Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Great Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Mystery

Chapter 1 The Plot


North Pole: Santa’s Workshop

Christmas Eve.

Late.

Santa’s sleigh sat on the runway like an overstuffed turkey, creaking and groaning under the pile of toys and presents being loaded on by the elves. High above the sleigh a conveyor belt dropped a steady stream of brightly wrapped packages, dolls, rocking horses, fire trucks, balls and bats, scarves and hats into Santa’s giant red sack. On the shop floor below a fleet of bright yellow forklift trucks scurried around transporting loads of presents.

From his office high above the cavernous factory Santa surveyed the scene through a large window, his quick eye taking in every detail of the operations below.

His concentration was disrupted by a quiet, “Ahem.”

Santa turned, looked down, smiled and said, “Yes, Jon, what do you have?”

Jon was the Littlest elf in charge of Departure Planning. Although Jon was the Littlest elf his job was the Biggest. He must make sure all the presents get into Santa’s sack properly, make sure the sack is lashed down properly, make sure the reindeers are hitched properly and make sure that Santa departs on time.

Properly.

Jon was a very proper elf even if he was the Littlest.

Jon adjusted his glasses, held up his clipboard and stretched just a little to make himself appear taller, cleared his throat with another “Ahem” and proceeded in clipped tones to read his report.

“Toy production. Check. Loading operations. Check. Weather update. Check.”

Jon paused.

“And?” Santa inquired looking over the tops of his glasses and down at Jon.

“And what, sir?” Jon replied.

“Reindeers, Jon, reindeers,” Santa chided gently, “We need reindeers to fly. You did not say ‘Reindeers. Check.’ “

Jon the Littlest elf blushed, developing alternating pink and purple stripes across is very large nose.

“Uh,” Jon stammered, “Reindeers. Not check.”

Santa’s eyes grew wide. In all his years he had only heard the phrase “Reindeers. Not check.” once before. That time had been a very foggy Christmas Eve, many years ago.

Jon continued with his report. “The reindeers, they’re not ready. They’re upset about something. I think they’re on strike. They’re not going to fly tonight?”

Several things then happened simultaneously. Santa inhaled so deeply that all the air was nearly sucked out of the room. Then, Santa let out a “WHAAAATTTTT?” so loudly that the roof lifted off the toy factory and all the noise from the shop floor below was drowned out.

The roof came down with a WHUMP!

Jon tried to become the Very Littlest elf by crawling into his hat and scuttling towards the door.

It became very quiet.

Breathing deeply Santa looked at Jon, or rather the hat that was scuttling towards the door, and said, “The reindeers. Take me to them.”

Chapter 2 The Plot Thickens

Deep in the heart of Santa’s North Pole Toy Factory was an area off-limits to everybody, the Reindeer Ready Room. This is where the reindeer lived, exercised, trained and prepared for their annual job of hauling Santa’s sleigh around the World to deliver toys and presents to good little girls and boys.

Without knocking Santa opened the door to the Ready Room and walked into a hurricane!

The room was a blur of antlers, hooves, shouting, yelling, fighting and biting.

The reindeer were seriously out of control!

Very quickly, though, the reindeer noticed Santa in the room and all of the antlers, hooves, shouting, yelling, fighting and biting stopped.

Santa stepped into the room and demanded to know, “What is going on?”

The reindeer looked at each other and then starting talking all at once.

“My hat!”

“My scarf!”

“My sweater!”

“My leg warmers!”

“My iPod!”

Santa held up his hand and motioned to the reindeer to calm down.

“One at a time! One at a time, please!” Santa implored.

Dasher approached Santa first. “It’s my hat. My lucky, warm hat that I wear every year. It’s gone! I can’t find it anywhere! I can’t fly with out my lucky hat!”

Cupid was next. “My boots are gone. My favorite boots that give me a good grip on slippery icy rooftops are gone! I can’t find them anywhere! I can’t fly without my boots!”

Then all the reindeer began talking at once complaining about missing stuff and claiming they couldn’t fly without it.

Santa held up his hand again and the reindeers became quiet.

“Hmmmm,” Santa mused aloud, “this looks like a job for Inspector Heather.”


Chapter 3 The Plot Thins

There was a knock on the door. Jon the Littlest elf reached up, turned the great brass knob and opened the door.

Wasting no time, a tall formidable-looking woman with dark, piercing eyes, blonde hair tied back in a severe bun and puffing on a large pipe strode into the room.

Immediately, Inspector Heather surveyed the room and after inhaling deeply on her great, inspector’s pipe, barked rapidly and decisively, “You, you, you and you,” she pointed at four reindeer, “over there. And you, you, you and you. Over there.”

She pointed in the opposite direction.

Immediately the reindeer fell into formation, four on each side of a line with Inspector Heather in the middle. One by one, Inspector Heather questioned each reindeer, quietly and in whispers. All that could be heard was

Pssst! Psssst! Pssst. Psst!

In good time Inspector Heather finished her interrogations, smoked furiously on her pipe for several minutes sending up great billows of grey clouds, and the occasional smoke ring.

Suddenly, she turned and approached Santa thoughtfully. Drawing herself to her full height and staring Santa eye to eye, Heather reached into her coat pocket and withdrew a small note pad.

“Note,” Inspector Heather said, “the following missing items.” And she proceeded to list off each of the items missing from the Reindeer Ready Room.


Dasher: one knitted hat
Dancer: one cashmere scarf
Prancer: one pair wool socks
Vixen: four leg warmers
Comet: one sweater
Cupid: four mountaineering boots
Donner: one pair long johns; red
Blitzen: one iPod


“Anything else,” Inspector Heather asked, surveying the room through squinted eyes?

The reindeers muttered no, no, no, no, no, no, no and no.

“OK, then, righty-o,” said Inspector Heather, “I think I have this case solved!”

The reindeers looked up startled! Jon the Littlest elf looked up startled. Santa looked up startled.

It is safe to say that everybody was startled!

Inspector Heather flipped a page in her notebook.

Clearing her throat she addressed the room. “Ahem, here are the facts,” and she listed them one by one.

Fact: Every item missing is missing from the Reindeer Ready Room

Fact: Every reindeer is missing exactly one item.

Fact: Rudolph the Reindeer isn’t missing anything.

And, Fact, Heather announced with a great flourish, the fate of all of the missing items is right here in Rudolph’s locker!

Heather pulled open the locker door and stepped back as a small piece of paper fluttered to the floor. Picking up the paper Heather read from top to bottom:

1 hat
1 scarf
4 warmers
and so on until the last item
1 iPod

Blitzen winced.

Heather looked at Santa and the reindeers. “Clearly,” Heather announced, “Rudolph stole these items from the reindeer to sell on eBay. Case closed.”

Rudolph the culprit! Who knew!


Chapter 4 Rudolph’s Mystery

As if on cue the door to the Reindeer Ready Room creaked open and in walked Rudolph, his nose glowing red in delight.

“Yo, crew,” Rudolph hailed in bonhomie, “what it do?” Rudolph threw a mock reindeer gang hoof sign for fun.

The room was so quiet you could hear the hairs growing in Santa’s nose.

Rudolph froze in mid hoof sign and looked around. Nobody was smiling. Nobody was laughing. Inspector Heather stood at the end of the room with her arms crossed and her lips puckered as if she had sucked 40 lemons through a narrow straw.

Rudolph, sensing that things were a little tense, started to back out the door but froze in his tracks when Santa shouted, “FREEZE!!”

Frozen like a reindeer in the headlights, Rudolph managed a weak, “Oh, Santa, wazzzzzup?” which sounded pretty weak given the situation.

Santa and Heather approached Rudolph frowning and brandishing the list. Rudolph backed into a corner and tripping on a footstool crashed to the floor. Looking up he could only stammer, “I ... I ... I ...”

Santa cut to the chase. “Rudolph,” the reindeer are missing stuff and we found this list itemizing each thing stolen in your locker! What do you have to say for yourself?”

Inspector Heather leaned closely with her notebook in hand to record every word of Rudolph’s confession.

All Rudolph could manage to say was, “I ... I ... I ... “

Santa turned around exasperated.

Inspector Heather closed her notebook exasperated.

The reindeer stamped in the Ready Room exasperated.

Finally, Santa looked at his pocket watch, heaved a great sigh and announced, “Well, there’s nothing more to do. The reindeer won’t fly. It’s too late to come up with a new plan.”

All eyes were on Santa.

With a heavy heart Santa said the words they all dreaded to hear,

“We’ll have to cancel Christmas.”

Jon the Littlest elf climbed further into his hat until his eyes were peeking out of the little snowball on top. He blinked furiously.

The reindeer stamped around impatiently. Vixen began to cry.

Santa stroked his beard and looked sad.

Inspector Heather closed her book with a snap, regarding Rudolph who sat in the corner muttering “I ... I ... I ... I ...”

Chapter 5 The Mystery Goes Down

“I ... I ... I ...”

“I can explain.”

Everybody looked around and there standing in front of the fireplace dusting ashes and soot off her bright, sparkly gown stood Princess Leta.

“I can explain,” said Princess Leta quietly, as she walked into the center of the room.

Princess Leta stood quite a bit taller than Jon the Littlest elf, but somewhat shorter than Inspector Heather and Santa. She was resplendent in her sequined pink gown, puffed sleeves, glass slippers and diamond tiara. Princess Leta was queen of the elves and all that was good.

