Fiddles, Guns, and Signs of the Times

It has been a busy week. Next month should prove to be more busy.

This past Tuesday Liz and I met up with two old friends from Millville, NJ – Rob and Christine Fini. I met Rob at the New Jersey Motorsports Park when we both volunteered on the Green Flag Committee.

When my father died, we had an estate sale. Rob bought all of the shelves and cabinets, but also picked up a few smaller items such as a pocket knife (which he carries with him every day) and a wrist watch (which he wears every day).

Rob never met my father, but he feels a sort of affinity. Rob and Christine are very dear to my heart, and I the time we shared this week was too short.

They traveled to Apache Junction to see the Quebe Sisters perform at the Mining Camp, a local venue. The Quebe Sisters play fiddle and sing, in a jazz, swing fusion. They are talented, and hot. Continue reading »

Swiss Army Watch – does anybody really know what time it is?

I love wrist watches. You do not see many men wearing watches anymore. I guess it has to do with the prevalence of cell phones. The cell phone always has the correct time. It tells you the date.

A watch is so much more convenient, all I need do is turn my wrist a little to see at a glance what time it is.

I feel naked without a watch – I suppose my father had a lot to do with this. He always wore a wrist watch.  I have an assortment of watches. I have a watch that Jimmy Hoffa presented to my grandfather for 25 years of service as a Teamster in Philadelphia. I have my father’s watch. I only wear them on special occasions – could not bear the thought of destroying them or losing them. They cannot be replaced.

This is a Victorinox watch. Victorinox makes Swiss Army knives. It is not an expensive watch – and it doesn’t have 15 blades and tools. It simply tells time and the date. It is made in Switzerland, not China.

I had a Swiss Army knife when I was a kid. My father bought it for me for my 10th birthday. It is funny how certain things you remember with clarity. The red handle, the multi-tool functionality long before the Leatherman was even a thought in some entrepreneur’s head.

The knife had the requisite two blades, one large, one small. It had an awl, a pair of scissors, a file, a screwdriver blade, even a removable tooth pick. It had more tools that escape my memory. I was so proud of this knife that I took it to school for show and tell.

Many people might remember show and tell. It was a Friday afternoon deal in grade school. It was largely uncensored and unregulated. I never had anything to take to show and tell – until my tenth birthday.

Today, a child would be expelled under zero-tolerance rules, for bringing in a “weapon”. Hell, kids get expelled for bringing in 2-inch long plastic GI Joe guns to school. The wisdom of those running the public education system!

I used to bring live rounds of ammunition to school – one day a friend of mine, Blair, brought in a half of a bazooka to give to me. We never got expelled. We never committed acts of terrorism or participated in mass shootings. Maybe that has something to do with the fact that we were taught respect at home.

My father entrusted me with responsibility. If I had once abrogated that trust, I can assure you that the freedom would have been quickly retracted.

My father also entrusted me with knowledge and critical thinking. When I was nine years old, and suffering from a severe bout of tonsillitis, home from school, he bought me a copy of Mark Twain’s  Huckleberry Finn. A booked banned from many schools, censored by weak-minded individuals. He also gave me a copy of Thoreau’s Walden and The Duty of Civil Disobedience. He also gave me Che Guevara’s book on guerilla warfare. Many would say this was a reckless library.

I suppose this nostalgia is what spurred my decision to purchase a Victorinox wrist watch.  My father was less than perfect. He could be harsh, impatient. He rarely appreciated disagreement, all the while instilling in my spirit the duty of questioning and disagreeing.  That is a dichotomy that I am not sure he ever resolved in himself.

There is one thing I have never doubted, and that is his love for me and his family.



Yellow Bird Dancers

The Eagle Dance

The weather did not cooperate with Heritage Days Festival, hosted by the Superstition Mountain Museum this weekend.

The Yellow Bird Dancers

Heritage Days is the largest event hosted by a small non-profit in Pinal County. The event grows every year. There are tents where you can purchase local crafts and fine art.

