Last night/this morning, I had a dream that I was getting ready for work, and noticed that a tan kitten had gotten into my apartment. I couldn't figure out how in the dickens that little guy made it in.

I sat him on the rail on my deck, and got him some milk and said to myself, "I will call him Mr. Jingles."

Then I thought that might be a silly name so I tried desperately to think of something else. But I was having that dream-fog where the thoughts just wouldn't flow.

I made up a new word for Christmas. It’s cule. It’s means something that looks really good or is unusual and amusing, but only found at Christmas time. Formed from the words “cool” and “yule.”

Usage: Did you see the Christmas display at Armani Exchange? It’s cule.

I saw an MSNBC clip that compared different news anchors shopping in the mall versus online. The online shopper saved the day and the money and the time.

I just finished with most my shopping, but my eyes are crossed, after shopping online. I kind of miss the whole hustle-bustle and looking around for random items that I think my family might like. And I might miss the feeling of my time running out, which leads me to buy them a bizarre gift, or realizing I'm out of time, and I buy everyone the same gift.

Traveling with Christmas presents is a beast. So hopefully, this plan will work. The gifts are being shipped ahead to my mom's house. One possible worse case scenario will be that my mom forgets where she put the gifts, and then I wind up having to trek to Wally World in a snowstorm to buy all the family members the latest Mary Kate & Ashley perfume gift set or car airfreshners. But I'm thinking positive!

At work, we play this game called Secret Santa. We played it when I was a teacher, but it consisted of leaving trinkets in another teacher’s mailbox. It wasn’t that hard of a game. A little note here and there—and you’re playing!

This office has upped the ante a little too high for my personal salary level. Last year, I almost had a heart attack when I heard the ground rules. The game consisted of buying small gifts almost everyday for about 2-3 weeks including candy bars, Starbucks drinks, magazines, etc., and then buying a big gift worth about $25. I don’t even get to spend that much money on my family members!

If I think about it in terms of an equal exchange, the miser in me can stomach it a little easier. This year, everyone requested gift cards. So that means, I give $25, I get $25 back. So basically, I should break even.

I’m probably most bitter because I’m not very good at the game. I forget to bring the present to work, or the person doesn’t like the gift, or something like that.

Yesterday, I wrote a poem from Santa Dogg with Snoop Dogg’s picture, and nobody could tell who the gift was for, even though I made about 5 references to the owner of the gift, including identifying him as a male because all the other people in my office are female. The letter has been “read” and the gift still sits unclaimed. I’m taking it home if he doesn’t pick it up by 4:30 today.

The reason for the season. The reason for the season.

I am a Type A/B positive personality. Or maybe I’m O negative. Whatever the case, I have in my head that I am highly organized and efficient, and then the other part of my personality kicks in and says, “Carpe diem!” I experience “carpe diem” most days of my life. I took the clip highlighting this phrase from The Dead Poets Society a little too seriously.

Yesterday, I came up with a rigorous holiday exercise plan. I planned it on the way as I walked to the YMCA. It consisted of me getting up at 6:00 a.m. and running every morning for five days each week with two days of weightlifting. I got to the Y to kick start my program. I ran/walked on the treadmill at a pretty good pace as I listened to the Black Eyed Peas. My friend, Ann, surprised me as I was getting ready for the last leg of the run, so I stopped and talked to her. As I talked, I realized my stomach cramps were so severe, that I needed to go home and I didn’t even have the strength to hear about my friend, Jen, and her wedding dress. This is the first time in my life I have ever wished to own a Jazzy. On the walk back home, I un-planned the rigorous holiday exercise plan.

Today, I’ve started out the Christmas shopping season with an Excel sheet with all my family and friends’ names on it. I have columns for projected and actual spending, and also columns for the projected gift versus the actual gift. Knowing myself all too well, I give myself about 3 hours with this system. Before long, my Christmas list will be written on the back of an old envelope stuffed in my purse with hieroglyphics written around it. My purse will become a black hole containing receipts, wedding programs, old tubes of lip gloss, and pennies. Ahh…the holidays.

I'm leaving on a jet plane today to see my family in Kentucky. This time I will be armed with a digital camera. I figured out today that I can hook the camera up to a t.v. So then, I can play the pics on my mom's t.v.

Attention all nieces and nephews: brush your teeth and hair! It's picture time!! And act happy!

