicle purchases; that’s 8.0 percent higher than in January 2009.

Stimulus Package

  • In Texas, an estimated $18 billion in federal stimulus money is flowing to state and local governments. The Comptroller’s office is tracking the $14.3 billion that comes through the state Treasury. The Comptroller’s analysis is ongoing. For the latest information, visit our ARRA Web site, A Texas Eye on the Dollars.

Cap and Trade

  • Efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions could negatively impact the Texas economy. The state could see 173,000 to 425,000 fewer jobs than expected in 2030 as a result of increased energy prices from the cap and trade portion of the recently proposed bill. The resulting decline in gross state product is estimated to be between $25 billion and $58 billion.
  • The Comptroller’s office is continuing to analyze potential implications and assess how green jobs and energy efficiency programs in the proposals could offset negative impacts. For the latest information, visit our Cap and Trade Web page.


Facing Foreclosure Know the facts and protect your rights

Created Tuesday, 16 February 2010 19:53


COLLEGE STATION (Real Estate Center) – Texas is experiencing its highest residential foreclosure rate since the late ’80s. All residential foreclosures are governed by strict statutory rules, and Real Estate Center attorney Judon Fambrough says homeowners in jeopardy should know these rules to protect their rights.

“For example, how many days’ notice must the homeowner be given to satisfy the amount in arrears before the entire amount of the unpaid loan may be declared due and owing?” Likewise, Fambrough said, “What are the qualifications, if any, of the person who conducts the foreclosure sale? How many times a year can a foreclosure sale occur, and on which day of the week, and during what hours?”

These and other questions are answered in “A Homeowner’s Rights under Foreclosure,” available on the Center’s website.


Jello – it’s not just for church suppers any more

Created Monday, 15 February 2010 23:16

A Disquisition Upon Jello

Now if I had once thought that the garlic snails at the yearly NIOSA street food event were dubious eats, I had not had a chance to grok the full horror of the guacamole bird – it’s the third one down. click here … Finished shuddering yet? Good. You see, there is Jello and all the horrors that are perpetuated with it, and then there is just plain gelatin mixed with a variety of sweet or savory liquids and poured into an appropriate Jello mold.

There is the stuff whipped up by the staff of women’s home magazines trying to catch the eyeballs (or stimulate the nausea reflex) and not coincidently sell more Jello… and of late there is the parody stuff (like the famous brain mold), and a lot of bizarre things put together for contests; I have heard of Jello aquariums with lettuce for seaweed and Goldfish crackers as… er, gold fish swimming in the pale green lime depths.

And then for those who favor less jokey and more toothsome variants of jellied edibles, there are desserts such as my mother’s favorite – the wine-orange gelatin dessert, and my own yoghurt cream mold. Mom’s was from the 1970s edition of Joy of Cooking, ( p. 745) “Wine Gelatin”

Soak 2 TBsp gelatin in ¼ cup cold water. Dissolve it in ¾ cup boiling water and stir in until dissolved, ½ cup sugar. Allow to cool and add 1 ¾ cup orange juice, 6 TBsp lemon juice and 1 cup well-flavored wine. Sugar amount may be adjusted if the orange juice and/or wine are sweet . Pour into sherbet glasses and chill until firm. Serve with cream, whipped cream or custard sauce. (It strikes me that this might be very nice with blood-orange juice and a nice rose wine)

My own favorite gelatin recipe – Yoghurt-Cream Dessert – was copied from a newspaper clipping (Stars and Stripes?) into a hand-written collection – no idea of where it might have come from before then, although I think there is an Italian sweet dessert something like it called ‘panna cotta’.

Soften 4 tsp unflavored gelatin in ¼ cup cold water. Combine in a saucepan over low heat, 1 ½ cup heavy cream and ¼ cup sugar, stirring until cream is warm and sugar dissolves. Add softened gelatin and stir until that dissolves also. Remove from heat, allow to cool, and stir in 2 ¼ cups plain unflavored yoghurt and 1 tsp vanilla. Pour into a 1-quart mold and chill for at least one hour. Un-mold and serve with fresh fruit or fruit compote.

I usually make a sauce of ¾ water, and 6 Tbsp water, cooked with about 1 cup of fresh blackberries until berries are softened and syrup slightly thickened. Then I add another cup of fresh raspberries and 2 Tbsp raspberry vodka.


Carp Diem at the McNay

Created Monday, 08 February 2010 14:56

Carp Diem at the McNay

I love the old mansion, and the landscaped grounds at the McNay – sometimes it seems that any town or city with a certain level of accumulation of old money admixed with cultural appreciation has such a museum: a sprawling mansion, in a park-like setting, an eclectic art collection – or a collection of something – purchased by an original owner with sufficient taste and income. Southern California, for instance, has the Huntingdon, Descanso Gardens, and Indianapolis has the Lilly House – and San Antonio has the McNay, at the corner of New Braunfels and the Austin Highway.

