So, you’re buying someone (or yourself) a first guitar?


I’m in a lot of guitar-related Facebook groups. I’m probably in a lot more guitar -related (and general music-related) Facebook groups that ought to be allowed. I see a lot of talk about guitars, and a lot of opinions about guitars. People are very strong and vocal about their opinions. (Did you see the guitar bingo cards?)

One post I see quite often is someone who is buying a guitar for their kid, or even one for themselves. It usually contains no details or insight and boils down to “I am buying my kid a guitar, what should I get?” or “I want to try playing guitar, what is the best one to buy?”

The responses come in swiftly and are predictably all over the place. Guitarists who frequent guitar-related Facebook groups are a wild bunch. It’s hard to get a good feel when advice is all over the place.

I am certainly no guitar expert. Hell, I’m not even that great of a player. Ha ha. I have, however, played a very large variety of guitars over the years. I happen to own a wide variety of guitars and am a bottom-feeder of sorts… All of which I feel plays well into qualifying me to dole out advice on the matter of a starter guitar.

First Guitar & Gift Guitar Purchase Guide

First, you need to ask yourself some questions. We need more to go one than “Which guitar should I buy?”

  • What’s your budget?
  • What kind of music do you listen to?
  • What guitarists (or musicians, bands, artists) do you enjoy?
  • What would you like to sound like?

If this is a GIFT guitar, this becomes tricky if you want it to remain a surprise. You’ve got to do some homework. If a kid is dreaming he wants and Explorer or a Jaguar and you get him a Stratocaster or an SG, there may be some disappointment or it sitting in the corner for a bit.

What do you see yourself or what does the recipient see themselves playing? What kind of noise is yearning to be made? Get an idea of a shape in mind, maybe even a color… or whatever is there sparking that interest.

Learn the difference between single-coils, humbuckers, and P-90’s. See what the people you want to sound like play.

Don’t rush it.

Look at Facebook Marketplace, OfferUp, ShopGoodwill.com, ebay, Music Go Round, Reverb, Craigslist, etc. See what floats your boat or calls out. Something will catch your attention. Something will call you. Something will pull you. It might not be the exact guitar you want, but it gives you a place to start looking, at styles or brands.

Check local Facebook sale groups too. I help moderate one for my area and it is a FANTASTIC place to get great deals on gear, ask, & answer questions, etc. It’s also all invite-only so it’s relatively drama free.

I’m largely ignoring acoustics, but that may be what you want. They are so versatile and a great place to start learning.

Go to a music store and pour over the stuff. (I know things are different right now with a global Covid-19 pandemic, but I hope they will eventually return to a much more normal state of existence. Please follow the guidelines in a store or if meeting someone to purchase via an online ad.) Play it all. See what feels good.

Soon you’ll have a Pinterest board for beautiful, weird, ugly, and random guitars you find on the internet.

All the references I can think of for name-dropping for guitar players are ancient. But if you want to play like Slash and you get a John Mayer guitar, it’s not going to be as exciting, right?

Get your budget set. I personally stick to cheap guitars and I love them. You can get some really nice guitars for $300. One group I frequent calls anything $500 & under cheap. I can dig that. You can also get some great guitars for $100 if you’re looking in all the right places.

Used gear is a great place to start. Stuff depreciates rapidly. Stores pay pennies on the dollar for value so they’re able to make a profit, so the best bang-for-your-buck may be some sort of local online sale. Although, Music Go Round seems to have reasonable used prices in person.

Avoid any listings online that say “great for beginners” or “great for a first guitar” or “great for kids.” Loosely translated this means “this guitar is a steaming pile of poop.” Usually it has terrible action, won’t hold a tune or even intonate properly, or has some other hidden issues.

If anyone lists something online for free and says “Make an offer” they are the worst kind of person, so just keep scrolling.

Don’t pay over $50 for a used First Act unless it was one that came with a Volkswagen. They were $50 new at Walmart. Some brands with great budget axes can include Squier, Lotus, Hondo, Dean, Hamer, Schecter, Ibanez, New York Pro, Galveston, G&L, Peavy, Epiphone, Kramer, and so many more outside of the ones everyone seems to know like Fender and Gibson. Don’t pay too much attention to the headstock logo though.

