So long, farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, adieu

Sorry We're Closed

Three years ago, life was throwing me more curves than U.S. 129 in the mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina, better known as the “Tail of the Dragon.”

I was taking care of a friend slowly dying of cancer, watching him fade further and further into non-existence, becoming less and less the bright, witty, larger-than-life guy I had known for almost 15 years and more and more the guy who was content to spend his last days sleeping away the pain, wasting away mentally and emotionally, helplessly and uncommunicatively waiting to die.

I had also just had the sweetest and smartest dog I’ve ever known put to sleep – a creature equally larger-than-life, even though she only weighed 9 pounds. She was the engine that kept the Lizard Lounge humming, directing everyone’s actions to meet her elaborate terrier time clock for waking, playing, eating, and sleeping.

With the real loss of one and the pending loss of the other, I found myself coming to grips with the stillness and loneliness in the house, a house once full of life and activity and barking and laughter.

I took a shot at seeing a therapist and found the experience impersonal and unsatisfying – I had more success with vodka. The only one who could have actually rescued me was the One I still held at arm’s length – and I was too afraid to face giving up the things that medicated me from the loss to turn to Him for salvation.

I finally threw myself into working on the house, painting and hauling mulch and finishing projects that had been on my “to do” list for way too long.

In the midst of all this, I realized I needed a diversion; thus, “Live from the Lizard Lounge” was born.

I had toyed with the idea of starting a blog for some time but couldn’t decide on a theme. I’m not political, didn’t have many strong opinions on things, and didn’t have a huge passion for any kind of activity. As I spent more and more time working on the house, though, I realized I could write about everything I had learned as a home-owner and citizen of small-town Central Florida – not really a DIY kind of blog, but one peppered with my own personal musings about watching banana trees grow, visiting area attractions, and decorating for Christmas.

My first post, published August 7, 2009 (later retooled and given its own page) summed the theme up rather nicely:

“This blog is about life here at the Lizard Lounge – house and home, flora and fauna, flotsam and jetsam, and the ongoing journey of creating a personal environment within which to nurture my world-weary soul.”

Since then I’ve written about soup, tomatoes, losing my dogs, the wit and wisdom of my friend George, new doors, raking leaves, snake plants, visits to Disney, and bookcases (to name a few). After I finally stopped holding God at arm’s length and cried out to Him for salvation in June of 2010, the first post I wrote after that reflected a change of voice due to His gift of grace, and one that set the standard for finding Him in everything I did and most of what I wrote afterward, as you can see in posts here, here, and here. The retooled first post I mentioned earlier even reflected my life change with this edit, inserted after the “flora and fauna, flotsam and jetsam” bit:

“In Psalm 116, verse 7 the psalmist writes: ‘Return to your rest, my soul, for the  Lord has been good to you.’ Indeed He has – I only have to look around.”

Anyway, sixty-five (now sixty-six) posts later, it’s time to lock up “Live from the Lizard Lounge” and focus on things with more eternal implications. On March 6 of this year, God finally blessed me with the inspiration and opportunity to start a second blog, “clay.” In the inaugural post, I wrote:

“Clay is about my journey of discovering God’s will for my life for the first time, learning to become a totally committed follower of Jesus, and my ongoing desire to develop a sensitivity to the voice of the Holy Spirit and His working in and through me.”

In addition to writing regularly for “clay,” I feel God is calling me to something new, something as yet unrevealed, something He’s still preparing me for. In fact, I think that the experience of writing for “Live from the Lizard Lounge” and “clay” have both prepared me by giving me an outlet for putting my thoughts on paper and, in the case of “clay”, being able to “give the reason for the hope” that I have. (1 Pet 3:15) At any rate, it’s time to stop writing about mulch and bananas and start devoting all my resources to what God has in store for me.

“Live from the Lizard Lounge” will continue to live on here on WordPress, albeit frozen in time, serving as a testament to a three-year chunk of my life – not a significant amount of time in light of the implications of eternity, but one that represents the greatest period of growth and change I’ve ever experienced in my years on this earth.

If this is your first visit to “Live from the Lizard Lounge,” a good start would be to click on that link up and to the right that says “Why the Lizard Lounge?” to give you an idea of where the name came from and what kind of “flotsam and jetsam” you’ll find on here. After that, feel free to browse and read and follow my journey from “lost and lonely” to “time to move on.” Beyond that, please follow me on “clay.”

As for the Lizard Lounge itself:

“Granted, it’s just a little concrete block Florida house, but it’s my little concrete block Florida house!

“And it suits me just fine…”

…and I think it always will.

Reunited and it feels so good

AU Singers 1978
Except for the past two years I’ve spent as a Christian, my four years at Auburn University rank as some of the best of my life, due pretty much to my participation in the university’s choral music program. As a music education major, I had the privilege of studying music theory, choral arranging, and voice under some learned and accomplished instructors.

