Easter Eatin’

Happy Easter, y’all!

I’ve been up to a lot lately that I will post about when I have some free time, which will be on the fifth of never.  Just kidding.  Kinda.

Even though these posts won’t be in chronological order, I thought I’d share my Easter while it’s fresh in my noggin.  My dear little sister, Eugene drove down from Lexington, Kentucky to join me for the holiday.  I hadn’t seen her since Christmas, which seems ridiculous since she lives only three and a half hours away.  She arrived last evening and we went out to dinner at Germantown Café, which we had been to last summer for brunch.  The brunch last year was fabulous and dinner certainly didn’t disappoint.

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My friend and her sister joined us and we ordered two appetizers to share: pork belly tater tots and fried green tomatoes.  I normally don’t like tomatoes but I didn’t mind choking these down one bit.  They weren’t half-bad; in fact, they were more than half-good. The pork belly tater tots were slightly smoky, but not overwhelmingly so, which was good.  I’m not a huge fan of smoky things, including cigarettes.  They were very rich but quite tasty.

For my entrée, I had the fish special, which was a panko-crusted tilapia with a Puttanesca –like medley over parmesan polenta and asparagus.  If there is ever a fish and grits/polenta dish offered at a restaurant, I will most likely order it.  It’s one of my favorite combinations ever.   This wasn’t the best I ever had, but it certainly hit the spot.

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We moved on to Holland House for drinks/dessert.  I ordered a drink on our waiter’s recommendation that wasn’t on the menu.  I don’t recall the name, but it was a bourbon-based concoction that tasted like fall in a tumbler.  Fall is my favorite season and bourbon is my poison, so I definitely enjoyed it.  It didn’t hurt that Holland House is such a neat scene with its dim-lighting and parlor-like feel with just the right balance of rustic and refined décor.  Initially I had wanted to sit at the bar to people watch and observe the theatrics of the bartenders making their artisan cocktails, but it worked out that we were seated by the fireplace since it was a cold, rainy night.  We ordered dessert to finish off the evening.  My sister and I split a flourless chocolate cake with a scoop of homemade carrot cake ice cream.  The dessert wasn’t as spectacular as the drinks, but all in all, it was a fun evening.

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After church this morning, my sister and I headed over to Pancake Pantry, which I have been wanting to try since I moved here.  I was forewarned that there would be a line down the sidewalk and today was no exception.  Poor Eugene toughed it out in the rain with me, each of us with a malfunctioning umbrella and no outerwear, for about 45 minutes.  Thankfully, the food was worth the wait otherwise I think she would have killed me.  She ordered pecan pancakes and I ordered chocolate chip.  We also rounded out the meal with an order of sausage patties and hash browns.   The pancakes were superb and the sausage was the good stuff.  The hash browns, while good, were clearly crisped up on the griddle with Parkay margarine.  I know this because Parkay has a very distinct flavor which I first experienced as a child when I insisted we purchase the Parkay spray margarine I had seen on TV because it looked like fun to use.  It is not tasty and I’m going to have to dock Pancake Pantry a few points for this faux pas.  They have a good thing going with their pancakes with whipped butter, though.

In my typical fashion, the visit was centered around food.   Eugene didn’t seem to mind and I didn’t have to cook.  Not that I mind cooking, but I still don’t have barstools so there isn’t a proper place to sit and eat a meal in my apartment.   I’m working on it though.  Thank goodness Nashville has a lot of great restaurants.

Y’all come back,

Sugarlump

Tax Avoidance (Not Evasion)

It’s funny how, when faced with doing your taxes, vacuuming the sofa and ironing your socks become wildly appealing activities.  Suddenly, tackling that oil painting for my living room that I’ve been putting off since I moved in 11 months ago seems very urgent.  Brushing the cats’ teeth and cleaning out that “catch-all” basket of receipts, screw-drivers, lotion samples, paperclips and nail polish is just too hard to resist.

Doing my taxes really isn’t all that bad.  Because I own a business, I have an accountant who sends me a really nice tax organizer that makes the experience as painless and straight-forward as possible.  Every year, after I complete the document to return to her, I remark on how surprisingly simple it was.  And every year, I put off doing my taxes because something about it makes me want to do just about anything else.  I can’t explain it.

