Monday, June 15, 2020

A Moment of Tiki episodes 7, 8 & 9

"A Moment of Tiki" returns for your viewing pleasure with three new episodes! Well, two of them have been up for a few weeks, but this is the first time I've mentioned them here on the blog.

First up is episode 7, in which I take viewers on a step-by-step how-to for making feijoa flower-infused rum. Do you think that sounds complicated? It's not! And the end result is pretty tasty as well. I'm proud of this episode, as this infusion is one I've never heard of before, and it turned out well.

In episode 8, I share my process for creating suitably tikified baseboards for the creation of a tiki room. When I build something from the ground up, I literally start at ground level. I start with cheap pine boards, and through the magic of routers and a hand-held torch, turn that wood into something that looks suitably primitive and weathered with age.

In episode 9, which just went live half and hour ago (as I write this) I teach the crazy simple process for making real, great-tasting grenadine at home. What's that you say? You don't like that bright red cherry-flavored high fructose corn syrup stuff? Join the crowd! Actual grenadine is made from pomegranate juice, not cherry, and the stuff you can make at home is so much better than the mass market stuff you find in stores (note: There are some high quality craft grenadines out there, but if you know where to look for those, you probably already know how to make your own as well).

Remember, you can view all of my videos online at YouTube. If you enjoy, don't forget to subscribe and leave a comment! I'll be mighty grateful!

Episode 7: Feijoa Rum Infusion

Episode 8: Tiki Baseboards

Episode 9: Grenadine

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Friday, June 12, 2020

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

On this date, 50 years ago, the Kinks released "Lola" and popular music would never be the same. That makes today "Lola Day" and I almost missed it. Yikes! Since I've shared the Kinks doing this song before, here's a cool cover from the MonaLisa Twins that they did specifically for #LolaDay. Is that great? That's great!

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Buffalo Springfield.

Now Playing: Sergio Mendes & Brasil '66 Look Around
Chicken Ranch Central

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

They knew

After a week of nationwide protests following the needless murder of George Floyd, I would like to make a point that is largely overlooked in this--as well as pretty much every other case involving a police officer shooting an unarmed black man (or woman, in the case of Breonna Taylor). But first, a recap:

  • On May 25, George Floyd made a purchase at a Cup Foods store in Minneapolis
  • Cup Foods suspected a $20 Floyd used to paid for his purchase may have been counterfeit
  • Floyd voluntarily remained at Cup Foods, waiting for police to arrive, to clear up the problem
  • Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, along with three other officers, arrive
  • Chauvin handcuffs Floyd and forces him to the ground, where he then kills Floyd by pressing his knee into Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes. The other officers assist Chauvin to varying degrees
  • Floyd repeated begs for mercy, repeating "I can't breathe."
  • After Floyd is rendered unconscious, Chauvin keeps his knee on his neck, rebuffing a first responder who asks repeatedly to check Floyd's pulse
  • Chauvin knew Floyd, both having worked as security guards at a Minneapolis nightclub for several years
  • Chauvin had 18 complaints filed against him with the internal affairs office of the Minneapolis Police Department. Of those, 16 were closed with no action, and two resulted in a letter of reprimand. Although most remain closed to the public, the ones that are known involve excessive force
  • The penalty for passing counterfeit money is up to 20 years in prison, if the person who passed it was aware it was fake. There is no death penalty associated with counterfeiting. There is zero evidence Floyd knew the bill was fake
  • All of this is filmed by bystanders from multiple angles. Chauvin stares them down even as he keeps his knee on Floyd's neck. If you still think Floyd was a threat and deserved this treatment, I invite you to watch the whole damn video.
Think about that for a minute. Let it sink in. Chauvin has EIGHTEEN formal complaints filed against him. He had a documented history of excessive force. It was no secret to the Minneapolis Police Department that Officer Chauvin was a problem, yet despite this track record, Chauvin faced no real consequences for his behavior.

If you look at situations like this, the common refrain is that we shouldn't let the "bad apples" distort our view of the good officers who put their lives on the line every day to serve and protect. In poll after poll, white people consistently agree by significant margins that these are "isolated incidents." African American and Latinos consistently agree that connecting the dots results in a very, very ugly picture. Also, there's no way in hell they're ever going to trust police.

Here's the thing: All of those "good cops" know exactly who the bad apples are. If you took a poll of the Minneapolis Police Department on May 24 asking "Which officer is most likely to kill an unarmed black man in the coming week?" I guarantee Chauvin would be at the top of the list. Maybe No. 1, maybe not, but easily in the top 3. Let that sink in a bit.

