Sunday, December 25

Christmas Reflections

A few minutes of reflection on the last couple of days...

I am one of those people who does the bulk of their shopping on Christmas Eve. I always have been. I recall one year when I was a teenager not only doing my shopping on Christmas Eve - but doing it on my ten speed bike. That year I had Mom's name (when you come from a family of 5 kids...playing Pollyanna is the only way to go!!) (where does the name "Pollyanna" come from??) and I had gotten her a painting by a friend of the family. So I ended up biking with bags in each hand, including one containing a 10x12 artwork.

Some years I wish for the all-encompassing excitement of that particular year. Some years it comes...some years it doesn't. The thrill of hiding the perfect gift...and then when the reveal is just as is just magical. Mom is one of the absolute best names to get...she (for reasons I don't understand) does not expect anything special. And so it doesn't take much to make her cry tears of happiness.

This year I drew my sister Karen's name. And she loved the gifts that I chose (a book of letters between Nancy and Ronald Reagan, the movie "Love Letters", an Itunes gift card and a nice painting by our Aunt Sally) but the thing that got the tears??? A card.

I'm not sure how long ago I started what is now a Christmas tradition for me...I write a card to each member of my family to let them know how they have been a gift in my life. Sometimes there are silly recollections. Sometimes reminders to them how very special they are (we forget if we aren't told!!). The family refers to them as the "tear jerker notes". Not too long ago, when cleaning my room for company, I found a note from a friend who has since gone on to heaven. It wasn't long...and I think it was the only correspondence I ever got from Kathleen. But her message to me was clear: I appreciate having you in my life.

And reading it reminded me that our connections to the people in our life...that is what is really important. And yes, there were tears when I re-read it. And placed it carefully back in a place that I will discover it again. Maybe on one of those days that I don't think I matter...and it will remind me that I do.

Shopping on Christmas Eve may not be for everyone...the stores are a little bit wrecked, and the staff is pretty tired. But I like it! The pressure is building and the excitement is mounting...and I have a deadline (which is usually how I function best...).

The family usually gathers for lunch (and beverages). That tradition started so long ago, Charley's was still in the mall!! During the early years it was a place of rest between spurts of shopping. Now, you will rarely find me in the mall. I only go there now for the movie theater (and really only go to the movies to have popcorn!) and an annual Hickory Farms sandwich. This year we had our gathering (12 of us...only missing Karen and Kenny, who were still working...) at LaCaretta! It is (like most of our family gatherings) a noisy time - full of laughing, joking and teasing.

And one tear jerker we were leaving the restaurant my brother Gordon handed me a bag. I looked inside to see glue and glitter. Tears came to my eyes to know that not only does he read my blog - but on a very busy day, he went to a store to get these things. To let me know that he remembered too. And that simple gesture is what it is all about.

After the shopping was done, and the Christmas Eve service was over, I sat and laughed with Mom, Denise and Karen in the dining room. I squeezed glue on Christmas balls and got glitter all over the place! And my sisters attempted to help with the project...and letters oozed...and I even shattered one ball. And we laughed some more. But now everyone in the family has a ball with their name on it again (at most of them are legible). But it wasn't the project that was important - it was the laughter.

As you may recall, we are just wrapping up a study of the disciples in the youth Sunday school class. There is a church tradition which says, that when John was an old man he was invited to speak at the church in Ephesus. He was so feeble that he had to be carried into the church. After long-winded introductions he stood to speak and his message was this: "Little children, love one another. Love one another. Love one another." And then he sat down. When asked why he said, "It is the Lord's command. And if this alone be done, it is enough."

Merry Christmas everyone. Love one another.

Friday, December 23

A Christmas Memory

Obviously I need a Christmas post. It is more difficult than you would is a holiday that has a lot of emotional aspects.

I was just reading a story via Facebook. The family of a nine year old girl named Abbie who died of cancer in April had made a special request - the Richmond news passed it on. Since Abbie apparently embodied the spirit of giving - they have asked people to do an act of kindness and then email the story to They will be filling a stocking with the email and spending Christmas morning reading those notes to each other. What an incredible legacy. And although I know the reading will be done through a lot of tears...hopefully it will also give the family some smiles.

When I was a young teen, my maternal grandfather passed away about a week before Christmas. I remember vividly when Mom came to my room to tell me. My parents were patient people and allowed us to have a small tree in our bedrooms if we wanted one. I recall mine that year was pretty scraggly cedar and it was decorated with a whole string of lights...even though it was only about 3 feet tall. I had spent the afternoon making paper chains and although I'm sure that I found the effect to be quite was probably pretty hideous. Mom had gone out to run an errand. I guess Dad must have taken the phone call... I know that I was sitting and looking at my tree, all the other lights in the room were off. Mom came in and told me. And we sat together on the floor and cried and looked at the tree. Even though she had four other kids and a host of relatives that she needed to talk to...she took as much time as I needed... (Mom and Abbie have that spirit of giving thing in common). I guess that was the first close family member I had lost.

