Ham, Green Bean, n’ ‘Tater Stew :|: The Recipe


So, I have blogged about it before, but that was more just the method. This time I actually measured stuff. Usually I just eyeball a bag of fresh green beans if they look good. Still don’t have a good name for it. Ham, Green Beans, & Potatoes? Ham , Beans, n’ Taters? Grandma’s Special? Daddy’s Favorite? Is it a soup or a stew? It’s delicious is what it is. I generally make enough to have a stunningly large amount of leftovers. I always try to get the ham bone, this time my son & I each got one. He’s a copycat.

A collage  - Ham, green bean, and potato stew (soup?) in a spoon on the top left, the soup in a bowl on the bottom left, and the whole right side is a screenshot of a text from my daughter with a bowl full of ham cubes... saying that the soup would have been perfect without the green beans or potatoes. 🤦‍♂️
Soup – In the spoon & soup in the bowl – and the post dinner text from my 9yo after she said there were too many beans and potatoes. 🤦‍♂️

Ingredients…

The “to taste” is just a few shakes usually. This recipe doesn’t really need any extra salt, so if I have a salt-free blend like Mrs. Dash or the Aldi equivalent, I use that. The bullion is according to directions, I think I measured it out right. I added too much water this time, but I think this measurement is still right. The beef & chicken bullion cubes and even the beer are completely unnecessary, but I feel like it adds a little to the broth. I use a big stock pot with a lid, and an 8-cup measuring cup for the big stuff.

  1. Put your liquids & spices in the pot, put it on to boil, but don’t quite dime the knob.
  2. Cube your ham, dump it in the pot.
  3. Cube your potatoes (don’t peel them!), dump ’em in the pot.
  4. Snap ends off your beans if you have any sus ones, snap them in to bite-size pieces if you want. Or chop them. Or don’t. Dump ’em in the pot.
  5. Boil for 20 minutes.
  6. Simmer for 20 minutes or even longer if you want. Let it cook down & get tasty.
  7. Don’t taste it too early while it is hot and burn your tongue every time, because I definitely do not do that.
  8. Serving suggestion – Serve it up with homemade bread (or store bought fresh baked) and butter.

Obviously, wash the beans & potatoes first. I think I broke down what you need & more details on the method the first time I wrote about this soup (stew?). I use fresh produce beans most often, but the bags are quick & easy to measure. This is also good with leftover ham from a holiday meal.

I like soups, I make them a lot. Well, I make them sometimes, when I have time. If you like this one, check these out:

Spalding Responds. Sort of.


I mean, at least they pretended to care. My review finally went live on Amazon. Wonder if anyone will find it helpful?

Got this seemingly automatically generated super polite “thanks, but go [fornicate] yourself” email:

Politely worded, no further need for follow up on their end. Bravo.

I also reached out via FB Messenger and DM on Twitter. Got this through Facebook, nothing from Twitter:

Shenanigans abound.

Did anyone actually try this? Assembling a Spalding basketball hoop according to the instructions. 🏀🤬


The kids have shown a commitment to their respective basketball teams over the years, so it was time for a significant upgrade in height and backboard size.

We bought a Spalding Ultimate Hybrid® 60″ Performance Acrylic Portable Basketball Hoop off of Amazon.

So, following is my review that should eventually go live on Amazon. I thought you may get a kick out of it.

🏀 This is a sturdy stylish basketball hoop. It is the described height and backboard size. The delivery was courteous and professional despite the dilapidated box. 🏀

That concludes the positive portion of my review. Putting this together was an exercise in patience & mental fortitude, and I failed. I mean, is it together now? Yes. Did it take much longer than it needed to? Yes. Am I, perhaps, just an idiot that can’t follow instructions? I doubt it, because every piece of furniture or children’s toy that I have purchased from the late 1900′ s to now has involved my dumb☆$$ assembling it. My resume includes, cabinets, beds, desks, dining room sets, shelves, dressers, Batcaves, a Kid Kraft Kitchen, doll furniture, the TMNT lair, Barbie’s dream house, and even an outdoor swingset treehouse thing. I have gotten pretty good. I even build LEGO as a hobby. I can follow instructions. I am quite familiar with my local Harbor Freight and Home Depot stores. I have some power tools and I know how to use them. 🔧🔨🪛🗜🚧

This manual had to have been written by someone that has never seen a basketball, a bolt, a screwdriver, or assembled anything. The frustration therein is compounded by the fact that the packaging was obtuse and the instructions at times were actually absurd.

