Wednesday, September 26

22 hours and counting...

In approximately 22 hours I leave for the beach. The only problem is that I have 30 hours worth of stuff to get done before I leave! This leaves very little time for sleep. So I'm starting to prioritize already. I know that I must wash clothes...well...I guess I could pack them dirty and wash clothes down at the beach! But since I think that would mean wearing shorts and a swimsuit to work tomorrow, I better keep it on the high priority list.

I have already set up for Chip Shop for JIFF tomorrow night. And a short 5 minutes ago I managed to find a substitute station leader for a volunteer who can't make it. So, all I have to do is completely set up that station for BINGO. This involves running to the store for Froot Loops or Apple Jacks to use for Bingo markers (makes Bingo even MORE fun!!). I'll find time for that.

I have to go by the river to get a giant block of Hoop Cheese - thank goodness I've already touched base with Jesse at Red and Dot's and that will be ready to grab and go. Perhaps I can combine that stop with lunch tomorrow! I wonder if he would be willing to get me a box of Froot Loops... I see a plan being formed!

I have to pack - but since I don't care much about what I wear when I'm at the beach, that won't take long. I'm figuring on opening the dryer in the morning and unloading it into a suitcase. I also have to pack the car. There wasn't enough room in Mom and Dad's car for the second week crew's kitchen miscellaneous bags. We have been going to the beach with basically the same group of folks for 11 years now - so there is a large collection of "their stuff" - but since that includes a couple bottles of liquor, I'll make time. And fortunately I managed to empty the car this evening setting up for chip shop! This plan is coming together better than I thought!

I have to go get some cash for the cat sitter. Yes, I am lucky enough to have found someone willing to put up with Rude Cat for the week. But she does demand payment - and I can't blame her! I rarely have any cash on me - because I can't be trusted with it!

And somewhere in the next 21.5 hours I also need to work, edit the Kiwanis newsletter, and if I have a few spare moments, go by the library to get a book to listen to for the drive. Could someone please perfect human cloning in the next couple of hours?

I will try to post while I'm at the beach...but I'm not going to feel guilty if I don't. Well, I probably will feel guilty...but I'll get over it!

Friday, September 21

A Trip to the Past

Yesterday I wrote about the imminent departure of our house's land line phone. One of my friends commented on the link I posted to Facebook that his grandmother had a "black dial phone in Brookneal...and back in the 70s when calling to Rustburg (a short distance away) you had to tell the operator what number you were calling from and what number you were calling to." That made me smile - because that reminded me of the fact that at MY grandmother's house - the phone was a party line.

Most of you will have no idea what a "party line" was - unless you remember the episode of the Beverly Hillbillies when Granny Clampett demanded that the Beverly Hills phone company needed to install a party line like she had experienced when she visited Pearl Bodine back in the hills. Basically, the line was shared by several households. When you wanted to make a call you had to pick up the phone and listen to see if it was available. Yes, you could hear the other people conversing if the phone was not available. If it was an emergency then you would announce yourself and ask if they would kindly release the line. Otherwise you needed to hang up and check again in a little while.

Indeed - some people entertained themselves by holding their hand over the mouthpiece of the phone and listening to entire conversations! I was never interested enough in what the other people were saying to listen for very long. But I recall the first time that I picked up the phone to call my Aunt Twizzie and when I started to dial, a rather cranky voice informed me that the line was occupied! I had never heard of such a thing before in my life! Small towns...

There are other things that I remember fondly from visits to my grandparents' house (Mom's parents) such as:

The Flint Hill Volunteer Fireman's Carnival (and Parade!) that happened every August. There were carnival games like ring toss, a dime toss where you could win a large variety of unmatched (and ugly) glassware, some little ticket things that gave you chances to win hideous stuffed animals, and Bingo! My grandfather called Bingo sometimes and I thought he was the coolest man on earth. When we play Bingo at JIFF, I like to think that I'm carrying on a family tradition. When I was growing up the markers for the cards were pieces of corn. Each spring when we would go play at the fairgrounds (everything in Flint Hill is within 3 blocks) there would be a bumper crop of corn growing in the Bingo stand.

There would be a couple of games that we weren't allowed to play - including something called Keno which attracted a large crowd of men who would have handfuls of dollar bills and they seemed very intent on what numbers would come out of a little shaker. We were also discouraged from playing the games that the "rides people" ran...because none of the proceeds from those games went to the volunteer fireman. But every year we would get to spend a couple of dollars pulling plastic ducks out of the carny's "lucky duck" game. Usually one of us kids would win a goldfish. Which would promptly die the next day.

The rides were a lot of fun - from the top of the Ferris Wheel you could see my grandparents' house, and the Tilt-O-Whirl and Scrambler were great for making you feel sick to your I look back on it now - perhaps rides that are taken apart and put together on a weekly basis by people with less IQ than teeth aren't a real good idea. But at the time - it was the highlight of summer.

And every year we would take at least one chance to win the car (I never even KNEW anybody who won - but the drawing was VERY exciting!) and the heifer. Yep...I said in cow. One of the local cattle farmers donated a heifer every year and if you won and didn't have a place to put a heifer, would even buy it back from the winner at market rates. Pretty generous now that I look back on it. The only problem was that on the nights that they brought the heifer to the fairgrounds for people to see it - the stall was right next to the Bingo stand. Heifers don't smell real pretty in August. But I took at least one chance on it every year - always believing that I could bring it home as a pet. I guess it is a good thing I never won - I think that I would have been crushed when Dad said no.

Maybe next year I'll go visit the carnival. Eat some french fries, throw some rings (I bet the dime toss is a thing of the past now), maybe even ride the Ferris Wheel...and I will take a chance on the car and the heifer. Because you just never know - this could be my lucky year!!

Thursday, September 20

The End of an Era

As of tomorrow - 9/21/12 - there will no longer be a Howell at the end of 847-8138. We are disconnecting the land line. It feels a little weird to know that in a few months that number will probably be assigned to some other poor soul - who will get occasional phone calls from relatives who won't get around to updating their paper address books! The average time for a number being reassigned is 30 days to 6 months.

It really makes sense for us - there isn't much need to spend $48 a month for the privilege of hanging up on a dozen "unavailable" calls and another dozen calls that we can clearly tell from Caller ID that we don't want to take the call. The answering machine generally has more hangups on it than real messages (along with the pre-recorded robo-calls that are halfway through by the time the machine starts recording).

