Roosevelt’s Ice Pick

Sometimes the importance of one’s possessions cannot be measured in dollars and cents. Their personal value far exceeds what you could ever sell them for. I offer as evidence two very mundane items for your consideration—two common ice picks. Both are special, but one is very special. In the modern world of ice dispensed from the door of your refrigerator or purchased in a bag at the corner convenience store, it is understandable that some might not have ever used an ice pick. Decades ago, ice picks were very common and every household had at least one. Why? To pick ice, of course.

Some ice pick background.

My wife’s family used to own ice houses in Kenner, Gretna, Marrero, Grand Isle, and Lafitte, LA—Cristina Ice and Cold Storage. They are down to one plant now, and though they have some modern equipment that makes the ice like you find at your neighborhood convenience store, they still make some ice the old way—in 300 pound blocks. And let me tell you, that is a lot of ice. I know because I have manhandled my share of 300 pound blocks around to proved my worthiness to marry one the Cristina daughters.

These behemoth blocks of ice are formed in “cans” suspended in a brine solution that is below freezing temps and kept there by ammonia compressors that are around a hundred years old (next stop for them: the Smithsonian). But they still work because they built them like battleships a hundred years ago. The “ice puller,” which was me during one summer working at the Cristina plant down in Grand Isle, uses an electric hoist and picks up a unit of four cans from out of the brine, then manhandles that over to a pool of water and lets it down into the water to allow the ice to be freed from the can’s sides. Once the ice pops free, the four cans of ice are picked up and placed in a cradle. That allows the cans to be tipped onto their sides, and the ice slides out onto the deck.

But they are laying on edge and must be stood up. The ice puller grabs a set of ice tongs, clamps them securely at the top end of one of the 300 pound blocks, and with a mighty heave, stands it up. This works well most of the time. I say that because one time it didn’t work so well for this ice puller. I grabbed the ice with the tongs and with a mighty heave tried to stand 300 pounds of ice on its end—that would be the end that had a corner missing somehow. I got it about half way up, and the missing corner caused it to twist free of my tongs and land on my right foot! After dancing around on one foot screaming unprintable expletives at the top of my lunges, I got my boot off. Big toe was somewhat larger than it had been a few moments prior, and the toenail was perched on top of at rather impressive looking blood blister. No matter, I’m 19 and tough. I put my boot back on and finished my shift. Fortunately, I was due for two days off, but as I’m driving back to Kenner from Grand Isle, my big toe is loudly protesting my aggressive use of the accelerator on my ’57 Chevy. Also fortuitously, my father was a doctor, and I found him at home when I limped in the back door. He made a quick examination of my throbbing toe, and as was his modus operandi, he simply nodded knowingly before retiring from the room to return with a Gillette razor blade. He lanced the aching blister, which promptly belched a bunch of blood, releasing the pressure and relieving the pain completely. The toenail fell off a few days later, but I grew a new one just as ugly as its predecessor. (Really sorry, but I have no pics of that to share with you.)

Back to the ice. After the blocks are stood on end, they are dragged with the tongs into the cold storage. From there they might be sold whole to some shrimper, crushed, or cut down into smaller blocks for sale to individual customers wanting ice for whatever.

Ice Boxes

Back before WWII, it was common for homes to have an “ice box.” The name comes from the fact that early refrigerators were not electrified but kept their contents cold with blocks of ice. Below is a picture of a real ice box made by the Illinois Refrigerator Company. It is probably over 100 years old. The small door on the right was to the compartment where the 25 or 50 pound block of ice went. This ice box has been converted into a bar. We had an ice box in our summer home in Waveland back in the fifties. It was a “modern” version because it was made of white porcelain coated steel instead of wood like the much older one in the picture. Ice “peddlers” would make the rounds of neighborhoods, delivering ice for these old ice boxes. For decades after they were replaced by electric refrigerators, we often called modern refrigerators “ice boxes.” Some of us probably still do so. Now you know why.

Back to that 300 pound block of ice again. Opened wide, the ice tongs were used as a measuring gauge to divide the block into thirds (100 pounds each). These were often cut in half (50 pounds each) or down to 25 pounders. This is where the ice pick comes in. The ice is “scribed” with the ice pick point by tracing a line of shallow jabs along the side of the ice block where you want it divided. That is followed by one or two deeper stabs along the scribed line, and the ice breaks cleanly. It is actually pretty amazing to watch. Ice picks were also used by customers to further break down the larger blocks for iced drinks or use in their portable ice chests. The Cristina Ice Service bought ice picks by the hundreds. They used them, and others were given away as promotional items to good customers. One such promotional ice pick is seen in the image attached, the smaller of the two with the brand info on the handle.

