What the Heck’s Going on at Lowe’s? or, “The Saga of How I Got This Big-ass Grill”

The Grill That I Never Asked For

I had never owned my own barbeque grill, having lived in apartments most of my adult life.  Even though it’s against the law to use grills on balconies or within a certain distance on the ground floor of apartments, a lot of people do it.  And, it’s not unusual for fires to start for that very reason.

Silly as may seem, I have on occasion run an electric cord outside and attached a toaster oven in order to cook a burger or two outside.  I really don’t know how safe that is either.

The alternative is broiling hamburgers or steaks in the oven.  The problem is  because of the high heat and burning grease, there’s a lot of smoke, and the smell remains for at least another day.  I don’t know if that’s because of poor venting, but I always had that happen in the apartments I lived in, and now I’ve found the same thing occurs here in my house.

Thus, I decided to get an outdoor grill.

I wanted something that wouldn’t take a lot of effort to use or clean up.  I saw an electric one that I thought might fit the bill (maybe I was reminiscing for my old toaster oven days).  It was small, and, I thought, would just be the right grill for me on a regular basis, or for a few guests from time to time.  Then I remembered Hurricane Ike.  The majority of the people in the Houston area were without electricity after the hurricane, some for just a day or so, but many for a week or even weeks.  However, those that had gas water heaters and gas stoves could at least have a nice shower and something warm to eat.

My house has a gas water heater, but the cooktop and oven are electric, so in the end, I gave up on my initial choice and decided to look for a gas grill.  Getting charcoal started and going just takes too much time, so that wasn’t an option for me.

After looking around–both online and in various stores–I found one at Lowe’s that I liked.  A 2-burner, in the Char-broil Quantum line, it seemed to be better made than others of similar size that I had looked at.  I read several positive reviews online.  Some recommended having Lowe’s assemble the grill, which they do for free.  I measured the hatchback opening of my car (How many times had I done that before in moving or now that I’m in my house, buying larger items?) and decided I could transport the assembled grill home without problems.

But last Wednesday, I never anticipated the problems I would have getting that grill after I went over to Lowe’s, made the purchase, and happily was told that they would assemble the grill and it would be ready in two days–on Friday afternoon.

Until I bought my house, I was a very infrequent customer of the mega hardware stores.   My previous idea was that Lowe’s was more expensive than Home Depot, and perhaps the merchandise more of the high end type.  Now that I have the two just down the road next to each other, it’s really good to shop and compare both quality and price because Home Depot is not necessarily less expensive, nor are Lowe’s products that much different.  In fact, sometimes, I find exactly what I want, by turning the corner and driving a mile further to Sears Hardware.  However, most of the time, I head for Lowe’s because it’s the quickest to get to.

One thing I’ve noticed though is that my neighborhood Lowe’s seems very loosely managed.  The staff are nice enough, but they also seem to be having a good time amongst themselves, rather than being focused on their jobs.  This is just a generalization, and not something that I see from all of the employees, nor all of the time.  There are also quite a few people who are called managers, but from my viewpoint as a customer, how managers are different from the rest of the employees is unclear.

All this “lack of a system” came into play when I went back Friday evening to pick up my grill.  When I went with my receipt in hand, the customer service person made a call to the outdoor department and then, looking a bit perplexed, told me to wait.  After some time, she got a call back from the department, and then told me one guy couldn’t find it, but another one had.

After more waiting, a “manager” came and told me that my grill hadn’t been assembled, gave me no explanation why it hadn’t been, took some time entering information into a computer behind the Customer Service Desk, and then assured me that the grill would be ready if I came back the next afternoon (Saturday).  I told him that I wasn’t in a hurry to get the grill, but that I just wanted to know when to come back to pick it up.  Putting his hand on my shoulder (as a gesture of honesty?), he said again that it would be ready the next day.

On Saturday, I decided to call before I went back.  After playing “forward you to that department” for a bit, the guy who answered in the outdoor department told me, “Oh, I looked for that grill yesterday” and said he would check.  When he came back on the line, he said, “I can’t see it.  Let me check with the manager, and I’ll call you back in 2 minutes.”  Two minutes ran into 2 and a half hours, so I decided to get in the car for the 3-minute jaunt to Lowe’s.

