Winter soon will turn to spring

Created Monday, 21 February 2011 19:31

Winter Doldrums

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Now you may see in my own San Antonio home those aspects of winter which always made this part of the year – late winter, early spring – positively the dreariest of seasons in those places which ostentatiously boast the benefits of having four of them, and all distinct. That point where winter and spring meet – right at the very point where the snow has all melted long since, and it still isn’t quite warm enough for things to start growing again – is enough to make you want to curl up under the comforter and hibernate for another couple of months. The gorgeous colors of autumn leaves and the harvest have long fled, the snow – once crisp and white and even – has turned to dirty grey shreds or melted entirely. The Christmas decorations have long been taken down, or if they have been left up by someone too lazy or addled to do so, they look grimy and dispirited. The trees are mostly bare, the lawns are brown and moderately crunchy . . . and the brutal cold snap has done a number on every kind of outdoor plant save the most evergreen and hardy. Everything green, tender and tropical has been killed right down to the ground, and even those ordinarily sturdy citrus trees have leaves which have wilted back to the stems.

I look out at my back and front yards – I assure you, it’s a grim sight, indeed. I’d love to sign up for one of those television shows where they remake your entire front and back yard – landscape, hardscape, plantings, accessories and all. Starting all over by emptying all the pots and scraping everything else up with a bulldozer – including about six inches of topsoil – would feel pretty good to me at this point. There’d be something very satisfactory at starting all over again. Everything above the ground, and those potted plants that couldn’t be sheltered in the house are as dry and crispy as the neighbor’s lawns.

But – that’s just a mad impulse, brought on by post-winter pre-spring depression. I know that a fair number of the plants will bounce back – they have before: the key lime is practically indestructible. And as long as all the spider-plant roots are sound, they will begin sending out little spears and tendrils with baby spider plantlets on the ends as soon as it has been warm for a good few weeks. The various esperanzas, the ruelias and that strange purple-orchid-flowering vine which fairly gallops up into the almond verbena – they will be back. In fact, the purple-orchid-vine routinely dies back to the ground every time it gets below 25° – which may be just as well, as otherwise it would have taken over half the neighborhood by now.

In another three or four weeks, we’ll be past the danger of frost here in South Texas. Maybe I will go out to some of my favorite plant nurseries then, and think about spring. I mean, by then it will be fairly obvious what is going to bounce back, and what has, metaphorically speaking, cashed in it’s chips and gone to sing in the plant-choir invisible. Milburgers, of course. And the Antique Rose Emporium, most definitely – maybe even a road trip to the Wildseed Farms, out east of Fredericksburg.

Now I feel better – and meantime, enjoy the spring pictures for you to dream over!


Presidents Day Greeting!

Created Monday, 21 February 2011 17:11

Presidents Day Greeting!

Written by Randy Watson

Many Americans are enjoying having today off of work as we celebrate President\’s Day. Today is the day that we honor George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and all past Presidents of the United States. We look back to remember the courage and character of the great men who have preserved our nation and our freedom. Today is also a good day to think our Armed Forces Veterans.

Most US Government offices are closed today, including the US Post Office. However, it is up to Texas and your local governments to decide for themselves whether to honor the day with an day off or not.



Addition to the Catalog by Julia Hayden

Created Sunday, 20 February 2011 15:43

Addition to the Catalog

If it’s covered in fur or feathers, my daughter is immediately taken. She has one dog and a cat-a-log and by dint of saying “no!” in an increasingly firmer tone of voice I have kept the numbers down to a manageable level. Sammy, the three-legged, cross-eyed flame-point Siamese was full-grown, and belonged to some neighbors when he met and fell deeply in love with my daughter when she came home on leave. He took one look and fell in love, deeply, hopelessly, and abjectly in love. He parked himself in her lap, looked deep into her eyes, while purring like a distant motor-boat, and could hardly be pried away. When her leave ended, Sammy was heartbroken, although he kept returning to our back yard, looking for her. Some weeks later, he stopped appearing, and I finally heard that he had been struck by a car, as he was crossing the road. Sammy recovered, although one leg had nerve damage – he holds it up close to him and gimps around on three. The neighbors moved away, and we convinced them to leave Sammy to us – heck, he practically lived in our back yard anyway.