Since that time, I have dealt with the loss of many family and friends. But there is something about sitting by the light of the Christmas tree that reminds me. Years before he passed, during one Christmas, Granny and Granddad made Christmas balls for each one of us. Just colored glass ornaments with our names in glitter. One for each of us. Mine said "Christy" (don't try to call me that...only one person living has that privledge. If you are not Gladys Bowie...I wouldn't advise it!). As the years have passed, one by one...the ornaments have met their ends. Except for two. Mom's and Granddad's. I think that is pretty cool. And every year when I hang it on the tree, I remember him. His laugh, his western hat, the way he popped his teeth out (which made us kids roar with laughter!), going to Dunkin' Donuts on Sunday morning, stopping by Peter's news stand (we weren't allowed to go in...apparently it was a rough place) for the Washington Post, going to High's Ice Cream store after church and spinning on the stools at the counter.

Remembering is good.

Tomorrow, a different view...

Tell somebody that you love them today.

Hamster a little misty...

Monday, December 19

Random thoughts - Volume 11?

another edition of random thoughts...

On Sunday we wrapped up our study of the 12 disciples in the youth Sunday school class. The final disciple to discuss was Judas Iscariot. Personally, I've always felt kind of sorry for Judas. You see, I have great difficulty resolving the whole idea of predestination with free will. (I have a Presbyterian friend who has offered to help me with that...I plan on taking him up on it soon) IF Judas was destined to be the one who betrayed Christ...then did he really have a choice in the matter?

I actually didn't bring that topic up with my class on Sunday. I think that if it is something I'm struggling to understand, probably not the best idea for me to try to teach it! And I don't think that it is fair for me to wrangle with great philosophical questions with the junior/senior high youth. They are not guinea pigs for my ramblings. That's what I have this blog for!!

But one question I did bring up at the end of the character study of Judas of Kerioth: What would have been different about the world if, instead of committing suicide...Judas had actually repented and asked God for forgiveness? Instead of just being sorry - if he had wanted to be better? What say you hamsterbeaters?

Second random topic: the creation of another foodie in the world! As you know, I am an unrepentant fan of food. Especially unusual and culturally diverse foods. And I have been responsible for introducing a lot of folks to edibles that they might not have encountered without me. My nephew Jack would rather eat Thai food than pizza - pretty unique for a teenage boy. He has also eaten and enjoyed Indian, Greek, Irish... What I love about that guy is that he will at least try it!

This past weekend members of the Gravely family visited Lynchburg. Five of the ten (!) Gravelys crashed at our house for a couple of days. Ranging in age from 5 to 25 - we knew it would be best to keep the food pretty mainstream. Pasta, grilled cheese, pancakes, chicken. But since Carl is the emperor of our Sushi Club (second to me!), we HAD to go for sushi!!

And I wasn't real sure what the younger kids would eat while we were scarfing down raw fish in wasabi... But they accompanied the club to Kings Island and although they ordered the chicken strips with fries...there were a couple of adventurous souls who stepped out of their comfort zone. All four of them enjoyed the crispy noodles and sweet and sour sauce. At least 3 of the four tried a bit of Beef and Broccoli. And bold Mary even ate parts of a California Roll.

The real standout was our new foodie John. In addition to eating Beef Broccoli, he also consumed the leg of a baby octopus (he says that next time he will eat the head), and he became so adept at handling chopsticks that he was able to eat fried rice with them! That is pretty impressive stuff. He loved his chopsticks so much that he kept them and on Sunday afternoon was eating grapes and Hershey kisses with them. I told him that once he could peel the wrapper off the Hershey kiss with the chopstick then I would consider him my equal :)

The house has been too quiet without the gang here. I need Bobby building towers of blocks (and watching them fall) and Garrett pushing that phone toy around the floor. It is just too quiet to sleep now.

Random thought #3: I made shrimp and grits tonight... The shrimp were marinated in lime and orange juice (and garlic). The grits were cooked in half milk half water and full of cheese. Not so much a random thought as bragging...

Final random thought: My fantasy football team is very likely to win our 12 team league this year. Once again, not so much a random thought...

The hamster has left the building!

Monday, December 12

Free Coffee Mug!

The cantata is now in the past and I have only two more musical events between now and Christmas. One to look forward to survive!

I will not tell you which is which.

This Saturday is the children's Christmas pageant - Christmas Letters: The Musical! Most every year my dear sweet sister Denise is the director of the Christmas pageant. She decides on the script, cast and wrangles the children. I am in charge of sound, lights, staging and keeping her from freaking out. I love her...but she has this perfect scenario in her head with angelic children sitting in rehearsal hanging on her every word and listening with rapt attention to the stage directions.

Reality is a lot closer to herding cats.

This past Saturday was dress rehearsal. By the time our director arrived, the Smallshaw boys had run laps around the balcony, the parents of 2 cast members had responded to my reminder text with "I thought that was tomorrow", and about a dozen other kids just weren't there yet. But we always said in theatre that a bad first tech meant a good opening night!

