Autum Garden Stuff

In the Autumn Garden – September

By Celia Hayes

That blessed day – the day that we can turn off the AC and open the windows arrived this last weekend. Cool fall weather in South Texas arrived in tandem with the notice from the city regarding brush pickup, so the neighborhood has been serenaded with the sounds of chain saws all this week. Receipt of the brush pickup notice meant for us that it was time to call the tree guy to come and take out two many-stemmed laurel-cherry trees, which had begun as a self-planted small saplings, grew into a hedge-like thing which screened my back yard from my next-door neighbors and offered a small touch of shade, and finally one of the two into a towering behemoth which banished direct sunlight from half the yard.

Nemesis arrived promptly at midday on Friday, and before 4 PM the trunk and branches and all were piled up on the curb. It is not quite the biggest pile in the neighborhood – but my daughter and I added some more to the top, by cleaning out some half-dead rosemary bushes in front, and pruning some particularly leggy roses. The big thing, though – was reclaiming the area which the laurel-cherries had shaded into oblivion, now that the sliver of potential flower or vegetable bed has been restored to sunlight.

I originally had the idea to make that corner into a kind of outdoor parody- living room, centered around a small chair-shaped plant stand (which we rescued out of the bulk trash pick-up a couple of years ago (beating the metal scavengers to it by a short head) and a huge pottery chiminea (to which my daughter beat everyone else). And a small concrete statue of a sleeping cat, marking the final resting place of the much-traveled and much-loved cat who accompanied us from Greece, to Spain, to Utah, California and then to Texas. The chiminea has succulent plants in it – at some point when someday I am ambitious, I will replace with red and yellow chrysanthemums – to look more like fire spilling out of it, you see. It’s a nice bit of garden art, anyway – and after drilling holes in the stump and pouring stump-killer and boiling water on it, we parked the chiminea on top and gathered all the other potted vegetables which have survived until now all around, on top of a nice layer of mulch. So much for the out-door living room parody – but it still looks incredible, done with the gathering of container-grown vegetables. And the sunny, suitable-for-vegetable growing space has been increased by about a third, now.

When we hit Lowe’s for the mulch – we also made the happy discovery that a lot of garden items like lattice panels were on sale for half off. We had once had a lattice in back of the birdbath, to set off the space against the blank wall of my next-door-neighbors’ house, and then for a time a trellis arch, until the weathering, wood-rot and a high wind broke it all apart. Three tall lattice panels and some odd plants made it into the car, along with the mulch – and now we have a nice little space defined by the lattice, the bird bath and two tall shepherd’s crooks with bird feeders hanging from them. And that was my weekend – yours?


Front Porch Finale

Leaping into Spring Projects

by Celia Hayes

In between those days of bone-chilling cold, my daughter and I finished up the raised flower-bed part of the entryway to the house this week. The stump of the photinia is buried deep in garden soil, home-brewed compost, with a layer of weed barrier on top of that, and a thin layer of river rock on top of that. We visited Lowe’s over the weekend and were sorely tempted – and succumbed to several interesting varieties of day-lily and gladiola corms, and a rose-bush. I might, at a later date, put in some lavender plants, as the soil mix in the raised bed is just what they like; sandy, easily drained, full of good nutritious compost – the very opposite of the heavy clay which occurs naturally around here.

We raked in some good rose-food, planted the corms and the rose bush – and for good measure, my daughter scattered seeds from of a good handful of packets of annuals around the edge of the weed barrier, covered it all in river-rock … oh, we’ll need to go and get a few bags more of the river rock. We always under-estimate these things. The tools are cleared away, the empty sacks removed and the sand swept up – and the front entryway now looks pretty good. Not Parade of Homes quality, but still pretty good. There aren’t quite enough bricks left to continue paving over the narrow little flowerbed which runs along the side of the house between the walkway and the exterior wall of the garage. This has always been an annoyance for me; when I first bought the house it was filled with ivy. It took five or six years to eradicate the ivy. Now there are a couple of rosemary bushes, and a climbing rose that goes along the house wall – but the base of the bed always looked a mess; leaves blew in and it was a chore to rake them from underneath the rosemary. We’ll pave it with the last bricks, augmented with concrete pavers, leaving small square areas filled with more gravel around those established plants – which ought to reduce the mess-quotient by several degrees.

