Coin Rings and Things

They say that idle hands are the devils workshop. Sometimes I get bored and fall into YouTube black holes. A little while back I ended up in a random excursion into the realm of coin rings. By coin rings, I am talking about turning a United States quarter dollar coin into a piece of jewelry; in this case a ring.

I’m one of those people who enjoy trying new things and sometimes when I see something interesting somewhere I decide it would be fun to pickup the tools or materials and “get after it.”

So with idle hands and an Amazon.com wishlist, I got started gathering up materials, tools and other varying supplies…

Turns out the fabrication process is cheap and quite easy. Basically, you just need some quarters, a punch, some nylon hammers, propane torch, a mandrel and some patience. Granted, there are some more sophisticated tools, taps and dies, but this was sort of a bare-minimum experiment for me.

I’ll attach a link to a video for anyone who may be interested in this process here. Anyway, I ordered some supplies and began ruining quarters. After a few attempts, I learned some technique and was able to craft some pretty cool rings. Eventually, I bought some additional gear and have been able to further refine the process and actually begin crafting some for sale.

Phoenix Sky Harbor Breakfast

I love to travel, but unfortunately I haven’t had the pleasure (other than locally) in some time. On one of last year’s journeys I found myself overnight in Phoenix, AZ after a conference with an early flight out in the AM. Fortunately for me I was in very good company and a fairly quiet airport at 6AM.

Traveling through the Sky-Harbor Airport in Phoenix there weren’t too many dining options that looked appetizing at 6AM… As we passed kiosk after kiosk and the numerous gift shops I began to lose all hope. I’ll have you know I was quite hungry and possibly on the verge of “hangry-ness.” As I arrived in Terminal 4 I was on the verge of scooping up one of those pre-made/day-old wraps from a cooler in a gift-shop and that is when I saw it, the Barrio Cafe. I don’t know if it was the colorful mural on the far wall that drew me in or maybe it was the smell of chorizo and tortillas, but either way we knew we would be in good hands.

I’m not sure what the hours of operation were, but needless to say, they were open and four weary travelers set down to some casual Mexican cuisine. I enjoyed a huge breakfast plate of chorizo and eggs, potato hash, toast and fresh pico de gallo. I have to say that after an overnight in a discount hotel cause of a flight cancellation the prior evening, this really hit the spot.

I was hungry so don’t mind the missing bite!

With “hangry-ness” abated and the check signed for, I retired to the gate and queued up shortly after for the return trip to Austin. I’ve got to say that if you should find yourself at the Sky-Harbor Airport in Phoenix, AZ you really ought to check out this cafe. The food was good, the staff was attentive and most importantly the flatware, plates and glasses were immaculate…

Sometimes airport dining can be a tricky thing and can leave one’s personal health in peril. I have to say that I have eaten at some places where afterward I wish I would have passed by… I’m talking to you Brooklyn Diner at LaGuardia… Hell, don’t even get me started on that entire airport. Last time I went through that airport I’m pretty sure I left with Covid… perhaps a story for another time.

Heine-keg Lamp

As you already know, sometimes I get bored and head out to the garage to do “stuff.” A little while back after finishing a delicious 5L Heinekin Mini-Keg, I decided it would be fun to turn it into a lamp for the hobby/media room.

I began with an empty mini-keg and drilled a whole in the top and rinsed vigorously and set it out to dry over one of those hot Texas weekends. After the keg was dry and didn’t smell of beer (a process that required a few Texas weekends), I brought it out into the garage and got started.

After laying out my “design,” I determined where I wanted the front and the back of the lamp to be and then proceeded to drill a small outlet hole for the cord. A bought a small lamp kit from the Home Depot and strung the bare wire cord up through the hole on the back up into the keg. I further fished the cord through and used a modified Shiner beer bottle cap on the nipple extension and fastened all the parts together then completed the wiring.

In the end I had a working lamp made from a Heineken Mini-Keg and only needed a lamp-shade to complete the project. Got to love idle hands!

Backyard Birding: Blue Jay Bullies

This year we have quite a few blue jays who have taken up residence in our oak tree in the backyard. Although they are pretty to look at, with their bright blue feathers, they tend to bully the songbirds and go through suet and seed way faster than I would prefer. I should also mention that they don’t exactly have a “song.” In fact, they really just screech all day long.