The mansion that Jessie Marion Koogler McNay Atkinson built is one of those splendid Jazz-age Spanish-style colonial piles, pale ivory plastered walls with a roof of pale rust-colored tiles, with lots of interesting little porches, balconies and loggias, built around an interior courtyard, and ornamented with all the hand-painted tiles and lacy iron-work. The grounds and the courtyards were further adorned with fountains and semi-tropical plants – this was the ultimate in residential style in 1920, especially in the southern part of the US.

The inside was adorned with her collection of original art, some 700 pieces of 19th and 20th century European and American pieces. Alas, the extension of the McNay, and the means of displaying even more art – is one of those brute modern arrangements of glass and geometric slabs, appended on to the back of the house, like some kind of ugly orthopedic brace. I have never figured out why those in charge of expanding aesthetically pleasing period buildings prefer to deface them by slapping on something so eye-bleedingly different in style. Didn’t anyone ever consider that extension built of similar materials, with the signature ornamental elements pared down a notch or two might be sufficient and aesthetically pleasing?

She came from Ohio originally – a fabulously wealthy heiress to an oil fortune, with excellent taste and an accomplished artist in her own right. But she came to San Antonio first in 1918 – not as an artist or a traveler, certainly not as an art collector – but as a war bride to Sergeant Don Denton McNay. Alas, very shortly afterwards, he died in the horrific influenza epidemic which most particularly scourged military camps in that year. She married again, in the mid 1920’s – but when that marriage ended, she reverted to using her first husband’s surname.

That was the name she used for the rest of her life. One wonders if it were a tragic and romantic gesture, a little way of holding on to a memory of love. Eventually the art collection, the house and more than twenty acres surrounding it, and a substantial endowment to support it were left to establish a museum of modern art, open to the public. It is a lovely and peaceful oasis, in the middle of the suburbs. My daughter’s favorite is one of the ornamental ponds – in which there lives a collection of perfectly monstrous ornamental carp. My own favorite is the interior courtyard, which reminds me of those old houses in Spain, all built around just such a courtyard, with a trickling fountain and a bounty of plants in urns.


Adventures in Old Lamp Repair

Created Thursday, 04 February 2010 17:41

Adventures in Old Lamps

I can’t remember when I discovered that it wasn’t very hard to re-wire table lamps, or replace plugs and swap out one-way sockets for three-way, so that an ordinary lamp would become reading lamp. Stripping half an inch of insulation off the ends of the wires, threading them through the lamp-base and securing the bare wires around the little screws in the socket base; it’s not rocket science.

More recently, I discovered that all the little bits that hold a lamp together and attach a shade are a standard size and thread. We’ve bought lamps at the thrift-shop or at yard-sales because they have a pretty base, and been gratified with how much better they look with new hardware and a nicer shade – and upgraded wiring. A while ago my daughter bought a pair of inexpensive 1930’s era decorative lamps that I didn’t dare plug in. The wiring was so crumbly; it looked like a picture of an example of dangerously faulty wiring in a brochure handed out by the fire department. New hardware, new wiring, new sockets, all the way around; amazing how much nicer they looked!

I have a whole basket full of essential lamp pieces, scrounged from various broken lamps. Never know when you will need an essential bit, you see. Since I took up the carpets and painted the concrete floors in the house, some of my favorite lamps have bit the dust – including one made from a blue and white Korean bowl I spotted in a market in Itaewan and had converted to a lamp. Not to fear – I salvaged all the non-china parts, the bases, tops and shades, with the socket and all the metal bits.

Almost at once, my daughter, the Queen of All Yard Sales, spied three replacement lamps, at a San Antonio neighborhood garage sale – all blue and white painted china bases, all vaguely Oriental in design, in good shape and all three for a mere pittance. One of them most particularly resembled the Korean bowl, and as it was approximately the same dimensions, I thought I would be able to remove the brass base and top to it, and replace them with the wooden base and fittings from the Korean lamp – and I would have something that came very close in looks to it.

Only the hex-nut that held the whole thing together at the bottom was apparently tightened on at the factory by Godzilla himself. Not even with a crescent-wrench could we get it to budge – and Blondie and I tried separately and together, and with a spritz of liquid wrench.

There was only one thing to do. And that was to take it to Pep Boys. Really, any garage would have done, but Pep-Boys was open on Sunday. Where else do you find the strength and the technology to separate metal bolts from the threads they are apparently frozen onto, than at an auto mechanics? But the manager did look at me and ask, warily, “This is at your own risk of course. It’s not a priceless Ming vase, is it?”

“Five-dollar yard-sale special,” I said, “Have at it.” It took one of the mechanics about two minutes and all the other mechanics came to look, shaking their heads.

The manager did say afterwards that it was the weirdest request that anyone has ever come to Pep-Boys with.

(Some pictures of what an easy job this can be. Of course, I had feline supervision. The lamp pictured was picked out of a trash can – because the cord was damaged, and the light socket knocked askew.)