But as my sister Susan said in response to the email that was sent out announcing our decision to abandon the land line "It's the end of an era, 847-8138 is no more! Wow...I grew up with that number, called my friends, played pranks on unknowing strangers... good times, good times. Farewell 847-8138, you were a good friend to us all." I, of course, never played phone pranks on strangers. Well...maybe once...

Mom shared with me that when they first got that number it was VI7-8138. I still remember when the area code changed from 804 to 434. I think Susan is right, it is then end of an era. Anybody in the market for a slightly used cordless phone system with 3 handsets? Going cheap!!

Wednesday, September 19

Random Conversation Starter

Another night - another post - another brain freeze...

Tonight I am going to pull questions from the Random Conversation Starter!

What celebrity do you like to follow? Okay - I don't tweet. It isn't that I don't know how - I just got bored with it very fast. So I don't "follow" anyone. Unless the questions isn't referring to Twitter!! Then the question could be interpreted as what celebrity would you like to stalk?!? I can honestly say that I have never really stalked a celebrity - all of my victims have been regular people! I have encountered a few celebrities through the years...most recently I got to see Susie Fogelman when I was in Chelsea Market in NYC. For all of you who are saying to yourselves "who?" - she is the Senior VP of Marketing for Food Network and one of the judges of Next Food Network Star. I was totally psyched when I saw her at the news stand - but out of respect for her privacy (she was wearing a hat and clearly trying to keep a low profile) I just gave a her little nod and said "Susie" (I'm certain that she understood that I was conveying the message "I really respect your work"). But when I noted my close encounter on Facebook...few of my friends understood my excitement. Ah well.

Who do you have on your speed dial? Speed dial? Everyone is on speed dial now...I just say "Hello Galaxy. Call ***** home/mobile/work" and it happens. Speed delightfully antiquated! I suppose the next question will be asking how long my phone cord is? Okay, it isn't THAT bad. But how quickly we get used to the new technological advances...I'm even learning how to tell Galaxy to text ***** instead of being frustrated by that dang touch screen keyboard. But I think that if I did have speed dial and could only put 8 people in it (#9 has to be emergency number) then my top 8 would include Mom, Dad, Karen, Denise... well, basically the other 6 people in my immediate family. And then the other two would be....Carl (because I call him a lot and can't remember the actual number) and my friend Toni (because she always gives me great advice and is the best sounding board that I know).

Who is the most famous person you have met? Seriously? I think we covered that in question #1, didn't we? No, Susie Fogelman isn't the most famous person that I've met. There are a lot of local celebrities that I have talked with extensively...from politicians like Bob Goodlatte and Steve Hillcats General Manager Paul Sunwall (a Kiwanis brother) artists and performers.... But I guess the question is really about the person that most people would know. Also on the streets of New York, I ran into Timothy Busfield. But I think that the celebrity connection that I always pull out of my hat is the fact that I am only TWO degrees separated from Kevin Bacon. I was directed in a musical by one of Kevin Bacon's first acting teachers. He was kind of a jerk. Not Kevin Bacon - the director. This means that all of YOU are now only THREE degrees from Kevin Bacon...since you know ME!!

Last one: What is your least favorite part of the day? That is the easiest question of all. Morning. I despise waking up. Certainly there are lovely parts to mornings...the dew on the grass, the fog rising off the river, the birds singing...the sunrise. And if they could move all of those things to early afternoon - I would enjoy them much more!!

Another hamster beaten!!

Tuesday, September 18


You can try! But you'll have to pry
the fork from my cold dead hands!
Tonight I had dinner with three Thai 99 newbies. It was a great surprise to me to find out that the reason that this group chose to eat at Thai 99 was because it was my number 1 choice in my "favorite restaurant" blog post. I said, "you people make life decisions based on The Beaten Hamster?" and the reply was "more often than you might think"!

As usual - the food was fantastic. I believe that Patty and Jeff have some new fans! I think that I was useful to the new folks because I eat there enough to help "decode" the menu. It can be overwhelming at first - choosing a dish from the wide variety... Do you want rice or noodles? Do you want chicken, pork, tofu? Want to go crazy and spend the extra buck for beef or shrimp? How spicy do you want it? Do you want something that is spicy and a little sweet like the tamarind sauce of Pad Thai? Or perhaps something cool and herbaceous like the Green Curry?

If all you have ever experienced of "curry" is that yellow might not realize that "curry" is really a general term for sauce/gravy. There are no less than 5 curry dishes at Thai 99. Red, Green, Yellow, Panang....

I remember one day that my sister Denise and I were eating lunch at Thai 99. We overheard a neighboring table trying to decide what to order. I held out as long as I could (at least 30 seconds...) before leaning over and asking if they would like some help with the menu. They welcomed my assistance and soon we were laughing and talking like old friends. With a few questions about what their likes and dislikes were - I was able to help each of them steer toward a dish that I thought they would like. I still see them at T99 from time to time - and we still greet each other like old friends. They say they have tried most everything on the lunch menu now - and are so glad that they had someone to help them out the first time. As it turns out, they were leaning toward Yellow Curry with Chicken and Pepper Steak. And eventually they did order those dishes on one of their visits there. And they shared with me that if they had ordered those dishes on their first visit - they probably wouldn't have come back. NOT that there is anything wrong with either dish!! They just said that there was nothing "uniquely Thai about them" - and what they had the first day was a unique experience.

One of the members of tonight's little supper club asked me, "how do you know about all this stuff"? Simple. I ask. At least I have learned to ask! And I owe a lot of that new boldness to Patty and Jeff at I continued to visit, they encouraged me to try something new. Actually...Patty started refusing to serve me Pad Thai two visits in a row...but that DID encourage me to try something different (or go hungry...). I find in most every restaurant, but especially restaurants that specialize in unique cultural cuisines, the staff is very willing to take the time to help explain what is on the menu. I know that Uday at Hot and Cold Cafe will often bring out a special little dish to share with new diners, to introduce them to an ingredient or flavor that they have never tried before.