Princess Leta looked fondly upon Rudolph and beckoned him to rise and join her by her side. Rudolph did so.

Then Leta spoke.

“Rudolph came to me some time ago with a strange request. He wanted to do something for the other reindeer for Christmas to make it special for them, but he didn’t know what to do. I told Rudolph to look into his heart and think about what was special to each of his friends and an answer would come.”

Rudolph looked sheepish for a reindeer.

“Rudolph fulfilled his quest,” Leta continued, “and I’m here to deliver the goods, so to speak.”

“Dasher, come forward!”

Dasher pranced forward.

“Rudolph noticed that you favorite knitted hat had some holes in it where moths had feasted. Here is your hat, good as new!”

Leta waved her wand and Dasher’s hat appeared on his head, good as new. Dasher broke into a big smile and bowed to Leta. Turning to Rudolph, Dasher said, “Bro, how could I have doubted you. You’re the best.” He gave Rudolph a hoof bump and walked back to his bunk.

“Prancer, come forward!”

Prancer dashed forward and was given a new pair of warm socks.

One by one the reindeer trotted up to Leta to retrieve their personal favorite items, repaired, each one and better than new.

Finally, Blitzen received a new iPod Touch.

“Whoa, baby, check it out! Google maps and email! This is so cool! How can I ever thank you, Rudy?”

Rudolph’s nose glowed even brighter than usual with a combination of pride and relief.

“No prob, Blitz,” Rudolph replied, “it’s all about enriching lives, one at a time.”

Shortly, all the reindeer were outfitted with their gear and ready to fly.

Jon the Littlest elf crawled out of his hat, revised his report, and, clearing his voice with a Very Loud “Ahem” said to Santa, “Mr. Claus, Reindeer Check!”

Santa chuckled a great big “Ho Ho Ho!” and said to everyone in the room, “Well, don’t just stand there, we’ve got Christmas!”

They all started to march out the door when Vixen raised her voice.

“Hey,” she said, “what about Rudolph? I mean, we got all this cool stuff, but Rudolph’s got nothing and I’m not jiggy with that.”

Princess Leta stepped up and looking at Vixen lovingly said, “Oh, don’t worry, Vix, I’ve got that covered!” And with a wave of her magic wand a small package appeared at Rudolph’s feet.

Rudolph picked up the package and opened it with glee.

“Whoa, check it out, guys,” Rudolph exclaimed, “Binford 3000 Night Vision Navigation Goggles!”

As Rudolph was admiring his goggles Santa stood by him tapping his watch. Santa said, “Rudolph, with your nose so bright and your Binford 3000 Night Vision Navigation Goggles, won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?”

Everybody cheered and rushed to the sleigh runway.

Santa in his sleigh departed on time and Christmas was saved.

As Santa disappeared into the moonlight, jingle bells fading, Princess Leta sang,

“Then all the reindeers loved him and they shouted out with glee. Rudolph the Red-Nosed reindeer, you’ll go down in mystery.”

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Twelve Two Two Fondue 5




It's that time of the year again!

The cheese, all 16 pounds of it, is bought. We'll get the bread tomorrow so it's fresh. Champagne is on ice. Lights are in the yard. Cats are freaked out.

It's Twelve Two Two!

We'll be broadcasting the festivities on

http://www.ustream.tv/channel/twelve-two-two-fondue

And we'll also be on AIM at farrell1351, and bill.farrell@gmail.com on MSN and wfarrell on .Mac and wffarrell at Yahoo!

Drop in and say "Hi!"

This is the biggest Twelve Two Two ever with parties planned on every continent and in over 60 countries!

Hope to see you there!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Way Down Under

My friend Genevieve works down under.

Way down under.

Way, way, way, way, way down under. And she's not a coal miner, although I wouldn't put it past her.

No, Genevieve works in Antarctica. It's a tough word to spell much less imagine being there.

Ice and cold.

Penguins.

Ice and cold.

Weird stuff in the ocean.

Ice and cold.

Did I mention ice and cold?

Here in Houston it got down to 40 degrees Fahrenheit (see, all you Celsius bigots, I used the "F" word)

In Antarctica it gets to a bazillion degrees below zero. On any scale. Doesn't matter. It's that cold.

Here's what Genevieve wrote about ice on her blog Ice Wishes and Snow Dreams:


Even the striations and bumps and streaks of the snow & ice, blown forever in one direction, were beautifully shaped and heartwrenchingly perfect. Nothing was in error and everything was random & impermanent. Some areas were like wood grain, others like cameo images of canals & lakes & deltas, some were like the gentle folds of a pure white quilt on the foot of your fresh made bed after you just climbed into it. There was so much texture I wanted to go out and crawl around on my hands & knees photographing it closely and in detail, forever. It was like the stone beaches in Maine & NZ that make my heart sing for the infinite variation of it. I could get lost wandering out there watching the snow, rarely noticing the view, and not in order to be careful where to set my feet; but in utter fascination at the shapes & colours & shadows of it.


Genevieve is a gifted writer who is in love with the most inhospitable place on Earth. Her descriptions of the snow, ice and majesty of Antarctica are inspiring.

And I think what I find most interesting is that Genevieve works in Antarctica. She's not a scientist studying some arcane crab, rather she's support staff. She makes the community go. She's infrastructure.

She drives her trucks and fuels her airplanes in Antarctica. Pardon the pun, but how cool is that?

This season Genevieve is at the South Pole Station. Literally the bottom of the World or, when the poles flip, the top of the World!

Genevieve sent me a patch because she knows I like patches. I sent her a scarf because at the South Pole can you have too many scarves?

Check out Genevieve's blog and if you feel so inclined send her something from warmer climes. It's surprisingly easy and her mailing address is on her blog.

I don't know about you, but sending stuff to the South Pole is Very Cool!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

New Lens in the House

Who are you?

I'm a Nikon D40. Now known as the "old camera."




Who are you?

Im a Nikon D60. Now known as the "new camera."



So, aside from 4 million more pixels what's the big deal?

Vibration Reduction.

It's "on."

Friday, December 12, 2008

My People, My Tribe



I am participating in a Global Genetics Project sponsored by National Geographic. For a small fee I was sent a kit and instructions on how to harvest cheek cells (yes, in my mouth!) and send them off for National Geographic to figure out my heritage.

That's the back-of-the-envelope description of a vastly more complicated scientific process. However, my part was easy and I sent my cells for analysis a few weeks ago.

The results are in.

I am Cro-Magnon.

Of course, my wife already knew that and I could have saved some money if I had only listened. But, I learned more about my people's journey across the globe and through time, and the project is continuing, so, who knows what details will be discovered in the future.

My "haplogroup" is Rb1, which is quite common and representing most Europeans. The farthest back I can trace my family is Ireland in the 1700's.

The NG project is not that refined. They're tracking vast groups of people.

Here's what is known so far.

About 80,000 thousand years ago the clan of my earliest known ancestor migrated north and east out of Africa and into the Middle East. They then moved north into Russia and then swung around west into Northern Europe. Following the edge of the ice sheets they were forced south into Germany, England, Italy and Spain.

In the diagram above for my group, the "M" numbers refer to "markers" which are significant mutations present in my very own Y chromosome. Not everybody has my mutations.

Only My People, My Tribe.

The trail so far ends about 35,000 years ago in southern Spain where my people dwelt in caves, learned to weave and to carve and to paint. They raised and protected their kids just like we do.

But, here's the interesting part at least to me. From that earliest guy who set off 80,000 years ago following a heard of game or looking for more food or whatever, from that earliest guy all the way to me, someone survived.

Someone survived attacks by animals, disease, war, starvation and a myriad of things that make you dead. Some lucky bastards ducked and weaved their way over 80,000 years to get to me.

I'd thank them all, personally, if I could. What a trip!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

What? Snow?



Snow again!

It snowed two years ago. WTF?

This is Houston, not St. Paul!

Kink has never seen snow, so, I kicked him out into the elements and ...

... he loved it!

Kink ran around and jumped around and tried to eat the snowflakes and had a grand time.

Of course, he's never been dropped in a snow drift.

Baby steps.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Return of the Lady of the Lake

I wrote this originally for Beth Cherry while she was on vacation, but I'm posting it again here by popular request. Thank you, requesters! Both of you.

Lady of the Lake
Some years ago I had an opportunity to take a troop of Boy Scouts to a campsite on an American Indian reservation and to arrange for a storyteller from their tribe to speak to us at our evening campfire.

I’m a Scoutmaster, instructor and camp cook, and one of my responsibilities is to provide meals for the other adult leaders.   Since the theme for this campout was “American Indian,” I did some research to find out the kinds of things indigenous people of this region ate and how they prepared their food.  My research was further complicated by the fact that the tribal land where we would camp belonged to a tribe that had been relocated from their native home in the 1800’s.

In any case, as American Indian history is an interest of mine, over the years I have collected a number of textbooks and tomes on the subject and after some study I felt comfortable enough to produce a few “authentic” American Indian recipes.  I use “authentic” in double-quotes because I can’t reproduce the exact foods from their home region, but I felt I could come close to the spirit of the intended meal.

It was mid-November as I recall because Saturday night was the night of the annual Leonid meteor shower due to peak at 3 A.M. when, hopefully, I would be fast asleep.  I like meteor showers as much as the next fellow, but 3 A.M. is sacred!  I guess that’s why I never became an astronomer.

