Tuesday, May 31

A Three Day Weekend

I have to beat the hamster... I'm really sorry for my absence. Since I last posted, I have edited two newsletters; cooked two pretty decent meals at the river; sang in the choir; taught a good Sunday school lesson on the minor prophet Haggai. I hope I pronounced it right.

Sometimes I'm torn between the part of me who says "just pronounce the names and places the best you can. If you say it with enough authority, people will assume that you must be right!". And then there is this other part of me that wants to show respect to the accuracy of the history. After all - if I were going to actually MEET and have a conversation with
Haggai - I would want to honor him by learning how to pronounce his name. Just would be rude otherwise, don't you think? Anyway - here's a link so you can hear it. I think that is what I said...

But some of the best moments of the weekend were in and on the river itself. I got to take most of my nephews and niece out in the canoe at some point in the weekend. Now - many of you are saying to yourself..."but Chris doesn't like children..." And you would be pretty correct. But there are a few exceptions to the rule. And once you can hold an intelligent conversations - you're not a children anymore. So there are a few more exceptions to my rule. You'll find that most of my rules have exceptions.

Each of the kids had a different approach to the canoe ride. Jacob - who is 6 - watches out for pirates and bad guys in the trees along the island. There are fascinating adventures going on in his head. If you let yourself sink back to the mind of a 6 year old...it is great fun. But I still don't get the same amusement out of calling people doody heads. Perhaps it is because I was never a 6 year old BOY. But I enjoyed the time we went out together - if he'd stop paddling AGAINST me, I would enjoy it even more!

The boy twin Braeden is just so completely EXCITED that he just vibrates. He wants to help paddle too - but at least he puts less effort into decreasing our forward motion. Eventually he pulls the paddle in and is just enjoying the trip. He likes to go under the branches that lean out over the river (I like to get to the shade!) and pulls a few leaves off to throw into the river. There are adventures with him too. One trip I was told that my name was Izzy. I kinda like it.

And then there is the princess Taylor. It was so nice when she walked up to me and quietly said - Aunt Chris I would like to go for a sail on the river. She just looks at me with those big eyes and say "well of course you would. we must get permission and life jacket and sunscreen and we shall GO for a sail upon the river." I mean, there just isn't any reason NOT to! She paddles very little. She loves to bounce over the wake from a motorboat. She pulls leaves off of trees and lays them gently upon the waters to sail back to their friends. She's going to tip us one day! She likes when I pretend that I'm going to run the canoe into a tree or bridge abutment (not a "pylon"). We pretend to scream and have a grand time.

There was one more ride with a person who not only didn't paddle against me, but probably did more of the work than me. And let me have the rest of his Mikes. And helped me regain my sanity when the kids get to be too much! That was a great part of the weekend.

High points.

Low points.

And got some work done too.

Imagine if I had a FOUR day weekend!

(to those who may wonder why I don't put pictures of the kids in - well, I hate to say it...but this is a public blog...and I don't want any creepy people looking at my princess and princes. Just ain't a good idea...so enjoy the pictures that I picked. K?)

Friday, May 27

Very Sad Hamster

I just got the news that my friend Chris Tarbell died this evening. I'm blogging because I don't want to drive home while crying.

Seems only natural to talk about Chris.

I met Chris because he took over my job as public access coordinator. He didn't steal my job - I had left it for my own reasons. In fact there was about 6 months that my job was open while they searched for my replacement. So, it isn't like I trained him or anything - but we met when I went by City Hall one day and I stopped in to the studio to say hi.

I believe his first words were "so, this is all your fault" - a theme he repeated for a long time. In fact, when particular community producers would be plucking his last nerve...he would just call me and without any preamble...he would say "this is all your fault." And I would respond "I'm very, very sorry."

We bonded over the shared nuttiness of that job - I was probably the only one who understood the unique stresses and quirks. Sometimes he would call and tell me about something bizarre that one of the producers would do. I think that my very favorite story was about Mr. Ed Boyle. Who was (is? I don't know his current status) quite a character. Ed was the quintessential public access show host - he did a half hour show once a month. He was pretty conservative (in true public access coordinator form - I was Switzerland. The conservatives all thought I was conservative and the liberals all thought I was liberal. I think you probably know the truth) and his show could easily be political or religious in nature. You never really knew what he was going to rail about.