After a little bit, there was a solid run-through...and though there was not angelic attentiveness...I think most of the kids that were there have a pretty good idea of the plan. And Denise never freaked out.

It is a fun pageant - a modern family gets a letter from a relative who can't make it for the holidays and that gets them wondering what it would be like if they could write letters to the people in the Christmas story. And what it would be like if the Bible characters could write back! So we hear letters to Mary, Joseph, the Angel, a Shepherd, the Innkeeper and Baby Jesus...and their responses to the modern-day questions.

There are several songs (it is a musical after all!) being masterfully performed by two of our youth. Brandon and Jennifer, who are brother and sister, have blossomed into talented singers. The congregation at Centenary is treated to duets by them about once a month. It doesn't seem that long ago that Brandon was nervous about singing his first solo. They both sing with the adult Sanctuary Choir...Jennifer sits by me and sings the right notes in my ear. I just have to keep her out of my chair! She wants to be a diva...
It is strange that they are so musically gifted...their Mom claims she doesn't know where they get it from. All three of them are part of the handbell choir - which is the other musical event this weekend. We are playing this Sunday!

I'm not sure what the name of the piece is...but I DO know that for most of it I get to whomp my bells on the table. This is a new technique for me. Marcato. The table is padded so it doesn't hurt the bells. The challenge for me is that I'm whomping with the bell in one hand and ringing with the bell in the other hand. Kind of like patting your head and rubbing your tummy. addition to my usual look of terror, counting to myself, and asking the person next to me what measure we are I will also be trying to remember which hand is whomping and which hand is ringing. Because they switch part of the way through! Our patient director swears that she put me in that part because she knows I can handle it. Hmmm....

She may be right.

Come on over to Centenary this weekend and enjoy! Pageant at 4pm on Saturday (followed by Birthday cake for Jesus!) and Worship at 11am on Sunday. Guests get a free coffee mug!

Monday, December 5

To Ring and To Sing

I couldn't decide what to write about tonight...I had two possibilities. One was a freakin' weird dream that I had yesterday afternoon. Images include wild horses stuck in very deep sand brother trying to grill a chunk of meat the size of a Yule log...a sporting event that dissolved between jousting and soccer? Indeed, I believe that dream could use some pondering. But I have decided to go in a different direction.

I just came in from a soak in the hot tub. (before you get all jealous about my hot tub, read here...) And since I was soaking solo - I spent the time relaxing and preparing for tomorrow evening. You friend Belva, my nephew Jack and I are going to be ringing the bell for the Salvation Army at K-mart on Wards Road 6-7pm. But instead of just ringing the tiny little bell that they give us now - we are going to sing Christmas carols!!

So I spent about half an hour trying to see how many carols I could remember. And if I could remember more than one verse of any! I think that an hour will be a long time to fill up - but I guess we can repeat and also take requests. Perhaps I will get Jack to run by the church and bring us a couple of hymnals to help out! Because during tonight's rehearsal - a lot of the lyrics were "la la la la la la..." Especially the second verses.

I think it will be great fun - come by and join in!! Send requests for your favorites! Swing by and see if I can actually hit the high notes in "O Holy Night" and the low notes in "O Little Town of Bethlehem"!

And I've gone to Wikipedia to get the lyrics to the Dreidel song...we want to be inclusive here!

I have a little dreidel. I made it out of clay.

When it's dry and ready, then dreidel I shall play.
Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, I made it out of clay.
Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, then dreidel I shall play.

Even if you don't come visit my trio tomorrow night, drop a couple coins in the red kettles that you pass by! I promise that the money is very wisely used!

Friday, December 2

Driveway Moment Pondered

I don't watch college basketball. In fact, I actually watch very little sports on TV - which is odd considering the fact that I was once nominated for a CableACE for my production of live baseball games. But I think it is important that you know that I don't share the following because of any great love for a particular basketball coach.

I was having one of those NPR "Driveway Moments" yesterday. I was only half-listening to the interview at first...but then something caught my attention. The interview was with a sports journalist of some kind (see how much attention I was paying?) - he was sharing some stories from his career. I expect he was promoting a book or something...

He was speaking about what coach Bobby Knight once said to his players: "You can't be successful as basketball players if you're selfish people. And I'm not just talking about passing the ball or getting back on defense, it's about more than that." He went on to ask his players if any of them had thanked the person who had hosted the team for Thanksgiving dinner - not one could say that they had.

At first it may be hard to see how those things are related to winning basketball games. How is being selfish an obstacle to scoring? And then I thought back to watching my nephew Jack's basketball team last year (I wrote about their final game here) and what a difference it made when they stopped being selfish and were more interested in the TEAM than their personal stats. I believe it is more obvious in basketball than some other sports because the team is only 5 members strong. (maybe hockey...but none of you watch hockey...)

And the whole theory carries through to things other than sports. We are part of teams every day - families, workplaces, committees, clubs, service organizations, churches and circles of friends. When we set aside our personal goals and try to figure out what the team's goal is - and then work together to accomplish it...then we are successful.

I'm going to keep mulling this lesson over in my head.

