Sunday, November 30, 2008

Advent: Sunday #1

This morning at church, everyone, including the weather, was decked out in fine Christmas fashion. The wind was cool out of the North so the people were wearing clothes that weren't fit for the beach house or cabana restaurant. There were sweaters and long sleeves. The sanctuary was decked out in "evergreen" boughs, poinsettias and gold stars and joyful banners.

As the associate pastor was giving the Morning Prayers, her little 3 year-old granddaughter started to wind up a little cry-tune. Linda, the consummate professional, was plowing right through the tiny voice raised in urgent protest. As she paused at one point to take a breath, thanking God for the beginning of the Christmas season, the child yelled out amidst her tirade, "...but I wanna see Baby Jesus!"

Everyone, with heads bowed, snickered in their hymnals and even Linda paused with the hint of a laugh modulating her normally smooth intonations. That made it even funnier. She went right on though, after the slight pause for mirth.

It seems the first Sunday of Advent started the Season of Adventure. I'm not sure how next week can top this one, but I'm in it for the long haul!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving and Taking

Thanksgiving has come and gone like a bolt of gravy-flavored lightening. The build-up complete, preparations made, and pounds of food have been gobbled up, so to speak.

Preparations at our house, since the festivities are usually at my sister-in-law’s home, include the traditional construction of the 15-pound trough of dressing. My wife knows no other way to make this stuff besides the “cook for a hungry horde” method. I am not sure how much goes into it, I kinda don’t want to know really how much it costs, but the finished product is about 17 pounds to carry to the van for transport to the festival site.

The green beans are cooked, again in the “chuck wagon” quantity. Secret recipe, I wish I could share, suffice to say, the quality is high as well as the quantity. The sweet potatoes, though in a large amount, went through a short crisis of inadequacy this morning. The chef believed, erroneously, that half dozen cans of Sugary Sam sweet taters might not be sufficient. I was nearly dispatched to whichever grocer who was open to procure four more cans. We finally rested on the prepared amount being an ample supply for the crew being fed. We still brought some home.

Since the liftoff was scheduled for 1:00 sharp, that is the time we left the house to attend the fete. Finally, all participants arrived, and the final toasting of marshmallows-on-the-sweet-potatoes commenced, along with the rolls and appetizers arranged for their final presentation.

The spread was spectacular again this year. So much food posing the ever-present quandary involving where to start. The spinach salad, the home-made macaroni and cheese, ham, turkey, half-ton of dressing, green beans, cauliflower salad, corn, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, rolls, fruit salad, cherry dump cake, a spectacular chocolate cake, and the famed lemon bars. There was talk of a re-match from last year, but I wasn’t up for it. I am not sure Peepaw was, either. But we both perked up at the mention of them.

Some brave souls loaded their plates and headed outside to the table. It was a batch of teenagers, and as soon as the full weight of the near-eighty degree weather descended upon them, they “chickened-in” to the air-conditioned house.

The second set of brave souls included my youngest daughter, and me and we sat at the card table in lawn chairs. When I sat down, I realized that the position I was forced into compressed my stomach region. I thought that perhaps it would impair my ability to eat a massive amount of food.

I was right. The plate with the turkey and ham and everything else stared me down, and I blinked.

This is a milestone. A record, a landmark. Never have I been NOT able to finish a plate of food. Especially on the great glutton celebration. I did, however, partake in a trio of lemon bars, against my better judgment. They were good, surprisingly, in moderation. I am not used to that.

Hours of zoned-out watching of television and pitching washers later, we packed the remaining 12 pounds of dressing and our other allotment of the cache and we were on our way home.

The holiday that celebrates the bounty enjoyed by the early settlers of this country has come and gone again in the flurry of good food and family visits.

Maybe I’m growing up, maybe I should swear off sitting in lawn chairs to eat. There’s always tomorrow. Really, going to my parents’ house on Friday. I’ll let you know.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Impersonating a Plumber

I have done a little plumbing and I know that it ain’t that hard. The faucets and garbage disposals and toilet workin’s are all really simple. So much simpler than the old days with lead pipe and copper tubing. PVC is really uncomplicated to work with. Saw it off, prime it, glue it and stick it together. Easy as pie.

I did a little plumbing this weekend. The faucet in our bathroom had been leaking pretty bad, and so I bopped down to the Hope Demot store and bought a replacement faucet and a toilet replacement part. More on that later.

The faucet was billed as “1/3 fewer parts, 2/3’s easier!” and had the “needed tools” list on the back, and it was just channel locks, a screwdriver and a crescent wrench. This was gonna be effortless. I looked casually at the supply lines they had in a little display near the faucets. I figured that the current supply lines would be dandy. I hadn’t crawled under the sink to check it out thoroughly, but knew it would be pretty easy. I have done this before. 45 minutes. Tops.

After everybody got out of the house, I got down to some serious plumbing action. I folded up under the sink cabinet to quickly undo the supply lines and loosen the basin nuts holding the old faucet on. Like I said. Easy.

Except for the fact that the basin nuts were really tough to loosen. Really, really tough. I tried to get the channel locks in there to get a grip and then twist it the right way. They put sinks in tight places and upside down, in case you’ve never been under one. After you break the things loose, you’d expect that the nuts are going to, at some point in time, be able to be taken off by hand. You’d think. For some reason, even after breaking the initial tight, the thing never got any looser.

