Friday, September 30, 2005

Mostly oxen and mules

Portions of Susan Magoffin's diary of life on the Santa Fe trail and in Mexico during the Mexican War are enjoyable out-loud reading. As the wagon train moved, she knitted and cared for the poultry. When the sun was high, if they found shade and water they stopped and napped. When there was no firewood to be had, they ate ham and cold biscuits. Once they start getting entangled in matters related to the war, the diary becomes less enjoyable, although the footnotes are interesting in that they show how very small the regular army was, most commissioned officers having graduated from West Point. Did one of the Flashman books feature life at Bent's Fort also? Yes.

Thursday, September 29, 2005


There to be enjoyed at each and every colony of oxblood lilies is a fourth, and probably final, wave of bloom. There's been no sign of lycoris radiata. Astonishingly, English peas have germinated and do not seem to be affected by the heat. The grasshoppers have not consumed them. They are somewhat shaded by Turk's cap. Some bush beans from a nickel seed packet came up and were devoured, leaving a sole survivor, now blossoming. Another wonder is that the volunteer torenia, in a pot in full sun, never wilts at all, although the zinnias appear by suppertime to be past reviving, and they do benefit from shade at some times during the day. The website for the electric department does not incorporate any press release on the flickering and browning out, but the Statesman did have a squib about the destruction by fire of a transformer fifteen minutes before our phenomenon, which was probably a result of hasty re-allocations over the grid. The paper reports that up to ten thousand people were without power for up to two hours in the middle of the night. I hate it when the fans slow and then return to speed again, echoing whatever is happening to the power supply. There will be an end to summer one of these times, unless The World As We Know It ends before that! Which some of K's Adventist friends are coming to believe may be entirely possible.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Does the heat make them come up for air?

Do insects get so hot inside the dead wood that they must surface? The female red-bellied woodpecker that we watched so long and at such extremely close range wasn't required to do any pecking at all. She just moved along the limb hanging upside down and was dining royally, it seemed. The light was just right during the supper hour for seeing every tiny detail.

Monday, September 26, 2005


Saarinen has fallen in reputation; or at least he's not at all trendy. There's a review of a new biography in the current Metropolis. It was surprising to realize how many buildings I've been in: Morse, Stiles, Ingalls Rink, Noyes Hall, the TWA terminal, John Deere headquarters in Moline, and 51 West 52nd Street, as well as others, perhaps, that I haven't thought of. So I've come up with at least seven. The building at 51 West 52nd is said to have pioneered a structure where the building is supported on the core and the periphery, allowing for totally open-plan offices. Some people were definitely afraid to go near the windows. The supposedly easily movable and reconfigurable walls were seldom changed, because it wasn't that easy. So long as window people kept their doors open, there was no one without natural light, and the windows are so tall that the light reached everybody in very large bullpens that ran all the way to the window wall with no enclosed office blocking. Being a treehouse, and not a cave, person, someday I'd like to go up in that arch. I don't suppose that the library will coughing up for that book, but there's always inter-library loan from the Battle library.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

The lion and the lamb

In our version of Isaiah 62:25, it's the neighbor's yellow cat and kitten, the squirrels, the blue jays, the wrens, the titmice, the cardinals, the mourning doves, the white-winged doves, and the chickadees, plus whatever foxes, raccoons, and opossums leave it all empty by morning. On a porch visible from three rooms, we have a small terra cotta plant saucer and a very large plastic one, kept filled with water as much as possible. The birds can perch on roses of sharon, loquats or an oleander while they wait their turn. Some drink and some bathe and some do both. The squirrels and cats like to lie at full length to cool their bellies on the stone pavement.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Kerosene beyond illumination

In addition to kerosene lanterns, hanging lamps, double-globe lamps, and basic Aladdin-type lamps, with and without shades, there was a kerosene refrigerator on legs and a kerosene engine that ran the pump that took water uphill and into the sheet-metal tank whence it flowed downhill by gravity to the cold-water tap in the kitchen that was so much more convenient for some purposes than the kitchen hand-pump. The engine was fired up once a week or so. Somewhere, lately, I read an article about enthusiasts of old engines, the sort used for miscellaneous purposes, mostly around the farm and ranch. I can't find the article now, but it did inspire me to remember that the engine that ran the pump was a Fairbanks-Morse, one exactly like this in appearance.