Many years ago, when Uday was a server at Milan restaurant, I took my nephew Jack to experience Indian food for the first time. I think he was about 6 or 7... Uday took the time to explain every dish on the buffet and to encourage Jack to try a little of everything. To this day - Indian food is still one of his favorite cuisines. His #1 favorite is Thai.

Tonight Patty sent a special dessert out for our table to try. Just one more example of a food lover sharing her special knowledge and passion with new people. Get out and try something this week that you never thought you is short! And don't forget dessert!!

Monday, September 17

Common Ground

On August 22 I made a rash post every day for 30 days or be forced to donate $100 to the Romney campaign. I did allow myself 3 strikes - and so far have used 2 of them. Now I find myself with about 5 days left before I can relax.

It is amazing how as soon as I am forced to brain dries up into a tired husk. I am not sure I can squeeze any more creativity out. If I sit with friends, I can regale them for hours with highly amusing stories, pithy answers to the problems of the world and highly sought after intelligent discourses on a vast array of topics. Well....perhaps I exaggerate a bit. Or more than a bit.

Why is forced creativity so hard? I recall having the same problems in high school Creative Writing class. Whether it was an assigned topic or just a freestyle, write whatever you feel like writing about assignment - I spend a few minutes staring at the page waiting for inspiration. Or in this case...a computer monitor (that I can see needs cleaning...which distracts me).

One of the difficulties is that several of the topics that I am currently passionate about...are affecting close friends and I do not wish for the wrong people to get an insight into their situation. On the other hand - I want to be fired up and write intelligently about the situations in Libya and Egypt. But I have not done enough research to make a well-balanced post.

I CAN say that I have read quite a bit about Islam. And in the same way that we Christians would not want to be associated with the horrors of the Crusades - most Muslims are not aligned with the extremists who propose violence in response to the insulting "film" or other cowardly attacks on sacred people and symbols. The youth class at Centenary UMC recently spent time studying core beliefs of many World Religions. Through that study we discovered that in the Islam faith, the Qur'an is more than a sacred text. It is believed that the desecration of the Qur'an is blasphemy. When worn out, paper copies of the Qur'an are not repulped, recycled or discarded.

In the United States, we have such ready access to the Bible, I fear that we no longer treat it with the same reverence. (oh...and in case you weren't aware...the Qur'an references Jesus more often than Mohammed. Mary is mentioned more in the Qur'an than in the New Testament). The youth room at Centenary is a general repository of things that people don't want to throw away...but aren't sure where to put them. So in addition to several sketchy pieces of furniture...we also have about 50 Bibles. They are of various translations and many are in rough shape. Bent covers, torn pages...sometimes they can be found in stacks on tables - or even on the floor. It seems like they deserve better.

Perhaps we can learn some of that dedication to reverence of our sacred text from our Muslim friends. We have a shared history...Islam, Judaism and Christianity all trace our roots back to Abraham. There is more common ground than you might think. And in the same way that we would like to be forgiven the arrogant mistakes of Christian crusaders and missionaries in our past...we need to look past the extreme few to embrace the people who desire exactly what we desire - the ability to worship God in peace. And in our own way.

Well - looks like I had a little passion and creativity left after all.

Sunday, September 16

Summer Fading

The seasons are beginning to change. Today at the river it was chilly enough that several people donned sweatshirts and windbreakers. Tonight's corn on the cob was typical end-of-summer, a little tough and not as tasty. Only a few weeks ago the corn was tender and sweet. As much as I enjoy the end of sweltering hot days - I'm not sure that I'm ready for the dark days of winter.

Fortunately God created Fall in Virginia. It is a time of wonderful experiences. As the humidity fades, the crisp air is so clear that you feel like you can see for miles. As the days shorten, the trees begin to put on their annual show of color. And as the weeks march on - football begins.

For about 15 years I have watched football on two levels - the game at hand, and fantasy football. Because I draft the best players available to me at the time...I pay very little attention to what team they are on. I have even been known to draft players from teams like the Dallas Cowboys! I try to be certain that I have at least one player on my team from the Denver Broncos - and since my best friend is a fan, the Pittsburgh Steelers.

With this willy-nilly drafting plan, I sometimes find myself watching a game and cheering for players on both teams. I need my fantasy football team's quarterback to score big - against my fantasy defense? I know that my co-commissioner of league examines every angle and probably has the NFL schedule memorized by July. I just find myself amused by the little conundrums that I create for myself.

I just finished watching a game where I was in the unique position of not having anyone on the field playing for The Hamster Beaters. Although it was refreshing - I was in the tragic position of watching the Washington Redskins give away a game to the St. Louis Rams. Nobody can snatch defeat from the jaws of victory like the Redskins. In the last quarter they squandered so many opportunities I lost count. It almost seemed anticlimactic when the Redskin player got a 15 yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct after he threw the ball at his tackler in a temper tantrum. Nice. Even his coach just stared at him in disbelief.

I think that I'll go back to "watching" the games between teams in our fantasy football league. Currently, my father's Hogtown River Rats are squashing my sister's Lucky Charms 78-35. Mom and Denise's Perula Boyz are leading Steve Smallshaw's Tank Engines (insert joke about overcompensation here) 47-41...but they are going to have to hope that his 3 players left to play are struck by the flu. Co-commissioner Melva's Froot Loops have a 52-20 lead over the Magical Musickals which is likely to hold out because Andrew's best performer was left on the bench and he has two receivers and a kicker to get him 33 points. That would be magick!

My nephew Jack's team The Gents is hoping for great performance from his kicker in order to come from behind to defeat his great uncle Frank's Maltese Falcons. The Falcons are leading 42-36 and still have the Detroit defense to help add to their lead. On the other hand - the Campbell Crew are hoping that the Detroit defense rolls over and dies because they need the SF defense and their kicker to maintain their 49-26 lead over the team oddly named - That Other Team (which we promptly started referring to as the TOTs). The Tots still have a great chance because their QB Matt Ryan and two of their receivers have yet to play. Oddly, his two receivers are on opposing teams this week - SF and Drew is going to have to cheer for both teams.

Which brings me to my virtual game vs. my baby sister's team Double Trouble. Currently I am in the lead 45-34. But her quarterback is yet to play - and my two remaining players are not likely to be strong scorers. I already lost my first game to Dad's River Rats...I'm not sure I can stomach being 0-2. Perhaps a couple of those high scores that are sitting on my bench could magically change from reserve to active? Hmmmm....