That brings me to the ice pick that prompted this post. I refer to the larger one of the two in the picture above. That one is a homemade ice pick made by one of the Cristina Ice Service employees and given to me as a gift one Christmas about 30 years ago. It was made by Roosevelt Henry, Sr. Roosevelt lived in Kenner and rode the bus all the way to the Cristina Jefferson Box on Jefferson Highway in Old Jefferson near Causeway Blvd. The Jefferson Box was not a manufacturing plant but rather a sales outlet for their ice made elsewhere. I think he worked for the Cristinas for around a hundred years, at least it seemed that long. He was old when I first met him and older still when he retired some 20+ years later.

We lived not far away from the Jefferson Box and got our ice there. Roosevelt knew me well, and he eventually found out I worked for the Sazerac Company. Every Christmas, Roosevelt would ask if I had a “little something” I could give him “to put in my coffee?” And every Christmas I would find a bottle of something for Roosevelt’s coffee, for which he was always grateful. Then one Christmas he surprised me with a gift, an ice pick he had made. It was obvious that he was very proud of his handiwork by the way he described how he made it. He made them from old automobile radio antennas. Back then auto antennas were rather stout shafts of stainless steel, which he would acquire from the junk yard. He would then cut the antenna down into ice pick sizes, probably getting as many as three out of one antenna, and grind the shafts into a sharp point for cutting ice. To this he added an old, cut-down hammer handle for grasping, which he got from who knows where, because I’m sure he didn’t buy new ones from the hardware store. And voila, you have a very effective, hand-made, ice pick. It wasn’t fancy, but it was effective and a gift from the heart.

Roosevelt is dead now, but his memory lives on in the ice pick he made for me, a Christmas gift I will always cherish for the memories it brings forth. Every time I use it I think of his smiling face and him asking me if I have “a little something he can put in his coffee?”

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The Nutcracker(s)

It’s that time of the year when our thoughts turn to nut-crackin’, and I mean the kind you eat not the stage play, although that is also part of the season. This is nut season when we have an abundance of fall-harvest nuts to chose from—and I LOVE nuts, raw or roasted. My favorites are pecans, but walnuts, Brazil nuts, and almonds, especially roasted almonds make my eating list. With the advent of nut season, out comes an array of instruments designed to get at those delicacies inside their nutshells. I am going to review three such nutcrackers, three only because that is what I use and cherish, as you will see.

The first is the common nutcracker composed of two shafts double hinged at one end. The nut goes between the shafts and squeeze—simple. We have all used them or one very like this one in the pic. They are very effective for their intended purposes, as testified by their still being around and in use long after they were invented. (I have no idea when that was, except it was a very long time ago before I was born.) Down heah in sout’ Loos-e-anna, they serve double duty during the summers to get at the meat inside blue crab claws. You’ll know whut ah meen, cher? Mine were inherited from some long dead relative but still serve just fine.

The second in my nut-crackin’ arsenal is a bit unusual. Janis and I picked this one up in the HEB grocery in Abilene, TX about 15 years ago. It resembles some kind of mid-evil torture device for nipping off the tips of fingers of people you don’t like. They are quite effective on certain kinds of nuts, especially pecans. So much so, I am betting they were invented for that specific nut. Since it didn’t come with instructions, I had to experiment to learn how to most effectively use it for opening pecans. I discovered it works best if you nip off the two ends of the pecan as seen in the pic above.

After that, you locate the two halves inside the shell and use the fingertip nipping blades to split the pecan along the two halves.

Once the nut is split in two, all you need do then is nip away the shells from the meat until the half comes out usually whole. It beats every other form of pecan-opening device I have encountered short of a scissors zipping open a bag of already shelled pecans.

I have never seen these for sale anywhere since, but a search on Amazon turned up one called the Texan Nut Sheller. Looking for a good pecan cracker? This is it.

