Additional Dunce

If you knew me at the turn of the millennium, or were reading this blog when I was still writing it, back around 2014 or so, you may remember that shortly after 9/11/2001, there was an anthrax scare in the US Postal Service to which I unwittingly contributed. (I did not contribute anthrax, which was genuinely circulating, but I did contribute to the scare in some limited, but maybe less limited than you would think, way.) It was the fault of my getting over-creative with my handmade Christmas cards.

It has happened again, folks.

I have made handmade Christmas cards since 2001, but have not affixed anything remotely three-dimensional on the front of them…until this year. I’m not sure why I thought 2020 would be the year to revive the art form; I think I was merely thinking about how my mailing list friends, family, and Pilgrimage Outfitters deserved a card with a bit more effort and personal touch in a year like this.

So I made folded-paper angels. Lots and lots of them. Out of pages of an old beat-up hymnal that had been my grandmother’s. Then I stuck them on cards, added in a double-newsletter, and, like Noah’s birds or something, put sixty of them in the mail.

Then they started winging their way back here. But not all of them.

The ones that came back had been stamped with a very specific stamp declaring that they were “non-machineable” and required an additional $0.45 postage, each. They all seemed to be returning from somewhere roughly in my own vicinity, which made me suspicious that there was just one curmudgeonly (or very new) postal worker who was in danger of “going postal” (is that even a phrase anymore?), was annoyed by the rather thicker-than-usual envelopes, and was sending them back out of spite.

But, I didn’t know this for sure, did I? I could take a chance and throw the other 300 in the mail without additional postage and hope most of them would make it–because some of them had. But then what if I got flooded with most of them back? Plus, like the birthday candles all those years ago, some of them were coming back a bit smushed.

So I loaded everything I had (including the returned cards) into a giant box, and hied myself off, mask on, to one of the larger City post offices. The young woman behind the counter weighed an envelope. “Well,” she said, “it’s not too heavy for just one stamp. But it is going to get stuck in the machines. You only need 15 cents each to cover it, though. Not an additional 45!”

“Well then,” I said, sort of disappointed (additional postage!) but also relieved (not 45 cents!), “Do you sell 15-cent stamps?”

“Yep,” she said, and counted out enough sheets for 300 more cards…plus a few more for the cards I was resending. I took the stamps back to the box in my car and began affixing them. I had not seen 15-cent stamps before. They were differently patriotic than regular generic US stamps–eight little faceless heads with excessively tall “Uncle Sam” hats. Underneath the faceless figures were the words, “Additional Dunce.”

Additional dunce? I asked myself.

I think it took about 15 minutes for me to realize that my eyes are older than even I realized and it said “Additional Ounce.” And then another 45 minutes for me to get all those additional stamps on the ready-to-go cards. I’m pretty sure I was the dunce in this scenario. I’m not sure we needed any additional ones.



Back in the day, before we all forgot how to write by hand at all, it was common to hear a person laughing at their inability to read their own handwriting. Now almost no one can read almost anyone’s handwriting, but it rarely matters because we all type all the time.

I say, it rarely matters, because last week I put an item “to do” this week in my to-do list app on my phone, and while I can read the actual words just fine, I have no idea what it means.

Something’s not getting done today, folks.

Snow Story

snow story

It’s snowing in New England

And a few other places. One of my favorite snow stories I ever lived through and still love to tell is the one where my friend the Vampire and I raced Denver’s biggest blizzard since 1913, through the Rockies from one end of Colorado to the other and actually got to Denver first…in a Corolla. With no snow tires. And only one driver. (Me. The Vampire was from California and wasn’t used to driving in this stuff.)

Stay safe out there!


Haircuts and Anniversaries

I have a haircut coming up with Bledi-with-Scizzors. Bledi has been my hairstylist for at least fourteen years now, which is ridiculous. By now he owns the salon, and I’ve had three jobs since we met at Starbucks. Also by now we’re comfortable enough with each other that sometimes he will tell me what he thinks I should have done to my hair, and I will tell him I don’t care what he thinks or if it’s stylish, I just want long hair. But sometimes I get bored with the long hair (recently, I just haven’t had the patience to dry it–or the time, because we moved and my commute in the morning is 15 minutes longer). And so, when contemplating my upcoming haircut, I thought, “I think it’s time to get my occasional bob.”

