Tuesday, June 26

Shhh...don't tell Mom...

Was spending a relaxing hour hanging at the Riva Howse this evening and got an unexpected visitor. I had noticed a small furry fellow heading down to the dock (no, not a brother-in-law joke) and as darkness fell the little guy came back up the stairs and started talking to us. Rather a pitiful meow...

Rude Cat
After a bit he got up the nerve to come closer and closer to the table where we sat enjoying a late evening beverage and conversation...and like my home cat (Rude Cat)...became a bit louder and louder. Although I mentioned to him several times that he should head on home because my Mom was not interested in adopting any four-legged strays - he finally ended up within arm's length and was swept onto my friend John's lap.

To be named cat

I expected him to spook, scratch and run away...but instead he settled down and enjoyed being petted. He kept up the meowing and I asked him if he'd like a leftover burger or hot dog from last weekend. John agreed that since the little guy's ribs were prominent - he would enjoy a meal. So we settled on a hot dog which I broke into very small pieces. They were consumed with great gusto...so I think the Riva Howse now has a cat.

My sister Denise has always discouraged the feeding of random cats and dogs (humans too...but that is a whole other post...) because if you feed them...they'll keep coming back. So, don't tell Denise or my Mom. Okay?

Now the little guy needs a name. Suggestions so far are: RC (river cat), Midnight (Dad's suggestion. Short for "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" which he decided is too long. Acronymically that could be MitGoGaE....Miggie?), McRib (because the ribs are all you feel) and perhaps Moonpie (the moon was rising). Thoughts?

Hamster? or would that be confusing?

Friday, June 22

Ode to The Elvas

As I have mentioned before - my family has always been open to accepting more members than the ones we are biologically related to. Some people call them "extended family". I lovingly refer to them as "strays".

Two of my all-time favorite strays are Belva and Melva Shelor (alphabetical...there is no hidden meaning in the order of listing!). They came into our lives through church...Belva is a member of Centenary, Melva hangs out with the good folks at Bedford's Main Street UMC. It is hard to remember a time that they weren't part of our lives, but I think I've known them for about 10 years.

They are twins - and even though I know that there are SOME people who mix them up...they are not hard to tell apart. Especially once you get to know them.

I will not get into the ways that they are different...because if I say that one is relaxed and easygoing - it implies that the other is not. And although that is true...I'm not going to spell it out! But rather, I will tell you a little about the wonderful traits that they share.

Each has a giving heart. They would give you the shirt off their back and offer you their pants and shoes to boot. Mind you, I would refuse such an offer - because it would mean having them stand around nekkid. But if they see someone in need and have a way to help, they want to. Each of them has put years into the JIFF program. For the past few years Belva has been the leader of the K-2 group. I lovingly call them "the anklebiters". I do NOT want her job. But she has a wonderful sweet spirit where children are concerned - and many of the children adore her.

Melva drives 30 miles each week from Bedford to teach Bible Study to the 3rd-8th grade groups. And since I held that post for a few years...I know the challenges!! To prepare a lesson that fits into 20 minutes, tweaked for each age/maturity level, and spend half the time teaching and half the time telling the JIFFers to settle down. Well, maybe she doesn't have trouble with misbehavior...but probably she does. I always wanted so badly for them to listen and learn a little bit. It isn't that we are trying to make Bible scholars out of elementary and junior high kids...just offer a little wisdom with a scriptural base. And sometimes - you actually get to see the light turn on! Sometimes you meet up with one of the students years later and they tell you something that they learned...and you didn't even think they were listening. It takes a lot of patience and faith. And Melva has the gift.

Both of the Elvas (melva...belva...elva...you get it. right?) have loving souls. I've seen that over the years in the way that they interact with their "nephews and niece". They have joined in celebrating Jack, Jacob, Braeden and Taylor's accomplishments. Whether the karate belt graduation, basketball game, baseball game, school plays...whenever they could be there - they were. And I know that when Jack crosses the stage next year at his high school graduation - his aunts will ALL be there to cheer him on.

Today the Elvas celebrate their birthday. And as their adopted sister - I want them both to know that I admire them, adore them and thank God that he brought them into my life. Loving strays is the best thing my Mom and Dad taught me.

Tuesday, June 19

Who Loves Ya Alton Brown?

The day after tomorrow some of my very dear friends will leave to summer on Long Island. Okay, it isn't as fancy as it sounds...but I AM starting to have some issues with the various members of my circle who leave town for weeks on end in the summer. Yes, I'm talking to YOU - JamiLynn, Jacob, Jack, Trudy, Brandon, Jennifer... and probably a few more that I just haven't realized are running away. But I digress...