Princess the tortoise-shell, was acquired at a neighborhood yard sale. She wasn’t among the inventory, but she was at that devastatingly cute kitten stage, and the spitting image of Patch-cat, whom we adopted when my daughter was a toddler. Patchie stayed until she died from old age – sixteen years, three houses and four PCS moves later. So, Princess came home from the yard-sale; she is the one who loves to play with the jingly-ball cat-toys, skating them across the floor as if she were playing football against herself. Tristan also came as a kitten, a tiny and undernourished one. The daughter of another neighbor rescued a litter from being drowned and poor Tris was the runt that no one else wanted . . . except my daughter. She brought him home (Me: Another kitten!? Are you out of your mind?) He was bottle-fed for a good few weeks, in the hopes of remedying his pathetic runtiness. Tris, white below and brindle above, with jade-green eyes, is the talkative one. He will meow loudly in answer when we talk to him.

Ffeiffer also came to us as a kitten; another neighbor found him under a shrub at a HEB gas station, wailing pathetically. Having walked through, or sat in some leaked gasoline – he was also chemically burned in places. Ffeiffer was only supposed to be fostered with us while the neighbor found him a more permanent home . . . but he turned out to be the most determined and persistent lap-sitter ever. Sit down for a short amount of time and Ffeiffer appears to stake out his claim. This is endearing . . . all talk of a permanent home with someone else went by the wayside, after about a month.

And finally – Molly-Moo. Not a pathetic kitten, but a pathetic older cat; ten years old, de-clawed and anti-social. She came from a home which recently acquired a dog. Molly-Moo didn’t get along with the dog. To be candid, she didn’t get along with anyone else, either, and the previous owner was going to deposit her in the animal shelter. Where her chance of adoption stood at nil and none . . . so, my daughter rescued her from a death sentence. She is mellowing at this point – moved from hiding on top of a tall shelf, to hiding among the bed-pillows. And by virtue of offering frequent cat-treats, she no longer tries to bite us when we scratch around her ears.

I swear – this is absolutely the last addition to the catalogue. Really.

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A special treat, a trip to San Antonio’s McAlister Park Dog Park by Julia Hayden

Created Sunday, 20 February 2011 15:16

Essential Dog

My daughter’s dog, better known as the Lesser Weevil, lives for walkies every day . . . and for a special treat, a trip to the McAlister Park Dog Park. She’s a social creature, and rather outgoing; every human she has ever met has been instantly and utterly her bestest BFF. I do so hope that I would never have to depend upon the Weevil for personal protection in the case of a dangerous psychopath breaking into our house . . . since the Weevil will probably be cowering behind me. With other dogs, it’s a matter of all things being more or less equal. A friendly and playful romp with a dog or dogs more or less of her same size and degree of playfulness; too much larger than her and a bit too aggressive with the sniffing brings on pretty much the same reaction as an encounter with a very much smaller dog afflicted with the canine version of a Napoleon complex. Why, why, why are the smallest dogs always the most combative, more prone to biting, more given – in vulgar vernacular – to write checks with their mouths that their posteriors can’t possibly cash? I noticed this with a number of smaller dogs in the neighborhood, some of whom persist in getting stroppy with the Weevil, usually from behind a tall fence or at the end of a leash: it’s as if they feel they have something to prove.

But none of this happens at San Antonio dog park; sometimes it seems that the more dogs are there, the better they are behaved, although sometimes I do worry about the smaller ones. Not because they are unleashing their inner urge to conquer Europe and invade Russia in winter . . . but because they run a distinct hazard of being knocked flying in a collision with a larger dog, intent on galloping across the dog park. Perhaps there might be some kind of justification for a “tiny dog” section of the park set aside, rather like a shallow “toddler pool” – for those that are under so many inches in height. For now, they all get along together . . . although when our pint-sized Shi-Tzu was still alive and accompanying us to the dog park, she didn’t really seem interested in mixing it up with the other canines. She was pretty well glued to my ankles, tiny dog section or not.

A visit to the park is always reassuring to us for another reason – there are always dogs that are larger than the Weevil. People whom we meet in our neighborhood often go on about her as if she is a large dog – when in actual comparison to really, really large dogs – she is really quite dainty. And when I say ‘large dog’, I mean about the size of an Irish wolfhound, or a Great Dane, or even just the gangly young Doberman who was there last weekend – all legs and enormous feet and that brown-and-black shark-head which looks so terribly dangerous, until you realize that the dog is nothing but a great friendly doofus and the only danger that he poses is that of knocking you down, sitting on your chest and licking your face. Which happened to me with a young stray Rottweiler once, but that is another story.

