Sunday, February 27

A brief post

Just finished editing the Spire (church newsletter) - except for a hole on the back page which currently just reads: Chili Cook Off - I lost, nothing else matters. That will get filled in before printing. Probably.

My chili was really not the best there today. 11 contenders. Maybe next year. I think I beat Mom's - but my dear sweet nephew (who helped tally the votes) won't give me straight answer to that question.

The Oscars are on - I saw exactly none of the nominated films. But I plan to! Probably.

I'm going to the hot tub and read about the Oscars tomorrow morning on the Smoking Nun blog. Reading Chuck's reactions is more fun that actually watching! He probably saw the movies, too. Go read

Good night hamster lovers...this hamster is beat.

Saturday, February 26

On Ceilings, Chili and Dreaming

Worked at the church for a bit today. The exciting task of changing stained ceiling tiles. Strangely - although I used the word "exciting" facetiously (look it up Jack), it can be kind of exciting. In an old building (Centenary was completed in the 1920s) you never know what might be above there. Of course there is dirt and sometimes rubble from the deteriorating ceiling above...but then there is the "huh?" factor. Today there was twine from when someone ran communication cables up there. "Sure guys, just leave it there...nobody will see it" and on more than one occasion surplus stained ceiling tiles! What? Sure - I appreciate whoever decided to replace the stained one...but take your trash with you, k? (rabbit trail - once upon a time when my sister Karen managed a store in River Ridge Mall I was helping add an extra row of rack in the storeroom. She needed more space to hang more prom dresses. I needed to be able to push up the ceiling tile to get the rack in place and I couldn't understand why I couldn't lift one. Kept moving the ladder and pushing another...until I finally got to one that would move. Curious as to what was holding the others down I poked my head up through the hole. Oh my. A previous manager or tenant had stored old rounders up there (rounders are those round things that clothes hang on in a store). HUNDREDS of pounds of metal sitting on drop ceiling. That has a weight limit of...pretty much TILES!! They were just lucky no one died in that stockroom. Rabbit trail ended.)

The most exciting tile of the day? In the library annex there was one badly stained tile and I even sent nephew Jack to get a couple of tiles from the ground floor storage. We had actually finished the areas we were working on today - but I HAD to go find a couple more spotty ones. Standing on a desk (ladder was heavy) I pushed up on this tile and realized it was damp. That's when it started disintegrating around my hand. Denise ran amok and found a trash can while I tried to keep the one in my hand from collapsing. Water dripping on my head and chunks of ceiling tile and plaster in my hair. I love my church. The building - not as much. Add the leaky radiator above to the list of repairs.

More fun activity of the day? I'm making chili for tomorrow's Centenary Chili Cook Off! Mom and I always make separate chilis (chilies? spell check tells me the plural of chili isn't chilis. I know that it isn't chili's because the chili is not possessing anything.) We've gone head to head and pretend to have this great serious rivalry. Mine is never the same twice...I can't cook anything the same twice. But I know it is going to be good. And she'll still place higher than me - pity vote I believe. All I want is Clif Coleman's vote. There's a man who knows chili.

If you're in the area come to the fellowship hall after church on Sunday (noonish) and tell us whose is best. I just would like to point out that it is sinful to lie in church. Mine is best.

One more interesting thing tomorrow is going to be the discussion in our Senior High Sunday school class. (yeah...I'm not in high school...I'm the teacher) We are taking on a challenge from the district superintendent to answer the questions: How big is your dream? How good is your team? I specifically asked the youth to think about what dreams they have for our church. Last week we dreamed big - I asked what they would suggest if Centenary suddenly had 10 million dollars. The back field was going to be a giant trampoline and there was going to be a gondola ride from the steeple to the river complex on Treasure Island (YMCA Island, Liberty University's Island...however you know it). And we talked about things that don't cost money. But for the week I asked them to think about a program or activity or mission with a smaller budget. $10,000. I'm hoping for some dreams. Because with God as our leader - our team is good. We just need to start dreaming bigger!!

Thursday, February 24

Bullet Points

Thursday. Heavy sigh. Long day - I think I've mentioned before.

So, in the interest of eating my Chick-fil-A waffle fries before they are cold...I present to you - my blog in bullet points. I may expand on things at another time...but you know me, probably not.

- chip shop, ring pops, smiles
- I have a friend who could make that into a nifty Haiku
- handbells...oh, my. Our level 1 handbell choir is trying to do a level 3 piece. We're going to pull it off...but this is serious work. The count is something like 1 eee and uh 2 and 3 eee and uh 4 and uh. brain is sprained. But I'll keep trying. Because I love Mari.
- haven't seen red-haired girl at the CFA, but the crew is still doing a great job (see previous post titled Red Haired Girl...or something like that)
- taxes...heavy sigh
- gray days
- solo! Singing a fancy church piece in Latin. Details sure to follow. Solo section actually, and then duet with my lovely co-diva Karen Bell. She gets the high stuff that makes my eyeballs hurt when I try to sing it. I love her.
- waffle fries.

Hamster off to eat waffle fries. And drink lemonade.

Wednesday, February 23

Chip Shop

oh-kay - how to tell this without massive backstory...

JIFF is an afterschool program on Thursday nights at Centenary UMC.
JIFF stands for Juniors in Fun and Fellowship.
Neighborhood kids K-8th grade come 5:30-7 and have game room, bible study, special speaker/craft/etc. AND minute-to-win-it challenges or computer games.
I volunteer for JIFF.
My mom is the director (thus the initial reason I began to volunteer for JIFF).
My sister Denise and nephew Jack (of Basketball Story fame: ) run the minute-to-win-it weeks. I try to keep the computers working.

Enough back story. On to chip shop.

When we began this year of JIFF (school out - we out...even grownups need summer vacation) the volunteers met for brainstorming, planning and prayer about the upcoming year. I wasn't really sure whether I was going to share the wacky idea I had rolling around in my head - but I did.

