Return to Hardberger Park

Return to Hardberger Park

by Celia Hayes

So it has been a good many months since last we ventured into Hardberger Park, on Blanco just a titch north of where the Wurzbach Parkway runs between Blanco and IH-10. Our hopes are high, incidentally, that soon, very soon indeed, the link in the parkway between Wetmore and Blanco will be completed and we will be able to waft swiftly and without traffic lights halfway across the north side of town.

Our first clue that the main part of the park is finished and consequently enormously popular is that we had to circle the parking lot three times before finding a parking place. Yes, the park – the dog park, the play-ground and the hiking and biking trails are very, very popular on weekend mornings, especially as the weather has turned coolish, and it is smack in the middle of a number of upscale neighborhoods of condos, townhouses and apartments, along with the usual single-family houses. We snagged a parking place as my exasperated daughter was about to give up and drive back to McAllister Park, and the dogs were about to turn themselves inside out with impatience. Well, that, and the urge to pee. This was Nemo’s first trip to a dog park, now that he has been neutered, vaccinated and more or less socialized. He is an odd but appealing little dog, intelligent and fearless, barely fifteen-pound mix of wirehaired terrier, possibly Chihuahua and who knows what else. We called him Nemo because we found him. We think someone moved out of the neighborhood and left him behind. He followed us home one day, and has stayed ever since. The vet said he is about a year old – still very much a puppy and inclined to be playful. He will try and get the cats to play with him, which they will do, up to a point.

We turned the dogs loose inside the enclosure, and let the two little ones romp in the big-dog section, which Nemo enjoyed very much at first, until he realized that in the resulting multi-dog grand chase which developed, he was the rabbit – that is, the chasee, not the chaser. So, off to the small-dog area, which I think he enjoyed rather more, since there were dogs even smaller than him. When they all had run off some of their energy, we went for a walk as far as the old Voelcker Farm, where the path crosses the Salado and meanders north for a good few miles. The pavilion at the park, with bathrooms and water fountains and some kind of office in it – is now entirely finished, and the trail-head for that section of the Salado Creek Greenway goes straight through it.

We did not much farther than the old farm, noting that another parking lot is under construction adjacent to it. The scenic overlook, jutting out from the steep bank a good way over the dry creek-bed, is also finished. The margins of the concrete trails are lined with heavy timber benches. We did not spot any cows, out behind the old farm – but we did see some deer at a relatively close distance. Yes, deer are well-adapted to the tangle of the light woods and rather hard to spot. If they hadn’t been moving, I don’t think that anyone on the path would have seen them at all.

And that was my weekend – the first day of autumn. And yours?

Home Renovation Time

Home Renewal

by Celia Hayes

With the sale of the acreage in California coming down the home stretch in escrow, we have been considering what to do with the money from the sale of the land. Oh, a certain amount will be plowed back into the purchase of a Hill County Lot of half acre to an acre, but the immediate need is to spend about half of it on the current house. It was originally built by Centex around 1985, but all the components in it were construction grade and purchased by the warehouse-load. The light fixtures and fittings, the carpeting, linoleum, cabinets and countertops, sinks and toilets, the doors and windows, the installed appliances, the HVAC systems … all were pretty much uniform. Over the years, many of our neighbors have replaced certain elements, which we have recognized as they were put out for the bulk trash pick-up or to be taken away by the renovators.

I ripped out the carpeting in our house myself, long since, and replaced just about all of the light fixtures, but other more serious replacements and upgrades have had to wait until now. While waiting for escrow to close, we were not sitting around twiddling our thumbs. We were auditioning contractors to replace the HVAC system, and the windows. Those two were the most critical needs; critical because the CPS bill has been climbing insidiously upwards over the last few years. The original system was – as the maintenance company told me for many years – the wrong size, badly situated, and indifferently-installed. When extremely cold in the winter and hot in the summer, my daughter preferred to sleep in the den, since her bedroom was so uncomfortable. As for the windows – aluminum-framed double-paned and screens with frames so flimsy they bent if you looked at them cross-eyed – any trace of argon gas between the glass panes was a distant memory.

The HVAC contractor was an easy choice; we really only considered one, which had done such a bang-up job for a neighbor that he has been singing their praises ever since. He got a rebate on his CPS bill which has been good for months – that was the kind of thing that we are passionately interested in. What I would have paid to CPS will go into replacing the windows, which should cut down that bill even more. As for other projects – countertops, cabinets and floors, that may have to be done piecemeal, although we have a darned good chance of picking out some bargains at the Habitat for Humanity Home Center on Walzem.

