Continuing my Larry Correia festival…

It’s a cold, gloomy morning, the forecast predicted partly cloudy but right now it’s heavy overcast. The Lair is warm and heavily scented with this morning’s roast pork and yesterday’s bread baking. I don’t have anything social on the day’s agenda, nothing’s going on, just chickens and dog walks and Monster Hunter Vendetta.


I laughed. “Short version?”

Mosh gave me a dangerous look. “Break it down for me.”

Well, if he wanted to be that way… “Cool. Remember last year when my accounting supervisor turned out to be a serial killer? Nope. Werewolf. Remember last time we talked and I told you about my new finance job? Nope. Monster Hunter. These guys are some of my coworkers.” I waved toward Grant and Lee, then I jerked my thumb to the rear. “Those folks back there are orcs, but it’s all good, they’re on our side. That musclebound guy who got killed back at the overpass? He was my bodyguard, assigned by a shadow government agency that keeps monsters secret from the public. The things at the concert were mythical creatures hired by a death cult to sacrifice me to a giant space mollusk because they think I poked it in the eye with a nuclear weapon last summer … Any questions?”

Mosh glared. “You always were a dick.”

“You ready for the long version now?”

The first book in the Monster Hunter International series was (at least one of) Larry Correia’s first and it shows in some clunky bits here and there. Okay, he needed to work on sentence structure but he has a native grasp of dialog and character construction, not to say plotting and pacing, that some much more famous writers would have murdered him for when they were coming up. It’s just all really good stuff, not the usual Baen ‘armored super soldiers in space’ by the numbers crap, and reading it through has become a winter tradition at the Secret Lair. I really like this guy. I know he’s going to run the MHI series into the ground, he’s already doing collaborations with John Ringo, but the Grimnoir Chronicles was a proper (and excellent) alternate history trilogy and the Dead Six shoot-em-up books – also collaborations and not as good but pretty damned good – also promise to have a beginning, middle and end. Sue me, I’m old enough to remember when novels told complete stories rather than becoming industrial products like the mystery writers crank out. Sorry; pet peeve.

And I’ve got the first book in his new series, finally available in paperback, coming with the next Landlady visit. So let it snow.

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Working up the nerve…

It’s been a long time since I spent a day and a night away from the Gulch. Like, as far as I can remember it’s been six years. I more or less came here with the intention to become a hidebound, inflexible old fussbudget, and in that much I have succeeded beyond expectations. So now I mentally fend off compelling reasons why I can’t go to the city next week roughly every ten minutes or so.

And there are details. Finding somebody to watch the chickens for me wasn’t difficult, and unless LB has changed a lot he’ll at least sort of enjoy the change of scene so he won’t be a problem. But do you happen to remember the last time I locked my door? Related question: What the hell did I do with the door key?

Even more related questions, which popped into my head this morning: Do I even own a key for the powershed lock any more? And when was the last time that lock was lubed?

The answers to the two last are Yes, and This Morning.

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That should teach me. If I needed to be taught. Which I apparently do.

Morning started out normally and irritatingly enough. Coldest in a week, so naturally this morning the fire didn’t want to cooperate. Don’t know why it does this sometimes, probably variation in firewood quality, but sometimes the fire lights easily enough but never really seems to get blasting, y’know? So from 6:30 to around eight I was futzing with the fire but never feeling any urge to take off my jacket and stay awhile.

By then LB was letting me know that a walkie might not be a bad idea at all. So I bundled up and we went off into the wash, and wouldn’t you know by the time I got back and didn’t really care anymore the fire had finally gotten the idea and the stove was just short of glowing, and now if anything the cabin was too warm…

And right then the phone rang, which I’d been expecting. A text from D&L, wanting to make the usual Monday water run at the usual time. Plenty of time; scarf down some breakfast, wash off the empty water jugs, go out to scrape and start the Jeep…

…and that’s when Sister Mary Murphy stood by my little wooden desk and demanded that I present my knuckles for a good sharp crack with a ruler. A couple of cold mornings past the Jeep cranked a little slow, and I thought at the time I ought to take it over to Ian’s for a couple of days on the Battery Minder. The Jeep rarely goes more than a mile or two at a time, the battery rarely gets a full charge, and it’s getting a little old. Should have taken better care when I was warned. Didn’t do it, though, and now the damned battery was flat. My own damned fault.