The last one in my arsenal of nutcrackers is very special to Janis and me, because it was a Christmas gift to us from our two sons some 20 years ago. Elder son Heath was serving in the Air Force then and had just completed his tech school at Aberdeen Proving Grounds where he was learning to repair battle damage on aircraft. Part of his training was learning machining, and he machined the metal parts of this nutcracker out of aircraft aluminum. He brought that home for Christmas leave and turned it over to his younger brother Ryan. Ryan was into woodworking, and he made all the wooden parts—its base and bowl. The base is made of cypress, and the bowl was turned on a lathe out of cypress and mahogany blocks glued together. The mahogany came from his grandfather who had salvaged it from a mill in Harahan, LA some 50+ years before.

The cracking “hammer” part is threaded into the handle and is thus adjustable. The nut is cradled in a machined groove in the base and the “hammer” breaks it open. It is very effective on a variety of nuts but especially so on walnuts. For obvious reasons, this one is very special!

There you have it. Go out and buy a bunch of nuts and get after them while they are plentiful.

This is Thanksgiving week, as I write this, and time to be thankful for all the great nuts God has left for us. And I mean the kind you eat and the ones we have to learn to live with. As for those, remember we are commanded to love them. Have a great Thanksgiving!

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Filed under Art and Design, Family History, Holidays

Buffalo Woman Excerpt – The Hunt

I have not posted an excerpt from any of my books in a while, especially Buffalo Woman. So, here we go.

This scene is from when Angel, Ethan’s adopted daughter from The Avenging Angel, manages to wrangle a trip buffalo hunting in January on the Great Planes with Grand Duke Alexei of Russia during his tour of America. The scene takes place after the Grand Duke and other celebrities on the trip have gotten in their hunts, and Angel finally gets her chance. Come along for a wild ride.

*****

We had not gone more than a couple of miles, and I spied about a hundred buffalo off to our right down on the plain of a wide shallow valley. Alexei had rejoined his group but also saw it and pointed to it. “Angelique, now is your chance,” he yelled.

Angel had, of course, taken notice and was looking at me with a pleading expression on her face. “Now, it’s your turn,” I said to her.

The rest of the party were having a good time laughing and drinking champagne when Angel and I broke off from the group and headed for the herd. We still had ample daylight to make a kill and get it skinned and the meat packed if we wasted no time. When he saw us galloping off after the buffalo, Alexei cheered us on and called a halt to the march to watch. He then called for binoculars to have a better view of the action out on the plain.

Angel was ahead of me some two lengths and driving her mount as hard as she could. We thundered down the gentle slope of the hill to the sound of pounding hooves and the rhythmic panting of our ponies. The herd stirred into motion at the sight of the two riders coming hard down on them. They broke into a loping gallop at first and then a hard run as we came up alongside of them. The thunderous sound of over 400 hooves pounding the earth into submission is truly awesome and sent shivers up my spine.

Angel was still ahead of me some two lengths and had already drawn the Sharps from its scabbard, having picked out an old bull along the right side and near the front of the herd as her trophy. I would rather she had selected one near the rear of the herd, but she was committed, and there was no turning back at that point. Like Alexei had experienced, her mount was not terribly interested in getting up close to the galloping buffalo, but she urged him on. She would get him within about four or five feet and bring the rifle to her shoulder while holding the reins in her teeth and managing the horse with her knees. As she was about to shoot, her pony pulled away and spoiled her shot.

I was close behind and slightly off to her side away from the buffalo. I kept looking back to be sure the tail end of the herd did not close in around us from behind. If they did and one of us should fall, he would be turned into a prairie pancake by the hooves of many massive buffalo running over him—or her.

She spurred her reluctant pony in closer once more and, with wide-eyed trepidation, he did as she demanded. And as before, just as she was about to shoot, his fear overcame her urging, and he reared and pulled away nearly throwing Angel. My heart went into my throat as Angel struggled to regain control and spur him to catch up with her buffalo.

This could not go on much longer. We were losing daylight. I saw only one solution. “Hang on! I’m coming!” I yelled as I urged my pony faster and caught up with Angel. As she forced her mount in closer, I pulled up against the other side of her and, using my horse, forced hers to move closer to the animals he was so fearful of. Protesting, he moved in tighter to the buffalo, but Angel and I were jammed against each other and riding full tilt beside a herd of panicked buffalo.

She was then within two or three feet of her selected bull, and we could both feel and smell their hot breath turned into steam as they huffed to expel and fill their lungs with another breath of life. “Take the shot!” I yelled.

Where she found the strength to do so with that heavy rifle I will never know, but managing the horse with the reins in her left hand, she threw the Sharps to her shoulder, cradled its forearm in her crook of her left elbow, and pointed the rifle at the big bull’s massive chest and pulled the trigger.