My idea was to reward the kids for good behavior instead of trying to punish bad behavior. We would have some sort of marker that we could give them for doing something well or participating. Those markers would give you points you could spend in a shop once a month. The brainstorming commenced!! We debated what sort of things you could get a chip for, whether they could be taken away for bad behavior, what kind of things would be in the shop? How many chips could/would the kids earn in a month? Was once a month often enough? Too often?

It was a great time of thinking and sharing - I had my mind changed a couple of times and asserted my thoughts a couple of times. And "Chip Shop" was born. And it works!

The kids get a chip when they arrive each week. They have to be on time and sign themselves in. The chips are indeed poker chips. They are very nice poker chips - with no cards or gambling insignia on them. I got them from and got a color that you couldn't go get at Walmart. This year they are edged in purple. I like them very much. And so that I didn't have to invest in thousands of them - the kids bank their chips at the end of the evening each week. I have a ledger with a sheet for each one. Last name first, all official like.

Each of the group leaders and teachers get a handful of chips that they can choose to give out at their discretion. Sometimes chips are the reward for accomplishing one of those minute-to-win-it challenges and sometimes they are the prize when we play bingo. And sometimes they get a chip for being helpful or polite. Most weeks kids bank 3 or 4 chips. And no - since chips are earned - they cannot be taken away. And that was one of the things that most impressed the kids - I think sometimes things are taken away from them without good reason. Sometimes for no reason at all.

And then there is Chip Shop night. These kids do some shopping!! What's there? Everything from candy to school supplies to lip balm. The most popular item? Ring pops. 1 chip. I shop for most everything at the dollar store. Ring pops come 4 in a pack. I've gotten pretty good at deciding how much things cost in the chip shop. If I can get it for a quarter, it's 1 chip. If I can get 2 for a dollar then 2 chips. Randomly donated items are usually 2 or 3 chips, especially school supplies. Once you get up to 3're talking serious stuff. This is usually stuff that I've spent the whole dollar on. Box candy (like the ones that cost 4.50 at the movies), locker dry-erase boards, craft projects. 4 chip items are almost always donated items - nice stuff. Umbrellas, gloves, needlepoint/rug hooking/paint by numbers.

There is even the incentive to save for a BIG item: currently the big stuff is adventures. Save up 25 chips and you get to have a cooking/eating evening during JIFF, or go out to dinner with two of our adult volunteers (Safe Sanctuary!!). Maybe a bowling or ice skating adventure.

The first night of chip shop, almost every shopper spent their entire balance. They had a great time and shared their bounty with each other. And we still have folks that spend their whole account (no going into debt though - this isn't the Railroad company store!). But we're getting quite a few who like the idea of saving for something cool.

As a matter of fact - if you've got something cool that you want to donate...let me know!

So - why do I write about all this tonight? Well - tomorrow night (Thursday) is Chip Shop and tonight I went chip shop shopping. By the way - if you're looking for a really clean and attractive dollar store in the Lynchburg area - go to the location in Madison Heights in front of Walmart. I had a GREAT time!! I found a lot of nifty stuff and can't wait to see the shoppers enjoy themselves tomorrow. And yes, I got the ring pops. 24 of them. I hope it's enough!

Hamster enjoying Chip Shop Eve!

Tuesday, February 22

Jeopardy thoughts...

First of all - I'm always a little disappointed that I don't get more questions right during Teen Jeopardy. I know that some of it is because I don't know anything about Justin Bieber or the Twilight series. But tonight there were a lot of questions that I feel I should have known. The worst thing is shouting out the wrong answer. No...that is actually the second worst thing. The real worst thing is stating the wrong answer smugly. Not that it ever happens to me.

Second Jeopardy thought: Jeopardy is a word I have trouble spelling correctly quickly. I shall now just replace it with the letter J.

Third J thought: the Watson experiment...I wasn't a big fan. Maybe I didn't totally grasp the awe of the technology involved. Maybe I didn't fully understand the limitations they put on "Watson" - and I really only watched it one night... But I wasn't a fan. I did not enjoy watching Ken Jennings look less intelligent than a computer screen. Yeah...I can google answers fast and read them to you. Ken has all that in his head!! And the other guy too - I forget his name. He looks like a friend of mine though. Troy Mearkle. People who know him - am I right?

Fourth Jeopardy thought: I've gotten better at typing the name and found out the guy's name is Brad Rutter.

Final Jeopardy thought of the evening: For that 1 minute interview with Alex Trebek between the first and second halves of the first round...what would your story be? Tonight there was a girl who was explaining how her sister was named after the first czarina of Russia Alexandria (or was it the last?) and she was in a roundabout sort of way named for Nicholas (her name was Cossette which is apparently the French form of Nichole...). I want my story to be better than that one. At least.

Hot tub bound hamster is happy!

Monday, February 21

Mental Lint-Picking

I have asked my nephew Jack on more than one occasion, "what is going on inside your head right now?" I usually ask him that when he is glazed over and staring off into space. One might think that his head is full of activity - dreams, images, plans, schemes. Or - the truth may be closer to what I usually surmise "a dial tone, static, bees"

There are days I would like to be able to get my head to tune to nothing. I would like to be able to answer the question "what's on your mind" with "nothing". But alas - although I can't necessarily pinpoint what's on my is never nothing.

Topics that have spun through my mind in the last 30 seconds:
work - including drivers, routes, clients, collection calls and the boss being on vacation
Disney World - don't know why, just occurred to me
Harry Potter
A challenge from the Lynchburg United Methodist district superintendent
and lint.

I'm off to watch Greek and see if it is possible to think about nothing. I think not.

Navel gazing just beginning.

Sunday, February 20

An Abject Apology

OK - I apologize for yesterday's "post". No, it shouldn't count. I promised Chuck that I would post every day...and with the exception of one post that happened after midnight, I've been good for almost 21 days. Fell short by 1. Can you believe it? I just double checked and the truth is I also missed a post two days after that, but posted twice on that day. So - that brief post yesterday was a total cop out. I apologize.