Chris had the best story ever though. Sometimes Ed Boyle would have a guest and they would talk on the topic of the day...but a lot of times it was just Ed and the camera for half an hour. This was one of those solo shows. Chris said that after about 15 minutes of talking, Ed dozed off. At the end of 30 minutes, Chris rolled the credits and went in and woke Ed up. I'm pretty sure that the show aired that way. Makes me smile to remember it.

It's going to be hard knowing that I won't get random texts from him just saying "sup?" That I won't be getting any phone calls that begin "Go Flyers" (to which I must reply "Go Leafs").

It's just too soon. He was barely 40. Dang cancer and double dang chemo.

I'll always have to live with the regret of not spending more time with him. I wish that I had gone over and caught a hockey game with him last month. When will I learn that lesson?

I think he read the Beaten Hamster...pretty sure of it...I hope I gave him a smile from time to time. He sure did that for me.

I often told our friend Kathleen (she was a community producer until the channel converted to government access) before she passed about my vision of heaven. I think that eternity will give us the chance to have dinner with ANYbody and EVERYbody that we could dream of. I hope Chris and Kathleen will have dinner some night in heaven, and think of me.

I miss you my friends.

Tuesday, May 24

Post #92

Not too long ago I was with a group of people - and I told them that I blogged. They didn't really know what that meant. (the same group also seems to have an unusually well-honed fear of Facebook...I see a need to dispel some myths....)

So I tried to explain the what, and why of The Beaten Hamster.

Tall order.

What - well that's fairly simple...it is a series of essays to the world. It is my random thoughts.

Part journal.

Part soap box.

Part promotion - ideas and activities...

Part counselor and confessor.

The mechanics are fairly simple. It is free. And I signed up through Google's Blogger. I love Google...We should all fall down and worship Google....wait a minute!!! Google is all powerful - we must love Google...

Where was I? Oh, right...I log in to a website and hit the button "New Post" and then wander through the dustbin of my mind for a topic. I type random words. Sometimes I get really fired up about something. Eventually I end it. Then I go over to Google (oh mighty Google...) and find some pictures to spice it up. My friend Chuck told me to. He's probably right. He's smarter than I am. (read his blog...he posts every day! He's cool.)

Then I hit the magic "Publish Post" button and there it is.

Then there's the "why" question...

If you remember the show Doogie Howser, MD - you'll recall that the show ended with a short journal post on his computer. It was generally thought-provoking and clever. I think "the Hamster" is similar. Just an observation...of the world...and sometimes an observation of myself.

Sunday - Pastor Rick preached a great sermon (despite his lingering cough - hope he feels better soon!). Part of it was addressing the idea that the church is NOT a building, the church is the people. I was remarking on it later with a friend. He said that it was a "You told THEM preacher" sermon. I had to agree - so often we fail to see our own imperfections...because we're SO good at seeing them in others. Looking forward to it appearing on the Centenary UMC website "Internet Chapel" - I think I'm going to give it another listen. As the saying goes "Being in church doesn't make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car."

See...random thought...but perhaps I need Doogie's skill of brevity.

He had a staff of writers though.

Hamster beaten.

Monday, May 23

WHERE have you been?

I know it has been a while since my last post. Things are smoothing out so I should be back to posting every day...

Last weekend was a full one! And the time leading up to it was pretty overloaded as well - I have sinned, but I have some excellent excuses! And by sinning - I'm merely admitting to neglecting the blog. I'm sure there are other things that I could confess...

But reflections on the past week:

Thursday was the final chip shop of the year for JIFF (you can click on that nifty link there if you don't know what Chip Shop is). It was a madhouse! Some of the students had worked very very hard to save up and were able to buy some big ticket items. I had gathered a number of knick knacks (candles, paper weights, wall art) and then had spent a bit of $$ at Walmart on some footballs, Nerf basketball, racquetballs (which went FAST) and one very nice REAL basketball. The young man who bought the basketball with 30 of his saved points...well...you couldn't imagine a more pleased young man. His group leader sniffled once or twice...I believe she was proud of him. I can't wait for fall chip shop to begin. I've got an idea cooking in the back of my head...maybe JIFFers who want to earn some chips could do some odd jobs around the church? Somebody help me remember to work on that idea...needs more brainstorming.

Friday...a lot of things happened that day, including a nice Kiwanis lunch. Well...the speaker anyway, the food this time...needed a bit of help. I KNOW that I am a miserable foodie and I KNOW that I'm never going to see goat cheese on endive. But I DO appreciate when some effort goes into "regular" food too. I know it is a price point thing...but improved execution would be noticed. By more than just me.