The cold snaps this winter have done a pretty thorough job of killing off everything that wasn’t sheltered in the greenhouse. Likely we will have to start all over again with Bell and jalapeno peppers. Among the other temptations in the garden section at Lowe’s was a good assortment of seed potatoes. I’m hoping that when the weather lets up a little I can plant them – and do better than last year. I’d like to eat more produce from my own garden than I buy at the grocery store, but so far, the only thing that flourished regularly were salad greens.

Potatoes weren’t the only temptation in the spring starts, seeds and roots – I committed to another grape vine; this one I intend to train up on wires strung between eye-bolts screwed into the back fence. My neighbors with the beautiful garden had done this; why not go vertical, in a small enclosure. My daughter bought a blackberry vine – and that will also go up on the trellis wires. Finally – among the stock at Sam’s Club last weekend; young fruit trees; apple, apricot, plum and peach, for a very reasonable price. Yeah, I bought two of them; when we lived in Utah, it seemed like every house of a certain age had at least one bearing fruit tree in the yard. With the mulberry cut back, I think there will be sunshine enough for the peach and plum saplings. So, that’s my plan for this spring in the garden…

New and Improved

Ft Sam and Brook Army Medical Center Complex

by Celia Hayes

Having been in pretty good health over the last two or three years, it has been that long since I had to make an appointment to see a doctor – which since I am a military retiree, usually meant a long trek into the wilds of Brooke Army Medical Center, or BAMC – or as I liked to call it ‘the world’s largest red-brick Skinner box’. I was better acquainted with the grounds around it though; during a time when I worked in an office nearby. During my lunch hour, I used to walk across the street, flash my retiree ID at the gate, and walk briskly around the footpath which circuited the grounds – skirting the parking lot at the top of the hill, around the back of the tall brick structure, down to the complex of new dormitories, the park at the bottom of the hill, around past where the original Fisher Houses are, and where they were building a pair of new ones, the bright and shiny new dome of the state of the art rehab center, up the hill past the helicopter landing pad, and a wide and empty grass field and back to the gate again.

All that has changed since I worked that job – and I probably couldn’t walk anything like the same route today. The empty field has been filled in with an extension to the main building of practically the same size, and a huge parking garage. Now there are apparently twice the numbers of employees coming onto the BAMC complex daily as there were when I last went in for a routine appointment … so, I was not much looking forward negotiating the acres of parking lot and miles of corridor. But now it seems that the routine outpatient clinic has moved out of BAMC altogether and into it’s own bright and shiny building on Fort Sam itself. This, I feared, would not be an improvement. Fort Sam has been overtaken by changes too.

For those couple of years after I retired in 1997, I thought that Fort Sam was definitely getting pretty shabby. I would drive through and notice that the old warehouses and loading docks were looking exceedingly crumbly, and even the stolid old Spanish-colonial style blocks of dormitories and administrative buildings had the paint peeling off them in sheets. What was the Army coming to, I would wonder, that they couldn’t even send out the troops to slap another coat of paint on those buildings? The old hospital building looked like one of those mock structures that fire departments practice in, and it all looked dispiritingly shabby. Such were the benefits of the peace dividend, and the end of the Cold War.

Such have been the vagaries of current events and the realigning of military missions that things are also looking up on Fort Sam itself. This I discovered, finding my way to an appointment last week at the outpatient medical center, for treatment of a persistent bronchial cough. New units have moved in, the old buildings repurposed, scrubbed up and revitalized – and a number of new ones added to the current inventory. Among them was the brand-spanking-new outpatient clinic, as modern and up to the minute as anything that I ever saw on an Air Force base – which, as the Air Force was the newest of the armed services, usually featured built-to-purpose and relatively modern buildings, rather than the Army or the Navy’s usual century-plus relics. I don’t know what will happen next at Fort Sam – but I am pretty well certain that General Eisenhower and all those other Army officers who passed through early in the last century would not recognize much of it at all.