Today, instead of doing my taxes, I’ve done 4 loads of laundry and 1 load of dishes.  I’ve vacuumed, changed the sheets on my bed, rearranged the furniture and cleaned out the refrigerator.  Then I happened to find myself at Homegoods where I purchased 2 mirrors that were not the size I needed, but I had to have them.  Consequently, I have spent the last hour re-hanging everything on the walls in my apartment to accommodate said purchases.

At least I will have a fresh environment in which to do my taxes…whenever that may be.

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Off to French-braid Scarlett’s fur.  Doesn’t she look excited.

Y’all be responsible,

Sugarlump

Jailbreak

Until recently, I had left Gus and Scarlet in my bedroom suite when out of the house so that I did not return to find them patrolling the top of the upper cabinets in my kitchen.  I’ve heard that animals like to be somewhat confined anyway.  Maybe somebody feeling guilty about leaving his/her animals in a small space made that up, but I was going with it.  My cats had all of my bedroom, hall and bathroom to roam and they had all the food they could eat, water they could drink and litter box they could…well you know what I mean.  They were all set.

Imagine my surprise one night when I come home from work and am greeted at the front door by two 15” tall furry creatures eager to see the world beyond the front door.  I quickly closed the door and stood there for a minute, amazed that they could have gotten out.  I have small French doors that must be very forcefully pulled open and closed for the spring to lock.  How a 13 pound cat without thumbs or considerable muscle mass can open a door I struggle with on a daily basis is beyond me.  I thought maybe this was just a fluke and that perhaps I hadn’t closed the doors all the way.  But lo and behold, the next day, I was again welcomed home/hounded for food at the front door.

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When my parents were here a couple of weeks back, we decided to run an experiment to see how long it takes them to get the door open.  I closed the cats in my bedroom and headed out to work, leaving my mom in the living room.  My mom texted me not 20 minutes later that she had company.  Those little rascals.

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I also used to close my bedroom suite a night to keep the cats from standing on the stove and potentially scorching a tail or two.  In the middle of the night after the first few daytime escapes, I would hear the rattling of the door and then all of the sudden a click sound as the spring released and the door opened.

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Turns out Miss Scarlett is the brains and the brawn of this operation.  Gus doesn’t know nothin’ ‘bout nothin’.

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I have relented and let them roam the place as they please when I am gone now.  Although the other night, I had my hands full of groceries as I walked in the door and little Mr. Gus waltzed right out into the breezeway.  I shuffled groceries at lightning speed and grabbed Gus by the tail to drag him back inside.  I almost had a heart attack because there would be no catching that little booger if he got out and were beyond my reach.  Ever since, I stick my foot in the door first and Gus has learned not to stand so close. In fact, the novelty is beginning to wear off and there are times Gus and Scarlett decide it’s not worth their energy to get up from their cozy perches to welcome me home.

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I’m slowly losing control.

Y’all send reinforcement,

Sugarlump

Cause for Alarm

This week has been full of surprises.  Tuesday evening, I went to ladies’ night at a shooting range and got second place in our bullseye competition.  Everybody watch out.

Early the next morning, at approximately 3:00AM, I awoke to tornado sirens.  This was the first time I had heard them in person since moving to Tennessee so it took me a minute to figure out what was going on.  My weather channel alerts on my phone confirmed that we were under a tornado warning and needed to take cover immediately.  I grabbed my phone, the cats, two cushions from the sofa, and my laptop and closed us in the bathroom as I set up a little fort with my cushions in the bathtub.  I then decided I needed a flashlight and a bottle of water.  Maybe I should have thought through my tornado plan a little bit more.  In my defense, it was JANUARY(!) and tornado season doesn’t usually start until spring.

Anyway, as we waited out the very strong winds and tracked the radar on my laptop, the cats could not have been more confused/annoyed.  They kept looking at me like I was crazy and tried to dig a hole under the door to get out of the bathroom.  Apparently tornado safety does not apply to them.

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Thankfully, other than some seriously violent winds, we were alright.  There were, however, a few tornadoes within 50 miles of us that damaged several buildings and pulled roofs off of homes.