Since they are leaving - we decided to have dinner at the river to send them off. Actually, we had pizza tonight to send them off...but they decided to spend another day, so we get to do it again tomorrow night. So began our traditional pondering: what are we going to fix to eat? We had hot dogs all weekend, it is too hot for pasta, none of them really like seafood (their largest shortcoming...). Finally I thought "ribs". And not just any ribs...Alton Brown's ribs. (well, his recipe...cannibalism is frowned upon, even in the Methodist church)

I grew up not liking ribs very much...it always seemed like I was gnawing on the bone to get the meat off. And not getting very much off. Then I had some super-slow smoked ribs that fell off the bone...and I understood why people loved them. But I could never replicate that myself. Until one day I watched Alton Brown's Good Eats on the Food Network...the episode is called "Who Loves Ya Baby Back". And it changed my culinary world. 

Alton Brown is like the Mr. Wizard of cooking. It isn't just recipes and demonstrations...it's KNOWLEDGE!! The why and how, not just the what and when. I have seen every episode of Good Eats (at least once) and my very favorite is the de-mystifying of rib cooking. Notice, I have not mentioned barbecuing anywhere in here...these are not smoked (a key component of BBQ), they are braised. And the process is so simple that from the time we decided to make ribs (8:50pm) until the FOUR racks were prepped and ready to cook was one hour and ten minutes. And that included the drive to Food Lion (and the five minute wait for the express line checkout).

I have made these a few times - the first time was a weekend that I decided to clean the freezer. If you think Dad can't find anything in the fridge...you should experience sending him to find something in the freezer!! But since the frost was taking more space than the food...it was time. While I was unloading, I was sorting various meats into coolers and cold bags...and a few things I could tell were just too freezer-burned to possibly taste good. Then I found a rack of ribs.

Even though I was pretty sure they too had gone past their prime - I just HAD to try out this recipe from AB. So I put it all together (skipping all the resting time...) and put them in the oven. And when the time was up, I twisted a bone to see if they were done...and the bone TURNED! They were indeed incredibly tender and fell-off-the-bone. The only tragic part was that there was no amount of sauce in the world that could cover up the freezer burn. But even though I did not have successful flavor - I did have successful process.

Last fall we made a few racks - somebody's birthday, I think. We followed the process, allowing them to marinate overnight...and turned on the oven just before we left for church. Mom and I came to the house to retrieve them for eating at the river. "Problem" #1 - we couldn't cut them into bone sections because they were too tender! I didn't even really need a knife, I could have portioned them with the side of my hand. "Problem" #2 - we discovered that some of the smaller bones had actually gelatinized. They had lost their bone-like structure and were actually bendable. The biggest "Problem" was #3 - us. We couldn't stop eating them! Several times we suggested to each other that we tell the people they had fallen to the floor or burned up or were otherwise inedible. But we behaved ourselves and shared.

So, tomorrow - as I leave for work - I will turn the oven on 225 and 2.5 hours later Mom will turn it off. And we will be geniuses once again. Thank you Alton!

Oh...want the recipe? Go here. I would cut and paste, but I don't want to be sued by the network I love!!

Saturday, June 16

Best Dad on Earth

I know that some of you will disagree out of a sense of loyalty to your own...but I am absolutely certain that I have the best father on earth. Sure, he isn't perfect...but I've grown to find most of his quirky habits endearing and amusing. Two examples pop into my mind...

Dad is easily frustrated by refrigerators. He is convinced that the contents of the refrigerator have rearranged themselves (surely he doesn't blame us!) in order to hide things. The pickles hide the jelly, the mustard hides the relish and the good Lord only knows where the mayo is hiding! I'll admit that he has a point sometimes - if I were to count the contents of the fridge we would have at least 5 different mustards, 7 different pickles and an even dozen or more jars of jelly. You know...yellow mustard isn't enough, got to have dijon and stone ground and honey mustard and spicy brown and something called dijonaise which is a blend of mustard and mayo... And certainly Dad would be perfectly happy with cherry preserves and grape jelly - but sometimes when wandering through the market we are tempted to add things like fuzzy navel, raspberry cognac, apricot/kiwi and blackberry preserves...till we have quite the collection of little pint jars.