When I returned this time to Customer Service, the representative looked at my receipt and saw that I was supposed to have gotten the grill on Friday.  Right behind her was the “manager” who had told me to come back on Saturday.

(Oh, god, this narrative is getting too long.  I think I’m even boring myself.)

Anyway, they told me to come back on Monday, and they would discount the price.  I went back on Monday, and it still wasn’t ready, but they wanted to upgrade the grill and went and got a floor model.  I didn’t mind that, but the upgraded model was too big for my car, so they said they would deliver it for free, which they did at a little before 9 AM today.

First Steak on the Grill

It’s a nice grill–a big ass grill, at least for me–with 3 burners on the grill and a side burner to boot (in the same Char-Broil Quantum line).

I read all the instructions, got the gas tank hooked up, did all the first-time tasks, including seasoning the grill, and finally this evening slapped on a very nice steak that I had bought just for the initiation.

I have to say it was a delicious–very delicious really–steak, all seared on the outside and juicy inside, just like the promotional information says.

I guess I’ll never know why Lowe’s was unable to get the original grill assembled, and this grill makes a bigger statement on my patio than I was planning.  But, hey, now I can cook hamburgers and steaks without smoking up the house, and I’m definitely ready to cook if a big storm knocks out the electricity.

“Getting a Top Secret Security Clearance”–Segueing into “Stories from the Frontline”–SLDN’s New Push To Get DADT Repealed

How much money the Air Force had spent on my training by the time I got my Top Secret Security Clearance had to have been a large sum.  After all, there had been 6 weeks of basic training, almost 9 months of full-time language instruction, and several months of technical training.  Even more training was yet to come after I received the clearance, before I went on to doing “real work.”

The military started the clearance process in San Antonio while I was still in basic training after they had decided what field I was going into.  I had to fill out a form that asked for every place I had ever lived, names of people who could verify that, and a lot of other details that I was hard-pressed to remember.  Family members and other acquaintances back home told me later that “some government guy” had been out to check on me, and they had had to give the names of other people who knew me.  I’d finished college when I went into the A.F. and had summer jobs, but I hadn’t even gotten a traffic ticket yet; my rural existence and fairly controlled upbringing hadn’t given me many opportunities to stray from the straight and narrow.

More than a year after the process started, I was called to personnel to finalize the process and be given my clearance.  As I remember it now, it felt a bit like an interrogation, but, in reality, it probably wasn’t much more than a clerk–I say “clerk”–but perhaps on second thought, it was an officer–asking a number of questions and checking them off on a form.   One of the questions was about “homosexuality”.   I don’t remember if it was the direct question, “Are you a homosexual?” or something a bit different.  The fact is, though certainly thoughts along those lines had been in my head, my life experiences up to that point weren’t broad enough to answer that question any other way than with a “no”.

I learned later that the military’s position then was when it came to military intelligence a “homosexual” was a liability, because if that person were captured by the enemy and the enemy found out he was a “homosexual”, they could use that as a way of getting whatever secret information out of him.  That’s pretty laughable in and of itself, because most gay military (or any other) men or women, especially back then, had already had a lot of experience at keeping secrets.  How were they going to find out anyway?  Drag some hot guy out in front of him and see how he reacted?  I mean if they were dragging out hot guys to get gay guys to spill the beans, couldn’t they do the same for straight guys by using hot women?   (These days they always want to drag out the scary shower story, but I’ll get into that another time.)

So that was before “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”” and I can say, “They asked.”

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” really is a dinosaur and needs to be repealed.  I’m not a big activist, but I want to help and get others to be aware of what’s happening.  Service Members Legal Defense Network is pushing to get the President to honor his word and trying to get Congress busy and repeal DADT this year.  Read the following post from their website.  I urge you to act and contact your representatives and senators.  You can find their phone numbers here.