But I digress. The greatest thing about Friday was the Pep Rally/Talent Show for Day of Difference. Day of Difference is a combined effort of 7 different churches in the lower Rivermont area. The big event of year happens on one spring Saturday/Sunday. On Saturday we work on things like neighborhood cleanup and some home renovations. There are usually activities for the kids (this year was HUGE! There were bouncers from Liberty University's Block Party trailer. There was a drumming circle.

There was the coolest craft too - all ages were invited to create a work of art on a pillowcase that depicted Peace. Then they were displayed on a clothesline. It turned out amazing.) (Look! I've got a picture courtesy of Garland Harper!)

I digressed again. Back to Friday...every year there is a kickoff service (and people pick up their Tshirts and work assignments). This year's event was primarily musical. There was a couple who performed several songs. And they were really good. But then there was this young man - about 12-ish (I'm not good at guessing kid ages...) and he just showed so much courage. He got up in front of about 60 people and sang a capella (without music) and he did a great job! But I think my favorite part of the evening was when Sister Jackie Wilkes got up and sang. And then we all joined in. Young and old. Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian and more. Rich and poor. Many cultures. Many situations. All joined together in praise. Unity.

And then on Saturday - we picked up trash. I'm a Trash Lieutenant. We crowned Dad the Trash Czar about 3 years ago. We clean up 5 zones. I'd like to figure out someday how many miles of street the Day of Difference crew covers. Got to be a big number. We try to cover every block of every street from the Rivermont Bridge (or half bridge...) to Rivermont Evangelical Presbyterian Church. From Hollins Mill Road to the River. It's a tremendous undertaking. Filled up a BIG dumpster too! I was joined by 7 JIFFers. Last year they ditched me about 10 minutes into the work. This year they stuck with it for a LOT longer! I got about an hour and 10 minutes! And one of the 2nd graders stuck with me for a full 2 hours. I was super impressed.

Then a relaxing afternoon of gutter cleaning, Lowe's trip, table retrieval, etc.

I will dispense with complaining about Sunday morning's experience at Hardees. I WILL say that the Sunday school class' discussion of the minor prophet Jonah was a very nice part of Sunday. We're studying the minor prophets right now. Our class has grown from 3 to 5 on a regular basis - yesterday we had 8 participants! Re-read that book sometime - it's only 4 chapters. The part about being in the big fish is only a piece of the story. Everybody remembers the fish - but do you remember the part about the plant and the worm?

Sunday evening capped off the Day of Difference weekend with a very nice worship service and a really good hot dog! After helping return some grills to their home (and seeing the river house from high above on the Lynchburg side...cool!) I joined Mom, Dad, my bro and nephew Jacob for a blizzard by the river.

Great weekend.

God is good.

Tuesday, May 17

Learning Non-Violence

I watch TV with the remote in one hand. I have the attention span of a very small child when I'm watching TV. The second that I'm even a little bit bored...zap.

Therefore, when I'm watching I find myself viewing a wide variety of programs. I'll be watching a food competition, network comedy, How Its Made or something like it, an old episode of Friends, Mythbusters and Pawn Stars/American Pickers/Storage Wars.

Occassionally I'll find myself in rather odd juxtapositions - Antiques Roadshow and Hoarders (the only difference is the quality of the crap people collect), Vegas Sucker Bets on Travel Channel vs. Cash Cab, you get the idea.

Last night was a remarkable combination. I was watching Dancing with the Stars - because it is the semi-finals and by now each season...I've usually gotten sucked in. And it was a great show - but when the commercials came on...I wandered off. Eventually I wandered to PBS. As usual - I was looking to see if Antiques Roadshow was on. I love to see the people's reactions when that strange lamp that their aunt gave them 50 years ago is rare and worth a freakin' fortune.

Instead I found the most incredible documentary: Freedom Riders. I had heard some inklings that it was coming up. I think there were some interviews on public radio a couple weeks ago. I had thought then "I want to see that". But (as often happens) I had since forgotten about it. I thought the interviews on the radio seemed interesting. But I was unprepared for the quality of program itself.

I am certain that we heard about the Freedom Rides in history class in school. Well - now that I say that...I'm not all that sure. After all, I was educated in a county school system in Virginia. It is entirely possible that the curriculum was regressive enough to gloss over that part of Southern history. The only time I remember hearing the phrase "freedom ride" was in the movie Dirty Dancing. So - what I learned during the radio show was very enlightening. What I learned from the documentary itself defies description.