Although my voice teacher, Sam Timberlake, didn’t stand a chance of making me into a great singer, we had a blast during my voice lessons. When he wasn’t singing me his favorite honky-tonk song, he was having me out to his house in the country where he had built his own meat smoker out of a galvanized metal garbage can and spent his spare time trying to duplicate the barbecue sauce recipe from Big Bob Gibson’s, a popular barbecue joint in the home town we both shared. When he shifted into classical music mode, though, his big booming basso profundo voice would rattle the walls.

A mere lad of 21But the person who taught me the most and made the biggest impact on my burgeoning musicianship (and subsequently, my life) was my choral director and choral arranging instructor, Dr. Thomas Smith (also from my home town – there must be something in the water). I sang under his direction in the Auburn University Concert Choir, a group of 100 or so singers devoted to performing the best of classic choral literature, and the Auburn University Singers, a 32-voice ensemble performing lighter pop and show music complete with choreography and an instrumental ensemble.

In addition to being a wonderful Christian man, Dr. Smith is one of the finest choral directors I’ve ever been associated with. He formed the Auburn Singers in 1972 and the group immediately became the benchmark for show choirs throughout the U.S. – and continues to be under the direction of Dr. Dale Farmer, Dr. Smith’s successor and a member of the first group of Singers. (Dr. Smith retired six years ago.)

As this year marks the 40th anniversary of the Singers, Drs. Smith and Farmer and a committee of dedicated former group members planned a fun and exciting reunion event on and around campus that I had the great pleasure to attend recently.

I haven’t been able to make it to a Singers reunion in several years but, as the current group planned to premier an arrangement I wrote for them at their performance during the reunion banquet on Saturday night, I knew I had to be there no matter what. (More on that in a moment.)

The weekend events kicked off with a reception Friday evening that provided a chance to reconnect with old friends, some of which I haven’t seen since we sang together 30 years ago. The people I sang with ended up sitting at one big table at the reception (security in numbers). In spite of the inevitable physical changes 30 years can cause, as I sat looking around the table to which we had all gravitated, I was struck by the fact that we had held up pretty well – which totally ruined all the jokes about bald heads and wrinkles I had planned for this post. But more importantly, over the course of the night I discovered we had all grown into some pretty fine adults.

Matt, the former fraternity president, is now a church administrator; George, the former cheerleader, is a doctor and leads worship in his church. Mitch, who played (and still plays) a killer guitar, is also a doctor and active in church.

Jean started out as a contemporary Christian recording artist, then answered God’s call to become a well-known and beloved Christian children’s entertainer (check out her blog). Both Susans are shaping young lives, one as a much sought-after university counselor and the other by leading a troupe of high school thespians in some of the finest theater productions in the Southeast.

Carol is a music editor. John put in his time teaching and is about to start a second career. Cathy is a pharmacist – and can still remember (and do) all of our songs and dance steps (obviously she has access to the best memory-enhancing drugs).

Several of these folks have even had, or currently have, children in the group. After meeting Mitch and Kim’s son and David and Brenda’s son, Matt and Tammy’s (beautiful) daughter, and all four of John and Kim’s boys, I’m pleased to report that good parenting skills apparently abound among my former classmates. What a blessing to see these fine young-uns who are so much like their parents; makes the future seem a little more bright.

In between rounds of catching up, we enjoyed a fashion parade of past outfits, all featuring some shade of the school colors of orange and blue. While some have weathered the test of time and show choir fashion, most tended to elicit a chorus of laughs and groans, with those of us who wore them shaking our heads and looking at each other with “Did we actually think we looked good in that?” looks on our faces.

AU Singers 1981During the day on Saturday we got together with others from our years in the group and rehearsed some of the numbers – complete with choreography – we did when we were actually lithe and limber enough to do some of those moves. These were to be performed the next day at a special reunion concert. Although there was a lot of fun and joking around as my group tried to remember and rehearse our assigned high-energy tune with its ridiculous range and busy dance steps, you’d be surprised how quickly a room full of 50-something professionals can get down to business when the end of rehearsal is drawing near and the specter of public humiliation looms large.

The highlight of the reunion banquet that evening was a performance by the current group of Auburn Singers, an amazingly talented bunch of young singers and dancers (no standing in the back and faking it with any of these kids) under the direction of Dr. Dale Farmer. And from the looks on their faces and the caliber of their performance, it was evident they were as excited to be singing for us as we were to be listening.

In honor of the 40th reunion, Dale planned a program featuring classic Singers numbers from the past, some “future classics”, and songs written or arranged by former group members. He had asked me to write an arrangement of a lovely ballad from the 90s recorded by the late Nancy LaMott called “Listen to My Heart” and chose to premier it at the reunion concert. And if that wasn’t honor enough, he (and the talented young man who played piano for the group) graciously indulged me by letting me accompany the group that night. The group did a beautiful job and I was transported to some sort of piano playing arranger heaven.

