Sunday, December 30

That's why it's not called "The Happy"

This afternoon I saw Les Miserables for the second time. And I enjoyed it almost as much as the first time. When I saw it the day after Christmas I had seen no reviews other than the Fandango "Go" "Must Go" thing. I knew from the time that I saw the trailer months ago that I wanted to see it - in fact, if I hadn't been under the weather, I am sure I would have been there on Christmas Day.

My reaction? Wow. Incredible. Stunning. I barely recognized Hugh Jackman (wasn't he Wolverine in some sci-fi movie?) and the Anne Hathaway in Les Mis is nothing like Princess Mia in the Princess Diaries (although I caught PD2 the other night during a bout of insomnia and enjoyed it very much). It was everything that I hoped for - and more.

I later made the mistake of reading reviews of the movie written by "regular folk" and could not have been more surprised. I had very much enjoyed Russell Crowe's Javert - and actually was impressed with his singing. Apparently I am a tone-deaf idiot...because the reviews almost universally panned his musical performance. I listened more closely today and I think that I am right - he was not perfect, but he was impressive.

I have only seen the show a couple of times, including an excellent performance by the E.C. Glass Theatre Department. Among my theatre friends - I think that classifies me as one of the unwashed masses. You see, I came to theatre kind of late in my youth. I went to Amherst County High School where we were lucky to be able to cast ONE show every year. We had seriously defective lights, no sound system to speak of and a budget of $0. As I recall, in order to get enough males to stage "Our Town" in my senior year (I was student director) I had to bribe one guy with a 12 pack of beer. I know that the production values at ACHS have improved over the years, but I am not exaggerating in the slightest.

For reasons that I cannot recall, in the spring of my senior year, I decided to go to the Lynchburg Fine Arts Center to audition for a production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Yep, nothing like diving into the deep end of the pool - Shakespeare. And although I was not cast, I did end up working on the stage crew for the show. It was a fairly large cast...all kinds of fairies and such...and many of the cast were long-time theatre folk. This was my first exposure to a lot of theatre people - and they were light-years ahead of me. They were so cool, rattling off all the roles they had performed...talking about roles they would like to take on...and discussing shows I had never heard of. As I continued friendships begun during Midsummer - I kept hearing about this production or that production - including a new show: Les Mis.

Not wanting to appear stupid or uninformed - I usually just nodded my head a lot and kept quiet. So, when I went to the movie on Christmas Day, I didn't go with the the comparison of this Broadway cast or that. I don't own 5 different recordings of the show. I had no idea that the man who played the Bishop in the movie was the original Jean Valjean when the show opened in London. Apparently that is a respectful nod to a great man. I was able to enjoy the movie as though I was seeing the story for the very first time. And I thought it was incredible.

Some of the reviewers complained about the fact that most of the dialogue is, that's kind of how the show goes. It's a would be like going to a Dolly Parton concert and complaining that most of the songs were country.

Some of the reviewers complained about the dark and depressing, it's during the period of the French Revolution. People were starving. That's reality. That's why it's not called "The Happy."

In short - I thought it was a wonderful movie adaptation. I have seen it twice and would see it again. But leave the children at home - they don't need to see this much misery.

Tuesday, December 18

Christmas on Cruise Control

Well - I survived the toughest week I had for this Christmas season...two or three dinner parties (one may have just counted as an open house...), playing handbells, the Christmas party for the JIFF program, a bit of caroling and the big humdinger: THE CHRISTMAS MUSICAL! I enjoyed aspects of every one of those activities - but I am one tired elf. I am looking forward to just skating through the rest of my Christmas holiday!

I begin with a lovely concert tonight of the Bells of the Blue Ridge at Quaker Memorial Presbyterian. And this year I'm getting there an hour early so I can actually SEE the bells! For someone who looks like a deer caught in the headlights when I'm playing is absolutely amazing to see the Bells of the Blue Ridge perform. They don't look like they're counting (at least their lips aren't moving) or trying to figure out what measure they are in. And I just think that Christmas music sounds incredible when played by a few octaves of handbells. They actually have some of those really, really low bells that are large enough to be worn as a hat!