As much as Dad hates refrigerator mysteries...that is how much he LOVES rope. Anytime you need to tie something down or keep a float from escaping - you can always count on my Dad to have a rope, string, shoelace, bungee cord or strap to fit the bill. You will almost certainly need to untangle it from its brothers - but that is part of the charm. (much like finding the correct washer in his collection of jars and loaf pans of random hardware) And he can never turn down a free piece of rope. I think one of my bonding experiences with Dad was one afternoon when we were driving out into the country to mow a yard for someone. We were on a back road and as we passed around a bend I saw a short length of rope lying in the road. I knew that he had also seen it - but I guess since I was driving, he figured it was not meant to be his. Without even asking, at the next cross road, I turned around and drove back. It was about 15 or 20 feet long but (I can't believe I'm saying this) it was a nice piece of rope. And it made him happy.

There is also a very long story that my sister Denise wrote about another rope adventure. I think it is called The dock, The Tree and the Rope - I'll find it and post it another time. That was one of the few times that Dad put his life in danger in order to claim a piece of rope - but it was about 200 feet long!

Speaking of putting lives in danger...one of our favorite "Dad stories" is the time we went tubing on the Little Piney when it was at flood stage. That is one of those stories that CAN take half an hour to tell...if you include all the details. I'll abbreviate. My sister Susan's birthday is in August and for this particular birthday she wanted to go tubing. Our family packed up the big blue van with inner tubes and a picnic lunch and headed for Goshen Pass in the Shenandoah Valley. The only problem with our planning was that we neglected to check the river's status. Apparently there had been a lot of rain that week, because when we arrived we discovered that the Maury River was flooded. Like trees rolling down the river kind of flooded. Like people searching for lost kayaker kind of flooded. It was clear that we weren't going to be tubing for Susan's birthday and we were all very disappointed.

As we headed back home, Dad decided to take the scenic route and we happened to end up at the Little Piney River - which is normally about 2 feet deep and more like a creek than a river. And despite the protests of my very wise mother...he decided that we could tube down about a mile stretch. We kids were ecstatic! So Dad, Susan, my brother Gordon, our neighbor Billy and I headed off on our great adventure. Several flaws with this plan. First, we started just above a small bridge...I should have known we were in trouble when I had to lay flat on the tube and the bridge still passed inches above my face. The second obstacle was a tree that had fallen across the river. Dad chose to roll over it...I went under, flipping upside down in the current...the details are a bit fuzzy. I remember the next challenge was when we found ourselves sailing rapidly through a construction site...dodging rebar sticking up from the riverbed. But the biggest feat was as we approached our planned takeout point...the bridge at Lowesville where Mom (and my wiser older sisters) and the van were waiting. Dad managed to get he and the tube out on one side, Gordon was agile enough to get stopped and out across from him. I was stuck in the middle of the rapids hanging on to a clump of river grass with rushing water on either side. Susan and Billy were nowhere to be seen. After Dad and Gordon formed a human chain to drag me out - we found Susan and Billy walking up the road toward us. They had been swept along about another mile. Both of their tubes (and mine) were gone...along with Billy's shoes.

Now I know that it is all a matter of perspective...Mom probably doesn't remember that afternoon with the same emotion that I do. But I will always remember it as a great day. We were all so sad at the smashed plans for our day...and Dad found a way to salvage the outing! Sure...it had a few sketchy moments...but I thought he was awesome.

And he still is awesome. Some of my mental images include hiking with him along the Blue Ridge Parkway - if it had rained he would hurry a little ahead of us, hide behind a tree and shake it just as we went under...yelling "hey, it's raining!!"  Or when we would go swimming and he would get everyone to start "rocking the pool" - everyone cannonballing as fast as we could until there were 2 foot waves on the surface! (I was always kind of proud of the fact that he was the only adult that the lifeguards made sit out)

And there are quiet memories too...like watching him wrap his arm around my Mom's shoulder at a funeral, or teaching Bible study to a dozen youth sprawled around on a basement floor, or especially when I was feeling so desperately low last fall...how he shared how he felt when the company he had worked at for over 25 years closed its doors.

I've often said that I can completely understand the concept of a loving Heavenly Father - because I have experienced the most incredible earthly one. Happy Father's Day Hairball - I'm so incredibly lucky to be your daughter. I love you.

Tuesday, June 12

As the Storm Passes

This will be a very brief post.

I have lost another friend to suicide and I have been processing that in my mind. It wasn't a very close friend - but it brought back a lot of the emotions that I dealt with last year. Both when I lost a good friend and when I walked a dark valley in my own life.