I got to sit in on a rehearsal the day before the reunion started and actually hear the arrangement for the first time. After they finished, Dale turned and asked if I had any feedback. As I figured he was looking for something more from me than just standing there with my mouth agape in amazement and delight, I told them: “When I write or arrange a song I always hope that the first time I get to actually hear it performed it comes even close to what I heard in my head – and that was exactly what I heard in my head.”

To give you a brief glimpse of the music inside my head, here is a video of that arrangement performed by the group a week later at their spring performance:

(They all called me “Mr. Dusty”. Once I finally got over the reality that I apparently wasn’t as youthful and hip as I fancied I was – at least not to people their age – I found it kind of sweet.)

The reunion performance Sunday afternoon was a fitting finale to the weekend events. Everyone had a ball getting back on stage again and belting out some of those (vaguely familiar) old tunes and (less familiar) dance steps. Since the audience was mostly made up of reunion attendees and our family members, though, having the wrong jazz hand up or going left when one should have gone right just made it that much more fun.

Susan and I after the reunion concertHowever, I don’t think any of us really came to the reunion just to sing and dance again – in the end, the draw for an event like the Auburn University Singers reunion is the chance for those of us who loved and cherished and shaped this group 40, 30, or even just 3 years ago to see that legacy still going strong.

There’s even a reassuring feeling of familiarity, regardless of how different each of our lives are now compared to the way they were then. Case in point: During the rehearsal I attended with this year’s group I ended up sitting at a table out in the auditorium while the group practiced onstage. On a break, the person in charge of collecting money for Singers t-shirts (or some such) ended up using my table as a makeshift checkout counter. Within seconds, I was surrounded by a dozen or so 19- to 22-year-olds doling out cash and interacting with each other, not at all unlike people that age did back in my day. I found myself picking out counterparts for people from my years in the group: “That’s Linda right there… He reminds me of Paul… She’s just like Connie…” There’s even an actual Dusty in this year’s group. (He’s an infinitely better singer than I was, though. I’m sure Sam would have loved him and invited him out to the country for barbecue as well.)

So while the outfits, hairstyles, and choreography have changed, the excited and youthful facial expressions onstage, the goodwill shared through music, and the obvious love for the group and the institution it represents are still the same; and I feel certain that will never change.

As for me, I’ll definitely be at the next reunion – I just hope we do a ballad next time…

Life with Father (and Mother)

The loins of my fruitEvery year for the past several years, my parents have made the 12-hour drive from their home in North Alabama to Central Florida during the month of December, ostensibly to spend a week with their favorite (and only) son. This past December was no exception.

If you ever want to get a glimpse of why you are the way you are, just get in a room with your ancestry for about a week. It will either be sobering or fun. In the case of my parents, it’s always the latter.

They both have a wonderful sense of humor and love to remember the amusing things that have happened over the course of their years together. There is no dearth of stories to tell and they still love to tell them, lo these many years hence.

Although thankfully my dad has mellowed over the years as far as being a practical joker, he still loves to tell how he played a trick on my mother while they were stationed at Fort Dix in New Jersey (pre me). Here’s how it generally goes:

“I sat her down in the middle of the floor and gave her a fork; I had a glass of water and a towel. I poured the water on the floor in front of her between her legs and told her I bet I could wipe it up before she could stab me with the fork.

“Once she agreed to take me up on it, I got down in position. I said ‘Ready?’ She raised her fork and said ‘Ready’. I then grabbed her by the ankles and pulled her through the puddle of water.”

She didn’t stab him with the fork, although I’m sure there isn’t a jury alive who would have found her guilty if she had.

MaracasThen there was the time we were coming out of the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry when I was a teenager. A guy was sitting on the steps of the museum playing a tune on a small woodwind instrument.

“What’s that guy playing?” my dad asked.

“That’s a recorder,” I replied.

“No – I’m pretty sure he’s really playing it,” he replied in all seriousness.

Explains a whole lot about me…

Anyway, the Lounge doesn’t host many visitors (if one doesn’t count the lizards and the occasional mosquito squadron) so, due to my high tolerance for clutter and grime, the only room I keep in show-ready condition is the living room, just in case someone from Publishers Clearing House shows up on my doorstep with that big check for a million dollars. So when the ‘rents come a-calling a flurry of good housekeeping ensues.

After the requisite week-long cleaning and deodorizing assault on the Lounge prior to their arrival, I was down to the home stretch the Saturday morning they were supposed to get here, with only toilet-scrubbing and kitchen-mopping left on the checklist. My mom called around 11:00 that morning telling me they would be there in two hours – easily enough time to get done what I had left to get done.

I was standing there in my boxer shorts and socks, the still-dry mop in hand, when they walked in an hour later.

“You’re early.”

“I know – we made good time.”

“You’re early.”

“Traffic wasn’t bad at all.”

“You’re early.”

Once that bit of truth was firmly established, I suggested that I go get dressed. Of course, they’ve both seen me naked but it’s been more than 50 years, so…ewww. As I headed off to find some pants, I warned, “Don’t look at the floor.” (No doubt the first thing they did was look.)