I would also probably be wary of new “starter packs” that come with a tiny amp. Do your research & read reviews on that kind of stuff.

Stick to your budget & play everything that you can that resembles what you’re looking at online. You might like a heavy guitar or a light guitar. You might like a wide neck or a skinny neck. You might like a thin neck or a heavy one.

If you want a cheap new guitar and are not concerned with the logo on the headstock, I cannot recommend Agile or SX and Xaviere enough. I hear nothing but good things and they’re just great axes. I have heard mixed reviews on Hard Luck Kings.

Whatever you buy, I suggest, and a I cannot stress this enough, get a pro setup. Find local music shop… preferably from work of mouth or asking locals online. Find someone that recommends a tech or luthier that does great work. This person will ask you questions. Give honest answers. I suggest getting a lighter gauge pack of strings at first. Tell them you want 9’s. I would say $75 for a pro setup and a few bucks for a new pack of strings will make even the rattiest of guitars into beautiful machines. Figure it into your budget if you need to.

If you’re close to Pittsburgh’s southern suburbs, I may even recommend the guy that has polished some of my proverbial turds and made them into rock n’ roll machines.

Amps? Well, amps are whole different animal. There are headphone amps, practice amps, and combo amps. It’s all in the budget/preference mix. Maybe that will need to be another blog post?

You (or the gift recipient) will fall in love with the guitar if you get the right one. Soon you’ll have GAS.

Don’t hesitate to ask me any specific advice here in the comments or with the contact form.

Feel free to add to my advice, or contradict it in the comments!

Ghost Kitchens and Virtual Restaurants need to die.


…Or just be honest.

It’s been a while since I have ranted about food allergies. I know the world is in chaos, especially in the United Sates right now. But, this is exactly the sort of time when stuff like this is overlooked. We’ve already had allergy-warning-label rollbacks since the start of the pandemic, and the COVID-19 vaccine raises true food allergy concerns to me anyway.

Say no to ghost kitchen and virtual restaurant shenanigans. It’s a nightmare for non-disclosure or potential food allergens & cross contamination.

Ghost kitchens scare the shit out of me, as it comes to food allergies and cross-contamination issues.

Say a wing place pops up online and their menu features only chicken wings, fries, and cheese sticks… seems safe for me. But, as a person with severe food allergies… the place could have a full kitchen and share cooking surfaces and/or fryers with shellfish, to which I am highly allergic.

I like to see a restaurant’s full menu. I determine where I may go after looking at menus online. If they’re not showing the full picture, that is a lie to the consumer. It’s even better if they can provide a chart for allergen ingredients or better yet cross-contamination.

I don’t see an added value from deception.

Pasqually’s is just Chuck E. Cheese. Anthony’s Coal-Fired Pizza apparently has a wing place with items that aren’t available in the restaurant? Neighborhood Wings is Applebee’s? American Grilled Cheese Co. is King’s Family Restaurant? (King’s is a potential food-allergy nightmare because of their CONSTANTLY changing menu… and don’t get me started on Applebee’s.)

If any of these places carry something that could be a trigger and it’s not disclosed on BOTH menus, they’re setting themselves up to cause some anaphylaxis.

In general, transparency is the way to go. Just look at your government as a bad example of this.

Evil Deceitful Pasqually

Merry Christmas 2020 – From the Carroll Family!


Our church put out a call for video submissions for the Christmas Eve streaming service. Here is what we contributed.

I threw it together into one video and added some cheesy effects and titles.

This is…

  • The Christmas Carrolls performing “Away in a Manger”
  • Molly reading The First Christmas Night by Keith Christopher
  • Ian doing some prayers on the fly – take 1 & take 2. (We only sent take 2 to the church.)

Check out live & archived videos from the church here: https://www.facebook.com/hillschurchexport/live

The Christmas Carrolls: “Jingle Bells”


The kids & I apparently have a band called the Creepy Kittys. While we haven’t released any official music, we have already successfully completed a minute-long side project. Here’s “Jingle Bells” by The Christmas Carrolls.

We were going to go a more traditional route, but Molly insisted on a bit of punk rock energy. I also wanted to go right into the song, but Ian insisted on an introduction.

I hope you enjoyed this one, maybe I’ll get some more out of them as the holiday approaches!