Also because it’s October. If I ever get a bob haircut, it’s in October. There are two reasons for this: 1) By October it’s cold enough here I don’t feel the need to pull my hair off my neck in a ponytail; while I like to braid my hair in the summer. 2) October (appropriately, as it is Breast Cancer Awareness Month) is when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and I had my hair cut in a bob to take an incremental psychological step toward readiness for shaving my head for chemo. Then I didn’t end up needing chemo, but sometimes I still get my hair lopped off in October.

2008 cancer haircut

I was thinking about this the other week, which is why I suddenly remembered that today is the tenth–tenth–anniversary of my cancer diagnosis. I don’t often talk about my cancer because honestly, most of the time I feel like a “fake” cancer survivor, since, at the end of the day, it wasn’t really that bad for me. I had surgery and radiation, but no chemo. I had to take a hormone suppressant which gave me migraines with which I still struggle. I went back and read the relevant blogposts from my Original Blog and discovered that at the time, I really was pretty freaked out and it was a tough process emotionally–but it also was a pretty quick one, relatively speaking, and I had some amazing support around me.

Meanwhile, I have a friend who’s still trying to recover after a year of harrowing treatment, and another friend who has had cancers of various types at least 11 times. (I’ve probably lost count, I’m ashamed to say. It may have been more, at this point–but I hope not.) Also another friend was diagnosed within the last year; her diagnosis sounded really similar to mine, but she does need chemo, and she has a husband and two little boys and the chemo is doing a number on her. Stories like these brave women’s make me sad, and also make me uncomfortable about publicly celebrating the fact that I have basically been cancer free since they cut it out of me, and officially so for five years now.

On the other hand–I’ve been cancer free since they cut it out of me, and that’s ten years. And while I don’t understand why the above, and other, friends of mine haven’t gotten through their diagnoses as easily as I was able to get through mine, and while it would be ungracious of me (particularly since I had nothing to do with it) to brag about it, it would also be ungrateful of me not to note and celebrate it. I don’t take my cancer-freedom for granted. I know I could get it again. But I haven’t yet, and I’m deeply thankful. And so, in honor of my diagnosis and celebration of my current freedom from it, I’ll be pampering myself next Friday–and getting a haircut.

Who Knew The Last Day of July Was So Momentous?

According to Facebook Memories, a lot of things happen (to or around me, anyway) on this day of the year. Observe:

Last year I was in Minnesota.

minneapolis art

Visit Or just visit the sculpture garden.

Three years ago I completed my first of four units of CPE.
And ten years ago, evidently, I took a nap. Which I probably need to do again from the sound of things.

Hi My Name Is

Shortly after my appointment to start the Pilgrimage with Missions Door, someone, who I think was trying to be sympathetic, said, “I don’t know of anyone who has struggled as much as you to know God’s will for your life! It sounds as though it’s becoming clearer, though.”

I’ve done a lot of different stuff and been a lot of different things in my adult life, so I guess I can see why it would look like that. Maybe it really is like that. Or maybe trying to do God’s will doesn’t always (for every person) look like doing exactly the same thing your whole life, but more like, say, a Pilgrimage–where the goal is always the same, but the path meanders through different places and looks different accordingly. (There might also be different understandings of “God’s will.”) But–I don’t know–I guess I used to think all the things I’d ever done were unrelated except that I did them because I thought or hoped God was asking me to at the time. From this vantage point, though, I’m wondering if they’ve really just been different iterations of one thing all along.

At the beginning of my summer CPE internship, we had to write a short paper on our first impressions, and at the end of mine, I said, “I like meeting new people and hearing their stories, but I hate initiating introductions. And I have just signed myself up for an entire summer of doing basically that. What was I thinking?” Maybe this. Observe:

024_22London, late 90’s

“Hi, my name is Jenn and this is ____________. We belong to [Local Church]. We are right around the corner from you and we wanted to let you know about some of the services we offer our community which are available to you … ”

Slide20Living History Museum, early aughts

“Good day, my name is Anna Russell. I’m the minister’s daughter … ”

CostaRica 146

Obviously, I am not at Starbucks in this picture. But I am on a coffee plantation that sells to Starbucks. In 2007.

Starbucks, mid aughts

“Hi there–how’s it going? What can I get for you today?” [I pretty much never had to actually introduce myself to anyone at Starbucks. Enough people are regulars that names were more or less learned by osmosis. Lots of conversations happened, though.]


Previous Church, late aughts

“Hi, my name is Jenn, and I’m the director of Christian education. Would your kids like to join our Sunday school? … Would your teens like to join our youth group? … Would you like to buy a loaf of Mission Bread? … Would your company like to donate items for our next fundraiser? … How about volunteering?”