Tomorrow evening I will be whisked away by big church van (sometimes I refer to the event as being shanghaied...) to the wonderful town of Bedford. I will get to fellowship with cool chicks from one of our church circles (they keep me as an annual mascot even though I technically am a member of a different circle). We will dine on soup and salad (yeah, I didn't come up with the menu) and then we will have our gift exchange. We each will bring a wrapped gift worth about ten bucks and we sit in a circle with the gift on our lap. Belva will read the Christmas Story and she chooses two words, such as "the" and "star" and we have to pass the gifts to the right on one word and to the left on the other word. If you get confused you just follow the direction that most of the people are passing. At the end of the story you open the gift in your hands. I don't think she has ever screwed up and people ended up with their own gift - but it may be possible!

After dinner and the gift exchange everyone piles in the big blue church van and we proceed to see the lights at The Elks Home and a nearby park. The best is the drive through the Elks Home (we always go through twice) because with so many eyes...we find a lot of stuff that tickles our funny bones. The Elks Home light display is a series of lighted displays ranging from the Christmas Story (pay close attention to the Cyclops wise man and Gabriel with the painted nails) to a Christmas Village where there seems to be a drug deal going down near the Hardware store. And then there is the can't miss Marilyn Monroe skater who seems to be holding a lit cigarette.

If only Christmas lights photographed well - I'd share some of this with you...perhaps I'll try again this year. My new phone might be capable!

So...with a less frantic week, I hope to share some more posts. I need to dig up some pictures and tell you about all the ugly Christmas trees of my youth! But for that - pictures are a must, you won't believe me otherwise!!

Saturday, December 8

Beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

I just got up from a well-deserved nap. What a day!!

It started with getting set for a dress rehearsal for Lost and Found on Christmas Eve - The Musical. I am running sound and lights for the original musical program that will be presented at Centenary United Methodist Church on Saturday December 15 at 4pm (hint, should come!). The music is all original stuff created by Danny Moore, the Director of Music and there are several catchy tunes that are hopelessly stuck in my head. Currently I have When I Sing Noel running around in there.

My sister Denise wrote the play around 13 of Danny's songs and will be directing. I wrote a couple of weeks ago about some of the preparation that was going into the I actually got to see a good bit of it all come together. It really is going to be amazing. Although it doesn't have the polish (or budget) of a Broadway show or the Virginia Christmas Spectacular - it has a cast that will steal your heart. If they can affect the Grinchy-Chris of this morning, you don't stand a chance.

I am running about 11 microphones on this show, including six wireless that keep getting handed off from cast member to cast member. This morning I was patching all of that into the sound board - trying to explain to each of "my" performers (ones who speak or sing solos) who their mic goes to after them - helping our director make sure a poster was level in the dorm room set - getting the rest of the mics placed... And that was on a Saturday morning on about 6 hours sleep!

But when the rehearsal started, I could not help but be amazed by hard work that the whole cast has put in! From the opening number to the finale, everyone has made great effort to learn the lyrics and their lines. The scene painters are making good progress on the sets (the paint may not be dry on Dec. 15, but it will be there!) and the head of scene shift (Dad) has his instruction sheet. He may be seen reading it during the performance - but he has the gist of it. I just had to explain that "strike the table" means to remove it - not hit it with anything. Got to remember not to talk in theatre-speak.

Rehearsal actually ended about 15 minutes earlier than planned. Wow. Unprecedented.

After lunch, I had a different assignment. My friend Carl decided to use our church as the subject of his last project in a class for his Masters in Engineering. The only problem was that he needed some better pictures for his report (the project has something to do with heating and/or cooling efficiency). One area he needed pictures: the roof. And actually, I'm not afraid of heights. I do have a healthy respect for heights. As my Dad would say "it's not the fall that kills you - it's that sudden stop." But the ladder to the roof was a little sketchy. And a puddle of water (combined with my flip-flops...hmmm....) made exiting the ladder at the top a heart stopper. Dad offered his hand to me and when my foot slipped I felt like I nearly pulled him off the roof. He said it wasn't that close...and we would have only fallen one floor to the porch roof.

But after the climb, the reward was this beautiful view. It is rarely seen (folks are not generally allowed on the roof) so I wanted to share this picture with you.

This is one of the last big projects before Christmas (also playing handbells tomorrow). I'm looking forward to just focusing on shopping or decorating the tree. Maybe I'll get the lights on before Christmas Eve!

