Tuesday, December 22, 2009

I'll Be With My Family This Christmas

I went to my dentist's office, because something is wrong with my mouth. After a brief examination, the dentist exclaims, "Holy Smoke! That plate I installed in your mouth about six months ago has nearly completely corroded! What on earth have you been eating?"

"Well, my Bride made some asparagus about a week ago with Hollandaise sauce and doc, I'm talkin' DELICIOUS! I've never tasted anything like it, and ever since then I've been putting it on everything... meat, cereal, sausage, boudain... you name it!"

"That's probably it. Hollandaise sauce is made with lemon juice, which is acidic and highly corrosive. It seems as thought I'll have to install a new upper plate, but made out of chrome this time." "Why chrome?" I asked.

"Well, everyone knows that there's no plate like chrome for the Hollandaise!"
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While Christmas shopping at the Mall, I came across a long line of people waiting for a promised shipment of dolls from Mattel. As I scanned the line, I noticed my friend and our Mayor, Stephen DonCarlos, waiting with all the others. Knowing that the Mayor had no daughters or young relatives, I figured he must be a Barbie doll collector.
"Mr. Mayor, I didn't know you were a collector!"
"I'm not," he calmly replied.
"Then why are you standing in this long line?"

"Well, I've never been able to resist a Barbie Queue!"
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I have a lot of catching up to do after messing up last Christmas. Last year I was so busy I didn't have time to buy presents for family and friends, so I wrote out checks for all of them to put in their Christmas cards.

In each card I playfully scribbled, "Buy your own danged present!" and then sent them off to the Post Office.

After the Christmas festivities were over, I found the checks under a pile of papers on my desk!

*not a bit of this is totally original, but I am spending time with my family this holiday season, except I'll be at work. Merry Christmas to all!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Greatest Gift - reposted from December 17, 2006

Every day at work, I wash down the bird droppings from the pigeons and dove that nest in my area. I’ve thought about ways to keep them out of the covered areas and really want to do it in a way that isn’t harmful to them. Their droppings are surely a health hazard and I get aggravated when each day, I drag out the water hose to flush it into the Plant sump.

Yesterday, I saw a pigeon all fluffed up, sitting on the ground and I instinctively knew it was sick. Instead of feeling justified, I felt nothing but pity. Under my breath I whispered a short prayer for its recovery. I guess I’m getting old, or mellow, or something. In my earlier days, I wouldn’t have given the poor bird much thought, as sad as that sounds.

Each day in the media and the online forums, the war in Iraq and Afghanistan is tossed back and forth with a detachment that is as bad as my former aloofness concerning sick birds. We complain about the war and the way it’s being handled and all the while "our boys" are in the thick of it, facing another Christmas away from home.

We want it to go away, so we can resume our lives, shop for Christmas and attend a joyous New Years party. I truly wish it would go away and we could experience peace on earth and good will to all men.

The troops in Iraq and other war zones occasionally have access to the Internet and most of them have a MySpace account. Being the techno-geek guy that I am, I too have an account and I regularly read what my son and other soldiers write. What I’ve experienced in my own life as a G.I. overseas in wartime has brought depth to their casual remarks.

"Life isn’t supposed to be this bad when you’re still young".
"I figure I’ve been through the worst of it and I’m ready to start living again".
"This is the worst place on earth"…

Christmas is approaching and for many of us Christian people, it marks the greatest day of the year, both for the celebration of the birth of the Christ child Jesus, but also as a time of gathering together. We exchange gifts, eat a lot of fattening food, and generally indulge ourselves to the point we all go on diets beginning January one. As my daughter Melody loves to say: "Good times!" and it surely is.

As an Airman, I spent four Christmas’ away from home. One in Basic Training, another in freezing Malmstrom AFB, Montana and two at steamy Takhli RTAFB, Thailand. I lost something in those four years and those that are away serving our country will lose something also.

* "He went to fight wars, For his country and his king, Of his honor and his glory, The people would sing.
Ooooh, what a lucky man he was…"

The truth is just the opposite. Our boys and girls come back old men and women and some bear physical and mental scars they will carry for the rest of their lives. Sometimes the scars are not apparent and surface many years later. Sometimes the scars are too hard for loved ones to bear and a separation takes place while the Veteran sorts it all out.

My son will be returning to Fort Sill, Oklahoma on January 7th, if everything goes as planned and after 10 days of "reintegration", he will be able to come home on leave. I looked this Army term up, as I found it peculiar and this is what I found: "The automatic energetic process, whereby the projected double is reintegrated with its physical/etheric body". In plain old Texas talk, what this means is, these soldiers have to be eased back into society, a little bit at a time. It’s supposed to take 10 days.

The greatest gift I could possibly get this Christmas season is the boy is still alive inside the man. He left for Iraq, a Veteran of Korea and Kuwait, but after 82 combat missions, 15 IED attacks and a Purple Heart medal, I do not know who this man might be when he comes back. God willing, my "boy" is still in there somewhere.