I learned something from Bobby Knight? I didn't expect that.

More Wisdom from Odd Places

I wrote a couple weeks ago about being open to finding wisdom any place. And tonight I found a bit more to share. And the cool bonus? It came wrapped around dark chocolate.

Recently I picked up a bag of Dove dark chocolates - well - two bags actually. Because they were buy one, get one free. And the only thing better than chocolate is free chocolate. And tonight as a reward for surviving work, hand bell choir practice (in the piece we are working on I get to whomp the bells on the table!!) AND choir practice...I got a few pieces out of the bag to enjoy.

As I was about to toss the foil wrapper in the trash, I remembered that Dove puts messages on their wrappers. Sort of a fortune cookie without the lottery numbers. And it so happens that this bag is holiday themed - so the following are bits of wisdom from my late night snack:

"Promise yourself some relaxing holiday moments." That is a really good idea. I know I usually get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of the holiday that I forget to just stop and smell the Christmas tree. Already I find myself hopelessly over-scheduled and none of that scheduled stuff includes shopping or baking. I'm going to have to learn to say "I just can't fit that in, but thank you so much for asking." And that will leave me more time for the next Dove advice:

"Your presence is often the best present" and "A helping hand is sometimes the best present of all." I keep seeing my Facebook peeps stressing about this gift or that gift. And I KNOW that I'm not swept up in that because I HATE shopping...but I forget that the best part of Christmas is being present. Not running from this event to that event...but taking the time to just sit and enjoy the company of the person I am with. And, helping a friend (or stranger) with something is even better than buying them something. I'm a huge fan of alternative gift-giving. And whoever has my name for the family gift exchange...I'd love a big pile of canned goods for the food pantry.

And the last foil wisdom for tonight? "Joy" I'm going to stop from time to time this season to remember the reason for Joy. The world had been waiting so long for a promise to be fulfilled. And in a little town, overcrowded by a stable...the wait was over.

Hamster beaten. Chocolate consumed. Cat snoring. All is right with the world.

Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device from U.S. Cellular

Tuesday, November 29

Laughter needed

I know I need to blog - need the distraction from the daily grind AND I need a laugh. But when I stare at the giant empty white space of the blogger interface...I'm stumped. What in the heck to write about tonight?

I even wandered back through some posts looking for rabbit trails that I didn't wander far enough down...but nothing appealed. I guess I'm in kind of a blue funk tonight. Rainy weather, missing a friend, stresses of a new all adds up.

So I went to my favorite internet time-killer: to wander amongst the amusing pics in LOLcats. And even though I find my nerves occasionally grated by the grammar and spelling (that is supposed to be funny...but I find myself wanting to edit) - I never fail to find something to laugh at. Let me share a few:

Yep...I feel a little better now.

See ya tomorrow with a real post!

Thursday, November 24

A Unified Thanksgiving

Going to have to be a brief post - I just finished carving pork loin and country ham and they will need me to bring those things to Thanksgiving dinner. Although...there will also be turkey, city ham (that would be non-cured this case a spiral honey ham!), sausage balls, 7 or 8 dozen rolls, yam souffle (?), green bean casserole, mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, gravy and my sister Susan's potatoes with bacon, cheddar and ranch. I'm not completely convinced that the proteins here will be missed.

We are incredibly fortunate. Our large family not only has the means to gather together this feast - we also still have the desire to gather together for it! I have read with some sadness, amusement and wondering various Facebook friends who are dreading the family meals today. Apparently some folks don't bring their manners and gratefulness to dinner. I could never imagine criticizing a meal when a guest in someone's home. But it happens.

And I have friends who don't even know what state some of their family lives. Or how many kids they have. Or what they do for a living. I admit sometimes it isn't always a positive thing how involved my siblings are in each other's lives. At times it can seem nosy and intrusive...but it comes from a place of love...and I need to remember that more often.
I went this morning to the annual Inter-faith Thanksgiving Service - this year hosted by Agudath Sholom. Eight faith communities joined together to worship and remember how very fortunate we are. Part of that service was a reminder that we have a God-given responsibility to care for each other.

We hear a lot in the news about the 99% and the 1%. And although in the United States, I'm clearly NOT a part of the 1%...there is a tool that helps you figure out on a global scale how rich you are. When I plug my salary (thanks be to God I have a job!) into the calculator I find that globally I am in the top 4%. That is a stunning reminder.

One of the greatest aspects of the service this morning was how such a diverse group of people can come together - to worship together! Besides the Jewish community that hosted us, and the Methodists of Centenary UMC, there were also leaders and congregants from Church of the Covenant, First Christian Church, First Unitarian Church, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Peakland Baptist Church and the Muslim community.

We weren't focused on our differences - we focused on our similarities. As the Rev. Boothby of First Unitarian said this morning, "We don't have to believe the same to love the same." I can't argue with that.

Happy Thanksgiving! Call that person you are sorry you lost touch with. I don't know if it is your brother or sister or uncle or mother...but I do know you need to call.

Love each other.