Monday, December 3

Christmas Continues...

Now to prepare for the next Christmas event: "ringing the bell" for the Salvation Army tomorrow night. That is Tuesday, December 6pm to be precise. Instead of ringing that lame little bell that they provide - my friend Jeff Smith and I will be singing! This is a tradition started last year - but since I had such a good time then, I think it is worthy of becoming a Christmas tradition! (I can barely recall the fact that doing this last year on a gray misty evening robbed me of my voice for about a week...)

From the time I was young, I have always LOVED Christmas caroling. When my older sisters' church youth group went on their annual caroling outing - I got to tag along. We would visit the homes of church shut-ins, and usually a few houses nearby, then would end up at someone's house for cookies and hot chocolate. I know that part of the appeal was getting to hang out with the older (and thus cooler) kids - but I also dearly love singing Christmas carols.

Whether it be the classic hymns of the season like O Little Town of Bethlehem, Away in a Manger or Angels We Have Heard on High...or perhaps a couple of verses from the secular festive songs like Up on the Housetop or Jolly Old St. is great to see the smile on people's faces when a song takes them back to a happy time in their lives. A few years ago I was with a group of people singing songs at homes in the neighborhood around Centenary UMC. We went to a house, knocked on the door and started our first song. We had ended "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" and were just starting "Silent Night" when the door opened. A man leaned on his walker in the doorway, a young lady standing by him with her hand on his shoulder. As we started the second verse the tears rolled down his cheeks. When we started the third verse (it was the only song we knew three verses to) I was sure my voice was going to give out - I had been crying since the first verse. But God kept the whole group going! We then launched into our final song - "Joy to the World" - and I saw the man stand just a little bit straighter and he began to smile. The rest of the gang headed on to the next house singing "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" but I hung behind to give a candy cane and Christmas card to our receptive audience. The young lady thanked me and started to help the older man toward the living room but he stopped her, turned to me and said "God bless you folks. You made an old man very happy tonight."

He may have been right - but I know I got more out of that visit than I gave. In the midst of all the hustle and bustle...being busy has been elevated to a status symbol (I'm just SO busy...I don't know when I'll finish all my shopping. Oh, you couldn't be half as busy as I am! Not only do I not have all my shopping done, I have three dinners and two open houses to go to this week...). We sometimes forget that the most important thing in life is the human connections we make. Stopping to actually spend time with people is a lot more valuable than just giving them more stuff.

If you love Christmas caroling as much as I do - drop by the K-mart on Wards Road Tuesday night between 6 and 7. Join in the merrymaking! Learn another verse to Silent Night! Most of all - stop being busy for an hour and just BE.

Sunday, December 2

The Advent of Christmas

December 2 - Christmas is screaming upon us! There are a multitude of events that I'm getting ready for and I just survived one annual holiday event: The Twins Sleepover! My beautiful sister Susan and her stalwart husband Patrick were blessed almost 5 years ago with the two most wonderful twins on the face of the Earth. Braeden and Taylor arrived a couple months early (in February) and quickly wrapped their Aunt Chris around their little fingers. We first met in the hospital NICU. I had to keep washing my hands because I couldn't stop crying and my nose kept running. They were so tiny...Braeden's pacifier covered about half of his face. Now they are four years old, about four feet tall and the only people in this world that I love the same amount are Jack and Jacob (my other nephews).

A new tradition has been born. On the day that their parents attend a company Christmas dinner, the twins come to my house for a sleepover. I am exhausted. Their Aunt Mo (Denise) took them to ride the Christmas train and see Santa yesterday afternoon. I understand they also enjoyed the magic of driving through the car wash at Sheetz. Hearing about that reminded me of the first time I ever went through a car wash. It was my Granddaddy Miller (Mom's dad) and I probably wasn't much older than Braeden and Taylor. It really WAS exciting! And since I only had seen cars washed with a hose and bucket - I also felt pretty fancy having the car automatically washed. When I drive past that building now, I still remember that first car wash with my Granddaddy.

