Friday, March 30

Tax Return Burnout

Been a long week - and no posts...which means I have been feeling progressively guiltier as the week goes on. Yep...I know I need to work on that.

Looking forward to a relaxing day tomorrow. I think I will take a little break from doing taxes - I'm pretty burned out and that is not a good mental state to be doing IRS calculations. When I start finding myself talking to myself and saying things like "close enough" or "if they don't care enough to give me all their paperwork I'm not going looking for it" - I know that I have had enough.

One year I was doing my sister and her husband's tax return while in an irritated state of mind. When I got to the questions in the Virginia state return about making voluntary donations to charity...I kind of gave away some of their refund. Like $200 bucks. And the only way that Karen and Kenny caught it was that the Forestry Service and some sort of unwed teen parent program sent them thank you notes. Ooops. Busted.

But they had one of the most complicated returns I had to deal with at the time (I've got a couple who tops them now) - traveling salesman with a home office, unreimbursed job related expenses, home improvements, vehicle allowance... And they had gotten me their stuff really late in the season. So they were remarkably understanding about my generosity!

I am pretty distracted this evening - I keep wandering over to see other friends' blogs, facebook, listening to music. I'm sure I'll have a better post tomorrow night.

Or you can go read one of my posts with the highest number of hits and try to decide WHY they were popular! With some of them...I don't know the answer.

#3 - the first time I really bared my soul on the blog. It seems really brief now. I recall it taking a lot out of me.

#2 - this one told the tale of a wine dinner run amok.

#1 - Bambi = Tasty. I think this one got the 1450 hits because there used to be a Bambi clipart and so it showed up in google searches.

Well - maybe after perusing'll hit one of these that I actually consider some of my better posts.

Saturday, March 24

Seeking Enlightenment

As some of you will recall - the youth Sunday School class that I lead is studying world religions. Although that may be an unusual choice for a United Methodist - no one has ever accused me of being usual.

We have traversed the Abrahamic faiths of Islam and Judaism and begun Eastern religions. I found Hinduism to be confusing (one God or many gods? Yes.) (What??). And tomorrow we begin a two week section on Buddhism.

So I chose to come to the Riva Howse to do my preparation. It is indeed an interesting faith system. To call it a religion both overstates and understates it. It is a way of being. A way of connecting to all things and to all beings.

At its beginning is Siddartha Gautama, a man born to the Hindu ruling class. When he was born a sage told his father he would either be an aesthetic or a powerful monarch. Since aesthetics tend to wander the Earth with few possessions, practicing self-denial and seeking truth...his Daddy sought to push him toward Door #2.

Life intervened and as a young man - Siddartha exited the palace gates and saw what we all see. Life. The good, bad and ugly. He saw old people and sick people and suffering. Big wake up call. But he also saw a man with a look of serenity and peace. When he asked his chariot driver how a man could have such peace in the midst of this nightmare - he was told that it was a holy man who was on the path of enlightenment.
From that point on - that was what he wanted. So he fasted and denied and generally became what his father didn't aesthetic. But what he didn't find was enlightenment. So, after one of his periods of fasting he broke the big Hindu rules of aestheticism and accepted a bowl of rice cooked in milk by a woman. I'm not sure which rule was broken (food? Milk? Woman?) But he was then shunned by the others. He had HAD it with this process so he went and sat under a Bodhi (bo dee) tree and said he wasn't moving until he had achieved enlightenment. And he sat there for 7 days.

And at the end of the 7 days he had something: that all beings have a sense of enlightenment, some just don't recognize it. And so this is what he began to teach.

I cannot imagine sitting for 7 days without moving - so I set myself an alarm and tried it for 7 minutes. This is what I found: that I have a hard time disconnecting. I had an Easter anthem running through ny head, thoughts of tax returns, wondering about the tires of a passing vehicle which then made me wonder when the inspection is due on the car I'm driving...

The list goes on. But in between the chaos in my brain...there were moments of being completely present in the moment. Hearing a bird, feeling the cold water on my feet, sun on my face. And for the briefest of seconds...I had it.

A good exercise. Maybe next time I can make it 15 minutes.

Wednesday, March 21

So...did you get it?

Just in case you were, I did not get cast. But I really am okay with that! There were about a dozen talented women vying for TWO female roles in the I choose to believe that although I was extremely talented, I just didn't fit this particular cast. And the director has made me an offer that I can't refuse! I get to be something like the assistant production manager and will be involved in the running of the show itself. So, in reality, I get to have all the fun without the 6 weeks of running myself to a frazzle!

One of the things that I get to assist with is the food that is on stage for the show - and regular readers know that I am quite the foodie. Strange request from a cast member - because of either an allergy or extreme dislike - I get to make fake deviled eggs. But since I have made alternative deviled eggs for my mom for over 20 years (she is allergic to egg yolks) - it isn't going to be a problem at all.