Once I was clothed and we had hugs all around, we launched head-first into a week-long whirlwind of music, buffets, and Disney magic, despite their (our) advanced ages.

First on the agenda were two performances of my church’s Christmas program, with Sunday School and a Chinese buffet in between. Since I haven’t been a Christian, much less a church-goer, for very long, this is a fairly new addition to our December visit. And I must say, we put on a pretty amazing program at First Baptist Church at the Mall, complete with choir, full orchestra (with me at the piano), costumes, lighting, and theatre (I also wrote the dramatic presentation for this year’s performance). Being lovers of music, in addition to being lovers of me, my parents thoroughly enjoyed the program, almost as much as they enjoyed the Chinese buffet.

They’re kind of Chinese buffet royalty. I hear they even have their own table at the one in their small town in Alabama. I can only imagine the numerous paddies worth of fried rice and droves of sweet-n-sour pork they’ve scarfed down over the years. They avow that the buffet we always frequent after church isn’t as good as the one back home, but I’ve never seen anybody push away from the table hungry. Just saying…

An additional perk of their visit has always been spending several days at the Walt Disney World® Resort, although for some time now I’ve had the sneaking suspicion that seeing Disney is actually the whole point of the trip, with seeing me being merely the additional perk. (Sort of like the little moist towelette that comes with your meal at the rib place even after you’ve licked your fingers clean and don’t really need it.) They’ll tell you otherwise, but they also tend to cheat at miniature golf, so it’s hard to trust them. More on that later.

So, as we have for the past eight years, we spent the rest of the week at Disney, where we enjoyed our favorite attractions, shows, and holiday events at each of the four theme parks.

Rather than give a ride-by-ride account of our romp through the 47 square miles, four theme parks, and at least one of the miniature golf courses of the Walt Disney World® Resort, I’ll just hit a couple of highlights (skipping the endless buffet tour as well).

Although my parents are more “show” people than “ride” people, each year we wait in the longest line in the free world (except for the line at the grocery store when chicken is on sale) to ride Soarin’™, a ride that lifts multiple rows of seats up in the air in a simulated hang-gliding trip over California, complete with the wind in your air and whatever aromas one might encounter sailing over the various vistas of the Eureka state (pine forests, orange blossoms, or sea air). My mother always lets loose a little squeal of delight when the ride mechanism first hoists us up in the air. (I like to think that’s the same squeal she emitted when she first saw me.)

At some point during the week we also catch a performance of the Candlelight Processional at Epcot®, a presentation featuring choir, orchestra, and celebrity narrator telling the Christmas story through traditional carols and the story of Jesus’s birth from the Bible. This year’s narrator was Lorraine Bracco of The Sopranos fame.

Although we love the music, especially the finale performance of “Hallelujah!” from Handel’s Messiah, we all admit to being fascinated by the sign language interpreter. Depending on the individual interpreter, the signing of the lyrics of the carols in time to the music is more like ballet than mere communication, with majestic, sweeping motions and engaging, almost angelic, facial expressions. After the performance, we all give our evaluation: “She was OK, but she wasn’t as good as that guy last year…etc.”, as though we are the American Idol judges for sign language interpreters.

CheaterFinally, we always make time to compete against each other in the “Elderly Open”, our own annual miniature golf classic at Disney’s Winter Summerland Miniature Golf Course.

The golf course is designed to look like an elf-sized vacation spot, with one half depicting Santa and the elves vacationing in Florida (the Summer course) and the other depicting a golf course at the North Pole (the Winter course). We always play the Winter Course.

I was actually joking above when I said they cheat, since I’m always the one stuck with keeping score; however, I don’t understand how one or the other of them always manages to win. They may be old people, but they can both knock a purple or green golf ball over the little lift bridge and through the blades of the windmill into that little hole with alarming accuracy. If it wasn’t for watching them get sprayed with water when the snowman squirts it out of his carrot nose I wouldn’t continue to put myself through the humiliation of playing with them.

Anyway, we always have a lot of fun and I’m always sad to see them go (and not just because they always pick up the tab and let me drive their new keyless Nissan). They’re fun and laugh at all my jokes and love me with unabashed ferocity.

Can’t beat that. Even if they do cheat…

Soup-erior nourishment – say “peas” and “thank you”

Splitting peas

Pease porridge hot,
Pease porridge cold,
Pease porridge in the pot
Nine days old.

I know that rhyme doesn’t make split pea soup sound very nourishing, but it runs a close second to lentils as my favorite new food find. I know for some the greyish-green color is more fitting for trendy glass tiles than soup, but the smooth, slightly sweet taste more than makes up for the odd tint and hue.

Just as with all tried and true soup ingredients, peas (Pitsum sativum) are old – apparently pea soup was sold by street vendors in ancient Greece. (Right now I’m envisioning Costanzo pushing a soup cart through the agora, dishing up bowls of hot green porridge with a side of souvlaki.)