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Stories from the Frontlines: Letters to President Barack Obama

“Stories from the Frontlines: Letters to President Barack Obama” is a new media campaign launched to underscore the urgent need for congressional action and presidential leadership at this critical point in the fight to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT). Every weekday morning as we approach the markup of the Defense Authorization bill in the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, SLDN and a coalition of voices supporting repeal, will share an open letter to the President from a person impacted by this discriminatory law.  We are urging the President to include repeal in the Administration’s defense budget recommendations, but also to voice his support as we work to muster the 15 critical votes needed on the Senate Armed Services Committee to include repeal.  The Defense Authorization bill represents the best legislative vehicle to bring repeal to the president’s desk.  It also was the same vehicle used to pass DADT in 1993.  By working together, we can help build momentum to get the votes!  We ask that you forward and post these personal stories.


April 26, 2010

President Barack H. Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,

If you end “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), I’d re-enlist the day you sign repeal into law.

For thirteen years, I served in the United States Air Force where I attained the rank of major before I was discharged under DADT.

As the Senate Armed Services Committee considers including repeal in the Defense Authorization bill, we’re very close — just two or three votes — to passing repeal in committee. I ask for you to voice your support to put us over the top.

I come from a family with a rich legacy of military service.  My father is a West Point graduate who taught chemistry at the Air Force Academy, flew helicopters in Vietnam, and ultimately retired as a senior officer from the Air Force.  One of my uncles retired as a Master Gunnery Sergeant from the Marine Corps, with service in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.  Another uncle served in the Army in Korea.

Growing up, I didn’t really know what civilians did, I just knew I would follow in my father’s footsteps and become a military officer.

I joined Air Force ROTC in 1988 and was awarded a scholarship.  I earned my jump wings in 1991.  In 1992, I graduated from ROTC in the top 10% of all graduates nationwide.  In 1993, I went on active duty, just as DADT was becoming a law.

Stationed in Oklahoma, I was named officer of the year for my unit of nearly 1,000 people.  Later, I was one of six officers selected from the entire Air force to attend Professional Military Education at Quantico, Virginia.

During my career, I deployed to the Middle East four times.  In my last deployment, I led a team of nearly 200 men and women to operate and maintain the systems used to control the air space over Iraq.  We came under daily mortar attacks, one of which struck one of my Airmen and also caused significant damage to our equipment.  Towards the end of this deployment to Iraq, I was named one of the top officers in my career field for the entire Air Force.

In the stress of a war zone, the Air Force authorized us to use our work email accounts for “personal or morale purposes” because private email accounts were blocked for security.

Shortly after I left Iraq — during a routine search of my computer files — someone found that my “morale” was supported by the person I loved — a man.

The email — our modern day letter home — was forwarded to my commander.

I was relieved of my duties, my security clearance was suspended and part of my pay was terminated.

In my discharge proceeding, several of my former troops wrote character reference letters for me, including one of my squadron commanders. Their letters expressed their respect for me as an officer, their hope to have me back on the job and their shock at how the Air Force was treating me.

Approximately a year after I was relieved of my duties, my Wing Commander recommended I be promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, even though the Air Force was actively pursuing my discharge.

But instead, after 16 months, I was given a police escort off the base as if I were a common criminal or a threat to national security.  The severance pay I received was half of what it would have been had I been separated for any other reason.

Despite this treatment, my greatest desire is still to return to active duty as an officer and leader in the United States Air Force, protecting the freedoms of a nation that I love; freedoms that I myself was not allowed to enjoy while serving in the military.

Mr. President, I want to serve.  Please fulfill your promise to repeal DADT and give me that chance.

Thank you,

Major Mike Almy

United States Air Force

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First-of-a kind Gay Magazine in Arabic Begins Publication

كيف حالك؟

Even when I studied Arabic in the Air Force, reading and writing weren’t my strong suits.  The squiggly lines that represent the letters with dots and other diacritical marks both above and below them are only further complicated by moving from right to left.  Making matters worse is there’s really not much difference in the way words appear in print (like the block form we have in English and other languages that use Roman-style letters) and the cursive (hand-writing) style; however,  in the hand-written form, most of the time, many of the diacritical marks, which help with the pronunciation, and, thus, the meaning and grammar, are omitted, and one is left to guess about the word.  I suppose when it’s your native language, you don’t really have to guess much, but to a non-native, all of the marks, though complicated, are helpful.