There are very few DVDs that I feel like I want to own. But I've already ordered a copy of this documentary. And while I was looking for a link to give to my readers - I actually found that you can view the program in its entirety here.

It is worth the two hours.

I'm not sure you could say that I enjoyed it. But I'm richer for the experience.

Sunday, May 15

The Daze After Vacation

Wow - it can't be only a week since I was preparing dinner for 8 great Moms. Heck, I'm having a hard time relating to the fact that it was only two days ago that I sat on the beach to say goodbye to the ocean. Sort of a time-space continuum thing, I think. Only two days home and I'm already looking forward to my next time away!

Last week's Mother's Day dinner turned out great though! I go to the beach each spring with a group of women...I'm the young kid in the bunch. This year they kept talking about investing in a bus so I'll be able to bring them and their walkers/wheelchairs to the beach in a few years. Though they are mostly retired - trust me when I tell you that I don't see them needing that bus for a few more years (hearing aids...maybe...).

For the past several years our week at the beach has fallen over Mother's Day weekend and so I have taken it upon myself to prepare them an outstanding meal that evening. And each year (because I'm insane) I feel a need to top myself. I think the first year was poached flounder and maybe a chowder. I do something different every year, always with seafood (after all - it is the beach!!). This year, I don't know how I'll be able to top...

As with my blogs - I don't usually have plan when I start out. Once I get to the store and see what seafood looks good...then the wheels start turning. This year, I knew that I was going to do something with a Puttanesca - something reminiscent of the wine dinner at the river. So, I sort of had a plan.

Then as I shopped, I realized why it is best NOT to have a plan - because THAT'S when key ingredients are not going to be available! But a little substitution here and there, and the shopping was done. When I arrived home I wrote out a formal invitation on my personal stationary: The ladies of the beach are cordially invited to a four course wine event. 7pm. Dress to impress. First course - Spinach and Cheese Puff Pastry accompanied by Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc. Second course - Shrimp and Scallop Puttanesca over Cheese Tortellini accompanied by Merlot. Third course - Cheese course with Moscato. Fourth course - Chocolate Course with Red Wine. To be completed by a dessert wine.

Four courses - six wines. It was quite a production.

First of all - the ladies arrived late. Hard to understand how that happened since it only involved walking up the stairs on time...but bless their hearts...they had come up with an interesting interpretation of "Dress to Impress". I have been forbidden to share a photograph (but it is in my Blackberry and I will be keeping it safe). They each arrived wearing some sort of towel wrapped around their heads. It wasn't a particularly good look for most of them. Although - there was one member of the group who did a nifty scarf wrap using her nightshirt...and I don't know whether it was the color or her natural ability to look great in anything, but she really DID look good! Kinda cool bohemian look. Not many people could pull that off...but she is indeed unique.

The food turned out good and though many people favored the sweeter wines and the milkier chocolates - I think the adventure was embraced! By the final wine...there was raucous laughter and several people ran out of glasses to put all their different wines in. One of our party kept looking at the lady across the table from her and saying "I can't understand a word she's saying..." Of course, that was probably because she wasn't talking. Hmmm...perhaps I should eliminate a wine or two next year?

So - to the children of the "beach ladies" (who started with those "Happy Mother's Day phone calls" at about 8am!!) - you're welcome. I treated your Momma real nice for you.

Hamster having ocean withdrawals...

Please return to OBX at your earliest convenience.

Friday, May 13

Sigh...on return leg from the beach (OBX). Hard to leave the ocean and seafood. Will have to decompress and gather my thoughts - will beat hamsters tomorrow.

Sunday, May 8

I love my mom. We are at the beach and thanks to a generous boss - I plan to spoil her gastronomically this week. Scallops and shrimps prepare to die! Mmmmm...

Wednesday, May 4

Looking forward to Friday

It's getting close...by Friday evening I will be at the Outer Banks. And I'm looking forward to relaxing. Sometimes I forget how.

And then I become somewhat difficult.

So it will be nice to unwind. I don't do a whole lot while I'm at the beach. I read. And lay on the beach. Sit in the hot tub. Drink. Eat seafood. Wander.

I'm going to miss being up on Corova Beach...that's the 4 wheel drive area above Corolla. I got to drive on the sand for the first time last fall. And I loved it. I could have spent every afternoon up there - I think we went up 3 days in a row.

