Shorts

Wordy Wednesday

People who know about these things recommend that aspiring-to-be-published writers invest time in writing short stories. Having recently been turned onto a few freelancing websites, at least one of which also posts creative writing contests and offers for literary magazine submissions, I’m starting to agree that this would be a good idea. But there’s just one problem.

I don’t like short stories.

He wants you to eat his shorts.

He wants you to eat his shorts.

This doesn’t mean I consider myself above writing them. Or even reading them. I just don’t enjoy them. You would think that because they’re short and I’m a slow reader, they would be the perfect medium for me: they’re stories, and they don’t take me months and months to get through. Except they do, because I can’t even bring myself to start them.

I suppose this wouldn’t matter so much, except that I tend to agree with the idea that you learn to write by reading, and that you learn to write certain genres and types of literature by reading those genres and types of literature. It’s not for the sake of copying. It’s more that by a sort of non-physical osmosis, you absorb what works in a given type of writing, and what doesn’t. Therefore, I feel (and I actually have some proof) that I am less likely to write a good short story if my entire reading diet consists of novels and theology. Which it does.

Fortunately there might be a way to begin to rectify this situation–at least after I’ve completed my coursework–because for my birthday this year The Item gave me a nice thick anthology of short stories. Please don’t be offended by my admission about my feelings for short stories, The Item. It is my own personal failing. And I am genuinely grateful he gave me that book, because I think it will really help me to “absorb” short-story-writing skills . . . and maybe even help me start to like them.

I suspect some pointers would come in handy, too, though. Any of you tale-spinners, who don’t have the short-story hang-up that I have, care to share some? I’m all ears.

Tales and Stories–Shnodgrate and Napoleon

The Tuesday Reblog

The Professor over at the Punchy Lands is random and quirky and funny, and I especially liked this post today, as a woman who is learning to take herself less seriously and who has on occasion been told by perfect strangers (including the toll taker on the state highway over the weekend) to please smile because I look better that way.

The Punchy Lands!

“You see, Mr. Shnodgrate,” this professor was saying as he looked across the table at the grumpy V. Shnodgrate, “maybe you should try not to take things so seriously?”

Shnodgrate looked up. “Sometimes I wonder about you, P.VJ. If you don’t take anything seriously, how then can you possibly get on?”

“Get on with what?” I asked.

“With everything!” Shnodgrate said with a wave of his hands. “If you don’t take everything seriously, then everything won’t take you seriously.”

That got me.

Either Shnodgrate was being deep, or the professor was being dull.

“For instance,” he went on, “look at that face.” Shnodgrate shoved this picture in front of me.

Bald Eagle

“What can you tell from the eagle’s face?”

“Well…” I began unsurely. “Firstly, from his look, I suppose him a mean sort of chap–”

Shnodgrate let out a huff of disapproval and fell back into his seat.

“Something’s clearly wrong…

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Giving the Boot

Saturday Snippets

I would just like to take this opportunity to apologise for the appearance of a fake tan I have been inflicting on the universe for the last month or so. It’s so false it’s not even a real fake tan. Some of the Readership who know me in real life are now thinking, “Ah–at least she’s aware of it. We didn’t want to say anything.” The rest of you will now be enlightened as to the source of the vague sense of something extra that has become wrong with the world. But it’s not my fault. Not really. I blame boots.

No, not these boots.

No, not these boots.

THIS Boots.

THIS Boots.

I suspect most of my American The Readership aren’t even aware of this product, but back when I was in London and a large percentage of my international friends would come up to me with concern and ask me if I were aware I had “spots,” I discovered Boots No.7 foundation make-up. Boots is the name of a chemist–i.e., drug store–chain in the UK, kind of like CVS or Osco, but classier. Obviously, since they have their own line of up-market make-up. Their foundation never actually cleared up my acne, but it remains the only one I have discovered which doesn’t actually exacerbate it. So although it’s not all nice and “natural” like some of the mineral things they’ve got out there right now, I was pretty happy when CVS and then–after a fall-out between them and Boots, apparently–Target started carrying it.

Then, about three months ago, the Boots shelves at Target were all in disarray and I thought, Oh no! Are they discontinuing carrying it, too? But no. It turns out that all that was happening was that the good people at No.7 were reformulating and repackaging it or something. I discovered this about a month ago, when I was completely out of my last little bottle of the stuff. But there were no samplers, and all the names of the skin-tone colours had changed. Who does that? I stood there for about fifteen minutes trying to figure out which of the two lightest colours was my colour.