BAM!

And the huge beast pitched forward. As his forelegs buckled under him, his rear legs went skyward, and he rolled onto his right side—tumbling right into the legs of Angel’s horse. And down went her horse in a tangled mess of buffalo, horse, and Angel rolling across the prairie.

I barely remained mounted as my horse stumbled awkwardly away from the crash. I reined in my mount to a sliding stop and looked back only to see my worse fears being realized. The tail end of that stampeding buffalo herd had closed in around us from behind and was coming on fast.

Still in possession of the Sharps, Angel rolled free and struggled to her feet. Looking back, she saw what I had just seen. With a terrified expression on her face, she spun around and looked frantically for me. “POPPA!”

*****

You’ll have to get the book to find out what happens next.

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Filed under Buffalo Woman, Catahoula Books, The Avenging Angel

Birth of the Buffalo Trace Package

With most products, there is a story behind its birthing. Here is one such story known by but a few.

I was privileged to be on the team that was tasked with the development of the branding for the Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort, KY and the design of the iconic Buffalo Trace Bourbon package. I worked for SPAR, Inc as the General Manager and Creative Director back then. SPAR was owned by Bill Goldring who owned the Sazerac Company and the Buffalo Trace Distillery among others. I am now retired and so is SPAR.

In the mid-nineties, Sazerac bought the old Ancient Age Distillery (now Buffalo Trace) and set about taking this 200 year old run down relic into the 21st century. Mark Brown was hired by Bill to lead that effort, and he has done nothing less than a fantastic job. SPAR was doing most of Sazerac’s package designs and advertising at the time, so we were brought into the process that would be responsible for the rebranding the Ancient Age Distillery and development of what would become its flagship brand.

That process began for me back in 1998 when Mark set up a committee, which consisted of himself, me, the bourbon brand manager, VP national sales manager, the VP legal, and the VP distillery production manager. Mark began the process by calling the team together and giving us all a history lesson on the old distillery. He then took us on tours of every distillery in Kentucky and later Jack Daniels in Lynchburg, TN. He wanted us to see what others had done (or not done) with their facilities in building a “home place.” Some, like Jim Beam, had been very successful drawing many visitors to the distillery for tours, and Beam was not easy to find. The Ancient Age Distillery was not far off an interstate and much easier to find but had only a small fraction of Beam’s visitors. And rightly so; it was, to put it bluntly, pretty much a dump that made good whiskey. That would change as anyone who has visited the Buffalo Trace Distillery lately will testify.

During the process of cleaning up the distillery site, it was discovered that the buildings had, at one time, been painted dark green and a copper orange. These colors eventually became the livery colors for the distillery and its branding.

Mark carefully led the development team to choose “Buffalo Trace” for the distillery name because of its history of sitting along side the Kentucky River at the site where huge buffalo herds had once crossed in their migrations, cutting large swaths through the forests that became known as the Great Buffalo Trace. It was a great choice, and he got no resistance from the rest of the team, so the name became The Buffalo Trace Distillery, and the flagship brand would also carry that name.

The team began to consider design parameters for the branding logo and package design. We wanted something that looked completely authentic and would become iconic. Mark referred to the need for a “wow factor” in the final package design. He also “suggested” the bottle should be short rather than tall, shapely, and have a bulbous neck to resemble an old pot still. As part of the indoctrination process of visiting distilleries in Kentucky, I toured the Oscar Getz Bourbon Museum in Bardstown, KY to view old packages, taking lots of pictures. Special mention had been made in the team meetings that the package had to have a traditional cork finish (closure), thus I focused on what those kinds of finishes looked like on 100+ year old bourbon packages. Buried in the requests was one by Mark that we consider creating a “buffalo swoosh,” a stylized rendering of a buffalo, that could be used much like the way Nike uses their swoosh. Other than that and the certainty that a buffalo would be in there somewhere, that is pretty much what I gave my designers to work with when I got back to New Orleans.

My design team of Steve Decker, Catherine McAcy, and Reneri Turcios began reviewing my photos and all available bourbon and related whiskey packages before beginning to sketch out designs for consideration in our many internal design meetings. I took the info I had been given and laid out what I thought the bottle should look like, with heavy emphasis on the neck and finish shape. This design and some rough label concepts were presented at the next development team meeting in one of our distillery tours. The bottle was approved with minor changes. Some of the label and logo designs were approved with requested changes for future consideration.