Talon performing the Hoop Dance

The Barn, one of the only two remaining buildings from the original Apacheland Movie Ranch, served as a reunion hall for actors from westerns filmed at Apacheland. Center stage featured a cowboy trick lasso roper, music, and the world famous Yellow Bird Dancers.

The Hoop Dance

Ken Duncan, his wife and two of his eight sons represented the dancers. Ken is a member of the local San Carlos Indian Tribe. He amused the crowd with his story telling. The Superstition Mountains are the westernmost edge of Apache territory.

He told the Apache legend of the white lines you see at the tip of the mountains, reminders of the great flood that covered the known earth except for the very peaks of the mountains.

The Grass Dance

The Superstitions are sacred to the Apache. They are formidable – and the Apache believe that you must only enter with purity of intentions. If you enter with a black heart, the Superstitions will claim you.

His youngest son Talon performed the Hoop Dance. He has won many Hoop Dance contests, and this year is able to compete as an adult. I watched in amazement, noting that his feet rarely touched the earth in his performance.

His wife performed the rainbow dance, thanking the Great Spirit for the rains and the promise of the rainbow. Another son performed the Grass Dance. In the plains, the grass grew very high, and the Grass Dance trampled the grass in preparation for a ceremony, dance or battle.

The Yellow Bird Dancers have performed worldwide, and have been invited to the White House. They are unique in that they allow photographs of the dances, but only for personal use. You must have permission to use the photographs professionally.

If you ever have the chance to hear Ken’s story telling and to see the family perform, it is well worth taking time out of your busy life.



Vintage electric? cars

1967 Renault Dauphine Mars II electric car

Arizona Public Service is one of the chief sponsors of the Fiesta Bowl parade. My employer is involved in two of the floats in the parade. My part in the projects was the fabrication of the styrofoam props, including painting and installation.

Electric Race car

We constructed the floats in one of the APS warehouses in downtown Phoenix. The two warehouses are dedicated to APS public service projects, such as parades and public events.

The warehouses, besides housing several floats and props that have been used in multiple parade, are home to a series of electric vehicles.

The car that first caught my eye was the canary yellow racer. I can find no information on this vehicle. Have info? Comments will be appreciated.

Parked next to it was a 1967 Renault. This car broke records for speed and distance for electric cars in 1967.  Under the hood are eight lead acid batteries, and in the trunk another eight. This is surely no Tesla.

Everybody loves a parade!

Well, not everybody. Stephen, a guy I work with, doesn’t see the point. Of course, in our case, parades meant a ton of overtime and not a little bit of stress in meeting deadlines.

The finished products, I believe, speak for themselves. As I have mentioned before, our shop has never built or designed a parade float previously. So of course the owner said, “Yes”!

Of course, in Jeff’s defense, everything we do in the shop, at one point in time, we never did before.

Yesterday we wrapped up the Peoples Mortgage float. Twenty-eight feet long, just shy of 15 feet tall. We purchased the fake trees and shrubs and grass and fence. Everything else was designed, fabricated and printed in house. I see this float taking a prize in Saturday’s parade.

Year in review

Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year. 2017 has been a year of flood change. My divorce became official early in the year, and all financial obligations satisfied.

For two years I worked for a major home improvement box store. Two years of excellent reviews and the maximum pay increase allowed raised my start pay by a whopping 59 cents and hour. Gee, how can I begin to offer thanks…

Styrofoam houses, coated and primed

I will not disparage my former employer, the job got me through a couple rough years. But enough was finally enough, and I severed ties.

I half-heartedly applied for other retail-type jobs. Retail is not my forte’. I cannot understand how even the most ardent masochist could enjoy a retail job.

Somehow I stepped in shit, and landed my current job. My second paycheck included a 10% raise. My fourth paycheck had another 10%. Forty hours a week plus all the OT I want, for a family-owned business.

