Saturday, October 31, 2009

End of Life on a Budget

Today is Halloween.

Time Devours All Things

One day.. He really will reach out for me.

But that day isn't today.

This is a time of year when my thoughts tend to turn toward loved ones that have passed on, and thoughts of what happens to us when we leave this place. Or if we really "leave" at all. I mull these thoughts around in my head from time to time, wrestling with exactly what I think becomes of us at that moment - and if there's any reason for me to think the way I do.

- But that's the subject of an entirely different post that I may make one day.

A more concrete concern for me right now, as a living breathing person, is the mess that my loved ones might have to deal with due to my passing one day. Namely: What do they do with me when my spirit is done hanging around?

As I'm thinking along these lines, I see that Walmart is getting into the Casket business. When I looked at the offerings online, it looked like they had 14 different casket models ranging from $895 to $2899. Here's the "Bronze Sienna" model, that represents the higher end of that scale.

walmart sienna bronze casket 2899

Pretty - but its whole purpose is to be buried in the ground where no one will (hopefully) see it again, so I just don't see the point. It's my understanding that if you buy a casket from most funeral homes, the average price is even higher that Walmart's "top of the line" model.

Add to that the expense of a funeral plot, care for the plot, the funeral expenses... the total expense involved for dealing with a loved one's death can be ridiculous. All at a time when the bereaved are least equipped to deal with it.

Don't get me wrong... you should realize at this point that I'm a huge admirer of cemetery art and graveyard memorial.


margaret dress

evergreen moore

I can, and do, spend hours wandering around in old cemeteries.

Some part of me really WANTS there to be a lasting, physical memorial with my name on it. Something that will hold my memory in this place long after I'm gone. Even if it is just in the mind of a photographer walking the lonely paths of some old, spooky graveyard.


But... when I think of the financial cost for this kind of vanity, I pull up short. Just not worth it, in my opinion. My passing will be hard enough on whatever family that I have still living at the time. I don't want to add the financial burden of a modern funeral on top of all the other stress.

I've begun seriously thinking about cremation, at one of the pre-paid places that doesn't provide any of the other expensive frills. Someplace like this. Looking at their website, for $795 they will pick up the deceased from the hospital, provide "containers", transport to the crematory, cremate the remains, give the ashes to the family, and file the death certificate.

Not too frilly, but seems pretty complete for the price to me. This is something that I could pay for next week - and then all my Mrs would have to do is make one phone call after I'm gone and the hassle is done with. I like that thought. Gives me more comfort than the thought of any big fancy funeral would. If I can save them just a little bit of the stress associated with my death - why wouldn't I jump at the chance?

My main concerns:

1. I'm not planning on checking out any time soon. Assuming that I pre-pay now, I don't have any assurance that this place (or any other) will still be in business way down the road when I eventually shuffle off the mortal coil. I really like the aspect of having everything decided and paid for before I go - so that my family just makes a single phone call and everything happens by itself - but I have to make sure the company is going to be here for them at the moment they are needed.

2. What to do with the ashes afterward. My Mrs has said she wants the same after-life arrangment that I come up with, whatever that might be. She wants to hold on to my ashes, assuming that I die first, until she passes away. Then she doesn't so much care what happens to our ashes, as long as it happens to the both of us.

I DO NOT want my daughter to get saddled with a couple of ash filled urns marked Mom and Dad... that's creepy, even for me :)

All this may seem terribly morbid and depressing for some folks -But the way I see it, a little foresight and planning on my part can make a huge difference for the ones I love after I'm gone.

So... what are YOUR final plans?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Antique Hearse

Ok.... I know some will find this an odd diversion of mine, but I've always wanted to get an old Hearse to restore.

hearse 1937 la salle

1937 LaSalle

These old girls are beautiful, to me. Maybe its my lack of repulsion with imagery surrounding death, but I find old hearses to be some of the most appealing and unique autos ever made.

hearse 1939 cadillac

1939 Cadillac

hearse 1929 cunningham

1929 Cunningham

In the past, I've tried to sell my Mrs on the idea with the following reasoning:

"But Honey.... just think of the possibilities! I could fix it up with limo style seats in the back, then hire myself out on the weekends in October as a limo carrying groups to and from haunted houses and "scary tours" in the DFW area.