We were there last weekend, scoping out cabinets and front doors, mostly. The Home Center is stocked with donations – both builder/construction surplus and donations from homeowners doing remodels. They even offer a tear-out service; they will come and take out old cabinets and countertops, without damaging them – and well, we approve of recycling, especially if it is good quality to start with. The one project we considered tackling ourselves, or with the help of a friend who does minor construction, is replacing the front door. The sealing around the door has degraded about as much as the windows. We spotted some exterior doors at the Home Center which would work very, very well … and even with paying the friend to help install the darned thing, it still would be less than the cost of doing it at Lowe’s. Hmm … calk, nails, a level, screwdriver, tape-measure. Doable, definitely.

Urban Living

The Geography of Urban Life

 by Celia Hayes

I suppose that moving to a new location every two or three years as an adult sharpened my antennae with regard to house-hunting, just as a childhood spent with parents who were extremely energetic about all kinds of D-I-Y home and garden improvement projects instilled a certain degree of optimism in me about tackling them. Just as we never bought a brand new car, we also never bought a brand new home, up until my parents’ retirement house, and true to character, they oversaw the building of that, as well as doing much of the work themselves. Otherwise, we made do and made the best with what already existed. Which, I will point out – my parents were very, very good at.

I had already decided that I would buy a house, at whatever location turned out to be my last active-duty assignment. Halfway through the next-to-the-last assignment at Yongsan, ROK, I learned that I would be assigned to a base in San Antonio for my last active-duty assignment; I procured a city map, contacted a local realtor and appealed to a number of friends at Yongsan who knew San Antonio well for advice. One of them was an Air Force security policeman who went at it from the law-enforcement perspective. Each time I had a thick envelope of printouts from the MLS, I would give them to him, and he would scribble a brief note on each one: notes like, Very Good, Good, OK, Eh, Bad ‘Hood, Very Bad ‘Hood. The listings for Bad ‘Hood and Very Bad ‘Hood were discarded immediately, although it later was a curiosity for me to discover that many very good neighborhoods were merely blocks away from the Bad ‘Hoods, and that many charming and historic neighborhoods of well-kept late 19th and early 20th century house were embedded right in the middle of tracts of Bad ‘Hood and or light industrial districts. This was an interesting experience for me, since in Los Angeles the extremes were usually separated by miles, rather than mere blocks.

I eventually finished up in an established suburb on the northeast side of San Antonio, almost to the outside 1604 ring road, although I did keep looking wistfully at some of the old neighborhoods inside the 410 Loop. Alas, I could never afford a house in the nicest – such as Alamo Heights and Olmos Park – and the ones which I could have afforded were either in need of extensive rebuilding, or located in – as my security policeman friend said, Bad ‘Hood, or at best, an Eh. Still, it is interesting to note the progression of gentrification along the margins, like along North New Braunfels near Fort Sam. There were many houses and old duplex units along that route which once looked as if they were about to fall down – and now they have been propped up, painted, and renewed. I used to look wistfully at the 1920s era Spanish Colonial style houses along Mahncke Park, and think of how I would love one of those. Back then, a lot of them looked to be sadly run-down, but not any more. Government Hill, on the other side of Fort Sam also looked pretty slummy, but now many of those Victorian cottages have been rehabbed and renewed for another good few decades. I guess that the genius of gentrification is to figure out where it would be a good bet to buy and renovate – and have the wherewithal to do it. Just as a pie in the sky wild guess, I would say that the stretch of neighborhood along Blanco between Funston and Woodlawn might the next trendy focus for renewal, since it is in between a pair of very nice old neighborhoods, but is itself a little seedy at present.

Draw of Downtown San Antonio

The Draw of Downtown

By Celia Hayes

Now and again we are drawn downtown – usually not when there is a mass event involving crowds of people, expensive parking and temperatures of 90 degrees and above – but for purposes of our own, often involving visiting friends and relations, book research, or just plain curiosity. On these occasions we are reminded again of what a lovely civic jewel the Riverwalk is, even though I am certain that the noise and congestion would become tiresome for those living or working in one of the buildings overlooking it … but still. Green water, fringed with immensely tall feather-leaved cypress trees and narrow gardens, stone walkways, little bridges and ornaments of civic art in tile, metal and stone. It is a marvel and I do not grudge a penny of my taxes which helps to maintain, support and enlarges it, yea even to the north as far as Breckenridge Park and to the south as far as Mission Espada. Let all be adorned and improved, let the gardens and fountains be extended, ancient and not-so-ancient structures be repaired and repurposed, to the greater glory of our fair city. It brings in tourists and conventions, after all – as well as the creative, the enterprising, the trendy and artistic – and as the Riverwalk is extended, brings even more of it to those of us who live here.

