Today marks my 8th anniversary on WordPress. It feels like just yesterday I was writing a blog about my 4th anniversary on WordPress, but perhaps that’s because yesterday I was reading the blog in which I mentioned my 4th anniversary. Time sure does fly when reviewing a rapid succession of years’ highlights.
Thus, in keeping with my tradition, it is time for my annual New Year’s blog, looking back at the previous year’s best moments.
Part of the reason this took a few days to post was that I experienced great difficulty coming up with a theme for this year’s Top List–not because I didn’t have material to choose from, but because 2018 was a weighty year: I moved to a new apartment; my job was ending soon; I went to Greece but not to Thasos,* and I had so many highs and lows, I felt dishonest by only writing about my food highlights. There’s nothing like applying for 24 jobs, submitting 2 fellowship applications, completing 7 interviews, facing 24 rejections and turning down 1 job with a porn king to make one consider one’s life purpose.
*how did I ever make it through? I know. I’ve wondered this myself.
There were also significant bright sides to the year: breakthrough moments, personal revelations, and answered prayers–huge and profound–but those are hard to capture in a pithy David Letterman-esque New Year’s blog. So, I was in a conundrum of how I could be honest about my year in review while also not boring you or getting too personal.
(You’re wondering about the Porn King now, aren’t you? That will need to be a separate blog.)
I made several attempts at a 2018 Top Lists before arriving at this one, but at 12:30am this morning**, I woke up with a jolt and jotted down a list. It may not perfectly represent the year, but it covers the big things and the small things. And of course, there’s also some food.
**several mornings ago. It took me a while to finish.
I give you:
Top 18 Surprises of 2018
(in no particular order)
1. Truffle Honey
On a trip to visit the most wonderful Sherrys in Pennington, New Jersey, Lauren and I were informed of a train-station-converted-restaurant that offers wine flights. I’d never heard this (the wine glasses came on a branching tree-like holder!), so that in itself seemed like the highlight, but the surprise was part of our cheese plate. As we created little pita and cheese sandwiches, with a dabble of honey, Lauren said she thought the truffle taste was coming from the honey. I said no, most certainly it’s the cheese. And behold, she was correct–it was, in fact, truffle honey! The Lambertville Station makes their own. This is one of the greatest combinations; I highly recommend it.
2. Ticket Upgrade
I wrote a blog about my First Class experience, but this gift from my parents was such a surprise, I honestly squealed at the restaurant. It was my first time traveling in a seat that reclined into a bed, and the only flight that ever felt too short.
3. Finding a Roommate
This was one of those God moments. I’d been looking for apartments for a month, visiting 5+/week, struggling to find “the right fit.” I finally visited an apartment I loved, but it turned out the other roommates did not love me, and I didn’t get the spot. I mentioned this in Discipleship class one day–just the disappointment of losing out on an apartment–when Sydney pulled me aside to ask if I was looking for an apartment. My heart beat faster. “Yes, I am…why?”
“I’m looking for a roommate,” she said. “I don’t know if you’ll like it…” and she went on to describe everything I was looking for. Not to mention she would be the roommate. Even before I saw it, I knew this was the one.
In an ironic/prophetic twist: the class we attended that morning emphasized neighborhood hospitality, i.e., spreading kindness to one’s neighbors, and it’s no surprise that the two of us ended up hosting two “get to know your neighbor” parties this year.
4. Birthday party surprise (sort of)
As I mentioned in my birthday blog, I was blessed with the most amazing week, most notably involving a “surprise” birthday party. Why was it a “surprise,” you ask?
Well, I knew about it, both intentionally and unintentionally. M-Dogg, who graciously orchestrated the whole party, needed a venue, and when his conspirators didn’t have suggestions, he asked me. Prior to that, it was a surprise!
Had that not been the case, however, the two accidental invitations I received might have tipped me off, including one email with the headline: SUPER SECRET SURPRISE PARTY FOR JENNY!
Considering I love surprise parties and (not-so)secretly hope to always be at the receiving end of one, this was an amazing gift.
5. Yoleni’s Greek Yogurt
Yoleni’s is a Greek restaurant that opened in downtown PVD this year, and the first two weeks it debuted, I was there every day. It was a Greek haven within the city–everyone spoke Greek, the level of hospitality was 100x the American standard, they offered frappes and even sold Throubes olives, which are only grown on Thasos! But the most surprising thing of all was their honey-lemon yogurt. It’s the best yogurt in the world (the WORLD).