Monday, November 21

Make a choice, then make it known!

Until a few minutes ago I thought my post tonight was going to be about either a strange dream I had last night OR Dancing With the Stars. But then I was reading an email from my Mom and realized that I had a better topic.

Many years ago I met Mom's friend Debbie - a funny and somewhat irreverent woman who lived in a remodeled barn nearby. She had a daughter who I babysat once. (as some of you know, small children freak me clearly babysitting was not a good choice. In fact, I'm pretty sure that part of the way through that evening I had to call my big sister Karen to come and help me out)

Debbie is the kind of woman who is always smiling. But not in that fake perky way that also freaks me out...she just has this genuine happiness around her. And she is one of the VERY few people in this world who has permission to call me Christine. (I'm serious...don't try have to be extremely special to me) She laughs easily and often.

A long period of time passed when I only heard about how she was doing in passing...and did her taxes once a year. She always rewards me with a pumpkin roll...and hers are the best I've ever eaten. So, I was kind of surprised when I saw her a few years ago and realized she was on oxygen. She isn't much older than I am.

I didn't want to be rude and ask what was going on (I probably should have known! How self-involved was I that I didn't know??) so later I asked Mom what was going on. She let me know that Debbie needed a lung transplant.


A lung transplant? It just seemed inconceivable to me that this funny and vibrant woman would be in that situation. But it was true. Until yesterday.

Today she has new lungs and is already sitting up in chairs!! I know she has a long road of recovery ahead. And there are unknown risks and obstacles that may lie ahead. But for today - she has this incredible gift from an unknown source.

I had to stop and think for a moment when I read the email Sunday night - that a donor had been found and that she was scheduled for surgery. Because I also had to face the fact that this wondrous and joyful news that we were receiving meant that another family was having to face the opposite.

I have been an organ donor since my very first driver's license when I turned 16. And my family knows that my desire is that EVERY single piece of my body that can possibly be used for someone else should be. The rest can be scattered to the winds.

If you aren't an organ donor - tell me why. Because I really can't think of a reason that box isn't checked on your driver's license. And I would like to understand the other point of view.

And if you haven't had that conversation with your family letting them know what you want...please do it as soon as you possibly can. Don't make them have to decide for you while they are in the midst of the crisis of losing you. It is a hard decision to make if you don't know - and the hours spent pondering are precious ones for those waiting for organs.

Thank you to the person who gave Debbie her new lungs. Thank you to the family that said "yes" when the doctor had to ask that very sensitive question "do you know if your loved one wished to be an organ donor?"

Organ donors rock.

Thursday, November 17

Wisdom in Unusual Places

A friend wrote today on Facebook about Andy Griffith's wisdom. She is right - there is a tremendous amount that can be learned from Andy. I find great wisdom in the strangest places sometimes. I have friends who read a lot of self-help books, inspirational literature and eschew some of the more common forms of writing. But I've found tidbits that stick with me even in comic books. You learn a lot about how to treat people from the good example of Betty Cooper and the bad example of Reggie Van Dough.

Recently I found a new series in Archie seems that Archie had some sort of paranormal experience and saw two parallel futures. In one future he marries Veronica and in the other he marries Betty. In each storyline there are some interesting fates that I would not have predicted. In Archie Marries Betty, Veronica (pretty predictably) ends up with Reggie. And in Archie Marries Veronica...Betty is married to Reggie. But would you have suspected that Moose Mason is the mayor of Riverdale? Or that Jughead and Midge end up together?

Umm...sorry about that...I think I went down a rabbit trail. You're not really surprised are you?

So - great truths lie in unexpected places. Including Andy Griffith - I wandered over to the Internet Movie Database and pulled up some of their memorable quotes. Most of them still can make me smile. I share a select few with you:
Sheriff Andy Taylor: Somewhere wandering loose around Mayberry is a loaded goat. (remember that one??)
Barney Fife: They don't do things that way anymore. This is the Age of Science Know-How, electronal marvels.
Andy Taylor: You date one woman all the time and pretty soon people start taking you for granted. They don't say, "Let's invite Andy," or "Let's invite Elly." No, they say. "Let's invite Andy and Elly!" See, then it's "Andy and Elly"; "Elly and Andy". A then, that's when that woman gets her claws into you! (that's something to watch out for!)
Barney Fife: [through a megaphone while directing the cave rescue] Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their neighbor! Repeat! Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their neighbor!

Andy Taylor: Opie! Time to come in, son.
Opie Taylor: Aw Pa, just a little while longer... please?
Andy Taylor: Well, OK.
[to Barney]
Andy Taylor: Daylight's precious when your a youngen'.
Barney Fife: [about Briscoe's decision not to kill Ernest T] It's a wise man who knows not to push the limits of the law.
Briscoe Darling: [to Andy] He arguin' with me?
Andy Taylor: No; he's agreein' with you.
Briscoe Darling: Just so I know where I stand.