I started in the silkscreen shop, with time in the machine shop. I currently run the flatbed printer, a printer that can print on media up to 3 inches thick, and 8-foot wide. I am being trained on the CNC router. And I am the go-to man for the Styrofoam constructions.

Completed houses ready to be installed on the parade float.

We shape Styrofoam on the router, then I refine it, sand it, fill it, paint it. We started with architectural features for a church-run school. Somehow we were offered the job to design props for a parade float. We have absolutely no experience designing floats, so of course my boss said, “Yes, we will do it!”

Styrofoam books for another float

That one float led to two floats for the Fiesta Bowl parade – all within a one month window to design and fabricate. There is nothing like taking a difficult task and making it more so.

Somehow we pulled it all off. In the end we had almost every employee working on the props in one way or another.

This is my dream job – I get to exercise my creative side. There is so much work that rarely does a day not fly by.

I am on Christmas break – we have off this week with pay – except for tomorrow. Tomorrow a group of us have to work, constructing one of the floats.

At home, I built a shed in our back yard, and constructed a cedar closet in the studio. I acquired an air compressor and a Craftsman shaper and other tools for my soon to be work shop under the car port. Pretty soon I will be able to commence work on the Field and Stream trailer.

All in all 2016 is turning out to be a great year.


15284031_10154777250557838_7324432522926969539_nDecember was supposed to be a slow month at work. It didn’t turn out that way.

My boss issued me the key tot he shop, and the passcode for the alarm system. I have been coming in early regularly, and working late. I have been working every Saturday. This is a good thing – I am making money, and have no time to spend it. It keeps me out of trouble.

15542310_10154818906627838_787006638923015454_nIn addition to our regular production, this month we have four major projects. Major, in that anyone of them would be enough to keep us busy all day. I am involved in all four.

The subject of this rant is the float we are designing and fabricating for the Fiesta Bowl parade. We have never made a float, so why not take on the challenge?

My employer is a great guy. I have never met a more upright, generous or honest person in my life. And he loves a challenge. Present him with a concept to design and fabricate something we have never done before, and have no clue how to begin, and his first reaction is to say “Yes”.

15542378_10154818906862838_3511643538216163727_nAs an artist, I have been given the duty of fabricating props for this float. Made almost entirely out of Styrofoam, we are shaping props for a 28-foot float. It is a float for the sponsor of the parade.

The key feature of the float are eight large books. The more intricate shapes are cut on our CNC router. My job is to refine the rough pieces, and join them together. Each “book” consists of six pieces of foam. I shape the pieces, and join them. We coat them with poly-urea.  That is truck bed-liner. I then prime them, paint them.

I am working with 4’x8’x4″ blocks of Styrofoam. I cut and shape the foam with wire cutters and a lot of sandpaper.

I will be at the parade in the grandstand on New Year’s Eve. I hope to have great photos of the completed float in all of its grandeur.

Monday I will be working on the other float. I will posts updates as I find the energy.

1953 Craftsman King-Seeley shaper

craftsman-king-seeley-shaper I love vintage tools. I love vintage anything. Most of my gun collection is vintage. I have a lot of antique hand tools.

I am not  a technophobe. I don’t have have the latest of everything, but when working around the shop I use my cordless tools whenever possible. I prefer the sound of vinyl on my 1970’s era record player, but prefer the convenience of my MP3 player with a catalog of well over 5,000 songs.

This week I acquired a vintage shaper.It is a Craftsman model 103.920 made by King Seeley. circa 1953-54.

Sure, I have a Craftsman router. Coupled with a table, it would accomplish anything I need. But how is it going to hold up to big projects? The shaper is heavy duty – industrial. It will eat its way through wood without strain.  And this baby, more than a half a century old, will be running strong long after I am gone. You can’t say that about the crap that is manufactured today in China.

The down side is the cost of the shaper bits – $50 to $250 apiece. Luckily the shaper came with a full compliment.