The dish I chose to prepare combined the traditional and the modern.  The traditional was a winter lamb stew made up of lamb, onions, several kinds of squash and peppers.  I deviated from the recipe slightly by using corn and a corn cob to thicken the stew.  The technique is to cook the corn on the cob in the stew, then scrape off the kernels and corn “milk,” then stew the remainder of the cob.  The corn starch thickens the stew nicely.

The modern part of the meal was “Indian Fry Bread” which is a soda bread that is rolled out and deep fried in oil or lard.  I say “modern” because fry bread didn’t appear in Indian diets until the introduction of processed flour, oil and cast iron pots in the 1800’s.

As I was preparing my meal the storyteller arrived to make her arrangements.  The storyteller was a young woman of 35 or 40, small, with long black hair and very, very grey eyes.  We discussed how she would arrive to our campfire by canoe from across the lake and that she would have about 20 minutes to tell a story before the attention span of the boys was exceeded.  She smiled and agreed that all was well.

I invited her to stay for dinner.  We had more than enough and she would be very welcome.

She looked around the campsite.  And, declined our offer.  Thanks, but no thanks.  See y’all later.

Well, to be fair, dinner wouldn’t be ready for a couple of hours and who could blame anyone from not wanting to eat Boy Scout food?

For the next couple of hours I tended my stew, adding water occasionally, giving it a stir to prevent sticking.  On a whim I decided to roast the squash and corn on an open fire to give it that smokey flavor before adding it to the stew.  I thought that the caramelized sugars would add an extra dimension.  To be true to the recipe I probably shouldn’t have done that, but I did.  Sioux me.  (that’s a joke)

Later, when I deemed the stew was ready and the fry bread had been prepared, I called the adults to the table and we served up.  It smelled great.

Just as we were sitting down to eat, the storyteller drove up, got out of her truck and gave us some last minute information.  She had changed from jeans and a work shirt into a long, buckskin dress and beads.  Her hair was tied back in a long, black pony tail.  We’d have to push the campfire time back an hour to 9 o’clock she told us and I assured her that wouldn’t be a problem.

As she turned to leave, she paused.  I figured she had more to tell us but she just stood there looking into the distance.  She tilted her head up and closed her eyes.  After a few seconds she turned to me and asked, “What is that I smell?”

I was caught off guard by her question but recovered enough to reply, lamely, “Dinner?  Would you like a bowl of winter lamb stew and some fry bread?”

As in a trance, she nodded slowly, sat herself at our table and we set her up with the last bowl of stew (there wasn’t much left) and a small piece of fry bread.

She ate slowly and in silence.

Sensing something different going on, and with a guest present, we all ate in silence; the normal banter abated.

When the storyteller finished her meal she looked up at me and said, and I’ll never forget her words,

“My grandmother made this.”

I took it to mean that her grandmother made the same lamb stew, although as I reflect on that moment many years later, and many reflections later, I’m not so sure.

“My grandmother made this for me as a child.  She roasted the corn which was not the tradition, but she did it anyway.  I remember the smells.  I remember the texture.  I remember the taste.  My grandmother made this.”

Rising from the table the storyteller said her good-byes and told us she’d see us at nine at the campfire.  I recall her eyes cast down as if deep in thought.

As she walked across the grounds to her truck she paused, looked back at me and said, “Thank you.”  To this day I can’t remember if I heard the actual words or read her lips.

We held our campfire at the shore of the lake.  Sang songs.  Performed skits.  Typical Scout stuff.  Around 9 P.M. a torch-lit canoe glided across the water carrying the storyteller.  We told the boys she would be coming and there was much anticipation.

Once on shore the storyteller introduced herself and told the boys that everything she was about to relate was the Absolute Truth.  Ah, the mark of an expert storyteller.  The boys were held in rapt attention for nearly 40 minutes, twice as long as I expected.  The story was about a grandmother and her experiences as a child.  I confess, I got lost in the story and don’t remember the details.

Then, it was over and the storyteller glided back across the lake to her home and her bed and a good nights sleep.

Not so me.

Around 3 A.M. I awoke with a start.  My heart was pounding.  I was sweating.  I had been chased by something, but now I was awake and the something was gone and I was in my tent looking out into the night across the lake.

Whooosh!  A meteor flashed across the sky.  The Leonid meteor shower!  Whoooosh!  Another one even brighter than the previous.  

Whooosh!  The brightest yet, illuminating the entire lake shore.  And, as I looked out I saw an old lady standing on the shore of the lake.  She was very tall, wore a long, buckskin dress and beads.  Her grey hair was tied back in a long pony tail.  

The lady raised her left hand which I saw by the light of a dying meteor.  I raised mine in return.

Whooosh!  Another meteor exploded in the early morning sky into a shower of green and yellow sparks and I blinked in reflex.  When I opened my eyes and got accustomed to the night, the lady was gone.

I watched the meteor show for a short while after that then drifted off to sleep.

The next day we struck camp, packed up and headed back home.  I thought about the storyteller and the lady from the lake.  I was half-awake.  Maybe I imagined the whole thing.  In time I put the weekend behind me.

One thing I can tell you, though.  I’ve never been able to duplicate that recipe for winter lamb stew and I’ve tried many times.  I’ve done the roasting, I’ve tried combinations of peppers and squash and it’s close but no cigar.  Not quite the same satisfying taste, not quite the same texture.  Not quite the same as I remember.

Oh, and one other thing.  I tried to contact the tribe so I could talk to the storyteller and find out more about her and her grandmother and maybe that recipe, and the tribe has been pretty adamant about this:

“We don’t have a storyteller.  We’ve never had a storyteller.”
 

Monday, December 01, 2008

Conjunction

Tonight the Moon, Venus and Jupiter did a little dance.

In case you missed it, and will have to wait 500 years or so for the next dance, here it is.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Good for What Ails You

"Gaaaaaaaak!"

"What?"

"I just took my NyQuil and I'm going to bed."

"How was it?"

"Crunchy."

"What?"

"Yeah, it must have crystalized or something. It was a big crunchy going down. But, it's down and I'm going downhill."

"Which cup did you use?"

"The one by the sink. It was handy. Why?"

"Kink was playing with one of them and knocked it into the cat litter. I didn't get a chance to wash it out."

"No worries. I think I just did."

"Thanks."

"Don't mention it. Now, if you don't mind I think I'll go hack up a hair ball and go to bed."

(And so ends National Blog Posting Month 2008, all 30 freaking days of it!)

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Daily Coyote

Some time ago I stumbled upon this site, the Daily Coyote, and I've been a steady visitor ever since.

Here's the envelope sketch: rancher finds a coyote pup whose mother has been shot and killed. Rancher adopts pup and raises it. It's an uplifting story about a relationship between species.

Kink approves and I relate. Kink was separated from his mother at an early age and we have lived with him for nearly two years. Kink is not "just a cat," rather he's an integral part of the family. He's part of the fabric. If you take the time to observe these young critters, and I mean REALLY spend the time to observe, you discover that we have a lot in common. Quite a lot.

Here's Charlie.



The Daily Coyote is a nice, laid back site full of photographs and stories about Charlie's upbringing. Other characters, like the Cat, figure into the narrative, too.





You can buy Shreve's book on Amazon here.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Light Blue Friday

Today is Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year. Only the bold or insane go to the mall on Black Friday.

Fortunately for me, I'm both.

Rummaging through a rack of sweaters proudly displaying a 50 % OFF!! sign I found a perfect gift. Light blue sweater, correct size, originally $39.95 but the sale price would be $19.95 which made it even perfecter.

I waited in line for a few minutes with my charge card in hand and finally it was my turn.

The cashier scanned the tag and said, "Thirty-nine ninety-five, please."

I paused which caused her space-time to wobble a bit. "Uh, aren't these 50 percent off?"

The cashier peered over to the rack and said, "Yep. Everything is 50 percent off."

"Well," I pressed, "shouldn't THIS sweater be 50 percent off, too?"

Puzzlement was not replaced with enlightenment. "I'll scan it again," she said.

Beep.

She looked up and smiled.

Success, I thought.

"Thirty-nine ninety-five," she said without missing a beat.

By this time I had Nineteen ninety-five so deeply etched in my brain that I simply couldn't let it go. "You know," I said, "on second thought I think I got the wrong color. Thanks, anyway." And I took the sweater back to the rack.

Where there's a glimmer of hope, I always say, I pawed through the remaining sweaters on the rack and to my delight found the exact color and size WITH a tag that read $39.95 $19.95.

Ah HA!

Again I waited in line charge card in hand.

The cashier scanned the tag.

Beep.

"That will be Nineteen ninety-five," she said seamlessly.

Yes, victory! Take that, Universe! Who da man, huh? Who da man? I did a little Macarena touchdown dance.

I handed her my card and she swiped it through the reader. Then she frowned.

Frowning. Not good.

"What's the matter," I asked possibly a little too shrilly, "not on sale? Should be nineteen hundred dollars? Time for your break?"

"No," she said looking up and handing me my charge card, "your card expired last month. Purchase declined. Have a nice day."

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Overheard at Thanksgiving Dinner

"You wore that shirt last year."

"No I didn't."

"Yes you did. When we were on the island, remember?"

"That was Christmas, not Thanksgiving."

"Oh, yeah."

"And, it was two years ago."

"I am so bad with time."

************************************

"Did you let Kink eat the sausage rolls?"

"No."

"Are you sure?"

"Positive! He didn't eat any! I shooed him away."

"OK."