Back in New Orleans, I made the changes to the bottle shape and gained approval from the development team for the next step. I sent my concept drawings to the glass maker, and he came back with a mechanical drawing for a 750ml bottle, which was submitted to the development team and eventually approved.

We had a drawing and no “decoration” (the labeling) beyond some rough 2D sketches done by my designers using the drawing from the glass maker. We ordered a couple of full-sized lucite models of the approved bottle design, including having them stained to look like they contained bourbon and began applying early designs to these. We settled on a few, and I flew out for another meeting with the rest of the development team. They liked the designs and homed in on a couple for revisions. 

Meanwhile as a separate project, we had commissioned a painting of a buffalo by a famous wildlife artist in Colorado discovered by one of my designers on a vacation trip to San Fran, Lee Cable. It was to be a painting of a buffalo along the Kentucky River where they swam across. I supplied photos of the Kentucky River taken from one of the buildings at the distillery for Lee to use, and he began submitting pencil sketches for the pose of the buffalo in the painting. The first one was well received by both the design team in New Orleans and the development team in Frankfort. Mark asked for one minor change to spread the front feet further apart. A revised drawing arrived from Lee, and we began using it as a placeholder in the concept package designs, never intending to use the pencil drawing in the finished design.

I had designed the requested “buffalo swoosh” for an early version of the package and was asked to incorporate both the swoosh and the buffalo drawing into the design. I was initially concerned that the modern looking swoosh wasn’t fitting with the traditional label concepts we had developed. We eventually compromised by including the swoosh into the brand logo, combining it with a period looking font.

The second-to-last development team meeting had been in the Cincinnati Airport, and I returned to New Orleans with requested design changes from the team. They had rejected some of the changes/improvements we designers thought were needed, and I was disappointed in the selected design. The development team’s requested design changes were expected to result in the final approved design. But what I saw happening was a racehorse being designed by a committee, and the result was looking more like a camel.

I briefed my design team, and they made the changes the development team had requested. The “final” design was a rather traditional looking paper label on a really nice bottle. It looked good, but didn’t have that wow factor. I called an internal meeting with my design team and expressed my doubts about the design. Everyone agreed with me. It was a good design but far from a great design. We could go along with the development team’s design or submit something completely new that we thought was better, a risky move for the designers at this point in the process. Steve Decker recalled a label we had previously seen on another package that had one edge torn off and suggested we consider something like that to spice up the design. I agreed, and they threw together a new design.

Unlike the inspiration source, we tore all sides, and the final torn shape was quite accidental. It had several things going for it. For one it was not symmetrical. In fact, it wrapped part way around the front of the package almost to the back on one side and was applied at an angle, a very unusual technique back then, especially for a bourbon package. This gave the design great shelf-presence. In a sea of rectangular labels on the shelves of a liquor store, the torn label package jumps out at you.

We positioned the buffalo pencil drawing on the torn label off to one side. We made him so large that the edges of the “tears” cut through the buffalo’s hump and his feet, and with the label applied slightly off kilter, he looks like he is bursting forth from its confines. This combination of effects gives the buffalo a feeling of power and dynamic action. The paper background color was intended to look like parchment to further enhance its “aged” look. The logo was no longer part of the paper label but was placed below it directly on the glass by the  ACL (Applied Color Label) silk screen process and fired on. The whole character of the package was radically different from the “camel” version. We designers loved it, and I had to then go sell it to the development team at our last distillery tour, Jack Daniels.

The rest of the development team drove down from Frankfort, KY in a large van and picked me up at the Nashville Airport. I was in the middle/front row with most off the team crammed into the two rows behind me. We are rolling down I-24 to Lynchburg, laughing and cutting up when Mark asked me to break out the design for final approval. Show time. I dug down into my sample case and pulled out the “camel” design and held it up to their fawning approval. I said nothing as they discussed the design and how much they liked it—and I tried to decide how I was going to present “the other” design.

Once the back slapping had subsided, I said, “OK, this is nice, a good design, but we are not really happy with it. We would like to offer something else for your consideration, something a bit more daring.” I then pulled out the torn label design and held it up.

Dead silence in the van. All I heard was the low roar of the tires on the concrete as they considered the design—one that was shockingly different from what they had requested.