Back in high school, there was an officer who regularly bullied high school students. He once tried to get my class' salutatorian jailed for vandalism to the high school. The officer repeatedly lied about the incident, insisting he'd witnessed said vandalism (we students know he lied, because the vandalism actually happened a week prior to when he claimed, and also knew which students were responsible--certainly not the salutatorian!). I also had an encounter with this officer, who tailgated me for half a mile before flashing his lights to pull me over. He then ordered me (much to my confusion) to drive another 20 yards and stop, at which point he issued me a ticket for speeding. I asked why, if I were speeding, he waited so long to pull me over, and he answered in a threatening tone, "Because it took me that long to catch up with you!" Now understand, dear readers, that I was driving a Jeep. I had been driving it with the soft top off for several days, but for some reason I placed the top back on but only fastened it to the front windscreen. The canvas sides and back were loose, and flapping freely. Had I been going as fast as he claimed, the top would've flown off. Heck, had I even approached the speed limit, it would've flown off. After the fact, I also realized he made me pull forward because we were outside of city limits. I was too dumb to realize it at the time. I had not been speeding, had not even been in his jurisdiction, but he lied about it and gave me an ticket because he could. And I'm white. I have no idea what kind of abuse he dished out to my black classmates, because I was young and dumb and self-centered and didn't believe police abuse happened except when it happened to me. Yet at no time did I fear for my life, because, you know, I'm white.

As a recovering journalist, I spent many years as a police reporter and got to know a number of officers fairly well. There was one particular officer they couldn't stand. "Barney Fife" they called him behind his back. They mocked him for always wanting to go into situations, guns blazing. They flat-out called him an idiot. This officer was well-known for arbitrarily pulling people over and just dishing out shit because he could. He once pulled over a co-worker of mine on the way home for no reason, taking a Dr Pepper said co-worker had just bought from a convenience store and drinking it down because he could. The implication was that if my co-worker complained, he'd get a ticket or worse. Pretty chickenshit, right? And again, my co-worker was white. If he had been black, I have no idea how much worse it could have gotten. Again, nobody I knew who'd had a bad encounter with this officer fear for our lives, because again, white.

I've had officers tell me, "We police our own." Except that's bullshit. Every cop out on the beat, every one of them who tries to make the world a safer place, each one who'd run into danger to protect a random stranger--each and every one of them hates the "rat squad" that investigates corruption and brutality. When that bad apple they all despise finally steps across the line and gets caught on video slapping some child around, smashing someone's taillight for a bogus traffic violation, or yes, shooting an unarmed black man or kneeling on his neck to choke the life out of him, all the "good officers" close ranks and rally behind that bad apple. Even though they know he's guilty as sin. Even though they've heard him spout racist bullshit in the station. Even though they know he's moonlighting as a pimp and smacks around women on the side.

The fact is, they know and do nothing. They tolerate. They cover up. They support the "brother officer" even though that bad apple betrays everything they claim to uphold.

Those bad apples make all the good officers targets. They make all the good officers victims. They destroy any amount of trust that emerges from reforms. Those good officers view the angry victims as a threat and the enemy, rather than the bad apple who brought all this down on them.

Because they didn't "police their own." That burned out police precinct in Minneapolis? It's on them. Tens of thousands of citizens protesting across the country? It's on them. Those long hours in riot gear? It's on them. The extra shifts and mind-fraying stress? It's on them. All those hours where they don't get to go home to their families? They chose this path, every time they looked the other way when the bad apple "accidentally" slammed a suspect's head into a wall, or any of a thousand other aggressions.

I'm somewhat encouraged by police chiefs across the country speaking out about Floyd's death and calling out Chauvin. That's something. But it's still closing the barn door after the horse is gone. They need to speak out against the bad cops before a helpless black man is killed simply because that bad cop saw an opportunity to test his power. They need to ensure that officers with 18 formal complaints are kicked off the force long before that number gets anywhere near double-digits. They need to walk the walk as well as talk the talk, and make sure all officers on the force live up to their lofty ideals.

Because if they don't, the next George Floyd is on them, too.

Now Playing: Jimmy Buffett Buffett Live: Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, May 29, 2020

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

With the events unfolding in Minneapolis, "For What It's Worth," this song's been running through my head.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Waitiki.

Now Playing: Ray Charles Genius After Hours
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, May 22, 2020

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

As we head into the Memorial Day weekend here in the U.S., how about some chill, tropical sounds to get you through the pandemic-plagued holiday? Here's Waitiki performing "China Fan" on Hawaii Public Radio, a relaxing antidote for the over-crowded local rivers that will be overrun with COVID-spreading tubers this weekend. Stay safe, y'all!

Previously on Friday Night Videos... The Moody Blues.

Now Playing: Stan Getz Stan Getz vol. 4
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Friday, May 15, 2020

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

The Moody Blues may be one of the few bands to score top 10 hits in three different decades, but they're also one of those bands that seem to have far fewer hits than their talent and output would warrant. I mean, they have some inspired work, and although gems like "Nights in White Satin" found a wider audience from time to time most of their work seems to have flown under the radar. Here's one you've probably heard at one point or another, but not for a very long time, "I'm Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band)." I like it because it poses that age-old question, "Who is the artist? We gotta agree!"