Football is one of the things I have to look forward to now that summer is fading...and in two weeks I'll be at the beach!!

Saturday, September 15

Random Saturday Post

random disconnected thoughts...

- I am working on tomorrow's Sunday school lesson for the Sr. High Youth. We are nearing the end of discussion of World Religions and Christian denominations. Tomorrow is Mormonism. I have 12 pages of research to turn into a cohesive presentation.

- I think that it would be ironic if I skipped posting tonight. Because that would be my third strike in my quest to post every day for 30 days...and because of my self-imposed penalty - I would have to donate $100 to Mitt Romney's campaign.

- It would be ironic because he is a Mormon.

- Those first three thoughts were not exactly disconnected.

- Worked on weeding a garden at the church today. Wire grass may be a tool of the devil...

- I have always said that decaffeinated coffee is a tool of the devil. Because of the cost of the de-caffeination process, they must have to cut costs somewhere in order to make decaf and high test coffee cost about the same. So I assume that the coffee beans are lesser quality. That means that in addition to the fact that the cup of decaf is lacking is also made from sub-par beans.

- Sometimes I am tempted to make caffeinated coffee for evening church dinners and when people ask if it is decaf, to just say "sure". But I know that is wrong.

- I'm having trouble remembering my dreams. I know that I had a doozy last night, but since I didn't write anything down...I can't share with you.

- McDonald's makes better oatmeal raisin cookies than I do.

- I'm running out of random thoughts...better go get some coffee.

- Two weeks until I leave for the beach. It has been a year since I was there...I can't wait!

Friday, September 14

Chimes Restored

Lower Rivermont Avenue has been strangely quiet for the last couple of weeks. Near the end of August there was a power outage one day - which caused the church's alarm panel to make noise...which caused a member to call my father (property committee member) to check on it...which caused my father to call me to check on it. I am clearly pretty low on the chain of command. I stopped the panel from making horrible noises and then drove out Rivermont Avenue to see if I could find out how widespread the power outage was. Okay...I was going to see if I could find the destruction or mayhem that caused a power outage during a simple rainstorm. I was figuring on finding a broken utility pole attached to a car attached to a texting teenager or something. But there was no obvious cause so I headed back home. As I neared the church I actually saw a traffic light come back to life as power was restored so I stopped in front of the church and rolled down the window to see if the tower chimes would play on time (it was about 5 minutes till the hour).

6:00 came and chime. Darn, I thought...I need to go reboot the computer... So I got out of the car, stopped by the alarm panel to reset it and figured on just a quick two minute process to reboot the computer that runs the carillon chimes. But alas...the computer would not power up. The computer was indeed in a coma. The chimes would not be ringing that night...

It is funny - just a couple of days before, I received an email from the church secretary (the beautiful and talented Kathleen) letting me know that we had gotten a complaint about the chimes. Remarkably, the complaint was made by a gentleman who lives across the river in Madison Heights. At least a mile away "as the crow flies"! He had indicated that he thought the chimes were too loud and he didn't need to be reminded what hour it was. (the chimes ring from 8am to 8pm on the hour and half hour - on the weekends we don't start until 9am)  As I was trying every trick that I knew to get the computer running - I wondered how in the world that man made the chimes fail! In my mind he was like that little mouse that broke the clock chime in that Christmas cartoon!

Of course I know that it is just a case of computers sometimes break. And with our fabulous warranty from BRG Carillon Bell System - all we had to pay for was shipping the computer tower to them. Not only are we really pleased with the system that we purchased from BRG - the support team has been extremely helpful and very responsive whenever we had questions or needed troubleshooting help.

Remarkably, I heard at church council last week that the gentleman from across the river called back to ask about why the chimes has been silent. When Kathleen told him that the system was out for repair he let her know that he hadn't done anything to them! He said that he would enjoy the break...I think that he secretly missed them!!

The computer was supposed to arrive back on Thursday, but the office had closed when UPS stopped by to deliver. Today the dropoff got missed even though Kathleen stayed long past her regular hours - she has been missing the chimes, too! So I was disappointed to think that it would be Monday before delivery was made...and expressed that to the member who spearheaded the original installation (he is missing the chimes because he is currently in New Jersey!). I was promptly told to "go get it" - so I called the UPS Hub (thank God I never erase contacts from my phone) and the helpful Hub Master Carrie (I gave her the title...I think she deserves it) looked up which truck it was and estimated the time of arrival.

I was waiting in the parking lot with Carrie when the truck arrived and the driver even loaded it into my car for me. He said "I'm so sorry I missed you guys. When I saw it I KNEW you were going to need it for Sunday!" He was glad that it all worked out.

Tomorrow morning I'll go install the unit and once again, the Rivermont neighborhood will hear an hourly reminder that Centenary United Methodist is alive! Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors...come and hear the chimes in person. They have been missed!

Thursday, September 13

My first attempt with Blogger App

I thought I would try using my new phone to make a post. So far the hardest part is using this tiny little keyboard! I believe I'll find a few amusing or attractive pictures and call this experiment done! I really miss my Blackberry's keyboard.

Going to the beach soon...hopefully the pictures i think I've connected to this post are really here.

Wednesday, September 12

Meatloaf Duel

Because I need to deal with a bit of a small personal crisis - you're stuck with another excerpt of "Oh my God, They're in the Driveway" (a cookbook I started writing 10 (ish) years ago). Please be amused!

Not to be confused with Meatloaf Gordon, which will follow later. Meatloaf Chris is my own creation, sent down from a higher intelligence, I'm sure. Meatloaf Gordon, I'm not so sure about. But since the family enjoys it, I guess it's worth some space. But first, since this is my book, Meatloaf Chris.
1 ½ - 2 pounds of ground beef
1 cup red wine
½ cup ketchup
1 tablespoon each: garlic powder, onion salt, seasoned salt, and 1 teaspoon of pepper. (By the way, I'm just estimating these measurements, so don't waste a lot of time with measuring spoons on these. A tablespoon is like the amount that would be in the palm of your hand, a teaspoon is a third of that. This is not the Betty Crocker Test Kitchens, for goodness sakes)
¼ cup of steak sauce or worcestershire sauce
an egg or two
a splash of milk
enough bread crumbs to solidify this mess
Bake at about 375 for 45 minutes to an hour, depending on how deep or shallow the pan is. I like to spread some extra ketchup on the top of the meatloaf, before cooking, I think it's better than the "raw" ketchup that you add afterwards. After the meatloaf is done, (cut into the middle and pull it apart to make sure that the middle is not raw. It should be about the same doneness as a medium hamburger, after all a meatloaf is just a great big hamburger that everyone shares, with the bun built in. Once again, everyone will notice that I don't have any onions or green peppers in my recipe. It's because I hate them. And don't any of you Onion and Green Pepper Council people start picketing my house. I'll have your knees broken. I don't have anything against the vegetables except the fact that they taste weird and make your breath stinky. So, it's nothing personal. 