The Hospital, 2015

“Hi, my name is Jenn, and I’m a chaplain intern. I’m visiting the patients in this unit today and was wondering if you’d like some company …”

The Pilgrimage, 2016

Okay. I don’t actually know how I’m going to introduce the Pilgrimage to participants yet, exactly. Although I’ve been doing a whole lot of putting myself out there for the support-raising piece so far, I guess.

Evidently at least part of God’s will for my life has to do with getting out of my comfort zone. Actually, I’m pretty sure that’s God’s will for everybody’s life. It’s how we learn to trust God better–when the Comfortable is not around. Maybe another piece of God’s will that’s consistent through all of the above is that, by getting me out of my comfort zone, opportunities are created for conversations and interactions in which God can show up. At least, I hope so. I like meeting new people and hearing their stories, but I hate initiating introductions. If God shows up, though, I’m in. He’s worth it.

The Pilgrimage is funded by your generosity. Recurring or special tax deductible donations may be sent to: Missions Door, 2530 Washington St, Denver CO 80205 or visit and click “Donate.”




Second Takes

The first time I brought a group of high schoolers on a mission trip, there was one young man who had such a great time that he refused to go on another such trip ever again, because he believed it couldn’t possibly be as wonderful as that first one. I think I maybe understand how he felt. My first unit of CPE, which only ended two months ago, was such a formative and healing experience with such exceptional people during a time otherwise characterized by such upheaval, that I can’t quite conceive of how this second unit could possibly measure up.

Yet here I am, intentionally not-refusing another round of CPE, regardless of this feeling. I’m hoping that my being in my 40’s instead of in my teens will at least give me the perspective to realize there is value in all kinds of experience, that “measuring up” may be a false standard (what is the standard, anyway?), and that I still have lots to learn. I suspect what I need to learn this time around, I will only be able to learn from and with this new set of differently exceptional people. I just need not to expect to feel exactly the same at the end of this current unit as I did at the end of the last one. I certainly don’t feel the same at the beginning of it.

Although, as I discovered after trying to co-lead a tour of the hospital for my new group-mates yesterday, I still don’t know where all the hospital units are, said Hospital feels much more like “home” this time around.

Despite what you might be thinking, this is a hospital, and not a mall or train station.

Despite what you might be thinking, this is a hospital, and not a mall or train station.

I don’t feel as jumpy around new people as I did when I first walked into the building as a CPE newbie. I recognize some of the staff from other departments. I felt comfortable to come in and begin visiting patients in new units even before we were technically required to, and have already had some interesting, and maybe even noteworthy, visits. I visited my favorite unit from last time and was greeted with smiles and squeals of happy recognition and welcome by the staff. I was equally delighted to see them. I already know that the Monsigneur on staff is personable and that I don’t have to stand on ceremony with him, nor do I need my Supervisor to be my immediate go-to person for each and every question or uncertainty that may blip across my consciousness.

That said, I find that I am still quite nervous about the psychological health unit, where I asked to be assigned and consequently have been. I attended with my Supervisor a group he runs there, and sat there feeling deeply interested in everything the patients said, but also entirely at a loss at how to engage in the group—so I didn’t, sitting mute and no doubt wide-eyed. I was too nervous to go up there by myself before that meeting, so I have no idea if my discomfort was simply a form of self-consciousness because I felt that my Supervisor would be evaluating anything I might ask or offer in the group, or if it was a genuine reaction to the demographic. Or the stories. Probably some of all of that. I want to be there, because I’ve had my own struggles with depression, and mental illness and addiction are rampant in Our Fair City, and I think it’s important for me to learn how to “be” in this context. But it’s quite clear that learning it is essential, because I don’t already know how to be there, at all.

Already this unit of CPE is shaping up very differently from the last, but as a consequence, I feel excited and interested in seeing how this new chapter unfolds. I am relishing an increase of confidence from the last time, and only hope I don’t stride into this experience with such briskness that I miss noticing what’s happening in and around me in the moment.

Going Shopping

It is a weird thing for this chick to be church shopping.

Kindly return your shopping carts to their assigned location. (photo credit Peter Griffin)

Kindly return your shopping carts to their assigned location.
(photo credit Peter Griffin)

Look, I was practically born in church, okay? My parents “planted” churches when I was little, and then they settled in one for 25 years, and I moved around some on my own, but half the time I was assigned to a church (or churches) to work there. Really, the only two other times I’ve had to get serious about finding a church on my own was when I moved to college (it took a year–I thought I’d found one but then switched sophomore year and stayed with that one for the rest of undergrad) and the first time I went to seminary.