But it brought back memories of Kings Dominion's Showplace. When I worked for the park as a theatre technician at the Mason Dixon Music Hall, techs had the opportunity to get some extra hours working at Showplace. That was the park's venue for big acts - like Patti Labelle, the Moody Blues and Hall and Oates. Yep, this was so long ago...the New Kids on the Block were opening for Tiffany. Actually, about mid-way through that tour...they realized that the crowds were leaving after NKOB had performed so they switched the acts and had Tiffany as the opener.

Big performers tended to have big egos and the contracts for their appearances came with odd requests in the form of riders. Now, some of those were pretty predictable and fairly reasonable, a certain brand of liquor - or perhaps a requirement that there be steaks for dinner. Then there were ones that just seemed to be purposely annoying - like the performer who had written into the contract a requirement that there be 3 boxes of Lucky Charms available. With all the marshmallows removed.

So - fake deviled eggs don't make me bat an eye.

I am very much looking forward to the production. There is one gentleman in the cast whose last performance was as a sheep in the 1st grade. None of us could believe he had no stage experience! I know he is not only going to be great - but he has fallen into an incredible circle of future friends. His life will never be the same again! It took extraordinary courage to audition and I believe that (and his natural talent) will be rewarded. I know that my theatre family - even when long periods pass without contact - is always there for me.

And I don't think his ego will ever get to the point of requesting Lucky Charms sans marshmallows.

Sunday, March 18

How did it go?

So - auditioned tonight for The Nerd. And family and friends I spoke with after ask the inevitable question, "How did it go?"  Hmmm....that is not an easy question to answer. Did I fall off the stage? No. Did I insult the director or break wind at an inopportune time? No. But how did it go?

I did make the choice to get out of my car, walk into the theatre and audition. So that, in itself, is an accomplishment. Even during the drive to Bedford there was the temptation to just go hang out at the bar at Ruby Tuesdays and not put myself "out there". But since I said I was going to try to do something that scares me every day (or at least several days a week) - I sucked it up and went for it.

And just walking through the door and seeing the stage...felt like home. I love the theatre. They always have faint smell of paint and sawdust and - something else. It sparks the memory of the first time I walked into the house (that's where the audience sits) at the Lynchburg Fine Arts Center. I remember every detail. The green carpet, the brick walls, the stage...and the smell. Way back then, it was to audition for A Midsummer Night's Dream. Shakespeare. (yeah...I didn't start with something easy) And the sum total of my theatre experience was two plays at Amherst County High School, which had no real theatre department. We were no EC Glass!

I'm certain that I was completely terrified. And no, I wasn't cast. But I chose to work tech on the show and got to meet and work with some incredible people. Had my very first show romance. David Dixon. He was dreamy. And met my long-time best friend Meredith...who was much more talented than I was...but who encouraged me anyway. And that was it...I was bit.

I've been away from it for too long. I had forgotten the fun of people involved. Even in the nervous state of auditions - when you feel like you're hoping not to get picked last for the baseball team - there is a sense of camaraderie. And there was a great group of folks there tonight for auditions - applauding for each other at the end of scenes. It was a great feeling.

So, how did it go? The director has a lot of good choices - and there will probably be a few more added to her buffet of actors tomorrow night. In my mind, I have cast it about 6 different ways. I'm glad that I put myself out there. And yes, I hope I get it.

But the real challenge was met...I made the effort. And I had a good time.

Good luck Karen! You're a brave woman!

Hmmm....directing scares me...maybe I'll try THAT sometime :)

Tuesday, March 13

Now I'm scared!

This will be a very brief post. But at least it will be new.

I heard someone say recently on TV: "I try to do something every day that scares me." I wish I could recall exactly where I heard it. By the best of my recollection it was in an odd place. You would expect that to come from something inspirational like a TV preacher or perhaps a motivational speaker like Dr. Phil. But since I don't tend to watch either of those...I am certain that it wasn't.

I'm thinking that it was an episode of Inside the Actor's Studio (which I absolutely love) with the cast of Family Guy (which I'm pretty fond of as well). But since I quickly run out of space in the ol' DVR...the only episode of IAS that I still have available is the one with Betty White. But (as usual) I digress.

"I try to do something every day that scares me." Now THERE is a philosophy of life that I should learn to embrace. I try to do NOTHING every day that scares me. I like my comfort zone. I like doing what I know how to do in a place that is familiar. And then when I am thrown out of the roller coaster...I scramble very hard to get back IN!

But I'm going to try to change that. So...although I may not do something that scares me every day...I'm going to do something that scares me more often. Because a friend wrote this to me: "You've got a lot to offer, so ratcheting up the bar is something that you should do every now and then."