I’m not even sure where to begin. Most furniture to be assembled has the packaging that directly labels the parts. Maybe stickers, maybe it’s stamped, maybe there is a cardboard backing to a pack numbering or lettering each bolt.

Here, we had none of that. They seemingly came in packs to facilitate the process, labeled 1B, 2B, 3B, etc. The book calls the packs Kit 2, Kit 2, Kit 3, etc. and of course the numbers do not correspond. The first bit that was maddening is that the #60 bolt from the first pack was one of the last bolts used. I found no discernable rhyme or reason to the contents relationship in packaging to each other at some points.

The backboard parts list shows an ¹¹/₆₄ drill bit. We’ll get to that in a bit (𝘱𝘶𝘯 𝘪𝘯𝘵𝘦𝘯𝘥𝘦𝘥).

The list of tools required did include sand, a garden hose, a sawhorse, a “scrap wood board,” and “2 capable adults.” While we won’t pause to question if the authors at Spalding were calling me and my wife tools, I will ask you to note the distinct lack of a drill in the tool list.

The first indication that this whole project was, as the young people say “shady AF,” was the fact that to assemble the main pole, I had to measure and mark 3½” down from the top of 2 of the 3 pieces. There was no pencil, chalk, crayon or Sharpie mentioned in the tool list. OK. I have a pencil & a tape measure. The next step was the head-scratcher. The actual instructions are to jam the tubes together and 𝗯𝗲𝗮𝘁 𝘁𝗵𝗲𝗺 𝗼𝗻 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗴𝗿𝗼𝘂𝗻𝗱 (on top of your scrap of wood) until they’re properly seated at the mark you hopefully measured correctly and marked, perhaps scratching with the drill bit?

I mean, this could have been made exponentially easier and fail-proof by maybe marking it at the factory, or having the joints fitted and maybe lock together with a pin or bolt? I mean, the Christmas tree people have had that figured out since what, the 50’s or 60’s?

Throughout the process, I was repeatedly measuring the bolts… because while it said things like #18 or #12, nothing on the bolt or packaging indicated that number.

After most of the assembly, it was time to attach to board pads/edge guards to the backboard. There were no holes in the frame around the backboard for this. Odd. They did, however, include self-tapping screws and suggested that you try to use a ⁵/₁₆” socket wrench to break though the metal frame. 🤣 Here is the first time a portable drill is mentioned. It doesn’t even note using the inexplicably included drill bit, that conveniently is the exact right size. I know I didn’t need to be Sherlock Holmes there, but I did manage to figure that one out.

The rest of the assemble went as expected. I did get a sawhorse/work bench thing out of the deal from Harbor Freight. I mean, it was in the list, so I 𝘩𝘢𝘥 to get it, right?

I will say I made a layman’s error in building that I had to rectify after the initial assembly. When I attached to lower elevator tubes to the backboard brackets, I neglected to be sure that I had went through the screw-jack, and only went through the sleeve. You can imagine my f̶i̶t̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶l̶a̶u̶g̶h̶t̶e̶r̶ absolute fury at discovering my error. 🤬 This, my friends, was all on me.

At the end, I had to literally use a tape measure to check hoop height. It does indeed go above 10′. I suspect that you expect me to measure the heights of the hoop to match of all the provided poorly-screened stickers and place them neatly on the screw-jack to be displayed by the conveniently placed hole in the sleeve at each of the 6 suggested settings? For what I paid for the hoop… those increments should have been stamped into or printed on the screw jack already. This takes me back to the argument that there is probably a better way to build the main tube for more efficient assembly.