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Less than 48 hours later, the temperature had dropped nearly sixty degrees from the low seventies into the teens and it was snowing.

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It’s a beautiful, sunny day here as long as you’re indoors.  It’s a whopping 17 degrees at the moment and with the wind chill, it feels like single digits.

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There is still snow on most roofs and school was canceled, which I thought this was pretty silly, given that we got about 2 inches of snow.  New Englanders wouldn’t bat an eye at that kind of snowfall.  But then I discovered that there was still some dangerous ice lurking around as I tried to speed out of the gate at my apartment complex earlier this morning.  I spun in place for about 10 seconds until my Jeep finally slid forward, narrowly avoiding the gates as they began to close.

Like the weather, my garbage disposal has been acting backwards this week.  The other day, as I ran the water and turned on the disposal, instead of the water easing the food down the drain as the disposal ground it up, all of the food and water spun violently up and out of the drain and onto me and the counter.  The maintenance man just found a metal spear approximately the size of a chopstick jammed in the pipes, courtesy of the previous tenant.

It’s been a strange couple of days.

In other (likely related) news, I’m back to drinking coffee, but just a small cup.  Hopefully, things will now return to normal.

Y’all be careful,

Sugarlump

No More Coffee

I have eliminated coffee from my diet.  It’s a dark time in my life.  Mostly because I can’t keep my eyelids open.

I’m thinking of substituting green tea so I will have something hot and caffeinated to drink in the morning even though I don’t really like tea, even sweet iced tea (gasp), the drink of the South.

I’ll report back on my java-less journey in the near future.

On the bright side, the sun finally came out this weekend after a week of cold, raw gloom and doom.

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I took this picture in the fall, but the weather was much like this today and yesterday.  Not a cloud in the sky and warm enough to go out without a coat.

This little fur coat here spends the majority of his days as pictured.  He does not, however, empathize with my coffee-less existence and therefore does not understand why I don’t want to get up at 6:30AM to feed him, no matter how loudly and pitifully he meows or how many times he punches me in the face.

It’s been a rude adjustment, but I think it’s for the best (yawn).

Y’all hold ‘er in the road,

Sugarlump

What Next?

This weekend, it was over 70 degrees on Saturday and part of Sunday.  A cold front moved in and by Sunday afternoon we were under a tornado warning as it stormed violently.  Yesterday, it was sort of snowing/sleeting with a winter weather advisory in effect.  Today, we are under an ice storm warning.  It wouldn’t surprise me if tomorrow brought a heat advisory or pollen alert.  Hang tight.

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It started to get icy in the afternoon.  Schools closed early.  I had the day off and have spent most of it under several blankets on the sofa, catching up on months’ worth of the food network.   It was the laziest I’ve been in a while and it was great.

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The cats are so confused that they have been snuggling with each other in the same cat bed even though there is one for each of them, SIDE BY SIDE.  I’m not sure Gus is as pleased with situation as Scarlett is.

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Oops, she heard me.  Not pleased with my commentary.

I think I’ll go out for a Mexican dinner to spice things up a little bit.  I lived in the Northeast nearly my whole life, so I’m not afraid of venturing out in the wintery weather.  (I apologize to my grandmothers if you’re reading this. I promise I’ll be careful.)

Stay tuned for the next spell of bizarre weather.  Get your bikinis ready.

Y’all be careful,

Sugarlump

Tackling Tiramisu

There are very few non-chocolate desserts that I will give the time of day.  My absolute favorite non-chocolate dessert is butterscotch brownies, which continue to baffle me with their non-chocolaty deliciousness.  There are some things that cannot be rationally explained and I believe this is one of them.  Next on my list of acceptable non-chocolate desserts is tiramisu, but only a handful that I have tasted in my life are up to snuff.  One absolute deal-breaker is any trace of almond.  In my opinion, it does not belong in tiramisu.