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Bruce Springsteen.

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Chicken Ranch Central

Monday, May 04, 2020

A Moment of Tiki episodes 5 & 6

"A Moment of Tiki" returns for your viewing pleasure with two new, hand-crafted, artisanal episodes! First up is episode 5, in which I take viewers on a step-by-step how-to for caring for and preserving rattan furniture. Remember, rattan is essentially a wood, and is subject to all the pitfalls of wood furniture: drying, cracking, splitting, mold and insect damage. A little effort up front can help protect your investment for the long term! In episode 5, I share my process for building a suitably tikified frame from scratch using wood and bamboo, with which to proudly display your tropical and tiki-themed art works. It's a simple build I've perfected over quite a bit of trial-and-error, requiring no upscale woodworking techniques (don't worry about rabbets or dovetails here), so I thought it'd be a simple, easy video to edit. Wrong! The editing process proved to be far more challenging than expected. Fortunately, I finally beat it into submission and hope the result is a clear and straightforward instructional video. Plus, you get to learn what to do with all that bamboo we torched way back in episode 1!

Remember, you can view all of my videos online at YouTube. If you enjoy, don't forget to subscribe and leave a comment! I'll be mighty grateful!

Episode 5: Rattan

Episode 6: Framed!

Now Playing: Various artists Music for a Bachelor's Den, vol. 2
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, May 01, 2020

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

Believe or not, I was never much of a Bruce Springsteen fan. I liked a few individual songs, sure, but overall, I was in the take or leave it camp. Blasphemy for an 80s kid, I know. But you know one song of his I liked? "I'm Goin' Down," which kinda feels like an anthem to how 2020 is treating us in general.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Blue Öyster Cult.

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Chicken Ranch Central

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Chicken Ranch anniversary: Happy birthday, Dolph!

On this date in 1923, Dolph Briscoe, who would go on to become the 41st governor of Texas, was born. He would've been 97 today. Briscoe, a long-time Uvalde rancher, is generally remembered fondly from his terms as governor for being a decent guy. But his administration did earn some dubious distinctions. Briscoe was the last Texas governor to serve a two-year term and the first to serve a four-year term. He undermined two efforts to rewrite Texas' abysmal constitution (which remains a trainwreck to this day). Briscoe once appointed a dead man to the State Health Advisory Commission, and if what I've heard is true, called a press conference in the aftermath to reassure the press and public that he hadn't lost his grip on sanity.

But what most people remember him for--and which doesn't appear in most official biographies--is that he is the governor who ordered the closure of the infamous Chicken Ranch brothel in La Grange. Ironically, Briscoe had no actual legal authority to order the Chicken Ranch (or any other brothel, for that matter) closed. But he did, hoping nobody would call his bluff. Fayette County Jim Flournoy certainly knew the governor had no authority to do so, but acquiesced to Briscoe and effectively ended a surreal two-week media circus that captured the attention of Texas as well as the rest of the country.

Governor Briscoe died June 27, 2010, after ignoring my interview requests for the better part of a year. He's have been 93 today. Happy birthday, Dolph!

Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse is available from both and It's also available as an ebook in the following formats: Kindle, Nook, Google Play, iBooks and Kobo.

Now Playing: George Bruns Moonlight Time in Old Hawaii
Chicken Ranch Central

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

A Moment of Tiki: Episodes 3 & 4

Hey folks, I'm back with two more episodes of "A Moment of Tiki" for your viewing pleasure. First up is episode 3, in which I review Smuggler's Cove by Martin and Rebecca Cate. It's an excellent introduction to the ins and outs of tiki culture, rum and cocktails without ever becoming too nerdy or overwhelming. Plus, it's got some excellent cocktail recipes within its pages as well. In episode 4 I shift gears a little bit and actually build something (making a video how-to-build a home tiki bar series was my original concept, but my projects aren't linear and take longer to complete than ideal for ongoing installments). In this case, I replace a shabby, makeshift window cat door with one that's more aesthetically integrated into my home tiki bar as a whole.

Remember, you can view all of my videos online at YouTube. If you enjoy, don't forget to subscribe and leave a comment! I'll be mighty grateful!

Episode 3: Smuggler's Cove

Episode 4: Cat Door

Now Playing: Jimmy Buffett Feeding Frenzy
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, April 17, 2020

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

Blue Öyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper" is kind of an obvious choice for these times, but sometimes you just have to roll with it.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... John Prine.

Now Playing: Sting The Soul Cages
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, April 10, 2020

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

We lost John Prine to COVID-19 this week. Here he is in better times with Bonnie Raitt singing "Angel From Montgomery."