Another good thing about the dog park in McAlister Park is that the area around it has just been renovated and landscaped: a double row of sapling trees has just been planted on either side of the path from the parking lot (or is it really a ‘barking lot’?) and another double row of trees on either side of a new paved trail. The new trail leads down towards Salado Creek – a neighbor of ours went on a run a couple of months ago, and she says it is wonderful. When the trees are full-grown, it will be even more so.

Dog lovers may be interested to learn that dog loving organizations esists that are all about getting out and getting moving- for our dogs sakes as well as our own. San Antonio Nature Hounds is just one of many organizations that sponsors events such as training, hiking, camping, tubing, outdoors, picnic, patio dining, group walks or dog pack walks, nearly any day of the week at different locations. (All with their dogs.) Daily exercise is essential for dogs. A tired dog is a well behaved dog and well behaved dogs have happy owners.

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Gotta love the Bass Pro Shop at the Rim in San Antonio. A retail outdoor sporting goods venue blown up to the size of an aircraft hangar and styled like a mad collision between an Adirondack lodge and

Created Tuesday, 08 February 2011 15:05

Venturing Out to the Rim

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Having a weekend day free – and feeling a touch of cabin fever after four days of ice-cold-oh-my-heck-I-think-I’m-gonna-freeze-winter-weather (San Antonio style), the Daughter Unit and I felt a deep need to get up and get out someplace. Like to a movie – and what about (suggested the Daughter Unit, with a calculating look) seeing a movie at the Palladium! Yes, indeed – said the Daughter Unit with that expression of calculated pleading that she has perfected since she was about four years old – let’s go see . . . The King’s Speech at the Palladium! Eh – me, I’d have held out for the remake of True Grit, but seeing that practically everyone who had watched The Kings’ Speech was singing hosannas of jubilant praise . . . why the heck not?

So we hastened hither, intending to catch a mid-afternoon matinee – it’s been out for simply weeks, who the heck could have anticipated that the showing was sold out? Well, anyone cognizant of the size of the theater, and the relatively few yet luxuriously sumptuous seats within, might have foretold this. We bought tickets for a late afternoon show, and went to wander around the Rim . . . starting with the Bass Pro Shop, which we have observed from IH-10 at 60 MPH for many months as we high-tailed it up to the Hill Country for book events. Oh, my: Picture a retail outdoor sporting goods venue blown up to the size of an aircraft hangar and styled like a mad collision between an Adirondack lodge and a natural history museum featuring natural dioramas stocked with taxidermic examples of every kind of game animal, fish or bird native to the North American continent – all that and a two-story tall waterfall, which fell into an indoor pond stocked with real (and quite sizable) samples of game fish.

Occasionally being possessed of a mad impulse to commune with the great outdoors on a 24-7 basis, we wandered upstairs to the camp equipment and housewares department – heavy on stuff to be taken to a hunt camp to prepare food with, either for consumption or for storage. In the case of Lodge brand cast iron cookware, heavy indeed. We admired a very clever little camp oven, to be mounted on top of a standard Coleman camp stove, although the Daughter Unit insisted that the vintage Kangaroo Kitchen camp cooking unit that she found at a garage sale (propane burner, griddle, grilling rack and stove, packed neatly into a little aluminum case the size of a briefcase) was a much more convenient and transportable gadget. And then we were diverted into the aisle of materials and spices for jerky and sausage preparation.

The Daughter Unit loves home-cured sausage and smoked jerky – and since I already have a small dehydrator unit – and the sausage-stuffing attachment for my Kitchenaid, she promptly became enamored of the possibilities for home-made jerky. And all that it took from that point on was the helpful advice of the salesman on duty in that department. His name is Albert, by the way – and he has learned everything about everything in his department. He only works on weekends, though. The Daughter Unit came away with a single packet for making beef jerky and Albert’s advice for buying cuts of beef Milanese in bulk . . . I’ll have a report by next weekend, on how it all works out.

Oh, and The King’s Speech was very good – although I am wondering if much of the happy praise for it isn’t just a reaction – so many of the other current movies currently available suck worse than a Hoover factory.


C-c-c-c-cold! in San Antonio Texas?