For you guitar & gear nerds, this featured my acrylic Strat copy with the Green LED’s;

Guest Post | breslesperots


That’s Brussels Sprouts. My oldest is in 2nd grade, and has a journal for what they now call ELA. We called it Writing or English back in the late Triassic when I was in school. Pretty soon I may be up to her writing level. I certainly make about the same amount of spelling and grammar mistakes.

Her journal has some great entries, but I found this amusing and asked if I could share it. Her handwriting looks a lot like mine at that age. The whole thing is just too cute, IMHO.

11-23-20 | My least favite food is breslesperots. The time I tried it was at dinner. I took a bite. My dad said said, how do you like it? I said its discusting! My dad said I was crasy. One of his favite foods are breslsprots. The next time we had the my dad put one on my plate. I put it on his plate. I am relevd we do not have them very often only really on thanks giving. broulsprots are little balls that look like cabig. The worst food ever is braroslsprats.
My second grader’s journal entry about the worst food ever.

The text, as originally written:

11-23-20

My least favite food is breslesperots. The time I tried it was at dinner. I took a bite. My dad said said, how do you like it? I said its discusting! My dad said I was crasy. One of his favite foods are breslsprots. The next time we had the my dad put one on my plate. I put it on his plate. I am relevd we do not have them very often only really on thanks giving. broulsprots are little balls that look like cabig. The worst food ever is braroslsprats.

Here’s my slight correction:

11-23-20

My least favorite food is Brussels sprouts. The time I tried it was at dinner. I took a bite. My dad said said, “How do you like it?” I said it’s disgusting! My dad said I was crazy. One of his favorite foods are Brussels sprouts. The next time we had them, my dad put one on my plate. I put it on his plate. I am relived we do not have them very often, only really on Thanksgiving. Brussels sprouts are little balls that look like cabbage. The worst food ever is Brussels sprouts.

Even though I wholeheartedly disagree, she builds a strong case. I’m anxious to see what the teacher thinks.

So, I made broccoli cheese soup for the first time. 🥦🧀🥣


I’ve made a few different soups before, but never really tackled one with a creamy base. I like my soups pretty simple. I probably used more ingredients here than I needed to. Generally at this point with soups or chili, I just throw a bunch of stuff in a pot and see what happens. I read a few different recipes at the top of a Google search, and went from there. I am really bad at measuring stuff. I just throw in an eyeballed amount.

AiXeLsyD13's Broccoli Cheese Soup
AiXeLsyD13’s Broccoli Cheese Soup | This was my first attempt. It wasn’t bad!

Tools you’ll definitely need:

  • Stock pot
  • Cheese grater
  • Spoon
  • Spatula

Ingredients:

  • 1½ sticks of butter
  • ¾ cup of flour
  • ½ cup of shredded carrots
  • ¼ cup of diced celery
  • ½ Spanish onion
  • 1 Tbsp. minced garlic
  • ½ tsp. ground mustard
  • ½ tsp. paprika
  • ½ tsp. onion powder
  • ½ tsp. garlic powder
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 32 oz. box of chicken stock
  • 32 oz. box of chicken stock
  • 32 oz. box of vegetable broth
  • 2 bundles of fresh broccoli (chopped up into spoon-sized pieces)
  • ¼ cup of bacon pieces
  • 7 oz. block of extra sharp cheddar cheese (grated)
  • 7 oz. block of white cheddar cheese (grated)
  • ½ cup of parmesan cheese
  • 1 lb. block of Velveeta (cut onto small chunks)
  • 2 cup bag of shredded “mac & cheese blend” cheese
  • 1 cup instant mashed potato flakes

Method:

  1. Melt butter on medium heat in the bottom of your stock pot, add celery, carrots, onions, & sautée for a bit.
  2. Mix spices with the flour, add to pot to make a roux and let it get a nice color brown.
  3. Add minced garlic at the end… sometimes it burns easily.
  4. Add 3 boxes of stock, then the buttermilk while it’s still cool to prevent curdling.
  5. Add broccoli & bacon pieces, bring to a boil, simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes.
  6. Turn heat to low, stir in all that cheese.
  7. Add mashed potato flakes to thicken. (I think I poured in a bit more buttermilk in here too.)