Can you tell I don’t particularly care for blue jays? Recently I began placing no-melt suet cakes in the backyard in one of those green suet cages from the big box stores and began to find lots of new birds visiting. At first, we had some thrushes, starlings and even a ladder-back woodpecker but eventually the blue-jays took over and bullied off everyone but the doves and sparrows.

If that wasn’t bad enough, they peck away an entire suet cake over the course of twelve hours and make a giant mess in the garden that is likely to start attracting other unwanted pests.

Last week I went ahead and ordered one of those suet cages with an additional external cage to block the larger birds from accessing the food. Thus far it seems to be working with the exception of the raccoon that decided she would hang off the bottom of the cage and pick handfuls of suet… it never ends I swear.

Anyway, I’ve managed to raccoon and blue-jay “proof” the suet, so with any luck I’ll have my songbirds back in the autumn and winter. As far as the blue-jays go, I blasted their empty nest with the water hose and even blasted some individually while I was watering the garden as a warning (deterring them only slightly).

Upon doing a little research I have come to find out that blue-jays are considered songbirds in Texas, thus you aren’t allowed to shoot them (not that I would, I’m in a subdivision in city-limits), but it would be nice to have the option…

In a few weeks I also plan to change out my regular bird feeder with a caged design that will further limit access to larger birds like blue-jays, doves and starlings. Additionally, I plan on introducing some higher quality feed to attract chickadees and titmice (my personal favorites). As for the raccoon, cayenne pepper and “spicy” suet cakes should solve that issue.

What is up with all these damn glasses of water?

Okay, just a short rant today about something that has annoyed me for a long time. Whenever we go out to restaurants and order a drink I feel like the server inundates the table with glasses of water. Now regularly this wouldn’t be annoying, however when you are at a tiny table or have a lot of people, all those glasses of water just get in the way. The Earth is like 75% water already, we don’t need it taking up space on our table!

How about we try this, I’ll ask for a glass of water if I want one… and if I order a beer, pour the whole damn thing into a mug… don’t bring me a tiny little mug, pour half the beer into it and place all that stuff on the table. The worst is when they do that and leave a picture of water on the table… this is precious real-estate, especially if there may be appetizers involved.

And another thing, how about removing all the wine and dessert lists before bringing out an entrée. So if you are keeping score, that is:

  • Glass of water
  • Mug of beer
  • Bottle of beer
  • Picture of water
  • Wine menu
  • Dessert Menu
  • Random condiment assortment carrier
  • Appetizer with plates
  • Flatware setting
  • Appetizer
  • Entrée plate
  • Basket of bread or tortillas or whatever

That is per person on average… Now, I don’t cause a scene, I simply ask the waitstaff to remove the wine and dessert menus; I will ask if I want them. I humbly request no water and a large mug for there entire content of my beverage as I will drink it all before it becomes warm and as for the condiment carrier… I’ll set it on the floor or a nearby table, get that crap outta here. Eating at a table shouldn’t require expertise in residential zoning!

Oh and God forbid you order a “complicated, build-your-own entrée” like fajitas or something… and don’t even get me started about those restaurants where the banquette is too short and you are eating at nearly shoulder level… I’m nearly forty and I shouldn’t need a damn booster seat.

Sorry for the rant, not my thing, just had to vent real quickly so I can have a better start to my Monday morning, lol.. Have a great week everyone and I hope any and all restaurant tables are ample enough for your dining needs!

Backyard Birding: Our Little Oasis Update

I live in the burbs. With that said, there are some inherent challenges to birding on a home postage stamp of land. Fortunately over the years, I have found little ways around the hurdles of suburb-living and birding. I like to think that I have reached a happy compromise. 

At the moment, we are providing feed for a variety of birds and have a running water source behind the back fence where a green-belt has a small water easement tracing the center line. Additionally, the adjacent and contiguous properties have large mature trees along the periphery that are seldom trimmed and provide a lot of cover to the area. 

With all that in mind, I have a number of small flowering shrubs along the property that are trimmed in a fashion to allow many covered perches safe from predators and in view of numerous feeders and water sources. At the moment we are running a few different kinds of feeders for different varieties of bird. 