"Besides, licking is hardly eating, is it? Is it?"

************************************

"I'm thankful for our independence from England."

"What does that have to do with Thanksgiving?"

"Hey, get off my case! My major was Government, not History! Stupid Pilgrims."

************************************

"What's for dessert?"

"We've got pumpkin pie and chess pie."

"What's chess pie?"

"You have to beat me at chess to get a piece."

"But, you don't know how to play chess!"

"Then it ought to be easy for you to get a piece of pie."

************************************

"Hey! Who took a bite out of the top of my pie??"

"Not me!"

"Not me!"

"Not me!"

"Meowwww?"


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Red Alert! Fo' Shizzle!

OK, *something* has happened in the Space-Time Continuum.

SRSLY!

I. am. not. KIDDING!

Who is the Positively LAST Person on EARTH you'd expect to see on the Martha Stewart Show?

Think, think, think.

Oh, oh! I know! The author of "The Dummy's Guide to Insider Trading."

Er, no.

Rosie O'Donnell on how to make an ice cream sandwich using half a gallon of Hagen Das Double Dutch and two Sarah Lee pound cakes.

Er, no.

Oh, oh! I know! Gangsta rapper Snoop Dogg doin' the Mashed Potato! Sup, bro? What it do?

Er, no.


Except ...


Er, yes.

But, it gets stranger and stranger. Turns out that our Martha has done MORE jail time than Snoop.

So, who da gangsta? Who da gangsta? Yo! It's Mar Stew, yo, and she's WHAT IT DO!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Tacochilada

As a kid I was fascinated by Ripley's Believe It or Not!

The exclamation point is Ripley's, not mine.

I had a bunch of Ripley's books which documented all the weird and wonderful useless facts that anyone could want. Or not.

One that I remember is the Biggest Dish in the World: Stuffed Camel.

The blueprint was basically chickens stuffed into goats stuffed into a camel and cooked. Who would bother, I have no idea. But this recipe surfaced in my rat's nest of a mind when preparing my own invention, the Tacochilada.

Having a pan of enchiladas from the night before I was perfectly happy with just heating them up and having the same-old, same-old again. Nothing wrong with that.

Then I had a brainstorm, or as Snoop would say, a neuroshizzle fizzle.

Thus the blueprint for a Tacochilada which is a combination of a taco and an enchilada.

The Taco: crunchy, deep fried, corn tortilla filled with tasty meat and stuffed with lettuce, tomato, cheese and hot sauce.

The Enchilada: baked, soft, corn tortilla, filled with cheese, chicken, onions and sauce.

The Tacochilada: taco shell stuffed with an enchilada with lettuce, tomato, cheese, sour cream and hot sauce.

It's crunchy, cheesy, saucy, lettucey, tomatoey and scrumdiddilyumpcious.

It's tasty beyond tasty, fo'shizzle!

Oh, as for stuffed camel, believe it or not, there's a recipe on the Intertube. Actually, I was going to do stuffed camel this weekend, but, darn, I'm out of pine nuts!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Thanksgiving Drama

A friend of mine (don't feign surprise, thank you very much) wrote to say that there was Thanksgiving drama afoot. More later.

There should be dramatic music that comes out of nowhere at times like this.

Thanksgiving Drama ... dum dump DUMMMMMMMM!

Or, bongos! I always loved bongos!

Thanksgiving Drama ... cue long bongo tattoo, creepy like the Twilight Zone.

Now, I'm in the lurch. The announcement, the anticipation of Thanksgiving Drama, with Thanksgiving still three days away and reports of the drama to come, hopefully, later.

And just what, I say, what would constitute drama?

The unexpected guest, furtive glances, whispered conversations in the kitchen, midnight sobbing in the upstairs bedroom.

A shadow in the hallway, the Major with a lead pipe in the study, wringing hands, downcast eyes, the shooing away of children.

Forced smiles, a brisk hello met by silence, a sharp intake of breath, the quietly spoken "I'd think it best if you would go. Now."

Footsteps on the stairs, a locked door, an argument shushed.

Silence at dinner, a broken glass, flimsy excuses "I'm sorry to leave on such short notice but my appendix has just burst."

A light in the attic window, suddenly extinguished, weeping, a slammed door, footsteps in the cellar, a barking dog unexpectedly silenced, the arrival of a stranger.

A ringing phone, train whistle in the distance, fog rolling in, the lights go out. Candlelight.

Someone missing, a muffled cry, a suitcase left behind, smoke on the water, fire in the sky.

Taillights disappearing into the rain, a hand on a shoulder, reassurance, "He'll be back. He always comes back."

And the choked reply through clenched teeth, "God, I hope not. He took the leftovers and for that he will pay. Yes, he will pay."

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Relatively Speaking

When I was a kid Christmas came once a year. Each Christmas was separated by three hundred and sixty-five very, very, very, very, very long days.

I'm convinced clocks ran slower back then.

Tick ... ... ... ... ... ... ... ... Tock ... ... ... ... ... ...

The build-up to Halloween was nearly as bad, but once the trick-or-treating was over, there was an enormous span of time to Thanksgiving and an even longer wait for Christmas.

Today, it's, like, everyday I wake up it's Christmas! The alarm goes *beep* and it's Ho, Ho, Ho! Merry Christmas! Part of this accelerated time phenomenon is due to our merchant and marketing friends starting the big push for holiday shopping earlier and earlier.

At one store this October I spied tiny fake Christmas Trees (oh, pardon me, "artificial" Christmas Trees.) (No, wait, "realistic, environmentally friendly" Christmas Trees) lurking behind the candy displays. Ready to spring into action as soon as the calendar read "November." Sure enough, by November 1st peals of Christmas music wafted from every speaker in every store in every part of the country.

"Christmas is here! Christmas is here!" they blared.

"Don't worry about that turkey behind the curtain. That's only Thanksgiving and we'll blast through that in no time. And, speaking of No Time, it's NO TIME like the PRESENT to buy your Christmas PRESENTS!!!"

And so it goes.

A few days ago I overheard a little kid talking with his Mom about the holiday season. He was quite excited and big-eyed, but serious like kids are at that age.

"Mom," the kid implored, "Thanksgiving is a whole week away, then it's a month, Mom, A MONTH until Christmas!"

Mom was being patient but I'm sure she's heard this refrain before.

The kid continued, "Why can't Christmas be tomorrow, Mom? Huh? Why do we have to wait a WHOLE MONTH."

I think Mom was about to deliver the Let's Not Be Greedy Lecture #276, so I moseyed along.

On reflection, though, I realized the kid had a point. The calendar is fixed, isn't it? Time moves along at Time's speed, doesn't it?

Or does it?

When I was a kid I moved at the speed of light. I ran everywhere I went. There was no "walk." It was stop (no, wait, I forgot fidget) or go. And, go fast.

As we all know from Einstein's Theory of Relativity, for a stationary observer, time appears to slow down for a moving traveler. The faster the traveler goes, the more time appears to slow down.

Thus and ergo, for a kid moving fast, fast, fast, and ever faster, time appears to slow down. Christmas does take a longer time to come around relatively speaking for a kid.

Fast forward (that's a joke, son!) to when you're older and slowing down and time speeds up! At first you don't notice it. It's Spring, Summer, Autumn and Christmas. Then it's Spring, Autumn and Christmas. Then it's Spring, Christmas, until, finally it's Christmas, Christmas, Christmas! Every day. Every minute. Every second.

Faster and faster and faster!

Suddenly you look around and you're covered in scarves and socks and underwear and fondue sets and puzzles and toy trains. It's chestnuts roasting jingle bells frosty the snowman hark the herald pa-rum-pa-rum-rum.

What to do? I need to put a cork in this bottle, but is it too late? I think not. I have a plan.

Tomorrow I'm going for a run. Einstein's going with me.

Join us.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Not Even Half a Brain!




Apparently, this is the part of my brain I use when I write.

Yowzer!

I've got some Serious Horsepower in reserve. I should be, like, a Galactic Overlord by now.

You know, I've often wondered how I could get rid of that icky feeling part of my brain, but this picture tells me I don't use it anyway, so why bother?

Hey, solving a problem by doing nothing? I'm all over that!

Friday, November 21, 2008

And Now for Something Completely Different



This is my stapler.

It's very old. About 30 years old to be imprecise.

And those are boxes of staples, mostly full, holding, at their prime, 10,000 staples.

Obviously I have been slacking on the staple front to have so many staples remaining after so many years.

I think I have a candidate for a 2009 New Year's Resolution: Use More Staples.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Let's Talk About Okra

Okra.

Who even knows what that stuff is?

Srsly.

My short story about okra involves a bar-b-que evening that degenerated into a beer fest that degenerated into a frat party that degenerated into ... well, it degenerated.

I vaguely remember all of us planting okra seeds with gay abandon. Baccalaurean Okra.

The okra took root and grew into enormous, leafy plants with okra spears jutting out from every branch. Okra spears grow at the joint between a branch and the main stem, rather than hanging down like plums or figs. They stick right up there, as Palin would say with a twinkle in her eye.

So, once an okra plant becomes a teenager, the upright okra spears grow to full, turgid length every day. You can almost see them grow and the old wives tale suggests that you can make them grow faster by tickling the little hairs that grow along the shaft of the okra spear. Not that I've EVER done that, mind you. Old wives tale. Although, possibly with a young wife ...

Anyway.

Okra.

Right. Back to the subject.