The longer I laid on my big, fat back, arms elevated, the harder it was to handle two slip-joint pliers on each side of the stupid nylon nut, trying to coax it off of its home for the last 18 or so years. I nearly broke down and asked my neighbor if he had a basin wrench, but the bright idea of the Dremel came to mind, and the cut-off wheel became my hero of the moment.

I unfurled from the box I had furled myself into, and got my trusty rotary tool. In a short while, I was again contorted into the cabinet, but this time with a hope in my mind that I could actually make headway. Revving the ol’ Dremel, I bit into the black plastic and bore down until it bogged down, then backed off a little. The cut-off wheel did its work, and was soon spitting melted plastic in my face. I took a different angle on the other side and soon the slack was enough to release the cursed implement. I repeated the action on the hot water side and was soon in “bidness”.

After I removed the old supply lines, I realized that they would not do on the replacement faucet. For one thing, they were copper, with a two-inch section cut out and resected with clear nylon tubing and hose clamps. Not worthy.

So it was back to the home improvement center for the new hoses. Uneventful, but still annoying. I even took the new faucet and the old line in to make sure that I got the right one. Fortunately, that was a good move.

Back at the ranch, I wiggled my sore and cramping body into what seemed by now like a soup can and attached the supply lines to the faucet and in turn to the supply valves. Installed the new drain set and checked it; success!

With a victory under the sink, I turn my attention to the toilet that runs like the Brazos River. I swaggered in to the bathroom (limped, really, making old guy sounds) with the “Complete Toilet Repair Kit”. Upon opening the box, my lightening-quick mind discovered that the kit was lacking in the part that I needed. The float/filler mechanism. Great.

Off to Wildmart for the missing hardware. Upon finding the toilet kits, and the part that I needed, I noted that the same brand apparently has TWO “Complete Toilet Repair” Kits. One is obviously more complete, the one I didn’t purchase at first. No worries, I got the only thing that I came for, and headed to the checkout. Just moments from checking out, my daughter received a phone call from her mom; we needed to pick up stuff for dinner. Ugh, sometimes the cell phone is such a curse.

Finally, on arriving home, I rushed to the bathroom to finish the job begun. Another success. All that remained was to re-attach the water supply to the filler and flush. Due to the configuration of the bathroom, I had to literally hug the toilet to get the hose to the pipe. But I had to do it left-handed, without looking. And no matter how hard I tried, I could not get it threaded on there straight. I knew that I would have to actually look at the thing to accomplish my final task.

I laid down on the floor, put my feet in the tub, and with my left hand, again, threaded the coupling on to the finish line. The actual act of turning the fitting to completion was simple compared to getting myself upright from the position I had taken. There were nearly as many grunts and groans and involuntary sounds of exertion just achieving upright-ness as there was when I was under the sink. All tests made and tools picked up signaled the final chapter and a time to reflect on what went down in the course of the day.

I concluded that a plumber is not paid simply to install a faucet or fix a leaking toilet. It’s partly the knowledge and experience that enables him to cut the time by about three-quarters what you would expend in the completion of any given task. It’s also partly the possession of the tools that expedite the job in question.

Finally, it is the willingness to get into uncomfortable position in tight spaces or smelly places or a combination of the worst of both. My gimme cap is off to the plumbers who keep our society flowing freely.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Climb Every Mountain

I ate a monumental burrito the other day from Chipotle Mexican Grill. For those of you familiar with the offerings there, you are probably just a little hungry right now, merely thinking about one of their monsters*.

For the uninitiated, I will describe it to you briefly. It is roughly the size of a ladies size 20 running shoe, or the top of a Justin Roper boot filled to overflowing with rice, beans, meat, salsa, guacamole, sour cream and don’t-forget-the-cheeze, please. Really, they use 12-inch tortillas, and sometimes the sides don’t even match up when they’re rolled around all of the fillings. So this beast is nearly a foot in circumference and about eight inches long.

If you smile at the ladies building your burrito, they may put a little more roasted corn and red chile salsa on it. The rice is flavored with lime and cilantro, you have a choice of pinto or black beans and of course the other dressings that I mentioned above. All of this is rolled up to the best of their ability and wrapped in foil. With a large drink, the tab comes to nearly $8, so it ain’t a Taco Bell snack. That’s it. No chips, no extra salsa, no salad. Just you and your burrito and a drink. But that’s a crowd, let me tell ya!

They also have the “burrito bol”; no tortilla, served in a bowl. For the ladies. And “guys” watching their “carb intake”. Sure, WHATEVER! If you eat one of these, you’re not watching anything.

Consuming a Chipotle burrito is akin to climbing a mountain. As I hunched over this pillar of food, I surveyed the safest route to the summit. Pick the wrong traverse and you could have a sour cream avalanche or a guacamole mudslide. The corner is where most seasoned mountaineers begin. The bites cannot be too ambitious, for a couple of reasons. First, the structural integrity must be constantly monitored to avoid a blowout. Second, the ingredients get in your beard and moustache, or the corners of your mouth. Can’t waste a drop. It becomes clear at this point why they serve the “bol”; eating one of these like a miner is not very ladylike.

After working steady for about 15 or 20 minutes, the end was in sight. As was the capacity of my stomach. I had retained three lemon wedges to squirt on as I went, but perhaps should have limited myself to only two.

I wasn’t too hungry for dinner that night. Too much residual Chipotle. But like Sir Edmund Hillary, the pride derived from conquering the peak is transcendent. Gimme another one as soon as I am ready!

*Those who favor Freebird’s burritos are likely scoffing at this statement, but we’re not in College Station. So eat your Freebird Full-Size burritos the size of a GI can. Gluttons.