All that to say, I bought a bottle one shade darker than I should have, but once you use the stuff, obviously you can’t bring it back to the shop, and this stuff is too expensive simply to replace and not to use one if it happens to be the wrong colour. Adding insult to injury, of course, is the fact that there’s no chance at this time of year that I could be sporting a real tan. But I am going to use this vial of make-up until it’s empty. So there. And so . . . so sorry, everybody.

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Family Friday

Are you sick of reading about our garden yet?

Well, that’s too bad, because I’m not done writing about it.

On Wednesday I pulled up all the carrots.

Table takeover

By which I mean ALL the carrots.

By which I mean ALL the carrots.

This morning I juiced a couple, also with the greens (and an apple, which we didn’t grow here). It was pretty delicious. It’s a good thing we have all these carrots, since we finally made it through the pile of peppers. (You know what’s good? Shredding an onion and sautéeing it until it’s a sort of caramelised paste, frying up some bacon and food-processing it to bits, mixing all that in with a brick of cream cheese, and then stuffing it into baby peppers. Try it.) Happiness is having an inordinate pile of one type of vegetable and seeing how many uses you can come up with for it, I think.

Oh! And something gourmet-breakfast-place-y I tried the other day when my Paul (who I suspect would not have been a fan in this particular case) had to leave for work early:

We had some leftover zucchini (courgette) from a previous evening, so I chopped them up into tiny cubes and threw them in a frying pan. Then I beat two eggs and some milk in a bowl and poured them over the top, and then while that was all cooking, I crumbled some lemon balm into it. Lemon balm is notoriously difficult to come up with a use for. It’s good in fruit salad, but that season is definitively over now that we’ve had a frost and turned the house heat on, in spite of my Paul’s facebook post yesterday:

"We still have raspberries, therefore it is still summer."

“We still have raspberries, therefore it is still summer.”

I found a recipe for some sauce made out of lemon balm and made some a few weeks ago, but now I can’t figure out what to do with that. Also, as soon as the sauce hits any air room temperature or cooler, it hardens, so now I basically have this lemony, small-bowl-sized butter lozenge in the fridge. Which I guess could be good? But I still don’t know how to eat it.

I picked most of the lemon balm the day I made the sauce lozenge, and put what didn’t make it into that, into a plastic zipper bag and into the freezer, but I didn’t have high hopes for it. I don’t know what made me think that lemon balm would taste nice with zucchini in eggs (and after trying it, some of you might really wonder), but in my opinion it was fantastic. Adding a slice of Swiss cheese really clinched it, and set me daydreaming about when my Paul and I move to the Middle-of-Nowhere, New Hampshire, and open our bed and breakfast . . .

What Moves Me

Theology Thursday

really get into stories.

When I was two years old, my parents took me to my first movie (Cinderella)–and then took me right back out again, because even though I knew the cat (Lucifer) in the cartoon was “bad,” I couldn’t bear watching Jacque and Gus the mice “be mean” to him, and I screamed my head off. I never did see the rest of the movie until it was released on VHS when I was in high school.

Cinderella-Movie-Poster-cinderella-7790335-450-666

When I was a teenager watching Fiddler on the Roof and the tailor Mottel Camzoil asked a plaintive question about whether now wasn’t a good time for the Messiah finally to come, I sobbed my eyes out because of course I believed (and still believe) that the Messiah had come, and how awful for them (fictional or not) not to know Him.

il_570xN.433691622_ftyd

When I was in college watching The Mission and the baby near the end in the mud and the rain screaming, I sobbed again, and felt like screaming like that, for the Slaughter of the Innocents which seems to keep happening, over and over again.

220px-The_mission

Nowadays, when my Paul and I watch action movies . . . or a recent (or upcoming–depending on which side of the Atlantic you reside) episode of a popular British period drama, he’ll look over at me and say, “You’re holding your face again.” I guess I usually am.

Guys. I realise there might be some doubt in some people’s minds about this, but I am able to discern that these movies are fiction. It’s just that a) I immerse in a good story and b) apparently (and I’m only recently starting to realise this about myself) I get really deeply disturbed by bullying and injustice. (It is arguable that I don’t actually do much about it, which I probably also need to start wrapping my head around, but I sure do get upset.)

So a week ago tonight, when our Seminary Dean–who has been laid off because of the shut-down–had to speak to our student-body about that very shut-down and what it means to us, I sobbed again. This was a true story unfolding, and I was, once again, immersed in it. I had thought I was over my upset at the news some days before, but . . . apparently not. There was a cake after the question and answer session, as part of a thank you to our amazing Centre Director (also laid off), but I was crying too hard to be able to countenance cake and socialising, even with a bunch of people I have grown to care deeply about in a very short time.