5. My Norwegian Neighbors
When I went to language school in Greece, my hotel neighbors were a couple from Norway. No matter what time I walked in or out of my room, they were always on their patio eating or drinking. They often invited me over for afternoon beer or a late night whiskey. On one such occasion, I got to hear their stories: Geirr, a published author and teacher of navigation, spent years living on the sea, using the stars to bring him home; Lillian, who was born in the northern-most region of Norway, didn’t have electricity until she was 13 and talked about life being dictated by the stages of the moon. They’ve traveled the world together. I hope to write a book about their lives someday!
6. Roswell Isn’t ALL Bad
I don’t mean “Roswell, where I grew up,” but “Roswell, the tourist destination.” I was applying for a contest to be a CEO (Cultural Exploration Officer) and it required me to take nice photos of my hometown and make it seem appealing. But at the end of the day, I was genuinely surprised by a few things, expeically a new (to me) coffee shop called Stellar; a new homemade ice cream store next door(!); and the Anderson Art Museum, which is honestly rad (and free).
7. Finding My Ikarian Parea
Even before I arrived in Ikaria, I met two people who became my parea on this small Greek island, and through them, I was able to meet a new friend and travel journalist, have nightly company for drinks of tsipouro, and dance in the streets of Greece. I didn’t think I would ever find a Greek island that captured the magic of Thasos, but this by far is the closest.
8. I Was a Pin-Up Girl
My magazine asked me; I said yes. They dressed me up in heels and did my hair–I didn’t wash it again for 4 days because it still looked the same. It was a great experience.
9. Greek Storytelling
As I mentioned, I attended Greek language school this summer, and the people whom I considered my closest friends were Marlene and Laro, an Italian-speaking couple from Switzerland. All of our interactions were conducted in Greek, and one night we were at a taverna drinking the cheapest tsipouro I’ve ever tasted (we joked that it was the murder weapon to kill Laro in their class’s play). Marlene asked me why I started learning Greek, so I told her the story of Thasos, the writing workshop, how I felt like I was Greek inside my soul, and she stopped me just to say, “The way you are speaking…how you tell stories, I really like it. I just want to keep listening.”
It’s the best compliment of my Greek I’ve ever received.
10. Raspberry Jam
This year I gave listening prayer a try. Essentially, every day I set a meditation timer for 10 minutes and then I journaled, asking questions to God and writing down any responses or images I receive. Early into this practice, I was praying for a friend and I got the image of raspberry jam, with a spoonful being taken out. It seemed highly unlikely that this was relevant, but I decided to tell her about it, just in case. In response, I got an OH MY GOSH THIS IS AMAZING text, with an explanation of why–symbolically–this was meaningful to her. It was the first external reinforcement that Hey, God might just be speaking to me and I’m able to hear it.
It never ceases to surprise me, though, each time it happens.
11. Beauty and the Beast
Through luck, and the generosity of Motif Magazine, my roommate and I were able to get exclusive tickets to a Halloween party at a mansion in Providence. It was like walking onto the set of a Hollywood movie: cobwebs on the chandeliers, a wall covered by a giant spider, Mary Antoinette serving champagne at an open bar. Everyone there had legitimate costumes–we were clearly underdressed in our makeshift, under-$200 costumes–but the standout couple that night was Beauty and the Beast. They looked so remarkably like the characters that everyone approached them for photos. As soon as Beast took off his mask, however, I told Sydney: “I know them from somewhere! But I don’t know where.” So, like a champion of awkwardness, I marched up to Belle and asked her why she looked familiar. It turns out the two of them were guests on my food tour! They asked to get a photo with me (this was a high school popularity moment I never had), and it was so unexpected and awesome to see just how small Rhode Island really is*.
*especially considering they don’t live in Rhode Island
12. Gracie’s Tasting Menu
Speaking of food tour, as an end-of-season gift, our boss took us to Gracie’s for dinner. Gracie’s is one of the best restaurants in Rhode Island. The only time I’ve been able to eat there was during restaurant week, when they offer a reduced price Prix Fixe menu–it is phenomenal–but I’ve always dreamed of trying their tasting menu: a 5-, 7-, or 9- course, blind tasting dinner, changing weekly depending on the fresh ingredients brought in from local farmers. Paula surprised us, not only with a 7-course meal, but also with a wine pairing to go with it. I WAS SO HAPPY YOU DON’T EVEN KNOW.