Footnote: On April 16, 2009 I found my Army Veteran son dead on a friends couch, the victim of depression, VA prescribed anti-anxiety pills and alcohol. His Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) finally bought him a ticket to the peace he so desperately craved.

Nick's passing left an unexpected gift though and at first it was difficult to cipher out. Over 600 people gathered at this funeral and our home for days on end to comfort each other and those he had affected. It was his parting gift.

I do not blame God and am trying to make sense of it all. I do have as a gift this Christmas season the greatest of all gifts and that is my Faith, my church, my faithful friends and my wonderful family...and I share the belief that someday we'll be reunitied with my hero son, Nick.

* "Lucky Man" Emerson, Lake & Palmer

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Do I Need My Head Examined – Beans Again?




I am back in the kitchen cooking beans.  Shocker, right?  And stuffed cornbread.  With jalapenos.

Look, it’s raining and fairly nasty out there and I needed comfort food stat and something that would stick to my colon - I mean ribs.

I used both of these recipes roughly, as I can’t even bring myself to follow my own directions.  I bring the beans to a boil and then drain and reboil in the large pot (it's 3 pounds for gawd sake), then in the 24 quart pot, I put everything else and get it cooking.  When the beans are 50% soft, I add them to the big pot.

The reason I make so much is to share with friends and family and freeze a bunch of it to take to work.

Baytown Bert’s Delicious Texas Great Northern Bean Soup and

BB’s Jalapeno and Sausage Cornbread.

Okay, let’s go over what I did different this time around and if all gets too confusing, just use your best judgment on quantities and ingredients.

Beans

2 lb Great Northern beans
1 lb Navy beans
1 lb bacon
5 lb ham and bones from two leftover Thanksgiving hams I froze.
2 Yellow sweet onions
3 bunches of green onion
8 stalks of Celery - diced
4 cans Hatch’s green chilies
4 cans chicken broth
4 tablespoons minced garlic (yes 4)
Slap Ya Mama™ Creole seasoning


Cornbread

4 - 8.5 oz boxes Jiffy corn muffin
6 - Large eggs (added 2 extra)
1 1/3 cups sweet milk (your choice)
1 - Yellow sweet onions - chopped
1 - Large can of drained and chopped small black olives
1 - Large can cream corn (yes, cream corn)
5 - Large chopped pickled jalapenos, seeds and all
1 lb Italian pan sausage of your choice
Liberal sprinkling of Slap Ya Mama™ Creole seasoning (to taste)
1 - Good-sized package of your favorite shredded cheese (I use 4 cheese mix)
2  Tablespoons minced garlic (yes 2)

*make sure you use Crisco™ to grease that glass pan, or bread will stick like a tick.
Big Ham, Bacon & Northern-Navy Beans & Stuffed Cornbread on Foodista
Navy Beans on Foodista

Sunday, December 06, 2009

The Silent Side of Christmas

This Christmas Eve, many thousands of workers will stay up all night manning police, hospitals, chemical plants, security, fire stations and EMS across the Texas Gulf Coast. They are supporting the American way of life. Unfortunately, this is every holiday season for them. My hat is off.

While we enjoy opening presents, or a football game and drinks with our friends and family, a single Mom with tired feet is working a checkout stand, as Wal-Mart accommodates last minute shoppers, wishing for once she could be home with her kids. A city utility employee is shutting off a leaking water or sewer line on a wet dark road. His family wishes this didn't happen every Christmas, but it does. I am grateful.

Somewhere a tow truck driver is changing a flat tire in the bitter cold and a taxi is carrying a passenger to a destination so they can be with their family. The tow-truck driver doesn't make it home before they are called to another emergency and the taxi rolls on to find another passenger. Let me shake your hand.

In this city of thousands, there will sit many who are alone and feel forgotten. They heat up their TV dinner and wish it were all over. Christmas to them is a reminder of lost loved ones. Let me say a prayer of comfort for you.

At Minot AFB in barren North Dakota a 19-year old Airman spends her first Christmas away from home as she works the lone-shift position in the weather station - short straw on the rank scale. In South Korea, the tallest man in the unit, a 6'-5" "Dirty Bay" hometown soldier hunkers down against the cold as he pulls night guard duty beside his launcher. In Afghanistan more American freedom-loving men and women look out across the frigid and desolate wasteland and silently offer up a prayer for peace on earth. They do not ask for pity.

Let's remember all our troops both home and abroad. I salute you.

All these people sacrifice time away from their families to earn a living or keep us safe while we eat delicious meals, open presents, mix with our families and finally drift off to sleep.

Security guards Carroll Messer and Eddie Thurmond stand vigilance at one of the many Chemical Plants on the Texas Gulf Coast, like they do every holiday season.

Friday, December 04, 2009

My First Encounter with a Black Widow Spider By Shady Henry


It was a day full of frustrations. My high speed internet stopped working. This is close to the end of the world for me, as I am a student and my home phone works on the internet. I called the cable company and to make a long story shorter, it took them a long time and a lot of confusion to get the Tech at my house.


