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 job...it all adds up.

So I went to my favorite internet time-killer: http://icanhascheezburger.com 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 ham...in 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 out...so 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 it...you 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 Comics...it 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 clams...click 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 breaks...it is nearly impossible to fix. You need a stick of butter (yeah...you 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/cream...you won't have a hand free for measuring out the sherry. So...you 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 stuff...you 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 brakes...one 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 kindness...you 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 round...you'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 about...as 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 thought...got 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.