13. Ice Cream Cocktail
I knew that we could expect ice cream cocktails. That’s actually why M-dogg and I went to this speakeasy in the first place. It was, I must say, the coolest (ha, “coolest”) speakeasy I’ve visited. It was inside of a Microcreamery. We walked to the back, near the bathrooms and exit, and flipped a light switch on the wall. The wall opened up and someone let us inside. Anyway: I envisioned the ice cream cocktail…I actually don’t know how, but more or less like a drink, maybe a smoothie. But this was ice cream, edible ice cream, served in a cocktail glass, made with all the alcohol you’d expect in a cocktail. They use liquid nitrogen to make it freeze, and it was easily one of my favorite ice creams of all time.
14. My Indian Guru
Tanvi, one of my first friends at Dartmouth, came to visit Rhode Island this summer, arriving just in time to celebrate my “surprise” birthday party. Seeing her back on American soil was, in itself, a long-awaited surprise, but the most surprising thing for me was 1) her increase in wisdom (she really ought to be a guru!) and 2) the way she can ask meaningful, deep questions in the gentlest way. I witnessed a conversation between her and another Dartmouth friend who’s always hated talking about himself, and in less than an hour, she asked him whether or not he believed in God, what he thinks happens after death, what his ideal life would look like, what he wants from life and relationships. Who are you, Tanvi, and are you available for hire?
Side note: I’m pretty sure I answered all of those questions, too, and I didn’t even notice.
15. The End of an Era
In January of 2014 I was hired at Brown to work on a longevity study, and after five years of working on the project (and another 5+ years of it running before I arrived), the project finally reached completion. This part was not a surprise, but rather the legitimate sadness I experienced–especially for a group of kids I’ve never met. I only ever texted or called or bothered them through social media; I sent newsletters to them and reminder cards, and created “Just for fun” questions for their surveys to break up the seriousness of the other questions. I made memes for a contest, and they voted this one their favorite.
Also, I cannot speak about my job and not mention my supervisor, who really made this job the longest-standing job I’ve ever held (and that was before I tried to move to Greece, which she heartily supported, and also accepted me back when I couldn’t stay!). She was so much more than a boss to me, and I’m glad we’ll be able to drink together more often now.
16. Bards Dispense Profanity
This is a version of Cards Against Humanity using all Shakespeare quotes. It’s an amazing game, but that’s not a surprise. What WAS a surprise was losing badly to a 90 year old woman. She’s hilarious! She was like a ninja, silently killing us all with her mastery of innuendo and random weirdness. There were so many truly brilliant responses, but my favorite was this:
(my topic card): “What is my ideal date?”
(her response): “A German from the waist downward.”
**slow clap for Joyce McCollaum**
17. The Hiding Place
This book was a Christmas gift from my dad years ago, and based on the cover, I wasn’t really enthusiastic to read it. So, it stayed on my bookshelf in New Mexico for a while. Then, at some point (maybe last year) I decided to bring it to Rhode Island based on a synopsis the pastor’s wife–also named Corrie, for Corrie ten Boom–gave. And then in December I finally decided to read it.
I just need to say WOW. Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow. It’s in the top five best books I’ve ever read, easily. I think it has a lot to do with where I am personally, but this inspired me, amazed me, and made my heart fill with God’s goodness. If I am ever able to write a book that impacts others the way this impacted me, I will surely consider it a success.
which leads me to –drumroll– number 18!
18. Harper Lee Year
My friend Katie told me the story of Harper Lee as I was in the midst of applying for those 24 jobs I didn’t get. The short version of what she said is that Harper Lee’s friends, who believed in her ability to write, gave her a year’s salary in order to quit her desk job and focus on writing. And that’s the year she wrote To Kill a Mockingbird.
Well, we’ve been dreaming and praying for such an opportunity to come my way, but let’s be honest: I didn’t see how it could happen. Who would ever invest in me? But God is bigger than even our dreams because in December I received the most unexpected surprise, perhaps of my lifetime: I was granted a scholarship to spend 2019 working as a full-time creative writer.
**sound of shattering plates**
I know. This itself deserves its own blog, and you’ll be hearing about it more throughout the year. But I hope that whatever I write will be a blessing to others, and that I can finally use my gifts to glorify the God who gave them to me.
So, there it is. The transition year of 2018, filled with highs and lows and uncertainty, proving that sometimes the best surprise is just around the bend.
May this year be full of moments that surprise and delight you, and may you live into your fullest potential, blessing those around you with the gifts that make you uniquely you. Happy 2019, friends.