So we finally get started on troubleshooting the internet and there is a bit of a hostility in the air and he says that I have a weak signal. We go to the yard where the cable box is and proceed to test the signal coming in the box. He opens the box, fiddles around the wires a little, locates mine and disconnects it and connects his meter. He cut the end connection of the cable and threw it on the ground but it got caught in a spider web. Wait a minute; a spider web would catch a metal wire connection?! Are spider webs that strong?!

All of a sudden, he puts his hands up and says "Back up, Back up". I thought that I was stepping on some part of the wire and shorting it out or something. But he said "Black widow spider". Sure enough, there was this big black spider hanging between two vertical cable wires, with a clear bright red hour glass on her belly. I had never seen a black widow spider live before. I told him to stay right there, I had to catch it. I am very curious and I wasn't just about to kill that spider and move on. I grabbed a jar and managed to catch it.

The cable guy and I spent the next hour running the new cable and the venomous spider conversation served to break the tension that was there at the beginning. That spider is dangerous. There was a gnarly web nest in the bottom, which I never thought anything of. See, the night before, I had my hand in the box, trying to check out the connections. The cable guy was handling cables all over the place before he sees it too. Either of us could have been bitten by a black widow spider! Do you know what that bite does to people? Let's just say it is not pretty at all!


When I told my wife about it, she would not let me keep it in the house. So I had to keep it in the garage. I called Baytown Bert, he has been taking interesting insect pictures and seems to like nature and pays attention to it’s details. I looked up some information on-line about the black widow spider and learned how potent their venom is. I learned that this one is an immature female western black widow spider.

I also learned that it is critical for their livelihood that a certain moisture be in their environment, so I cracked the jar lid and put some wet dirt inside. I drilled some holes in the lid and tossed in a couple of twigs. The spider ignored me.


Anyway, I brought it to show Bert - in the jar of course. A friend caught two bees for it and I put them in the jar using two pencils like chop-sticks. I left her alone for a little while, after which she ensnared both bees and lifted them up from the base of the jar to the top of her nest. This was the first time I saw her active. She was weaving and weaving. The next morning, she apparently ate the two bees; you can see her belly was much fatter. She also encapsulated them together and discarded them from the nest. Apparently, spiders clean up their nest!!

Baytown Bert has the spider now. He fed her one bee, but the second attempt wasn’t so successful…it got away and flew off to safety somewhere in the room.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Baytown still on edge, Sterling Library back to work

In the wake of convicted child molester Arcade Joseph Comeaux Jr.'s Nov. 30 escape in Baytown, many folks there are still a bit jittery.

"Nobody knows anything and everybody's speculating," Chronicle reader blogger Bert Marshall, aka Baytown Bert told me this afternoon. "People are looking over their shoulders but going about their business."  As he was out and about today, Marshall said he heard a lot of talk about the 49-year-old escapee who remains free.

Comeaux, who was being transported from the Estelle prison unit in Huntsville to the Stiles Unit in Beaumont, forced the two guards escorting him to drive him to Baytown.  "That tells me he has connections here," Marshall said.  Late this afternoon, investigators said there was no reason to believe Comeaux had left the Baytown area.

At one Baytown business, the clerk had Comeaux's photo on her cell phone and was keeping an eye out for him as customers came in the store, Marshall said.  When Marshall gave blood today at the Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center in Baytown, he said everyone he talked to there was aware of the escape.

"People were kind of jumpy," he said.

Meanwhile, over at Sterling Municipal Library, site of the police command center during Monday's intense search for Comeaux, the staff was too busy today to chat with patrons about Comaux's escape, said Library Director Katherine Brown.  "I haven't heard anybody talk about it today," Brown said. "We're moving on. We're so busy we don't have time to gossip about it. Everybody who wasn't here yesterday wanted to come today."

A police dispatcher telephoned Brown Monday to ask her to close the library a couple minutes after it had opened at 10 a.m. Even in that short time span, about 40 people had entered, she said.  "There are 30 or so waiting every day when we open our doors," Brown said of users who come for services ranging from e-mail access to children's story hour. "We're really busy."  When police escorted patrons out of the building and to their cars, library staff members settled down to a quiet day of work, Brown said.

I think I might have been a bit distracted by the presence of the Baytown Police Department SWAT team, or the helicopters overhead, or the search dogs, or police horses and horse trailers, or the officers from multiple law enforcement agencies coming in and out of the library to use the photocopier or restroom (before the porta-can arrived.)

Brown said she could see the prisoner transport van that was "10 feet from the back door," but didn't know details of how it ended up outside the library.  With the library locked down Monday, the evening staff couldn't get to work, so everyone went home about 4 p.m., Brown said. Before they got into their cars, officers checked vehicles, including the trunks, to make sure drivers could safely get inside, she said.
"It was nice to go home for food," Brown said. "They wouldn't let the pizza guy in."

Story by Carol Christian Houston Chronicle Reporter





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