Notes:

  • Obviously, you can use your preferred onions, cheeses, stock, etc. You could use heavy cream instead of buttermilk.
  • I would say next time I will make more roux & use one less box of broth for a thicker soup. Maybe a bullion cube would add flavor without the liquid? I could cook it longer to get it thicker too. I like a ridiculously thick soup.
  • I like to use beer in ham soup, I bet it would go great here. Maybe I could sub that & a bullion cube for a box of broth next time?
  • I read that the bagged pre-shredded cheese doesn’t melt as easily, but it seemed to incorporate just as well as the rest of the stuff.

So, that’s it. I would be very interested in your suggestions, tips, tricks, & “secrets” in the comments. Have you tried this recipe? Did you put your spin on it? Let me know in the comments.

I thought about putting this in a bread bowl, but I opted to make my take on ham & cheese oven sandwiches. Maybe I’ll get into baking next time, or just buy some bread bowls pre-made.

🥦🧀🥣

If you liked this recipe, maybe check out these ones:

Gimme a few haiku


It’s important to stay creative and have multiple creative outlets.

Drop me some absurd haiku in the comments.

Easy, Quick, and Delicious – Grilled Chicken Noodle Soup 🥣


The wife & daughter are under the weather so I offered to make some home made chicken-noodle soup. Not much is more of a classic and traditional comfort than chicken-noodle soup, right? Around here, the stuff like Eat ‘n Park serves is a comfort-food staple. I love those style noodles. I make soups slightly differently every time, but this seemed to come together quickly and it was very flavorful. I’d definitely do it this way again.

I posted photos to Facebook & Instagram, & thought I’d share the recipe here too. I like to have leftover soup. Here’s what I posted on social media, maybe slightly edited;

This was the cheater method, but these frozen noodles are awesome. I made A LOT of soup. Ha ha. This could easily be halved.

I started with grilling chicken tenders on the panini grill, added a pretty good amount of “rotisserie chicken” spices. Two competing name brands happened to be in the spice rack, so that’s what I used.

I sautéed some shredded carrots, half a Spanish onion, and some celery stalks in a few pats of butter on the bottom of the stock pot.

Then I added some minced garlic (yes, the stuff from a jar soaked in olive oil because I am lazy), & some fresh parsley from the garden. I didn’t measure any of it.

I also used poultry seasoning, onion powder, garlic powder, white & black pepper, salt, & a shake of cayenne.

I de-glazed a bit with some chicken stock, then added the rest… 2 boxes of chicken stock, 1 box vegetable broth, 1 box low-sodium chicken broth (because vegetable broth usually has a much higher sodium content), 1 box bone broth. I ended up with 3 different name brands… just to get the mix of slightly different liquids.

I have used chicken bullion cubes in the past to save all kinds of money and use beer in my ham soups all the time.

I brought all that to a boil.

I added 2 bags of the frozen Reames egg noodles, the grilled chicken (that I cut up while it was boiling), and brought it back to a boil, simmered for about 20 minutes as per the directions on the noodles.

This almost overflowed my stock pot, but stirring kept it from boil over. Ha ha.

I have used regular dry noodles or Amish noodles, and even home-made noodles… but the Reaves ones really do taste fantastic and require zero work. Ha ha.

I like the taste of the grilled chicken in the soup. I left it just long enough to get grill lines. I have made it from scratch, using rotisserie chicken, made my own broth from a roasted chicken… I’d put this up against any of those methods and it’s super quick.

(Not-even-remotely-a-)Pro tip… For lunch the next day, all the noodles had soaked up all the liquid. Gonna put some chicken bullion cubes in some water in the stock pot, then add the soup to re-heat. It’s honestly good as-is re-heated in a bowl in the microwave.

If you make this, or your own version, tell me what you think in the comments! What are your favorite shortcuts for making tasty chicken noodle soup?

Someday I may try to make this (probably cut in half) in the pressure cooker, if I can get over how it wronged me on chili.