  • Tube Feeder with weight slide to prevent squirrels and heavier birds from monopolizing access. We generally feed a generic sunflower, millet and native blend.
  • Suet cage feeder (soon to be replaced by a caged variety) to provide no-melt varieties with nuts, fruit and assorted bugs.
  • Finch feeding station with under perch feeding, filled with Nyjer
  • Hummingbird feeder with homemade nectar without coloring or additives

Thus far the assorted feeders have led to a lot of unique sightings. Up to this point we have had both male and female House Sparrow and House Finches, Northern Cardinals, Bewicks Wrens, Doves, Ladder-Backed Woodpeckers, European Starlings, Thushes, Blue Jays, Grackles, Mockingbirds, Hummingbirds and have heard some random bird songs I am yet to identify that do not belong to the birds in the aforementioned list.

Postage Stamp in Suburbia

With that said, I am trying to work the feeders into an orientation that will slowly eliminate the Blue Jays, Grackles and Starlings as they often intimidate the smaller songbirds and monopolize/waste the feed. I do have to say though that when there are four or five Blue Jays fluttering around it is a pretty sight.

Anyhow, birding in the burbs does present some issues, but I feel like we have an idyllic environment to add some more species tot he mix with changes to our feeders. I’m hoping to see some Chickadees, Titmice, Warblers and Wrens as changes are made. We will see…

Backyard Birding: How About Those Hummingbirds

I love to watch hummingbirds, I find them captivating. A few weekends ago we were at a rustic cabin. Where the owner had recently placed a giant hummingbird feeder with fresh homemade nectar! Upon arrival at the cabin there were about a dozen of those little hummingbirds buzzing all around the feeder and crepe myrtle close by. 

For those of you who have been in a small swarm of hummingbirds, you are familiar with the low and rhythmic hum of their wings. I swear to you, the proximity to this swarm sounded like we were in the midst of a beehive. By the time I got over the sensory overload, I darted to the van and grabbed my camera. 

Now, when I say, “darted to the van,” I mean that I shambled clumsily over uneven terrain crashing torso first into the side of my van. Upon rising to my feet I opened the drivers-side sliding door and tore into my camera pack with reckless abandon. With lens caps strewn about the cargo hold, I emerged to find the swarm oblivious to my antics and my left flip-flop missing. 

Not unlike a zombie from a Netflix Original Series, I slowly crept along the fence-line and into position to strike… A series of continuous shutter snaps later, I captured a time-lapse of numerous hummingbirds resting, feeding and swarming the fresh nectar. Fortunately for me, when I left the house and packed my gear, I had remembered to take my 400mm telephoto lens. I absolutely adore this lens for capturing birds at a range of about 15-30 yards.

In the end, I not only got some nice shots, but I didn’t scare off the birds either. In fact, the birds were so omnipresent all weekend and oblivious to my antics, that I really could have just taken my time and would have got all these same, or at least similar shots, the whole of the weekend.

Backyard Birding: An Elusive Painted Bunting

During our weekend excursion out to the Das Jager Haus, I had the privilege to spend my days under the shade of a small pecan grove capturing images of many beautiful and bountiful central Texas native birds. The sheer quantity of hummingbirds, titmice, chickadees and cardinals was absolutely insane, but there was one bird that took my breath away; the painted bunting.

For those of you who know of these Painted Buntings, you know their beauty is unparalleled (at least in this part of the country). The bird itself is a bit of a rarity and can be difficult to spot due to their shyness, size and habits. Up until this weekend I had only ever seen them in field guides and kind of considered them to be the “white whale” of birding. I certainly never set out to find one so when I did this very weekend I was kind of shocked. I had read somewhere that people seek them out and rarely find one.

A “kaleidoscope of color,” the painted bunting is diminutive in size and tends to hide out on the edges of prairie grass in the shrubs and trees along the periphery. Apparently they do not like dense tree cover and it is a necessity to have a clean water source nearby to encourage their visitation and nesting. Additionally, they will visit feeder that are protected from “bully birds” and enjoy a variety of seed, but have a particular fondness for millet.

I managed to capture some images of this bunting about 30 yards away hopping around the ground near a water hose junction just beneath a small grove of trees beside the cabin. Apparently the bird was enjoying the loose connection of the hoses where, further investigation would show, a small pool of fresh well-water had pooled. Shortly after the photo-shoot, the bunting moved closer (about 15 yards away) underneath the small feeder where the titmice and chickadees had created a mess beneath the feeder. 

I managed to get a few more images before the small bunting flew away back to his grove. I did not hear his song and only captured a handful of clear pics, but from what I read/hear, that is a pretty impressive feet in itself.