On the way home I had the strangest sensation of being absolutely spitting mad–or, more exactly, rolling-up-the-windows-and-screaming-in-the-car mad, except that I have to drive past the police station to get from The Seminary to The Cottage, so I just screamed in my head–but also having this rock-solid sensation that all would be well and all would be well and all manner of thing would be well. (Thank you, Julian of Norwich, for the extra-biblical quote I quote more than all other extrabiblical quotes.)

Then I started thinking about the crucifixion, and maybe it’s a little bit of a stretch to equate the death of a tiny Seminary no one has heard of with the death of the Messiah, but it really does feel like a death, and an unjust one, to boot. The Centre Director and the Seminary Dean are definitely bearing the brunt of this decision, and it’s pretty clear they’re in pain, because they have really personally invested in this place. Yet they did not once denigrate the Institution. They listened to other people’s fears and worries and even misplaced accusations with grace and patience. They fielded questions about decisions to which they had not been privy. All I could think of was grace, grace, grace. And therefore, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.

I thought about how this Seminary has such a focus on spiritual formation–the process of being “formed” more into the likeness of Jesus Himself, in attitudes, behaviour, speech–everything. And I thought that our instructors (the Centre Director, the Dean, the professors) in this process are not hypocrites. Of course they’re not perfect, but they have been spiritually formed, and even now they are being spiritually formed even further, and they are an example to us–to me, who has not moved far enough along yet to completely resist airing this stuff on the internet. But that was why I was crying–because here were these godly people, whose life’s work (at least recent life’s work) appears to be cut off before it was fully realised.

And I guess that’s why I thought of the crucifixion. And I thought about the disciples–the male ones and also the women–and how they felt when Jesus, the quintessentially godly, spiritually “formed,” was outright slaughtered. I’ll bet they sobbed, too. And screamed. Without the windows rolled up, and regardless of police stations. But did they know that “all would be well”? Because Easter hadn’t happened yet.

But now it has. And I believe in resurrection. And restoration. And reconciliation. And hope. I don’t know what those things look like in relation to The Seminary and the people here that I care about. But I believe in them, and I believe they’re in play as much here and now as anywhere and anywhen. Thank you, Jesus.

Sold!

Wordy Wednesday

I wish that you thought the title of this post was Sold! because it meant that The Seminary had been sold to another institution so we wouldn’t have to shut it down. And I wish you thought that because I wish you were right. But that hasn’t happened (yet?), and that is not what this post is about. It is a little bit about The Seminary, though.

This post is just to tell you that I actually sold my first copy of Trees through the Jenn Store! It was purchased by a fellow Seminary student, who could just as easily (and $4 more cheaply) have bought it from me out of the trunk of my car. I just wanted to tell you because a) selling copies of Trees is, apparently, a big deal and because b) it demonstrates in a small way just what a high caliber of students attend(ed) this here Seminary. I have quality colleagues, I’m telling you. Thanks, Quality Colleague! I hope you (and your wife, whose name is on the shipping label) enjoy it!

A stand of Trees. Get yours today!

A stand of Trees. Get yours today!

Just Stand There In Your Deadness & Be Dead

The Tuesday Reblog

The WannabeSaint posted this approximately the day after we got the news that The Seminary was being shut down. It seemed appropriate, somehow.

TheWannabeSaint.com

Over at the Inquisitor there’s an interesting post on a man who isn’t dead being told he is dead and there’s not much he can do about it.

blank-gravestone-10665482

A judge told Mr. Miller, the not so deceased man, “I don’t know where that leaves you, but you’re still deceased as far as the law is concerned.”

Reading this I tried to get into the judge’s brain as he stares at an alive man and tells him “you’re not alive, at least not according to the law.”

Mr. Miller, his family and the judge are in an dilemma. They know he’s alive, they see he’s alive and yet according to some statute some person wrote up and had ratified he’s not. What’s Mr. Miller going to do? Not sure.

What about you? Ever had one of those times when you’re right and the other person’s wrong? Had an…

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The Seminary

Memory Monday
This post was written for a different blog. For various reasons, it will never be published there. So I'm putting it here instead. I need you to know this story, because I may be processing it for some time. For now, names of the relevant places are being simplified to The Seminary and The Institution. You'll see what I mean.

I’ve been thinking about Grandpa Madeira lately.