Friday, September 23, 2005


Criterion Bell & Specialty Co., Inc., evidently still exists. It's on Second Avenue, in Brooklyn 11232. It may still manufacture, having begun to do so in 1937. I love the description of products offered. Someone who has done a street-by-street inventory of part of lower Manhattan reports this business to have a showroom in the toy district. My cellophane bag of medium-size bells has been in our possession for decades. These are the bells perhaps a bit too big for baby shoes, but just right for roller-skates and ice-skates, sewing on costumes, and going on bicycles, elastic bracelets, and pet collars. Nobody has ever owned sleigh bells has discarded them. And, of course, every concert band or orchestra that has ever played Leroy Anderson during the holiday season has a set of musical bells (plus somebody in the brass section who can produce a neighing sound).

Thursday, September 22, 2005


Only early this morning, when removing the last piece of stationery from the box, did I notice the error. This is ecru paper with printing in a sort of madder color reproducing nineteenth-century steel engravings of African animals. There is a quotation on the container: "Let us keep the dance of rain our fathers kept, And tread our dreams beneath the jungle sky." This is attributed to "Arna Botemps," not "Arna Bontemps." This box of Mudlark paper from BookPeople was opened and closed at least 25 times and the mistake was overlooked no times fewer than that. The eye too often sees only what it expects to see, not what's truly there.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Fewer than two tanks a month

We keep hearing people complaining about the cost of gasoline. We are enjoying our very first vehicle with air-conditioning. In the past, there have sometimes been fairly extended periods without a car at all. When there's been a car, it's been one without air-conditioning; a car without a.c. is far, far cheaper to buy and also gets better mileage. This car, the sole household vehicle, is a 1999 VW Jetta with a manual transmission, bought used. The car was at the pump on August 30 and then again yesterday. Our rounds have been in no way curtailed. Perhaps from having spent time living where it's sixty miles over bad roads to buy anything at all, we do consolidate errands. Some people have good and sufficient work reasons to have a large vehicle; many are still driving the Covert Buicks and other large models from the 'Seventies here in town, because they're affordable and remain reliable. A working service van or a pickup with a toolbox or a ServiceMaster body or hauling a work-trailer or a vehicle containing six children is one thing, and I have my opinion of what's something else altogether. This opinion sometimes carries over to the person behind the wheel, especially if that person is an inconsiderate driver and driving solo. It's a petty and judgmental opinion and anybody can guess it. You know who you are; just don't complain about gas prices in my hearing.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Fried standing

We've never cut any of our oxblood lilies to bring indoors; maybe this year we should've. Except for a few new shoots of blooms, the heat has had its way, even with clumps in the deep shade.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Wheelbarrow of mustard seeds

That's what Bishop T. D. Jakes was rolling around the platform the first time he caught our eye. Without cable, our TV-watching has become mostly one telenovela at a time, plus the odd drop-in at TBN, for Jesse Duplantis ("If the suit don't fit, it ain't yours!"), Bishop Jakes, Creflo Dollar, James Hagee, and sometimes Rexella. We've heard much commentary about Jakes allowing himself to be used as a backdrop for some of the posturing coming out of Washington. Then there was the NYT article. Now, a transcript version of the sermon is up, at least for a while.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Return to FM1718

So we just ran in to the Farm to Market Grocery on South Congress for a dozen eggs, a dozen very fresh eggs from Del Valle. The website is embryonic, and some of the important text is in graphic form. If there are meta-tags, I don't see them. When we first visited, before the store was officially open, we asked one of the owners about a domain; at that time, as was the case about the license to sell beer and wine, a website was to be up in the future. The beer and wine are now for sale. The domain name is now painted on an awning. There's a home page up on the Web. The search-engines aren't yet finding it, though.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Prestige 7188

It's monaural, of course. Lush Life is the very first LP that I ever bought. And I have it still. And it's been played countless times. And every track on it still speaks. Thank you, John Coltrane. And thank you, Billy Strayhorn, especially, for Lush Life itself. This is good music for these times.

