For four years, I lived in the House With the Yellow Door in London. Most of the time I shared that house with Flatmate-Beth. Flatmate-Beth and I are both white American women, at the time in our late 20’s. We were part of a team that worked with some British churches in the East End. We did lots of churchy things, but mostly we worked with refugees. Our other teammate was this African American guy named Ray. He was in his 50’s. He always came to our ESL parties, which was helpful, just in case we needed a trustworthy male presence around.
One time, maybe we did.
For about a year and a half, we lived next door to a sad family with two alcoholic parents. The parents would fight. The mother would take the kids and leave for the week. The father would drink and drink and keep the television so loud that we could hear precisely which episode of Eastenders was on. Then eventually the mother would come back and the cycle would repeat. This was not funny, and I don’t want to make light of the situation for anyone who has had an alcoholic in their lives (I have had, myself), but one night the father did provide some . . . well . . . entertainment . . . for our gawking refugee friends.
Flatmate-Beth and I were having one of our parties. Ray was late. With the Yellow Door wide open so as to welcome our international friends, AlcoNeighbour walked right in, too. What, wondered Alco-Neighbour, was going on? We, frankly, were wondering the same thing. We were also not so sure what to do about it.
“We’re having a party,” we said. London is a pretty ethnically diverse place, but I think our guests were diverse enough in age and background to make anyone, even the uninebriated, wonder how on earth we all knew each other. “What kind of party?” asked AlcoNeighbour, probably wondering where the booze was. (We never served any–except once for Beth’s birthday–out of consideration for our more observant Muslim guests.)
“We work for a church,” we said. “We teach English classes there. These are our students.”
“A church, eh?” said AlcoNeighbour. “Did you know Queen Elizabeth invented the church?”
Um–even supposing he meant the first Queen Elizabeth and was actually talking about the Church of England–no, we didn’t.
In spite of our best efforts to keep things peaceful, AlcoNeighbour was not a happy drunk, and in an attempt to shepherd him back outdoors, one of our male Persian friends almost got in a fight with him right in our front garden. ESL parties had never been so exciting. It was around this time that Ray showed up.
Maybe our drunken neighbour found it comforting that Ray was black, since he was, too. Whatever the case, he allowed Ray to bring him back over to his own house, although Ray had to go in there and sit with him for a while.
Ray ended up missing most of the party. “What happened?” we asked when he returned to say goodbye. “He couldn’t understand what all these people were doing here,” Ray said. “He didn’t believe I really knew you all. So I told him Beth was my wife. And Jenn was my sister.”
Beth as his wife was at least somewhat plausible, although there was a pretty big age gap. But me as his (unadopted) sister? I looked at Ray. I looked at myself. “Did he believe you?” I asked.
“Yep,” said Ray.
A Saturday Snippet
My Paul will probably be ashamed of me for saying this (which I guess counts for me being ashamed of myself, since the two are supposed to become one in marriage, right?), but I guess it takes national tragedy for me to get at all patriotic. I don’t really know why this is, unless it has something to do with having spent some of my earliest years in another country altogether. The most patriotic I’ve ever been was when I lived in that other country, and thought that the United States was Heaven because:
- You had to fly to get there.
- You could drink water out of the tap.
- “Everybody” already spoke English.
I get that our country is unique and I appreciate the benefits that I get from living here (though probably not enough), but I guess I derive my identity in other ways, so when other people get all misty-eyed or fist-pumping about the good ol’ USA, I sort of glaze over.
I also feel that images of bald eagles are really cliché.
But I’m not going to deny that I felt a little misty-eyed and fist-pumping along with everybody else after they caught Dzhokar Tsarnaev last evening. It was a strange and tension-filled day, even though my Paul and Alicia and I all went on a day trip, and the denouement was a relief. I have friends in Watertown and I could certainly appreciate the sacrifice of time, sleep and personal safety of the security units running around after this kid all day. Like most of the other people in this neck of the woods, I was proud of those people, even though I don’t know them.
I’m also not going to deny that I’m hoping that what appears to be true really is true, and that our pair of bald eagles have, indeed, moved into the neighbourhood to stay.
Theology Thursday (sort of)
It’s Thursday again. I really should set aside one day a week to write all my posts and queue them up instead of just queuing one or two up sporadically. And that day should not be Thursday. On Thursday I go to work and then I go to seminary for approximately seven hours, and writing Words About God takes a long time, so if I haven’t written a Thursday post ahead of time, it certainly isn’t going to get done that day.
Especially if it’s going to be about what I wanted to write about this week. (Although, part of the reason it didn’t get done ahead of time is that I didn’t know what I wanted to write about until yesterday.) So, to save time, I’m going to send you to my God-thinking colleague over at the American Jesus to read this post. Then next Thursday I’ll talk about how I’m not sure but I think I disagree with him.
Homework, baby. If I have to do it, so do you. Happy Thursday!