That being said - I do stand behind what I said yesterday. Life is good. Life goes on. (I am afraid I can't stand behind my statement that Life is a tasty cereal ...quite frankly, I'm not a fan)

The people around me know that I have a collection of Life is Good shirts. They make up most of my wardrobe. They remind me not to take things so seriously. I wear one that has a lighthouse on it to Kiwanis meetings. I put my Kiwanis pin where the moon is over the lighthouse. I have one T-shirt that says "All who wander are not lost". I believe that statement fully - and sometimes...I wander. I like the company motto: Do what you like, like what you do. For the past three years I have experienced that at my job - and it makes life good. But it goes deeper than that - like what you do. Enjoy what you are doing. No matter what it is - and then life is good. I watched an episode of Undercover Boss once (maybe twice...I liked it, just not around when it is on and no DVR) and one of the people the undercover boss got to work with was a guy who cleaned portable toilets. He got great job satisfaction from doing his job well and with a great attitude. I believe he even sang! His life was full of challenges but he would say that life is good. There is a lesson to be learned in that.

And one of my sisters gave me a framed quotation for Christmas a few years ago. It reads: The one thing I've learned in life - it goes on. There is a whole other post in that thought. For tonight - I will say. Life is good and it goes on....

and I promise, no more 160 character posts. Drank a Sprite today too - my moral fiber is frayed.

Hamster humbly beaten.

Saturday, February 19

Post via blackberry (160 characters): Life - is good, it goes on, tasty cereal.

Mostly wanted to see that this is possible. Space limit difficult.

Good night

Friday, February 18

Surfing the Stats

So...I have a confession to make. I look at the stats on my blog. And I'm not sure what to think about that.

For those of you who read blogs but don't write them (and those of you who never looked under the "Stats" tab)...there is an area you can look at that tells you how many page views you've had. You can see how many there are in any given day...or week...or all time. You can even see "Now" - I think that looking at that is kind of needy though.

You can also see how many views a particular post has gotten. So I present to you: my thoughts on my top 3 viewed posts so far: (oh...and no, I haven't looked at what they are before I started writing this! Ride the wave...)

Ah..."Random Sunday Evening Thoughts" - I know why this one had a lot of views. This one described a dream that I had. And it was strange. But within the dream was one of my sisters. At first I don't name who it is...but then near the end of the post I name her, and everyone was surprised at who it was. I just reread it...dang, that was funny.

Alright. A couple paragraphs above I was just looking for a quick post and this seemed like a fun idea. But sometimes I make the mistake of not thinking through my statements like "Ride the wave" without remembering God's sense of humor. When I went to cut and paste the top three post addresses from the Stats Page...I had not thought about what might be in that group. Then I realized that I was going to have to relive the event of Late Night Post.

It was two weeks ago. I thought about that tonight when I drove past the spot it happened. I have to drive past there a lot. It is the way to work and back most days. I still can't help but glance at the physical reminder - a cracked curb. Not sure when I will stop noticing it. Jenny gave her all to keep her driver safe from harm. Thanks girl. I still hold out hope for your return.

Not good to dwell, but important to remember. In an instant things happen - tell people you love them ALL the time.

Now seriously. I don't have ANY idea why this post has twice the number of views as #2. Either it is because there really ARE people who didn't know (like me) that you could adjust the height of your seatbelt...OR someone is using an old bookmark and wondering why I never write anything new. Mom?

OK, now having taken the next step and re-read the's another car wreck!! I must find some more upbeat ramblings.

Oh - and in case you are wondering - you actually are able to tell the stat page NOT to track your own page views. Otherwise my stats would be much higher. Which brings me back to the original point I was making (if you are still following me down this rabbit trail...). I look at my blog's stats. And I'm not sure what I think about that.

I think I have decided that just wondering who the numbers represent...well, that's kind of a cool mystery to me...One that I don't want to solve - I don't know if there is a way to see who is reading or where they are from. Probably there is. But I think I will just enjoy wondering.

Navel gazed...hamster beaten.

Thursday, February 17

Why can't I get a decent Cuban sandwich in this town?

Ok - this is Thursday. Which is a long day. So this is going to be a short rant.

If you cannot make a Cuban sandwich - Do not put one on your menu.

I first had a Cuban sandwich at Zabars in New York City. It is a traditional sandwich that should have roasted pork, ham, swiss cheese, pickles and yellow mustard. Should be served on Cuban roll - but I'll give you just about any similar roll. It is Lynchburg, VA after all. I believe it should not have salami...but in Florida it is common. The sandwich is pressed - like a panini. You understand, I know this sandwich quite well. I adore this sandwich. I try to order it when I see it on a local menu.

I am universally disappointed.

At various restaurants around the town I have had:

- a cold sub roll Cuban faker - and the pork was bbq.

- one downtown that replaced the pickles with some red pepper relish. When I asked for pickles I got some spears. Didn't work well. Wasn't a Cuban.

- got one that had slaw on it. um. no.

- the one today succeeded in several areas - but failed in several. The bread was white bread (fail), the roast pork wasn't shredded but WAS pork loin (ok), the pickles were on the menu as sweet (um...NO) and arrived absent (fail), the mustard was dijon when it should be yellow (o...k.) and the ham was not salami (success). When the pickles arrived with our young lady, they were spears (c'mon!) but at least they brought the right salty bite when I put them on there anyway.

The press was a ridged panini press...which I'm not fond of (and isn't traditional)...but it was nicely toasted so I'll give the whole thing a C.

Sandwich makers of Lynchburg - I would like to issue a challenge. If you can make me a Cuban that is an A, I will pay you double for it.

Hamster rant complete.

Wednesday, February 16

A Basketball Story

I promised a report on a basketball game. It was AWESOME! Ask anyone who knows me - I don't follow college basketball. I don't follow the NBA. I don't watch basketball. Except rec league. For those of you who don't know what that is...I am speaking of city recreational league. I have watched since my nephew Jack was in about the 5th grade? Anyway - I have watched him grow from a short kid who had a lot of hustle...but not the star... He is now a smart player - he's actually thinking and observing and figuring out the next level of play.

Face it - the young Jack and his team mates had one goal. Get the points. No glory. The team and the strategy was pretty much lost on them. Now he and his team have really gelled. They know that there is more to it than who puts the ball in the hole.