Previously on Friday Night Videos... R.E.M..

Now Playing: Talking Heads The Name of This Band is Talking Heads
Chicken Ranch Central

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

A Moment of Tiki

If this doesn't count as the most ridiculous thing I've ever done, I don't know what does. I've gone and started a YouTube series, "A Moment of Tiki." Goodness knows what I was thinking--I certainly don't have time to launch another project, yet here we are.

Here's the thing: Since I fell down the tiki rabbit hole very hard and very fast three years ago, I've been hard at work building my own tropical paradise in our backyard. Whilst doing so, I've been careful to document my building progress and technique, as evidenced by my build-along posts right here on this very blog. The ideas was that someone new to tiki might not have any idea how to do something, and rather than reinvent the wheel like I've done, they might take some inspiration from my efforts and save a little time and effort. I know I would've appreciated a bit more "how-to" than I was able to fine online when I was starting out. David Phantomatic of the Marooned Texas Tiki Podcast encouraged me to launch my own podcast devoted to tiki bar builds. I wasn't sure what good that would do anyone, as it's hard to convey a build technique through audio alone. But through the magic of YouTube, with its moving pictures and other chicanery, it might be possible to convey those same techniques. I listen to the Wood Talk podcast, and each of the hosts have their own video series where they do just that with various workshop projects. The idea is for me to replicate that, in a very small, and very niche way, with "A Moment of Tiki." Plus, there are cocktails.

The first two episodes are live now. I plan to launch a new episode every Monday through the end of April, then shift to a monthly schedule thereafter. If you could find it in your heart to mosey on over and give my videos a like, a kind comment or even gasp subscribe, I'd be grateful.

Now Playing: John Prine German Afternoon
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, April 03, 2020

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

I've done this one before, but if now's not the time to revisit "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" then I don't know what is.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Cheap Trick.

Now Playing:
Chicken Ranch Central

Friday, March 27, 2020

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

I've been going in to work at the university this week, and due to coronavirus work-from home policies, I think this might be one of the safest places in the U.S. now. The place is empty and parking is plentiful. It's so deserted that it reminded me of the Cheap Trick song, "Ghost Town." It's pretty much been running through my head all day, and now it can run through yours.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... Lake Street Dive.

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Chicken Ranch Central

Chicken Ranch anniversary: Aunt Jessie (1885-1952)

La Grange Yellow Pages phone book, 1958
On this date in 1952, Fay Stewart, otherwise known as Jessie Williams or simply "Aunt Jessie," passed away at the age of 67 in San Antonio, just a couple of months after selling the infamous Chicken Ranch brothel in La Grange to Edna Milton. Her sister-in-law, Eddie Ledda Moody, traveled from McLennan County to oversee Miss Jessie’s burial in Sunset Memorial Park.

Fay Stewart’s parents came from Georgia, moving to Waco well before she was born. The family lived for years on Franklin Street. In my book, I reported that the family struggled after Stewart’s father died unexpectedly in 1886. A local history buff in Waco has done some excellent research on that, and it seems the death of Stewart's father is the result of a census error in 1890. In fact, he outlived his wife who passed away in the 1890s before remarrying around the turn of the century. Information is sketchy after that, but circumstantial evidence would indicate Fay and her new stepmother did not get along well. By 1910, Fay’d moved to Austin and assumed the alias of Jessie Williams, as was customary for women in the sex trade intent on protecting their families’ reputations.

Inside the Texas Chicken Ranch: The Definitive Account of the Best Little Whorehouse is available from both and It's also available as an ebook in the following formats: Kindle, Nook, Google Play, iBooks and Kobo.

Now Playing: Servio Mendes and Bossa Rio Você Ainda Não Ouviu Nada!
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Monday, March 23, 2020

Tiki build-along, pt. 27

These tiki bar build-along posts may look pretty linear once I get them up, but you folks have no idea how convoluted and disorganized the process actually is on my end. Take today's entry, the Kakamoras. If you're into tiki, Disney animation or both, you've likely seen the 2016 film steeped in Polynesian mythology multiple times. In addition to some pretty great music, a solid story and excellent voice acting, the film had a number of dazzling, stand-out action sequences. The first of these was the attack of the Kakamoras. Described by Maui as "Murderous little pirates," the Kakamoras are tiny mythological creatures who wear painted coconut shells as armor. They're insanely cute, and as funny as they are vicious. When I saw them, I immediately thought Disney had a license to print money if they offered them as toys. Astonishingly, Disney did not. Oh, they put out a few diminutive PVC figures an inch or so high, but I expected them to manufacture, well, coconut-sized versions. Disney never did, that I'm aware of.