Romney Ryan or Obama Biden

I VOTED, Have You?

Today is Tuesday, November 6th, 2012. It is Election Day in the United States. Please get out and vote. The lines in my precinct were not that long. Only about 15 people standing in line.

If you live in Bexar County, to find out where to vote, go to the Bexar County Voter Website. If you live in other counties in Texas you can visit the Texas Secretary of State’s Voter website or visit your county website.



Lackland BMT Graduation Parade

On Parade

by Celia Hayes

The son of our neighbor whom my daughter encouraged to enlist in the military graduated last Friday from basic training. And because my daughter is close to Sylvester’s family, we both went down to Lackland for the graduation parade. There is certainly a great deal more pomp and circumstance laid on for these things now. When I finished basic, early in the spring of 1977, they did nothing much more than hand us our orders and travel vouchers, and tell us to pack our duffle bags and clear out of the training squadron dorm … which we were quite happy to do, let me tell you. I’ve never since been able to endure the sight of concrete block walls and industrial linoleum with out the miserable feeling that someone was about to appear, their heel-taps clicking like castanets and begin shouting at me. I couldn’t have imagined my parents and family schlepping all the way to Texas for three or four days, either … but such was the case when I came back to Lackland for my final tour of duty. It’s all very much expanded now – there is even a regular visitor’s center for the families, in what I recall as the Skylark Recreation center – the recruit airman trainee’s home away from home.

Even then, the place had changed from what I recalled – not that I could recall much, since most of the time I was outside, I was in the middle of a formation with a view restricted to the back of the neck of the woman in front of me. Most of the old WWII-era two-story temporary buildings had been torn down by 1995, and even more of them are gone now. Lackland used to be blocks and blocks of those old buildings, shaped rather like the little white-painted Monopoly hotel tokens, interspersed with a chapel, or a single-story office complex. But all gone now – replaced with new buildings, some of them very imposing.

The old base HQ is gone – now there’s a grand, glass-walled building on the far side of the parade ground. And the parade ground itself – which had a number of historic aircraft on static display around the perimeter when I retired in 1997, now has even more historic aircraft and all of them in much better repair. Seventy years worth of aircraft – trainers and fighters, bombers and transport, jet-propelled and piston-engine, single or multi-engine, and relics of every war since WWII. Some of them are fairly common – but one or two are rare birds indeed; like the Twin Mustang long-range fighter escort. It was designed and built at the end of WWII; two engines and two fuselages, connected by a short stretch of airfoil.

It looks like a sort of aeronautical Siamese twin, but there are only five of them still in existence, and one of them is on display at the Lackland Parade ground. It’s worth a trip to the base for an enthusiast, just to walk around and look at all the classic aircraft. I don’t think there is a place any closer than Wright Patterson AFB which has so many aircraft on permanent display in one small area.

The graduation parades are every Friday morning at 9:00 – come for the parade, stay for the aircraft.

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The Way of the Okra

Although I have only one huge okra plant, and a couple of others which have produced intermittently and spasmodically, individual okes (is that the singular of okra, like meese should be the singular of moose?) my garden just doesn’t seem to produced sufficient of them in a short period of time to make a decent batch of okra pickles on any given day. At least, not enough to be worth firing up the canning kettle. It’s really not worth heating up the kitchen in my San Antonio home unless there are at least three quarts or six pints in contention … and my okra plants just aren’t that prolific. So I cheated – I went and bought two pounds of okra at the Indian market (cunningly disguised as a gas station on the corner of 410 and Starcrest) and added into it the gleanings of the last week or so and made a batch of spicy okra pickles from a recipe that I found on the interned and amended. Oddly enough, we like okra as pickles, in gumbo and even breaded and deep-fried, in which format it is as addictive as popcorn although somewhat more fattening … but okra on it’s own … that is a vegetable that needs work.