🥣🥣🥣

Stuff you need:

  • Countertop grill
  • Stock pot (and a stove, too I guess.)
  • Tongs
  • Spatula
  • Large Spoon

Ingredients:

  • (2) small packs of chicken breast tenders
  • Extra Virgil Olive Oil (I keep some it in a spray bottle and use it to coat the grill)
  • Rotisserie Chicken Seasoning (or your favorite Season-Salt or Mrs. Dash’s or whatever) – I don’t measure, I just shake it on.
  • (3) pats of butter
  • (1) cup (ish) shredded carrots
  • (1) cup (ish) chopped celery
  • (½) Spanish onion (I think they’re sweeter than sweet onions, but you’re cooking, so use your favorite onion.)
  • (1) tsp. minced garlic (the lil’ stuff from jar, or be difficult & use fresh)
  • Fresh parsley – A small unmeasured & finely chopped bit, I pulled mine from the garden.
  • (2) 24 oz. bags of frozen egg noodles
  • (2) 32 oz. cartons chicken stock
  • (1) 32 oz. carton vegetable broth
  • (1) 32 oz. carton low-sodium chicken broth
  • (1) 32. oz. carton chicken bone broth
  • Spices, I don’t measure any of these… I just shake it in:
    • Salt
    • Black pepper
    • White pepper
    • Poultry seasoning
    • Cayenne
    • Onion powder
    • Garlic Powder

Method:

  1. You just skipped down to the recipe, didn’t you?
  2. I already told you how to make it up top.
  3. Now, you have to go back up & read it.
  4. Or you can click the window closed & go away.
  5. But then, you’ll never know, will you?
  6. You’ll never know how delicious and easy this is.

The Family Decorating Game


For years, I have teased my wife about a habit I have noticed when we are setting out seasonal decorations. It happened at the apartment where we first cohabitated, it happens at our house now. It happened long before our children were in the picture. She cannot leave anything that I put in place stay where I put it. I put it on the left of a shelf, she moves it to the right. I put it on the wall-shelf, she puts it on the Victrola.

I had to go out for work in the afternoon today, but I set the kids on a path of chaos this morning before I left. My daughter was excited to put out fall decorations. I told her to watch because Mommy moves every decoration that I set out. Then a light bulb went off in my head.

I told her to get a white board for herself, and a white board for her brother, and mark down a point every time they set out a decoration and mommy moves it.

The winner gets to move one of the decorations that Mommy places!

Apparently shenanigans ensued while I was at work. I think it will be a new holiday/seasonal event.

Do you have someone in the house that moves decorations?

Do you have any fun decorating traditions?

Let us know in the comments.

Kids, Gardening, & Jalapeños. 👨‍👩‍👧‍👦🌱🌶️


The kids like to garden. They helped plant once again this year, and have been great at watering, upkeep, & harvesting. They really did most of the planting work this year, and are learning about how to keep weeds out and when to pick ripe peppers. (They’re already pretty good at tomatoes.)

Molly & Ian try a jalapeño from the garden! 🌶️

This year, by accident, I picked up a jalapeño plant when shopping at Home Depot. I meant to get 2 each of yellow bell peppers, orange bell peppers, and red bell peppers. I came home with a jalapeno and only one yellow pepper. We also planted some sweet banana peppers.

When I brought it home, Ian was determined to plant it & try some. He was true to his word! Molly & Ian did both try it! I put the video up on YouTube and IGTV.

Decide for yourself if you think they liked it:

I haven’t ever grown hot peppers despite all my years growing tomato, pepper, & a slew of other stuff.

I asked on various social media platforms on how to tell if your jalapeno is ripe and I got a handful of differentiating opinions. I got…

  • When they turn red. (Was told they turn black before they are red.)
  • When they start to get little brown lines/wrinkles.
  • At around 3″ long.
  • At around 6″ to 8″ long.
  • Look at the photo on the plant tag.
  • bury match heads to make them hotter.

So, how do you tell when they’re ripe?


Share your hot pepper ripeness tips & any other tricks below on the comments.

Have an recipes to share too?  I would like to hear your thoughts on gardening, jalapeno peppers, or the video below!

This has been a fun gardening journey.  It is exciting to see them learn about composting, growing food, and then trying it & even cooking with it.  We have had plenty of beautiful snap beans, sweet banana peppers, & a few varieties of cherry tomatoes so far.

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Much #latergram. #GardeningForKids

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#Jalapeño!🌶

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#SweetBananaPeppers!

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