A Fitting Fireplace After Six Years?


I’m actually just holding the various pieces in place in this picture.  The fireplace is not done, but we’re getting close.  I spent two days over the holidays building the mantel and surround out of a combination of mahogany and cherry.  The latter will get a clear stain to match the kitchen while the former will get a deep espresso lacquer to match our library wall.  I’ve been able to match the color, but now I need to match the application technique.

A few days later I grouted the tile.  You can see the tile more clearly, as well as the prep work, in the next picture.  It has since dried and we’ve fired up the fireplace to make sure the grout dried evenly with success.  I subsequently tried a test spray of the dark lacquer and was unhappy with the results; I’m sure it was all problems with my technique and the weather conditions.  I’ll try again on another test piece this next weekend.  It’s only been six years, but I’m looking forward to getting this project done!


Introducing the League of Underwhelming Miniature Painters (LUMP)

While I am not a lump and I do not imply my gamer or painter friends are either, many of us who enjoy sedentary hobbies do tend to fall into that category.  I thought the name was funny, but conveyed the concept of what we’re doing here.  The League of Underwhelming Miniature Painters is a community organization that my friend Stephen and I just formed with a few goals:

  1. Encourage miniature gamers to paint what they play
  2. Help people learn to paint (better)
  3. Give painters a forum for showing others their models and exchanging knowledge/ideas on how to achieve their results

In order to achieve these goals, LUMP:

  1. Encourages people to participate in game tournaments and other events that include painting as part of the overall experience.
  2. Hosts painting and modeling classes at local game shops.
  3. Provides people with a place to get daily painting news and share pictures of their work.

You can visit our Facebook page at:


More peppered pickles

I started my third batch of pickles yesterday.  The second batch could not be categorized as a success in my eyes, although Darcy and Layla thought they were okay.  While the first batch was “too salty” and “too spicy” if such a thing exists, the second was bland and soggy.  Classic over-compensation in the recipe change.

One thing I’ve learned (we’ll see how these turn out) is that if you aren’t starting with freshly picked cucumbers you should soak them in super cold water for a few hours before pickling.  This is supposed to keep them more crisp.  I did this with my batch of pickles, which was at least a week old when I processed them yesterday.  I’ve also seen that calcium-chloride with keep them crisp, and I’ve read that grape leaves will do the same.  I trimmed our grape vines yesterday, but wasn’t up to trying out grape leaves in the pickles, so I went with the cold water bath instead.

Here is my revised recipe:

2 3/4 ounces pickling salt, approximately 1/4 cup
2 quarts filtered water
1/4 cup white pickling vinegar
4 pounds pickling cucumbers, 3 to 4-inches long
3/4 tablespoon coarsely ground black peppercorns
3/4 tablespoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon dried garlic
3 large bunches of dill with mature seeds
1 gallon pickle jar (vlassic from Costco is my choice)


  1. Place the cucumbers in the gallon pickle jar and fill with filtered water.  Place in the refigerator for 3-4 hours.
  2. Once the cucumbers have chilled and you’re ready to begin, combine the salt and water in a pitcher and stir until the salt has dissolved.
  3. Add the vinegar to the brine solution.
  4. Rinse the cucumbers thoroughly, rubbing of any dirt and snip off 1/8″ from both ends, ensuring you remove any remnants of the blossom end stem. Set aside.
  5. Place the peppercorns, pepper flakes, garlic, and two bunches of the dill into a 1-gallon jar. Add the cucumbers to the jar on top of the aromatics, packing the largest cucumbers on the bottom.  You should have just enough cucumbers to pack them up to the shoulder of the jar, which will keep them submerged under the brine.  If you do not have enough, then use the bag of water technique described below.
  6. Pour the brine mixture over the cucumbers in order to completely cover. Pour the remaining water into a 1-quart ziptop plastic bag and seal, removing as much air as possible. Place the bag on top of the pickles making sure that all of them are completely submerged in the brine. Set in a cool (70-75 degrees is desireable), dry place.
  7. Check the jar everyday.  After 3 days fermentation has begun if you see bubbles rising to the top of the jar. After this, check the jar daily and skim off any scum that forms. If scum forms on the plastic bag, remove the bag, rinse it off and return to the top of the jar.  The brine should become darker each day.
  8. The fermentation is complete when the pickles taste sour and the bubbles have stopped rising; this should take approximately 6 to 7 days. Once this happens, cover the jar with a damp cloth and place in the refrigerator for 3 days, skimming daily or as needed.
  9. At this point you should have half-sour pickles.  If you store the picklles for up to 2 months in the refrigerator, they will more slowly ferment, but will evently become full sours. If the pickles should become soft or begin to take on an off odor, this is a sign of spoilage and they should be discarded.

Improvements in painting and modeling


I spent a good part of the weekend working on a modeling and painting project. There is something theraputic about the quiet me-time that I get when painting a model. I can block out all of the other thoughts in my head and I can ignore the rest of the world for an hour or two.

This weekend was nice because I had the window open and I got to enjoy the sound, smell and micro climate of a thunderstorm. I also worked on perhaps my most ambitous project to date. The model is called Kairos Fateweaver. The two heads symbolize both the present and future. I put him on a chess board style platform to symbolize the strategy of life while the sand all about is meant to show the passing of time. The half model below him is a warrior of a long dead legion who was corrupted by his power and became less than nothing. All in all, I think there is quite a bit to look at and think about in this model.

Above is the current state of the model. While not quite done, it has come along nicely and I am very proud of the results to date.