The three most popular ways of serving okra are fried, stewed and as an additive to a soup like gumbo where the starchy component of okra is used as a thickening agent.

OK, here we go again. Young wives and thickening agents. People! Focus, please.

You can't beat fried okra, even if you are a young wife. For a start, fried okra is chopped and there's basically nothing to beat. Chopped okra dipped in batter and deep fried in oil with spices is a wonderful snack. Not only is the okra full of fiber but if the oil is hot enough the dish is virtually fat free and downright healthy. Okra contain soft seeds and whether you spit or swallow the seeds is a matter of personal preference. The seeds are not tough like pumpkin seed husks, so I find it best just to gulp them down. Never had a problem with that.

Stewed okra are totally different and a much more mellow dish. You want to tone it down if you're stewing okra. Candles, Isaac Hayes on the stereo, onions, tomato paste and garlic. Now you're talking!

Gentle, bubbling, flavorful. Yeah, baby, that's it.

Throw in some sliced mushrooms and you've got it going.

Bay-bee!
Gimmie some ok-ra.
Right now!
Oh, yeah, bay-bee!

Hey, is it hot in here or is it me?

Gotta run!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Not So Yucky

I like mushrooms.

You don't.

Does that make you an idiot?

Well, yeah! Duh! (uses several hundred Italian hand gestures for Whassamattayou???!!!???)

The Houston Chronicle published a little story under their topic Who Gives a Rat's Ass on "Foods People Hate."

I thought it would be an article about eating insects, spiders, centipedes, snakes, worms and creepy-crawly stuff from the ocean. What, however, were the foods people hated?

Well, let me qualify that. It turns out that the "people" polled were little kids who hardly qualify as People. I mean ... really!

So, back to the story. Here's the list of Hated Foods. Read it and weep.

Yes, weep my children for these wonderful foods who are apparently tortured by boiling to extinction, mishandled, bent, folded and mutilated before being served as "food." Even the most expensive cut of meat or treasured truffle can be ruined by the clod masquerading as the chef.

Anyway, here's the list:


Button Mushrooms
Asparagus
Yams
Liver
Lima Beans
Brazil Nuts
Okra
Raisins
Pea Soup
Hard Boiled Eggs
Beets
Raw Onions
Raw Oysters
Cilantro
Oyster Mushrooms
Brussels Sprouts


OK, restrain me, now, but Cute as a Button Mushrooms?

Who. Could. Not. Like. Button. Mushrooms?

More to the point, what are people doing to the yummy, cute as a button mushroom to give it such a bad rap? It's impossible to overcook. The mushroom soaks up flavor like the little sponge it is. I'm shocked, I am.

Beets? Been there and done that. I'm well over my beet phobia and it was only a matter of preparation. I am One with the Beet.

And, Brussels Sprouts? Again, I can't imagine the torture that sprouts undergo to become a hated food. Oh, well, yes I can.

I can imagine people being picky about raw oysters, liver and okra, but raisins? Yams? Hard boiled eggs?

If that's the case we have some serious culinary damage going on. Somebody needs to do something!

And, I know just who that somebody is. In the next few weeks we'll take a look at each of these "hated" foods and separate fact from fiction, yummy from yucky and sauce from sauced.

Yes, there will be some 'splainin' to do.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

National Soup Day

Tonight I'm whipping up a vegetable soup. No recipe, just winging it. Throw a bunch of veggies in a pot, season, cook for a while and it's soup.

Leeks were on sale today, so I started my soup with a sauté of chopped leaks and onions. I cooked the mixture until the onions were fully caramelized and golden brown. The leeks were also tinged with black and brown. Then in went everything else I had in the house:

red pepper
corn
peas
roma tomatoes
turnips
potato
carrots
zucchini
garlic

I forgot the celery. Oh, well, next time.

Seasoned with a couple of Knorr vegetable stock cubes, Tabasco, black pepper and some bay leaves. I'll adjust the salt later, or we'll do that when we serve up. I usually under-salt things these days and let the diners adjust the seasonings to their taste.

I also bought some fresh tortillas to toast.

It's going to be a great meal for a frosty November evening. Yep, it's going to get down to 57 tonight. Brrrrrrrr!

Oh, and my posting for NaBloPoMo for this day last year?

Chicken soup.

November 18th. National Soup Day.

--------------

Postscript

Two hours plus of cooking. I took a taste an hour ago and it was OK, but thin. Now, yummy. And in another hour, prize winning. Who knows how far I could take this soup!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Cookie Recipe




I'm still looking for the recipe for these.

For some reason I don't think Tipper made them.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Me and Al. Oh, and Tipper.

The other day Al and I were reminiscing about how we created the Internet all those years ago and the marvelous change it has brought to the World.

At the time I was skeptical we could do it but Al kept saying

“Yes, we can! Yes, we can!”

I brought out a couple of beers. Al had just about polished off the chips and dip. Mental note for next time: supersize.

Al was just finishing a long, shaggy dog story about international policy and the time Henry Kissinger got his coat caught in a taxi cab door and, subsequently, nearly broke the land speed record for the 100-yard sprint, I interrupted.

“Hey, Al,” I said, “remember when we were trying to work the bugs out of email and Tipper kept sending us all those cookie recipes? I mean, it was like 50 a day!”

Al chuckled and took a pull on his longneck, “Yeah, that was funny. She thought we really wanted that stuff and we had to invent the email trash can just to deal with ‘em.”

I put my feet up on the porch rail and looked out over the setting sun. Al concentrated on the dip bowl and was pretty successful in scraping off an atomic monolayer of dip on the last chip.

“Stroke of genius,” I said randomly.

“What’s that?” Al said distractedly. He looked like he was trying to decide if he should eat the last chip or frame it.

“It was a stroke of genius how you got Tipper to stop sending us cookie recipes.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well,” I continued, “it was obvious she was never going to run out of cookies. Peanut butter, sugar, oatmeal, chocolate chip, snickerdoodles. I mean, it went on forever.”

“Mmmmmmm, cookies ... “ Al had that glazed donut look in his eye.

“Focus, Al, focus,” I said.

“What, bofus?” Al replied in reflex.

We both laughed at that!

“What I am referring to, Al, is how you got Tipper off the cookie train and on the potted meat train. Remember that? Pork ears, snouts, feet and ‘parts’ and stuff.”

“Parts is parts,” Al said, “I remember inventing that, too. Just smooch them all together and you’ve got...”

“Spam in a can, my friend,” I interrupted, “Spam in a can.”

I continued, “How many potted meat recipes did she send us? A thousand? Ten thousand? And how about all those recipes that included stock tips and offers of cheap pharmaceuticals and chain letters, oh, I almost forgot about chain letters!”

We were both laughing pretty hard.

“And you know the best part, Al, my old buddy?”

Al was guffawing so much tears were rolling down his jowls and he had developed a bad case of hiccups.

“No, wh-wh-what? B-b-b-best part. Hahahaha!”

“The best part is that you, Al, are credited with creating the very useful Internet feature, The Browser Cookie, and Tipper got...”

I could hardly get the words out.

“Tipper got credit for ... “

We paused, looked at each other, high fived and shouted together,

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Contract

When we picked up Kink the Cat from the animal shelter they had an application form to determine, I guess, if we were Cat People. There was a question that asked how we would feel if our new cat scratched our furniture.

Well, having had young kids in a house I can tell you that ONLY scratching the furniture is a pretty minor thing so I replied something to the extent that cats are cats, cats scratch and that all goes with owning a cat.

I suspect they never read those answers, although mine was well thought out and from the heart. Really.

So, fast forwarding, Kink the Cat has been pretty good on the scratching front, although what he really likes is experimenting with gravity. If there is something to sweep off a counter or off a table to the floor, Kink is on it. He watches intently as the object falls to the floor and I'm sure he's doing advanced physics calculations that will eventually earn him a Nobel Prize.

Now, I've been warned to move all the stuff I care about away from edges where they could become physics experiments, but, as you know, I ignored that advice.

The other day there was an almighty crash from the living room and there was Kink on the mantlepiece looking down at the remains of a Hopi kachina. A work of art, the kachina had been carved out of cottonwood, painted and decorated, and had been on our mantlepiece for about 10 years. Why Kink decided to sweep this object to the floor after all this time is a mystery, but I had been warned. And warned unheeded is nagged to eternity.

Am I upset? Not really. Kink merely presented me with a three-dimensional puzzle to solve and we worked on restoring the kachina together. I glued and Kink tried to sweep the remaining pieces to the floor. What a team!

The kachina is now repaired and will live in a cabinet safe from the inquisitive paws of Kink the Physicist. Who knows? When Kink wins the Nobel Prize maybe I can knock it to the floor and we'll be even.

Yeah, that would be cool.



Guilty conscience.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Follow Your Heart

Some years ago I produced a spectacular, possibly magical, meal partly by design and partly by providence.

Over time I changed up the recipe adding this, subtracting that until I settled on something that produced consistent results:

This is YUMMY!

That to me is the ultimate accolade. If my diners shout “This is YUMMY!” and solicit back rubs or offer to have my babies, I figure I’ve done well.

“Just rub my upper back” indicates to me that I might have left out some salt.

“I’m going to call him Bill!!!!” is a clue that I got it right.

So, there I was some months ago doing my Special Porky Thing.

The Special Porky Thing is pork chop cubes stewed with peppers, squash and tomatoes, with few spices, actually, nothing more than salt and pepper, but cooked long enough for the flavors to mingle and form a Special Porky Goodness.