Watching them the last couple of games I've seen the absence of the glory hog ball handlers. It is now more important to figure out the SMARTEST choice. Sometimes it is the quick small guys sliding up through the middle, sometimes the big power guy just knocking a few guys out of the way for a layup. Sometimes the showmanship of the dead-eye from beyond the 3 point line. The WHOLE team gets the points...not just the man with the ball. They seem to have figured it out. And the score showed it.

Truthfully - I don't remember what the exact score was (I asked Jack and he let me know it was 38-41). I know there was a 3 point difference. I know my heart was pounding and my throat was raw from yelling. (uh yeah...nobody wants to sit too close to me at the game). I know that there was a shot from beyond the 3 point line with 2 seconds left on the clock. I wish it had gone in.

But it didn't.

And you know what?

That's ok.

It was one HELL of a game. Against the undefeated #1 team in the league. They just about got their heads handed to them by little band of scrappy guys (most of them in their first year in this age division) that entered the playoffs as #4. They spent most of the season in the basement. Yeah - David nearly took down Goliath again.

So. Hold your heads high Sixers. Go Blue (that's the team color...). Great basketball. Hope to see you guys together again next year. I. Can't. Wait.

Hamster beaten - but not defeated.

Tuesday, February 15

Turbo Tax causing twitching...

Tax season has begun. In every family there is one person who ends up doing the taxes of all the brothers and sisters and etc. Most of the returns that I do take no real effort. We are not a wealthy people, so there are not a lot of huge capital investments, real estate transfers...

But I always feel a certain trepidation whenever I have to let the person know what the bottom line is. Because after all - the numbers are what they are. But I never know for sure if I'm going to have good news or bad news. A lot of folks got used to refunds. Slowly various politicos have adjusted the tax tables so that Joe Public is carrying around that extra $15 per paycheck. But Joe Public liked his refund! Doesn't matter that it is the absolute worst form of Christmas Club there could be out there. They don't pay ANY interest!! But people liked being able to go on a little spending spree.

Now, even though it really is the better financial choice - people don't like to hear that they broke even. Or that they're getting a couple hundred bucks. They want a windfall! A little advice to those folks - just have the feds keep some more of your money. If you're married, make your W4 (the form you file at work) single. If you're single, don't even claim yourself. But be warned - that is YOUR money that you're putting into a non-interest-bearing savings. However, out of sight, out of mind...if you can't touch it (and trust me...the feds aren't going to let you touch it) then you can't spend it.

And if you break even - then you got the math just right...the monkeys in Washington haven't been using your dough for free. And don't shoot the messenger. It is what it is.

Hamster stepping down from soap box. Tomorrow a post about rec league basketball - Jack's team has moved to the second round of the playoffs!

Monday, February 14

A Mental Epileptic Fit

There is something seriously wrong with my brain. I stand in the shower and have brilliant ideas about what to blog about. I drive in my car and have deep philosophical discussions. I sit at the computer and my brain dries up. Like a raisin. Like a raisin from a box that was left in a preschool cubbie for 40 days and 40 nights. Sort of a mental seizure.

Remarkably - I continue to type. Sort of a mental epileptic fit.

My sisters were amused by yesterday's post. Each seemed to identify a different one of them as being the sister in the story. And then when I revealed which one I was with...universal surprise. I actually have dreams like that pretty often. My dream world is pretty darn active. I won't ponder too long on why that is.

Those who know me are aware that I was diagnosed with sleep apnea a few years ago. To be exact - I have very severe obstructive sleep apnea. And I had to work hard to get the "very severe" part. In order to be diagnosed, you have to go through a most interesting experience: a sleep study. I never really knew that you needed to study! I used to fall asleep EVERYWHERE! I fell asleep in church (sorry Pastor Joe) and the movies (amusing tale about that sometime - but if I wander off on another rabbit trail I may never find my way back!) and I fell asleep sometimes at work. The one place I didn't fall asleep was behind the wheel (the number one way that OSA is diagnosed - car crash) and that is only because I stopped to nap a lot. A lot. I would have to stop about every half hour.

Let's see...oh yeah...sleep study. You go to the clinic in the late evening and get yourself hooked up for seventy-leven wires. Ok - not so many...but it seems like a lot. Then you watch a little TV and then go to sleep. And somebody watches you. It's not as creepy as it sounds. They really just monitor you. And your quality of sleep gets recorded.

One of the parts of the study is a questionnaire in the morning. How did you sleep? How do you feel? Do you feel rested? And then you get to answer - did you dream? what did you dream about? I had the craziest dream that night. And still remember it. My sleep monitor, who hooked up the eighty-twelve wires, was in the dream. We were running through the woods, I think I was escaping. Then we saw a flying saucer land. And then we were hiding in a ditch, and he was wearing a grey hoodie. And then there was a Chevy convertible that was driven by a scene painter I worked with at the Fine Arts Center - and I jumped in the car. And then somehow I saw him take off the hoodie...and he was an alien!! I was diagnosed. They measure (among many other things) the number of breathing interruptions you have. My average was 91 times an hour. Anything over 70 (I think...) is very severe. I was disappointed. I didn't a) break the record...unofficially I think it is around 130...the alien was not specific. and b) get an even cooler diagnosis like: super very severe osa or something. I now have a machine that keeps me from not breathing. It has certainly saved my life. And my family will actually travel with me now - I used to snore everyone out of their freakin' minds. Susan actually slept on the floor of a hotel bathroom once. I was universally hated.

Well....I believe I have successfully beaten another hamster.

Sunday, February 13

random Sunday evening thoughts

I know I need to post - because I promised Chuck. But I'm not sure even as I type this - what is the topic?