Ketchup is a better vegetable. I had one roommate (no, not the psycho one) who put ketchup on EVERYTHING. We went to a Chinese restaurant and he asked for a bottle of ketchup to go on top of his Moo Goo Gai Pan. Very strange guy. He put ketchup on top of spaghetti, on top of the sauce! Ketchup on steak. Ketchup on steamed blue crabs. But when he put ketchup on my Chicken Parmesan, I got annoyed. I've gotten past that now though. I think if you want ketchup on everything you eat...that is your privilege. I may think it strange, but I will no longer try to stop you. And that has nothing to do with the kickback money from the Ketchup Council. Just joking. What was I talking about? 

Oh, by the way, for those of you who are already worried about my soul because I "partake of the spirits", who are now doubly worried because it seems that I have cohabitated with at least two men, worry no more. I worked for years in professional theatre. My roommates were performers, and they were not attracted to me. Besides, men are MUCH better roommates than women. Men don't borrow your clothes and your makeup, take less time in the bathroom, and don't try to steal your dates. Okay, the psycho was not the perfect roommate, he stole all of the other guys clothes and spent more time in the bathroom than any of the rest of us (and he was bald!), but the ketchup guy was really cool. We spent a lot of time playing Monopoly for cigarettes. And talking about everyone else in the company. But he never tried to steal any of my dates. Where was I?

The real reason that the recipe for Meatloaf Gordon was second is that he works third shift and I had to wait till I could get the recipe from him. You are really lucky that I got it at all. He was reluctant to share, but I talked him into it. He'll agree to anything when he's asleep.

Once I was the king of the meatloaf around my house. A dubious honor, to be sure, but an honor nonetheless. Now this punk has come along and created a better meatloaf. I'm not sure I can deal with this, but I'll try.
  • 2 pounds of ground beef
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • a glub of ketchup and A-1 steak sauce (a glub is somewhere around ¼ cup)
  • several splashes of worcestershire sauce
  • a large splash of wine (he uses whatever I currently have chilling in the fridge or resting on the wine matter what it may have cost regard to color)
  • a couple of eggs
  • enough bread crumbs to solidify the stuff
  • okay, the secret ingredient- half a can of Miller Genuine Draft beer (cold filtered, never heat pasteurized) in honor of his former fiancee's favorite race driver, Rusty Wallace.
Mash all of the stuff above together, cook at about 375 until "Mom says its done". That's a quote, ladies and gentlemen, I would guess about an hour. Well, that's it. The meatloaf that has replaced mine as the family favorite. I would have thought of it sooner or later. Notice however, people of the Green Pepper and Onion Council, the hatred of your vegetables runs in the family. If you could see me, I'd be thumbing my nose at you.

Tuesday, September 11

I am the Captain of My Ship!

Not quite literally...but I am going to be the captain of a Lobster Recovery Team Lobster Boat for this year's Kiwanis Lobster Sale! I am very pleased to announce that I will be captaining the boat Foolish Pleasure! (other team members quickly snapped up the What the Haul and Delusional names) This year the Lobster Recovery Team decided to create teams named after boats participating in the 2012 Maine Lobster Boat Races. Until an hour ago - I had no idea that Lobster Boats raced each other. But, why not?

The Lobster sale doesn't officially kick off until next Friday (the 21st) so Beaten Hamster readers are getting an exclusive sneak preview. Eight teams of Kiwanians will compete to see which team can sell the most lobsters for delivery on November 10. And yes, they arrive LIVE! You have never had lobster any fresher than this. Our team will pick up the lobsters on November 9 and happy buyers will pick them up the morning of November 10. If you are squeamish about killing and cooking your lobsters - the Kiwanis will even cook them for you for an extra 2 bucks. You get delicious lobster at a good price ($14) and the Kiwanis get much needed funds to continue their work in our community.

Just to get your mouth is a recipe for Lobster Mac and Cheese:

You'll need a pound of pasta (I like shells or spirals), half a stick of butter, 2 small shallots and 2 cloves of garlic (finely chop both), about 2 Tbsp. tomato paste (I get the stuff that comes in a tube like toothpaste) and  5 Tbsp. of flour, about 1/4 cup white wine (you can drink the rest), 4 cups of heavy cream (you can use half and half - or even milk...but it won't be as rich and delicious. Your choice.), 4 cups of shredded cheese (I go with white cheddar and Gruyere), and the meat from 2 wonderful lobsters.

Cook the pasta (do not overcook!) and preheat the oven to 350. Make a roux by melting the butter then cooking the shallots and garlic until translucent (see through...not brown!) adding a pinch of salt and pepper. When they are ready then add the tomato paste and flour and stir - cooking for 3 to 4 minutes. Then add the white wine and cook for another couple of minutes - then slowly add the cream, whisking non-stop to make sure there are no lumps! Sprinkle in a little paprika and cayenne (1/4 teaspoon-ish) and float a bay leaf in there if you like. Bring to a simmer then reduce the heat to low...don't boil!! When the creamy goodness is thick enough to coat a spoon...stir in the cheese one handful at a time (take out the bay leaf if you put one in there). Resist the urge to crank up the heat and throw all the cheese in at once!!!

When all the cheese is melted add in the chopped lobster meat (chopped means no longer does NOT mean diced all to hell) and then the well drained pasta. Pour all of this into a greased baking dish and sprinkle on some bread crumbs if you like. Bake for 20-25 minutes until bubbly and toasty on top. (of course - if you can't stand to can just eat it straight out of the pot).