When it's not Halloween, I could drop a liner in a casket transforming into an ice chest, and have the most unique, kick-ass tailgating vehicle for sporting events the world has ever seen..."

hearse 1924 lincoln

1924 Lincoln

None of these very well reasoned and logical debate points seems to penetrate Her resistance to having a hearse parked in the driveway for extended periods of time.

Go figure.

hearse 1957 chevy

1957 Chevy

Girl Friday - Halloween Edition! - UPDATED

This week I thought I'd lend the Girl Friday post a Halloween theme:

Pinups by Gil Elvgren:

elvgren halloween pinup

elvgren witch pinup

Pinup by George Petty:

petty witch pinup

Unknown model:

halloween pinup girl

Anne Nagel:

Anne Nagel jack-o-lantern

Betty Grable:

betty grable halloween

Dusty Anderson:

dusty anderson

The people have spoken, and it didn't even take a town hall meeting. By popular demand, the Queen of Halloween Campiness: Elvira

Although, I was always fascinated by the contrast of her alter-ego - the more "normal" looking Cassandra Peterson:

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Road Trip - 10/24/2009

Winnsboro Car Show

No... that's not an old picture from the 1930's. It's from Saturday, in old-timey Winnsboro, Texas.

We ventured out to East Texas on Saturday. Beautiful Fall day. My folks used to have a cabin on little private lake near Winnsboro, so I'm familiar with the area. However, I hadn't been to visit in several years.

1933 Ford

All through October, Winnsboro has an "Autumn Trails" festival. One of the weekends features an antique car show and parade.

1929 Ford

Tons of Models A Fords, as well as some other old classic cars.

mecury park lane

There was even an old '49 Ford F1 truck - which made me miss my old '50. There's nothing like seeing beautifully restored old classics to give you the itch to get your hands greasy bringing one back to life.

Time, finances, and workshop space will keep that on the back burner for quite a while longer, though.

I'd like to think that, if I do decided to take the plunge and get another project vehicle, I'll pick one a little better to start with than this old girl I found right outside Winnsboro :)


Old Downtown Winnsboro still has an active business area with several shops and restaurants. They even had a large Scrapbooking Store, which caught the eye of my Mrs.

While she browsed the shelves of virgin Scrapbook Store territory, I took a seat on the porch of the old restored Railroad Depot to people and car watch.


These two old codgers were camped out on the porch to do likewise. They were there when we got there, and still there when we left. They chatted with each other and with anyone else who wandered by and stopped long enough to start a conversation. Every once in a while, one of them would get up long enough to spit over the railing.

Reminded me of the old downtown square in the small town where I grew up. We called the old retired farmers who populated the benches around the square "Spittin' Whitlers", since they chewed tobacco and whittled while they talked and enjoyed sitting outside together.

The town I grew up in is modernized and urban now. No more old guys in their overalls warming their tired bones in the sun. Doesn't fit into the master planned community vision, I guess.

I miss those old guys. They knew alot of stuff, if anyone slowed down long enough to listen.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Exact Center of the Universe Found

Pics of Bailey taken by my Daughter, at the Dallas Arboretum Pumpkin Patch.

punkin patch girl 5x7

"Punkin's Gud... nom, nom, nom....."

punkin biter 5x7

Girl Friday - 10/23/2009 - Veronica Lake

This Week's Girl Friday is another beauty who met a tragic end.

Veronica Lake

veronica lake witch

Veronica Lake's rise to stardom was swift. Her success seemed only to give her farther to fall, once her personality disorders became too much to cope with.

veronica lake 2

Once a popular film noir actress, Ms. Lake is probably most famous for staring along side Alan Ladd is several movies of the dark genre. At less than 5' tall, Veronica Lake was originally cast opposite Alan Ladd because most other leading actresses were taller than Mr. Ladd. The two developed a chemistry on film, however, that was enough to keep the pairing successful at the box office.

veronica lake alan ladd

Ms. Lake is thought to have suffered from Schizophrenia, as well as alcoholism. These two factors contributed to three failed marriages, bankruptcy, and seizure of her assets by the IRS for failure to pay taxes.

veronica lake 4

Amazingly, the woman who once inspired fashion trends and packed movie houses with fans, ended up drifting between cheap hotels in the New York City area during the 1950's and early 1960's. Largely forgotten by the public at that point, she was once discovered by a reporter working as a Barmaid at an all women's hotel in Manhattan.

veronica lake 3

She eventually succumb completely to paranoia, believing that the FBI was targeting her. She passed away from Hepatitis and renal failure, due to the drinking, in 1973 - she was only 50 years old...

veronica lake

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Paladin's Random Crap - Lighted Heater Plantstand

I love being able to get back out in my workshop.... it's my equivalent to anti-depressants, without the Dr. bill.