It has been a busy Sunday. Perhaps I'll start at the beginning:

at 6:10 this morning I woke up and went back to sleep - aiming for an 8:30am wakeup call. Those two hours of sleep were punctuated with dreams of running late. In one dream I was running late for handbell rehearsal at 9:30. I seemed to be at a Dennys with Mom and Dad - they were unconcerned I was late. Then I had made peace with the fact that I was running late for handbells, but knew I was supposed to be teaching Sunday school. Instead I seemed to be at a giant Lowes. More of my family was there. Then (in the dream) I remembered that I had my car with me. But it wasn't my current car - it was a Fiat that I had years ago. And it wouldn't start. But (even though it was a two-seater) my sister insisted on riding with me and giving a ride to two large ladies who she had found in the parking lot. I kept telling her the car wouldn't start - but she said that was okay with them. So we are sitting in the parking lot of this giant Lowes with two large ladies sitting in a non-existent jump seat. And then it started raining.

So my sister said, we will just hook up to one of these scooters and it can pull the car to church. And so she went into the store and borrowed one of those scooter/carts. Then when she got back, it turned into a child's electric jeep. But we hooked up the Fiat to it and started off for the church. My nephew Braeden (who is 3) was driving the jeep. By now, I was frantic that I had not only missed handbell rehearsal - and Sunday School - but now I was going to be late to the service. And I was reading the scripture. And the jeep was going about .5 mph and Susan kept saying - its alright.

It most certainly was NOT alright.

And the feeling that I woke up with this morning...has pretty much stayed with me all day. I think I shall end this and go back to bed. Tomorrow is another day. And today - I was there for everything I was supposed to be there for...I have just felt weird all day.

Hamster disoriented - perhaps over-beaten.

Saturday, February 12

To Coke or Not to Coke

The regular readers of The Beaten Hamster know that on Tuesday I was driven to drink by a series of stressors at work. I drank a Coke. And it wasn't Saturday. I asked myself then if I would drink a coke when Saturday rolled around or if I would make it all the way to the next Saturday.

I have decided to enjoy my Coke Saturday without guilt. Ok, with very little guilt. I actually have an over developed sense of guilt. I may have been Catholic in another life. I was told once that I was hanged in a former life. (I typed that first as "I was hung in another life" then heard a voice say "that's what she said"...and so I edited myself. But I'm still snickering like a 5th grader.) The thing was - apparently I was guilty of whatever it was that I was hanged for. Don't know how much store I put by those things - but seems plausible.

So - today I worked on projects at the church...I helped move a toolbox (ok, I was a spectator for that - but I did fetch sandwiches)...I hugged Jennie good-bye. Saw a great basketball game starring my nephew Jack. My wonderful mother has made the delightful dinner of corned beef hash and eggs. And I shall drink a Coke. And I shall enjoy it.

Hamster beaten, egg over easy.

Friday, February 11

Handbells and Hamsters

My wrist hurts a little today...I believe it is from a vigorous handbell rehearsal Thursday night. Could also be from typing up 402 hard drive serial numbers from a handwritten list. Serial numbers are weird combinations of numbers and letters. Hate that task.

Anyway - I think it is from handbells. I am going to let you in on a little secret...I like playing the handbells. I'm just not real good at it. Number one: I don't read music very well. Sometimes I can tell you WHAT the note that is marked is. Not always quickly...but usually properly. Much like the fact that I can point out Tajikistan on a map - not quickly, but accurately. With either Tajikistan OR musical notes...I know WHAT/WHERE...but I can't tell you HOW or WHY! I can see what the note is but don't know how to get there. I sing from memory. I play handbells by knowing which is in my left hand and which is in my right hand.

Number two? I don't know how to count to 3 and see which is my left hand at the same time. Or 4. This week I'm supposed to be counting to 3. I will inevitably at some point count to 4 instead. This will put me 1/3 behind everyone else for several measures. Until I panic and stop playing altogether. But I LOVE doing it! So I would very much appreciate it if the congregation will close their eyes and let the music wash over them. This will enable me to count quietly to myself without wondering if I look like an idiot talking to myself.

We are going to do a very nice duet of handbell choir and organ in an arrangement of Amazing Grace. The amazing F. Johnson Scott III on organ (I would dearly love to wander off onto a tangent of Johnson Scott worship here...but it has been a long day. I shall reserve the right to comment on his talent at another date.) and the lovely Mari White Smallshaw directing her ragtag band of ding-a-lings. (Yeah - THE Mari White from radio fame. I have the coolest friends. She's married to Steve Smallshaw who was a reporter on WDBJ (I think that is right). Yeah. THE Steve Smallshaw - I'm totally connected.)

We're also going to sing a verse. Um...yikes. Come on over and enjoy. Centenary UMC at 11am on Sunday. Rivermont Avenue. I will look like a hamster in the headlights...but secretly (don't tell anybody) - I'm having a great time!!!

Hamster delightfully entertained - but blindfolded.

Thursday, February 10

a few thoughts

#1 - Jennie is dead. She was an awesome truck. Yes, I overuse the word awesome - but she truly was. I'm going to try to add a picture. Never done that before. I'm not certain what the proper period of mourning for a truck is. I will say that the theme song in my head is Neil Young's "Long May You Run".

#2 - what is my housemates' fascination with closing my browser? One of them just loves that little red X over there. Stop it. At work I never have less than 7 programs open, including 3 browsers. The computer does not get extra tired if programs are open.

#3 - I had a number 3...I'm sure of it. What was it? The Grammys? No - I'll leave that to Chuck Taylor over on the Smoking Nun ( I don't know who those people are anyway. Why was that guy's hair plastic during the Super Bowl halftime show? The only show I'm less likely to watch is the Country Music Awards. But I'm sure that wasn't my #3.

#4 - It is Thursday - time for another horrific installment from my cookbook that I started writing many years ago. Last week's installment (which I unwisely decided to post without pre-reading or editing) was...not particularly good. Perhaps I got better? Well - unpreviewed and unedited - another selection from "Oh my God, They're in the Driveway! - cooking for morons":


I don't know how long you people are expecting me to come up with clever names for this stuff. I hope not long. This recipe isn't really mine. I got it from somebody when I ran a catering business. That lasted for about a month, I never knew you could starve to death cooking food. Anyway, I don't remember who it was, and I've probably changed it since, so don't come begging for money, you're not getting any.

  • a block o' cream cheese

  • a can of little itty bitty shrimp, or you can be cheap and get those dollar ninety-nine cans of broken shrimp pieces and bits at the Wal-mart. But now your friends will know.