Created Friday, 04 February 2011 14:57


Oh, my – cold, cold, cold, cold! Like into the teens for three days straight at my San Antonio home . . . which wouldn’t have been totally out of line for winters in a couple of places that I have lived in. Sondrestrom AB, Greenland, was located thirty miles north of the Arctic Circle and of which it was said that although it wasn’t the end of the earth, one had a fairly good view of it from there. Seoul, ROK also suffered from near-arctically cold winters, notably winds that came blasting straight from Siberia . . . and Ogden, Utah, may not have been quite as bitterly cold and wind-chilled during the winter season – but it was quite generous with the snow. It even had snow pictured on the license plates and the admonition to ‘ski Utah’. Personally, I liked the look of snow – especially at Christmas – but shoveling it out of the driveway on a Monday morning so that I could get my car out of the garage and get to work . . . no, not such an aesthetically pleasing experience. Say what you will about days of dreary rain and the resulting street flooding, at least you don’t have to shovel rain out of your driveway.

A winter in South Texas usually means a couple of freezing mornings, maybe a rim of ice around puddles and a haze of frost on the grass, and then the thermometer gets right back to the forties and fifties. A whole wardrobe of winter gear – parka, muffler, warm cap, thick gloves and boots, long winter underwear – isn’t required. In fact, the winter clothes that I brought from Utah will probably last the rest of my life, at the rate of current use – maybe three or four days a year. Around my San Antonio home or anywhere around South Texas, a warm winter jacket around here is a windbreaker with a flannel lining, and who the heck wears a sissy thing like a muffler? Of course, we pay for mild winters by having brutally hot summers – but today, that hot summer seems like a dream of another age. Now it’s a week of piling heavy quilts onto the bed, and hanging up a heavy blanket over the inside of the front door; the wind is blowing straight against that door, and the chill simply radiates from it, halfway into the room. It’s a day for staying home, baking bread and having a kettle of hearty stew simmering on the stove – or in the crockpot, like this excellent and hearty stew from Sunset’s Crockery Cookbook: Snowy Day Beef Stew.

In a 3 ½ quart crockpot, combine 1 medium-sized chopped onion, 2 medium-sized carrot, cut into ½ inch slanting slices, 1 lb small, thin-skinned potatoes, scrubbed and cut into quarters, 8 ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced, and 2-2 ¼ lbs lean boneless beef round, trimmed and cut into one-inch cubes and tossed lightly in flour.

Add: 2 tsp dried thyme, 1 14-oz can stewed tomatoes and ¼ cup dry red wine.

Cover and cook at low setting, until beef is tender, about 8-10 hours. Skim and discard fat, if any, and add 1 10-oz package frozen peas. Cook on high setting until peas are just heated through. Serve with a salad, and chunks of good stout sourdough bread. And stay warm!


We aren’t quite up there with junkers. But scroungers and scavengers we are

Created Thursday, 03 February 2011 14:48

Sidewalk Scrounging

Yeah, I know – embarrassing to admit: we’re scroungers and scavengers. We’re not quite up there with the junkers in pick-up trucks who circulate in ours and other neighborhoods during that week when householders are putting out items for bulk trash pickup, but heaven knows, my daughter and I have staggered home of a morning, burdened with discarded but perfectly good pottery pots, with revivable plants, garden knick-knacks, a twelve pack of brand-new canning jars (as if someone got the urge to make jam or something, and thought better of it), and a chaise-lounge made of two-by-fours which may have had a leeetle bit of wood-rot on one leg . . . oh, the list is endless.

I suppose I hit some kind height – or nadir – when I was surveying one large curbside mound outside a home from which someone had evidently just moved and had hit that ‘oh, s**w it, I’m gonna throw it away rather than pack another thing!’ wall. There actually was one of the professional scroungers with his junk-laden van parked by the curb, industriously rummaging through the pile – a lot of cheap knock-down furniture and faintly dingy electronics, IIRC – and I very politely asked him to hold the dog’s leashes, so that I could retrieve a large and slightly wilted Brugmansia (Angel Trumpet) from a position on the very top of the pile. He did – apparently having no interest in slightly past their-best-if-used-by-this-date garden plants. (The Brugmansia has done pretty well, by the way – a little nipped by frost now and again, but it always comes back.