An incredibly talented ceramicist known as Tiki Robb made some spectacular Kakamora tiki mugs, but alas, $400-500 was too rich for my blood. To fill the Lagoon of Mystery with Kakamoras, I'd have to come up with a more cost-effective method. It didn't take me long to come up with the brainstorm of using real coconuts to depict the coconut pirates! Hey, I never promised you genius. I went to the store--several stores, actually--and gathered unto myself an array of coconuts to transform. I drilled holes in their ends to drain out the coconut water inside, sketched an oval face pattern on the hirsut shell, and used a high-speed cutting bit (the cylindrical kind) with my Dremel to grind it flat. Then I replaced the cutter with a sanding bit to smooth the rough cut out. This can also be accomplished with sandpaper and elbow grease, but if you have the power tools available, it saves a lot of time. All of this, I began in September 2018. Today is March 23, 2020. You do the math.

At this point, I had three coconuts ready to experiment on. Note that coconuts come in different forms. The two on the flanks are smaller, egg-shaped coconuts that I learned are a bit easier to work with for reasons I'll get into eventually. The larger, onion-shaped one in the middle is impressive, but more difficult to balance. It's shape also dictated more of a horizontal face area. I got each type from a different supermarket chain. I've not been able to determine if these different types of coconuts have distinct names, but it seems produce suppliers carry one or the other, not both. I've also seen "young, green" coconuts for sale, but these are mostly white and have had the bulk of their husk cut away, so they have an angular, trimmed look to them. I doubt they'd make very good Kakamoras, but if anyone's game to try it, let me know how yours turns out.

Next, I applied a base coat of white paint on the face area. I went with acrylic paint because 1) it's cheap and 2) being water-based, it's very easy to clean up. I see no reason why enamel or oil paints wouldn't work if you're more comfortable using those.

Next, I added a tan topcoat to two of the coconuts. This more closely matched the look of the Kakamoras from the film. The third I left white, so as to more closely match the look of one specific Kakamora from the film.

At this point, I looked at a whole bunch of different Kakamoras online and in the film (we've got it on DVD) and used a pencil to sketch out facial designs that I'd finish out with paint. When I first told my family of my Kakamora plan, my kids insisted I do a Baymax (from Big Hero 6), as he has a brief cameo as a Kakamora. Fine. Baymax would be simple enough to do. He could be my prototype, proof-of-concept.

I also decided to inject a bit of color into my Kakamora. In the film, the primary warpaint they use is red. For mine, I'd render them in different colors. Blue is the first I did, and I was quite pleased with the results.

Next came Baymax, which as I suspected, was very simple. The challenge was to get the eyes and connecting line in proper proportion. I think I got pretty close.

The big one I decided to do in red. Because it's the big one.

Then it came time to do the limbs, and do you want to know why it took me a year-and-a-half from when I started this project to when I finished (a few) of them? The limbs, that's why. I have no sculpting background. I played with Play-Doh as a kid, but that's it. I never tried to make something that served a purpose, and was meant to endure. I also got the idea that since I was doing different paint colors for the Kakamora faces, I would match that color with the limbs. I researched and discovered polymer clay, specifically Sculpey. The first few packets I got for Baymax were white Sculpey III, because what did I know? A lot. Turns out, Sculpey III is very soft and doesn't hold detail well. Poor Baymax's legs and arms were mashed back into balls time and again as my frustration grew. I set the stuff away for an extended period before picking it up again. Finally, I got one leg I found somewhat tolerable. In the film, the Kakamora have stubby toes and fingers. That kinda goes with the whole cute thing. Since my Kakamora would be free-standing and not animated, they had to be more substantial and balance-maintaining, so I elongated and splayed the toes. As for the arms and hands, let's just say I suck at sculpting hands just about as much as I do at drawing them. Then I baked them according to instructions. Note that Sculpey III singes easily, and my white arms and feet came out with a toasted look. To attach the limbs to the coconut, I picked up 1" hanger bolts. My idea was to secure the flat bolt end in the limb, then screw the pointed wood screw end into the coconut. That failed miserably. Once the screw is embedded in the limb, it becomes very awkward to work with, and it's impossible to apply serious force to screw it into the hard wood of the coconut. This is why we work with prototypes.

For the blue Kakamora I took lessons learned and applied them to an improved method of limb manufacture and attachment. The toes I made stubbier and attached three more closely together on each foot, with the fourth toe separated for added balance. I drilled pilot holes into the coconut and screwed in the hanger bolts first, then pressed the still-soft limbs into position so the attachment points would be established prior to baking.

Oh, I also switched to using Sculpey Premo, which, while slightly more costly, is a much firmer clay that holds its shape and detail better. It's not a fingerprint magnet. I found it much easier to work with. I used the tip of a burnishing tool to make indentations in the end of each toe, then took some of the blue Premo and mixed it with some of the white Sculpey III to get a light blue clay that I pinched into place to make distinctive toenails. It's the little details that count, after all.