Friday, September 16, 2005

And some claim that the soaps are behind the times

This is a tech note from ABC soap One Life to Live: a character stole some data from another's laptop by means of a flash drive kept on his keychain. This household was a late adapter when it came to video recorders. We do tape OLTL and AMC through the week to be dipped into on sleep timer if needed; the sounds of people talking (and not talking politics or "news") can be soporific. This is the first time that I've noticed a flash drive being used in any way on TV or in the movies.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Behavioral gardening

"Behavorial gardening" was used almost as an accusation. But, then, again, perhaps operant conditioning is in use. Having once trained a common pigeon, using a Skinner box, to run through a very elaborate routine, I may be applying the principles to our yard. The pigeon at first learned its behaviors little by little in exchange for kernels of corn, then was constantly rewarded for displaying them, then was randomly rewarded, and finally rewarded not at all, to the point where the learned behaviors were entirely extinguished. K. accuses me of trying to "train" plants to "expect" less watering. I certainly don't want to "train" them to "expect" watering at regular intervals and then to languish if the "expectations" aren't met.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

For its leaves alone

Even were it never to produce flowers, the cypress vine would be worth growing, because its dainty, feathery leaves are unique. Now that the nights have been on the cool side a couple of times, they're beginning to blossom. They never reproduce themselves here but Lone Star always has seeds and so do some other companies, although at a higher price.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

What photographs can't capture

This may be the best year ever for oxblood lillies. Every single location has now been heard from. Of course, thanks to the squirrels, we're seeing some never before heard from, dotted here and there at random locations. There will be several stalks from each bulb, it appears, judging from what's happening with the first clump that appeared. For some reason, the color seems more vivid this year, more toward the red side and less toward the brown side of the spectrum. Those accompanying the plumbago on the oak motte add to a very patriotic look, especially when the blossoms of our mystery member of the allium family with tall stalks, green in the center, and white flowers are tossed in. Whatever this flowering garlic is, the butterflies and honeybees like it very much.

Monday, September 12, 2005

What would be missed

Were we to decamp without notice, we wouldn't be able to carry the only things valued: books, recorded music, the yard and garden. The physical medium of the music wouldn't truly be needed; the music itself would stay in the head. A garden can never be replicated; it belongs just where it is. Even though the books were acquired mostly during the golden era of cheap quality paperbooks, we would be able to try to rebuild a library were there sufficient money. Because tidywork is soothing, we've been doing a lot of it when Club Desvelado is in session. Now, thanks to Readerware (and to CueCat for books new enough to have a bar code and an ISBN), we now not only know what's there; it has finally been updated and backed up. We're very visual people, but images travel well in the mind. Some people try to save photographs, but, really, they're only aids to memory for those alive at the time that the photographs were made; they have another meaning altogether for anyone coming after.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Acequias, norias, y huertas

We're very much enjoying Gardens of New Spain: How Mediterranean Plants and Foods Changed America (William W. Dunmire). It's not artfully written but the trains of thought that it starts are soothing and pleasant ones. And at last I know for what Las Norias was named; nobody could ever say, or describe the mechanism, either. They'd just say "like a well" or "like a spring," without describing the device. Thank you Austin Public Library. Now it would be great to find Down the Santa Fe Trail and Into Mexico: The Diary of Susan Shelby Magoffin, 1846-47 (979.02 Ma).

