Happy Birfday, Grandpa

And we all thought I was done here…

Today is Grandpa M’s birthday. When I was two, the first grandchild on both sides of the family until my brother came along, we were at the M’s that winter, I guess. It must have been shortly before we moved to Honduras or something. My parents had been telling me that Grandpa’s birthday was coming up, so according to Mom and other relatives, one evening at dinner, I got up, toddled around the table, right up to Grandpa’s chair.

“Happy birfday, Grandpa,” I said.

By all accounts, hearts melted.

My mom posted this one on Facebook today

My mom posted this one on Facebook today

I’ve been doing daily posts this month on my church’s Facebook page myself, “A Carol a Day for Advent.” As I was lining up the seven carols for this week, a tune started going through my head. It was a song that Grandpa and Grandma used to sing together at the Christmas Eve services at the church where he was a pastor for over 30 years. I thought I would quite like to make that song one of the carols for the week, but when I looked for it on YouTube, it was nowhere to be found.

Grandpa got Alzheimer’s in the mid-90’s and he lost a lot, not only of his memory, but also of his personality. But he could still sing–almost right up until the end. At some point maybe midway between his getting the disease and passing away, Grandma had the bright idea to make one last music CD with him. I knew the song I wanted was on the CD. I just didn’t know how to get it from there to YouTube. Thank God for google and a friend who used to attend their church and has some audio-visual skills. Between them all, this happened. (The image is a card I made back in 2002 or so, but the song is the main point).

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“Interesting,” and Other Code Words

Family Friday

My Paul and I get along really well. At least five nights out of any given week we fall asleep laughing our heads off at some stupid, sleepy word-joke that one of us makes just before we drop off to dreamland. We share some similar hobbies and have some similar interests. We do have our off-moments, but these are far fewer and much less traumatic than some other “off-moments” either of us have had in previous relationships. All the same, we are pretty different from each other in a lot of ways, and given the fact that our courtship didn’t get off to the most auspicious start, sometimes we look at each other in wonder and say, happily but still with some astonishment, “How did this happen, anyway?”

I guess it follows that two such different people might come from two very different families. The quick way to describe it (which only works if you’ve seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding) is to compare our two families to the ones in My Big Fat Greek Wedding–only with Paul’s family being the boisterous one with lots of relatives and my family being the smaller, more straight-laced one. It’s not a totally accurate description, but it at least gives you the right general impression.

my-big-fat-greek-wedding1

By the time I met my Paul for the first time, I had already also met or at least communicated with numerous other men who described themselves online as “what you see is what you get,” and I discovered that if a guy wrote that in his dating profile, it still didn’t necessarily mean that what I saw was what I’d get. Also, the ones who said they were “not into drama” were sometimes into drama. So I might have been a little skeptical when Paul applied these descriptors to himself, too, but it turns out that in his case, it’s true. He is pretty much a straight-shooter, and he is definitely not into drama.

My family, on the other hand, while also not into drama, is not as direct. We strongly emphasise “politeness.” This can sometimes stray into the realm of passive aggression, but mostly the motivation derives partly from insecurity and mostly from a respect for the belief that each person is made in the image of God and a desire to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. This means that while we’re all terribly unconvincing at lying and we try to be truthful in all things, we also have certain code words we use when we imagine that what we really think might hurt someone’s feelings.

Our principal code word is interesting, which, apparently, covers a multitude of sins. Its main role is to jump into the adjectival breach when, say, someone is discussing a philosophy with which we don’t quite agree but we don’t feel the occasion warrants debate, or if they’re wearing an outfit we-wouldn’t-wear-ourselves-but-it’s-okay-if-they-want-to, or if we’re trying a new dish-we-wouldn’t-make-ourselves-but-it’s-okay-if-you-want-to-serve-it-to-us. Interesting isn’t a lie, because we are probably indeed interested in whatever it is. We probably just haven’t fully formulated what we think about it yet. We may not actively dislike it. We may even almost like whatever it is. But we don’t like it (or aren’t sure) enough to say, “Exactly right!” or “Great outfit!” or “Yum!” Interesting provides flexibility of sense, in the event that what we really mean is interesting-like-a-trainwreck-is-interesting.

Yesterday my Paul made Indian pudding as a dessert contribution to Thanksgiving dinner at my parents’ house.

That looks interesting.

That looks interesting.