What I didn’t know until I did a little research for this article was how the peas came to be split in the first place. I imagined gangs of Greek women having pea parties where they sat around in huge circles with tiny little knives cutting peas in half, drinking ouzo and gossiping about the Andronikos. Opa!

Nothing could be farther from the truth. (Actually, quite a few things could be farther from the truth, including the assertion that rap music is actually a viable musical form and that no one can tell the difference between real and fake Louis Vuitton luggage. But I digress…) Peas actually have a natural split and, once they are harvested and dried, can be separated mechanically. (Thank you, Wikipedia). No gossiping or sharp implements required.

Split pea soup is high in fiber and protein and cooks up into the kind of comfort food that makes you wish you were sick so you could just lay around and enjoy slurping it without guilt.

Here’s my recipe:


Split Pea Soup

Split Pea Soupthe ingredients

  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1 lb. of dried split peas
  • 1 med. finely chopped onion
  • 2 or 3 carrots, diced
  • 48 oz. chicken or vegetable broth
  • 2 c. (or so) finely diced turkey ham
  • 2 t. kosher salt
  • ½ t. ground pepper
  • 1 packet of dried ham seasoning

the steps
Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Once it’s hot, add the onion and carrot and sauté until the onions are translucent, approximately 6 to 7 minutes.

Add the broth, peas, salt, and pepper and stir to combine.

Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Loosely cover and boil for 30 minutes. Add the packet of ham seasoning and the turkey ham. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook at a low simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

The peas will naturally cook down to a smooth consistency. (You can purée them with a stick blender if you want it to be smoother.)

the thoughts

  • Feel free to pump up the volume on the turkey ham (according to your taste) or use real ham (according to your nutritional inclinations).
  • Split pea soup is fairly thick, but if it seems to be cooking down too much just add water or more broth. You’re looking for a consistency similar to canned tomato soup. (Or at least the way I prepare it, without too much extra liquid.)
  • I find that the soup tends to cook down to a smooth texture so that puréeing it isn’t necessary. But feel free to pulverize away.

So let’s dish up a bowl of green and gooey goodness, sing “Kum Ba Yah,” and visualize whirled peas.


Sink ‘r’ swim


Before starting a home improvement project do you ever step back, assess the situation, and think, “Piece o’ cake”? And then get smack in the middle of it and think, “Ugh – I shoulda had a piece o’ cake instead.” And then after you finally finish it, stand back admiringly, and say, “That wasn’t so bad – I deserve a piece o’ cake.”

Me, too.

If, so far, this post sounds like a clever segue into a recipe for cake, then I’ve led you horribly astray. Although a piece o’ cake sounds good about now. Anyway…

After finally reaching the end of my rope, wits, and patience, I decided to stop sopping up the puddle of water that always collected around my kitchen sink due to a leaky faucet and do something permanent about it.

Plumbing is one of those home improvement tasks I try to avoid doing myself. I can paint and plant and put in a ceiling fan or a new electrical outlet, but I’m always wary when it comes to dealing with water. If the paint color isn’t right or the outlet doesn’t work at least you don’t have to replace all the ruined floors due to a leak. So it was with more than a little trepidation and hand-wringing that I broke out the tools for plumb-a-palooza 2012.

I started by systematically pulling the guts out of the old faucet thinking I might be able to get by with just replacing a washer or a stem or something. Let me just say “yuk” at what I found. I don’t know how all that slimy, grimy, greasy black goo had managed to manifest itself inside that sealed faucet (!), but it was obvious that repairing it would be akin to gilding a 1978 AMC Pacer with pure gold. It would:

  1. Take a lot of time.
  2. No doubt involve tears and bloodshed at some point.
  3. Still end up looking old and tacky when it was finished.

Yea – ready or not, it was time for a new faucet.

The good news was that I had a cool new Price Pfister faucet stashed under my bed. (So – where do you keep your spare faucets?) I purchased it at Lowe’s some time ago in a fit of blue-sky home project planning and had just never gotten up the nerve to try and switch it out with the old (and as I had just discovered) decrepit one. At least having a new faucet on hand meant that it had already been paid for and that I didn’t have to go wandering up and down the plumbing fixtures aisle somewhere playing the “this one or that one” game for the next hour or so.

Sink-r-swimSo before I had time to reconsider and chicken out, I had cleared everything out of the cabinet under the sink and, armed with a wrench and a work light, squeezed up in there and began to try to remove the old faucet. How hard could it be, right?

Famous last words.

Let me just warn you right now that the slimy, cankered faucet innards were not the only gross sight I was going to have the pleasure of seeing that day.

One of the wonderful things about stainless steel is its resistance to corrosion; however, the stuff that tends to be attached to stainless steel, such as faucet nuts and other metal ephemera are – at least by my experience that Saturday morning – not. (Resistant to corrosion, that is.)