Barney Fife: [while relaxing on the front porch after Sunday dinner] You know what I think I'm gonna' do?
Andy Taylor: What?
Barney Fife: I'm gonna' go home, have me a little nap, and then go over to Thelma Lou's and watch a little TV.
Andy Taylor: Mmm-hmm.
Barney Fife: Yeah, I believe that's what I'll do. Go home... have a nap... and then over to Thelma Lou's for TV.
Andy Taylor: Mmm.
Barney Fife: Yep, that's the plan. Home... little nap... then...
Malcolm Tucker: [interrupting] For the love of Mike *do* it!
Malcolm Tucker: Do it! Just *do* it! Go take a nap, go to Thelma Lou's for TV, just *do it*!
[Opie has a crush on Thelma Lou]
Opie Taylor: Pa, just what can you do with a grown woman? (I know a lot of guys that want the answer to that one!)

Briscoe Darling: [Aunt Bee has hit Briscoe with a spoon] Ow! What'd you do that for?
Aunt Bee Taylor: No elbows on the table.
Briscoe Darling: [to Andy] That ain't fair; her hittin' first and explainin' the rules after.

Yep...keep looking for gems in those strange places. I'm off to read another cool Archie comic. Kevin Keller is getting married. What's unusual about that? Kevin is gay.

Got a problem with that? Let's discuss.

Sunday, November 13

Visitors or Guests?

We had lovely guests for dinner this evening. I made clam chowder with the remaining clams from Long Island (if you don't remember my tale of the here). And thanks to the Kiwanis Club of Lynchburg we also had Lobster Newburg. I hate to pat myself on the back...but it was pretty darn good.

A quick aside on the whole Newburg sauce: it is delicious but one of the easiest sauces I've ever made. It is one of those sauces that you have to pay attention to though...because if it is nearly impossible to fix. You need a stick of butter ( know it is going to be good. And NO, you cannot use un-butter) 4 egg yolks, a cup of cream (I was out, so I used evaporated milk - NOT condensed!! They aren't interchangeable!) and 4 tbsp of sherry. Melt the butter. Mix the yolks, cream and sherry
together. The recipe police will tell you that the sherry gets added separately - but once you start stirring in the yolk/ won't have a hand free for measuring out the sherry. have hot butter and room temp egg yolks/cream...this is where it gets tricky. If you don't stir/whisk constantly while adding the yolk will get scrambled eggs. That is not pretty. And you can't fix it. But, assuming you do it right, you'll get a lovely pale yellow sauce. Now just simmer (don't let it boil!!!) until it thickens. Add lobster. Or shrimp. Or tofu. Well, maybe not.

Ok...rabbit trail complete. Back to dinner with our friends. We had some great conversations through the evening. One that I found particularly worth sharing was about folks in church. Specifically persons "visiting" Centenary.

Recently a number of folks in our area attended a church growth workshop (I was not able to attend) and one of the things that they discussed was the difference between treating people as visitors and treating them as guests.

I know, it seems on the surface that there is not much difference in the two. Guests or Visitors - why would it matter what we call them? But my mind was changed as we discussed the topic. Guests are invited. Special. We want them to come back. We want them to be comfortable. We desire their company. Just like the guests in our home this evening.

Visitors are just there to visit. They might come back or they might not. We don't know much about them or how long they are going to stay.

At Centenary UMC we are working to change our attitude toward people who come to see what we are all about. We want them to be like guests in our home. Because we want to know more about them and what their needs are. What their interests are. How we can bring them into the family.
My biological family is pretty much all about hospitality. My mom is about the most hospitable person on the planet. When I was growing up there was always room at the table for one more (or two...or twenty). There was always a bed (or couch) for someone who needed it. We never had visitors...and guests became family. The first two times you come to our house we'll wait on you - get your drink, clear your plate, fluff your pillow. By the third time, you know where the glasses are...welcome to the family. What is ours - is yours.

Church family should be the same. Come and see. Heck, I'll even fluff your pillow.

Wednesday, November 9

One Grateful Hamster

I not only get by with a little help from my friends...the support of my friends has lifted me up to a new location. Earlier this week I posted this status on Facebook: "would love to have everyone's prayers at 11am. Good meeting scheduled. I want to be wherever God wants me to be." And within minutes the status started racking up "likes" (to anyone who isn't on FB, that is a link you can click to just say that you like something...) and comments of support. And while I was in that meeting my phone was stacking up text messages and emails of love. Of course, since I was in a meeting, my phone was off! But I could feel the prayers and after two and a half hours of conversation with an awesome management team - I was invited to be a part of a Lynchburg institution.

And so I followed up the earlier Facebook status with "Chris Howell is once again gainfully employed!!" And my phone lit up for hours. I am blessed to have wonderful people in my life. Messages like "Yay" "Congratulations!" and "Yippee" were joined by thoughts like "I knew it would only be a matter of time before someone snapped you up" and "I knew you would find something worth your talents."

Wow. My friends don't know what that means to me. I know I have a tendency to be pretty self-critical...and I know that I often believe that my talents are nothing special. I've always figured that if I could do it, anybody could. So, to hear that I'm loved and wanted, well - that is incredible. And I want you to know that I appreciate it. And I will continue to try to pass that love around to others.