Then I baked the limbs at 275F for twice as long as I baked the Sculpey III, and guess what? No scorching. The Premo takes heat a lot better than the softer stuff. I also tried something with the hands, which you'll see in just a bit.

Now, we switch to Big Red's limbs, fresh out of the oven, because I forgot to photograph the next steps with Blue or Baymax. Note that prior to inserting into the oven, I use a small, cheap acid brush (available from hardware or big box home improvement stores) to brush down each clay arm and leg with rubbing alcohol. The alcohol acts as a mild solvent, smoothing out little imperfections, fingerprints, etc. It doesn't take much to smoothing things out, and at the same time household rubbing alcohol isn't strong enough to do real damage if you overdo it.

After the initial failure with Baymax, the reverse approach to attaching limbs--that is, inserting the hanger bolts into the coconut and then attaching the limbs--proved to be the right way to go. I found that even the Premo shrinks and deforms slightly when baked, so the socket hole needs to be drilled out a bit to more easily accommodate the hanger bolt. In fact, as I'm using epoxy to secure the limb to the bolt, a snug fit would be detrimental.

I use a shard of bamboo to mix and apply the epoxy to the socket hole. I used JB Weld fast-setting epoxy, and have had good results with it. Slower setting epoxies may be stronger and allow for repositioning and longer working times, but my concern with the Kakamora is getting their limbs stabilized as quickly as possible. The fast-setting epoxy sets in 6 minutes, curing within 4 hours. I don't want to have to hold the arm in place for 20 minutes, only to come back an hour later to find that it's pulled away and hardened in an awkward position. Note that you really want to mix equal proportions of epoxy and hardener. Get too much of either component in the mix, and the resulting stuff is rubbery and easily broken. Ask me how I know.

Once a liberal amount of epoxy mix is applied into and around the socket, press into position over the anchoring hanger bolt.

Hold in place for six minutes, or however long your epoxy of choice takes to sit. After that, allow to fully cure before handling.

I also started using brown Sculpey III, with a bit of leftover white Sculpey III, to create various weapons for the Kakamora. Once I have the various blades/spear points shaped the way I want them, I insert the tip of a bamboo skewer into the side then build up the interface with additional Sculpey. Then I bake. For the "shark teeth" effect, I roll out a long string of white Sculpey then attach around the perimiter of the blade, pinching it into position. After that, I use and Xacto knife to cut out triangle wedges, leaving the "teeth" in place. This looks kind of dark here because it's Sculpey III and, as usual, I overcooked it.

And here's the finished versions. Baymax turned out okay, although I had to repaint his arms and legs white because they looked like toasted marshmallows. He's not perfect, but he served his purporse as a proof-of-concept.

Blue turned out quite nicely, I think. His spear is an effective touch that's simultaneously fierce and amusing. The hands differ wildly in size, and are on the wrong arms, but hey, I won't tell anyone if you don't.

Here's a little something I saved for the end: When I started this project, I bought extra coconuts for each member of my family. They all loved Moana and I thought they'd enjoy decorating their own custom Kakamora. Some were more enthusiastic than others. The Wife, to nobody's surprise, painted a kitty cat's face on her Kakamora. A pink cat face. After some thought, I just went with it, giving it four pink cat legs and a tail. Having struggled with hands and feet, I quickly figured out the best way to make cat paws was to carve toes into a flattened disc of clay, adding claws after the fact (again, I mixed the pink Premo with leftover white Sculpey III to get that lighter shade of pink).

Then I put Big Red together with his serrated ax things. In hindsight, I should've made the blades bigger. Remember, Kakamora are small and cartoonish, so the more oversized the weapon, the better the effect. Also, that seashell on his head is only a placeholder I pulled out out of our yard. At some point I'll replace it with a larger, more colorful specimin.

In conclusion, making your own Kakamora is a fairly easy thing to do, albeit a time-consuming one. The third set of limbs I made were far easier to do than the first two--this really is where practice does accelerate the learning curve substantially. I will also caution readers that because I wanted to keep the coconuts mostly intact, I drained them by drilling three holes in the three pores on the end. I did not open it further, which made extraction of the meat impossible. Over the ensuing year, this decayed inside the coconut shell, and black, sooty material drained from the holes on occasion. Now that my older Kakamora have fully dried out (they're way lighter than fresher ones I've started) I'll probably plug those holes to contain the minor, yet persistent mess. Also, check any coconuts you intend to turn into Kakamoras for cracks. I had one with a hairline crack I discovered when I drained it. By the time I started trying to grind the face, that crack had grown into several deep fissures that made the shell unusuable. Finally, if nothing else, my experiences in hand-crafting Kakamoras should show that this is a platform for fun, self-expression. Maybe you want to copy a favorite Kakamora design from the film. That's great--I've taken cues from the film for several of mine, but at the same time, put my own spin on those interpretations. And others, like The Wife's pink Kakamora cat, deviate wildly from anything seen in the film. I'm going to leave you with one final Kakamora-in-progress, which I started last week. It pays homage to the movie whilst simultaneously mashing up two of the most popular characters in a way the filmmakers never intended. I give you Kakamora Hei Hei! The chicken lives!