After the studio closet is completed, I will turn my attention to the carport, turning it into a shop area. I am almost to the point that I can begin work on restoring my 1953 Field and Stream 14-foot travel trailer.

Carl’s Chili Con Carne

Chili ingredients

Now that I have a source for organic beef that is affordable, I can once again eat steak and pot roasts.  I can grill burgers. More important, I can cook up batches of my chili con carne.

Cili con carne – literally peppers with beef. No beans in my chili – that is sort of redundant.  The beef provides all of the protein that you need.  You add beans to rice; that makes sense.

14947738_10154677120852838_9203930546477433739_nI whipped up a batch two weeks ago. Took some into work, and was begged to bring some to work for Nacho Day!

Nacho Day is the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.  Apparently we do as little work as possible all morning, then head to the break room for nachos and salsas and such. Then we leave work early to extend our four day holiday weekend even further.

Without further ado, here is my basic recipe. I tweak it every time I cook.

Carl’s World Class Casa Style Chili

2 Lbs. Beef chuck, cubed (1 – 1½” cubes)
2 large onions, chopped finely
2 tblspsns vegetable oil (olive oil is better for your heart)
1 can (15oz) tomato sauce
1 bottle (12oz) beer (I prefer my homebrew, or a good microbrew for this)
2 cups beef stock – organic beef bone sock is now available in just about any supermarket
4 Jalapeno peppers (or more to taste) with the seeds and stems removed, sliced in half
3 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
8 tablespoons blended chili powder
one quarter cup Masa (or cornstarch if you are desperate)
1 tablespoon paprika

I begin by browning the meat and onions in the oil in my Griswold iron skillet. I chop the onions first, very finely. I throw them in the oil on medium heat, and then begin slicing the beef.

I prefer nice sized cubes. Ground beef is fine if that is your preference, but you will have to saute the onions until they begin to dissolve before adding the meat to brown.

Note: the larger sized chunks of meat are strictly against ICS rules – the International Chili Society insists that their chili have the consistency of pablum. Their concoctions are in no way consistent with what would have been served up to hungry cowboys on the trail.

After the meat and onions are browned, I pour the contents of the frying pan into my Dutch Oven. I add the tomato sauce, beer, beef stock, chilis, cumin, garlic, black pepper, and 2 tablespoons of the chili powder.

At this point I taste test, and adjust the spices accordingly, sometimes I need to add more of one for balance. I add salt at this step – but sparingly.

Any beer is fine, except for a light beer.  If you are going to use a light beer, you might as well use water, or just pee into the mix. I prefer a darker, flavorful beer.  I know some people that use Guinness stout. Some chefs toss in a shot of tequila. If there is any tequila involved in my chili, it is going into my mouth as I cook, not into the stew.

Sometimes I grind my spices in a coffee grinder to make them finer and more potent. Just be sure not to use that grinder for coffee afterwards, unless you truly enjoy gastrointestinal distress for breakfast.

I am amazed at how many people don’t use cumin in their chili – to me that is one of the most important flavors. Paprika adds a nice red color and a nice undertone. You do not want to be inundated with any flavor.

I simmer the chili over low heat for two hours, until the meat is tender. This is the perfect time to grab a cold beer and light up a cigar. Just make sure to regularly check in and stir the pot.

After simmering for two hours, I add the remaining chili powder and paprika and simmer for an additional 15 minutes. During this time I add the masa to thicken the stew. I mix the masa in a measuring cup with lukewarm water. I stir it in briskly – otherwise it has a tendency to clump.

Feel free to remove the Jalepenos before serving. I used to, but I leave them in anymore. This recipe makes six hearty servings.  On a scale of one to  five alarms, this ranks a 3 or 4, depending on the heat and quantity of the jalapenos.

I might add a scoop of sour cream, or sprinkle some shredded Pepper Jack cheese, when I am ready to chow down. But I never, ever put the chili on top of spaghetti or rice or commit any other such atrocity!

Bon Appétit!


1 2 3 16