Ninja Trait #9: KOTTOBAC

Ninja Trait #9: Knowledge of the Teachings of Bhuddha & Confucius

I don’t know how much Gam knows about Bhuddism, though I’m sure she’d surprise me.

But there are a few people she follows religiously:

1. Jesus.

(Heck, he curls her hair.)

2. Michael Savage

Every. Single. Night.

Evenings after nine, she drifts off to pre-recorded cassettes (thanks to my sweet Uncle) and wakes up with political views she needs three mirrors to see.

3. Mark Harmon

AKA “Gibbs,” her favorite NCIS heartthrob. She may just be swooning over blue eyes and a full head of hair but by this time I’m convinced she could diffuse a nuclear time bomb with a cat toy and a ball of tin foil (or at the very least figure out which one of the Riddle employees has been stealing from her liquor cabinet.)

I’d say the three of them are pretty #9 worthy.


Alfredo and I’m So Smart

"Im so smart!"

Gam was craving alfredo tonight.

“Jenny, I wanted alfredo all day. So I called down and said to Denise (the dining services manager) that I would like some of that . . . oh fiddle . . . Jenny what do you call those square flat noodles?”






“Yes! Fetuccini! That’s the one!! But they didn’t have any. They just had plain old spaghetti. So do you know what I did?”

“No. What?”

“I said to Denise, ‘Denise, I would like a bowl of regular old spaghetti. With alfredo sauce on the side. And then I said to myself, ‘Self, last time you had alfredo, it was awfully dry.’ So do you know what I did?”

“No, but I bet you’re going to tell me.”

“Right. I said ‘Denise, I would like a plate of regular spaghetti, with alfredo sauce, and– here is the kicker–an extra bowl of alfredo sauce on the side. I’M SO SMART!”


“And so I opened the container. And I poured the extra sauce. And I stirred it in there, real good, all mashed up together. And it was perfect. Oh, Jenny, I’m so smart.”

“Yes Gam. You sure are.”

Ninja Trait #7: Responsibility

“Jenny, would you like my bedroom set?”

“Why would you give away your bedroom set?”

“You know. For when I die.”

My ticker stops for a sec. Too matter-of-fact.

“I don’t want to talk about that,” I tell her.

“Well we’ve got to.”

“Not today we don’t. Besides what are you going to keep your cute pajamas in if you give away your bedroom set?”

“Well it’s good to be responsible about these things,” she tells me. “I’d like you to have my bedroom set cause your mother tells me you STILL don’t have one. There. All done! That wasn’t so bad. Now, what fun things shall we talk about?”

Responsibility isn’t always fun to talk about. But tonight it’s fun to remember.

A brief list of responsible things I learned from my Gam . . .

1 It’s OK not to talk to anyone first thing in the morning until you get your grumpies out. (More later)

2 When you go swimming, you always wear sunscreen. But no higher than a 4 or a 6 SPF or else you won’t get a nice tan.

3 Ice cream tastes the best after the news was finished (When I was little I couldn’t understand how Dan Rather could ever be more exciting then going for ice cream. Oh well.)

4 Good neighbors always have a pot of coffee going for drop-ins. Always.

5 When you’re going out, you always wear lipstick and always wear earrings. Always.

6 You go to church on Sundays and you raise your hands or else you don’t love Jesus. (More on that later.)

7 Clean the house BEFORE the cleaning lady gets there. Not because you need a cleaning lady, but because you know someone who could use the work.

8 Treat maintenance men and waitresses with your utmost respect. When your cat runs away or you need an oversized Geisha portrait hung in the perfect spot, you’ll have plenty of help.

9 Say thank you with huge tins of brownies.

10 Decorate your place how you want to, with things you love. Even if that means you have a Christmas tree hung with nothing but homemade stuffed cat faces with google eyes.