Hungry now? Then get ready to support the team of Foolish Pleasure when we start taking orders for lobsters. Anyone who buys 10 lobsters from me will get free delivery! have to be in Lynchburg and surrounding counties...

Monday, September 10

12 more days to go...




Got it!

It always startles the cat when I get a Eureka moment!

My generation has often heard "It Takes a Village" because of the book by the same name published in 1996 by then First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. (are you forever a First Lady even after your husband's term ends? And will the first woman president have a First Man?). And even though I do not have any children to invite a village to raise...I do agree with the premise of the statement. And I believe that I am part of the village that is raising my niece and nephews...and maybe a few JIFF kids.

A different aspect of "it takes a village" came to light tonight in the church council meeting. Our property committee chair was discussing a new idea for helping care for our church grounds. Centenary United Methodist was built in the 1920s and has some beautiful and mature gardens. And they have largely been thanks to the hard work of one man - Mr. Tommy Wooldridge. Rarely a day went by that Mr. Tommy didn't at least stop by the church to weed a little here, trim a bit of shrubbery there...maybe plant a few pansies. He did a wonderful job.

We lost Mr. Tommy this past February. And in addition to the loss of his smile, quick wit and warm heart - you could say that even the building misses him. In spite of the efforts of few special CUMC members - the gardens are running wild. So the property committee is planning to start an Adopt a Garden program to continue the work of Mr. Tommy Wooldridge. Because it really is going to take an entire village to replace this very special man.

I'm starting to study my Weed Identification Guide so I can take on a small garden myself...and I don't want to pull the flowers and leave the weeds behind! Maybe Tommy can reach down from heaven and guide my hands and my pruning shears... I bet the Pearly Gates have some pansies and mums planted around them now!!

Sunday, September 9

Random Topic Generator #2

Strike 2 in the "post every day for 30 days challenge" was used up yesterday. I can barely use my new phone's keyboard fast enough to send texts...not sure when I'll be good enough with it to make a post to the blog!! And I'm not sure that random pictures of my cat and river cat would constitute a post.

And yet, I find myself with little creative energy and even less patience this evening...but instead of another random recipe from my unpublished cookbook (Oh my God, they're in the Driveway) I offer another random topic posting from the Random Topic generator: (I will pick from one of the first three topics offered)

#1 - Sports Almanacs (oh please, let the next topic be better)
#2 - Analog vs. Digital Sound (well...could be worse)
#3 - History of Soccer (oh crap)

My thoughts on Analog vs. Digital Sound...which I shall expand to include Analog vs. Digital anything. I like analog clocks. I think I actually register what time it really is better if I look at an analog clock than a digital. And since I haven't worn a watch for about 20 years...clocks are what I rely on for telling time.

I am enjoying the ability to take digital pictures with my phone but I still have a great deal of affection for my "analog" (read: film) camera. But I realize that I haven't used it since last year when I was at the beach and I'm not sure I developed the film from that trip. So...anyone in the market for a completely refurbished Olympus OM10?

And to the topic that the Random Topic Generator picked for me...analog vs. digital sound. I have any number of friends who have very strong opinions on this topic. My friend Chuck who is a writer in the music industry would probably discuss the rapid changes in the music industry due to the increase of things like digital downloads and web distribution of new music. My brother Gordon would likely talk about the differences in sound quality. And others would talk about how records have a unique warm quality that is missing from digitized music (including CDs...don't even get them started on MP3s).

I don't care. I don't hear much difference between my CDs and the streaming music I listen to on my Rhapsody account. In my car I listen to public radio 95% of the time anyway. If that makes me less of a person, I don't care about that either.

I'll write a better post tomorrow. For tonight - at least no money is going to the Romney campaign.

(Speaking of campaigns though...saw The Campaign yesterday and it was HILARIOUS!! Go see that - no matter what side of the political aisle you sit on.)

Friday, September 7

i haz a nu fone

I spent a very long time hanging out at the US Cellular store this evening. They were a little short handed, but after I had been there for an hour...I figured I might as well see it through to the bitter end. A couple of weeks ago my Mom broke her phone. Physically ... the little LG had just had enough. She managed to keep using it even though the top part of the flip phone became impotent and would sometimes shut off calls inadvertently.

So - I upgraded and have now set my old Blackberry up for Mom to use. I even spent an hour this evening adding the contacts she had in her phone that I didn't have. I figured "how many people could she have in there that I don't already have in my phone?" - silly me. She had dozens of people in her phone that I didn't have in mine!!

Then I decided to start playing with my phone. I was looking to see if the pics in my phone had transferred over and I found this folder with several hundred pictures in it...not from my phone (which only held about 25 because I never have put any extra memory in it). After I deleted a few dozen I realized why they looked so familiar. They are from my blog's photo gallery. ummm....oops. So, if you decide to start reading backward through blog posts you'll eventually get to about a dozen posts that have broken link pictures. Those would be the pictures I deleted from my gallery. Not my from my phone....from my web gallery.

I'm a dingbat.

I'll get the hang of this sooner or later!

At least when my Mom reads this she'll know that everyone makes mistakes - even her genius daughter.

Thursday, September 6


There are some clock times that mean something special to some people. Maybe you have a warm fuzzy feeling at midnight or always make a wish when you see that it is 2:22. And of course, there is that 4:20 thing (if you don't know, you can google it...).

I recall hearing my mentor Joe Campbell discuss clock times once. He said that he often awoke during the night to see that it was 1:11 or 3:33. He found it remarkable that his subconcious mind would align to particular times.

For me, it has become 11:11. I find that several times a week I will notice on my clock, phone or computer that the time is 11:11. I take a moment then to say a special prayer for a dear friend who also has an affinity for 11:11. When I was getting ready to plug my phone in (and skip has been one heck of a day and I was willing to take strike 2 in my 30 day challenge) I saw the time. First I ask special blessings and a shield of protection around my friend Toni. And then I think I will broaden my prayer to include all of hamsters.

It is good to take an opportunity to step back and send good wishes and prayers to your friends. I'm glad that 11:11 reminds me to do it!
Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device from U.S. Cellular

Wednesday, September 5

My Favorite Restaurant? Just one? Impossible!

Over the weekend a friend asked me what my favorite local restaurant is. When I looked overwhelmed at having to choose just one - she asked for my top 5. I think that is still tough. Then I tried to think of the 5 restaurants that I would mourn if they suddenly shut their doors. You can quickly cross off any of the chain restaurants.