Hence, I found myself wishing that more of my Arabic had stayed with me when I read today on afrik.com that a first-of-its-kind gay magazine had started up in Morocco.  It’s called Mithly, which means “gay” in Arabic, which I think I remember, and began with its first issue on April 1st.

That this magazine has begun publication in Morocco is not so surprising, in spite of all the conservative attitudes in the Muslim world about gay people, because Morocco has had a lot of European influence through the years, and there have been rumors for many years that the King of Morocco is gay.

Even so, Morocco is not by any means a liberal country; this new magazine is actually being produced in Spain.  However, the situation has to be much better in this country just across the Straits of Gibraltar from Europe, in comparison to some other Arab countries, like Iraq, where gay people are brutalized and murdered, in spite of the U.S. being in such an influential position there.

There is a pared-down, online version at www.mithly.net.  Click on the translate button in the upper right corner.  Be forewarned, though.  The Google translation will leave you scratching your head in many places.

Good luck to Mithly.  Every effort like this helps more people understand themselves better and know that they are “not the only one.”

Home-cooked Pinto Beans, Refried Beans, and Cardinals To Boot

Less than 1/10 of an inch (near 529 and Huffmeister), but the new rain gauge is ready to take on more.

Friday has brought another tranquil morning, and as I’m on vacation I’m going to enjoy it to the fullest.

This morning when I got up to take Annie out, there was a light rain coming down, so I was more ready to go out that she was.  Yesterday, I had put up a rain gauge.  The farm kid in me wanted a rain gauge to go along with my new garden.  There’s a perfect post right at the garden gate that’s right out in the open away from the influence of the surrounding trees.  Because it was still almost dark at that time, I couldn’t see how much precipitation–if any–had collected in the gauge.

I went back inside, but soon was ready for something to eat.  I don’t know what it is–on a work day morning, I’m not hungry when I get up, but when I have a day off, I feel like eating and usually make a substantial breakfast.

Yesterday I had made chile colorado and cooked some pinto beans.  (I’ll post the recipe for chile colorado later.)   I had wanted to make frijoles a la charra (ranch-style beans), but I didn’t have all the ingredients.  Anyway, when it comes to cooking, sometimes simple is better.  Here is what I did:

Home-cooked Pinto Beans

2 cups dry pinto beans  (Wash the beans in a colander, place in a large bowl, and add at least twice as much water as beans.  Let the beans soak for at least 4 hours, but overnight is even better.

When the beans are soaked and ready to cook:

1 medium onion chopped

1 cloves garlic (smash the garlic with the side of a big knife and then finely mince

2 tablespoons olive oil.

Heat the olive oil in a 2-quart pot and add the chopped onions.  Sauté the onions until they begin to change color, and then add the garlic.  (Garlic tends to burn if you cook for the same time as the onion.)

Once the vegetables are sautéd, dump the beans and water into the pot.  Add more water for a total of 1 1/2 quarts.  The water should be an inch or two below the rim of the pot.

At this point add a bit of ham, bacon, or salt port.  I had some thin deli ham, so I put in a couple slices, not very much at all.

Turn up the heat to medium-high, put the lid on the pot, and bring the water to a boil.  After the liquid is boiling, reduce the heat and partially cover the pot with the lid.  Cook the beans at a very low simmer for at least an hour and then check on them.  When the skins start to split, strain one or two beans out of the liquid and check them for doneness.  If they are still grainy, they’ll need at least an hour more.

In the food processor, pulse together: 1 can of stewed tomatoes, 2 tablespoons grape jelly, and 1/3 cup ketchup.

Add this mixture to the beans before they are completely cooked and let everything finish cooking together.  When the beans are completely cooked, salt and pepper to taste.

The broth is very tasty, so you could serve this as a soup, or strain the beans and serve them just as a vegetable.

Quick, easy, and yummy!For my breakfast this morning, I decided to take advantage of what I had cooked yesterday, so I strained out about a cup of the beans and pulsed them in the food processor.  Don’t overdo it, you want to keep some bean texture and not have a dip!