I usually get rave reviews for the Special Porky Thing and half the kids in the state are named after me as a result. Yes, I know it’s a burden, but somebody must shoulder it and speaking of pork shoulder, that’s a good ingredient!

Thus it was that one fine day I decided to Improve on the Proven Recipe.

Instead of using fresh tomatoes I relied on a large can of tomato paste.

My rationale was this: if all those tomatoes boil down into a paste, why not skip the middle man and go for the end game.

Yeah, baby, efficiency!

Not.

Not. Not. Not.

In fact the KNOT was on my head.

I soon learned that a can of tomato paste is NO SUBSTITUTE,

let me repeat that,

N O S U B S T I T U T E ! ! !

Oh, let me repeat that,

N O S U B S T I T U T E ! ! !

for real tomatoes.

So, in case you’re thinking about doing a Porky Thing using tomato paste, brother, let me tell you from the heart.

Don’t. Do. It.


Lecture over.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Goldilocks Approves this Recipe

I made corn bread twice this week because the first batch was so good I thought it was a fluke.

Had I finally discovered the perfect recipe for corn bread?

Of course, my friend, Joe, claims there isn't a "recipe" for corn bread by definition. He could be right because I didn't measure anything.

Here's the blueprint or, rather, the sketch:

1 cup white flour
1 cup stone ground corn meal
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
2 teaspoons sugar
pinch salt
1 egg
1/3 cup oil
1 cup milk
1 small can creamed corn
1 small can chopped green chilis

Mix the dry ingredients. Mix the egg, oil and milk separately. Dump in the corn and chili. Add enough of the egg mixture to form a thick batter.

Meanwhile, heat the oven to 450 with a cast iron skillet inside. Remove the skillet, spray with Pam, dump in the batter and return to the oven for 20 minutes.

I think the key is that the batter has to be "just right." Not too thick, not too thin.

Something Goldilocks would approve.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Inspiration

I've known Beth Cherry for about five years, although we've never met physically.

When I first got interested in the Blogging Scene I surfed the Net looking for blogs of interest, and if I found something interesting I would follow the links on that blog to other interesting blogs.

That's how I found the North Carolina Experiment, one of Beth's earlier blogs.

I was captivated by Beth's design and layout. As a web designer myself I was always on the lookout for people with that certain graphical eye or particular writing style.

I found both on Beth's blog. Her web design was striking and unique. Her writing was direct but playful. She had it all.

Face it, Beth had Style. Capital S.

I was also impressed by Beth the person who wrote about her trials and tribulations so openly and effortlessly, something I'd find hard to do. Beth wrote about her life, her loves, her aspirations, her disappointments, her successes and her failures. Such openness was epitomized by blogs and Beth took that genre to the boundaries.

Beth was a Blogging Pioneer, First Class, with a gold Oak Leaf cluster. An inspiration to us all. Beth demonstrated by her hard work and open heart what blogging could be. I was hooked. And my own writing grew from her example.

Beth was the inspiration for my own blogging life and without her guidance I would have given up years ago. Beth illuminated a path to the Muse that resides in us all, but needs to be awakened and encouraged.

From North Carolina, Beth applied to graduate school in design in New York and was accepted. It was a big decision and a big move for her to leave a paying job for live as a graduate student and no guarantee of a future. However, she leapt for that gold ring, secured her Masters of Fine Arts from the top design school in the nation and has launched herself on another adventure and career taking her to Germany and India.

Although I have no horse in this race, so to speak, I am proud of Beth's accomplishments and achievements. Her spirit and moxie are inspirational to me and, I'm sure, all the people who know her.

And, I consider it a great privilege to have been asked to be a guest blogger on her site while she is on vacation in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean which, apparently, has no cell phone towers.

Who knew?

Check out my pitiful attempt to uphold my end of the bargain at Beth Cherry dot Com.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Guest Blogging

I will be Guest Blogging at Beth Cherry's site on Thursday.

The pressure is on.

Monday, November 10, 2008

I’m Making a List

Our plumber, not Joe, sent us a nice gift this year for helping to keep him in business thanks in large part to the wonderful construction of our house.

If I ever find out that not-Joe’s brother-in-law was our builder I’m calling Jack Bauer.

Seriously.

Anyway, the gift. In addition to the annual calendar, Insects of Texas, (apparently he ran out of Cheerleaders of Dallas), we were sent a pad of tear-off shopping lists.

In all too bright yellow and green the pad proclaims, “Shopping! List!” I can only explain the exclamation point after the word “shopping” as there being a sale on exclamation points when the pad was printed. No other explanation comes even close to working.

Anyway, the pad is very useful and I leave it with a pen on the countertop in the kitchen so we can jot down things we need to buy as we run out. So, throughout the week the top sheet starts out blank then gradually fills up with things like cereal, milk, eggs, garlic powder, athlete’s foot powder, athlete’s foot spray, athlete’s foot ointment and the usual stuff that a typical household consumes in normal operation.

Rule Number 1 in the house, or at least it’s in the Top 100 is that when we are out of something it goes on the list. Low on salt, write it down. One egg left, write it down. Smooth operation of the kitchen requires this rule to be followed at all times, which, of course, it is. Invariably.

Being the proactive kind of person I am, and everybody knows that, I took the list to work with me the other day figuring I could pick up the stuff we needed on the way home.

It was a short list: apples, orange juice, milk and bacon.

That’s me, bringing home the bacon! I returned from the hunt victorious.

My euphoria, however, was short-lived. Gathering ingredients for dinner I discovered we were out of cheese. No cheese! Not a morsel. Not even a Kraft sliced single (individually wrapped!)

“Hey,” I shouted out, “we’re out of cheese!”

“So?” came the less than enthusiastic reply; a guilty reply indicating failure of Someone to follow Rule Number 1.

“So, I need cheese and I just went to the store this afternoon!”

My whine was met with silence.

I stewed for a few minutes trying to think of a substitute for cheese, but soon realized I had to make another trip. In the rain.

“I’m going up to get some cheese, even though it’s raining, even though cheese wasn’t on the list. I’ll be back in 20 minutes or so.”

I returned 40 minutes later having got stuck behind Coupon Lady in the checkout line. There I was in the Express Lane with a package of cheese waiting for the cashier to scan several hundred (so it seemed at the time) coupons which saved the thrifty shopper a grand total of thirty-nine cents.

Finally, I got home, dried off, and set to work preparing what would be an Outstanding Macaroni and Cheese dinner. I could just smell the bubbling cheese and taste the golden, crunchy macaroni.

My favorite. We don’t have Macaroni and Cheese all that often but when I’m in the mood, especially on a rainy day, it really hits the spot. The perfect comfort food.

Thumping around in the kitchen I heard a voice from the other room.

“Is that you? Are you back?”

“Yes, it’s me and yes, I’m back.” I switched to my Terminator Voice, “I’M BAAAACK!”

“Did you buy macaroni?”

“Macaroni?” I replied warily, “no, why?”

“We’re out.”

Sunday, November 09, 2008

iReport. uRead.

If we didn't have the Internet, Al Gore and I would have to invent it.

Truth is, of course, he beat me to it by >that< much. I had taken the weekend off to go tubing down the Guadalupe River with Tim Berners-Lee and that was the weekend Al made his move. The rest is history.

Well, not to be outdone this time I am officially a CNN iReporter. (Al Gore, alas, is not.)

Card carrying.

Bone Fido.

I am among the elite few, about 175,000 of us, who comb the Planet for news stories to beam to the Mother Ship for the eventual dissemination to All of Humanity.

It's a heavy mantle, but I'm man enough to shoulder it without complaining too much.

Much of the news we iReporters iReport is local. Sometimes very local. But, you add up all the Local News and pretty soon you have Neighborhood News which rolls up into Community News and eventually explodes into Semi-Small-Regional News.

Today I've got my eye on a fire ant mound that's building in our neighbor's yard. It's definitely on his property because I snapped a chalk line from where our fence runs to the sidewalk. The fire ant mound is definitely on his side of the line although it's possible that microscopic fire ant tunnels extend to Our side which would be a clear violation of the Geneva Fire Ant Treaty of 1962. I've ordered an advanced sub-surface surveillance team to come in on Monday to do a survey.

Then I'll know for sure and you can put this in the bank that if a violation of the treaty has occurred I'll be iReporting it.

So far, the fire ant mound is approximately 5 centimeters in elevation and approximately 10 centimeters in diameter, but I've seen these things double in proportion overnight.

Here are the main questions in this unfolding drama.

Where is the Queen and Royal family? Have they sought asylum across the street? We don't know!

Has the mound been treated? It's difficult to tell, but judging from our neighbor's propensity to "let things go," aka the Great Mole Invasion of 2003, I suspect not.

However, I must now reign in my emotions and report only the facts. After all, I represent CNN, now, and the reputation of my fellow iReporters must be considered.

I've set up a Fire Ant Mound Watch and I'll be here all night on my lawn chair watching the mound. If the Royal Family tries to make a break for it I'll be right there to document that historic event and post my story to CNN where you can read it first hand.

Don't worry about me. I've got a Thermos of coffee, my trucker's MagLight and, more importantly, the determination and experience of an iReporter to wait these things out.

I won't let you down.

Reporting from Texas, good night and good luck.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Hot to Trot

I was walking towards the truck with an arm full of vittles for dinner when I heard an anxious voice behind me.