Das Jager Haus in Fredericksburg, TX

We spent another long weekend just outside of Fredericksburg in a new (to us) cabin in the hill country. This time we didn’t go terribly far off the beaten path. Lately we seem to be far enough out that we don’t have any service on our phones and even the satellite is spotty. I by no means have a problem with that, but sometimes it is nice to have the ability to contact restaurants, shops and the owners if something should go awry. Anyway, we stayed at the Das Jager Haus and it was absolutely an amazing weekend.

We arrived mid-afternoon on Friday after about a 2.5 hr. Drive out of the Austin burbs. The ride out was typical fare for this part of Texas and especially beautiful once out beyond Dripping Springs. I’d imagine someday buying a few acres from a rancher out here and doing a homestead/cabin type setup for long weekends and maybe to retire to someday.

Anyway, about ten minutes outside of Main St. in Fredericksburg, we rolled up to the gate, punched in our code and drove the van up the windy drive to the cabin. I have to say, the esthetics of this cabin are very whimsical at first impression. The cabin looks almost like something out of a fairy tale. 

One of the things I liked most about this cabin was the accommodations both inside and out. The cabin has a lot of seating space outside from which to enjoy nature, and for a photographer like me, to snap pictures of all the native birds and assorted wildlife. Inside, all the comforts one would appreciate are thoughtfully provided. There were even a set of binoculars hanging in the kitchen for those who may not own a pair. It was all these innumerable little conveniences that added to the enjoyment of the weekend… not to mention the large garden tub!

I’m pretty sure I spent about 95% of my waking time out in the “yard” capturing images of all the birds, deer and llamas. What a wonderful time we had just relaxing in nature. In fact, I spent so much time outside that at night while sleeping I could still hear all the bird-song in my head. Kris would later tell me that it wasn’t in my head and that at night, with the tin roof and proximity to the trees that, “… just because you go to bed it doesn’t mean all the wildlife does…”

Sometimes it is hard to believe all this wonderful natural beauty is so close to home. What will be even better is when it someday becomes home. We have got to get some property out here!

Las Vegas: “Mojito-Face”

It was the Friday after Thanksgiving and Kris and I had reservations at Carmine’s in Caesars Palace for 8pm. Instead of catching an Uber (and having spent a small fortune already), we decided we would walk the mile or two to get there as we would be covering familiar ground and there were a couple things we wanted to experience along the way. 

Walking out of the main entrance of the MGM, along the pedestrian bridge, we crossed to the New York New York Hotel/Casino and slipped around the corner and down the escalator to street level. We wanted to see what the plaza near the T-Mobile Arena was like at night as we had heard the water feature was incredible and that there was regularly live music.

As we got closer we heard the band at the stage performing more clearly. I’m not the biggest Metallica cover band fan, but it was cool nonetheless. After a few minutes we continued on, and turned into the main plaza of the arena to view the LED water wall feature. I have to say, it was pretty cool in the daytime, but at night, WOW! I mean it isn’t the fountain at The Bellagio, but cool nonetheless.

Basically, there are 6 foot tall walls made of river rock material that have a gently flowing waterfall over their surface. The “waterfall” is lit by a color changing LED strip that casts different colors of light along the water creating a pretty cool rhythmic effect. We walked around the area for a short period and rejoined the mass of pedestrians clogging all the thoroughfares. 

The walk from the MGM to the restaurant in Caesar’s Palace is a mile “door to door.” I would say with our brief detour and the throngs of people it took nearly an hour to get there. I will be the first to admit that I was a bit “hangry” upon arrival. Something about swarms of Chinese tourist grandparents stopping at inappropriate places to consult maps, make phone calls, take photos and plan future roadblocks has that effect on me. Don’t get me wrong, not all Chinese tourists are like this, and I wouldn’t dream of stereotyping their incredible culture. The prior link leads to a very well written article about this phenomena, check it out!

Anyway, I wasn’t rude or anything and as soon as I got my mojito I was good, in fact I made “mojito-face.” For those of you who don’t know what “mojito-face” is, see below. We have “pre-mojito-face,” “”mojito-face” and “post-mojito-face.”

Carmine’s is a family style restaurant which means the portions are pretty robust. We were a bit scared of how much food we would end up with so we badgered our waiter into oblivion and he obliged us by providing detailed schematics, ounces and serving sizes. In the end we elected to order a Bolognese, another round of beverages and finished things off with a slice of NY cheesecake. 

With everything right with the world, we wandered Ceasar’s Palace with contentment and eventually returned to our VRBO.

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