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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Air Force Sketchbook

I was rooting around in my “barn” (outbuilding shed with a barn roof) and found my sketchbook from when I was in the Air Force standing guard over America 😉

Anyway, I started this sketchbook when I was in technical school to learn to be a weather observer. The school was at Chanute AFB in Rantoul, Illinois, which is not far from Champagne Urbana and a goodly train ride south of Chicago. Now that you know exactly where Chanute was (because it is closed now) on with the story. My plan was to keep a record of my Air Force experience in the form of sketches. Unfortunately, I stopped sketching in my sketchbook not long after arriving at my first duty station, which was George AFB in California. I wish I had stayed with it. The images that follow are from that sketchbook with a few clarifying comments. Enjoy!

I arrived at Chanute in Late January of 1969, and for the seasonally challenged, that is winter, and for you southerners, it is colder than a witches tit up north in winter. Thus most of the images show airmen in winter coats. We were met by a Red Rope. These are one striper students like I was but had volunteered for leadership positions in the student squadron. We had Green Ropes, Yellow Ropes, and Red Ropes in ascending order. They tend to over-assert their authority and the one who met us in the middle of a January night after lights-out emphasized he would tolerate no insubordination from us “pings.” Ping is the sound of the tiny sprouts of hair popping out of our basic training shaved heads and what we airmen fresh out of basic training were called.

We had to march in formation to class and back every day, and they had a code system that told us what we could put on by way of uniform parts. Code C did not allow rubber overboots.

Ken Epperson of Ottumwa, Iowa became my best friend in tech school. Ken was a bit of a rebel and refused to lower himself to march to class in the squadron formation. He “straggled” to class and back every day and never got caught. Ken was also not the tidiest of airmen and was a bit unkempt, thus this drawing of Ken.

We had to march past a B-36 bomber on static display. That thing is huge! It was populated by a whole bunch of pigeons, and dead pigeon carcasses could be seen on the inside behind the plexi nose. I had some fun with it in a couple of sketches.

 

As I said it was cold. The airmen in fire control school were also in our squadron, and since they spent so much time outside, they were issued arctic parkas. The rest of us had to get by with cotton field jackets with an insulated liner. You could really disappear inside those arctic parkas. They issued one to me in California and again in Alaska. I loved it and considered claiming it had been stolen so I could keep it. But then what would I do with it in Louisiana?

Nightly hallway hockey games kept us entertained before lights out. A rolled up sock served as a puck and a broom our hockey stick. The uniform was whatever you had on, which usually wasn’t much. They could get quite rowdy.

All of us had to pull two-hour dorm guard shifts, including all through the night. I got out of losing my beauty rest because I was tall enough that I was the second man in the first squad (left column) in our formations and pulled road guard. Road guards run out ahead of the formation and block vehicular traffic at intersections. Our weapon for stopping disobedient second lieutenants in their Mustangs was a flashlight with an orange tube on the end. We would stand there in the middle of the road at parade rest with our flashlights extended down from our outstretched right hand waving it back and forth like a pendulum, daring them to run over us. I got out of dorm guard duties because of that but got quite a bit of exercise. Dorm guards got a little relaxed on weekends.

Eventually, all these fun-an-games came to an end when we finished tech school and got orders for our first duty station.

We had passes that got us off base on the weekends. The four of us who hung together usually hitched a ride to Champaign to a pub called the Red Lion. I wonder if it is still there? I just checked and it is!  This sketch is our last night at the Red Lion before we shipped out for PCS leave after graduating from tech school. We were kind of sad to be breaking up the gang.

We left Chanute in a rented car headed for O’Hare Airport in Chicago with fond memories of our time there. (Snork!)

Home at last! I left New Orleans for Lackland AFB basic training on Dec 3, 1968 and arrived back in NOLA in June of 1969.

And thus began my Air Force experience.

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Shark!

This isn’t going where you think. It isn’t about sharks that swim. It’s about Sharks that vacuum clean the house. Yes, Janis decided we needed a Shark vacuum cleaner, one of those semi-autonomous devices that meander around your house sucking up dirt. Or, if you have a dog that leaves stool piles lying around, it redistributes that all over your house. Fortunately, we no longer have inside pets, so that was not a concern.