No, no, no. It was not a train-wreck. Bad segue. But I guess it almost could have been: While he was making it, he nearly put in a cup and a half (or whatever amount) of salt, instead of sugar. Fortunately he caught himself in time, but I started laughing. “If you put in salt instead,” I giggled, “and served it to my family, they’d just power through it and afterwards they’d say, ‘Thanks for the Indian pudding, Paul. That was really interesting.'”

Neither my parents, my nonagenarian grandmothers, a cousin, an uncle, nor an aunt had ever tried Indian pudding before, even though it’s an old New England dish which it seems at least a few of us should have. (My uncle’s wife had, I think, but not recently.)  They were very interested in the Indian pudding. Like, truly. They asked what it was made of and how Paul had come to think of making it and then talked about other Old New England Recipes and childhood recipes and family recipes. You can have a whole extended  conversation around things that are interesting. The pudding was rich and delicious, and after trying it, everybody said so, so it definitely graduated beyond interesting upon acquaintance. But I laughingly hypothesised to them all what would have happened, had Paul actually made the salt-mistake and served them salty pudding. Hilariously, everybody agreed that that was exactly what they would have done, had they been served a big blob of salty molasses pudding: choked it down and declared it interesting. No one even seemed to be able to imagine another course of action, beyond surreptitiously spitting it into a napkin, although everyone found the scenario humorous.

After dessert, my Paul and I packed up our things and headed back to our house to let the dogs out and make sure Paul’s Brother-John was still having people over in the evening. We weren’t planning to eat more dessert, which was what was on offer, but we did want to see that side of the family on Thanksgiving, too, if we could. Brother-John was, in fact, still having people over. My Paul said, “We have leftover Indian pudding. I’m going to bring it.”

“You don’t have to do that,” said Brother-John. “We’ve got pie.”

“I’ll just bring it,” said my Paul. “That way people can have some if they want it, and leave it if they don’t.”

“No, really though,” said Brother-John. “Nobody wants Indian pudding. Do you guys want Indian pudding?”

Evidently Everybody said no, they did not want Indian pudding.

“Okay,” said Paul, matter-of-factly. And Everybody (Paul, too) was okay with that.

“And that,” I chortled, “is the difference between your family and my family.” And it is. All wrapped up in Indian pudding.

Sometimes I think Paul and I were brought together to achieve cosmic balance between courtesy and directness. It could happen. It’ll be a process, though. I’ll let you know how it goes. Should be . . . interesting.

I Am Not a Poet

Memory Monday

I am not a poet. That is probably why I keep posting this one. I”ll bet I haven’t written more than maybe three poems since I first penned this one, in London. And then I blogged it from New England, eight years after I wrote it, on my old blog. Now I’m reblogging it here. Not because I think it’s so great, but because it’s about Easter Monday, which is today, and because it’s a very happy memory.

Glorious Glowing Life

Also, it features my favourite flower

Easter Monday

After the Resurrection
The gave us a holiday,
So we took it
With our umbrellas
(To keep it from raining
Which they did).
We drank cappuccinos at Starbucks
And watched the foam clouds
Scud across the top of Green Park
Until the sky was blue
And we had to go for a walk in it,
As the trees exploded
Around us
Like suspended fireworks
Sizzling seedbursts down
And bringing them up
Short of the lampposts,
And the sun showered late daffodils
Onto the grassy slope,
Which begged for someone
To run spring-fever-crazy
Through them
Or to gather them up in a ball
And toss them–
Glorious glowing life.

I’d wish you a happy April Fool’s Day, too, but I can’t figure out if that is extra appropriate, or not appropriate at all . . .

The Aftermath

This post is brought to you by Family Fridays – another variation on the Jenn stories.

I finally took our Christmas decorations down last Saturday.

I usually try to take them down the weekend of Epiphany, and sometimes even New Year’s Eve. When I was single with roommates and lived in a house with a deck far above the ground, I would undecorate the tree earlier that day, and then we would have a New Year’s Eve party with our friends, and at the stroke of midnight, hurl the dessicated thing off the deck, ostensibly into the woods behind the house, though it usually never made it that far and in the spring I’d have to go out and haul it back there.

This year? I was two weeks later than that little tradition. Which might have been okay, except that I also bought our cute little table-top tree, just the right size for our little table-top house, the day after Thanksgiving. Which was a week early last year. So I guess we got our money’s worth out of the thing. Only by the time I started taking decorations off of it last Saturday, the needles were pretty much being held on by nothing, and looked like this:

photo by jennwith2ns 2013

So much for “evergreen”

So then, when I would take an ornament off, the needles would slide right off with it:

photo by jennwith2ns 2013

It almost had a satisfying quality. Like bubble-wrap.