  • a teaspoon of worcester sauce (I still haven't found a bottle to spell that right)

  • a smattering of ketchup (like almost a ¼ cup, sometimes more)

  • some people put onions in it, those people are not normal.

** Once again, heat the cream cheese. If you missed how to heat cream cheese, check out the first recipe in the chapter, its not like I'm getting paid by the word or anything. This dip/spread however will need to be cooled down before serving. Right now though, we have warm, not hot, not bubbling, not boiling cream cheese. Add the ketchup about a tablespoon at a time. What we are going for here is a color thing. With great apologies to my African American, African, Asian American, Native American and Eskimo friends and readers....we are shooting for a color like a gentle sunburn on a white lifeguard with blonde hair and nice buns. But I digress...again. Head for pink, then go a little past that. Now the taste should be like cream cheese with just a hint of ketchup, but not overbearing ketchup. Got it? Okay, add the worcester sauce. After that is blended, add the shrimp bits. Now eat about half of it while perfecting the ketchup balance. I usually serve this with wheat thins, saltines and sometimes those weird vegetable thin things. Its also nifty on toast. Big serving hint here. People have trouble eating things they don't recognize, so be nice to your guests and take a couple of the bigger shrimp bits, hopefully ones that look like shrimp. Lay those on top, in the middle to give people a clue.

P.S. Since I don't use the onions, I ain't gonna put them in my recipe. After all, it is my book.

Well, hamster beaten.

Wednesday, February 9

Seatbelt Height

I learned something new on Sunday. Apparently 99% of you will read this and say "I knew that" - but if that other 1% was clueless like me...I will have performed my community service for the day. (no, not court-ordered community service)

I am a person who does not always wear my seatbelt. Which is strange because I am certain that my seatbelt saved my life when I rolled Mom's VW a few years back. The car was totalled. It doesn't take much to total a Volkswagen Beetle. No - not one of those fancy new ones with the bud vase on the dashboard. (another tangent I would like to wander off on some day) A 1974 Super Beetle. Black. Extra wide tires. I remember it very well - mostly because Mom kept a picture of it on her desk for years after. Anyway - was driving on I64 and hit standing water in a downpour and the car spun around then started rolling. I think it rolled about 3 times. At least twice. Came to rest on it's feet (tires) and my foot was on the dash. I thought it was on the dash. 74 Super Beetles do not have foot was actually out the front window. Never did find that windshield. Both doors were jammed shut - I had to kick the passenger door open. Very dramatic. Got out of the car and then decided I was tired and lay down for a nap. In the rain and the mud. That is when a nice lady came along and put my wet muddy butt in her nice clean car until the rescue squad came.

So I know that the rest of my body would have followed my right leg out the window if I hadn't been wearing my seatbelt. So, why don't I put it on every time I get in the car? Because it rubs my neck. And not in a good way.

After Carl's wreck on Friday night I am trying to be better about wearing it. When he got in my car on Sunday and I put on my seatbelt - he said "you don't have to wear yours just because I'm wearing mine". I said that I was trying to do better, but the seatbelt rubs my neck. He said "why don't you lower it?" "What? How?" And he reached behind me and squeezed the thing that the seatbelt runs through (I believe it is a tensioner?) and slid it down.

You could have bought me for a dime! I've never seen such a thing!! Since then, I have discovered that every car I get into - they all have this seatbelt height adjustment thing!! Now, for someone who drives a 74 Super Beetle, your seatbelt doesn't slide anywhere. And I don't think that my 87 Fox wagon did either. But for most every other car out can adjust the height of the seatbelt!

I told you that you were going to say "I knew that"

Hamster beaten, but securely fastened to his seat.

Tuesday, February 8

Driven to Drink

It wasn't a great day. I will dispense with the whining about broken down trucks and unhelpful truck rental folks. I shall skip to the end of the story and say that despite enormous obstacles - all three routes scheduled for today were completed. I do have one driver who will have put in an 18 hour day by the time he returns to the shop. That's one hell of a long day. Some of the 18 hours were spent at a truck stop and an unnecessary amount of time was spent at the Dixie Flea Market and Budget Truck Rental in beautiful Wytheville, VA. Only to find that once the folks there arrived to work 45 minutes past their posted hours...the truck I was promised was not available. One word peeps: Penske. If I can't get to a Ryder, I'm going to go with Penske forever now.

Ooops...I think I started whining.

In the midst of the chaos - I broke down. I went out to the warehouse fridge and got me a Coke. I took it into the office of the only other person at the shop and sat down across from her. "They've driven you to drink, have they?" she asked. Before I could even open it - I had to answer two more calls and three more emails. So - hell yeah - they drove me to drink.

The day got marginally better - and then dipped for a bit - and if I don't leave the office in the next 10 minutes...I'm going to be yelled at for still being here when Mr. 18 hour returns. Hey, I didn't have to drive a truck around to places like Big Stone Gap - he still had the tougher day.

Time will tell whether today's Coke will keep me from drinking one on the regularly scheduled Coke Saturday. I hope you will forgive me the slip... At least I didn't go buy a pack of smokes.

Hamster sideswiped - if I started beating tonight...there would be no hamster left.

Monday, February 7

What have you got against hamsters?

You wonder why "hamsterbeaters"? I tell you - it isn't as interesting as the story you have in your mind!! Or the second story in your head....

The most asked question by anyone who has ever gotten an email from me is "what have you got against hamsters?" A fair question to someone whose email starts with the word hamsterbeaters.

I have nothing against hamsters. In fact, I owned one once. No - two! Or maybe the second one belonged to my sister... Anyway - though I can't (for the moment) remember the hamsters' name - I actually like hamsters.

Usually when I'm asked - I make up stories about why "hamsterbeaters" (and now "The Beaten Hamster") is the truth: (well, probably) The original hamster beater was my car. It was an 87 VW Fox Wagon. In order to make it go had to beat the hamsters. On the wheel. Under the hood. Get it? I warned you this wasn't interesting. And I was right.