I tried to make tiramisu once before in my life.  It was not a success.  I went a little overboard on the coffee and put in about twice what the recipe called for because those lady fingers just didn’t look saturated enough as I was assembling the dessert.  The next day, my tiramisu was sitting in a puddle.  The taste wasn’t bad, but I definitely had a texture issue to work out.  Unfortunately, I had volunteered to make this dessert because my mom’s boss and his family were coming over for dinner.  They were sports and cleaned their plates.   It was on that fateful day that I learned firsthand the valuable lesson that one should never prepare an unfamiliar dish for the first time when company is coming over, particularly company you would like to remain in good standing with.  Instead, I would highly recommend preparing something that you have perfected.

My mother did not get fired in case you were wondering.

Since my tiramisu had knocked me down instead of picking me up, it was a while before I was emotionally ready to tackle it again.  My neighbor Anna is Italian and a wonderful cook and baker, so I decided it was safe to try to make tiramisu again with her.

I only allowed myself to measure the dry ingredients and did not deviate from the recipe in the slightest.

For the most part.

When Anna and I were discussing the ingredients for the dessert, I offered to pick up the lady fingers.  She informed me that that would not be necessary as we would be making the cake portion ourselves because it would be a better texture and flavor.  Boy was she right on about that.

This recipe is a long one, but it’s not difficult.  It originates from Southern Living magazine, circa 1988. Heregoes:

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Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a half-sheet pan with wax paper and then butter and flour the wax paper so the cake does not stick.

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Separate 4 eggs and let them come to room temperature.

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Melt 3 tablespoons of butter and let it cool.

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Brew some potent coffee and put 1 cup of it aside to cool. (I would recommend drinking the rest of it if you’re sleepy because this is going to take a while.)  Add ¼ cup of sugar and a miniature of Kahlua to the coffee.

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Sift together 1 cup of all-purpose flour, ¼ teaspoon of baking powder, and ¼ teaspoon of salt.

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In another bowl, beat together the egg yolks and ¾ cup of sugar until light and thick.  This will take about 5 minutes so I would recommend stretching beforehand if using a handheld mixer.

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It will look something like this when it’s ready.

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Then pour in 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, 1 tablespoon of water, and 1 teaspoon of ‘niller extract.

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I love vanilla extract.

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I also really like this nifty little gadget that allows one to dust cocoa powder on things.

Sorry, I got sidetracked by the idea of something chocolate.

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In yet another bowl, beat the egg whites on low speed until they are frothy and then add in ¼ cup of sugar.  Increase the speed of the mixer to medium and beat the egg whites until they are stiff but don’t overbeat.

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Add half of the egg white mixture and half of the flour mixture to the egg yolk mixture.  Fold the mixtures together until combined.  Repeat with the remaining half of the mixtures.

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Pour the batter onto the sheet pan.

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Spread the batter evenly across the sheet pan using a spatula.

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Then pop it in the oven for 15 or 20 minutes or until golden brown on top and the center springs back.

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Let it cool for a few minutes in the pan and then turn it out onto wax paper and let it cool completely.

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Carefully remove the wax paper from the bottom of the cake as that is not a texture you want in your tiramisu.

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Then, cut off the edges of the sponge cake so no one has to experience a crunchy/stiff bite of tiramisu. Remember, it’s all about texture.

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For the filling, beat 1 cup of heavy cream until it forms peaks.

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Then beat together ½ cup sugar and 1 pound of mascarpone cheese.

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Fold together the mascarpone mixture and the heavy cream.  If you’re feeling rebellious, add a few drops of vanilla extract into the mixture.  In my experience, a little extra vanilla extract never hurt anything.

It was Anna’s idea.

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Next, cut the cake in half and place one half on a serving dish.

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Brush half of the coffee mixture onto the cake using a pastry brush.

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It should look something like this.

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Dust the cake generously with cocoa powder.

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Then sprinkle on some chocolate shavings.

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Spread half of the filling mixture over the first layer of cake.

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Easier said than done. Don’t be alarmed if some of the chocolate shavings get mixed in.  No one will ever know and it will still taste good.

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Repeat this process with the second layer of cake and filling.

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Coffee mixture…

Cocoa powder and chocolate shavings.

Filling…

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Some more cocoa powder…

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Smooth the sides with a knife.

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Decorate the top with dark and white chocolate shavings.