Shemp lay on his memory-foam dog bed in it usual spot next to the trunk where the tree stood, looking mournfully tolerant while the needles fell down around and on him, like rain.

photo by jennwith2ns 2013

Needling Shemp

I thought I got all the ornaments off before I carried the tree outside, devoid already of most of its needles, but as I opened the storm-door to the deck I heard a clunk and a clink and realised that the plaster Santa Claus on the plaster reindeer had become a casualty of my belated undecorating. It’s okay. I don’t even remember where I got that one, and I try only to have ornaments with stories. I trotted the Thing Formerly Known as a Tree off the deck and to the back where our burn-pile is, and then picked up the newly lamed Santa-reindeer combo and tossed it in the trash.

Now it was time to take all the other stuff down. You know those glass-ball ornaments that are very fine and fragile and full of pieces of potpourri? Well, there were two of those. One of them at least has accompanied me to every place I’ve lived and spent a Christmas since college, which is pretty miraculous, so I guess the fact that it met its demise last Saturday when I tried to take it off the curtain-rod finial on which it had been hanging, was still far greater longevity than I should have expected of it. But it was the prettier of the two, and its hanging-ribbon caught on the final curve of the finial, and yanked it out of my hand. It flew up in the air and fell straight back down, shattering with a decisive but disheartening pop, right next to where Shemp was lying.

He jumped up and out of the way immediately, and I, uttering a few curses totally unbefitting either Christmas or a seminary student, dragged out the vacuum cleaner. I mean, I was going to vacuum anyway. Half the tree was still in the house–all over the floor. But there’s always something anxiety producing about shattered glass, particularly when there are small children (which there weren’t) and animals (which there were and always are) about. Plus, I really liked that ornament–far more than the Santa one–and this seemed like a really stupid way to have broken it (though I’m not sure I can think of a not-stupid one).

I vacuumed and vacuumed, and apparently hadn’t done that since much after setting up the tree in the first place, because along with the piles of needles and shards of broken glass, there was about one full dog’s-worth of Shemp’s hair everywhere. I had to empty the Dyson canister three times, and our house is only 650 square feet. I know–it’s disgusting. Don’t tell me.

It’s a good thing no one was home while all this was going on. By the time my Paul and Alicia came home from the store, the ornaments and lights were boxed and stored, the garland was down and the floor was vacuumed. I was also done swearing. That was when Alicia started dropping stuff. Sometimes it’s just the day, I guess.

What’s your favourite Christmas (or other event–or nonevent) ornament? Why? When did you get it? Where did it come from?

Happy Birthday, Dear Jesus

As the Director of Christian Education at Now Church, one of the annual seasonal challenges is to attempt to help a bunch of children who are pretty amped up about Christmas presents, get at least a little bit happy about the reason there is a Christmas, namely, Jesus. Usually there are Christmas pageants that tell the nativity story. There are Christmas carols with words and syntax that most people don’t ever use anymore, but which also occasionally provide the opportunity to swear in church (Why lies he in such mean estate where ox and ass are feeding?). And almost always there is some attempt, though usually not in “regular church,” but in Sunday school or something, to have some kind of birthday party for Jesus. Children know birthday parties. Everybody likes a birthday party, right?

Don’t get me wrong. I love Christmas, and I love Jesus, and I think it’s really important to maintain the cognitive link between the event and the person. However in my experience, celebrating Christmas as “Jesus’ birthday,” even though that’s what it’s about and even though in Now Church we annually throw these Jesus parties with our Sunday school children, is often easier said than done. I present you with two examples for your consideration.

Case Study 1

public domain image

Fruit cake. Perfect for a newborn.

I’m four years old. (I think.) My family is at my grandparents’ cozy candlelit house, which has suddenly been inundated by a bunch of women and children. My mother says, “Jennie, did you know Christmas is Jesus’ birthday? We’re going to have a birthday party for Jesus.”

I want to know if He’s going to be there. I also want to know if we’re going to give Him presents. It seems only fair, since I’m getting presents later and it’s not even my birthday. I hope I won’t have to give Him mine, but I suspect that might be the right course of action.

There is a cake on the table, and it has candles in it, but the cake is dark brown and has no frosting. It looks sort of lumpy. All the women and children gather round the dining room table. Someone says, “Come on, Jennie. We’re going to sing happy birthday to Jesus.” I want to know if He has arrived yet, but I don’t see Him. This seems problematic, because who is going to blow out the candles? Everybody sings, “Happy birthday, dear Jesuuuuus! Happy birthday to you!” I don’t remember who blew out the candles–maybe all of the children all at once–but I do remember thinking that Jesus’ birthday cake was rubbish.