Finally, Mark said, “WOW!” And I knew we had a winner. That broke the dam, and everyone chimed in. I explained our reasoning for the design and why we thought it would be great for the brand, a sale I didn’t have to make, and the “camel” was put out to pasture.

We toured the Jack Daniels Distillery and retired to the park in Lynchburg to finalize everything. I put both dummy designs on a picnic table, and the team viewed and discussed them one last time. It was unanimously agreed that the SPAR version was a racehorse and was approved as is.

Back in NOLA the design team was ecstatic. And that’s the story of the Buffalo Trace package.

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Ejecting Injectables

Been going back and forth with a friend via email concerning injecting flavoring into meat with a hypodermic or dedicated meat injector. He had an issue with his and ended up ejecting what he was injecting all over the kitchen, and that kinda reminded me of a similar incident that happened to me in the Air Force.

I got sick on mid-shift and went immediately to Sick Call as soon as I got off duty. It turned out to be a bladder infection, but the Doc decided I needed some kind of allergy tests and sent me over to CBPO (Central Base Processing Office) and a young Airman Medic there for him to administer the tests. The tests amounted to him filling a hypo with a couple of CCs of whatever and injecting it just under the first layer of skin on my forearm to form a blister. I suppose if I had a reaction, it would show up as a red inflammation on the skin around the little injected blister of whatever on my forearm.

Young Airman Medic carefully inserted the needle at a raking angle, hooked the skin and penetrated, but pushed a bit too far, and the needle exited about a quarter inch away from insertion point. He then calmly withdrew the needle so its point was back inside the skin and hit the plunger—launching a stream of whatever out of the exit hole and across the room. Much embarrassed, he had to start over.

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Art Gratification

Yes, it has been a while since I last posted, but you will survive. Meanwhile, I have been doing some rooting around in various old boxes and files and discovering all manner of little gems. As most of you know, not only do I write novels, but I am also a trained artist/designer and made my living designing stuff. That was my professional side. I also draw and paint for no gratification other than my own. There was a time I intended to sell it, but my spousal-unit nixed that idea mainly because I wasn’t very prolific and generally ceased painting about 30 years ago. I have to agree with her. My art was my children, and I wish I had back the few pieces I did part with. One thing I said I was going to do when I retired was get back to my personal art. It has taken two years of retirement to get even close to that.

Back to my rooting in files and boxes. In doing so I discovered some artwork I did years ago and just kind of stuck away. As I looked at the pieces, I was thinking I really liked them, wished I had done more, and should frame them to protect them for my kids and grandkids and great grandkids. Two of the pieces I found were done in colored pencils under rather unusual conditions. I was deer hunting in Brookhaven, MS and about 30 feet up a tree comfortably reclining in my Tree Lounge deer stand. The Tree Lounge resembles a lawn lounge chair, the kind with the canvas sling to sit in. They are relatively safe from falling out of, and I have spent many hours snoozing in mine while untold numbers of deer safely grazed under me. I did manage to take a few deer from my Tree Lounge. This trip I took a sketch book and colored pencils up the tree with me and instead of napping, I drew what I saw around me, mostly other trees. Thus I present two sketches done in my Tree lounge.

I also discovered a pen and ink drawing of my wife’s family home from her mother’s side (Haley). It is called the Chilton Home, I suppose because some dude maned Chilton built it, which was back around the Civil War. The home is in Oxford, MS. It is no longer owned by the Haley family. Its current owner is a New Orleans chef who opened a restaurant in Oxford. He completely renovated the home.

All this motivated me to get the pencils out and do another drawing. Since my pencils are long gone somewhere, that required a trip to Hobby Lobby for more. The drawing below is a product of that effort.

With a full head of steam up then, I decided to drag out my brushes and paints and do a painting. But first some history. I am the type who needs near instant gratification when it comes to art. Most of my paintings-of-old took weeks or even months to finish. I once commented to a fellow artist from California that I liked my art only after it was finished. Her comment was she enjoyed every brush stroke of her art, and my problem was I was too detail oriented. She was right, so my quest became to cut down a weeks-to-months-long process to a day or two. That meant really simplifying my compositions and the detail found in them. (This is why the pencil drawings appeal to me. They are faster.) I then selected a photograph of a beach scene I had from a vacation to Blue Mountain, FL  and endeavored to paint it. I did it in less than two days, in fact maybe only about six total hours. It doesn’t have my usual detail, but I have my near instant gratification.

