Loose change

Every morning, around 6:30, I go for a walk around the neighborhood with my dog Yogi (named for the baseball player, Yogi Berra, not the cartoon character, Yogi Bear, although that would have been a good choice, too. Our next door neighbors are from Indian and Audi’s parents were here a while back to help take care of their newborn grandson, Neil. One day, Audi’s mother saw Yogi and she asked what his name was. When I told her “Yogi” she said, “Ah, that means wise man. Namaste.” and bowed to him. He, of course, looked up at me as if to say, “See, she gets it.”).

Our apartment complex is adjacent to a shopping area and our morning walks usually take us past the retail stores, restaurants and offices that comprise what is known as “Park Place.” Right now, of course, most everything is closed or operating on limited hours. Before COVID-19 hit, we often saw early-morning exercise classes being held in two of the establishments that cater to people who insist on getting up at the crack of dawn to be yelled at while doing stretching routines. Those things seem to be going on less frequently now, with fewer participants. When we first moved in, there was a coffee shop that always had folks sitting and drinking and reading papers. It has since closed, as have at least two of the restaurants. Our early morning walks are very solitary these days.

Yogi has a highly-developed sense of smell, like most dogs, and he keeps his nose to the ground a lot of the time. He will also eat almost anything he finds, including bugs, bits of food left by who knows who, unidentifiable remnants of who knows what, and even used napkins. We had a nasty encounter with one of those one time. I won’t go into details, but when it came back up, I thought it was some sort of alien creature. Anyway, I try to keep my eye on him to discourage this sort of foraging. As a result, I have had the fortune (no pun intended) to find a total of $23.87 in coins and currency on our walks. Usually, it has just been nickels and dimes, but one day I picked up a $20 bill someone had dropped and yesterday, I retrieved a $1 bill in a grassy area next to the shops. My good luck has been somebody else’s loss and for that I feel sorry, but it seems unlikely that they will be coming back looking for their money, so it’s now mine.

One day, a few years back, I was in Winstead’s, a local hamburger joint. When I started to leave, I found two $20 bills on the floor in the entryway. Now, that’s a lot of money to lose and so I left my card with the cashier and said that if someone came back looking for their money, they could give me a call. I didn’t specify how much I had found. I figured that would be a way of checking whether the caller was legitimate. A few hours later, I got a call from a woman who said that she and her three kids had been at Winstead’s and that she thought that she had dropped two $20 bills somewhere in the restaurant or parking lot. They were on their way to see the kids’ grandfather who was in the hospital and had just stopped to have something to eat before visiting him. Well, the fact that she knew it was two $20s made her story seem true, so I gave her my address and she showed up later in a rather beat-up old car with the three kids in tow. I could tell that she needed the money more than I did, even if somehow she wasn’t really the one to dropped the bills.

I’ve been thinking that lost money might be a good hook for a short story or series of sketches about the people who leave behind nickels and dimes and dollar bills. Maybe I’ll give that a go one of these days. In the mean time, Yogi will keep his nose to ground and lead me to the riches that I know are out there.

A name is important

A couple of days ago I wrote about my adventure in trying to upgrade my iPod 3rd gen to be able to play the latest update of TuneIn Radio so we could listen to WFMT through a radio that has a dock for the iPod. Failing to do so, I ordered an Echo Dot from Amazon (on sale for $29 at the time; it has since gone back to the original price of $49; got it just at the right time). It arrived Monday and I set it up yesterday, so I’m figuring out what Alexa will do.

The first request I made, of course, was “Alexa, play WFMT.” She responded right away and said “Playing WFMT through TuneIn Radio.” Perfect. I then experimented with asking her to raise and lower the volume. No problem.

This morning, however, when I got up and started the coffee, after turning on WFMT, I asked, “Alexa, what kind of a day is it going to be?” She answered: “Tomorrow is going to be an apple pie type of day.” Well, I should have asked what today is going to be, I guess.

Next, I asked who George McGovern’s running mate was in 1972. Alexa seems to know more about history than today’s weather and her reply was “George McGovern’s running mate in 1972 was Sargent Shriver.” Absolutely correct.

For a joke, I asked Siri to tell Alexa to turn down the music, and Siri said, “Reduce volume of media.” Bingo! So Siri and Alexa can talk to each other. But what about the Google assistant?

