Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Woodcarver

He has the eyes of an eagle, the hands of a surgeon and the feisty wit of a “Seinfeld.” He is Lancaster County woodcarver Thomas David Grassel and he is a good deal more.  During the course of my forays, collecting, buying and selling antiques and collectibles, I spend a lot of time in Pennsylvania Dutch Country at farm sales, estate sales, auctions and markets.  Along the way I encounter many interesting folks I’d like to introduce you to one of whom is Mr. Grassel of Conestoga, PA.  

Mr. Grassel has farmed where he’s lived for about 50 years, raising corn, hay and with mule teams, tobacco. He has also owned and operated a very successful paving company. About ten years ago a friend, who was a good wood carver, got Grassel interested in carving figures.  His first piece was a large Conestoga wagon complete with a team of six mules. Pieces like that one today carry price tags in the neighborhood of $3,500.00.  He’s also done a collection of family members, friends and neighbors.  “I always liked old people,” he remarked recently, “and enjoyed carving their likenesses.”  Grassel donated 16 of his carvings to the nearby Conestoga-area Historical Society for a “Down on the Farm” exhibit.

A train enthusiast Mr. Grassel has embedded a winding loop of train tracks on his property on which he and his grandkids ride scaled-down railroad cars.

Mr. Grassel turns 73 next December and is starting to wind down his carving and collecting activities.  A recent on-site auction featured dozens of the oil and kerosene lamps he has collected over the years along with railroad lanterns, fine china and many of his carved figures.  The sale was very well attended by family, friends and neighbors so there were few opportunities for outsiders to successfully bid on his wood work. But seeing them all in one place at one time was in itself rewarding.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

More Random Observations

            For your pondering pleasure please consider this batch of my Random Observations.
            All is right in the golfing world.  Tiger Woods has won a tournament.  He hadn’t won in more than two years.  And now it’s on to The Masters.  I never watched golf on TV until Tiger happened along.  I’ll be watching The Masters and rooting for Tiger.  With all of his personal faults he’s still one of the greatest athletes of all time. Worth watching.
            I have read in the business pages that auto sales will lead the way back to America’s economic recovery. Hooray. we need to see or hear a car commercial on TV and radio every two seconds? Sheesh.
            A recent poll revealed that more Americans than ever think poorly of our effort in Afghanistan. What the hell took so long?  Although If I had the opportunity I might become an Afghani warlord, with a private militia, large poppy fields, and millions in extorted America dollars.  I mean it’s worked so far for Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Jalaluddin Haqqani, Abdul Rashid Dostum, Matiullah Khan and Mohammed Fahim and Karim Khalili, former warlords now serving as vice presidents in President Karzai’s cabinet.   You could look it up.  I might have to change my name to something like Careen Offa DaCurve.  Uh oh.  Does this thought mark me as a subversive?
            Some time ago I left a phone message for John Myer, a senior editor of the AAA magazine AAA World.  An ad extolling the virtues of booking your travel with AAA showed a couple walking hand-in-hand on a lovely beach towards the water.  Left behind on the sand were a floral lei, two pair of flip-flops and a US Passport.  I wondered in this day and age of identity theft how someone could show a passport left lying in the sand.  I never heard back from Mr. Myer.
            I still do want to give President Obama a pair of flip-flops for his birthday. He changes “official” positions more frequently than the author of the Kama Sutra.

Thursday, March 8, 2012


Every day there are examples of things once held as constants being reworked, refined and tweaked which is why I decided to call my Blog Tweak This.  I had thought of calling it by an expression I often use when I hear an incredible story. I would say That’s The Best One Yet.  Well Tweak This will stand but here follows a news item that clearly falls into my Best One Yet category.           
I frequently come across a news item that I want to share with you but by the time I do you’ve likely heard about it already. Because I find “news items” special I choose to share them regardless of their possibly being a bit stale.
            McDonald’s recently had to pull a radio commercial and issue an apology after the commercial said that eating its new chicken bites was safer than petting a pit bull.  That of course pissed off pit bull owners who got on McDonald’s case prompting the apology. When it comes to political correctness THAT’S THE BEST ONE YET! What do the dog owners mean, that petting a pit bull is safer than eating a chicken bite? You’ve got to be *#$@%^&* me. Shame on McDonald’s for succumbing.  The assertion that petting a pit bull is not all that safe could be taken as humorous or…TRUE.
            On another note, almost every day we encounter folks who are as aptly named for their professional endeavors as can be.  This case in point comes from a news story that the U.S. Constitution appears to be losing its appeal as a model for constitutional drafters elsewhere. That’s according to a new study co-authored by a Washington University professor named David S. Law.
            I have to research whether there’s ever been a piece of legislation passed designed to quell civil disorders and whether it might have been authored by and named for a legislator named Riot so that when the law had to be invoked guilty parties could be read the Riot Act.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Mystery Ingredients