But this last Labor Day, I had a curiosity about the arts and crafts show which was supposed to be arrayed along the banks of the Riverwalk adjacent to the Chamber of Commerce. Of course, by the time that we drifted in from parking around the corner from Main Plaza and walking from there, a fair number of the arts and crafts vendors had departed. It was y, it was hot, the crowds were thin and the next day was a regular work and school day, so I wasn’t the least surprised.

We parked near Main Plaza and walked through it on the way to the stair down to the Riverwalk. This was a project of a former mayor to make the Main Plaza a more park-like and pedestrian-friendly place than it was when I moved here in 1995. Then, if I recall correctly from calls for jury duty, it was a mean and isolated little patch of discouraged grass, a statue of St. Anthony, and a stand of oak trees, isolated by four very busy streets – Soledad, Main, Commerce and Dolorosa on each of it’s four sides. Hizzhonor’s original plan was to cut off all four streets and divert local downtown traffic who-knows-elsewhere. He was discouraged in this by the screams of local businesses and commuters, although it just may have been a bargaining chip. In the end, only Soledad and Main were pinched off. Now the sweep of the old square in front of San Fernando is adorned by ornamental paving, fountains, trees, a couple of kiosks, moveable chairs and tables in the European style, and very few aggressive homeless.

We wandered briskly along, stopping to admire a number of dogs downtown with their persons in tow, and wondered if we should bring our own next time. Eh – maybe. Of the artists remaining, one which drew our rapt attention was one featuring silver and larimar stone jewelry. Larimar is, according to the vendor behind the table, a unique volcanic stone, rather glasslike and several shades lighter blue than turquoise. It only comes from one little mine in the Dominican Republic. Then there was an artist whom my daughter had been looking for, ever since spotting the art at a First Friday several months ago, and never seen since. So – all to the best was this trip downtown. We emerged back into Main Plaza somewhat dehydrated but triumphant. That was my weekend – yours?

Jams and Preserves A Specialty Shop in Fredericksburg

A Little Local Home Grown Company

by Celia Hayes

So, I came to San Antonio for my final tour of Air Force duty in 1995 – but I think it took a little while for me to discover Fredericksburg, and the lovely, tasty specialty food products put out by Fischer and Wieser, of Fredericksburg in the Hill Country. It is in my mind that for the first couple of years, Fredericksburg was the only place that you could buy them anyway. Certainly all the little gourmet food outlets along Main Street had a good selection of Fischer & Wieser jams and preserves. There was an annex to Das Peach Haus in a teeny former residence near to the Nimitz Museum, which is where we usually bought those items which took our fancy.

Looking at the company website, it appears that was about the time that Case Fischer developed the Roasted Raspberry Chipotle sauce, which in movie parlance, was a tiny little local biasness’s First Big Break. Roasted Raspberry Chipotle is magnificent, by the way, but at first it must have seemed to be one of the weirdest concoctions ever proposed. Smoked Mexican chipotle peppers … and runny raspberry jam? Together? Hoooo-kay… But it put Fischer & Wieser – and chipotle peppers on the map. (For my money, the best thing on grilled shrimp is the ginger-habanero sauce, though. After driving past Das Peach Haus every time we came in to Fredericksburg by the road from Comfort – we finally stopped and went inside, and realized that – oh, my, it is bigger than it looks! There are little patches of landscaped garden all around, shaded by a grove of pine trees. And there are resident cats, too – always a good indication of quality, no matter if the product is books, garden stuff … or gourmet foods.

But the peach orchard which was the genesis of the company has been around since the Wieser family bought the property in the 1920s, and their son Mark opened a roadside fruit stand in 1969. There are a lot of seasonal roadside fruit stands on the main roads leading to Fredericksburg, and the Peach Haus was just one of them. The family sold fresh peaches, of course, and home-made peach preserves. Mark Wieser also taught school – and one of his students often helped out at peach harvesting time. Case Fischer was so keen on the possibilities of a specialty-food, development, marketing and entrepreneurship, that he went off to college and studied all that … and when he came home to Fredericksburg, he teamed up with his old teacher, and set about innovating, creating and producing quality foods; sauces for meats and pastas, mustards, jams and preserves, pie filling, salad dressing and dips.

And instead of just keeping it a local thing, Fischer & Wieser went national. Within a couple of years, I didn’t have to make the long drive up to Fredericksburg for some Roasted Raspberry Chipotle Sauce – it and other products were on the shelves at the local HEB – even my own local, which usually is a little light on the gourmet goods. Even better – they are available in military commissaries and on Amazon.com. Not bad for a tiny local enterprise which started as a roadside fruit stand. Yes, indeedy – they did build that business.

But look out for the Ghost Pepper BBQ sauce … more than a quarter of a teaspoon can be lethal. I think it’s made for people who think straight Tabasco is just too darned bland.