This reminds me of what I was told a long time ago by a man who helped out when my car broke down. Yeah...another car tale...

I drove a 1965 convertible Volkswagon Beetle. Well, it wasn't so much convertible any more. The tack strip and the top were in pretty ragged shape, so I had just removed them completely. And my very talented Mom had helped make a cover so that I could keep most of the rain out when it was parked. And to keep the trash out of it...what makes jerks want to throw things into open cars? But I digress (as usual).

Mom, Dad and I were returning from my grandmother's house in Northern Virginia when we started smelling brakes. I had been warned by my VW mechanic (you can't drive a Volks without having a personal relationship with a mechanic. RIP Courtney Gordon - you were truly one of a kind) that one of the brake lines was internally collapsing. So, at some point when I applied the of them stayed applied. Until it pretty much caught fire.

At the time, nobody carried cell phones. I'm sure they were invented...but they were not common. And so we were stranded between Charlottesville and Lovingston. Dad unloaded his bike and headed to find a phone. Mom and I sat by the side of the road. And along came a sketchy looking truck with some fairly sketchy looking mountain-folk. We explained the problem and they said they'd be back to help. Dad returned without having found a phone to use and the mountain folk came back a few minutes later. I don't even remember the fellow's name...

He said it would be safer to work on the car on his farm - and since the brake had cooled, it wouldn't do it any harm to drive the mile or so. He had several remains of Volkswagons on the "farm". He and his family were unbelievably hospitable. He and his friends located a VW with a "good enough" brake line...pulled it off and put it on mine. I'll never forget how he jacked up the donor car...he just stood in the driver's door and picked it up with his shoulder. And held it there while someone slid a block under the frame.

And when this big bear of a man had finished getting my car fixed...and we offered him money...he just said that the best way to pay him was to take care of someone else when we had the opportunity. That has always left an impression on me.

You can't repay a can only pass it on.

I've got a lot of kindnesses to pass on.

Thank you.

Wednesday, November 2

Intelligence is Relative

Many evenings I get to relax and enjoy dinner with my wonderful housemates while watching two television institutions - Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy. (I still misspell Jeopardy every time I type it...and spell check reminds me that I'm not perfect). I think it is a perfectly lovely way to pass an hour.

I must say, I miss the "shopping" part of Wheel of Fortune. If you're younger than 30 then you probably won't know what the heck I'm talking about. Once upon a time - when Pat and Vanna were younger (although, thanks to some sort of Faustian deal - they have not really aged...) the contestants had to "spend" the round's winnings on prizes that were grouped in a themed display. The prizes were way overpriced...and it seemed that folks rarely had enough winnings to get one of the trips. Instead they would spend their $5000 on a sofa, some lovely shag carpet, a modern art print and perhaps a silver tea service. And whatever else was leftover? You could get that on a gift certificate or "on account" - so if you were lucky enough to win another'd have the spare $40 to get the $1800 La-Z-Boy rocker. The advertisers must have LOVED the old shopping format though. After the contestant listed off the fabulous prizes they wanted to "buy" - good old Johnny Gilbert would laud the wonders of the Broyhill Carpet and the new Amana Microwave oven!

Perhaps on the game show network you can still see what I'm talking a young child I couldn't understand why someone would spend half their winnings on a couch! Sometimes the contestants didn't look too excited about their choices either..."yes Pat, I'd like the crystal paperweights for $550 and the ceramic umbrella stand for $300". I wonder how much of that stuff finally ended up in a yard sale for $5.50 and $3...

Tonight my beloved Jeopardy began its two week Tournament of Champions. I hate the Tournament of Champions. It is usually populated by uber-nerds who don't smile much. Two of tonight's three contestants had ZERO rootability. Hmm....that doesn't seem to be a word...

That brings me to the point of tonight's post...I think.

One of the reasons that I watch Jeopardy is the fact that I can answer half (or more) of the questions. I do really well in select categories: Food and Drink, Potent Potables, Bible names, and almost anything to do with TV. I know which categories I would avoid if I were a contestant. Nobel Prize Winners, European History and anything to do with Royal Lines.

During the Tournament of Champions I get a lot less questions right. That makes me sad. Like when I take the Jeopardy online test each year...afterward I just go to bed feeling like the stupidest person on the planet. Then the next night I watch Wheel and feel better about myself!

I look forward to the Teen Tournament. That makes me feel smart. Until the category is about Justin Bieber or Hannah Montana.

Hamster beaten. Promise kept.

Thanks for the support!

Tuesday, November 1

Blessings to be counted

It has been too long since my last post. How do I know? I actually got a complaint today! A lovely friend who said that she looks forward to my blog and was tired of reading about casseroles! One quick note though...the Chicken and Rice casserole was indeed very good. And after a couple of revisions, the Sweet Potato casserole is also... there is a lot to get excited about at the bazaar!!