            Why do you eat mystery food?  What the hell is the matter with you?  I like to check out my food.  I occasionally enjoy eating a bowl of alphabet soup and trying to see whether the entire alphabet is in there.  I just heard a radio commercial for a 15-bean soup and will try that to see if there are indeed 15 beans in the soup and then trying to identify them.  I enjoy checking out my food which leads me to wonder why so many consumers and diners are so accepting of “secret ingredients.” The 15-bean soup I mentioned is supposed to contain “secret spices” some of which date back to Marco Polo.  But what are they? Oh, those are trade secrets.  Too bad.
 I’ve blogged that I’m a fan of cable TV’s Food Network and The Travel Channel which feature chefs and cooks from around the World.  BBQ is big on many of the programs aired and whether it’s ribs, brisket, chicken, pulled pork, whatever, the food is coated before cooking with “secret rubs,” “magic cooking dust,” and other proprietary secret savory spices the exact definition of which are secret.  These days we seek, we demand more nutritional and caloric information on packages and cans and restaurant menus. We want to know if chickens and beef steers are grass fed, free range, if fish are wild or farm raised and are from sustainable stocks and so forth.  Why then do we allow ourselves to be kept in the dark about mystery ingredients?  Why do we just take the chef/cook’s word that these ingredients are special though they can’t be revealed?
            I’ve had it.  Enough is enough.  If I can’t learn what goes into making the dish I’m considering ordering then I’m not ordering it. If I want mystery I’ll read Agatha Christie not a menu.

Monday, January 23, 2012

A Quirky Auction

            In writing the weekly Auctions and Antiques column in the Philadelphia Daily News I became familiar with numerous auctions throughout the Region.  I never encountered Brown Brothers of Buckingham, PA until I recently perused AuctionZip, an online service which previews area auctions each week. 
            I found the Brown Brothers listing for their January 21st sale particularly intriguing for several reasons.  The listing read: Who are we? Where did we come from? Have we developed linearly from cave man to contemporary man, as we have been taught, each generation building on the next? Or are we part of vast millenial cycles, advanced civilizations rising and falling beneath tectonic plates, fire and brimstone, forcing us back into caves until our metaphorical rebirth. The circle repeating itself over and over, as cyclical as the Great Precessional Year itself.
Scholarship has yielded many clues holding us in fascination. Hieroglyphic tombs from Egypt, cuneiform tablets from Babylon, the Old Testament, Vedic Sanskrit, Homer, Herodotus, Orion, Stonehenge, Giza, Machu Picchu, Minoa, Atlantis, all tidbits, jigsaw pieces in a vast game of discovery. Perhaps we should add one more - maps. From these ancient sources much knowledge can be deciphered. This week we touch cartography, although not from antiquity, most certainly in a world most familiar to us...
continued at Brown Bros.
            This philosophical approach to promoting an auction was unusual to say the least. I thought it was at least worth investing a phone call to learn more.  Alas I can’t tell you more because when I called to speak to “Mr. Brown” (I don’t know how many Brown Brothers there are) he relayed through a subordinate that he was too busy to come to the phone to discuss his auction.
            In my experience most auctioneers are accommodating, hospitable and eager to be informative about their sales.  Then there are those who are just plain quirky and apparently comfortable dwelling in caves. Brown Brothers Auction is not one I’d care to attend anytime soon.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Random Thoughts