Basically, make a pickling brine from 2 ⅔ cup cider vinegar and 1 ½ cup water, and 1 ½ teaspoons salt, and when it comes to a simmer, either add to it, or steep in a tea-ball, 2 Tbsp. pickling spices.

I used another net-recipe for pickling spice, which called for 2 Tbsp. mustard seeds, 2 Tbsp. whole allspice, 2 teasp coriander seeds, the same of cloves, 1 teaspoon of ground ginger and the same of dried red pepper flakes, a crumbled bay leaf and a two-inch length of cinnamon stick. This makes more than needed for a single batch, so save the remainder for the next batch.

Meanwhile, pack the raw okra into 2 hot and sterilized 1-quart jars, and tuck in among the packed oke pods in each jar, 2-3 peeled and lightly crushed garlic cloves, 2-3 dried chili pods (I used ripe red jalapeno and paprika pods from my garden) and two or three small bay leaves … I have a small bay tree in the garden, so again … from my garden. It helps to pack the first layer of okra in the jar with the wide end down, and then wedge the next layer into it pointy end down, and distribute the garlic cloves, the pepper pods and the bay leaves as they fit. Fill the jars with okra and all until just below the point on the jar where the threaded rim begins, then pour in the hot brine and process at least 20 minutes in boiling water, as per the usual canning instructions.

This week, one of our dinners included a salad – of halved fresh garden tomatoes and sliced segments of home-pickled okra, adorned with crumbles of feta cheese and fresh parsley – again from the garden – and splashed with some olive oil. Alas, the olive is not home-grown from my own tree. That will take … a good few more decades.

Our Nations Anthem on July 4th

Happy Birthday America

Happy Fourth of July

by Randy Watson

“The Star-Spangled Banner” is the national anthem of the United States of America. This year is the 200th aniversary of the War on 1812, the inspiration to Francis Scott Key to write the lyrics of the Star Spangled Banner. Francis Scott Key witnessed the bombardment of Ft. McHenry by the British Navy ships in Chesapeake Bay during the Battle of Ft McHenry in the War of 1812.

Madison Rising, a conservative rock band, has recorded a version of the Star-Spangled Banner that is one of the most beautiful versions I have ever heard. Madison Rising is on a mission to not only make great music, but also send a message that American culture is alive and well. Madison Rising, named in honor of James Madison, the fourth President of the United States and a key author of the Constitution, The Bill of Rights and The Federalist Papers. The band promotes the principles of liberty, independence, smaller government and personal responsibility. Enjoy.

God Bless America!

“The Star-Spangled Banner”

O say can you see by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets' red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
(Madison Rising chorus)

Because we are the brave
Yes we are the brave
We’ll fight tyranny
In the name of the free
We are the U.S. of A

For those unaware
That flag is still there
It’s our future to save
This land of the brave
The U.S. of A

Oh say does that star spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land, land of the free and the home of the brave

On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
'Tis the star-spangled banner, O! long may it wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion,
A home and a country, should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war’s desolation.
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!


Battleship Texas closing for repairs

Battleship Texas Closing for Repairs

News Release
Media Contact: Mike Cox, 512-389-8046,

June 15, 2012

HOUSTON — The Battleship Texas, which has been stabilized since the historic vessel sprang a significant leak a week ago, will be closed to the public starting Monday until repairs can be completed.

“The closure will be for the duration of the salvage company and dive team repairs, a process we hope will take no more than a week,” said Andy Smith, Battleship Texas State Historical Site superintendent.

Currently, the ship is stable with a 1- to 2-degree list to the port and an estimated water inflow rate of less than 100 gallons per minutes. Earlier this week, the rate was 850 gpm, Smith said.