More to come on this subject, I hope …

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Knives as Tools

Sometimes I get a wild hair to do something. This time, I decided to drag out a few of my knives and sharpen them. That ended up being “most” instead of “some.” My left arm is now hairless from testing their sharpness, my acceptable level of sharpness being that the knife can shave hair—easily.

Here is my bench with most, but not all, of my sharpening tools. I rely mainly on my ceramic sticks seen as that V” shaped thingie sticking up. I can get the most consistent results with it. “Sharpening those knives ended up with a trip down “Memory Lane.” Guess what? With this post, I am inviting you along for the ride.

Knives are tools, as the title suggests. Yes, they can be used for very bad things like what gun-free England is experiencing now with a rash of knife attacks, especially in London. And yes, as you might expect, they are considering banning knives now. That isn’t the solution, but that is a post for another time.

Back to the tools and our trip down Memory Lane. Much of my adult life I have carried a knife—it’s a tool—and I use mine on an almost daily basis. This habit began back when I was in the Air Force and began my hunting career in earnest. My first “good” knife was a Puma Game Warden folder. I bought it before I went to Alaska (the Air Force sent me there). It is good quality German steel with a serviceable, general-use blade shape.

While in Alaska, I made a sheath for it in the base hobby shop. That was my first endeavor at making something out of leather and far—very far—from it being my last. I used that Puma to dress out a really fine Alaskan caribou I shot on a hunting trip near King Salmon, AK.

I still have that knife and the sheath pictured below. Now some 47 years later, just hefting that Puma brings back lots of memories of that trip. I made sure anyone inheriting it after I am gone knows that. I wrote the details on the back of the sheath.

My next “quality” knife was a Western Cutlery Company Westmark 703 with an Alaskan Skinner blade. I had seen one like this by a custom knife maker, which I couldn’t afford, and liked the blade shape a lot. It is a good combination of skinning and survival shape. On the day I mustered out of the Air Force in Anchorage, AK, I found the Westmark 703 in the Anchorage Penney’s store. It was my discharge present to myself. I used it a lot on later whitetail deer hunting trips in the seventies.

That was followed by a “custom” knife I made myself for deer skinning chores. It was actually only partially made by me because I bought the blade already finished along with Rosewood scales to make the handle. I did custom shape the handle for my hand and made its sheath, too. The “hook” is for use opening up the abdomen of the deer without cutting the gut and spoiling the meat with its contents. It almost adds a zipper to the animal’s belly. I made two more for my boys.

Those were mostly hunting knives. By then (the 1990s) I was carrying a knife all the time. They were all small/medium size utility folders and would include my next “quality” knife, my Gerber and later my Kershaw. The latter was a Christmas gift from my best friend, Buck Roy.

While the Gerber and the Kershaw served me well for many years, I decided to step up to a better quality knife and bought a Benchmade Griptillian folder with a Mel Pardue designed blade. This one (the larger of the two below) was not intended for street carry but rather woods/country carry. The serrated edge was selected to be able to slash seat belts should that need arise. I liked the way the Griptillian opened with one hand by retracting the locking bolt and flicking the wrist. It closed the same way. In fact, I liked it so much I bought a “little brother” for it and retired the Kershaw I was daily carrying. The Benchmades are made of harder steel, and though harder to sharpen, they hold an edge longer. And my daily carry Griptillian baby brother gets lots of use.

I carry one other knife on a daily basis, and that is my little Swiss Army Knife folder. It is a wonderfully useful little knife with small scissors, which gets used more than the blade. I am on my third or the fourth one. They do wear out if you use them like I do.

Knives as tools—I don’t understand why everyone doesn’t carry a knife (or two). I feel naked without mine. Yes, I know they can be a problem in some establishments, so you have to be prepared to leave them in the car sometimes like I had to do at my granddaughter’s dance review last weekend. (You had to pass through a metal detector.) I guess the same applies to NFL games and a few other places. At the very least, you should have a small Swiss Army Knife. I’m telling you, the scissors are very useful—and not only can you cut open packages with the blade, but you can pull a splinter, file your nails, or pick your teeth, too …

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Wild Day in the Soccer Field

I had the pleasure (and laughs) of watching my granddaughter, Ruby, play in a soccer game on her sixth birthday. Understand that what five and six-year-olds know about playing soccer is pretty limited. Their grasp of the sport is pretty much limited to 1) they must get the ball into their goal and 2) stop the other team from getting the ball into their goal and 3) lots of kicking the ball is involved.