As I began to try to remove the metal nut that was holding the soap dispenser to the bottom of the sink, it was so rusted that it literally crumbled apart in my hands. Ditto to whatever was holding the old faucet in place. (It was hard to tell – coulda been a metal nut, coulda been a stale, burnt mini bagel.) I backed out of the cabinet with flecks of rust in my hair and realized that my only option was – you guessed it – buy a new sink. (Actually, I’m guessing the title of this post and the shiny new sink photo at the top kinda gave that away.)

Unfortunately, now I had to play “this one or that one” in the plumbing fixtures aisle; fortunately, the selection of sinks isn’t quite as large as the selection of faucets, so it didn’t take that long. Plus, budgetary concerns sort of helped narrow the guest list down considerably.

So within a half hour, I was leaving Lowe’s with a new Kohler double stainless steel sink (pictured above), new PVC pipe for the trap, a pair of new sink strainers, some silicone caulk, and some plumber’s putty. (Plumber’s putty is used between the strainers and the sink to keep them from leaking. Think of it as Play-Doh without all the pretty colors.)

I could have reused the existing PVC pipe, but when I unhooked everything and looked inside the pipe, I was greeted by gross vision #3. Let’s just say that years of less-than-efficient garbage disposal action (or inaction) had resulted in layers of icky foodstuff caked up inside the pipe. The good news is I finally found from whence that unpleasant odor in my kitchen had been emanating…

Although the directions that came with the sink were pretty straightforward (and in English, Spanish, and French, allowing me to make a mess in multiple languages), I still felt compelled to consult a homeowner’s greatest resource – YouTube.

I’m firmly convinced that there is nothing that one can’t find on YouTube. From stupid cat videos to instructions on how to do the lambada, it’s all there. I imagine that if I ever find myself needing to deliver a baby or make a Princess Leia costume, all I need is an internet connection and I’m good to go.

Case in point – this very helpful video featuring a smiling Lowe’s handyman with step-by-step instructions on replacing your kitchen sink:

Anyway, after caulking, puttying, repiping, temper tantrums, prayers, and contorting my body into all sorts of unnatural positions to wedge myself inside the cabinet and hook everything up, I finally have a new sink with drain pipes free from last night’s dinner and a faucet that is tres cool – and doesn’t leak.

Piece o’ cake.

Soup-er food – the gentle (yet mighty) lentil

Small but mightyIn my most recent soup recipe post dated almost a year ago (for Minestrone, actually), I stated that it was going to be the last in my series of soup and stew recipes until I found another recipe I couldn’t resist. Good news (at least for me) – that finally happened.

If you’ve read any of my previous soup or stew posts here on Live from the Lizard Lounge, you know that my kitchen is in a constant state of homemade soup production. I take soup and a container of cantaloupe to work every day for lunch. It’s portable, filling, healthy, and can be easily eaten at my desk (cantaloupe is another super food). Since I finally perfected my current rotation of liquid nourishment varietals, it was time to extend my recipe repertoire and toss a couple of new players into the mix.

Today’s recipe features my newest star performer – the gentle lentil.


Lentils are actually a kind of pulse, a name referring to all sorts of legumes, such as beans (lima, pinto, navy) and other seed-like jobbies that grow in pods (like peas). I’ve been eating beans all my life and must say that “pulse” is a totally new term for me. But I was tickled to learn it because, just like Charlene, a character from the 80’s sitcom Designing Women once declared, “I love knowledge – in fact I yearn for it.”

I love that show. But I digress…

Just like garbanzo beans, which I discussed in an earlier post, lentils are ancient, with seeds dating as far back as 8000 years discovered at archeological sites in the Middle East. (The particular ones I’ve been cooking with, of course, aren’t that old. Although I’m not sure how one would determine the age of a lentil. They don’t come in the bag with little tiny birth certificates or anything.)

Lentils are one of the first cultivated foods. They also contributed to the downfall of Esau, grandson of Abraham in the Bible, who traded his rights as the firstborn son to his wily brother Jacob for a bowl of lentil stew. Although this was a decision that ultimately benefitted Jacob much more than Esau (Jacob went on to become the father of all Jewish folk, the people chosen by God, and Esau, of course, did not), after my first bite of lentil soup, I could kind of understand the temptation.

Mini but Mighty

Although I could actually write an entire post on the nutritional value of lentils, I’ll just be content with a few sentences. Lentils lead the pack in protein, iron, and vitamin B1, while trailing far behind in fat (virtually none) and calories (hardly any).

But where this little nutritional gem really hits a home run is in the fiber department. A cup of lentils gives you 62% of the recommended daily value of fiber. Now, I know that fiber is probably one of the most unglamorous topics going (that, and the current presidential race), but if one has any sort of issues with cholesterol, one could not go wrong adding lentils to one’s diet.

Lentils are high in both soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber forms a gel-like substance in the digestive tract that snags bile – which contains cholesterol – and ferries it out of the body. Insoluble fiber helps to increase stool bulk and prevent constipation.