I have made peace with several of the chains - that is, I have come up with one dish that I like enough to be pleasant company when forced by circumstance to eat there. If dragged to Ruby Tuesday I will eat the Asian Dumplings, Applebees - wonton tacos, Olive Garden - braised short ribs, Cracker Barrel - chicken and dumplings (though they are no match for mine). If taken to O'Charleys I will eat my napkin and drink bourbon. I find no redeeming qualities there.

But what 5 local restaurants would I put on the top of my list? I'll try, but I am waffling on these even now (oh...Waffle House...I have a soft spot in my heart for that!).

#5 - Charley's. First fell in love when they were in the mall and still love it. The food is consistently good. Favorite dish is Chicken Mornay. I get it with rice...and rice. And once I eat the chicken, I put all the rice in the cheese sauce. Damn. Not to mention the fact that I absolutely LOVE Rob Pearson. To have an excellent chef, restauranteur and human being rolled into one body - it is amazing. Rob gives back to the community in so many ways...most people never realize the work he does to end hunger in our community.

#4 - Waterstone. I had a hard time deciding on this one. But the Wild Mushroom Pizza (pesto, mushrooms, sun dried tomatoes and goat cheese) never fails to make me happy. The kitchen is extremely efficient. The servers are well trained and pleasant. The place just needs more seats!! An hour wait is common on the weekend and the bar can't hold enough people so you could drink while waiting. But damn, the food and beer are good.

#3 - I went into this list knowing what numbers 2 and 1 this is the wild card spot. Food is good at Depot Grille, Isabellas, Milan, Monte Carlo.... I would also give an honorable mention to the Fire Patch (okay...really Briar Patch, but since it burned three or four times, we call it Fire Patch), Robin Alexander (glad they got rid of the typo-filled menu), the new Boiler Room (another excellent place from Ralph "Chopper" Wilson - but I had a very odd server there) and Bull Branch (there is a difference between hip and just grimy...dust sometimes!). But if I'm going with the restaurants that I would miss the most - #3 goes to the Hot and Cold Cafe on 9th Street. Uday is an excellent cook and the daily lunch buffet is a destination at least once a week. No, I can't always understand what he is saying. But if you cook cabbage and eggplant that good - I don't care. And I've gotten used to pita instead of Naan bread.

#2 - No brainer. King's Island. Whether it is the best Chinese/Polynesian buffet in town or the sushi that makes me so happy I actually cry...KI is one of my favorites. I also love the fact that I can walk in and greet half the staff by name. And if it is evening, I think John-John starts a Spicy Scallop Roll when he sees me walk through the door.

#1 - but which restaurant would leave the biggest hole in my heart? Thai 99, which celebrates 10 years (!) in Lynchburg this week! I remember being invited to their first anniversary when monks came to bless the restaurant, I've seen Patty and Jeff's son Justin grow up, seen their little girl start to take her first steps. I feel like a part of the family. For a long time I ordered the same dish: Pad Thai, chicken, medium. Until Patty refused to serve that to me - she got me to branch out and try new things. I can still get Pad Thai, but only every other visit. I understand there are a couple of other Thai restaurants around...and I'll get around to trying them. But I know that I'll always be connected to Thai 99 because they took the time to educate me about their food and their culture...and sparked a desire to try new things. Hoping for another 10 years together - and 10 after that!

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

Tuesday, September 4

Another Kinda Lame Post

I promise a better post tomorrow night. I just finished spending four hours editing the church newsletter and I'm beat! So, here is another chunk of that cookbook I started writing 10-15 years ago. Perhaps it will amuse you.... (hoping I haven't posted this chunk before...just in case, I'm giving you TWO, count 'em, TWO recipes!)

This recipe was stolen from a good friend of mine who does a cooking show out of the studio that I work for.But I know she won't mind.I was in the middle of this chapter and struggling hard to come up with a couple more cream cheese recipes when she came in to tape her show.I thought this one was really good, but I didn't pay a whole lot of attention to the recipe while she was doing it, so I ended up modifying it when I made it for the family.So, technically it's no longer her recipe, right? Mine is probably better anyway.And while we're on the subject of modifying recipes.I hope you're starting to get the point that no recipe is set in stone.This isn't a Bible or anything, change what you don't like. If you want to turn the cream cheese and olive spread into cream cheese and pimento...try it. If it turns out like hell, don't do it again. If it turns out better than mine, drop me a line and I'll put it in the next book. (Slightly modified to keep from having to give you anything. Just kidding. Sort of). Maybe you don't want to change your great grandmother's fruitcake recipe or Aunt Hildy's giblet dressing, I probably would, but some people are pretty stubborn about the traditional stuff. But if you're reading a cookbook and there's an ingredient that you don't like, leave it out. After all, its your stomach. (This time I haven't digressed at all, a new record)
  • a block of cream cheese, softened (I'm getting right sick and tired of typing that particular line)
  • ¼ cup of port wine (or a nice dry burgundy, experiment!)
  • 1 cup of white cheddar cheese, shredded all to hell.
  • some little pink peppercorns for a lovely garnish (okay, if this is for the poker boys, leave out the peppercorns and try making this with Wild Turkey) (on second thought, bourbon and cheese sounds like a hideous combination, I wouldn't do it if I were you.)

** Squoosh together everything except the peppercorns. Probably start by combining the wine and cheese then add the cheddar. Should be a lovely pink color. Sprinkle the pink peppercorns around the top of the cheese ball. To tell you the honest-to-God truth, I had no idea that there was such a thing as pink peppercorns until she taped the show. It's one of those things that you can drive someone else nuts with by sending them to the store to find them. Send someone you don't like very much because I haven't been able to find the little suckers yet. Personally when I garnish stuff, I like to use M & M 's and they just don't go well with port wine and cheddar. Go figure. Try sprinkling some of the white cheddar over it. Beats running around the Kroger's asking women with pink curlers and fat children where you might locate the pink peppercorns. She probably can't even find the replacement insoles for her fuzzy slippers that she came in for.

Ooooo...I think I've digressed again. How far this time?