P.S. Did you know that if you google “public domain images of thursday” you actually get results? ^^^
On Monday when I was driving back to work from my Chiropractor appointment, I saw a new billboard for some bite-sized snack which was supposed to take care of your hunger pangs in between meals or something. The snack looked, from the 3,000-times-the-actual-size photograph, totally unidentifiable as a specific food (more specific than “bite-sized snack,” anyway), and I don’t think the name was very specific either–just “Bites” or something. No mention of what they were bites. Still, they appeared somewhat yummy, in an unidentifiable, not-particularly-healthy kind of way.
In the lower left-hand corner of the billboard was a subtitular descriptor of sorts that announced:
Cooked Perfect Bites
Never mind that someone had smudged out a section of the second “o” so that it looks like it says, Cocked Perfect Bites. (I like my bawdy humour as much as the next person, and maybe more than a Christian Youth Group Leader should, but I also like it to have a little bit of intelligence behind it.) The thing that really got me was the Absolutely Horrendous Grammar of this advertisement. Perfect, in this case, is an adverb modifying the adjective Cooked. (Or cocked. Either way, the grammar’s wrong.) But there was nothing perfect about this little claim.
Perfect, as an adverb, needs an ly. But even the makers of this billboard would know that Cooked Perfectly Bites doesn’t work. (It almost works if you’re trying to say, slangily and a little rudely, that being cooked perfectly is, for whatever reason, decidedly unsatisfactory.) It should, instead, say something like Perfectly Cooked Bites.
Sheesh, I thought, as I sailed by the billboard at speeds not conducive to snapping photos on my iPhone, No wonder no one can speak properly anymore! Probably another kind of police would have had something equally snarky to say about my driving, had any of them been around at the time. Fortunately for me, the only police at hand in this corner of Our Fair City at that moment, was this grammar one.
What’s the worst grammar gaffe you’ve ever seen in professional advertising?
The Tuesday Reblog (2)
Here’s the second Boston reblog for the day. I kind of want to call yesterday’s events The Second Boston Massacre . . . I think it fits. Maybe even better than the first time.
God, help us.
It is with sadness that I watch as, what appears to be another terrorist attack spreads injury, death and fear into the hearts of the people here in Boston and indeed touching people all over the world.
The death toll currently is at 2 with at least 23 injured. The sadness that I feel is first for those directly impacted by this senseless act. What bothers me deeply is the far-reaching and long-term effects this unnatural act places in the hearts and psyches of the countless multitudes. This day’s horrors will fade just as the countless horrific events of the past do. Unfortunately the long-term effects on how people feel, act, and do will change in varying levels of intensity… probably for the rest of their lives.
Personally my faith is a place where I grab hold of… all the more tightly as these events unfold and my thoughts and…
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The Tuesday Reblog (1)
I was going to write something about Boston last night, but I really had nothing to say. Then I read your blogs. Two reblogs today, in better words than I had to hand. Here’s the first one.
On Saturday I had to pick up all the dog leavings in the yard (appropriately, considering that last dream). There was a lot to clean up and I went through quite a few of those plastic disposable grocery-shopping bags.
While recovering from the admittedly brief PTSD associated with this task, I started thinking about plastic disposable grocery-shopping bags. In London we simply called them carrier bags. Occasionally I still forget which terms are the British ones and which are the American ones when I’m talking, and sometimes I just like the British terms better. Carrier bag is much more efficient to say (even if it is a little redundant and not overly descriptive) than plastic disposable grocery-shopping bags. What do we actually call those things over here, anyway?
Yeah. Anyway. All this thinking about . . . those receptacles . . . made me remember London and this social norm I discovered there which I soon dubbed:
The Carrier Bag Game
(Don’t worry. This is not a blog game, although you can try this at home . . . maybe.)
Maybe people don’t play this in London anymore; I don’t know if you now have to bring your own carrier bags every time you shop or else buy new ones (I know that’s what they do in Ireland, which is where my parents lived more recently than I lived in the UK). But in the late 1990’s such environmentally responsible practices had not yet been established there, as they still have not, for the most part, here. This meant that every time you went to the shops and actually purchased something, you came home with more carrier bags. Soon you were stuffing carrier bags into carrier bags, and then they were overflowing into other carrier bags and every hook in your Cupboard Under the Stairs (assuming you didn’t have Harry Potter living under there) supported at least three carrier bags full of carrier bags.
It was a lot of carrier bags.
So, in an attempt to off-load some of your carrier bags without being entirely environmentally terroristic and just throwing them away, you would carry everything everywhere in carrier bags . . . and hopefully drop them off at someone else’s house. If you were invited to a home for dinner, you would offer to bring something. Even if your hosts said you didn’t need to bring anything, you would still bring something–cake or a bottle of wine or minced pies (I just threw that into the list because I really liked those tiny little store-bought minced pies you can get over there)–just so you could put it in a carrier bag. If you could get away with bringing more than one thing and put each thing into its own carrier bag–well done, you! Then you got to your destination and handed your host or hostess a veritable bouquet of carrier bags full of goodies which, ideally, you originally took home all in one carrier bag.