Fortunately it’s a sunny day and I have plenty of spare photons. But things are off to a slow start here at the Secret Lair. D, bless his heart, swung by and picked up my empties for me so I don’t have to pay for my sins by rationing drinking water. Summers I have lots to spare, but winters there’s no freeze-proof place to store extra jugs.

Next thing, Former Weekender Neighbor L will call wanting me to drop off my laundry. Hope I can get the Jeep started in an hour or two, fer shur.

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Sometimes too much is just right.

Ghost has been staying at the Lair all week while S&L are visiting family for Christmas week. This makes morning walkies all the more inescapable because he doesn’t accept excuses the way LB does. I woke to an at least slightly white Christmas and really cold temperatures. Not sure exactly how cold because I think the exterior sensor on my cool digital indoor/outdoor thermometer is taking a dump: It’s got to be colder than 24o.

So anyway I bundled up, hitched up LB and off we went, stopping at Ian’s powershed to see how the Great Battery Reclamation Project is going (so far not conclusive either way.) And I was bopping along the frozen dirt feeling pretty good about things, and it occurred to me that one of the reasons for that was itself a Christmas present from several years ago…

That’s a genuine good quality snowmobile glove, one of a pair of which I take most careful care. Like the rest of my cold weather gear it doesn’t get used every day but unlike, say, my Absurd Parka it spends the winter in the Lair with me because I do get cold hands. And these gloves aren’t dollar store lookalikes, no sir. You’ve got to send off to someplace where they have big snowy winters to acquire the real thing. I love these gloves, though I may only wear them four or five times this season. I hate cold hands.

And like I said, as I reflected on my luck in having them I remembered that they were actually a Christmas present from my old now-gone neighbor Geiger Counter Guy.

I often feel like quite a hypocrite concerning Christmas. I don’t entertain for the obvious reason that the Lair contains two chairs and not one table: Landlady dropping in for coffee before heading back to the city is the full extent of my entertaining. And I don’t give gifts, both because I can’t afford to and there’s nowhere to shop in the desert, and because it never occurs to me to do so*. But people give me stuff sometimes, and invite me into their homes, and I never refuse. In every other way I try to be a good neighbor, but in the matter of Christmas I do fear I might come across as an ingrate.

That’s not to say I don’t appreciate it, though – both from neighbors and from the occasional generous reader. I’ve got warm hands from a neighbor and a warm head from a generous reader, and though I may not reciprocate in any direct way I do remember with thanks.

Hope you guys are enjoying your holiday very much. I’m certainly enjoying mine. :)


*Okay, upon morning-after reflection let me say that I do sometimes give gifts. S&L came by yesterday afternoon, back from the city, and while packing up his leftover Special Snowflake food I added a wrapped loaf of bread an hour out of the oven. But that was just to say “welcome back,” at the moment I’d completely forgotten it was Christmas and I’d have done it no matter the date.

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Joy is where you take it.

(Oops, sorry. Another wall of words. I swear this is becoming a year-end tradition around here. I don’t do it on purpose, sometimes I just blather.)

It’s a beautiful clear morning here at the Gulch. Weather’s been shit up till yesterday afternoon and it’s supposed to go to shit again for a couple of days starting this afternoon, and it well may – a few really nice days in a row are a cherished rarity this time of year. But it hasn’t been very cold, the firewood is holding up extremely well, and we’re past the solstice! From now till Spring timing the appearance of the sunny spot on the wall will be a morning sport. (8:05 this morning.) Earlier and earlier, until we’re not lighting fires in the dark to keep away the cold! Only a few months, which is easier to say when you’re in a nice snug cabin than when you’re shivering in an old RV or a drafty OSB box. This is among the very few things I know for sure. Continue reading

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…but I do that every day.