After the exciting outing they returned to our house for spaghetti dinner. And for dessert we all got to partake in sugar cookies that the twins had made with their grandmother (they call her Nanu) in the afternoon. They were some seriously unattractive cookies - and they didn't taste very good....but we praised them as though they had been made by a famous pastry chef. Aunt Mo gave hers a suspicious look and asked Braeden if he had washed his hands before making her cookie. He said no...but he had used a spoon. Mo looked a little grey in the face, but ate her cookie and declared it the best she had ever had. We may all go to hell for lying, but the joy on our precious chefs' faces were worth the trip.

After dinner and changing into pajamas, the twins visited the magical land that their Aunt Chris lives in: the basement! They were enthralled by the water bed, intrigued by the ceiling covered with "big black CDs" (they are LPs screwed to the floor joist), fascinated by the pull chain that makes the overhead light turn on and off...but they were enchanted by the Christmas trees that light up with the click of a remote control. Yes, I already have Christmas trees in my room. Three of them to be exact - one big one that is right side up, two little ones that hang upside down from the ceiling. And before family members point this out - they are not "already" there. They are "still" there. They haven't been down in four years. But at least this time, they are artificial. I love my Christmas trees and sometimes in the middle of summer, when I'm feeling blue...I can light them up and just feel better.

We read some stories. We laughed and talked. It was a great way to kick off Christmas.

And when I woke this morning to the sound of little feet above my head...and towers of dominoes falling...and something like dice being rolled?...and laughter... Well, I am glad that the sleepover happens. And I'm kind of glad it doesn't happen too often. But (shh...don't tell Susan...) it might be okay if it happened more than once a year.

I love my niece and nephews.
You're my favorite.

Monday, November 26

Fair Warning

Tomorrow I will attend the funeral of a great man who was just a few months younger than me. It still doesn't seem real - I keep expecting to run into him around town. Today at lunch I thought I saw him... but of course that wasn't him. Tallen won't ever join me for lunch again - because somebody got behind the wheel when they'd been drinking.

One of the things that I have struggled with is the fact that I too have driven when I shouldn't have. Not often, but it only takes once. When I think of the lives that I could have affected... my blood runs cold. When you're young you think only of the consequence of getting caught. The longer you live, you know the consequences to be much more serious. I have a great friend who is living in a wheelchair because of a drunk driver. And now I've lost a friend, a wife has lost her husband, a daughter has lost her Dad.

The day after Tallen was killed, I witnessed someone get behind the wheel who should not have been driving. I don't know why I didn't stop them. I don't know if I could have lived with myself if something had happened. I feel like I owe an apology to anyone whose lives have been affected by a drunk driver. I am sorry for my inaction.

It won't happen again. My friends, family, and anyone who drinks around me... consider this fair warning. I am NOT out to ruin your good can drink all you want. Drink until you fall down. But when you take a step towards the wheel of a car... I will be asking for your keys. If you refuse to give them up, I will reach for my phone. As you pull away, I'll be calling 911. I will tell the police where to find you, what your vehicle looks like, your license plate number and how much you've been drinking.

Fair warning. I owe this to a lot of people. To Ray. To Tallen. To his family. And to you.

Thursday, November 22

Thanksgiving Day

There is a cacophony of thoughts in my head. Some of them I can share, some I must just keep close in my heart and wait for the right time to act.

Yes, today is Thanksgiving and I got to spend it with my wonderful family. The whole biological clan was there, plus husbands and kids...but the best part is enjoying time with some of our extended family. My brother-from-another-mother Bruce is in from Dallas and although he is a man of few words - just being in his presence is comforting. He completes us in a special way. I love his mischievous smile and his quick wit and wish that he didn't live so far away. But I'm very happy that he is content with his life in Dallas.

We also enjoyed the company of our international students from Randolph College: Proity and Eriko. Although Thanksgiving is an American (ish) holiday - it is easy to appreciate the spirit of a harvest festival, which is what Thanksgiving is. And they joined right in with the chaos of our family gathering. It never ceases to amaze me that they have such an ease with the English language...I can't imagine the challenge of carrying on a conversation in anything but my native tongue. I studied Latin - so unless you need the verb "Amo" (love) conjugated or if you need to say "the farmer is a boy" - I'm pretty useless in the language category.