Also with Jenn

Grandpa and some other visionary pastors founded a seminary in the mid-1980’s. Originally comprised of four “centers” in various Northeastern states, The Seminary was designed in such a way that students who were already in ministry, or already working full-time in general, could still attend and get a legitimate degree. It had an innovative spiritual formation and mentoring component incorporated throughout its program—an unusual feature for seminaries at the time. The hope was to prepare students to minister in the spiritually desolate Northeast and beyond. Some who were trained in that seminary now serve overseas. Some still pastor churches in the Northeastern United States.

Disaster struck in the mid-1990’s. In an attempt to keep the groundbreaking Seminary funded, leadership had opted into New Era Philanthropywhich turned out, to their surprise, to be a ponzi scheme. It didn’t end well. The school almost went under. Grandpa succumbed to what turned out to be Alzheimer’s, although it took a long time to be diagnosed. Many of us in the family hypothesized that the ponzi scandal was enough to shock him into a defense mechanism from which he never escaped, but before he submerged entirely, he observed that sometimes, maybe the Church tries too hard to utilize the methods of the world to accomplish the purposes of the Kingdom.

Grandpa meant New Era, of course, but sometimes other things happen that remind me he said that. Maybe, he suggested, the leadership of The Seminary should have had a little more faith. Then, just when it seemed all was lost, another visionary Institution took steps to acquire The Seminary. The school survived, eventually fully merging with the larger, stronger entity. I don’t think Grandpa’s mind outlasted the merger, and his body followed suit some time afterward, but his legacy and the vision of his friends and colleagues had been validated and strengthened by the providential help of The Institution.

I was just out of college when the New Era deal came crashing down, working as a nanny in Connecticut. Some time later I became a missionary among refugees in London, England, and five years after that, returned to the US, to attempt a seminary degree in counseling. The school I chose was a good one, but a terrible fit for me at that time. I moved back to New England. About five years after that, I resumed studies, this time in an MDiv program at a New England institution. But not all institutions are designed for people already in full-time ministry, who can’t quit their jobs, pack up, move to campus, and dedicate most waking hours to study.

“Why don’t you try The Seminary?” suggested my mother, my counselor, some local youth leaders with whom I fellowship. I didn’t want to. Grandpa had started that school, and deep as my respect for him runs, I had this idea that a seminary that met in rented space in a church, and had been partially founded by a family member, couldn’t possibly give me a degree worth having.

Then again, the logistics of my second seminary were proving impossible. After another year and a half or so of soul-searching and prayerful struggle, I finally applied to, was enrolled in, and began classes as a MATS student at The Seminary. I finally felt peaceful about my decision, and God began to provide financially for me to attend. Within the first week of classes I was overwhelmed by the sense of community and the depth of spirituality inherent in this place. It was my third seminary, but, excellent as the other two are, I had never experienced anything like it. Mind and spirit are being fed in ways I, in my setting, desperately need. The body is being fed, too, during the periodic potluck dinners!

Last week, The Seminary students received word that our center is closing. The times, as Dylan sang before they had even changed this much, they are a’changin’. The theological training landscape looks different. Sometimes organizations must reprioritize. I believe the powers that be when they tell me I will, regardless of the imminent closure, be able to finish my degree, finally–if for no other reason than that their accreditation requires it. I still regret that I didn’t start here sooner. That was my mistake.

I also regret, though, that the Northeast is losing a resource—and the theological landscape is losing a paradigm—that is not, as things stand now, replaceable. New England is beautiful, and so are its people. But its soil is stony, and hearts are, too. The “local” alternatives are not true alternatives to the types of students who are attending here. The Seminary was shining Jesus’ light in dark places in ways other institutions couldn’t. I pray we hold tight to what we’ve learned of Him as we’ve studied here, and that we continue to shine His light where He calls us as this particular set of doors closes behind us.

The Doctor’s Office

Saturday Snippets

A couple of you have been over here cramming the last few days, if the number of posts in a row that you’ve “liked” is any indication, so I almost feel obligated to give that Jenn story quiz I quipped about last week. I think that might be a little too self-absorbed even for me, though, and also it makes me feel obligated to give prizes, and the only people I’m sure would play along already possess the only prize I currently have to offer. So instead I’m going to tell you what it’s like when TWCN (The World’s Cutest Niece) and Smiley-Guy play doctor. (P.S. The short answer is: adorable and innocent.)

fisher-price-logo

Mom and Dad have the same Fisher-Price® doctor’s kit that Grandma and Grandpa M had when TheBro and I were little and came over to play.  It looks pretty grungy now for all the use it’s had, but that doesn’t stop TWCN from playing with it or Smiley Guy from putting all the pieces in his mouth even though he’s a precocious three and a half and should know better.