Or perhaps...perhaps that isn't the real story after all.

Hamsters beaten - if only briefly.

Oh - one hamster was named Sampson. But I think that one was Susan's.

Ooops. Fail.

Well, I missed yesterday. I know that I had good intentions to post. But after I got home from the Super Bowl - Dad was on the computer and I figured I'd come back up and post later. But then... well... sleep intervened.

Yesterday we celebrated the 3rd birthday of my twin niece and nephew. Gosh those two are adorable. Actually all three of my nephews and my only niece are adorable. They take after me! The oldest, Jack, is 15 and driving. He is in the Sunday School class that I teach and though he wanders off on tangents unrelated sometimes...he is becoming a remarkable young man. And the wandering off on tangents thing is probably something he gets from me too. Then my brother's son Jacob - who is 5 and full of energy. He was there yesterday and showing the twins how to play with some of the toys. He knows all about stuff. I see my brother in that!

But the stars of yesterday's show were Braeden and Taylor. They opened every single gift with wonder and appreciation. Everything was "oh! Look Dora!" or "oh! a doll!" or "hey! a monster truck!" Every gift was exciting to them. But I think that one of the biggest hits of the whole party were those party favors that you blow into and then it rolls out? Man...what do you call those things? These (thank goodness) didn't have the whistles/noisemakers inside so it was just the fun of near poking each other in the nose/ear/head with a paper tube. And then we would laugh and laugh and laugh!

Then there was a Super Bowl party to attend - which was very pleasant and delightfully child-free. As you can see from the above - I'm not opposed to the existence of children. But I do enjoy the times without them. Food was great - game was good. The team I was cheering for was not the winner, but if that was the only down side to the day - I'll take it!

Hamsters beaten - a few hours late.

Saturday, February 5

The Day After

Today is Saturday. Coke Day. Whew. It is more welcome today than ever. If you saw yesterday's post then you know that I witnessed an accident involving a close friend. And we got to visit with Lynchburg's first responders and went for sushi and then to the ER.

Actually - I don't think I told about going for sushi before going to the ER. And I know that will seem like a strange choice. At first he had decided not to go to the hospital, but then on the advice of others (especially his momma) it just seemed like a good idea. And when he kind of wistfully said "you think it's okay if we go have sushi THEN go to the hospital?" I, of course, said yes. And it was great - and made the day seem a little better.

I had to ignore his demands that I drop him off at the ER. No, I'm not saying that I didn't drop him at the door before parking. He wanted me to just dump him off there and he would get a cab or something home.

After the surprisingly quick visit at Lynchburg General Hospital (about an hour fifteen...including radiology of his leg!) I delivered him home. He ignored MY demands to sleep on the couch in case he needed transport to LGH or needed a 3am grilled cheese or wanted anything at all. And when I came home - it was 1am. And that made it officially Saturday. Coke Day. And I savored it.

Day 5 of beating hamsters every day. Done. Hamster bruised but going to be ok.

A Late Night Post

Warning: I feel a navel-gazing coming on.

You know what sucks? How fast accidents happen. And how violent they are. I was reminded of that tonight. I wasn't in the accident - I watched it happen. And nobody was seriously injured, except Jenny. But since she is a truck, most people will not find that to be too serious.

But in the fastest span of time - an evening was changed. And it can't help but make you wonder all the potential losses there could have been in that moment. Thank you Lord for making Jenny the only damaged body in that incident. I would be writing a very different post if that were the case. But for a moment after I knew all was ok - big picture-wise - the possibilities washed over me. Not pretty. But standing in the darkened field by the street, alone - because I was completely unimportant at that moment - I couldn't breathe. And then I was grateful that all was ok.

And then it was just surreal - the rescue, LPD and fire dept arrived. In the span of minutes - which is why it is awesome to live in Lynchburg, Virginia. Everyone who responded was professional, efficient and caring. Great combinations. I'm proud to say that one of the firemen was a good friend - who I rarely see in person, but always impresses me. One fine human being he is. And wise - I often like his Facebook statuses (statii?) which are brief but thought-provoking observations on life. I got to see him performing his professional calling - and I am impressed a little more. So interesting when you see different facets of people's lives.

So, I experienced this event as a very involved bystander. And I hope that I take it as a reminder to appreciate people, life and the people in my life a little bit more. Because in the shortest of moments...a evening can change.

Navel-gazing complete. Hamsters beaten.

Thursday, February 3

Shortcut Day!

So - it's Thursday. And if you don't know what I mean by that - read the post

Couple of days ago I decided to try to blog 21 days in a row. I'm seeing it as proving that I can follow through on a commitment. My first follower said that he was looking for something every day and he was loving every word. A lovely, lovely thought - though I am not worthy to tie his hightops. My friend Chuck Taylor writes an awesome blog. He puts nifty pictures and there's stuff flashing over on the side and I see Quisp from time to time. It's a pretty blog with bells and whistles. It also helps that he is way cool and knows all kinds of interesting people and lives in a wicked awesome city (ok, that's the last time I'll say awesome). He writes The Smoking Nun, which is also a fantastic name. And about once a week there are pictures of pretty men. I read it a lot. There's a picture of me somewhere (somewhen?) on there - gazing at a cheese store window in New York City. Go read it.

Anyway - when I said I was going to write every day, I added the caveat that I might post sections of a cookbook/novel (I'm trying out the term: cooknovel...what do ya think?) that I started writing some several years back. Lots of years back (warning: this may not be good). So - I gave myself a form of cheating. And today is Thursday - the long day. If you were going to guess what day I would first use my shortcut, you would have guessed today.

So - without evening READING it first - here is the first section of "Oh my God, they're in the Driveway". And good night everybody. Day three, hamsters beaten.

**Note: then I DID read it. I'm vaguely horrified. But I'm leaving it. I think the cookbook got better. I hope I didn't write a chapter on SPAM too.