Now Playing: The Beachcomber Trio Live at Kahiki 1965
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Friday, March 13, 2020

Friday Night Videos

Friday Night Videos

Holy moly! I've never heard of Lake Street Dive before, but their cover of the Kinks' "Lola" is epic! It's just what I needed to hear today.

Previously on Friday Night Videos... The Dixie Chicks.

Now Playing: Tikiyaki Orchestra Aloha Baby
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Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Tiki build-along, pt. 26

Ask any tiki bar enthusiast what's the most important element of a good tiki bar--be it home or public--and you'll likely get a wide range of answers, anywhere from quality of the cocktails served to the ratio of Tikis Per Square Yard (aka the TiPSY factor). One element that's likely to be in anyone's top 5, however, is lighting. Tikiphiles obsess over lighting, and I'll admit I'm no different with the Lagoon of Mystery. Since the overarching theme for my home bar is that of a tropical lagoon paradise, my lighting had to follow that theme. I had already painted the ceiling blue, with silhouettes of sea creatures to create the illusion of being underwater. How could I further enhance that illusion? Well, if you've been keeping score at home, you'll know I picked up some LED water ripple projector lights online and have been plugging them in to shine blue waves on the ceiling. It's a fantastic effect, but my ad-hoc setup needed a permanent solution. I couldn't keep running extension cords throughout the lounge. Enter the previous homeowner's electrical work. See that bank of four light switches below? They're inside the house, and control the ceiling fans and various outdoor lights. Well, three of them do. The third switch from the left, we never could figure out what it controlled, and the previous owners left no instructions.

Me, being the curious person that I am, dismantled the switches and then climbed into the attic, intent on solving the mystery of the useless switch. I located the wire attached to it, and traced all the way back through the attic, over the garage and into The Wife's photo studio, where there's a second breaker box. I have to point out at this point that although I performed this particular bit of detective work in October, it was not particularly cool, even by Texas standards. I lost approximately five pounds in body weight each time I ventured up.

Lo, and behold, the wire ended at the breaker box, but did not connect to any particular breaker. It must have at one time, but an addition or remodel at some point rendered the switch moot, so they just disconnected and let hang. This suited my purposes just fine. I'm not a master electrician by any means, but I've done basic wiring, and since the breaker box had plenty of slots to spare, I installed a new breaker switch and connected the wayward wire. The previously dead switch would now be solely devoted to lights in the Lagoon of Mystery. Since the LEDs I'm using draw only a tiny fraction of the amperage incandescent bulbs do, a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation showed that I'd run out of physical space to put new lighting long before I ran out of circuit capacity. Cool!

My plan all along was to somehow hardwire my LED wave projectors, and now it was time to put that plan into action. I cut the plug off each lamp, then stripped the insulation to expose the copper wire. I did the same with the new extension cord as well (it's not an extension cord, but the cord serves to extend the wire... oh, nevermind).

Once the wire was spliced together, I sealed the splice from the elements with multiple layers of heat-shrink insulation sleeves. I'd never worked with this stuff before, but it didn't take long to get the hang of it. Now, the whole cord was protected from the elements. I have to disclose here that neither the LED projectors nor their cords are outdoor rated. I'd prefer something a bit more weather sealed, but that doesn't exist--at least not in the sub-$100 a pop range. Fortunately, the Lagoon occupies a covered outdoor patio that protects the lighting from the elements, and bamboo sheaths the wiring, so UV damage is of little concern. It's not an ideal situation, but it's working well so far.

Well, things were going a bit too easy for me. The LED projectors I'd been using? I only had three, and needed five more to fully illuminate the length of the ceiling. Unfortunately, in the year that passed since I purchased the first ones, the entire line had been discontinued. Seriously. They were replaced by an "improved" version that had a remote speed control instead of an analog dial (there were only three settings on the new version, all far faster than what I wanted). Even worse, the new lights were DC powered, and came with an adapter plug, meaning I couldn't actually hardwire them! Arrgh! Thus I embarked on a spree of buying random LED projectors to see if I could find a replacement. I ordered one from AliExpress that was identical in all ways to my original, save that it only projected blue light. Eureka! This was my solution... except, when I got it and plugged it in, the light projected was purple, not blue. A replacement confirmed that the light was definitely purple. Another potential replacement projected a pattern that looked more like smoke than anything else. Finally, after a couple of months on this Quixotic quest, I settled on the bubble-looking projectors below. They weren't a perfect match for what I had previously, but the light color was very close, as was the ripple pattern. Yay!