“Alexa, what’s the Google assistant’s name?”

“The Google assistant does not have a name,” Alexa responded.

Well, I think that’s just sad. We are supposed to have a programmable thermostat installed tomorrow and if it’s a Nest, it will be Google-powered and voice activated, I think. If so, I’m going to start calling the assistant Max. A name is important, especially in the virtual world these days. Of course, I can always ask Siri or Alexa to turn up the heat or turn down the air conditioning. They’ll work it out with Max.

My Smart TV is smarter than me

Suzanne and I have had a morning routine since way before the pandemic started. Yogi comes in the bedroom around 6:00 and jumps up on the bed. He’s mostly our wake-up call. Sometimes, I get up right away, but occasionally, he’s not ready to begin the day, so we snooze a little more. Then, I get up, get dressed, and he and I go downstairs. I start the coffee, put on his harness and we go for a walk. Most of the time, we wander around the neighborhood for fifteen or twenty minutes and by the time we get back, Suzanne has gotten up, come down and opened the patio blinds. That’s our signal that she is indeed up. Yogi runs in and jumps up on the sofa with her and we spend the next hour really waking up. When Suzanne gets up, she turns on the radio, which is tuned to WFMT in Chicago. It’s a classical music station that we generally have on most of the day. On Saturday morning, when she turned the radio on, it wouldn’t play. We have an old AM/FM radio that has a jack for an iPod. I bought this one at Costco in 2009 and it’s been used mostly to stream music from TuneIn radio. For some reason, there was a glitch in the app and I couldn’t reconnect. After many simple tries, I tried all the not-so-simple ones and finally determined that the TuneIn app has been updated several times and will no longer play through iOS 5.1, which the last operating system the iPod can be upgraded to. So, our usual way of listening to WFMT was stymied. I spent a couple of hours on the Web investigating Bluetooth radios that we could replace our old radio with. There are hundreds of possibilities at hundreds of price points. I didn’t want to spend a lot, so I narrowed my choice down to the Google Echo Mini and the Alexa Dot. Costco had a deal on two Echos for $49 and Amazon sells the Dot for $29. After reading a dozen reviews and comparison, I decided to buy the Dot, which is scheduled to be delivered today (5-11). We missed listening to WFMT on Sunday morning, before CBS Sunday Morning, but for some reason, while Suzanne was watching the Buddhist service from Unity Temple on the Plaza, it occurred to me that perhaps I could find a way to stream WFMT on our Smart TV. I’ll admit that I’ve done almost nothing beyond watching TV on our Smart TVs. I pulled them out of the boxes, hooked them up to cable, plugged them in and turned them on. That’s about it. But, I knew there was more they could do and bingo! there is. Through the app store, I was able to find TuneIn and a separate app for WFMT specifically. So, I set up TuneIn, found WFMT and started listening. I even found a way to turn off the picture on the TV while we are listening. Now the question is: do we keep the Alexa Dot when it is delivered. I suppose I’ll experiment with it and see if it is a useful product. But in the mean time, we’ve got classical music streaming in our house again. Good times.

Frisco Chili

My grandfather was an engineer for the Frisco Railroad in southwest Missouri. Every day, he’d get in the cab of his locomotive and haul freight and passengers between Monett and other towns in southeastern Kansas, northeastern Oklahoma, northwestern Arkansas and southwest Missouri. I got to ride with him a couple of times on those trips and loved to go down to the “yards” where he worked. In those days, kids could sneak into the area or roam around if they knew the “right people.” My grandfather was one of the “right people.”

When he finished his shift, he loved to cook and this was one of his recipes. He said he got it from the cook in the dining car, back when there used to be passenger service on the line, before AMTRAK. Of course, it was made in much bigger quantities to serve the travelers then.

I don’t know exactly when I came by this recipe. I’m not sure it’s written down anywhere, although it might be stuck in the papers I have saved over the years. Most likely, it’s just residing in my memory, along with odds and ends of other things I’ve been carrying around in there. I imagine I’ve modified this many times from what I do remember that he told me.