I really loved Jesus, even as a very small child, although I also remember getting a little impatient with religious activities. But I suspect this birthday-party-for-Jesus experience, since I still remember it, did help me make the leap from Christmas to Jesus a little more easily. All the same, and even considering the motivations of the adults was surely well-intentioned, I still wonder about that cake sometimes. Maybe it’s just my own prejudices (I hate fruitcake) colouring my assumptions, but the impression I’ve always had, looking back on that day from a slightly older vantage point, is that someone received a fruitcake they didn’t want for Christmas, and rather than insulting the donor by throwing it away or stashing it in the garage for future use as a brick or something, they said, “I know–there are kids here–let’s have a birthday party for Jesus!” Which I suppose is polite and non-wasteful of them, but it still seems like if you want to have a proper birthday party for Jesus, in which you hope to communicate something of, say, His joy, you would try to make it a really good party, and either make Him a nice cake yourself, or at the very least buy a decent one–that children will enjoy–from the grocery store.

Then again, I definitely remember forgetting that we were throwing a birthday party for Jesus at Sunday school one year until the day we threw it, and rushing to the store on my way to church to grab one. it was a decent cake, but I guess I didn’t put a whole lot of consideration into it, which seems just about as suspect.

Case Study 2

public domain image

This little light of mine . . .

It is 2001. I live in London. I have, for the last four years, handmade 300 or more Christmas cards for friends and family and financial sponsors. Everybody loves these cards. (Some people still claim they have them, though I don’t make cards like this anymore.) This year I have decided to make the Christmas cards for such people simultaneous birthday cards for Jesus. I always put an interesting image or item on the front of my cards. This year, I have decided to affix birthday candles to them. I go to a party store and purchase–no doubt mystifyingly–350 birthday candles. I take them home. I Plasti-Tak them to the front of all the cards. I address the envelopes.

I am actually going back to New England for Christmas, so I bring back all the America-bound cards with me to mail more cheaply on home turf. I put them in the post. I forget about them.

Did you notice I said this story takes place in 2001? Most Americans–if no one else–remember what happened in 2001. 9/11 happened, that’s what. What sometimes gets forgotten is that in the aftermath of that, another crisis occurred, which was that someone began anonymously sending letters laced with anthrax in the US Mail. The anthrax was a white powder and had pretty dire effects, and everyone across the country was greatly disconcerted.

I didn’t forget about anthrax, but what I did forget, on account of forgetting about my Christmas cards once I threw them in the mail, was that, unless you specify “hand canceling” on the outside of your envelope, the post office uses machines to stamp-cancel your postage stamps. I think you can see where this is going . . .

It wasn’t long before I began getting phone calls and emails, or even face-to-face confrontations. “Jenn–what did you put on your Christmas cards this year? I was afraid to open mine, but I was like, Jenn would never send something dangerous. Only whatever it was was ground to a powder in the mail.” “Jenn–what are you trying to do? Kill us?” One fastidious postal clerk in Minnesota managed to collect 40 of these terrifying missives and figure out the headquarters of the organisation I worked for. This person packed them all up in a giant manila envelope and send them to my organisation, who in turn contacted me and said, “Jenn! What are you sending these people?”

It took a lot of laughter, but also a whole lot of explaining, to make all that right. I never did get to explain to the Minnesotan postal worker. And all I was trying to do was say Happy Birthday to Jesus.

The Search

A number of years ago, Uncle Phil put out a CD named after a British pub in, of all places, Britain, called Three Horseshoes. On it was a song called “Ain’t Comin’ Home for Christmas This Year.” I myself lived out of the country for a number of Christmases, so I can’t be sure of it, but I’m not sure he ever did come back to New England for Christmas after that, until this year. True, it’s not quite Christmas, but this week he brought his two daughters (i.e., my cousins) up to New England and made the family rounds.

photo by Jim Grosser 2012

The family round . . . the table, for example.

It turns out that Uncle Phil is good for my blog, by which I mean the fact that he works for Emmylou Harris is. Apparently a lot of people out in the webi-verse are looking for Emmylou Harris. Like, today, for example–three times. If I look at search terms people used which landed them here (which I did look at yesterday), Emmylou Harris tops the chart, by a lot. And then apparently sometimes people don’t want to find just plain Emmylou Harris, so they search things like Emmylou Harris jeans, Emmylou Harris hot, Emmylou Harris grandmother and, um . . . Emmylou Harris promiscuous. Sorry, Emmylou Harris. Then there are the other Uncle Phil connexions which also often lead here: anything with Elvis Costello or Shaun Mullins, for example, and even Phil Madeira universalist. Apparently people are concerned about that. Anyway, I guess it’s kind of cool that all these famous musicians indirectly benefit my blog, but I kind of wish some people ended up here for me.