I was just now cleaning out the spam locker when I came upon one with the following offer:

Finally! A way to ignore someone’s tweets without unfollowing them!

And I thought, but I already do that every day.

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Joel’s time capsule

I plan to spend the first week in January in the city where it’s warm and there are alleged to be these things called “hot showers” I’ve heard about.

This is a big deal. I haven’t been further from the Gulch than day trips to the big town about 50 miles away since December 2010. Got back just in time for the coldest winter in 30 years and damn near froze. But still, it seems like the thing to do. It would be quite an understatement to say that Uncle Joel has gotten a bit hidebound. I expect to be whining for home by Tuesday.

So I’m laying in bed this morning, thinking procedural thoughts. What does one wear to a ‘city,” anyway. Do I have any of that? Should I bring a long gun or can I borrow one from Ian? Of course I didn’t even agree to go for sure until I had worked out care provisions for the chickens, and LB will come with me. But…hey. What did I used to do about packing clothes? I couldn’t even remember at first.

Once I used to travel quite a lot, and I did own a set of luggage. The carry-on now holds my medical stuff, so I could free that up. But what happened to the suitcase?

Found it right where I left it many years ago, in Landlady’s barn loft. :) Haven’t thought about it since I put it up there. It’s faded and dusty and covered with mouse droppings. Wonder what’s inside?

Well, lookie here, Cletus. A bunch a’them there ‘casual slacks,’ about four inches bigger in the waist than I’ve been since the winter of 2008. Still clean and pressed.

Huh. Those are going straight to the thrift store, next trip to town. Now: I wonder if this suitcase will clean up, or if I should just drag my ALICE ruck out of the powershed?

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I suppose I appreciate the attempt at entrepreneurship…

No names, no pack drill. I won’t paste the email text here because I’m really not trying to embarrass anybody. But I received two emails from a person essentially wanting an unpaid internship at TUAK.

Now, TUAK makes no pretense of being anything but what it is, one old guy pecking out a slice-of-life blog in a cabin in the desert. I need a writing intern like I need a bigger dog; I truly don’t know where I’d put one. Plus this was spam if I ever saw any, though it didn’t appear to be automated spam. No attachment, and a return address that actually went somewhere. I don’t respond to spam, so I let the first one go. Forgot all about it, in fact, until yesterday when I got a follow-up email.

No doubt he bombed a whole bunch of blogs with this employment query. I’d have considered it well written if the approach weren’t so bizarre and clearly pointless. So I wrote back – something, as previously mentioned, I never ever ever do – to point out as politely as possible all the ways he was wasting his time and mine.

Maybe he got this approach from an article in Writer’s Market or something. I used to read that, too. Before I decided the only reason it’s printed is to sell copies of Writer’s Market. Some of the suggestions printed therein, as I recall, are about this sad.

But wow – is the market for freelancers really that saturated? Evidence says yes.

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Punctuation is meaning. And, er, so is spelling.


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I love it! The Tactical Ugly Christmas Sweater

Seriously, you must – carefully, to avoid ocular damage – go look at this.

If I had $50, I’d get one for Ian.

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Ready for a shock? Well, here’s a shock.

The republicans are going to screw you on Obamacare.

Congressional Republicans are considering holding off on repealing some of ObamaCare’s taxes, according to lobbyists familiar with the discussions.

I know, right? Who could possibly have seen that coming? Of course their justification for hanging on to the money is that their ‘replacement plan,’ whatever it is and however it turns out completely identical to a renamed Obamacare, will need money too.

Y’know, I’m old enough to remember when we somehow struggled along with these primitive, inefficient stopgaps called “doctors’ offices” and “hospitals,” using “money” in woefully unmutual “free enterprise,” without a single giant socialist program in sight. It’s a wonder any of us survived long enough to breed.

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Oh, dear. Fog again.