I’ve attended and participated in churches across all kinds of denominations, and with all types of worship “styles” and liturgy and theological distinctives, and the reason I can do this is because I believe the Church is the Bride of Christ, and so if a church is shining the light of Jesus at all–even a little bit–and I feel called to be a part of that community, I will pretty much just dig in and be a part of that community. I think the most important part of what Church is and should be is a community that’s centered around Jesus, and so the type of music that’s played, or the public speaking prowess of the pastor, or the social status of the parishioners, or the dress code, or the relative absence or presence of financial resources are a lot less important than whether or not Jesus is there by His Holy Spirit, and whether that Spirit is creating community there.

I also think worshiping and fellowshipping in a place that’s relatively local to where I live is important. I believe that God can work through giant churches that draw from outside their local communities (and I’ve even been part of a few, though only for a very short time each) but–dare I be so bold? and who am I to say?–I’m not really sure that’s what Church is, or is supposed to be. I think Church (community in Jesus through the Spirit) can happen in those places–I’ve experienced it. But I guess I just don’t think Church is about numbers or rock music or perfectly scripted concerts services (what some euphemise, I hear, as “excellence”) or “what I can get out of it” but more about where I’m called and where I can contribute and be in community with others who are journeying with and toward Christ. So when I have cause to become a part of a new church, it’s usually either because I’ve moved or I’ve been hired (or both), and I work on settling in and trying to worship and commune with the people who have been called to that community, too. That’s not to say I do that perfectly at first or ever, but it’s my attempted approach to such things.

This summer, my Paul and I have been visiting a variety of churches within our basic local radius (last week’s was a stretch, geographically, so if we go again it will likely only ever be as visitors, but we did “get a lot out of it,” truly), trying to discern where God wants us to go next, and it’s just weird to me, because I haven’t ever had to wonder about it this much. It’s also different because this is the first time I’ve been trying to make these decisions with someone. I’m grateful that for the most part my Paul and I have had similar responses to the churches we’ve visited. Incidentally, I think all of our responses have been largely positive.

It seems like, while we’re open to larger Evangelical churches which are more similar to what I grew up with and where Paul’s been worshiping the last few years, at the moment we both prefer smaller mainline churches with fairly traditional services, but where the orthodox Christian gospel (God, the Three-in-One, made humans in His image. Humans messed up the relationship. Jesus, who is God, became human to show us what a human-in-relationship-to-God is supposed to look like, then died to take the penalty for our really really serious mess-up, and then broke the power of death by coming back to life a few days later, so that we can live in His life by His Spirit) is communicated in word and service. (Note to Evangelical skeptics: We have found at least three such congregations this summer, although one was on our Back-of-Beyond vacation a few weeks ago and we won’t be commuting up there.)

It’s kind of interesting, visiting all these places, finding out what our current church preferences are (and that they’re similar) and letting the experience continue to inform my ideas about Church, since I’ve been thinking about it so much this summer.

But it’s still weird, guys. It’s still weird.

Facing Reality

Warning: this will be a whingy post. If you’re not into reading other people’s whinges, I won’t hold it against you if you skip this one.

That's a Jenn Story

But I’ll bet because I just posted a classic illustration from the Wizard of Oz, you won’t.

I wasn’t ever supposed to look old.

In fact, I think I might have subconsciously anticipated a sort of Benjamin Button-like existence (except that I’ve never seen that movie so I don’t really know what I’m talking about). When I was in Junior High I was so tall that new students occasionally thought I was a teacher. In my 20’s in London, people frequently assumed I was in my early 30’s. But when I moved back to Our Fair City and started working with other actually 20-year-olds in my 30’s, I was constantly assumed to be somewhere in the 25-27 age range.

I know. You’re thinking, but are too polite to say, that everyone in my 30’s was also being too polite to let on that they knew I was in my 30’s. And I suppose there must have been a few of those. But genuine astonishment is sometimes discernible and it happened so often back then that I have to think that for the most part, I looked younger than I was. My hair was greying, and I’ve had a crease between my eyes at the bridge of my nose forever because I squint, but I imagined that somehow I would continue to have this otherwise youthful face, which would just make the grey hair kind of cool.