But that was when Jenny was still alive.

New readers, do not be alarmed - Jenny was a truck. But a wonderful truck. She was a Dodge 1500 Ram Quad Cab - and I loved to drive her. And I loved being a passenger. But she was taken before her time. Sigh.

The first time up on the north beaches we went wandering off onto some back "roads". I use the term roads very loosely. If you leave the oceanfront part of the beach you are driving on a mixture of very loose sand (near the dunes) and something akin to back country lanes. One of the ones that we (I wasn't really in favor of the idea...but I got used to it)
drove along was pretty much a series of deep water holes. One that he drove through (yeah - I'm not crazy...I wouldn't have done it) I saw the headlight on the driver's side go UNDER WATER. I had a great time!!

The only bad thing was that driving through one of those many "puddles" - Jenny lost her license plate. And when we went looking for it the next day - we found her brush guard. Never did find the license plate though...

I'm going to miss that part of visiting the Outer Banks.

But I will make the best of it!!

I'll send pictures!

Hamster getting ready to disconnect for a short while...

Everybody needs a break to recharge, eh?

Tuesday, May 3

Winos and Foodies

sorry about the hiatus...bad Chris, very bad Chris...

It all started with a bottle of wine, and then another...

An elite group held a meeting on Saturday evening. The very first occurrence of our wine supper club. We didn't even realize we were forming an exclusive club until the first interloper broke in. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Three of us were considering going to a 4 course wine dinner at Virginia Tech last weekend. But then we realized it was my nephew Jacob's birthday and we couldn't possibly miss his party! You only turn 6 once! So we decided that we could certainly create a 4 course wine dinner on our own. Each of us would take a course -appetizer, entrée, cheese course and dessert. We decided on a region - The Mediterranean. And we reported to each other what our planned dishes were. At least twice we switched courses. And a proposed 5th course - a soup or salad course was added. Then unassigned (my fault) and then changed. Personally I changed my mind about the entrée 4 or 5 times.

The results were absolutely fantastic. Dinner was held down at the river house (which is actually named Riva Howse - Howse, Howell - get it?) and the setting was beautiful. Carl had just spent the day pressure washing the docks, furniture...pretty much anything that had a surface. And the place just shone in the setting sun. The weather was crisp - but not too chilly.

We started with Belva's wonderful Bruschetta - bread with whole garlic cloves toasted and olive tapenade. And a Sauvignon Blanc. Then I had made (in place of the soup course...that I forgot) Spanakopita - which are phyllo with spinach and cheese. I tried to make a butter and sherry sauce - but I got distracted by a last minute visit by a neighbor - and the sauce broke. Sigh. But hell, I served it anyway - it tasted good...just looked like hell.

Then we opened a bottle of wine from Floyd, Virginia - Villa Appalachia's Toscanello. It is an Italian style red wine, chianti-like. Cab Franc, Sangiovese and Primitivo grapes. And it paired beautifully with the main dish that I had made: Shrimp and Scallop Puttanesca with cheese
Tortellini. Puttanesca - literally in Italian "whore's style". It's a rustic sauce with crushed (not pureed) tomatoes, olives, garlic... And I did good. And I think that is what I will serve for Mother's Day lunch to the church ladies at the beach this weekend: Pasta of the Whores.

We moved on to the cheese course with a second bottle of red - this one a Cabernet Franc from Delfosse vineyard in Virginia. And then I discovered, as we were transitioning from Carl's cheese course to Melva's incredible dessert - I flippin' froze the dessert wine!! What? It wasn't frozen completely and we passed it around the table and warmed it back to a liquid state and still enjoyed it with homemade Baklava!! Melva actually buttered individual layers of phyllo and ground her own almonds and walnuts and it was freakin' awesome.

That brings us to the 5th bottle of wine. And the interloper. Not knowing that this was a highly planned and fairly well structured dinner - my sweet and lovely sister Denise...well, she requested an invitation... We agreed that she could join us and so she brought along a bottle of wine. It had a frog on the bottle. It was a cute frog - lousy wine.

Do all wines with animals on the bottle suck? That may be a good research hypothesis. We shall continue to invite along one bottle of wine with an animal on the bottle at each wine dinner. And we will report the results.

And I think we'll continue to invite more interlopers. The first one worked out well.

Wonder if I can find a wine with a hamster on the bottle...

A Quest!!!