I look forward to the big family holiday gatherings - but I'm glad that my next activity will be putting my feet up and eating a couple bourbon pecan pralines. I made some for Thanksgiving. I was afraid that the 10 servings that the recipe made wouldn't be enough (after all, I think there were 16 or 18 at dinner) so I decided to triple the recipe. But since that gave me an uneven amount of butter...I went ahead and quadrupled it. I may be giving pralines as Christmas gifts!

Another of the thoughts in my head is related to loss. My good friend T. Allen Schlapman (I called him Tallen) was killed yesterday by a drunk driver. I don't know yet how to deal with this and can't imagine what today was like for his wife and daughter. Tallen was an extraordinary man - always there with a smile and hug. His talents ranged from accounting to construction to management. We shared a love for good food and tried to have lunch together once every couple of months.... It is hard knowing that my phone will never again greet me with a text of "when are we going to have lunch again?" Tallen was one of those people who you could brainstorm with, or vent to, and know that he would just listen. Unless you asked specifically "what would you do in this situation?" - he was content to be a sounding board. That is an incredible gift. I will miss him greatly.

Because of the way we met, I felt it important to tell a particular individual about his individual that I had never planned to contact again. It felt strange to reach out - but after I hit "send" I felt a peace about it. One more piece of healing from a bad situation.

It has been a pretty good day. I'm glad I'm not one of the nutballs getting ready to go shopping. I will be thankful for a good night's sleep. And I will be praying for a good night's sleep for my friend's family.

Tuesday, November 20

A present for me!

Many years ago...I don't remember how many...I became an Ambassador. Sure, it would be cool to say that I was the Ambassador to Papua New Guinea or San Salvador or someplace exotic. I think it is equally cool that I am a Maker's Mark Ambassador. It was free to sign up, they give me first crack at a barrel of bourbon whiskey that began its aging process when I signed up, they sent me personalized business cards identifying me as an Ambassador (yes, they are in my wallet) and a few times each year they send me presents! I've gotten playing cards and gift wrap and an ice tray designed to make ice balls - never have made any ice balls but it is nice to know I have the tool to do it!

Tonight it seems as though I have two presents - Mom just informed me that there is a surprise for me in the dining room and she is bringing it to me now! It is (drumroll please) meringue cookies!!!! Oh, I love them. They are light and crunchy and these are full of tiny chocolate chips and bits of pecan. What a wonderful treat!! Isn't it fantastic when someone thinks enough of you to make you a special gift? I don't know what I might have done to deserve it...but I'm really happy to have them. In order to get the top on them it looks like I will need to eat six or seven....

Now to open my present from Maker's Mark...if I can get the cat off of it. (another drumroll, please) Oh, how cute and clever! It is 3 gift boxes (remarkably in exactly the right size to give someone a bottle of Maker's Mark) that make it look like you got somebody a tacky gift like Cat Weights. Although I'm thinking that Rude Cat might need a workout sometime. The only exercise she gets is screaming at me.

Well, a nice end to the day. Surprise gifts are awesome! Give one to somebody today! Might I suggest a grateful recipient? ME!!

Saturday, November 17

How did I get myself into this?

Just got home from a marathon blocking meeting with the director of Centenary's Christmas musical. I love this director like a sister...oh that's IS my sister! This year Denise has bit off a giant project for the "children's Christmas play." This year Centenary UMC will be performing an original musical - Lost and Found on Christmas Eve. Yep, original. As in written by people from Centenary.

A few months ago our minister of music Danny Moore got together with my sister Denise and let her know that he had a whole bunch of original songs that he thought would be great for a Christmas musical. She promptly decided to write the dialogue that connects them all together! In fact I think she wrote some of the script without actually reading the songs that she was connecting... But the result is a fantastic musical that will be enjoyed by all (December 15 at 4pm).

A cast of 30 will bring Danny's music and Denise's script to life. The story involves a young college student who can't go home for the holidays because of work - so his mother decides to send his younger sister to join him for Christmas! The surprise goes horribly awry when Nicole's backpack is stolen at the airport, taking her cell phone, brother's address and all her money with it. The plucky young lady is not to be deterred and she believes that a Christmas miracle will help her find her brother. I won't give away the plot - but I think you can expect a happy ending!