Oh my God, they're in the with no time and nothing special in the pantry
Thus begins the chapter I had to write first, because I know it best. There are very few things I haven't tried to do with cream cheese, except for a few that would be disgusting and/or illegal.
There must have been a dozen times that it bailed me out of an embarrassing situation. I can remember a time my sister invited a few friends over to her apartment to celebrate something. Of course there was no food in her apartment. I managed to throw together a quick, easy cheese spread, some crackers and a large amount of leftover pizza which I chopped into bite size hunks. Not only did no one starve, I got a lot of compliments on a very tasty snack spread.
Okay, to all of you who think that cream cheese was meant to stand alone or only be made into a cheese ball, get real! Here follows about a half-dozen simple ways to be the hit of any party!
I'm starting with one of my family's favorites, I personally discovered it by accident. This is truly simple. It is best served warm with either cheese crackers, wheat thins or melba toast.
one block o' cream cheese (I prefer Philly, some claim there's no difference. I guess I could be wrong. NOT!)
one can of crab (like about ¾ cup if you shell your own)
a splash of milk
a teaspoon of worcester sauce (I spent a full minute trying to spell that, hopefully the editors will catch it)

** Heat the cream cheese in either the microwave (cook for about 45 seconds, rotate and squish with a fork, the repeat as necessary-shortening the time) or a double boiler. Actually the double boiler does a better job, but I use the microwave a lot. The double boiler actually does more than just soften it, it changes the texture slightly. Usually in that case I'll add about a tablespoon of butter. Don't know why. If I did I could charge more for this book. Okay, soft cheese, I'll try to stay on the subject. Add a splash of milk, like a tablespoon. We're going for the consistency of chocolate pudding. Add the well drained can of crab meat. Stir and add worcester sauce.
So what are you waiting for? Eat it. Calorie counting is for paranoid jerks.

Wednesday, February 2

Day Changing Dish

It was a stressful day - spent a horrific amount of time reading government white papers and websites trying to fill out a form finishing a government contract. One of the papers was 61 pages long and still didn't define small businesses in a way that normal humans could understand.

But at the end of the bad day, I came home and cleaned the kitchen (housemates returning tomorrow night) and cooked a nice dinner. I made Crab Newburg and frenched green beans. The Newburg I made from scratch...the beans came from a can (but I added a little of this and that). The original plan was to make crepes with the crab newburg inside. I copped out and served it over toast. And kinda forgot that the crepes were also part of the dessert course. So I just gave my dining companion some blackberries.

I have to say - Newburg is a kick-ass sauce to learn. And pretty darn easy. Brown half a stick of butter, add about a tablespoon of flour and cook for a minute to get the paste flavor out. Then add a cup of half & half or light cream or milk if you must. Cook that until it coats the back of a spoon. You need to stir pretty often so it isn't lumpy. Then slowly add this mixture: 3 egg yolks whisked together with 2 tablespoons of sherry or dry white wine, a pinch of paprika and a pinch of salt and a squeeze of lemon (no seeds please). Would be a really good idea to create the egg yolk mixture before you start browning the butter. I (of course) failed at I was trying to keep the cream sauce from getting too thick while I was trying to separate eggs with the other hand. Pulled it off...but just barely. That is probably why I didn't feel like making the damn crepes. So - just to add (slowly) the yolk mixture to the hot white cream sauce. And keep whisking or you're going to have scrambled eggs and have to start over. Once it is incorporated then you taste and add a little salt or a little pepper or a little more wine/sherry.

Then just fold in a pound of your favorite seafood. My favorite is lobster...but I like crab and it sure is a lot easier than steaming lobsters and harvesting the meat. Crab comes pasteurized in cans in the seafood section. It also comes fresh at the seafood market...picked out of thousands (well dozens anyway) of crabs by people whose job I do not want.

Even over toast - it was good. You should try it - the ingredients for the newberg are cheap enough: butter, flour, cream, egg yolks and sherry. Someday soon I'm going to conquer hollandaise - hollandaise that doesn't come in a packet sold next to gravy mix.

Well - there is a post about nothing. I feel like Seinfeld. But for today, the hamsters have been beaten. And that cat was briefly abused...but not by me. A story for another day.

Tuesday, February 1

Beating Hamsters Every Day - Since February 1!

Okay - I've been challenged by my follower...looking for something every day - loving every word! That may not be a direct quote. And no - my follower is NOT my Mom! I don't think she's even reading my blog. Perhaps someday that will change.

anyway - I'm taking the challenge to heart. And for the next 21 days I will try to form the good habit of beating the hamsters every day. I warn you - my fail-safe is a book that I started writing many years ago. It is a mesh of a novel and a cookbook for morons. So - if I don't get all creative and write some random thoughts on the day. Or some navel-gazing. Or another restaurant review/critique. I will then cut and paste a section out of "Oh my god, they're in the driveway" (how to create food out of the non-furry leftovers in your fridge).

I've been told that it takes 21 days to form a good habit. Or that may be any habit. I don't think I'll try it with cigarettes or anything to see if I can form a bad habit in 21 days. Again...I digress. I learned this when trying to get in the good habit of taking my contacts out every night. And I've rarely skipped doing it since I survived the first 21 days. And you know what? My eyes feel like crap the next morning when I do. So, to the person who told me to do it: you were right. Print this page and slap it in a scrapbook.

I'm also going to try to stop using the word "okay" so much. Okay?

So - what will it be tomorrow? Navel gazing or the first segment of my cooknovel? Oh - and last thing before I go to bed - one of my sisters doesn't understand what navel gazing is. And since she is pretty darn smart...I will assume that others don't know. When one spends time thinking excessively about their place in the universe...the rights and wrongs of society...justice and peace...heavy stuff ya know... Well then you are absorbed in what the Greeks termed Omphaloskepsis. According to that wonder of the internet - Wikipedia: Omphaloskepsis is the contemplation of one's navel as an aid to meditation. It is well known in the usually jocular phrase directed towards egotism and self-absorbed pursuits: "contemplating one's navel" or "navel-gazers". This criticism is also often leveled at professions which are interested in themselves: movies about Hollywood, for example, or television shows about television writers. Or blogs about blogs. That would be dangerous. I think it could cause the world to spiral and collapse. Sort of a navel black hole.

Well - day 1, the hamsters have been beaten.