"Hey! Wait up!"

I turned around to see an attractive young women running towards me waiving a handful of money.

"I need you!" I heard her shout.

I thought, "Not again. Third time this week."

When she got close she eyed me from head to foot, and foot to head. Then she said, "Oh, you're not the guy with the coupons."

The cashier had a fist full of coupons and rebate money probably totaling $2, my going rate on a good day.

"Rats," she said, "missed him." She turned and headed back to the store.

"Lunch next week?" I enquired.

Above her head she raised a single finger which I interpreted to be Wednesday.

Friday, November 07, 2008

I Like, Me Like



I took the package out of the refrigerator and gazing at the contents said in a funny voice and possibly out loud, “Mmmmmmmm, I like!”

“Hey,” said Kink, “do that again.”

“Do what again?”

“Do the ‘Elmo’ voice again. That was funny.”

I turned to Kink and gave him The Glare™.

“I do not do ‘Elmo’, Kink,” I said, “you know that.”

“Sounded like ‘Elmo’,” Kink sulked.

I decided to educate Kink on the subtleties of ‘Elmo’ of which there are exactly NONE.

“For a start, Kink, ‘Elmo’ would never say ‘I like.’ ‘Elmo’ would say ‘me like.’ The former is grammatically correct while the latter is Elmo-speak. I don’t do Elmo-speak.”

“If ‘Elmo’ were here,” I continued, “I’d chop him into tiny pieces using a Paul Bunyan axe. Then I’d run the little pieces through a paper shredder. Then I’d use a flame thrower on the teeny tiny little pieces. Then I’d sweep the ashes up, put them in a vial, and shoot it into the Sun.”

Kink said, “OK, OK! I get the picture. All too vividly. So, what’s up with the funny voice and ‘I like.’ You still have some ‘splainin’ to do.”

“Well, if you must know, I was thinking about an entertainer I liked as a kid. A ventriloquist who worked with a puppet lamb. Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop.”

“Lamb Chop was the exact opposite of everything Elmo. Lamb Chop was cute, articulate, witty and fun. Elmo, not.”

“Lamb Chop was simple entertainment for a simple time. No computer generated graphics, no F/X, no animation, no surround sound. Nope, just a sock and a couple of buttons and imagination. You remember imagination, don’t you, Kink?”

Kink yawned his “I’m tired of this Lecture” yawn and turned to leave the kitchen. “I’m going to watch the Lord of the Rings hologram. Call me for dinner.”

Kink paused at the doorway and turned, “By the way, what IS for dinner.”

“Chef surprise.”

Kink shrugged, disappearing into the next room.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Gone But Not Forgotten

I heart Google!

Google is like all the libraries I ever wanted to visit, and it’s at my fingertips.

Average weight of a gooney bird? 53,000 pounds.

Oh, hang on, that’s an airplane, not the bird. Well, at least it’s an answer.

So, you’re wondering where this is going and in the spirit of humanity I’m going to tell you.

The other day I was reminiscing about a restaurant I visited many, many years ago and wondered if it was still there. A quick Google search informed me that it wasn’t.

Long gone.

Kaput.

Too bad, actually. I’ve only visited Hawaii once and that was almost too long ago for anyone to remember. But, I do recall vividly returning to our condo along the beach around sunset and discussing where to go for dinner.

As we strolled up the beach we saw lights, heard laughter and music. A small sign said:


Crab Catcher
beach entrance


Hey, we thought, we could go in for a pre-dinner drink, relax a bit, and figure out where to have dinner.

Of course, you know what happened. The Crab Catcher turned out to be one of those magical restaurants you visit by serendipity in which each moment is eclipsed by a better moment until you finally can’t stand it.

The Crab Catcher was all that and more.

We were seated at a little table on the patio overlooking the Pacific. The sun was setting. Another sunset in paradise. How many had we seen? Many, but this one was spectacular.

Golden and pink clouds. Sun reflecting across the still waters of the Pacific. Incredible smells of cooking food. A bottle or three of wine.

Yep, a typical Hawaiian sunset.

A drink led to appetizers which led to the dinner menu which led to dinner.

I recall having a very nicely grilled tuna steak with grilled, local, vegetables. And, not too filling, because this was a rare occasion we opted for dessert and what a dessert it was.

Macadamia nut turtle pie. Macadamia nuts with macadamia nut ice cream with chocolate ice cream and a graham cracker crust with chocolate syrup and, well, I fainted after the first bite but it might have had caramel and whipped cream.

All I remember is the dessert going down. The wine going down. The sun going down.

At the end we slumped in our chairs and I might have asked the waiter if we could just sleep the night here. I think he was cool with it.

The Crab Catcher. Maui, Hawaii.

Gone but not forgotten.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

You're All Invited!

Twelve Two Two Fondue V

Monday, December 22, 2008.

I'm sitting here in the Blogorium inviting all of you, virtually to the Greatest Fondue Party on Earth.

Join us here at Twelve Two Two Fondue with your fondue party and send us pictures or IM's or text messages. Watch this spot for details of how to do that.

My goal is to have a Global Fondue Party and we have mostly achieved it. There are readers from all continents including Antarctica (Yo, G, zip up there at the South Pole!) and we all love cheese.

I believe we can have a World Wide Fondue Revolution.

Yes. We. Can.

Yes. We. Can.

Plan your party. Buy our cheese. Invite your friends.

Twelve Two Two Fondue = Love on a Stick Dripping in Cheese

Actually, it's better than it sounds!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

My Usual, Please. Part III

As evening transcended into night, the second carafe of wine going down nicely, the restaurant became quieter as families and couples finished their dinners, paid their respects to the owners and departed into the darkness.

A family busily herded their flock of children out the door. One little girl of about five years turned and waved to me.

“Good night, mister,” she said in a little voice.

Caught off guard I blurted out the first thing that popped into my mind which, even as I was saying it, I was wishing I weren’t:

“Live long and prosper, little one.” And, adding to the insanity, I made the Vulcan sign. Sort of.

The little girl smiled. Her parents frowned and I heard her mother say as they passed through the doorway, “Let’s leave the strange, little man alone, OK?”

I thought, “little?”

A waiter replaced the candle at my table which was burning low.

Looking around I found myself alone in the restaurant. The only diner. Sitting alone contemplating the remains of a second carafe of wine and wishing he’d brought something to read like “War and Peace” or “Great Expectations.”

I tilted the breadstick tumbler into the light. Crumbs. I thought back to the salad and antipasto. When did I have that? Yesterday?

Suddenly, the kitchen door flew open and everybody came out: the young waiter, the owner, what looked like the chef and sous-chef, several women and other people. The owner went to the front door locking it with an audible snick.

Meanwhile, people were busy pulling tables together, laying a long tablecloth and laying place settings. Then more people came out of the kitchen bearing more food than I had seen in a year. Spaghetti, angel hair pasta with clams, chicken with olives, ravioli and giant flagons of wine.

A slender, blonde lady who I later discovered was the wife of the owner approached me and, smiling, said, “Signor, your table is bare. Such a pity. Please, join our family as our honored guest.”

I wasn’t sure what to do but a line from a movie echoed in my head:

“Let me make you an offer you can’t refuse.”

I honored her offer.

I was directed to a chair at the head of the table. The owner was at the other end and, quickly, everybody was seated. The owner made a few remarks in Italian, everybody approved and the feast was on.

By this time I was famished and heartedly accepted everything offered me. Meats, pasta, meat pasta, pasta covered meat, vegetables, pickled vegetables, and wine, wine and more wine.

There was singing and I joined in having know idea what I was singing but trying to blend in. Only a few people winced.

My wine glass was magical. No sooner than I finished it, it replenished itself. I drank, it filled.

The food, the wine, the family, the fun, the love and the wine (did I mention that already?) moved me to poetry and I rose to propose a toast to my hosts.

Yes, a toast to the hoast!

As I rose from my chair, wine glass in hand, the raucous conversation died down and I could hear the owner admonishing with “shhhh, shhhh!”

I looked at the upturned faces glowing from food and drink. Good people. Honest people. Family people. I think I shed a tear.

“My family,” I started.

Then, apparently, there was an earthquake. Or, at least, I recall the room swaying left to right, up to down, and the table rising to meet my nose. My last thought was, “I’m so sleepy.”

I slipped into darkness falling. Falling in the dark. Falling, falling, falling ...

-------------------

“Cannonball!”

SPLASHHHHHHH!!!!

“Ha! Ha! Hahahahha!”

Squeals of joy.

A truck was backing up. Beeeeeep! Beeeeeep! Beeeeeep!

In the distance the siren of a police car or fire truck sounded.

I opened my eyes and looked around.

I was in my bed at the TravelLodge. I looked a the clock on the nightstand. 2:20 P.M. A little drummer was playing the bongos on my brain but it wasn’t too bad. It could have been the kettle drummer.

Cotton mouth. Been there. Done that. Have the t-shirt.

I rolled out of bed and shuffled into the bathroom for a shower. After 30 minutes of pounding water I was starting to feel human again.

Images flashed in my mind. Singing. Toasting. Feasting.

A dream. Yeah, a dream.

As I got dressed I could hear kids playing in the hotel pool and the sounds of the city in the background. I didn’t remember walking home from the restaurant but I did remember having a great time.

I think.

There was a salad and wine and a blur and, quite possibly, a good time. There were lights and singing and dancing and ... could it have been a dream? Did I just have one glass beyond the line? I may never know.