OK – ewww… But who knew something that tastes so good could do such nasty but necessary work. Lentils are kind of like the trash pickup guys of the vegetable world.

So on to the good part – the recipe.


Lentil Soup

Lentil soupthe ingredients

  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1 c. finely chopped onion
  • ½ c. finely chopped carrot
  • ½ c. finely chopped celery
  • 2 t. kosher salt
  • 1 lb. lentils, picked and rinsed
  • 1 – 28 oz. can diced tomatoes
  • 2 qt. chicken or vegetable broth
  • ½ t. ground coriander
  • ½ t. ground cumin
  • ¼ t. ground ginger
  • ¼ t. ground pepper

the steps
Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Once it’s hot, add the onion, carrot, celery and salt and sweat (the vegetables, not you) until the onions are translucent, approximately 6 to 7 minutes.

Add the lentils, tomatoes, broth, and spices and stir to combine.

Increase the heat to high and bring just to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook at a low simmer until the lentils are tender, approximately 35 to 40 min.

the thoughts

  • Unlike beans, lentils don’t have to be soaked and cooked beforehand – you can toss them dry right into the pot.
  • The original recipe I found called for “grains of paradise” for seasoning. Good luck finding that; and if you do, be prepared to sell a kidney to afford it. After scouring the web, I found several sites that vowed that one could substitute ground ginger and pepper and get virtually the same effect.
  • Some recipes call for using a stick blender to purée the soup toward the end, but I love the hearty texture of it, so no puréeing for me.

So hang on to your birthright, grab a bag of lentils, and say hello to good health.

After all, 8000-year-old Middle Easterners can’t all be wrong.

2011 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,300 times in 2011. If it were a cable car, it would take about 38 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Cold comfort

A couple of nights ago, temperatures here in Florida hit an all-time record low, with temps here at the Lizard Lounge dropping to a frigid 31°. Brrr…!

If you’ve read many of the posts here on Live from the Lizard Lounge about my flora, you know that I’m partial to my banana plants and fear the dreaded cold snaps we’ve been experiencing here in Central Florida the past few years. Bananas are not very cold hardy. Freezing temperatures will kill the leaves, while temperatures in the high 20s will kill the plant to the ground. This has been the fate suffered by my younger plants the past several years.

Bananas afterEach year, freezing temps have resulted in ‘nanner death to a small stand of young plants on the northern edge of my back yard. Although, as is typical for bananas, new plants sprout from the rhizome (underground banana root-like thingy) each spring and grow to about 2′-3′ over the summer, come winter they invariably get struck down in the prime of life just like their brethren and sistren from the previous year (see the photo to the right).

To help this year’s crop of bananas avoid this fate and survive the cold, the night it was projected to freeze I created a makeshift greenhouse with a big sheet of plastic I happened to have on hand (not sure why), some saw horses, a couple of lengths of cast-off lumber, and a big ol’ outdoor light bulb for heat.

Red-neck greenhouseTrust me when I tell you it wasn’t pretty. (See for yourself in the photo to the left.) It was kind of a low-slung, amorphous, glowing hulk of polyvinyl chloride anchored down by chunks of lumber and flower pots, with blurry images of toasty little green banana plants intermittently visible through the translucent plastic.

Although it was white-trashy looking, I have to proclaim it a resounding success. So far, no tell-tale leaf browning is visible on any of my banana babies.

Such a proud papa.

You say you want a resolution? Well, um…no.

Case closed

For the record, New Year’s resolution are for the birds.

Come on – you know you’re with me on that.

Last January, I determinedly posted a list of 11 home and garden projects that I intended to complete here at the Lizard Lounge this past year, complete with photographic documentation of their current needy state.

At final count, I finished five of them.

In my defense… Oh forget it – there really isn’t a good defense.

Actually, as it turns out I’m ahead of the curve. Out of the 45% of Americans who set New Year’s resolutions, about half have “infrequent success”. (My apologies to my readers in Yugoslavia – I’m still looking for statistics for you guys.) I would call completing 5 out of 11 projects infrequently successful.

Plus, that number doesn’t count all the non-documented projects I completed around here. I repaired a leaking washing machine, installed a new ice maker, bought a new stove, deep-cleaned my garbage disposal, and totally reorganized all my Christmas stuff. (While that may seem a simple task, you can read here, here, here, and here to see how many deck-o-rations I have.) I also read the Bible all the way through and survived twice daily traffic on I-4. That’s gotta count for something.

Maybe the problem lies in the whole idea of actually writing one’s resolutions down and putting them out there for everyone to see. The closer to the end of the year you get without much being done the more it sort of sucks the joy right out of it for you.