This much I feel certain of - you may agree or disagree. I don't believe that suicide is an unforgivable sin. I know that there are people who believe that it is a one-way ticket to hell. I just can't reconcile that with the loving God that I have a relationship with. I believe that if a person is so completely disconnected from God that they feel there is no hope for living...they have already become well acquainted with hell. I believe that God is on the other side of the veil ready to welcome his child home. Perhaps with a dope-slap to the head to say "do you get it now? do you feel how I love you without condition?"

And I know that I have spoken with many people who say "I've never been in such a dark place that I even considered ending it all." All that I can say to that is - you are blessed. You need to stop right now and say thank you. I cannot say that. Because I was there and it is not a place that I would want anyone to be.

It is impossible to describe - take the feeling that you get when you see the blue lights in your rear view mirror and multiply it by 50. Then add to it the feeling of being kicked in the heart when a relationship unexpectedly ended. And then take every insult that someone has thrown at you and feel the unworthiness wash over you. Now you have an inkling...

I was extremely fortunate that I was surrounded by loving friends and family during my personal crisis. And perhaps it happened for a reason - maybe God has a use for that experience. I cannot be sure what it is - I just have to trust that there is...

For anyone walking a dark valley - I want to let you know that as trite as it may sound, it does get better. And if you don't give in, you will come out of this stronger. And if you don't have people around you to provide support...call a crisis line, call a minister, call a friend, call a counselor, call anyone! And if I can be of some small help, let me know.

I wish I had known the struggles behind the smiling face that my friend showed to the world. I wish for a chance to remind him how important he was to so many people. I wish I could have said that the storm passes. But this much I know - peace was waiting with open arms. It is those left behind who suffer now.

Tuesday, June 5

An interesting day

I sit here...fingers poised over the keyboard. The cat is sitting on the desk and purring so loud I can hardly think. Perhaps that is the excuse that I will give for not having a topic. The cat is too loud.

During the day I encounter things that make me think "I should write about that..." and then when I sit down - there is a dial tone in my head. I often ask my teenage nephew what is going on inside his head (you know - when you see that empty expression). Our inside joke is that he replies "just bees...only the sound of bees". That is what I've got going on here right now...accompanied by deafening purring and some soft instrumental music.
My day was very full today - I got to accompany the Rush Homes development guru and the head of the project committee to Christiansburg to meet with the team at Community Housing Partners. CHP is this super organization that provides everything from architectural design to property management for housing developments. I was impressed from the moment we pulled up in front of the building. The individuals who are working on the potential Armstrong Place project could not be more professional or show more expertise. During the meeting I learned a tremendous amount just by listening - but I also felt that I could offer input or ask questions without fear of being brushed aside as a newbie.

It is true that I am very new to the area of housing. My skill set is growing every day! Sometimes I even feel like I know what I'm talking about when I talk in "alphabet" like Jeff - stringing together nonsensical groups of letters... DHCD, TCAP, LIHTC, VHDA, HCCP.... And I got a bit of an inside look at how very difficult the process of even getting a project to consideration is - let alone getting the shovel in the ground!! The balancing act of budget vs. points on an application vs. providing housing that is suitable. I know one thing - I don't want Jeff's job!!!

After this intense meeting...we got to relax for a nice lunch at Due South BBQ (thank you Joshua). Since regular readers know what a foodie I am...I have to share! I had just had BBQ (well, pulled pork anyway) at the choir picnic on Sunday...I decided to get the smoked chicken wings and fried green tomatoes. That was an excellent choice. The wings were smoky and flavorful all by themselves...but at the table there were no less than four different sauces to slather on anything you wanted. I pretty much fell in love with the sweet and tangy "Sweet Brown" sauce. There was also sweet red, hot red, some mustard stuff (I skipped that one) and that spicy vinegar stuff that I think people from North Carolina like...

The fried green tomatoes were the second best I've ever had in my life...the ultimate ones are down in Little Rock, and I've only had them once...they were crispy on the outside, coated with a breading that didn't fall off with the first bite (!) and soft and tangy on the inside. I ate them alone, ate them with sweet brown sauce and ate them dipped in what I assume is ranch dressing. I'd like to go back and get their version of a BLT which is made with a FGT, because I think that would be sublime.

The other thing I need to go back for is the Fried Dill Pickle Spears. I thought about getting an order today, but since I was on somebody else's tab...didn't want to be piggy! Besides - I barely finished the meal that I had!! If you are anywhere near Due South BBQ...Go. Eat. Now.

The cat is now quiet.