Then let the cake sit overnight in the refrigerator and enjoy the next day (preferably not with your mom’s boss unless this is at least the second time you’re making this recipe).

Here are the recipe cards:

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(We deviated from the recipe a little bit by adding Kahlua instead of sherry or Marsala.  Don’t tell anyone.)

Y’all hurry back,

Sugarlump

How do they know?

It amazes me how animals can sense when we need their comfort.  The other morning, I awoke from a very vivid dream feeling disoriented and sad.  I must have jumped slightly as I came into consciousness because my cat Gus, who was nestled up against my arm, with his head on my shoulder, wrapped his little paw around my arm as if to tell me it was going to be OK.

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I want to know how they know.

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Because they clearly know when their humans need a little comforting.

And they’re happy to oblige.

Sometimes I take for granted just how precious they are…

…and then I discovered that a little furry someone left me a couple of tootsie rolls on the bath mat instead of in the litter box.

Nothing is perfect, but these little muffins come pretty darn close.

Y’all come back,

Sugarlump

Summer in January

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The weather has been quite strange here in Nashville the past few days.  We’ve had a lot of rain and temperatures hovering around 70 degrees.  I’ve had my porch door open all today and yesterday.  Just the week prior, I put a second duvet on my bed because it was so cold.  Last night, I couldn’t even look at the duvet without breaking a sweat.  I have no idea what is going on.

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It rained off and on yesterday, leaving behind some interesting clouds as the sun set.  If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought it was July.

I think this is one of my favorite sunset pictures I have taken so far.

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Every 5 minutes, the sky looked completely different.

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This is the most color I’ve seen in the sunset in months.  I also work in a windowless office and it is pitch black by the time I leave work at 6:00 so it could very well be that I’ve missed a lot of beautiful sunsets this winter.

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I couldn’t get enough of this sunset.  I hadn’t realized that I’d been in such sunset withdrawl.

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Check out those hot pink clouds!  They look like cotton candy in the sky, which reminds me of the fair, which reminds me of summer.  I can’t wait for summer.

Y’all hurry back,

Sugarlump

Shooting Range

I’m really getting into this recreational shooting thing.  The other day, I went to an indoor shooting range where we shot 9mm handguns.  The guy told me which particular type of gun I was shooting, but I promptly forgot because I don’t know anything about guns except that they are fun to shoot (safely).

I did, however, remember what I learned in class before we went out to the range:

1) Always keep the gun pointed towards the target in the range (and away from living beings).

2) Don’t load the gun until you’re ready to shoot.

3) Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot.

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Once we got out into the range, we had to select a target.  We had our choice of pink or blue.  Naturally, I chose hot pink to make up for my tomboy years in middle school when I shopped exclusively in the boys’ department at the GAP and refused to acknowledge that pink existed.  The man running the place said the pink was actually easier to see.  I think he just wanted to see a bunch of guys shooting at hot pink targets.

I had never shot a handgun before so I needed a lot of prep on what the heck I was doing.  I finally got the gist of it but the gun kept jamming because I didn’t keep a firm enough grip on it after I pulled the trigger.  Towards the end, I had a death grip on that gun.  I was holding it so tight that my ring made a serious impression in my finger.

The hardest part was not wobbling with my breath.  Thank goodness I wasn’t hopped up on caffeine or I would have had no hope for hitting the target.

Turns out, I hit the target pretty well for a newbie.  I never got the X, but I got pretty darn close 49 times.

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I was so proud that I hung my target on the refrigerator.  Even grown-ups can display their accomplishments on the fridge.  I can’t wait to see the look on the cable guy’s face tomorrow when he comes to fix my cable (that has been broken since NEW YEAR’s EVE!).

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I was pretty pleased with myself.

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A few more rounds and I would have blown this guy’s (girl’s?) heart to smithereens.

I’m glad I tried the handgun indoors thing, but I think I prefer rifles.  I like being outside and having more distant targets.   Too bad I live in an apartment complex with 0 yard.   I need to make a trip back to Kentucky to go shoot on the farm.

Now, on to my next task with the slightly more difficult moving target: skeet shooting.

Y’all be careful,

Sugarlump