My grandfather always seemed to have a pot of soup on the stove when I went to visit, so I image the beans in his chili were ones that were left over from other meals. I don’t actually remember him putting dark beer in his chili; I think he drank Schlitz or Falstaff most of the time, and those aren’t dark, that’s for sure. The tomatoes would have come from his garden, as would the onion and herbs. He was a good gardener, having raised six kids during the Depression. I always remember rows and rows of beans and corn and potatoes and greens and tomatoes in his garden, in addition to the irises he grew. He was an avid iris collector and I managed to save some from his garden after he and my grandmother had passed. I’ve planted and replanted those at seven or eight houses over the years. Even though we live in an apartment complex now, I have a couple of window boxes filled with iris.

Well, so here’s the recipe, as he passed it along and as it has been slightly tweaked each time it has been made. I hope you enjoy.

1 lb ground chuck
1 lb ground sirloin
1 T. oil
1 medium white onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can chicken broth
1/2 bottle dark beer (drink the rest while you prepare the chili)
2 cans navy beans, drained and rinsed
1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 T. cumin
1 T. ground chili powder
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried parley
2 T. brown sugar
1/2 cup ketchup
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground pepper

In a dutch oven or large pot, heat the oil and cook the onion until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for about a minute, then add the chuck and sirloin. Without stirring or breaking up the meat, let it get a bit crispy on the bottom. Break up the meat and continue cooking until it is thoroughly browned. Add the cumin, chili powder, basil, parley, salt, and pepper and mix. Add the tomatoes, broth, and beans and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and add brown sugar and ketchup. Simmer for at least an hour, stirring occasionally.

Notes: The secret ingredient in this recipe, of course, is the brown sugar, which give the chili a slightly sweet flavor to compliment the cumin and ground chili powder. It’s also important to drain and rinse the beans before you add them so the chili doesn’t get “muddy.”

How I created it

This is a photo of a piece I’ve entered in the InterUrban ArtHouse “12 x 12” show, which begins May 17 in Overland Park, Kansas.

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I thought I’d take you through the steps that it took to arrive at this stage. These things don’t just create themselves, you know. Well, in a way, they do, but that’s another story.

Anyway, this piece is acrylic and paper mache on canvas. The dimensions of the entries in the show were required to be 12” x 12”. All media were accepted: painting, sculpture, photography, prints. I’ve done painting on canvas, paper and hardboard before, but this is the first time I’ve attempted to use paper mache.

There are lots of formulae for paper mache, but I decided to use something called Elmer’s Art Paste as the “glue” for the paper mache.

Elmer's Art Past

After doing some research, I concluded that this is maybe the least problematic of the types of glue commonly used to make paper mache, not having the issues with mold that flour and water has, for example. Plus it is inexpensive. A 2 oz. package cost $5 and it makes enough for lots and lots of paper mache. An ounce makes about two quarts of the stuff and I used maybe a fifth of that for the three pieces I created. Testimonials on YouTube said that the stuff lasts nearly forever after it’s mixed, so I’ve got enough for the foreseeable future.

Every time I shred a bunch of paper, I always think that there must be a better end for it than just going to the landfill or recycling station. I just finished shredding several years worth of old tax forms and it occurred to me that those would a great base for this project.

I soaked a bunch of the paper for a couple of days, shredded it even finer with my electric mixing wand, and squeezed out the water. Here’s what it looked like compressed as much as I could.


These I “decompressed” and mixed with the glue to make a kind of thick paste, which I applied to the canvasses. Here’s photo of what that looked like.

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Initially, I formed the shape by hand and then used trowels and an old knife to create the ridges and indentations. I’ve done this a lot with plaster on hardboard and that gives a much smoother finish, but I like the texture that the paper mache produced. After a couple of coats of gesso to seal the the surface, I started applying the layers of acrylic. The base layer was a cadmium yellow to highlight the indentations.

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Next came mixture of yellow and Windsor blue to create a blue-green undercoat.

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I applied several mixtures of cad yellow, raw umber, Windsor blue and white to get the final overall effect and followed that with a wash of purple.

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One of the challenges of non-objective art is knowing when to stop painting. The temptation is always to do just a little bit more. “Maybe that area needs a little more blue or a streak of red.” “What would more yellow look like over there?” As the Hollies sang, “Stop, Stop, Stop.”

This piece (entitled “More by Less” from a letter to Time magazine by an architectural critic who was praising a review of a New York building) will be available for $100 at the show. I hope you will be able to join us.