You can manage these things from your iPhone now, but it requires you to give it a name. You can leave it as the default name, which is something like “Shark,”  but I decided to name mine “Tank” because it reminds me of a round tank, like the one Leonardo Da Vinci designed around 1485. That was the beginning of “Tank” becoming a family pet.

As soon as I unpacked him, I released Tank and followed him around to see what he would do. Turns out you have to get wires and other small entanglements up where he won’t run over them. Tank gets snagged on the fringe of the carpet in my den. He struggles and usually fails to free himself then cries for help. No, really, he does. Tank beeps out a distress signal. I guess if you could translate the beeps, he would be saying something like, “Help! I’m stuck!” If you don’t come to his rescue soon enough he shuts down. Tank’s final beeps might be translated, “Oh well, he isn’t coming. Screw it!”

He has sensors that tell him when he is close to some object, and he changes direction. He also has sensors that detect stairs so he won’t take a tumble. Tank wouldn’t last long if he wasn’t so equipped.

Tank seems to move in a completely random pattern. He will run from one room to another never finishing what he started but often coming back a dozen times to run over the same three square feet, like the dirt in that spot is particularly tasty. I am compelled to wonder if Tank ever vacuums everything or very thoroughly? His little dirt compartment does, however, get full, so he is doing something—or my house is really dirty.

Tank is afraid of direct sunlight. (Maybe there is some Transylvanian vampire blood in him?) Whenever he hits an area of the floor illuminated by direct sunlight, he backs off and changes direction. So, any sunny floor area never gets vacuumed.

Tank has a docking station where he goes to recharge his batteries when they become exhausted, you know, kind of like a feeding bowl for the cat. He uses Wifi to find it and makes several jerky lunges at the dock before he gets properly lined up and plugs himself in. I swear I heard him sigh when he docked.

I guess by now you have figured out that Tank is almost like an electric cat and just about as affectionate, but at least, he cleans up after himself, in a manner of speaking.

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Cherry Bounce Update – AT LAST!

 After the three months of “maturing,” my last batch of MB’s Cherry Bounce is ready! I strained off the mash and bottled the juice in an empty Elmer T. Lee Single Barrel Bourbon bottle pressed into service. That and the deer head stopper are what I had available.

It yielded about 1 liter of finished product, plus a half quart jar of cherries that are now flavored by the Sazerac Rye Whiskey they soaked in for three months. I am amazed at how much of the whiskey flavor the cherries retained.

And, man, is it good! The Cherry Bounce is smooth and sweet when consumed straight and will go well over ice cream and in most any other concoction I can dream up.

Someone asked if letting the mixture soak for a longer period of time would improve it? I can’t imagine it getting any better. I tasted it every few weeks as it was maturing, and you could detect the changes taking place. The alcohol burn tended to overpower the flavor in the beginning, but as the three months passed, the cherry flavor took over and it smoothed out considerably.

As for the Sazerac Rye soaked cherries that are a byproduct, Janis made up some miniature pies using little finger-sized pie shells with filling made with the leftover cherries and some Buffalo Trace Bourbon Cherry Preserves. It is to die for!

I am declaring this little experiment a complete success. Now I have to wait for Bing cherries to come back in season to make more. Meanwhile, I am on the hunt for a wild cherry tree so I can try the recipe using Louisiana wild cherries. Everyone I mention this to remembers having wild cherry trees when they were kids but no one has them now. Maybe a well-stocked nursery?

This will be a continuing story …

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Sometimes You Win One…

I have been accused of many things, and one my wife often zings me on is when I fail to notice the new haircut, new blouse, new dress, or new whatever. She is usually right. I did miss the new “whatever”. But sometimes the new “whatever” doesn’t look all that different from the old one, but that is no excuse! And I get zinged with, “You didn’t even notice (fill in the blank).”

But sometimes you win one.

Notice the pic of me at the top of this post. Now, notice the one below it. See the difference? I mean besides the one at the top is a better pic, and it was also taken years ago when I was younger. Yeah, the goatee is gone.

Here is the rest of the story.

I have worn a mustache most of my adult life since I first grew one while in the Air Force.  The goatee came along only a dozen or so years ago. About once a week I needed to trim my facial hair. I used a barber type razor with an attachment over the blades that limits the depth of the cut. I would leave my beard about 1/4″ long when I trimmed it. One evening I was attending to my weekly beard trimming ritual and was only barely paying attention to what I was doing. Bad move. I was blazing away, working over the goatee part perhaps a bit too casually. Zipping right along and taking quick strokes, I failed to notice I had lost the attachment that limited the depth of the cut. And before I realized it, I had taken a swipe and completely removed my goatee on the right side. Half of it was missing!