I picked up this old oil parlor heater at a flea market back in the spring.

perfection heater before

It has sat mocking me in the corner of my cluttered workshop ever since, knowing that I didn't have time to work on it.

Originally, this old heaters had a tank inside with a wick. You the heater much like a kerosene lantern - only it was intended to produce heat for a small room instead of light. I've used heaters like this before, and to be honest they don't put out much heat. There's no fan (obviously) and the heat from burning wick doesn't produce all that much heat - even a large tubular wick like the ones used in the heaters.

At any rate, what I chose to do with the heater doesn't change it usefulness as a heater - should I ever decide to convert it back to that function. I still have the burner and tank from inside.

My plan for the heater was as plantstand, that also looked cool. I did want the heater to look like it was functional, though, so I cobbled together a flicker light fixture out of some spare lamp parts and the back of an old alarm clock case:

stove flicker fixture

I repainted the shell in a color scheme that was pleasing to me, and put the "new" lighting fixture inside. It puts off a really warm light, and is a lot brighter than it looks in the pictures - especially when the lights are low. The flicker bulbs look like real flames jumping around through the grill badge, which I thought cleaned up really well.

heater after

heater badge close

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Warning: Situations may be stranger than they appear...

Proving that first impressions may not lead to correct conclusions....

Recent call on the job: A resident reported that during the night he had heard strange noises outside his home, and then awoke to find a large dog chained in a cage in his front yard. He had never seen the dog and did not know who had left it there.

I told him I would come out and have a look, and to expect me at his door directly. You see, it's not outside the realm of possibility for this particular situation to be a "set up". I stopped being surprised long ago, by how far some people will go to accomplish their ends.

For example, on more than one occasion I've had people call in and report that they found a dog. Then they'll go on the tell us that the dog is in their yard, they want us to pick it up, but they won't be home.... just go on in and get it. Of course, the dog isn't theirs. The house isn't theirs either. They just have some sort of bone to pick with the actual residents and hope to con us into dropping by and stealing their dog out of their yard.

I shit you not.... People have actually tried this scam on three separate occasions!

But I digress -

Upon arriving at the location, this is what I find:

dog yard

That's apparently a full blooded Akita - of the American Variety. She's attached to a cable, which is in turn attached to that shabby looking, beat up kennel. You can't see it in the pic, but the far side of the kennel is the door which is bent pretty badly.

Here's a closer shot of the dog:

dog yard detail

She was a sweetheart. My experiences with Akitas haven't been largely positive - I find them difficult to "read" as quickly as I can most other dogs. Never know if I'm gonna get licked or loose a finger, you might say. This one, though, was really friendly right from the start.

Anyway, I spoke to the resident and assured myself that I wasn't committing grand theft canine. We both assumed that someone had dumped the dog in his yard over night, for some reason. Seems like a fairly straight forward conclusion, yes?

Granted it was pretty odd circumstances, but during hard times people will do all sorts of stupid things with their animals. Even when better alternatives aren't that difficult to arrange. I loaded the dog on the truck and strapped the junky looking kennel to the back so I could dispose of it in the dumpster at the shelter.

cage truck

Pretty white trash, huh? All I need is Granny riding on the back in a rocking chair :)

Now... Flash forward several hours and I get a phone call from a frantic lady looking for her Akita. I ask her several questions to determine if this is the same animal, and it sure seemed to be. I explained how I found the dog, and asked her if she would like to explain exactly how her dog managed to wind up chained to a cage in a stranger's yard?

Apparently, said Akita is a "digger" - who likes to dig in one particular place in the owner's backyard. In a flash of brilliance, the owner decided to chain the dog to the kennel giving it plenty of room to move around but not so much room that it could reach the digging spot. They didn't think that the dog could move the kennel (huh?) and were also not aware that the lawn maintenance people had left the gate ajar after the weekly Saturday mowing.

The dog had wandered the neighborhood most of the night, dragging the kennel behind it at the end of an 8 foot cable - undoubtedly banging into and off of everything in sight until finally getting snagged in the man's yard.