My friend, Beth, from my Kenya trip found out she is allergic to about 100 different kinds of foods, and can therefore, eat about nothing. In order to remember and pray for her, I’m doing a raw food diet for 3 out of 7 days through the holidays. So far, I’ve done two days. I was explaining my raw food diet to my boss and how I was so proud that I ate no chips and a ceviche salad at Escalante’s, and she said, “Doesn’t the salad have oil in it?”

I guess her point is that oil is not “raw”; I don’t know if oil is raw or not. No raw food diet police is allowed on this venture. I guess I’m doing a “modified” raw food diet. Regardless of the fact, it’s not so bad. I’ve eaten more vegetables in my two out of three days than I have in the last two months.

In Kenya (transitioning into Kenya story), the food was very fresh. As in, I-just-looked-in-your-eyes-two-hours-ago-and-now-you-are-on-my-plate fresh. I’m steering away from meat for awhile. Perhaps the whole experience of super-fresh food left me a little chicken when it comes to eating meat.

Susan’s dad slaughtered a goat for us because we were important guests in his home. Susan told him that he shouldn’t because we wouldn’t eat it. But Dennis and Charles insisted that it would be really cool. So he slaughtered. And we ate. I didn’t even know that little guy’s name. I just ate him.

The food was actually surprisingly good. I guess I’ve heard about Africa's starvation my whole life, but then after I thought about it, every pastor I know from home that goes there never loses weight (and they usually have some to spare before they leave). We kept saying on the plane, “This could be our last meal…we better eat up!” I think we all probably gained weight.

We ate ugali (mushed maze that you formed into a spoon—kind of like playdoh/mashed potatoes) and chepate (?) bread at most meals. The chepate was kind of like a tortilla. …If we just had queso… They did have this stuff that was totally pico de gallo, but they called it something else.

I miss Africa. I miss the children. I want to hold their hands and hug them again. And wipe their noses (that’s another story). They are precious, precious, precious jewels.

While trying to look at a study of Philippians during lunch, I overheard an interview going on in the lobby in which I lounged.

The following are actual questions asked to the interviewee (I made up the responses):

What are three strengths and three weaknesses about yourself?

Strengths: Cute, happy, and smell pleasant most of the time.
Weaknesses: I’m progressively later and later to work if I don’t like my job. My mind wanders when I should be working. I can never decide what to wear in the mornings, so sometimes my outfits look a little bit “invented.”

If you disagreed with your supervisor, how would you handle it?

If they wanted to me to do something illegal or lie, I’d say, “Tough Turkey, Supervisor!” and do what I thought was best.

If your life was summed up in a headline, what would it say?

Is this lady for real? Is this how you find the perfect employee? What kind of answers was she trying to find? I started to laugh, but I tried to suppress it since I was holding the Bible in my lap. I thought it might be a bad witness.

I’ve been exploring other churches; not because I’m hopping out of my church, but because my responsibilities have lessened at church, so now I’m a free-agent again. And if I happen to let the wind blow me to another service because someone invited me, I can go feeling guilt and responsibility free.

Yesterday I went with T.Lo to check out a church he’s been a part of lately called Kaleo. I pass by the location all the time and never knew there was a church meeting there. They actually used to meet at the Marq-E theater, so this location is a bit new.

The church has about 50-75 people, they have free doughnuts, and the people were very nice. The pastor made me laugh and did a great job of teaching the word at the ripe age of 27.

In my visit with T.Lo, I kept trying to figure out what stage he’ s going through right now. He’s been through many ethnic stages with a focus predominantly on Indian and Asian cultures, but has sent me several pictures of himself in a turban. He explained to me that he doesn’t so much go through phases as much as he keeps adding on things. He says if he was to say he was in a stage, it would be the “reformed” stage. E.V.V. would be so happy. T.Lo and I made an observation that even though the church was small, there were a lot of single guys there. He asked how I thought the church could get more single women to attend.

Pretty crazy problem, huh? Of course after the service, I thought of several guys that I knew that would really like that church. Maybe it was because the pastor used illustrations about He-Man—if it was Barbie, would I have thought about women? Whatever the case, I might visit T.Lo at Kaleo again one day, and bring along a small, reformed, single-lady posse.

I keep remembering people to pray for from my trip to Kenya. Their faces pass before me and my heart is stirred. I remember a man named, Peter Mungai, who prayed that God would take him home (I promised I would pray for him and not forget his name). He was a patient at the Nairobi Spinal Injury Hospital. It was a hospital that looked like what I expected a third-world hospital to look like. But the patients looked far healthier than what I was expecting to see. Most of them looked like that they were strong, beautiful, young men and women, who happened to be sitting in wheelchairs.