So in my non-stick frying pan, I cooked two eggs and added the beans for refried beans.  Why do they call them “refried” beans?  They’ve already been cooked, but “fried”?  Only once.  Maybe the refrying is in the method.  To get the beans nice and crispy on the outside, keep turning and turning them, something like you might do with a potato pancake.  Never made them?  Well, keep turning the beans until they look tasty.

Breakfast is ready!The light rain let up and I went out to eat my breakfast on the patio.  Once again, I feel like I’m truly on vacation.  My back yard is such as pleasant place.

Just to add to the peaceful environment, a pair of cardinals came to scratch in the grass and have a bit of breakfast while I was enjoying mine.

Gardening: Food for the Soul–and Hopefully for the Body

This rough patch that was probably a dog run before is starting to look like a garden! I don't know if old smells still linger, but Annie likes the garden as much as I do.

This morning I spent the good part of another vacation day gardening.  Actually, about four hours straight after getting up with Annie.  I finished moving pavers, then dug up the rest of my garden plot, raked in some bags of soil, and finally planted the space to every inch of its life.

Yesterday I bought one more tomato plant–some kind of heirloom–two containers of okra sprouts, and several packets of beans and flower seeds.  This morning I set in the plants and planted both green and yellow beans.  I added some of the flower seeds in with the veggies, but most I put in the remaining space in my side flower bed.  If everything grows well, then I’ve over-planted, but I’m not sure of anything because the space crowded in behind my garage and the back fence doesn’t have the best of soil.

Gardening itself has to be food for the soul.  There’s plenty of time to think while the hands are busy.  Although it’s been many years since I’ve had a vegetable garden, there’s no question about how to do it.  How deep to plant the different seeds, how to make the little trenches in which to plant the beans, it’s all second nature to me.  What’s amazing is how much pleasure I get out of it.  I had to laugh at myself, enjoying my time in the garden today, compared with the drudgery I had felt as a kid hoeing a row of potatoes.  In some ways, I feel like this little garden has almost taken me full circle, back to the days of growing up on the farm, when I learned all the tasks involved with taking care of a garden, but not liking them all that much, and here I am now, getting so much enjoyment doing what I learned as a kid.

Part of my garden looks good already; onions are growing despite being so close to the fence.  Some of the radishes look like it won’t be long before I can pull a couple, and the two sunflowers are stretching and straightening, trying to get more acquainted with their namesake.  Everything else is moving at a bit slower pace, but I hardly give them much chance, checking at least twice a day, and more now that I’m on vacation.  I realized, though, that everything has grown quite a bit when I compare how my garden looks today with just three weeks ago (see the photo further down the page).

Big Italian Pasta with Easy Rustic Sauce–Just the Thing for Lunch on the Patio

Perfect Lunch and a Perfect Setting

I’ve got some vacation days from work and today was the first one.  It’s early afternoon, and so far I’ve accomplished a lot, enjoying every minute of it.

I snuck some extra snooze time after taking Annie out at 6:30 and peeking at my little garden.  It was barely light enough to see the plants; that’s why jumping back into bed for awhile seemed like a good idea, but after about an hour, I knew I was too awake to really sleep any more.  I got up, took a shower, and headed back outside.

I started moving pavers from more of my garden plot.  The previous owners had pavers everywhere.  It seems like they didn’t like grass.  I had already moved some out of the space I’m using for my vegetable garden, but there are still more.  I’m going to keep some for a walkway, but by getting rid of some, I will have space for some more plants.

I didn’t want to kill myself, so I left the rest of the pavers for later, but I moved on to pulling up weeds and giving the driveway and sidewalks a good sweep.

Annie got her regular shots this past Saturday, but even though we take walks on hard surfaces, her nails had really grown.  So, next on my list of tasks was giving her a bath and taking her to get her nails clipped.  That’s one part of grooming that I just can’t do.