Dog and family were reunited - hopefully with a valuable lesson learned. However I wouldn't be too confident that the over all IQ of the owner's improving.

And now... random picture of a rabbit :)

morning bunny

I was experimenting with some photoshop soft lighting effects. I normally don't do any processing of my pictures beyond cropping. I like this effect, though.

Monday, October 19, 2009


Here's a couple of "pumpkins" I carved for Halloween this year. We like carving pumpkins like this, but they don't last long at all. It's a lot of effort for something that will only last a night before starting to shrivel and shrink.

pumpkins light

These are actually "fake" pumpkins that we bought at a craft store. You can definitely tell the difference in the daytime, and you can't get the level of detail in them that you can when carving a "real" pumpkin - but they work pretty well. At least we can have them out for several nights and reuse them again next year. We sure couldn't do that with a real carved pumpkin. You use a small flickering battery light inside, instead of a candle.

I'm thinking I'll do one or two each year - so we have several around and lit for Halloween Week.
Here's how they look in the dark, and then a final pic I made playing around with gif animation:

pumpkins dark

The first picture of my pumpkins above has been featured by someone in a NowPublic online story on pumpkin decorating ideas.

Look at me... bein' all Martha Stewart :)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Individual Apple Crisps

Fall is the classic "in between" time. It bridges the gap between Summer and Winter. It is thought by many to embody the connection between this world and what lies beyond. It's also the traditional time when the bounty of harvest could be fully enjoyed before the long dark days of Winter settled in for months.

In the spirit of combining contrasts and in-betweens, here's a surprisingly easy recipe that I put my own spin on. I usually just make this by sight - without using measurements. Exact quantities aren't that important. I measured stuff this time, 'cuz I know some folks freak out when I use amounts like "some" or "a little" :)

Two great desserts that compliment each other are Apple Crisp and Ice Cream. There's a problem, though. Apple Crisp is best when it's hot, and Ice Cream melts quickly when on/near hot stuff. It makes eating the two together a challenge that usually results in the Ice Cream melting down quickly into cold milk and sugar, and the Apple Crisp getting soggy as a result.

This version of Apple Crisp addresses that issue and is scaled to individual portions. This recipe makes two individual Apple Crisps.

Apple Crisp

Serves 2

2 Large Apples (peeled, cored, and sliced)
2 tbls butter
3 tbls brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cornstarch (or flour)

1/3 cup flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
3 tbls cold butter

Vanilla Ice Cream

You'll also need some proper bakeware for this. You'll see why in a minute. I use some small, oval shaped corning baking dishes. These are perfect for single serving sizes. You'll also need some oven save ramekins. The ramekins sole purpose is to keep a space in the larger baking dish free of apple filling - like so:

apple crisp 2

You'll also need some small metal cups that are close to the same size as the ramekins (doesn't have to be exact), like these:

apple crisp 4

I found these at Walmart, and they are graniteware. Place the metal cups in the freezer and let them get really cold.

Start with the filling. Melt the butter in a pan over low/med heat. Add the brown sugar and let it melt down, stirring. When the butter and brown sugar are melted, add the apple slices. Sprinkle with the cinnamon and toss the apples in the mixture to coat. After the mixture cooks a few minutes, sprinkle the cornstarch over all and toss some more.

Keep cooking and stirring the apple mixture until the liquid thickens and looks "syrupy". This doesn't take long. The apple slices will just be thinking about getting softer. Remove from the heat at this point.

apple crisp 1

Make the topping. Combine flour, sugar, and cinnamon in a small bowl. Pinch in the butter with your fingers until the mixture is all crumbly. and the butter pieces are a little larger than pea sized. You can use a tool for this, but I prefer just to use my hands - its quicker and does a nicer job. Tools tend to make things uniform in size. You don't need or want that here.

Take your filling and put it into the baking dishes, leaving the ramekin in place. Top with the crumble topping, like so:

apple crisp 3

Place the individual crisps on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for about 30-35 minutes. The crisp will be bubbly and the topping starting to brown. Remove from the oven. Take the chilled metal cups out of the freezer and fill with Ice Cream.

The ramekins should come out of the baking dishes easily with a little twist 'n lift action - but make sure you use an oven mitt 'cuz they're HOT!!. Place the cold metal cups filled with Ice Cream in the now empty space and serve. The cold cup helps prolong the life of the ice cream and make enjoying the two together less of a foot race:

apple crisp 5