One guy, Towd, had his Bible by his bed and said that sometimes ministers come on Saturdays and “life their hearts.” He had been in the hospital for three years. He had been through two surgeries—one just five days prior to our visit. And had not seen his family in a long time because they lived in Tanzania. He said that a lot of people in the hospital suffered from depression, and he tried to encourage those around him.

Something I was not prepared for was the tiny little hats that the nurses wore. They were about the size of a Hostess cup cake and some had tiny little bows. One of the nurses that showed us around was a very beautiful, strong, Kenyan woman, but I could not stop looking at that tiny hat on her head.

Back to real business and out of the strange workings of my mind: Please pray for Peter to realize he has a hope and a future. And pray for encouragement for Towd as he encourages others. And pray for miracles for the men and women at the Nairobi Spinal Injury Hospital. And for the nurses with the tiny hats.

Last night, I had a dream I met George W. Bush. It was at a high school basketball game or something, and he was sitting next to another older man that I knew (can’t remember who it was). I went up to him awkwardly because I had a huge rolled-up floor rug in my arms. So I’m balancing the floor rug between my left arm and my chin, and I shake the President’s hand with my right. He shakes my hand and says something like, “Nice to meet you.” And I nod and say, “Beth Richards.” He smiles his sideways smile and repeats my name.

I ask him if he knows my friend’s dad (because I had seen a picture of him with her mom and dad at their house in real life) and he said, “No, I don’t think I know him.”

I was wishing he would just humor me and say he did know them. I said smiling, “Well, maybe the picture was a cardboard cut-out of you!”

He laughed. Then he gets up and takes the rug from me and carries it out the door for me without even asking if I needed help. I was grateful. That rug was heavy.

This is my first dream ever about the President. Perhaps the product of the wonders of Tylenol PM mixed with a little Malarone.

I also had a dream later on last night I petted a cheetah, but that was a real life experience, because the Kenya teamsters petted a cheetah in Africa.

I hadn’t seen a friend in a while, so he e-mailed me and asked if I wanted to get something to eat or hang out sometime soon to catch up. I wrote back that I was broke, so maybe we could meet at the YMCA.

So, then we have this phone conversation:

Him: “Hey, Beth. Do you work at the Y or something now?”
Me: “No.”
Him: “Why did you want to meet there?”
Me: “Well, I thought maybe we could turn over a new leaf and exercise or something instead of going out to eat. Like, we could be people who do that kind of thing.”
Him: “Yeah, right! So where do you want to eat?”

I suppose not all the advice that’s given in Fitness magazine is applicable in real life. But I’m still anxious to put the gift tag on my bathroom mirror that has “Flat Abs” as my gift to myself (advice in December 2006 issue).

I think I’m experiencing something called jetlag. During this time, I should not try to operate heavy machinery, drive for prolonged periods, or have cell phone access to avoid bizarre confessions to ex-boyfriends. I should also lose access to the remote control, because I watched another Lifetime movie last night. I wanted to spend time with friends at a birthday party, but was scared that “Sybil” might attend instead of myself.

I woke up at 2:00 a.m. last night, but my clock still says 3:00 because for some reason I refuse to fall back. I’m not ready yet. I’m waiting for the leaves to turn or at least for the temperature to change a bit. When I wake up and see that the clock says 3:00, my first reaction is a clenched fist and I hear myself in “Newman”-esque style say, “Dennis!!” Dennis told my other Kenya teamsters that we would probably be really tired around bedtime, and then wake up around 3:00 and not be able to sleep. I need him to give me a new prescription or at least a new time that I will wake up, because for some reason, my brain believed him and is acting out this behavior.

And I know that I haven’t shared much info about my trip yet. I talk to Sybil about it a lot, but she told me not to tell everything yet. That I need to rest first. Maybe Dennis has other prescriptions available for me, too.

It’s the most unusual thing. It must be tattooed on my eyelids, because every time I close my eyes, it’s there. It’s also been beaten onto my eardrums, because I hear it as well. The sites and sounds of Africa are with me. I suppose I should be thankful the smell was not woven into my nose hairs. (sorry, I just could not resist telling a joke to myself. the smell wasn't bad at all)

I’ll tell more about Kenya soon. And I’m sure I’ll tell you a lot.

Beth’s mom (another Beth) said that Pastor Gregg said you give one person the two-hour version and the others a five-minute one. Wise advice.

Have a blessed day today and be thankful for shoes and Kleenex and health and family and friends.