Saturday, September 10, 2005


To the profiteers shall go the profits. To the others shall go the crumbs fallen from the tables of the rich. The mighty have seen fit to dispense with the provisions of the 1931 Davis-Bacon Act. By fiat (or Bush executive order, our current equivalent), there's no longer any need for federal contractors in the official storm-disaster areas to pay prevailing wages to their workers. "What mean ye that ye beat my people to pieces, and grind the faces of the poor? saith the LORD GOD of hosts." (Isaiah 3:15.)

Friday, September 09, 2005

This song is not dead yet

There is music that can be ruined and lose its power. Initially appealing, the composition or something about it does not stand the test of time. Some people still love it. It may remain a top request on radio stations and at karaoke establishments and piano bars. Death occurs by over-repetition in general, too numerous bad renditions, false hyper-emoting by the singer, or merely some limitation in the composition or the lyric that keeps the music from standing up over the long run. Dr. Gloria Quinlan, standing alone and singing to piano accompaniment, showed that You'll Never Walk Alone is still vital and that the efforts of Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, and Miss America contestants (just a few of the many possible instances) have not destroyed this song. Simplicity and sincerity stir. The report of the performance is at one remove; the opinions are personal.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Observation on school assignments

Saying that surviving students are being placed at convenient locations where there's room, the school district is making school assignments for those not taking the initiative for themselves. Children temporarily residing at the convention center are being assigned to majority-minority schools, if reports are to be believed. We're not watching television and are listening to KOOP and KAZI with a little bit of KVET thrown in. The local daily has done some surprisingly good round-up coverage and some very decent features on our visitors and perhaps new residents-to-be. KAZI has been doing wonderful first-person accounts from the beauty-salon front. NYT and WSJ come at these stories from fresh angles, particularly those incorporating the business perspective. Surprisingly, I think that it was the WSJ that has been the only print or on-line echo of the theory I've been hearing, that this is a great opportunity for the GOP to turn New Orleans into a bastion of Republican voters, now that the riff-raff is gone, perhaps never to return. Louisiana may even lose a congressional district, it's speculated, because of population loss. Some states are surprised that survivors have no desire to take up a new life there.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005


There's too much of it around right now. Heaps of unsorted miscellany are not proper objects of pride, but signs of hasty thinking, bad planning, and misuse of time, energy, and space. Waste is rampant. There's been no word about a need for reading glasses and spectacles in general, although large-print Bibles are being collected by at least one church here in town.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005


A true sign of civil breakdown would have manifested itself in the following way: the have-nots of New Orleans, seeing that the haves had departed and left their fridges full of food and their properties on the high ground, would have moved in, breaking down the doors and smashing out the windows, consuming all that food going to waste, sleeping in comfort and living in splendor compared with existence on the verges of the highways, under the bridges, or jammed together in the stadium and the convention center. If any of this happened, it has not been reported. There would have been little in the way of governmental might in any form to have prevented it.

Monday, September 05, 2005


People are thoughtlessly adding an extra step by dropping off physical items for our visitors at places from which they'll need to be moved and then taken to locations and organizations where there are people experienced in sorting them according to how useful they are. Seeing photographs of all the heaps of "stuff" gives a queasy feeling to some of us. Austin is good-hearted, but someone wasn't thinking clearly at first. Now, the City information site reports a temporary hold on donations. People will need new underwear, new shoes, new socks, and ways and places to get clean. Usually, the Salvation Army does this best. In addition, all will need at least brief physical examinations. I bet that many will need spectacles in order to be able to see. We remember the cartons of useless everything that well-intentioned people used to pay to send to "help." And then it had to be sorted. And then most of it had to be disposed of, and in a location where disposing of anything not fairly immediately biodegradable posed a real problem.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Heralds of change

This morning there were nine stalks up. This afternoon they have become the first of our oxblood lilies. Or schoolhouse lilies. Or rhodophiala bifida. They're later in appearing than has been the case some years, but they're extremely welcome. And very beautiful.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

An instructive look backwards: "If you don't need it, DON'T BUY IT!"