Beyond that, all bets are off—to everyone’s amusement.

The two teams were unbalanced. Ruby’s team (with the red shirts) had only six players while the silver shirts team had eight. That didn’t matter much because, by the time we left, the red shirts were leading four to zip.

There isn’t much team strategy in soccer at this age level. Both teams kind of gravitate around the moving ball like a leaderless herd with most not really doing much beyond following said herd up and down the field—and often off the field.

Way off the field, as seen in this pic.

A six-year-old’s grasp of the field’s boundaries is quite limited, evidently to the point of “who cares?” On several occasions, both teams chased the ball well out of bounds—like maybe thirty yards out of bounds—and with as much enthusiasm as if it were still in bounds. They were still merrily chasing/kicking the ball when the coach finally yelled, “The field is over here!”


Ruby, the birthday girl complete with her birthday crown as seen in the pics, seemed more content to just kick over the boundary markers. Her heart wasn’t in this. She was likely more interested in getting back to her cake and ice cream.

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The Phantom Abides

We have a “phantom” in the neighborhood. He is seven years old. I will not use his real name or picture for that reason, but instead, call him the “Phantom” because he is phantom-like. The Phantom has a habit of appearing in places where he should not appear—like other people’s houses. He has discovered doggie-doors, and he is still small enough to get through the larger ones. He will eventually outgrow that, but until then, the Phantom abides.

My first encounter with the Phantom’s propensity for “illegal” entry was my own chicken coop. One day I was cleaning out the coop, and the Phantom, ninja-like, appeared beside me. (I’m serious. This kid is destined for the SEALs or Special Forces; he is that good!) I become aware of the Phantom when he leaned into my peripheral vision and calmly stated, “I have been inside there.” The door I was using to clean the coop was too high for the Phantom to even reach the latch, much less climb in. The only other way inside the raised coop was up the little ramp the chickens use and through their little “doggie-door” (“chickie-door” in this case). “In there,” by the way, was littered with chicken poop.

Next, I hear the Phantom was caught in a neighbor’s house. Of course, he entered through their doggie-door. They came home and found him comfortably ensconced in their pantry munching on a bag of chips. That was not the first time nor the last.

His latest “illegal” entry tops them all. He has a friend down the street. The Phantom went in through—yes—the doggie-door early one Saturday morning. On the way to wake his buddy, he stops off in the kitchen to make himself a bowl of cereal. Finished breakfast, he proceeds to wake his bud, and the two of them check on his sleeping mother who is blissfully unaware all this is going on. The two boys were leaning over the bed looking at her. She says, in her partial wakefulness, she was only vaguely aware someone was in the room. That was confirmed when the Phantom asks, “Ya think she’s dead?”

Now fully awake, Mom loudly demands they GET OUT!

On the way out the door, the Phantom has the last word. He turns back and says, “You know you are out of milk?”

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Kumquat Heaven

Had a recent “disaster.” My little kumquat tree was loaded with kumquats, and I had a fancy for some kumquat marmalade, so the fruit was picked, seeds removed, and cooked with sugar. We ended up with a dozen jars of various sizes. There was one problem, however. The recipe we pulled off the net was not good, and the kumquat marmalade ended up more like kumquat syrup. It did taste good but would work better over pancakes than spread on toast. So, now I am stuck with all this kumquat syrup or throw it out.

When life hands you lemons make lemonade … or a cocktail.

I chose the latter and set about to develop some use for all this kumquat syrup. Since it resembled simple syrup, I figured some variation of an Old Fashioned would work and started testing recipes. I hit a winner on the first try! Janis and I tasted it and declared it good but a bit overly sweet. So, we added a little lemon juice and it went from “good” to “fantastic!” It resembles an Old Fashioned cocktail with a kumquat-ish flavor.

The recipe is as follows:

In an Old Fashioned tumbler filled with quality ice add …

2 oz Buffalo Trace Bourbon

2 tsp kumquat syrup (include a few pieces of kumquat from the “marmalade” syrup)

2 dashes orange bitters

about 1/2 a tsp of lemon juice (to taste)

stir well and wipe the rim of the tumbler with lemon peel and twist it over the cocktail. Then sit back and enjoy kumquat heaven.

You have one problem, however. That is no one sells kumquat syrup. You are going to have to make your own, but that’s another post.

(The little caterpillar-looking thing in the bottom of the drink is a sliver of kumquat peel.)

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