If you, dear potential purchaser, have stayed with me this long, then you are brave, resilient, persistent and you may just be a masochist. If you have read all of this and still add it to your cart without selecting professional assembly, then may whatever higher power you ascribe to have mercy on your soul.

I may even email the address in the manual, and try to reach out directly to Spalding somehow either via email or social media.

I don’t want or need anything, other than for them to re-think their entire process.

Oh well. I am off to play basketball, poorly.

Cargo Shorts: Uniform of the Useful


Recently, while camping at a local Jellystone with the family (awesome for young kids, by the way!), it occurred to me just how awesome cargo shorts are. Luckily I have a fashion sense unfettered by current trends, or perhaps a complete lack thereof. Why are they so vilified?

My cargo shorts were the hero of the day for a Saturday camping adventure.

My shorts in the course of the day, at one point for quite some time, contained all of the following…

  1. Car keys
  2. Cabin key
  3. Wallet
  4. Cell phone
  5. Wife’s cell phone
  6. Wife’s lip balm
  7. 4 golf balls from Putt Putt that we need to return for a refund across the camp.
  8. The contents of one “fossil” mining sluice bag.
  9. The contents of one “gem” mining sluice bag.
  10. Tummy medicine.
  11. Campground map.
  12. Multi-Tool pocket knife thing:
    • Plyers
    • Cutters/Strippers
    • Knife
    • Saw
    • Ruler
    • Phillips-Head Screwdriver
    • Flat-Head screw driver
    • Can-opener
    • Other Can-opener
    • File
  13. Epi-Pen.

Tell me that’s not awesome. See the above FB post from my friend Dave, and the photo of backpack shorts found from the bowels of social media? Perhaps that is the only possible evolution to something more useful. Are you brave enough to try?

So, cargo shorts dad, or just cargo shorts man… you continue being you. Cargo shorts mom or cargo shorts woman? You be you too! Fashion will circle back around. Or not. Who cares? We stand the test of time.

I also wear high-top Chuck Taylor All Stars with shorts, which my wife erroneously and hilariously thinks is a faux pas. I mean, what?

I have also noticed that socks with Crocs is a thing. I got into Crocs almost like I imagine someone succumbs to an addiction. I thought they were dumb. I got some for creek shoes at camp. They were really comfortable. I got some fur-lined ones for slippers at home. I wore the regular ones into the yard to garden. I wear them to cut grass, take out the dog, take out the trash. I wore them for a quick run to Rite Aid. Wore them for a longer run to Giant Eagle. Wore them with socks while gardening or mowing the lawn to keep the dirt from getting in between my toes. Will I be wearing Crocs in socks to the kids’ school and sports activities soon?

Tell me in the comments what you store in your cargo shorts. What should I be keeping in mine? I didn’t even get into how different shades of camo PERFECTLY compliment my band T-shirts and Star Wars or Batman T-shirts.

You probably shouldn’t take fashion advice from a guy with lambchop sideburns anyway.

Smokin’ Spare Ribs 🍖 (3·2·1 Style)


So, recently I got a smoker attachment for my Char-Griller grill as a gift for Father’s Day. I tried it out today and the results we fantastic. I hit up the Google machine and some non-BBQ-ing Facebook groups for advice, tips, & tricks. (I imagine that they are as intense as guitar groups and I am just not ready yet.) I kept getting advice on the 3-2-1 method of smoking ribs. There are many variations of that technique. I think it went well. I tracked my progress with the #AiXeLsyDBBQ hashtag. Maybe I’ll do some more next time.