When we got back home, I returned to the pavers in the garden, but my stomach was growling because I hadn’t eaten anything.  I decided to fix one of my favorite dishes–homemade big Italian pasta.  It’s my own concoction.  It’s fast and severely easy.  And–if I don’t say so myself–satisfies just as well as something that costs high dollar in a fancy restaurant.  I get these big Italian shell macaroni from World Market, right off the 610 Loop on Richmond.  I’m sure you can find them other places, but these are made in Italy from semolina wheat.  They have a nice taste and texture to them when cooked.

Here’s my recipe:

Big Italian Pasta with Super Easy Rustic Sauce

Cook about 1/3 of the bag of big macaroni in a pot of salted boiling water until done but still firm.  Drain in a colander.

Heat a splash of olive oil in a non-stick frying pan.

Add one can of seasoned stewed tomatoes.  I like the Kroger brand Italian style or Mexican style.  Cook the tomatoes on medium high heat.  It’s almost as if the tomatoes are being fried in the olive oil.  While the tomatoes are simmering, add a good dollop of ketchup, about 1/3 of a cup.  This adds flavor and helps thicken the sauce.  Turn the heat down, and let simmer for 5-8 minutes more.  The consistency should be that of a nice, chunky sauce.

Add the drained macaroni into the frying pan and gently toss.

Plate up the pasta and sprinkle with as much Parmesan cheese as you like.

This recipe would serve two persons, but add a salad and Italian bread and it’d probably be enough for three.  This would also work well as a side dish.

Today I took my pasta outside and had my first lunch ever on the patio.  When I was looking for a house, I knew that I wanted one with some kind of outdoor living space.  This house definitely filled the bill.  The tables and chairs I got this past weekend seem to just finish out the space.  With the pergola, the shade of the big oak tree, all my plants and flowers, and the sound of the fountain, I couldn’t have enjoyed my simple pasta lunch any more if I had been on the terrace of an Italian villa.

View from the Suburbs: More Plants and a Tricky Fountain

The now-working fountain with the pot of amarylis that I've had for more than 15 years. I used to call them "Easter Lilies" because invariably they were in bloom on Easter. This year because of the colder winter, or perhaps the move, they are two weeks late.

My timing was good this weekend.  I found more plants, or perhaps, they found me.  I went looking for a barbeque grill, but ended up with both vegetable and bedding plants.  I added 3 more tomato plants and 4 pepper plants to my sandy plot.  I need to learn more names of flowering plants, but, anyway, three more of various types and colors came home with me yesterday.

This morning a bit after 7, Annie and I headed out for her morning abolutions.  Upon checking on vegetable plot, rather than head back in for more of a snooze, I grabbed the shovel out from the garage and started digging the sand and clay.  Along with plants, I had bough a huge back of good soil and added most of that to holes before setting in the new tomato and pepper plants.  Green peppers aren’t my favorite, so I had decided on a Santa Fe, a mild jalapeño, and another one.  My garden plot is going to be a work in progress for some time.  The previous owners had covered up half of the area with pavers; they must have had a reason, but if I had put my garden there, I’d have got the grass to growing.

So relocating part of the pavers became part of the task, I’d decided to take on, still in my blue fleece pull-on pants and flip-flops.  It’s still cool enough most mornings that I haven’t given up my fleece pants for jogging shorts.

It didn’t take much longer to set in the three flowering plants into the bed at the side of the house.

I’d made an appointment to get my haircut, so I was out on the rode by 10:30 when the first drops of rain started.  The spits continued all down the road.  The heavy downpour started on my way back home.  There was a weird surprise for me when I came out of my garage:  the fountain, which I had thought wasn’t working after the cold winter, was working.  It has an electric pump and somehow I had left the switch on, when I was doing everything and anything a couple of weeks ago to see if it would work.

I mean I don’t even like this fountain, but it’s there, right?  In the end, what I guess had happened was the pump had primed itself because of the rain water going down into it.  Really, I don’t know what is the difference because I had filled it after cleaning it two weeks ago, and nothing had happened.  Anyway, now it is going.

All just a part of the adventure of owning my first house.

As an added note, out here near 529 and Highway 6, we had about 1.5 inches of rain; my soaked backyard looks like we had even more right here.  This will help my newly set plants get a better start, and give the trees and grass a well-needed drink.