Clean-up of onboard oil residue continues and is in its third phase. Meanwhile, pumping will continue to keep up with incoming flow with all preparations in place to increase capacity as needed up to about 2,500 gpm with a combination of 4-inch electric and 3-inch pneumatic pumps.  These will continue on an around-the-clock basis.

TPWD has been working for some time toward the permanent dry-berthing of the ship, with details of that available at

“If a dry-berth solution that the department can afford cannot be found,” Smith said, “TPWD will shift its efforts to repairing the ship in place. No final decision on the issue has been made, but the department remains committed to preserving this historic vessel. ”

Anyone wishing to make a donation toward the preservation of the 100-year-old battleship may do so at

Nimitz Museum Fredericksburg Texas

Museum of the Pacific – Re-enactor Daze

by Celia Hayes

Among the attractions of Fredericksburg, the queen of the Hill Country is the Museum of the Pacific War. Ever since I started visiting the Hill Country (shortly after coming to settle in a tiny suburban San Antonio home) in 1995, the Museum has been expanding by leaps and bounds. On my very first visit it seemed that everything was pretty much contained within the old Nimitz hotel, the steam-boat shaped edifice at the corner of Main and Washington, with the Japanese peace garden out around in back. At a slightly later date, there was a open-sided shed with sides of chain link, down across Town Creek which contained some large and small relatively indestructible exhibits … but that was it. Until they began the Bush gallery, on an empty lot in back which faced Austin Street, and even that wasn’t very much to look at … at first. First it was completed, and then enlarged – maybe enlarged again. The garden alongside the old hotel was also renovated and landscaped, so that it looked more like it did at the end of the century before last – when the Nimitz Hotel was the social center/assembly room/auditorium/performance space for the area.

There is a picture that I have seen in old histories of the area, of the garden as it was – with roses and hop vines growing up over cedar pergolas. Old Charles Henry Nimitz, Admiral Chester Nimitz’s grandfather had built up the hotel from the four-roomed adobe house which existed on that particular town lot in the 1850s. He was quite a character, C.H. Nimitz – he had a reputation as a prankster and tall-tale-teller, but also was one of the most respected and successful town fathers; in the early days, the garden at the side of the hotel was a kind of beer garden. Now it is a garden again, but a little more ornate than before … and the Bush gallery with all the indoor displays is huge. All the displays and relics which used to be in the old hotel building are there, and expanded upon.

The Admiral Nimitz Foundation took over management of the hotel property in 2005, and has never looked back … well, in the archival sense, they have looked back. As for the museum complex? It’s now an excellent addition to Fredericksburg as a destination for sightseeing. The front of the Bush gallery – which seems to be about six times larger than it was on the first time I visited — is adorned with what appears to be a submarine rising up from the depths. The Japanese mini-sub captured at Pearl Harbor, which used to be out in the garden, is now in its own exhibit space in the Bush gallery. Down the road a little way and across Town Creek, the out-of-doors Pacific War Zone is now three acres and change. They have a whole PT boat there, and a vintage hospital operating theater set up in a Quonset hut, and an open-air beachhead exhibit, which is the venue for extensive reenactments throughout the year. The next one is scheduled for the weekend of June 30-July 1. If you miss it, there won’t be another one until the first weekend in September. Which, considering the brutal summer heat of South Texas, is probably a good ideal. Still, I can’t help thinking that the very best thing that you can do for your birthplace is to grow up and become very, very famous.

Commemorating Armed Forces

Commemorating Armed Forces Day Message

May 19, 2012

Armed Forces Day is a special day assigned for the commemoration and recognition of military service member’s unique and necessary sacrifices for the good of all. Observed every third week of May since 1949, the holiday continues giving people more insights and opportunities to realize how noble and how great the profession of the military is.

Thanks to all United States Veterans that have served, are serving and will choose to serve in the United States Military. US Army, US Navy, US Air Force, US Marine Corps and the US Coast Guard.

Thank you for your service!