            Random thoughts.  We are inundated daily with commercial messages from all sorts of media. Some I really admire for their tenacity and ingenuity and wish I had thought to create and implement them.
My TV viewing one recent evening consisted of watching Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, American Pickers and some of the All-State college football championship game which featured several field goals which in turn necessitated the raising of a net behind the goal posts to catch the ball and it was only after the third or fourth field goal that I realized someone had come up with a brilliant marketing ploy which I envied…the net had been commercially branded as the All-State Insurance Net. As a marketing, advertising and public relations veteran I have helped clients brand lots of places and things and have diligently observed the work of other professionals in the ever expanding quest to display company names in prominent positions but branding the goal post net was new territory for me. I think it was only because the game was lousy and featured so many field goals that I noticed the net but I applaud the marketer who dreamed that up.
            I am an avid viewer of cable TV cooking shows, travel shows, antiques shows, hog hunter shows and storage locker auction shows among others.  One successful show seems to spawn a copycat overnight.  A new show debuting at the end of the month, for the moment in a category of its own, will be devoted to jousting. I can’t wait to see how many other such competitive combat programs will follow.
            We’ve all likely heard about it, perhaps experienced it ourselves.  You do a load of laundry, put it in the clothes dryer and when the load is done a sock is missing.  Where did it go?  What happened to it?  It’s a mystery.
            In an attempt to make my blog more interactive I seek your support in solving this and other “mysteries.”  What happened to that sock? 
What’s with the way toilet paper is dispensed?  Some people dispense it from over-the-top and some from under the roll.  Each seems dedicated and committed to their approach, but what does it mean? It’s a mystery.
Unlike some I’ve never had a problem pulling myself up by my boot straps.  My problem is with my work boot laces.  They start out even but somehow over time one lace becomes longer than the other.  How does this happen?  Why does this happen?  I apply pressure evenly when I tighten them and yet over time one lace becomes longer than the other making tying them a challenge.  Any ideas readers as to why this mysteriously occurs?
I’m pretty much a creature of routine.  I set my shower head in a particular position and yet when taking subsequent showers I find that the head has moved. How did that happen?  It’s a mystery.
On Who Wants to be a Millionaire contestants are able to reach out to a friend or colleague for assistance in answering a question. While mine are not million-dollar questions they are perplexing all the same.  Help solve them for me and earn not a million dollars but my ever-lasting thanks.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Believe It or Not

            I never thought I would ever experience anything to rival the exploits of Robert LeRoy Ripley.

According to Wikipedia, Ripley, who was born on Christmas Day in 1890 and died of a heart attack in 1949, was an American cartoonist, entrepreneur and amateur anthropologist, who created the world famous Ripley’s Believe It or Not! newspaper panel series, radio show, television show and museums which feature odd 'facts' from around the world.
“Subjects covered in Ripley's cartoons and text ranged from sports feats to little known facts about unusual and exotic sites, but what ensured the concept's popularity may have been that Ripley also included items submitted by readers, who supplied photographs of a wide variety of small town American trivia, ranging from unusually shaped vegetables to oddly marked domestic animals, all documented by photographs and then depicted by Ripley's drawings.”
My “Ripley” experience followed an occurrence in Center City Philadelphia in mid-October of this year.  I put a quarter in a parking meter but no time registered so I put another quarter in and again no time registered.  I then put a bag over the meter to indicate it was out-of-order.  When I returned to my vehicle I found a $36.00 ticket on the windshield for “parking overtime.”  I encountered a meter man as I drove away and he told me that I could not put a bag over a meter but that I could call the phone number on the ticket to complain about the alleged broken meter which I did.  My call initiated an “investigation” by the City’s Parking Violation Branch.
Less than a month later I received a form letter from the Parking Violation Branch which said “Our investigation has found your complaint to be accurate and valid and, therefore, the ticket has been administratively cancelled.” Believe It or Not.
What is likely more believable is my continuing travail with the Parking Violation Branch about another ticket I received for not feeding a Philadelphia meter the day after a major snow storm at the end of this past January, that is January, 2011. The meter was buried in mounded snow and was unreachable. Repeated phone calls and correspondence have resulted in my winning a hearing on the matter, now scheduled for February 21, 2012. Believe It or Not.