It appears we’re heading into one of those gloomy weeks that can happen even in the desert, in the winter. I’m putting the wasteful “Big solar panel array, itty bitty battery bank” approach to a proper test. And it seems, not for the first time, that you can fully charge batteries even if the input voltage never rises to the charge controller cut-off level: Yesterday there was a brief thin spot in the overcast, nothing like bright sun, but the indicated voltage rose promptly to 14.3, which is maximum, which suggests to me that the batteries’ internal resistance is low enough to be all but fully charged.

This morning it rained in the wee hours, there’s really depressingly thick overcast as the sky lightens, and there’s fog so thick I can barely see the cliffs of the wash. Fog – now, that’s not supposed to happen in the desert. Sigh.

Not very cold, though. High thirties, just clammy. I lit the fire anyway just to get the chill off the Lair. Because I can. I’m sure once Inconvenient Al’s new movie comes out* and he’s acclaimed Earth Savior for Life, releasing the carbon in Earth’s Sacred Relics will be grounds for some horrible punishment. Like burning, maybe. But in a natural way. Converted to fuel for Al’s jet, for example.

*Did you hear about that? Seriously, another one. Maybe this one will explain why none of the dire predictions in the first one came true. As I recall we’re all supposed to be dead or dying by now.


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Does anybody here celebrate the solstice?

Because in discussions elsewhere I’m learning that’s kind of a thing, and not just among obvious New Agey flower children.

Personally I don’t celebrate the solstice as such, but I note its presence in the rearview mirror with pleasure.

Bonus question: Speaking of silliness, why oh why does our own calender use the solstice to mark the beginning of winter, when we’ve all already had ample opportunity to freeze to death?

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Ol’ Easily Pleased Joel

I was rearranging a few things this morning after the frost thawed. You want to see something that always eases old Joel’s mind?

All my propane bottles – except the one attached to the cabin, which is maybe half full – are full. I don’t even use these for heating anymore, except in extreme circumstances or as backup. I just like knowing they’re there.

On the other hand, this has proven a disappointment…

The sleeve of that canvas jacket Geiger Counter Guy gave me three years ago has sprung another hole. I don’t know what’s going on with this jacket, but clearly I overestimated its quality at first. A canvas jacket is great for winter in the boonies; you can layer up under it to whatever degree the weather demands, it cuts the wind and it doesn’t catch on every little thing. At first I thought mine had tangled with battery acid, which is of course hard on cotton fabric. If a bunch of moth holes had showed up after summer storage, I could understand that. But this is just random holes appearing for no apparent reason.

The day is sufficiently sunny, so I’ll break out the patches again. It still works fine as long as I keep plugging up the holes. But I swear I’m going to save my pennies and get myself a good chore coat before next winter.

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Bad news, guys*

We may have to spend the next four years looking at Melania Trump naked.

Calvin Klein Sends a Bold Message to Fashion Designers Who Refuse to Dress Melania Trump


“…unfortunately, at this time, what Melania and her world represents, I just don’t think represents… we don’t share the same values and the same things, as a lot of designers, especially a lot of young gay designers [feel].

Damn. Just damn. Curses. Whatever shall we do.

*And women of a certain proclivity, NTTAWWT

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Liquid Refreshment!

In winter I get antsy when the propane supply gets low. So when Big Brother slipped me a bill this past weekend, I took the first opportunity to fill empty bottles and cans.


And also fill the chicken feed barrels…


Landlady’s pullets are growing fast, and eating in proportion. They’re getting over their ‘afraid of everything’ phase, and right now are quite aggressive with the food guy when they’re hungry. Which is usually.


And they’re starting to lay eggs! Not many yet, not very big, but they’re still babies. Barring problems this coming year will be a big one for ‘what are we going to do with all these damned eggs.’