This is from the back of a ration book from World War II in my name: "NEVER BUY RATIONED GOODS WITHOUT RATION STAMPS. NEVER PAY MORE THAN THE LEGAL PRICE. IMPORTANT: When you have used your ration, salvage the TIN CANS and WASTE FATS. They are needed to make essential supplies for the battle fronts and the home front Cooperate with your local Salvage Committee." And this is from the back of a ration book of a family member: "1.This book is valuable. Do not lose it. 2.Each stamp authorizes you to purchase rationed goods in the quantities and at the times designated by the Office of Price Administration. Without the stamps you will be unable to purchase those goods. 3.Detailed instructions concerning the use of the book and the stamps will be issued from time to time. Watch for those instructions so that you will know how to use your book and stamps. 4.Do not tear out stamps except at the time of purchase and in the presence of the storekeeper, his employee, or a person authorized by him to make delivery. 5.Do not throw this book away when all of the stamps have been used, or when the time for their use has expired. You may be required to present this book when you apply for subsequent books." And then it goes on to say: "Rationing is a vital part of your country's war effort. This book is your Government's guarantee of your fair share of goods made scarce by war, to which the stamps contained herein will be assigned as the need arises. Any attempt to violate the rules is an effort to deny someone his share and will create hardship and discontent. Such action, like treason, helps the enemy. Give your whole support to rationing and thereby conserve our vital goods. Be guided by the rule: 'If you don't need it, DON'T BUY IT!'"

Friday, September 02, 2005

Refuge in Austin

At first, temporary quarters for those fleeing Lousiana were to be set up in the Toney Burger Center. Now the Convention Center, the Palmer Events Center, and the Delco Center are mentioned as add-ons (and then there's the Brackenridge parking garage). Delco and Toney Burger, though both served by buses, are at the ends of the earth compared with the other two. Downtown or just across the river is the way to go. Perhaps Perry is using this as a distraction from the legislative debacle, but Texas, the governmental entity, along with its component parts, is displaying an amazing amount of generosity, way ahead of other states. There hasn't been much coverage concerning students from Louisiana and Mississippi HBCUs being taken in at Huston-Tillotson. Not many people seem to remember the real Toney Burger or be able to spell the name. There was a really stupid press release from the State about the Lone Star card and other benefits (something along the lines of "just show a driver's license" and we'll sign you up"). If people had driver's licenses and working motor vehicles, they wouldn't be in this pickle. It's astonishing how few personal accounts there are of this experience. News reporters are not on the scene or else seem to write about their personal experiences. Is there no one to interview? It has been reported that photographers are being barred from makeshift morgues.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Enquiring minds want to know

Why are people who got out of town in cars being put up at motels, courtesy of the Red Cross and other services? Why are people without cars condemned to endure day after day in a foul and fetid stadium? What buses are taking them from the stadium? Whose? Where did they come from? Why weren't they available before the storm struck? Why isn't every military conveyance in the country on its way to storm-disaster sites? Why doesn't the government offer to pay commercial bus services to reallocate their equipment and dedicate it for a few days to transporting people from the stadium in New Orleans to some more decent temporary housing? Why are people who have already spent days in a foul and fetid stadium condemned to spend additional days in yet another stadium? In Houston? Why aren't these poor people being given first priority for decent temporary housing with showers somewhere? Will people observing all this draw any comparisons between life in United States disaster zones and life in such places as Iraq and Afghanistan? Will all the reported rapid restoration of services in Iraq be a pattern for rapid restoration of services in United States disaster zones? What are the home states of the guard and reserve forces now embodying a military presence in New Orleans? They seem to be Caucasian; on the one occasion when we watched some television footage, we observed that the people left behind appear to be of African descent in the greatest numbers, with some elderly Caucasian people and a few poor younger Caucasian people, poverty-stricken if one is to judge by the number of missing teeth. Why is that so? How many refugees can be housed at the "ranch" in Crawford? Just wondering.