My flatmate Beth and I got really good at the carrier bag game, but we suffered severe setbacks about once every six weeks when we hosted our English class parties. We worked with refugees, for some churches which ran ESL classes, and every so often we would invite everybody–students, teachers, parishioners, random passers-by who stopped in for the conversation–over to our house for a relaxed informal gathering. Everyone brought food from their own country to share, and we would sit around and talk and play games and laugh and . . . it was always a good time. (Even the time our alcoholic neighbour . . . maybe I’ll write about that next week.)
But there was a problem. The problem was that, although no one ever verbally acknowledged it, everybody in East London played the carrier bag game. And everybody coming to our house for these parties was bringing something. And everybody was frequently quite a lot of people. For six weeks Beth and I would systematically and successfully whittle down our supply of carrier bags to one carrier bag full of carrier bags . . . and then the party. We never won.
What creative ways do you find to use up your carrier bags? Londoners–do you recognise this game? Do people still play it?
I don’t really have anything interesting to say. My Paul and I were supposed to get ourselves outdoors to do yardwork, and he is, in fact, right this second unloading sand from the back of the truck. However, sporadic sunbursts notwithstanding, it’s been largely cloudier and chillier than we were expecting, and so we haven’t been highly energetic or motivated.
We had scrambled eggs for breakfast.
We did some minor grocery shopping.
We bought some peat moss and potting soil.
We stopped at the newly renovated Starbucks in town to get coffee from their brand new Clover®. They had Ethiopian sundried Sidamo. True truth: Ethiopian coffee is the best there is.
We had lunch.
We lazed around.
I wrote Monday’s memory. My Paul laughed his head off at his kindred spirits on internet bulletin boards.
I had to work last Saturday, and have to work the next three, so I guess I don’t feel so bad about not being terribly productive today. Sometimes you have to store up rest like a chipmunk stores food in winter, in preparation for what’s to come.
I am currently taking a Spiritual Formation class at seminary, and among many other activities, we have to keep a journal. I’ve been keeping one of those since I was thirteen, which was so long ago I can scarcely remember it, but this journaling is a bit mores specific. We have to write in categories, kind of like this blog, I guess, including recording any dreams that we remember.
As you will know if you’ve been here for even a couple of weeks, I tend to have frequent vivid dreams, although there have been fewer of them since I got married. My Paul has lots of these as well, so maybe my subconscious doesn’t feel the need to log them as much or something. Anyway, after being told that we needed to try to record dreams because sometimes God communicates to us through them, I finally remembered a dream. I’m not so sure, however, that God was really telling me something. It was more like an abstract cartoon of some regular-life facts. Here are the regular-life facts:
2. Mom-Elizabeth and the Chiropractor’s younger son is named Nick. He loves my dog Oscar. A lot.
3. Today I had to take Oscar to the vet for his annual checkup. I also had an appointment with the Chiropractor. The two offices are across the street from each other.
Even though I am skeptical about the value of this dream, it’s the only one I’ve really remembered since this one, so, as enjoined, I journaled it. This is what I said about it:
In the dream, I was attempting to go to these two appointments, but, as in all my dreams, I was inexplicably running late, and maybe I got a little lost, and then I think I ended up in some waiting room that wasn’t either of the two places. Or maybe it was at the Chiropractor’s office, but–also typically for my dreams, it didn’t look anything like the Chiropractor’s office, and when I told some identity-less person in the dream that I needed to get to the vet’s across the street and we looked out the door so I could show them, we were in the middle of the woods instead of the middle of Their Town and the vet’s was nowhere to be seen.
Meanwhile, for whatever reason, instead of leaving Oscar in the car while I had my back cracked as I intended to do in real life, I had brought him inside and he was wandering around, surreptitiously peeing and pooping everywhere. It was mad disgusting. So I got up and started trying to clean up the mess. At which point, Oscar suddenly morphed into the Chiropractor’s son, who was also intent on peeing everywhere. (Note: I have never known this kid to behave like this in real life.)
I don’t know where the Chiropractor was at this point (or for most of the dream, really, though I do think he made a cameo somewhere near the beginning). I would be tempted also to wonder how he didn’t know his son was a shapeshifter who was also my dog. But, then again, I was quite surprised to discover my dog was a shapeshifter who was also his son so . . . there we are.
Anyway, the Chiropractor was nowhere to be found and his son was about ready to pee on something again, and I had to physically push him toward the restrooms, while chiding him with my best Youth Group Leader chide. For some reason, both individual-use restrooms were occupied . . . by more than one person. And then the dream faded out. Or shapeshifted itself into another one, which I don’t remember as well . . .
All you dream-catchers can have fun with this one. In the meantime, I can say that I made it to both appointments this morning, although I was indeed late. All the offices were where they were supposed to be and looked as they should, and Oscar stayed Oscar.