Which I guess they do sometimes, because it’s a jenn story has turned up once or twice, and one time just “jenn”. Considering all the Jenns in the world, it’s kind of chuff-worthy to know that a simple jenn in quotation marks sent someone right to this blog. There are also search terms about snake skeletons, children’s book characters made of trash, hippie grandmas, jenn grosser, and wold Jesus have gone out dancing? I want to know the answer to that last question, too. Is there a wold Jesus? Does he dance on the wolds? What is a wold, anyway?

Here are some more of my favourites:

how can i name my hippie bridal shower album – I have no idea what that means, although I guess I can see how those terms conspired to get you here. How can you name it? Or what? Could you just name it “Hippie Bridal Shower Album”?

capybara demotivator – Once I posted a picture of a capybara, but I’m a little unclear about the demotivating bit. Is this blog really that undermining that even capybaras are demotivated by it? Man. That’s a bummer.

i did wear a sari until i went to a wedding – And then . . . it was your wedding, and . . . hopefully the until was actually after? Or weddings somehow put you off saris? In that case, I’d kind of like to know how.

guys i’m dating leaving the country for good – That stinks. Sorry about that.

something like what goes around, comes around like – Filler words in search terms are, like, hilarious.

early christological controversies everyone behaved badly chadwick – Is Chadwick someone who wrote a book you were looking for, or are you speaking to this Chadwick person . . . through search terms. It sounds inefficient, but it could be sneaky. Go for it.

and

i want a steampunk boyfriend

This isn’t a very original question, but what are some of your own favourite search terms? What kinds of random things lead people to your blog?

Glitter and Puppies

Actually, I don’t have anything to say about either of the above topics, although putting the two together might yield interesting, if not unfortunate, results. It’s just that I’m aware that things have been a little serious around here lately. Even though I have actually gained a few new followers and engaged in some interesting conversation on the basis of the last two or three posts, the fact remains that blog traffic is down, which I guess is not surprising, with post titles like “Tears of Advent” (“tears” = depressing; “Advent” = religious) and “Slaughter of the Innocents” (entire title = curling up into the foetal position, speaking of innocents). And anyway, it seems really shallow and sketchy to profit popularly via posts about such sombre topics.

But a few days ago my Paul observed, “It seems like your blog has changed from light and funny observations about life, to more intellectual and theological topics.” It drives him crazy when I read meaning into face value, so I won’t say this is what he meant, but what I heard was a tactful way of saying, “Um–it’s getting a little serious over there. Could you lighten things up a little?”

So I am. Here:

The other day I was driving home via some roads I don’t usually take, and I saw this:

photo by Jennwith2ns 2012

. . .

First–I think this sign needs a little surgery (or something), too. I was going to say something about how used to be more “taut,” but something about that sounds questionable, so I’ll just say, it seems a little the worse for wear since I saw it the first time.

Second–Guys. Do not believe the words on this sign.

As far as I know, most women have something physical about themselves that they wish were not true. I might have more of those things than most. I have a big nose (with a weird bump on the bridge of it) and terrible skin and my chin is somehow simultaneously receding and overly heavy. I have brown teeth. I have a little cellulite and a few spider veins and a flat chest. But I am also myself, and while I don’t, anymore (like I used to think in high school) think there’s anything wrong with doing whatever is in my personal power to mitigate some of these flaws (eg. make-up and even getting the broken tooth fixed–because it was broken), I also know those basic things are a part what makes me who I am, and if, say, my Paul handed me a parcel on Tuesday and inside it was a gift certificate to this plastic surgery, I think I might have to do something that would render him in need of more plastic surgery than I am. (Not that I would actually succeed in this endeavour–I’m a wimp–but the desire to do that would be my initial response.)

I told him about this sign and he burst out laughing and said, “Talk about buying a gift that’s more for yourself than the person you’re giving it to!” Then he said, “Guess I’ll have to take that gift certificate back . . . ”

But I wasn’t worried. Although on occasion he comes up with some unusual ways to compliment me (they’re G-rated but . . . difficult to explain), this is also the guy who spontaneously told me he thought I was “absolutely beautiful,” in front of my parents and a Visiting Londoner. And that, my friends, is a fine Christmas present indeed.