Now I am … no longer in my 30’s. Although there have been some “life hiccups” in recent times, overall I am happier than I ever was during that decade, so I feel like I should look younger than ever. But this week I started my CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) program and we had to get badges made for the hospital. I sat down in the chair, tried to smile at the camera, and what came out was … a picture of this typical middle aged New England woman, not quite smiling, with the beginnings of jowls. No. Not okay! I was finally starting to get rid of my double chin through my workouts and Shakeology, and the acne I’ve had since I was 13 has never fully gone away, so I feel that Jowls should have to wait a decade or two. And why the heck isn’t P90X3 helping with them??

I had actually already noticed these to my horror in a few other recent, less official photos, but now every day I have to wear this thing that looks like me, except I’m not willing to acknowledge that I look like that. I want my new colleagues, and maybe the patients I’m going to meet next week, to be mystified as to how old I am … which probably definitely has nothing to do with being a good chaplain. Now that I think about it. Okay, I’ll shut up now. Off to have some warm milk or whatever old people do on Friday nights …

Actually, I've liked warm milk my whole life. What if that's the reason I have jowls?

Actually, I’ve liked warm milk my whole life. What if that’s the reason I have jowls?

Travel Skills

I have been traveling intermittently since I was two, and I like to think I’m pretty good at it.

I got especially good at it after my five week trip to India in college. I went with a group of nine people through an organisation that arranges trips like that one, and before we left, said organisation gave us a list of things to pack. This was in the early ’90’s, so let’s acknowledge that luggage technology was not as advanced as it is now. As far as I’m aware, the fact that my American Tourister suitcase (which had been purchased for me as a high school graduation present and sported my then-favourite-colour, “Dusty Rose”) had a pair of disproportionately tiny wheels, and a handle for dragging it on them, was a relative novelty and considered quite an asset. Unfortunately, it was hard-sided and already weighed plenty when there was nothing in it. The up side was that I guess if we ran into any ill-behaved simians in the jungles of the subcontinent, they wouldn’t be able to break into it. (We did see some monkeys in the trees, but they left our luggage alone. We didn’t see the tigers we were looking for at all.)

After I packed every item on the Recommended Items to Pack list, however (including a travel iron, because I had a travel iron and had never had a reason to travel with it before–and still didn’t, let’s be honest), the suitcase weighed so much that it crushed the wheel bearings and the wheels never rolled again. Which was a problem when trying to rush with eight other people across the length and breadth, as well as up and down the stairs, of a New Delhi train station in an attempt to get to the Indian state of Maharashtra. We ended up in Mumbai (when it was still called Bombay) at the end of the trip, and I guess, if the more recent commercial is any indication, even a soft-sided American Tourister suitcase would’ve sufficed. Bummer.

Anyway, after that I decided to up my travel game, which proved to be a good thing when I moved to London and spent the next five and a half years gallivanting around Europe. One of the things that I learned pretty early on was the importance of informing myself on the upcoming weather of whatever location I was headed for. I developed certain techniques for packing light, no matter the weather, but since cold weather clothes are usually bulkier than warm weather ones, it was important for the success of all the rest of my travel hacks that I have some idea what sort of meteorological state I was about to enter. It used to be trickier to find this out; often I had to make a phone call to a person living in my destination, particularly during the days when I couldn’t afford an internet connection that actually allowed me to search the internet, but only one that allowed me to quickly send and receive emails. But I was always able to find out the information I needed to know. Now it’s so much easier.

All this to say that I really have no excuse for the fact that I’ve been wearing the same sweatshirt and jeans, and borrowing TheBro’s socks, for the last five days. My first day as a non-employee of My Old Church, I got on a plane bright and early to spend a few days with The BroFam. The BroFam lives in a northerly state which is known for cold winters, but since last year New England’s winter lasted about three months longer than theirs and it was hot there when my Paul and I visited them around this same time, and this year New England got more snow than anyone else in the country including Alaska, I guess I just figured I’d be wearing shorts the whole time. I mean, I did figure that. It’s what I packed. It’s been downright hot in New England lately, and in spite of the fact I had a brief glimmer of a thought, as I dragged my soft-sided suitcase with functioning wheels out of its spot in the closet, that maybe I should check the weather, I … didn’t. The only reason I have a sweatshirt and a pair of jeans with me at all is that I find airplanes chilly.

As with most Jenn Stories (of which this is a quintessential one), please feel free to consider this a public service announcement, meaning: Check the weather before you travel. You’re welcome.

I guess if I had traveled here this coming weekend, I would've been okay ...

I guess if I had traveled here this coming weekend, I would’ve been okay …