I, of course, have been, make that a sort of production savant. (I must confess that I not only hate musicals...people launching into song for no particular reason...I am also not fond of children). During the show I will be running lights and sound. Prior to that I also have the small tasks of set design, construction and keeping my sweet sister on track. Talk about your Christmas miracle!

It is an interesting challenge - helping she and Danny translate the visions in their reality. As much as I would love to see a tightly choreographed opening sequence of 20 airport travelers doing spins and dancing with their rolling suitcases...the reality will be somewhat more subdued. Even though it may not be Broadway - the audience will love it! But I have had to quash several grand ideas:

- a giant snowball rolling down from the balcony (think Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom)
- children singing while briskly walking down the aisles with their suitcases
- angels flying
- drummer boys with actual snare drums

Blocking took about 2 hours to plan - hopefully it will take about 45 minutes to convey to the ensemble. Things are going to get interesting. I have some decent scene painters - but I could use some choral risers, a few wireless lavaliers and would love a full blown light kit with dimmer pack. Seriously. Call me.

And if someone can come sit on the director on December 15....

Friday, November 16

Back from the void...

Another two week lapse in posting...

I admit that I was not motivated to post during the midst of the election furor. I have many opinions and I feared that in expressing some of those, I would lose friends and family. It saddens me that the election polarized so much of the country. If you weren't standing on one end or other of the playground screaming about how right you were and how wrong the other guys were...I guess you were the clueless guy driving his invisible car around swingset supports. C'mon - we all went to school with one of those. The one at Madison Heights Elementary drove his imaginary car around the school and playground until 7th grade when Mr. Holt stopped him and said, "you're going to be in Junior High next year - if you don't stop driving your invisible car now - you're going to get your ass kicked next year." I thought he was remarkably insightful. If that happened in a school today I think Mr. Holt would have been fired and/or sued.

Anyway -- I digressed from my original point. There are passionate people on each side of the political aisle. But if they don't start listening to each other and finding common ground, we are going to find ourselves unable to move forward on anything at all. And anyone who chose not to participate and learn enough to make an informed choice needs to get Mr. Holt to straighten them out.

I was having a conversation the other night with a person from the opposite side of my political viewpoint - he was unaware of what my political viewpoint was and I do not believe he cared to hear any of my thoughts. So, I will correct myself - I did NOT have a conversation about the election the other night. I was subjected to a rant the other night. When I suggested that it was disappointing more white men (the demographic of what this person believed to be the core of all political wisdom) did not choose to vote - I was informed that they have all become disillusioned by the process. "They've all given up - it just doesn't matter to them."

Well, excuse me for saying this, but that is just SAD. An apathetic populace is truly the antithesis of democracy. Only through participation can we truly make progress.

Well...dang...I didn't mean to rant....Perhaps now that is out of my system I can go back to blogging with my rare insight and humor. Or maybe I'll just keep putting up pictures of funny cats. Either way...I'm back!

Sunday, October 28

Eating Alone

Just got home from a conference in Charlottesville...even though it isn't terribly far away I stayed up in C'ville so that I could be alert for the morning sessions! I know myself well enough to know that waking up at 6:30 to leave at 7am for a drive will not make me a useful (or pleasant) person at an 8:30am workshop.

Although Lynchburg certainly has developed a diverse group of restaurants - I was excited to skim through the Yelp restaurant listing in C'ville to decide where to eat dinner each night! The only drawback to traveling alone is that I generally ate dinner alone. I realize that I'm one of those people who isn't really comfortable eating alone. Sometimes I can embrace it - sometimes I even pretend that I'm a famous restaurant critic dining incognito. (I don't go so far as to make notes or drop hints to the wait staff that I'm a famous restaurant critic...I just pretend with myself) Most of the time I have a magazine or newspaper with me.

In fact, I pick my lunch spots in town by the availability of newspaper boxes! But the reading material is just a cover...I usually find myself listening to other people's conversations. Not exactly eavesdropping - well...I guess it is.... I just get distracted by what is going on around me!

I have asked friends about eating alone and the majority of my friends don't like to do it either. But I didn't find anyone who also created fantasy roles as undercover critic or spy. At least they didn't admit it!