The trick to making them thrive, by the way, is using plenty of the fertilizer designed for hibiscus.) And then there was a pile of discards by a house undergoing renovation . . . we scored a replacement sliding screen door out of that. A pair of dogs that my daughter had decided to shelter in a fit of noble high-mindedness had thoroughly shredded the previously existing screen and bent the heck out of the metal frame. What does it say that a construction discard was a step up, quality-wise? At least, the price was right.

Plants and pots – especially pots: those are the most excellent finds in my neighborhood. Not quite sure about why that should be so, except that the turnover during the PCS season in our neighborhood is pretty brisk. Heavy pottery pots just don’t transport well . . . not to mention the plants in them. In a military move, that tends to be the kind of thing given away or discarded, right off the bat . . . so they wind up on the curb, in spite of being in perfectly good shape and even rather expensive to start with. So – when they finish up in my garden, it’s just karmic payback for all the plants and their pots that I gave away, upon departing assignments in Greece, Spain and Utah.

I do wonder now and again, what the pickings would be like in other neighborhoods – those which reflect a higher socio-economic level than mine. That is to say, the rich ones. Probably some very nice things, if the experience of one of my mothers’ neighbors in California is anything to go by. He’s a building contractor, who does very high-end renovations, and his own house and garden is almost entirely fitted out with materials that were excess to the needs of various projects, or perfectly good and salvaged from them – even the tiles on his roof were from a job.

On the day when someone in my neighborhood replaces a granite countertop – I will be so there.


Devastating fire in Northern San Diego County, why having home insurance and careful – even pictorial documentation of the stuff inside your personal space is an excellent idea.

Created Thursday, 03 February 2011 14:31

Tales of the Brass Monkey

By Julia Hayden

Or – why having home insurance and careful – even pictorial documentation of the stuff inside your personal space is an excellent idea. The stuff in your house, the pictures on the wall, the clothes and kitchen things are just background; most of the time you only really notice them when they are missing.

But when everything goes missing – lock, stock and barrel – all at once in a massive disaster, as happened to my parents in the 2003 Paradise Fire, in northern San Diego County – replacing it all is a bigger chore than most people would think. It took my parents months and months, making lists of what they had in the house, and calculating what they would cost to replace with something approximate. Those few things which were spared or survived the fire become even more precious. The fire had been burning for days, by the time it roared up the hill below my parents’ house – the house they had designed and built almost entirely by themselves in the 1980s.

My parents had always lived in the back-country; they had a plan in place, in case of a brush fire like this one turned out to be. Sometimes, even just accepting the possibility of an event like this is halfway to having a viable plan. As it turned out, they had about twenty minutes warning – long enough for my father to snap some pictures of the fire as it approached, and to take more pictures of the inside of the house. My mother had time enough to load her car with a few bits of china, the strongbox with all their necessary documentation, her jewelry box and their pets.

She and my father also filled up the bathtub with water, and put some more china into it. Unfortunately, they didn’t realize that when the roof beams burned, and the concrete tiles covering it came crashing down – much of what was in the bathtub would be damaged. The fire reduced the balloon-frame garage to not much more than a small pile of ashes and cinders: the outside house walls were of conblock, and remained standing after the fire raged through

They came back as soon as residents were allowed back into the area: they came with a borrowed RV camper, and set to work rebuilding. A work party of their friends from church very carefully began sifting the ashes for things that had survived. One of the first things they found was a tiny brass monkey that my father had bought, years ago. Some brass and concrete garden ornaments, which stood in various places on the verandah or in the garden plantings close by also survived unscathed. There was a collection of demitasse cups and saucers which had been wrapped in paper towels and stored in a dresser drawer; the fire had darkened the colors of some of the glazed they were decorated with.

Other items did not escape so easily: my mothers’ collection of Irish lead crystal had melted and run down over the stacks of china plates, cementing them all together. Three tempered glass measuring cups, sitting on a kitchen shelf softened enough to melt into each other. A shelf of pewter tankards also melted together, forming a puddle of metal embedded with shards of tile and charcoal. Dad hung it from one of the rebuilt house walls, as a kind of free-form sculpture. But the antique Edwardian ornamental tea tin was relatively undamaged, and many of the items retrieved from the bathtub were repairable, also.

Still, Mom and Dad were glad to have had insurance. It didn’t replace what they lost, exactly – but it meant they could replace it with something close enough.