I’ve eaten in a lot of restaurants on the road and it’s usually the same. Table for one. I’ll have this. Pay in the front. Have a nice evening.

Professional. Efficient. Sterile.

Food is more than survival. Food is community. Food is family. Food binds us together.

Restaurants provide a service. Restaurants provide food. Restaurants don’t provide family.

I shook it off. I went to a restaurant last night, had a little too much to drink, somehow stumbled home and had a jumble of dreams. Yep, that explained it.,

I reached down to the nightstand to get my car keys and noticed a receipt from Leonar o’s.


1 Dinner

On the House


And below that was written


Figlio,

Sogni dolci.

Papa



Suddenly all the details of the evening flooded back. Wow, I thought! It was real. A real family restaurant where everybody knows your name.

I put the receipt in my pocket. On my way out of the parking lot I stopped at the Office.

Roberto Grasso was in his enormous chair watching General Hospital on a small black-and-white TV.

“Bob,” I said, “thanks for recommending that restaurant last night. It was fantastic.”

Bob looked up and regarded me with heavy lidded eyes. “Oh?” he said, “did you go to Vinni’s”

“No,” I answered, “I went to Leonardo’s and it was fantastic. Good food, good wine, good company.”

I added, “They treated me like family. Especially the owner and his beautiful blonde wife.”

Bob’s expression clouded and he looked away, deep in thought.

Eventually he looked back at me and asked, “You're sure Leonardo’s.”

“Positive,” I said, “only the ‘d’ was missing from the door so it said ‘Leonar o’s’”

Bob blanched, crossed himself and went silent.

“Bob,” I said. “BOB!” I shouted.

Bob looked up and if anything seemed somewhat shrunken, as if that were possible.

“You must have gone to Vinni’s because Leonardo’s burned down 20 years ago. Twenty years ago exactly. Yesterday. The entire Leonardo family perished in the fire. It was tragic. Mother, father, sons. All gone. Tragic.”

“What?” I said. “No, you’re wrong. I ate there last night. I can prove it. I have a receipt.”

I dug into my pocket.

The receipt was gone.

----------------------

Occasionally, I have dreams. I’m seated at the end of a long table. An old man at the end of the table rises to offer a toast. All the people around the table lift their glasses.

“Live long and prosper,” the old man offers.

“Live long and prosper,” the diners reply in unison.

In the following silence a small girl giggles.

Monday, November 03, 2008

My Usual, Please. Part II

I thought I had interrupted a family party and perhaps I had, but mentioning Roberto Grasso’s name seemed to have a magic effect and suddenly I was a member of the family.

The young waiter approached, a big smile on his face.

“Something to drink, Signor?”

I hadn’t time to look at the menu so I simply replied, “A glass of chianti would be nice.”

“House,” the young waiter asked, then paused, “or do you have something specific in mind?”

For all the wrong reasons and for all the right reasons I answered, “House,” and added, “of course!”

The young waiter brightened, took his hand out from under his apron (what’s up with that?), turned on his heel and marched into the kitchen barking something in Italian which sounded to me like “He want’s the house! We don’t kill him. Yet.”

The kitchen cheered in approval.

Presently, the young waiter returned with a glass of house chianti which was quite dry, fruity and surprisingly good.

I took a sip, turned to the waiter and beaming said, “This is very nice.” The young waiter turned on his well-worn heel and marched back into the kitchen barking something in Italian which sounded to me like, “He’s OK. Not government.”

I sipped the chianti, observed the patrons in the restaurant for a while and finally took a look at the menu.

The menu was written in Italian.

Now, I know some Italian, like, just enough to get me beat up in most of Italy, but I’m not an expert. After my experience so far I was not about to ask for a menu in English, which they might not have, and, thus, betray my Federal employers, leading to a midnight drive to the marina and all sorts of Godfather things to follow.

No, in this situation I knew exactly what to do and I bided my time for the young waiter to return.

“Are you ready to order, Signore?”

“Yes,” I replied, “I’d like to start with the antipasto and a Caesar salad.”

“And for your main course?”

“What would you recommend?”

The question threw the young waiter for a loop but not for long, but he paused looking at me quizzically.

“What’s your favorite dish?” I said, “ That’s what I would like to have tonight. Your favorite.”

The young waiter shifted from foot to foot and I think he even blushed. He stammered but a assured him I wanted his opinion. Finally, he made his suggestion.

Cannelloni Leonardo.

“Cannelloni Leonardo it is,” and with that I snapped the menu shut, handing it to the young waiter.

Young waiter paused, then observed, “Signor, if you would like another chianti may I recommend a carafe which would be less expensive than another glass or three.”

Immediately, I liked his style. Yes, bring me a carafe! Party on, Garth! I gave the Metallica sign and the young waiter crossed himself and backed into the kitchen, slowly.

Fellow traveller, I thought. Cool.

The carafe of House chianti arrived soon and slipped down a treat. I slouched in my chair and watched the diners in the restaurant eat, pay and leave. Eat, pay and leave. Eat, pay and leave. Eats, shoots and leaves.

My breadsticks were gone. My carafe was empty. The antipasto and salad were a dim memory. My dinner had not arrived.

Just as I downed the final dregs of my House chianti a shadow loomed over my table. I looked up to see a very older version of the young waiter. Possibly the young waiter’s great-great-great-great-grandfather. This man had wrinkles in his wrinkles, his eyes reflected the experience of several lifetimes. Also, he had a bulge under his apron, not that I usually look for such things, and I decided to be very still.

Very still.

And polite.

The old waiter looked at me and said, “Signor, I will be brief. We burned your dinner. There is no excuse for this. It is our fault. Your dinner burned. And, it appears that our chef has suffered a boating accident at the marina.”

I blinked. Not really wanting an explanation, but somewhat relieved that I hadn’t ordered the fish.

The old waiter continued, “Here is a carafe of House chianti on the House. No charge. Your dinner will be here soon, I hope, but, please, forgive us for this and, if you will, don’t mention this unfortunate situation for which we are personally apologetic to Roberto Grasso.”

It was no skin off my nose so I took the high road and said, “Oh, no problem, I’m having a delightful evening and, really, it’s no problem.” I was hungry enough to gnaw bark off a tree, although the wine had dulled my appetite somewhat.

I started in on the second carafe of wine.

It slipped down a treat and my adventure continued.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

My Usual, Please. Part I

My good friend Molly Wizenberg who writes the My Cooking Life column in Bon Appetit magazine waxed lyrically about “my place” or “our place,” namely a restaurant you can call your own and order My Usual, Please.

Although I have several restaurants that I would like to call My Usual, I would like to write about a restaurant I would have liked to call My Usual. Alas, I don’t even know where this restaurant is or if it is still in business.

Over a quarter of a century ago in a galaxy far, far away a young Jedi Programmer was sent to California for training. The young Jedi seeking a hotel near the training center was thwarted by a Huge Convention in the city which sucked up all the available rooms or many miles around. The young Jedi found himself in a TravelLodge motel located centrally in what was then known as the “wrong side of town.” Undaunted (read that “idiotically”) the young Jedi befriended the owner of the motel and asked him for a recommendation for dinner, having exhausted the local fast food places, Denny’s and buffets.

Little Italian place. Down the street on the right. Don’t blink or you’ll miss it. Walk because there’s no parking.

Armed with local knowledge I set off in search of a "little Italian place" and, as I recall, I walked past it twice before I noticed the unpretentious red and white checkered window and small door emblazoned with stick-on letters: Leonar o’s.

Well, missing "d" or not, I was hungry. I had walked for half an hour looking for this place, there were good smells coming from somewhere (not from the bus driving by) so I went in.

The restaurant was small and surprisingly cozy for the middle of Los Angeles.

Candles flickered on small tables covered with red-and-white checked tablecloths. Couples occupied small tables while large, corner booths were filled with families. There was an excited babble of conversation and some kind of music (accordion?) played in the background.

As soon as I stepped across the doorway...

...everything stopped.

The conversation stopped. The music stopped. I think my heart stopped.

A young man with intense eyes and fidgety hands came up to me. His aforementioned intense eyes darting left and right asked in a whisper, “Can I help you?”

“Can I help you” is quite different from “Table for One?” or “Welcome to Leonardo’s” or even “Welcome to Leonar o’s.”

“Can I help you” was like I walked into the wrong place and perhaps I had.

Being the local idiot and not sensing any danger I blurted, “Bob from the TravelLodge recommended that I eat here. Table for one?”

The young man squinted and gave a puzzled look. “Bobe, bobe,” he said.

I interjected using my hands to describe how Big Bob was.

“Bob,” I said sweeping my hands around me and puffing my cheeks.

You see, Bob was a huge man. I estimate he weighed ten thousand pounds give or take a few pounds. Bob was seriously B.I.G.

As I gestured the young man squinted even more, took a step towards me, reached under his apron then. Suddenly. Stopped.

“Grasso,” he muttered, “Roberto Grasso?”

“Si,” I replied having no clue what I just said.

The young man turned away from me, raised his arms and shouted, “Roberto Grasso!”

The restaurant suddenly erupted in cheers and applause. Men got up from their tables and came over to me to shake my hand.

A lady scooted herself out of a booth, walked over to a small table near the kitchen and beckoned me to sit down.

I did.

Once I was seated the music resumed. The warm conversation resumed. And

My adventure had just begun.