Ok. I'll try.

You guys try some too.

And tell me what it is - and how it works out for you.

I'll share my experiences but won't share yours unless you tell me it is ok.

Whoo...something scary. I guess the first one is telling the world I'm going to scare myself.

Maybe tomorrow I'll get my nephew Jack to take me for a drive.

Just kidding!! :)

{by the way...just found out that Eleanor Roosevelt said it. That isn't who I heard say it...but she did!}

Sunday, March 11

On The Receiving End

Usually I'm the one that makes people cry with gifts. In fact - I've mentioned here before that it is a goal to make Mom cry at Christmas. In a good way, that is.

As a group we have surprised Mom many times - including custom parquet thresholds after the hardwood floors were redone, restoring her antique Christmas tree with extremely rare bubble lights (rare because of their obsolete size C5) and once we even remodeled the kitchen over the space of 2.5 days.

I like surprising people with things they never even thought of wanting. I didn't expect to be on the receiving end of such a gift on Saturday. My sister Susan pulled off the impossible - she made me speechless.

She has become adept at creating books for people. Out there on the information superhighway there are places where you can create hardback books with your content. I loved one that she made for her husband Patrick...for Father's Day, I think. It was full of pictures of Patrick and their twins and it will be a keepsake for the rest of his life.

She (and Denise...I think?) worked to create a special book for Mom and Dad's 50th anniversary a few years back. I still enjoy flipping through that book and reading letters and stories from the lives that they helped shape through the years. And recently Denise made a nifty book about she and Jack's trip to New York City.

But even with all that knowledge - I didn't expect a thing when we sat down to open gifts at the family birthday gathering. Since Mom and I share a birthday - we each had a stack of cards and gift bags around us. I never noticed Susan was on pins and needles waiting for me to unwrap her gift. I read a card or two and was about to start playing with my new orange hedgehog koosh when she said "open the wrapped one in that bag, please."

Well...ok... The card attached said "I'm not much of a reader, but I like this writer. Hope you enjoy"  And I unwrapped this:


she got me.

yep...I cried.

I was stunned.

One of the things that surprises me is how thick the book is! I didn't realize how much I had written in the space of about a year.

The forward is from Chuck Taylor (the writer, not the shoe) and the passage that I like best is: As the voice of The Beaten Hamster for the past year-plus, you, Chris Howell, know that blogging is not for the faint of heart. It takes a certain flair, a modicum of audacity, a way with words that evolves as you grow more comfortable with the outlet. And more than anything, it requires a heap of fearlessness. Thank you Chuck. The part that you have played in both the book and blog means a great deal to me.

And the book ends with a note from Susan "About the Arthur" (family joke). I can't tell you all that she said but I'll share a little bit: Chris is highly intelligent. She skipped the 1st grade (actually it was the second grade) and even though she wasn't able to get her driver's license till she had almost graduated high school, she had no regrets. (well...maybe I'll share more about that sometime...) She is a wonderful daughter, a crazy aunt, a dedicated worker, a good christian, a fearless friend...

I've always said that we are the sum total of our experiences. Whatever I am so far, and whatever I shall become in the all have played a part. Thank you so much for being my family, my friends, my coworkers and fellow divas...the best is yet to come!

Tuesday, March 6

Deep Fried Oreos and a Foil Swan

I don't think I would be a very satisfied Muslim...we discovered in Sunday School this past week (the youth class is studying World Religions) that they don't celebrate birthdays. I like my birthday. Especially with Facebook.

For those of you who don't Facebook - or the odd few who Facebook but refuse to put their birthday on their profile - you are missing out on a day of virtual hugs! When I rolled over this morning I had already received two texts and 15 Happy Birthday posts. And as of this writing FB tells me that 69 friends had posted birthday greetings to my timeline - and 9 more people wished me a great day via my status update (where I wished MYSELF a Happy Birthday!) For the whole day - whenever my phone buzzed - instead of wondering "what now?" I got to wonder "who now?" - as in who wants me to have a great day!

People from all of the strata of my life touched base - Kings Dominion folks, relatives, work friends, theatre peeps, friends from the Loft was a great day. And then it was topped off by a great dinner with my two favorite folks.

Some of you may know that I share a birthday with my Mom. That's why I'm her favorite (just kidding siblings!). Most years the three of us enjoy dinner out - sometimes accompanied by a special friend or two - but this year I just felt like enjoying their company alone. I kid with them about being the ponies that live upstairs (aka "horsemates") but I truly love them both. During the time in the fall when I was struggling - neither of them faltered in their love and support of me. I can't imagine what life would be like without my wonderful family. From time to time I have tuned into shows like "Maury" or "Jerry Springer" and seen families that have splintered and scattered. In fact I personally know people who aren't sure what state their siblings are living in - or what they do for a living. Although our closeness can drive me batty - I love every member of my family. Biological and otherwise.