I've lost my train of a phone call that distracted me. And then got an emergency call from the kitchen to help with the Hot Pepper Jelly (another offering for the Bazaar!). So now I'm not sure what I'm writing about.

I will say this: the friend that called was worth being distracted by. I don't know if you have somebody in your life like this - but this person is awesome. She (well...there was a 50/50 chance of it being a woman, right) exemplifies something that Pastor Rick talked about in his sermon on Sunday.

As usual - this is a rough paraphrase. If you want to hear the whole sermon and hear exactly what he had to say...then you can go to the Internet Chapel of Centenary UMC's website. So, don't blame Rick if you don't agree with my paraphrase. Anyway...he said that a truly Christ-like person is one who focuses on building up the people around them.

Since I've been having a little trouble with my personal evaluation of my self-worth recently (or at least I've become aware of the problem recently!) my friend has been an incredible blessing to me. And she reminds me how important it is to count your blessings every day.

So, I've started a new "note" in my Blackberry: Blessings. And once you start listing them, it is hard to stop. A selection from my list: Sunshine on my face, River, Mom and her warm spirit, Dad's gentle support, Denise, Warm kitty to sleep with, Pastor rick, Pastor liz, Good health, Bacon, Rain, Pebbles in creek, Home, Sight, Wine, Sharp mind, Car to drive, Pancakes, Blue tailed lizards, Music, Fall colors, Shakespeare, Canoe trips, Memorable moments, Brown eyes, Water bed, Sourdough bread, That I'm not alone, Tin roofs, Pecans, A friendly universe, Coke.

Start a list. It really does help.

I've also got a "note" in my Blackberry entitled "Things to Eat Someday". Organized by state and city. But that is another post for another day.

Because I'm also thankful for the place I'm headed to right now.

It's not the biggest or the best...but I love my hot tub.

Hamster beaten...I'll be back tomorrow...promise.

Tuesday, October 25

Casserole Czar!!

Today I have been in Casserole Czar mode.

Centenary United Methodist Church has entrusted their annual bazaar's frozen casserole sale to me for the second year in a row. I'm not sure that is because I did a great job last year...or perhaps nobody else volunteered. Either way - I'm getting excited!!

As you may have noticed...I love food. Love to cook it, love to eat it, love to talk about it. I read food magazines (my current fave is one called Cook's Illustrated which shares techniques as much as recipes) and can tell you what channel Food Network is on here, at my sister's house in Roanoke and even down in Duck! I just think that food is a common interest of all people. True, not everyone geeks out on it as much as me...

But each year one of the main components of the annual Fall Bazaar is our frozen food sale. In addition to some truly delicious Brunswick Stew that is made by our good friends at Pride of Virginia (thanks to CUMC member Jimmy Mays for cutting us a great deal!) we also take orders for several different frozen casseroles. Last year we made about 150 of them. This year I'm hoping to break 200!

We've been trying to fine-tune the offerings to a) make sure we are creating something that people want to buy and b) make sure that we aren't losing money! So we have tweaked and researched and now are in the test kitchen phase.

The #1 seller every year so far has been the Sausage and Cheese Breakfast Casserole. And we have that one down to a science. I know that you break 18 eggs into a 2 quart pitcher and then fill it with milk to make the egg mixture. I can tell you how many slices of white break get torn into each pan and could grab the correct scoop for the right amount of sausage. The only downside to that casserole is that it has the lowest investment-to-return ratio. But it is quick to make and I have directions so that any group can make 30 4-serving pans in about 2 hours. So we are keeping that one in!

We also have a very popular Pasta Casserole. Made up the recipe for that one in about 5 minutes while Mom was at Sam's Club. Spiral pasta (gives lots of place for the sauce to hide!), ground beef, a little sausage (because pork fat rules), tomato sauce and a couple cheeses. The only thing is that I only know how to make it in a 96 serving batch! Which works out fine, because that sucker sells great and has a good return.

We are on our third chicken-based casserole in three years. I THINK that this one is real winner. My test subject will need to report on it (I just put the test batch in the oven for dinner) after he tastes it. This one is a Chicken, Mushroom and Rice creation that is a melding of about 40 different recipes. The hardest part about it is shredding the chicken. Found boneless skinless breasts for 1.97/pound - but in a 5 pound package! So I spent about 45 minutes pulling chicken meat this afternoon. But it created about 14 cups of chicken!! As long as it passes the taste test, then this one is a shoe-in.

And that would usually be about it...except that this year's bazaar is the weekend before Thanksgiving...and so the bazaar director has requested that I offer some appropriate side dish offerings. Do you know how hard it is to find a corn pudding that freezes??? But I think we did it! Tonight Dad will not only be testing our Chicken and Rice, but will also be the judge of the freezer-friendly corn casserole AND a sweet potato casserole with a granola topping. Mom and I went ahead and froze the green bean casserole so that we could experiment with topping/defrosting issues. He'll have to eat that later this week.

Wish me luck - and don't forget to order!! The Bizarre - I mean Bazaar will be November 19th. And if you'd like to be a guinea pig...I've still got some testing to do!!