Back up into the attic I went, installing junction boxes and tying in the new lights with pigtail splices. Electricity's not something to take lightly, so make sure the breaker's off when doing this kind of work. And make sure you know what you're doing. I was doing a straight run with nothing complicated involved, so as long as I took it slow and double-checked my work, nothing was in danger of going awry.

Once all the splices were completed, I closed up the junction box and nailed down all the power cables. If you're interested in the DIY approach, there are quite a few good home electrical books on the market. I've always used the Stanley Guide to Complete Wiring, but I'm sure there are more up-to-date books available now. Youtube is also a good source in a pinch, but, as with all things, caveat emptor. If you're not comfortable doing your own wiring, hire a professional (I know my limits--when it cam time to install the mini split air conditioner in the photo studio, I didn't even pretend I could install it myself).

Next, I had to mount the LED projectors. I took a pine board and cut it into 4" lengths. After staining (Minwax Special Walnut!) I drilled out the center and inserted a brass screw, which I then epoxied into place. After that, I screwed the mount into place on the wall.

Then I installed the projector, using washers and a nut to secure it to the epoxied screw. Tightening or loosening the nut allows me to reposition the light for most effective projection angle. I'm very happy with how it turned out.

But since I was hardwiring the Lagoon lighting, I had another long-planned project to tackle at the same time. Over the course of two Halloweens (never let it be said that I don't play the long game) I cleaned out local stores when they put their plastic skulls on clearance. Fortunately, they all got their skulls from the same supplier, so they matched. Yes, there are better-quality, more realistic skulls on the market, but I paid on average $2.50 for each. When you need close to 40 (that's a guess--I lost count long ago) budget becomes an issue.

On occasion, I've poor-mouthed Pilikia, the first tiki bar I ever visited. That criticism is well-deserved. They had some good decor, however, and one thing that stuck with me was their wall of golden skulls. It had a aura of Indiana Jones, Lost World, mysterious civilization about it. I liked it, and when it came to decorating that ceiling beam bisecting the ceiling of the Lagoon, I wanted my own wall of skulls. Later, I realized 3 Dots and a Dash in Chicago had a big skull motif as well, and Hugman's Oasis in San Antonio is going to have skulls out the wazoo. But I built my wall of golden skulls without knowing about any of those.

Not content to just spray paint them, I wanted to add some individual character to them, so using my trusty Dremel, I cut out random teeth from the lower jaws. This was fun, and I varied up the patterns considerably. Some have all of their teeth, but many have a patchwork of choppers.

I also used two different shades of gold spray paint, for additional variety. The finished product looked pretty good.

Alas, "pretty good" was not good enough for me. So I hit upon another idea. First, I applied epoxy to the eye sockets.

Then I inserted plastic gemstones. I'm very happy with how this turned out. The gems and golden skulls just seem to go together. There's an element of the Goonies and pirate treasure, but the real inspiration came from the 1977 Disney animated film, The Rescuers. Remember that big gem in the skull? I also love the Three Investigators novel, Mystery of the Fiery Eye when I was much, much younger. All those childhood influences are coming out now. I coated the plastic gems with UV blocker to protect from ultraviolet degradation. I'm not sure how effective that will prove to be, but the gems are super-cheap and easily replaced.

I ended up with a bunch of skulls. I epoxied an eye ring to the back of the head, and they were ready for mounting.

The LED lighting strips I had all came with DC converter plugs, so I hand to install a wall socket in the attic, then run the cord through the ceiling. That wasn't too difficult. I hid the LED control box behind one of the speakers. The LED strip had worthless "adhesive backing" so I ended up duct taping the strip to the beam. I had enough strip to run it from one end of the beam to the other, and back again.

I installed a great many vinyl-covered cup hooks upon which to hang the skulls. Remember my mentioning the eye rings on the back of each one? There you go.

And there we have it, the bank of skulls looking down. There were a few gaps once all was said and done, so I painted a few miniature skulls gold and placed them in the gaps. I'd love to add golden monkey skulls, but I haven't found any cheap enough to be viable.

But this build-along was supposed to be about lighting, right? Where are the lights? Here you go. This is what the skulls look like, as the backlighting LED strip is changing colors throughout the evening.

Here's teh effect the ripple light projectors create on the ceiling.

And here's the ripple lights interacting with the tapa light covers I made for the ceiling fans.

Finally, remember that rattan aquarium I acquired last year? I even ran a wire to it, and installed one of those LED projector lights that didn't work for the ceiling. After adding some gravel, tiki mugs, fake crawfish and silicone jellyfish, the entire setup look surprisingly close to a real, live aquarium.

Now Playing: Arthur Lyman Leis of Jazz
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