The quick and dirty of this method is…

  1. Get your coals to 225°-ish. (I used a chimney to avoid lighter fluid and it was awesome.) I added some wood chunks in the chimney, and on top once I spread on the coals. I did not soak the wood, but I may next time. Control the temp with your vents. Open a bit warms it up, closed cools it off… all because of airflow.
  2. Remove the silverskin, and put a nice rub on the ribs. I used one from the section of Walmart by all the grilling stuff.
  3. Put the ribs in the grill part if you have an attachment, or not on the heat for 3 hours.
  4. Pull the ribs out, wrap in heavy duty grilling foil, add some apple cider, apple juice, vinegar, pop, or whatever. I added some Straub. Unfortunately I made 2 racks and used the whole bottle, so I drank one myself.
  5. Put them in for 2 hours, smoking really isn’t necessary at this point if your wanna save your chunks or chips.
  6. Pull them out and unwrap them. I should have saved the drippings for the barbecue sauce on the side, but I did not. Shame on me. Do that.
  7. Sauce those ribs up. Liberally. Like, and obscene amount.
  8. Put them back on for 1 hour. (3-2-1… get it? Guys! They said the thing!)
  9. Always check with a thermometer for done-ness. They should be pretty damn done at this point, arguably overdone.
  10. EAT.

I know fall-off-the-bone isn’t competition style. A bone did pull right out of one rack, but the meat was in tact, not falling completely apart. I know the foil wrapping bit is then steaming not smoking… but, rules are made to be broken and a healthy dose of anarchy warms my little punk rock heart.

I would definitely do the ribs like this again. I may try a homemade sauce. This was pretty basic store-brand stuff from Shop ‘n Save with some dry mustard, brown sugar, garlic powder, onion powder, and black pepper, and Straub American Amber Lager. I may try different chips, or a smoker box, or to soak the wood. I even read some people eschew charcoal in favor of all wood once the fire is going.

I also threw on some baked potatoes, turkey legs, grilled veggies, and sauce on the attached burner.

Can’t wait to try out a turkey, pork loin, brisket, and whatever else I haven’t thought of. Mac n’ cheese? Jalapeño poppers? Meatloaf? Bacon?

What do you do in the smoker? What are your go to foods? Got any tips & tricks worth sharing? Do you click the tongs twice or three times? Before, during, or after?

Any excuse to drink beer and play with fire all day is a good excuse to me. Plus, the family was awed by my hereto unknown skills with smoked meats.

What music are you playing while you’re grilling or smoking?

This is the full adventure as told via Instagram:

Vegetable Garden 2021 🌱 II: The Wrath of Fawn


Damn deer ate my tomatoes.

Think they’ll come back from this, or is it just best to replace?

Also, we planted some swiss chard from my daughter’s school science class, some snap beans, some yellow onions, and garlic. We also had 1 volunteer squash pop up in the yard, and 4 back by the compost pile. Not really sure what they are. I have had some WEIRD hybrid stuff in the past. When you grow multiple varieties they can cross-pollinate and the seeds can make some wacky stuff. They could be that wacky stuff or just pumpkins, butternut squash, acorn squash or zucchini.

Gorillas in the Mint

Check out the original blog from this year for a nice embedded chart.

Revised Garden Map & Harvest Dates:

Follow my instagram for all the latest stuff, and some other plants around the yard.

Vegetable Garden 2021 🌱


This year, I had some big help in the garden! These two have been gardening since they could walk, and I think they’re enjoying it and really getting the hang of it.

The kids have their own YouTube channel now, with a little hep from some old guy that blogs occasionally. Check out their gardening how-to:

I also made a map, and decided to make a chart of the suggested harvest dates on the tags just to see how accurate they are. I have been gardening since I can remember, and don’t know if I ever paid attention to that. We just picked stuff whenever it appeared & ripened.

Garden Map & Harvest Dates 2021

We made sure to get all the tags & try to document it all. The kids are loving math & science, so why not incorporate it into the garden? We can see if the harvest dates noted on the tags are anywhere near when the plants are actually ready.

I’m excited to see how it turns out! And, yeah, we got some more jalapeño since they liked it last year… and this time we’re trying some poblano too!

Whoa, Instagram is a trip down memory lane with these kids and gardening!

So, you’re buying someone (or yourself) a first guitar?