TWCN holds up the eye chart with all of the letters of the alphabet in order in decreasing size. I say all the letters correctly, at the pace at which she moves her fingers. She is in Kindergarten now so she knows her alphabet literally frontwards and backwards. “Pretend,” she says. “When you get to the little ones, say some wrong ones.” We go through the chart again. I pretend to see the letters between P and Z with some trouble. “No!” TWCN says every time I mess one up, as if I’m the most hilariously dimwitted auntie in the world. She keeps saying, “No,” until I get it right. Then she waves the little blue wand for looking in eyes and ears and pokes it right at my eyelids. “The eyes are my favourite part,” she says cheerfully, while I wonder if I should be frightened.

She has some pieces of modular plastic screwdriver from Fisher-Price’s tool kit, too. “These are for cuts,” she says.

“Cuts?” I ask in alarm. “I don’t want any cuts!”

“No!” she laughs, as if I have just called a WT. “They’re for cuts. Let’s see if you have any cuts.” Apparently they are applicators to put disinfectant on my pre-existent imaginary cuts. I feel much better.

Smiley-Guy is meanwhile jumping around with the plastic yellow and red syringe and trying to give me shots in the arm while holding it in his mouth. TWCN is taking my temperature and turning the little dial at the end of the giant thermometer so it reads as high as possible. I pretend to be shocked and dismayed by the high fever I am, apparently, running. TWCN lies me down on the mattress she’s been sleeping on all week and Smiley Guy gives me his Blankie.

Both of them get on the rocking horse that Grandpa G made for me when I was T-TAC’s age; because of my scandalously high fever, they are rushing me to the hospital via horsey-cart. TWCN untethers the horse. “Okay, horsey,” she says. “You may go back to your desk now and do your homework.” Then she falls down on the floor laughing hysterically at her own silliness.

At the “hospital,” Smiley Guy starts loudly singing a song he has just made up, using the medicine bottle as a microphone. Something about “The doctor’s office is what we did, the doctor’s office is what we need” over and over again. TWCN begins singing along. It is unclear if they are both singing the same words or not. Or the same tune. Then they tap the little hammer against my knees to test my reflexes, and I kick my feet, cooperatively. TWCN takes my temperature again and Smiley Guy reprises the blue eye-checking wand, approximately as alarmingly as his sister did.

My temperature is still high, but not as bad, although apparently I have a blood pressure of “1.” Somehow, I am still capable of reading them a story.

Not the same event, but a similar approach.  (I have been given permission to post not-the-children's-faces.)

Not the same event, but a similar approach.

Auntie and Niecey

Playing Hooky

Family Friday

I’m using up my last vacation days of the year (minus one) this week, and TheBro and Sister-in-Lu pulled TWCN out of two days of kindergarten so we could all have some Family Togetherness out here in New England–also with my parents, Auntie Susan (who normally lives in Costa Rica) and today, my two grandmothers. Grandma M’s 93rd birthday was last week, and Grandma G’s 98th birthday is in December, so, since this many family members were around at once, my mother is throwing a little party at Cranberry Corners this afternoon.

Homework and other things have been filling in the time-cracks of the week, but there has still been some kind of get-together with The BroFam almost every day, and every one of those seems like a party, actually, because TWCN and Smiley-Guy are so exuberant about everything. We have also finally met Third Time’s a Charmer (aka T-TAC), who really is one, although so far he’s usually quieter than his two older siblings.

I’m not allowed to post photos of the children on the internet anywhere. According to TheBro, “that’s what happens when you’re famous.” Obviously he hasn’t read the post yet about how I’m not. But I respect his caution, so you shan’t be seeing any photos of the kiddies here. I would just like to tell you, though, that my Paul and I read stories to them on Sunday, and on Tuesday they all came over to the Cottage for a ride on the Pontoon and TWCN and Smiley-Guy each caught multiple sunfish and we sat by the bonfire in the dark, and yesterday I went with Mom and Dad and The BroFam to the Living History Museum where I used to work and wandered around feeling nostalgic for my youth in the good ol’ 1830’s, and then TheBro and I had lunch and philosophy, which is what we do (only usually it’s beer instead of lunch), and then my Paul had TheBro and Dad over for dinner while I was at seminary.

It’s been a lovely week. Since I can’t show you too many of the lovely people, I’ll show you some lovely New England instead. The colours this year have been unreal.