What do I do? Do I pretend it is still there and attempt to grow it out, hoping no one will notice it is misshapen? Nah! Maybe cut the other half almost as short? Nah! Or just cut it all off? I went for the latter and zipped the rest of the goatee off and then lathered up and shaved the stubble away.

As I am doing this, I have a moment of evil brilliance. I decided I would not tell my wife and see how long it took for her to notice most of my facial hair was gone. It was bedtime and little opportunity for her to notice, so I gave her a free ride for that day. The next day was Sunday, and we went to church—and she said nothing. We went to lunch—and she said nothing. We spent the afternoon doing what, I don’t recall—and she said nothing. But that evening as she is changing out of her Sunday-go-to-meetin’ clothes, she holds up the blouse she had worn all day and announces, “You never noticed the new blouse I was wearing.”

Gotcha!

I faked my surprise and chastised humility. As I did so, I stroked my chin and replied, “You are right. It is a lovely blouse. Forgive me?”

She is looking at me suspiciously. I think the grin on my face and exaggerated stroking of my bare chin suggested I was up to something. Then it hit her.

Sometimes you win one. But such victories are extremely rare. Men, enjoy them when you can.

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Them’s some ugly women!

The Kenner, LA of the early post-war period was a wonderful place to grow up, but forms of entertainment in Kenner back then were somewhat limited and often locally-generated.

We had one local movie house on the corner of Minor and Fourth Streets. A second was built in the fifties. We had our parades; that would be St. Rosalee.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars cranked up after the war, and out of that came a carnival krewe called the Knights of Malta. They didn’t parade but they did do a nice Mardi Gras ball at a hall connected, if I am remembering right,  to the Raziano restaurant and bar on Airline.

About once a year a “circus” would come to town. It consisted of a few lame rides (by Pontchartrain Beach standards) and a bunch of game booths designed to take your money and give you a cheap stuffed toy if you actually won, which was rare. The circus set up in the (then) empty lot where the OLPH school is now. Back then it was a full vacant block where we played baseball and football as kids. The best part is it was only a block from my house. With a dollar in change in my pocket, I would have the time of my life at that traveling circus, seeing and doing things that I never got the chance to do without a trip to Pontchartrain Beach, which was very rare. That usually lasted for a few days before they packed up and moved on to another town.

Of course, Kenner High football and basketball games were big sports draws for the locals. No Saints back then, and LSU or Tulane sports required a road trip, especially LSU games, or a gathering around the warm glow of a radio. Live telecast? Didn’t happen.

There were various dance reviews, plays, very non-PC minstrel shows, and other entertainment gatherings usually held in the Kenner High School gym, and one such event is where this story is going.

Bet you didn’t know that Kenner had a bunch of men who liked to dress up as women? I’m not kidding! Transvestites, right here in River City—I mean Rivertown.

I don’t recall exactly when this happened, but I’m thinking it was around 1949, only a few years after World War II ended and Kenner’s veterans had racked their M-1s, docked their ships, and parked their P-51 fighters and C-47s for the last time and come home. This bunch of battle-hardened vets fresh from the killing fields of Europe and the Pacific decided they wanted to dress up as women. War does strange things to a man…

The event was a play called “A Womanless Wedding.” It was a so named because it was indeed a wedding without women presented by a bunch of men in drag. I dearly wish I could remember more details about it. All I have is this old photo I found in my Mother’s stuff. I do recall it was held in the then-new Kenner HS gym, and the men in drag dressed in the old gym, which became a cafeteria for the school.

Them’s some ugly women!

I recognize some in the photo. Dave Goldberg was the bride, who evidently was “pregnant” by the groom in the snazzy suit, who I think was Eddie DiGerolamo. Bobby Cristina (my FIL) is the bride’s father with the shotgun. (“Shotgun wedding.” Get it?) The three bridesmaids over on the left are Bob “Son” Manard (near) and Joe Fletcher (far), but I’m not sure who is between them. I originally thought it might be Bob Schuyler. I have been unable to identify any of the others.

With this bunch, the “wedding” must have been a hoot!

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