I’m in a lot of guitar-related Facebook groups. I’m probably in a lot more guitar -related (and general music-related) Facebook groups that ought to be allowed. I see a lot of talk about guitars, and a lot of opinions about guitars. People are very strong and vocal about their opinions. (Did you see the guitar bingo cards?)

One post I see quite often is someone who is buying a guitar for their kid, or even one for themselves. It usually contains no details or insight and boils down to “I am buying my kid a guitar, what should I get?” or “I want to try playing guitar, what is the best one to buy?”

The responses come in swiftly and are predictably all over the place. Guitarists who frequent guitar-related Facebook groups are a wild bunch. It’s hard to get a good feel when advice is all over the place.

I am certainly no guitar expert. Hell, I’m not even that great of a player. Ha ha. I have, however, played a very large variety of guitars over the years. I happen to own a wide variety of guitars and am a bottom-feeder of sorts… All of which I feel plays well into qualifying me to dole out advice on the matter of a starter guitar.

First Guitar & Gift Guitar Purchase Guide

First, you need to ask yourself some questions. We need more to go one than “Which guitar should I buy?”

  • What’s your budget?
  • What kind of music do you listen to?
  • What guitarists (or musicians, bands, artists) do you enjoy?
  • What would you like to sound like?

If this is a GIFT guitar, this becomes tricky if you want it to remain a surprise. You’ve got to do some homework. If a kid is dreaming he wants and Explorer or a Jaguar and you get him a Stratocaster or an SG, there may be some disappointment or it sitting in the corner for a bit.

What do you see yourself or what does the recipient see themselves playing? What kind of noise is yearning to be made? Get an idea of a shape in mind, maybe even a color… or whatever is there sparking that interest.

Learn the difference between single-coils, humbuckers, and P-90’s. See what the people you want to sound like play.

Don’t rush it.

Look at Facebook Marketplace, OfferUp, ShopGoodwill.com, ebay, Music Go Round, Reverb, Craigslist, etc. See what floats your boat or calls out. Something will catch your attention. Something will call you. Something will pull you. It might not be the exact guitar you want, but it gives you a place to start looking, at styles or brands.

Check local Facebook sale groups too. I help moderate one for my area and it is a FANTASTIC place to get great deals on gear, ask, & answer questions, etc. It’s also all invite-only so it’s relatively drama free.

I’m largely ignoring acoustics, but that may be what you want. They are so versatile and a great place to start learning.

Go to a music store and pour over the stuff. (I know things are different right now with a global Covid-19 pandemic, but I hope they will eventually return to a much more normal state of existence. Please follow the guidelines in a store or if meeting someone to purchase via an online ad.) Play it all. See what feels good.

Soon you’ll have a Pinterest board for beautiful, weird, ugly, and random guitars you find on the internet.

All the references I can think of for name-dropping for guitar players are ancient. But if you want to play like Slash and you get a John Mayer guitar, it’s not going to be as exciting, right?

Get your budget set. I personally stick to cheap guitars and I love them. You can get some really nice guitars for $300. One group I frequent calls anything $500 & under cheap. I can dig that. You can also get some great guitars for $100 if you’re looking in all the right places.

Used gear is a great place to start. Stuff depreciates rapidly. Stores pay pennies on the dollar for value so they’re able to make a profit, so the best bang-for-your-buck may be some sort of local online sale. Although, Music Go Round seems to have reasonable used prices in person.

Avoid any listings online that say “great for beginners” or “great for a first guitar” or “great for kids.” Loosely translated this means “this guitar is a steaming pile of poop.” Usually it has terrible action, won’t hold a tune or even intonate properly, or has some other hidden issues.

If anyone lists something online for free and says “Make an offer” they are the worst kind of person, so just keep scrolling.

Don’t pay over $50 for a used First Act unless it was one that came with a Volkswagen. They were $50 new at Walmart. Some brands with great budget axes can include Squier, Lotus, Hondo, Dean, Hamer, Schecter, Ibanez, New York Pro, Galveston, G&L, Peavy, Epiphone, Kramer, and so many more outside of the ones everyone seems to know like Fender and Gibson. Don’t pay too much attention to the headstock logo though.