Dinner tonight was a relaxed affair at Jimmy's on the James - a relatively new restaurant in downtown Lynchburg. I had heard good things and was not disappointed. I had a really nice glass of Zinfandel (no - not white Zin...don't get me started) and ordered a Pinot Noir for Mom. Dad got a beer from his favorite brewery on the east coast: Abita Springs. He had to settle for a Purple Haze because they don't have his favorite: Turbo Dog. Note to Jimmy: get some Turbo Dog.

We started our meal with the Pork Bites - which are slightly battered pieces of lean pork loin that are fried and accompanied by a Thai inspired sauce. My only note there is that the pork loin is SO lean...they tended toward being overcooked. But they were still delicious - especially in the slightly spicy sauce that was a great balance of sweet and savory. I know there was sesame oil...but I stopped trying to deconstruct it and just enjoyed!

Mom ordered the lamb, which was perfectly cooked and paired with a succotash. I don't eat succotash, but they both enjoyed it immensely. She also had spoonbread - but since she is allergic to eggs...I got to enjoy that. Dad got the crab cakes and they were excellent (yes, I tasted all their food too!). I got the Tavern Pie which is a sort of cross between shepherds pie and pot pie. It contained pork, beef and lamb...and veggies...and was coved with a square of pastry. It was stupendous. Perfectly seasoned. It was surrounded by a giant moat of haricots verts (aka skinny green beans). Pretty. I didn't eat many. Most of them are wrapped up with my leftover Tavern Pie in a delightful foil swan. I haven't seen one of those in years.

During our dinner Jimmy (Jim Dudley) sang and played the piano so beautifully that I forgot sometimes that it wasn't a recording of Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin. My only problem was that I had to put my fork down to applaud!! He was a great performer and a gracious host. He made a point to stop at each table and chat at length. And our server, Terrie, was simply charming. She answered my inevitable question "what's your favorite?" with sincerity. It didn't feel like she was just suggesting whatever the kitchen was pushing (or the most expensive items). She was friendly without being cloyingly sweet.

And the last course - along with great coffee - was deep fried Oreos over creme anglaise and whipped cream with berries. Damn. That was perfect. It was a set of three Oreos - so we got one served for Mom away from the creme anglaise (egg allergy) and it was just right for the three of us.

The perfect end to a great day.

Happy Birthday to US!

I love you all!!

Friday, March 2

The Nerd of NYC is coming!

Since I'm sitting here at the computer and it isn't midnight...I figured there might be a post stored in these fingers. Let's see what comes out.

My first thoughts run to theatre tonight. I just learned that the great Jamie Watson is going to come to Virginia to perform at the Little Town Players in The Nerd. Hang on a second whilst I go get you guys the particulars...

The show will be May 11, 12, 13 and 18, 19, 20. Auditions are March 18 and 19. All of this happens at the theatre located on the grounds of The Elks National Home. Yep, same place where the Christmas lights are in December. I am ashamed to say that I've only been to the theatre for ONE show - when my friend Robin was playing the title role in You're a Good Man Charlie Brown. But it is a nice venue and since the director is the wonderful Karen Hopkins - this is going to be one incredible show.

A little bit about The Nerd - because except for us theatre geeks...some of you may have never heard of it! It is a two-act comedy written by Larry Shue. The plot involves Willum Cubbert, his girlfriend Tansy (well sorta girlfriend...) and Willum's best friend Axel (who lives in the basement and is often inebriated). (If that were only a female role...I think I'd be perfect for it!). Jamie Watson will be playing Rick Steadman, an inspector at a chalk factory who saved Willum's life in Vietnam.

While Willum is hosting a dinner party for his boss Warnock, Warnock's wife and terror of a son - Rick arrives unexpectedly. His awkwardness and inappropriateness turn the evening into a shambles. Rick decides to move in. Eventually Axel comes up with a plot to get rid of him (see...doesn't that sound like me?).

The show ran on Broadway March 1987 - April 1988 starring Mark Hamill as Willum and was directed by Charles Nelson Reilly. Which is pretty interesting because I've always thought that Jamie looked like Mark Hamill (I can picture him swinging a lightsaber) and I've always loved Charles Nelson Reilly. Remember Match Game?

I think I'll go to auditions. I don't have enough going on in my life - I think weeks of rehearsal and performances will keep me from being bored! :)

But the chance to tread the boards with Jamie Watson? Worth the effort!

Even if I don't get cast - I hope all the readers of the hamster will put the show on their calendars. It is going to be a doozy!