Some of the credit for this one has to go to my grandmother, after all, every cookbook has at least one recipe that has been handed down from generation to generation. This one ain't it, but it's probably the closest one I've got. She always made it with potted meat, but have you ever read what's in that stuff? I'll admit that I eat it on occasion. But usually when I'm camping or fishing or something. After a couple of days in the wilderness, your tastebuds are pretty much dulled to the point that you can't taste the pig butts and tongues. But, as usual, I digress. This is one of those real simple recipes that you can kind of keep around for you to snack on during football games. It's got at least two of the four food groups, meat and dairy. I suppose you could eat it with crackers and a carrot and call it well-balanced. Le recipe:
  • one block of cream cheese, softened
  • one can of deviled ham

You should pretty much have the hang of how this goes now. Blend it and slap it on a Saltine. But let's say, these people that have just dropped in are your husband's boss and his lawyer who just stopped by to have coffee and discuss making him a partner in the advertising firm. At this point you can't really throw a Tupperware bowl of anything and a pack of Saltines on the table and invite the boys to "chow down". That's okay for poker nights and Monday Night Football, but for this you need to show a little more class. Luckily, this is it doesn't appear to be a lot of trouble. You don't want people to have to apologize for dropping in unannounced, no matter what Dear Abby says. I say you should always appear to be able to sweep together a quick snack and honestly say, "It was no trouble at all." But to make this look a little nicer. Use a small cracker, like a wheat thin. After all, Saltines are too large to eat in one bite, and have a tendency to create a lot of crumbs. Crumbs are not what you want Mr. Boss to have on his Sunday golf attire. Wheat thins can be tossed into a mouth in one bite without appearing piggish and without creating a mess. Slap a little bit on each cracker and then garnish about half of them with stuff like olive slices, pieces of cheese, you know, stuff that matches up with ham. Understand? Put a nice bowl with the rest of the ham spread (or really any one of the recipes in the chapter) on a tray. Surround it with the prepared crackers and some plain crackers. That way, if the guest doesn't like the spread, they can eat the crackers plain without feeling like they'll hurt your feelings. And if they run out of the prepared crackers, they can fix their own.

I guess all of this has come naturally to me. And perhaps some of you are wondering why I go through all of this. Well, this book is not just for cooks, its for bachelors who'd like to be able to make an impression on someone and still feed the guys after a tough water polo match. Its for college kids who can put away a ton of food, but still need something for those sorority mixers. It's especially for those husbands whose wives could use a nice surprise when she gets home from work. You know, you don't have to go to a lot of trouble to make people feel special. Just knowing that you thought enough to fix a little snack for her (or him, if the situation is reversed) instead of asking when the hell dinner is going to be ready, well...that might be just enough to keep her (or him) from hitting you with the fireplace poker in the middle of the night. And this time I have digressed to a point so far beyond my control....I think I'll close this chapter and move on the another subject.

But remember, cream cheese is not just a spread...its a staple. Keep it on hand all the time. It's not going to go bad very fast, you'll eat it long before then. Cream cheese is our friend. But do everything in moderation. Well, almost everything.

Monday, September 3

A very short post...

It has been a nice long weekend. I spent a few minutes adding clip art and pictures to the posts that I've made from my Blackberry over the past week. So even though I didn't have a totally new post tonight...I did spend some time freshening up my existing stuff. That should count, right?

I have not been putting the links to new posts on Facebook every time I post - because I haven't wanted to annoy my FB friends who don't read The Beaten Hamster (as impossible as that could be...) so several of my readers have said that they're missing my posts. Now, even though it might annoy FB friends, I will share the link when I have a new post. They can hide me or unfriend me...I guess it won't be a total loss if they do. After all, I haven't hidden anyone for continual political posts...but I'm getting close!

Hope you had a nice weekend!

Sunday, September 2

Random Family Story

One great thing about getting together with family is the random family stories that get told (and retold, and sometimes expanded). With my cousin Elizabeth in town we spent a good bit of time telling stories - especially about my Aunt Bunny. Wow - took me a full minute of thinking to recall what her real name was - I'm 99% sure it was Barbara. But to us, she was always Bunny.

There never was a cooler aunt. I try to be as cool to my nephews and niece...but I'm no Bunny. She could cook and sew and tell stories and work on Volkswagons. She was a rural mail carrier who told me the sometimes she ran the mail with one foot hanging out the window when the weather was nice. She had crazy curly hair and one time when a cat gave birth to a stillborn kitten...she gave it mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Buttons was our family cat for about 15 years.

One time I traveled with my sisters Karen and Denise on a bus to visit Bunny and her family. It was only to Staunton (about an hour and a half by car) but it seemed like a huge adventure. Denise and I went to the bathroom on the bus and the door got stuck. Though we knocked and knocked, nobody answered. Finally the bus driver pulled over and got us free. Karen claims she didn't hear us...I don't know what to believe. I don't think I ever went to the bathroom on a bus again.

Once we arrived I'm sure that we had a grand time...but the only thing I remember about that trip at all was getting stuck in the bathroom. Memories are funny like that.

Another time, when I was older, I went to visit again. No bus this time - I think that the whole family went over to visit and Aunt Bunny invited me to stay for the week. The only problem was that I got terribly homesick. Homesickness ran in our family. I'm past it now - I can't wait to leave these people for days or weeks on end! But this time everything was so strange and I missed home. I think I cried quite a bit. I recall going into town to a fabric store and Bunny helped me pick out some material and a pattern for us to make a dress together. But I still missed my family.

My not-so-sensitive grandmother came up to the room where I was crying on the bed and basically told me to stop it - that I was upsetting my aunt. Oh - sure - just stop being sad...why didn't I think of that? Crazy old bat.

But my knight in shining armor, my Grandaddy Kenny came over that evening and said he was thinking about driving over to help my Dad with a project tomorrow - would I like to ride along home with him? The clouds parted and the sun shone again. And I could never thank him enough.

I asked Bunny years later if she remembered the visit - and if she had been upset at my being homesick. She said she did sort of remember me staying over for a couple of nights and then heading home. But she said she would never ever have been mad at me for being homesick. She had three boys and hadn't dealt with that - but all she remembered was going to get the fabric for a dress and how pretty I looked in it.

You can have your Auntie Mame. The best aunt ever was my Aunt Bunny. We lost her too soon to cancer - but she is never far away. She is always in my heart.