I would also probably be wary of new “starter packs” that come with a tiny amp. Do your research & read reviews on that kind of stuff.

Stick to your budget & play everything that you can that resembles what you’re looking at online. You might like a heavy guitar or a light guitar. You might like a wide neck or a skinny neck. You might like a thin neck or a heavy one.

If you want a cheap new guitar and are not concerned with the logo on the headstock, I cannot recommend Agile or SX and Xaviere enough. I hear nothing but good things and they’re just great axes. I have heard mixed reviews on Hard Luck Kings.

Whatever you buy, I suggest, and a I cannot stress this enough, get a pro setup. Find local music shop… preferably from work of mouth or asking locals online. Find someone that recommends a tech or luthier that does great work. This person will ask you questions. Give honest answers. I suggest getting a lighter gauge pack of strings at first. Tell them you want 9’s. I would say $75 for a pro setup and a few bucks for a new pack of strings will make even the rattiest of guitars into beautiful machines. Figure it into your budget if you need to.

If you’re close to Pittsburgh’s southern suburbs, I may even recommend the guy that has polished some of my proverbial turds and made them into rock n’ roll machines.

Amps? Well, amps are whole different animal. There are headphone amps, practice amps, and combo amps. It’s all in the budget/preference mix. Maybe that will need to be another blog post?

You (or the gift recipient) will fall in love with the guitar if you get the right one. Soon you’ll have GAS.

Don’t hesitate to ask me any specific advice here in the comments or with the contact form.

Feel free to add to my advice, or contradict it in the comments!

Ghost Kitchens and Virtual Restaurants need to die.


…Or just be honest.

It’s been a while since I have ranted about food allergies. I know the world is in chaos, especially in the United Sates right now. But, this is exactly the sort of time when stuff like this is overlooked. We’ve already had allergy-warning-label rollbacks since the start of the pandemic, and the COVID-19 vaccine raises true food allergy concerns to me anyway.

Say no to ghost kitchen and virtual restaurant shenanigans. It’s a nightmare for non-disclosure or potential food allergens & cross contamination.

Ghost kitchens scare the shit out of me, as it comes to food allergies and cross-contamination issues.

Say a wing place pops up online and their menu features only chicken wings, fries, and cheese sticks… seems safe for me. But, as a person with severe food allergies… the place could have a full kitchen and share cooking surfaces and/or fryers with shellfish, to which I am highly allergic.

I like to see a restaurant’s full menu. I determine where I may go after looking at menus online. If they’re not showing the full picture, that is a lie to the consumer. It’s even better if they can provide a chart for allergen ingredients or better yet cross-contamination.

I don’t see an added value from deception.

Pasqually’s is just Chuck E. Cheese. Anthony’s Coal-Fired Pizza apparently has a wing place with items that aren’t available in the restaurant? Neighborhood Wings is Applebee’s? American Grilled Cheese Co. is King’s Family Restaurant? (King’s is a potential food-allergy nightmare because of their CONSTANTLY changing menu… and don’t get me started on Applebee’s.)

If any of these places carry something that could be a trigger and it’s not disclosed on BOTH menus, they’re setting themselves up to cause some anaphylaxis.

In general, transparency is the way to go. Just look at your government as a bad example of this.

Evil Deceitful Pasqually

Merry Christmas 2020 – From the Carroll Family!


Our church put out a call for video submissions for the Christmas Eve streaming service. Here is what we contributed.

I threw it together into one video and added some cheesy effects and titles.

This is…

  • The Christmas Carrolls performing “Away in a Manger”
  • Molly reading The First Christmas Night by Keith Christopher
  • Ian doing some prayers on the fly – take 1 & take 2. (We only sent take 2 to the church.)

Check out live & archived videos from the church here: https://www.facebook.com/hillschurchexport/live