Or maybe resolutions ought to be more personally and spiritually beneficial, like actually limiting Facebook time to just once a week and filling those previously squandered hours with writing and arranging music and starting that second blog that’s been on my heart for some time now and flossing. Not that by putting any of these things in writing am I committing to actually fulfilling them in 2012 or anything. (Don’t wanna go down that road again…)

Anyway, at least I’ve already got the jump on six projects I may (or may not) complete next year around here. No promises.

As far as 2011 projects, in addition to a new window seat cushion, a new front door (I know, I know – those two really just involved shopping and writing a check to someone else, even though my friend Katy tried to make me feel like less of a loser by trying to convince me that shopping for fabric can be extremely trying. I love that gal…), and a new piano bench, I also finished painting all the unpainted spots on the exterior of the Lounge, and got my bookcase clutter under control.



I’ll start with the painting project.

My key learning (as we like to say at work) when painting the corner of the house shown in the photo (to the right) is that cheap-o foam paint brushes from Walmart are great for painting brick. You can easily shove paint in all the cracks and crevices, and, once you’re finished, just toss what’s left of the brush in the garbage; no clean up is necessary. (Unless, like me, you end up just pulling the sponge part off the handle and using your fingers to squish the paint in place.)

In addition to the new coat of exterior paint, I also remulched and added some river pebbles to that corner planting bed and installed a fountain, given to me by my dear friend George.

The interesting thing to me, though, as I compared the before and after photos, is how much that Chinese Fan Palm has grown this past year. (I especially noticed that as I tried to climb back there to paint.) If it had been this tall last January, I may not have bothered. Just sayin’…

Case Closed

View 1My final project involves the bookcases in my… well, bookcase room. (You may recall that I built these in the wake of Hurricane Charlie a few years ago.) I’m really pleased with how they turned out, even though it was really tedious and a potential safety hazard.

I had decided that, in addition to busting all the clutter that had accumulated, I would paint the backs a shade darker than the wall color (see the photo at the top and to the right). This involved taking everything off the shelves, taping the sides up so they wouldn’t get painted along with the backs, and removing the shelves themselves. Imagine all those books (many of which I’ve since donated to my church library and Goodwill) and shelves lying about in precarious stacks on the floor throughout that room. When George came down on Thanksgiving, I issued him a GPS and a survival kit in case he got lost on the way to the kitchen.

I’m really pleased with the way the bookcases turned out, though. However, once I got rid of all that no-longer-needed stuff, I discovered I have way more shelves than books.

I guess I’ll need to add “shop for shelf merchandise” to next year’s resolution list.

Or not.

From the mouths of cartoon characters

A Charlie Brown ChristmasIt has to be one of those quintessentially classic moments in television – a moment even better than the one when Bob Newhart woke up back in the bed with Suzanne Pleshette, his wife for six seasons on The Bob Newhart Show, after having apparently dreamed the entire eight seasons of Newhart; a moment even better than the one at the end of White Christmas when they opened those big barn doors to reveal it’s snowing outside just as they’re about to sing “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas.”

A moment better than those (and both of those rank up there on my list of classic moments).

It’s the moment in A Charlie Brown Christmas during rehearsal for the Christmas pageant when, frustrated by the materialism and commercialisation of Christmas, Charlie Brown cries out in desperation, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”

In response, Linus – quirky, philosophical, security blanket-toting Linus – answers, “Sure, Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about.”

He steps downstage, blanket in tow, and calls out, “Lights, please.” The unseen but obedient lighting technician brings all the lights down to nothing but a spotlight on Linus.

He says (I’m tearing up just thinking about it):

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not: for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.

“‘And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.’

“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.'”

Linus collects his blanket and walks back to his frustrated friend. “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

Indeed it is.

Tonight was the Christmas Eve service at my church – a night of carols, communion, and candlelight, three of my favorite church-related “C’s”.

Everyone was given a candle when they entered the church. At the end of the service, the pastor lit his candle from the large Christ candle on the stage. He then lit the executive pastor’s candle, who lit someone else’s candle, who lit someone else’s, until the light was passed throughout the packed sanctuary of several hundred people. The house lights gradually were turned out as the room was filled with the strains of “Silent Night”, sung by candlelight.

The beauty of that moment ranked right up there with Linus reciting the Christmas story from the book of Luke.

As I watched the pastor’s single tiny flame multiply to fill the room, I couldn’t help but be struck by the thought that what I was witnessing was very much like the spread of the gospel.

It all started with Jesus, the light of the world, who spread His gospel message to the apostles; who, in turn, spread that message to “all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” Those had to have been amazing, heady times in the life of the church.

But 2000 years later, that light hasn’t died or stopped spreading. No doubt it’s a bit dimmer in these troubled times than it was during that first century; but the light has never been in danger of being extinguished – and never will be.

So on this Christmas Eve, don’t leave the Christ child in the manger. That image is miraculous and sweet and a key part of God’s plan, but it was just the beginning of the story of His grace and His gift of salvation through the birth, life, and death of His son.

And if you know Him as your savior then you know that the best is yet to come.

Merry Christmas from “Live from the Lizard Lounge”.

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