It’s been a cold couple of nights. This morning hit 10.3 degrees minimum, which is very far from a record but still a little colder than the average winter night here. And I’m delighted with how well the Lair is doing. I’m starting to think finishing the floor was the last thing needed to get the cabin to take and hold heat well. On a sunny day the sun coming in through that new big bathroom window is enough to raise the indoor temp well into the mid seventies, and it holds that till bedtime unless the outdoor temperature just crashes. So there’s usually no need to light the stove in the evening, which generally means things are nippy when I get up but quite comfortable in an hour or less. Back when the walls were tight as a colander, there were mornings I didn’t think it would ever warm up. But I finished the walls last year and the floor this year, and so far the biggest problem is when the Lair is too warm. Which is a nice problem to have. All is looking very well.

What’s more, it appears Uncle Joel is going to spend the first week of the year – traditionally the coldest – in a city. Yup, I’m going visiting. More on that later, no doubt.

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Mountain House Vegetable Stew with Beef: 40-year taste test

This can was visibly bulging at top and bottom, which gave me a moment’s pause*. But it’s freeze dried, right? I mean, it might deteriorate but it’s hard to imagine fermentation. Plus, “Packed in Nitrogen Atmosphere,” by which they apparently mean pressurized nitrogen because when I applied the can opener the can hissed and relaxed but emitted no foul odors.

In fact it emitted a rather pleasant odor. Smelled like dried veggies.

Unlike the freeze dried spaghetti, this material had substantially compacted. I needed to break it up to keep it from filling the bowl in chunks. Once again the “recipe” is one cup boiling water to 1.5 cup dried material and wait ten minutes.

I must say that they don’t short you on stew ingredients. Potatoes, peas, cooked beef, carrots, corn, they’re all here and all mummified.

And once rehydrated, all as visually unappetizing as you’d care to imagine. They used corn starch for thickener and a lot of it, and I can only imagine that it hasn’t aged as gracefully as some of the other ingredients because I frankly hesitated to raise that fork to my mouth.

Smelled all right, though, so I tried a small taste – then a bigger taste, then I scraped the bowl clean. It’s really fairly good even undoctored. The ingredients that are supposed to taste like anything have retained their taste nicely. There’s none of that underlying tang that says “proceed with caution if at all.” And again my stomach accepted the offering quite cheerfully and without revolt.

I don’t know if this forty-year-old Mountain House stew is identical to its brand-new self – I kind of hope not, because visually it’s revolting – but for eating if not for gazing upon it’s perfectly fit.

*Big Brother emailed to say the can was definitely not bulging at his home, which is at substantially lower altitude than the Secret Lair.

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That moment when you notice your cabin is unusually small…

Landlady’s house is rather small. It’s got a nice snug living room, a nice snug dining room, a nice snug kitchen, a single bedroom and a monster closet.

In the living room there are (were) two 4X6 rugs AND a ten-foot runner in the “hall.” Here’s one of the rugs…

At the time I took that picture my ass was all the way against the farthest kitchen counter while I tried to get the whole rug in the shot.

Once in a while it strikes me that the Secret Lair is, after all, rather smaller than most. :)

But I love it.

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In Praise of the Mad Bomber

A few years ago Claire sent me this very warm hat I didn’t get much use from, because it was just a touch too small. Once in a while it would come in handy, like two years ago when the Jeep broke down at the coldest part of the winter and I briefly tooled around on that toy quad, remember? The hat was useful then, but really squeezed my melon.

This year I dragged it out with the rest of the winter clothes, and I was happy to find that it had relaxed somewhat. And that’s good, because this was the winter I was going to spend money and replace it if I had to. I’m from Michigan, and have always approved of mad bomber hats.

So this winter I’m getting more use from it, at last.

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Save the Snowflakes

I wasn’t aware until this morning that snowflakes had such complex emotional lives. Why, just yesterday I stepped on and presumably squished a whole bunch of them and didn’t think anything about it at all. But now I learn that they can be stressed into incontinance by even such small things as opposing opinions – I can only imagine the effect stepping on them and grinding them into the dirt with heavy boots must have.

Gee. Now I feel kinda bad.

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