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Peter’s Pickles


My friend, Stephen, and an ex-coworker, Mike, both told me they were making pickles last month. This got me thinking that I should try to make pickles as well. The dill pickle is one of my staples. It has excellent flavor and minimal calories (not that I count them). Stephen cans pickles and Mike did a fermented pickle. Darcy and I fondly recall some New York deli style pickles we had in Hawaii years ago, and I think they were the fermented (or half-sour) type. I believe that these are also called crock pickles. I found the following recipe for crock pickles on the Food Network website, courtesy of Alton Brown.

Continue reading “Peter’s Pickles”

Day 19 – On Sunday Deutschland sleeps or Who said German trains are always on time?

We made it to Berlin. We’re sitting in the Sony Center in Berlin having Schofferhofer Weizen and waiting on a pizza. One can only have so much Local food before you want something familiar to munch on. We found a nice little Italian restaurant with covered outdoor eating just outside the train station about a mile from our hotel.

We spent the last six hours on two trains from Muninch, by way of Nuremburg. Layla watched three movies and Darcy and I caught up on pleasure reading with our Kindles. However, we’ve now taken four or five trains and two have been more than 15 minutes late causing people to miss their connections. Luckily this time we didn’t have connections to make, so a few minutes more wasn’t a big deal. This has me wondering about American perceptions of German things. I always heard that the German’s train system was one of the best in the world and ran like clock-work. I’ll certainly give them credit for a very nice system of trains, great stations and many travel options putting the US to shame. But, they don’t run on time.

It appears that Berlin is open for business, or at least this shopping area. Munich was closed, entirely. We came across two cafes in Munich in the old city that were open. All of the other 300 shops we walked by we’re closed. We did get to see the Glockenspiel play and watch the knights joust to some unknown Bavarian tune after sleeping in a little.

Day 18 – BMW, rain and lounging around in Munich

So far we’ve covered a fair bit of western and southern Germany.  Tomorrow night we leave Munich for Berlin on our way home this next week.

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One of the things I really wanted to do on this trip was tour the BMW factory in Munich. Unfortunately, so does everyone else. I called to make reservation about two weeks before we left for Europe only to find out that you need to make reservations 2-3 months on advance. Crap… Instead we only got to visit the BMW Museum and the Welt, a building designed to showcase everything that is the BMW design aesthetic.



The Subway/Underground in Munich was incredibly clean and well organized. I’m not sure I can offer the same praise for their color scheme.


The BMW corporate offices, above.




The exhibit in the pictures below was absolutely amazing. The steel balls are suspended on thin wires and the entire exhibit moves like water. It was mesmerizing to watch.







You can watch the entire sequence here. It starts getting interested after about one minute. Someone else already videoed it and uploaded it to Youtube.



The famous James Bond Z8. A car that didn’t sell all that well, but is absolutely amazing.






A 1989 M3, arguably one of the five best driver cars in the world.





“Help me! Let me out!”

“Daddy, hang on…”





“You can’t give a ticket to someone as cute as me!”

As soon as we left the Welt the rain started coming down in buckets. We’re a bit tired so we headed back to the hotel lounge for some snacks and checkers.



I went out later to grab some food.  Along the way I saw a police officer with a folding yard stick (or a meter stick I guess).  I couldn’t quite figure out what was going on until I saw the paint damage on the front bumper.  I think they were trying to determine who had hit the parked car.  Best of luck to them.  It was still raining, so I hurried on.


Day 17 – From Füssen to Munich

We left Fussen the next morning for Munich. Our hotel suggested that we take a slight detour through Austria and visit another of Ludwig’s castles. The detour was brilliant and we made a few stops to admire the scenery along the way while the weather was good.20130629-190859.jpg



At one point a Porsche club made its way past us. Darcy snapped these pictures out the window of the car without stopping. Nice cars and a nice view.



We also saw a lot of motorcyclists out for a ride. My favorite ride to date was the road to Hana, but this road would likely have taken second place.



We visited Linderholf Castle briefly while the weather was still decent before planning to head to Partnach Gorge near Garmisch; however, the weather turned and we decided to head directly to Munich instead.



Having already paid twice to view the opulence of Ludwig’s castles, we opted to limit ourselves to the parking fee, walk around the outside and enjoy the park.




“I bet you can’t catch me!”

“Yup, you’re right…”




Like I mentioned earlier, then the weather changed.  We had had avoided the rain for most of our vacation until today.


Luckily, once we arrived in Munich the clouds parted and we enjoyed walking around the old city in the sun for a few hours.

Day 16 – Mad King Ludwig II might have just been “eccentric”

The following morning again we had a traditional breakfast complete with breads, hard boiled eggs, coffee, juice, and meats. Afterward we went into town to see Langenargen. Manfred is a member of the city council and provided us a great tour before seeing us off.  The town sits on the Bodensee which is also bordered by Switzerland and Austria.  It is a quaint town with a nice market on Thursday and a small castle that has been preserved by the town.20130629-134504.jpg




One of the boats had a floating nest attached with small chicks.


The drive to Fussen was very nice, but uneventful.  We stopped in Fussen to grab a bite to eat and then made our way to Hohenschwanhau and Schloss Neuschwanstein.  What we learned later is that the “royal” family still owns the castle to this day.  I suspect that the high entry price and very commercialized tour experience is necessary to keep up the castles, but it is still very odd to think about the reduction of a constitutional monarchy to nothing and privatizing the ownership of his castles.










“Layla, are you feeling grumpy?”



After visiting both castles we went to our hotel in Fussen and then out to dinner.  The Prickleberger (viking for deer) cheered Layla right up.


I went for the potato pasta with bacon, Layla had the schnitzel and Darcy went for the sampler.  The waiter told us that if we didn’t finish everything it would rain again tomorrow.  We had to inform him later that it was going to be raining, but we made a valiant effort.