Speaking of food - now for the THIRD year in a row I've been entrusted with the command of frozen foods for Centenary UMC's Bazaar. Read last year's post to get an idea of what we're doing! But this year's Bazaar is November 10!! And this year's offerings will include the Sausage Breakfast Casserole, Pasta Bake and Chicken and Rice Casserole. The corn casserole and green bean casseroles we offered last year weren't good sellers (tasty...just didn't sell well) so we have eliminated them. I thought we had scratched the Sweet Potato Casserole too...but have gotten several requests, so it's back too! Let me know what you want and I'll reserve your favorites!

Wednesday, October 17

Viva la Difference!!

Had a great dinner tonight with my new sister from Japan, Eriko! The Howell family has "adopted" two Randolph College international students and I missed the big "welcome to the family" dinner last week while I was wasting away in an airport hotel conference room. I will meet my other new sister Proity on Friday, she is from Bangladesh.

When my biological brother Gordon invited me to have dinner with he, Eriko and Denise (with a text at 7am...has he never met me?) I didn't realize that I would be eating sushi with a Tokyo native. Pretty intimidating! In my family I am considered the sushi expert (wine expert, food expert...) but I know that there are some areas of sushi consumption that are very Americanized. I didn't want to do anything that would offend Eriko - but I am very fond of my wasabi/soy sauce mixture...and I know that isn't traditional. She assured me that she would not be offended and laughed that she doesn't even use chopsticks correctly! I think that she was just trying to make me feel better...because I thought she did a beautiful job.

I also had heard (I'm sure it was some Food Network show...) that it was acceptable to eat sushi with your fingers. When I asked about that (after eating most of the meal with my chopsticks) she said that she also ate sushi with her fingers sometimes. Once again, I think she was just being nice...but I ate a few pieces that way!

I was very excited to hear that Proity is planning to cook a traditional Bangladeshi dish for our family sometime (not this Friday - Denise is "cooking". That means pizza, I think.) and that Eriko will also make a traditional Japanese dish for us! I love trying new things. Now I just need to find a good place to help them find the ingredients and spices they will need.

A friend recently commented that her children were such picky eaters that she just served them chicken nuggets and grilled cheese. Seems kind of sad. I know that there were certainly a lot of things that I didn't want to try as a child (and I still refuse to eat oatmeal or applesauce). And, I know that we can chase my sister Karen around a house with a spoonful of mayonnaise because she fears it. But I'm glad that we were exposed to a lot of different foods as we grew up! And I'm always amazed by my nephew Jack, who has tried everything from Chinese to Indian food. He would rather have Thai food than pizza - and that is pretty unusual for a teenage boy.

I can't wait for the next culturally diverse eating experience - as long as it isn't oatmeal!

Tuesday, October 9

Trusting Your Fellow Man

Just returned from one trip and headed out the door for another! I had a great week at the beach and leave tomorrow for a work trip to Baltimore. Hoping for a trip to the Inner Harbor area for a nice dinner - otherwise I'll be in conference rooms at a faceless airport hotel...well, I can survive anything for two days, right?

During my trip to the beach I made an observation one evening while sitting and watching the ocean. I saw two couples walking along the beach with their shoes in their hands. Understand, I am assuming that they were not making a one-way trip down the beach. Most people in the remote area of Duck are not walking TO someplace along the beach. They are taking a walk on the beach and returning to their vacation home at the end of the walk. And since I later observed the same four people walking in the opposite direction - I believe that assumption is correct.

Why do people take their shoes for a walk? Why not leave them with the small piles of other people's shoes at the foot of the beach access stairs? Are your shoes so special that you think other people are going to steal your shoes? Short of inner city kids stealing high-end sneakers...I don't believe I've ever heard of rampant shoe stealing. Personally, I don't want to wear used shoes. I don't even like wearing bowling shoes because the whole concept of wearing other people's shoes kinda creeps me out.

So I shall declare to the world - leave your shoes behind! They'll be there when you get back. Nobody wants your stinky loafers and flip flops that are already formed to the shape of your feet. Chill out.

Next I shall discuss people who feel obligated to carry giant purses to the buffet. The world likely doesn't want your stuff either! And when you reach for the egg rolls and your saddlebags swing into my plate of beef and broccoli, it ticks me off.

Hamster beaten....gotta go pack again...sigh.

The cat is NOT going to be happy with me.

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!!