11 Take long walks with your dog even if you go so far you get lost.

12 When you say you’ll pray for someone, do it. God listens to anything you put on your fridge

13. Ask for hugs when you need them. Sometimes you just need a hug.

14. When in doubt, tell someone you love them. Even if its three times in a row and you feel silly saying it.

15. Starbucks coffee is overrated and “smells like burnt socks”.

16. Family is the most important thing you’ll ever have.

17. Don’t stare at people who look different than you, even if they have an extra thumb. They’re probably the nicest people you’ll ever meet.

18. Oatmeal is so much more fun with rainbow sprinkles.

19. Old Bay seasoning makes anything taste perfect.

20. Cheer for your favorite teams.

21. Knowing the words to The Wells Fargo Wagon is a resume-worthy life skill.

22. Corgis are God’s favorite dogs.

23. Feed the hungry; you’ll find a best friend. (Even if its about stray cats.)

24. Swear words are sometimes necessary.

25. Keep your life savings in a sock under your mattress.

Ninja Trait #2: Bravery

I’m just about through my Traits of a Ninja series.

Today’s little post is about bravery.

And the fact that “Self Defense” is just so much cooler when you spell it like our little friend on the right.

A few years ago, Gam was invited to a teach a seminar on self defense. To teenage boys. At a detention center. At age 82.


I’m not quite sure if the bravery gets allotted to Gam or to the poor young convicts who learned choke holds and flip kicks from a seemingly innocent old woman who could actually rip out their jugulars with one fell swoop.

But she did it.

She told me it wasn’t the most pleasant experience she ever had, and that two days is not nearly enough to teach anyone much about anything, but that the boys were amazingly eager to learn and quite respectful.

I’d be respectful too if I were getting basic karate lessons from a ninja.

Did I mention she was 82?

Ninja Trait #6: Good Health

“Want a bite of my salad, Gam?” 

“Nope. It looks good for me.”

“Oh my word, try one of these strawberries.”

“They’re good for you. I don’t eat stuff like that.”

“Come on. Just one bite of this.”

“Jennifer, how many times do I have to tell you. I don’t do healthy.”

She never really has. And oddly, it’s never really shown.

A few months ago, before any of the shenanigans even started, my 90 lb. Gam called and scared the holy cats out of me–breathing heavily, sounding weak and confused.

“Jenny. I need you to pray for me . . . please?”

“Gam-what’s wrong? You OK?”

“Yes . . . yes . . . with the help of the Lord, I’ll be OK. Oh, help me Jesus . . . ”

“GAM! Do you need to pull your cord? Do you need help?”

“I’ll be OK, Jenny. Just please pray . . . [deep breath]

“Gam I need you to tell me what’s going on or I will call the hospital for you . . . ”

She interrupted me with this little tidbit.

“Jenny, I just ate a whole cheese burger. French fries. An onion ring. A chocolate shake, and a slice of raspberry cheese cake. I’m just not feeling too good.”


At the time everyone was noticing how quickly she was loosing weight–no matter how many nights she OD’d on carbs and cheesecake. Eating and eating and dropping and dropping.  Even with the cakes on her door and the chocolate milkshakes (she orders two chocolate milkshakes every night that they send up in little styrofoam cups), she keeps getting smaller.

It’s cause of the cancer. Everything she eats, the cancer eats. It’s like eating for two. Only your baby is really ugly and everyone hates it and instead of feeling it kick, you want to kick it in the ass.

My mom says she hasn’t always been such a beanpole-but I’ve never seen a picture that proves otherwise. I just remember bony hands that are exactly like mine and ankles that were never any bigger than my wrist. And lots and lots of junk food.

The run-down of Gam’s fridge in Delaware was pretty predictable:

Chocolate cupcakes, white frosting: Made special and kept in the freezer

3-layer Jell-O cups

Tropicana OJ (huge treat for us)

Chips Ahoy (the ones in the red bag)

Entimenn’s Coffee Cake

Lays potato chips (ridges)

Water Ice (lemon and cherry)

Walnut fudge brownies (in a tin)

Chinese Almond Cookies (for me)

Peanut Butter Captain Crunch (for Patty)

Frostee Paws (for the dogs)

There were times when she could put away a whole Grotto’s pizza, down 13 donuts (so she says), and ice cream cones from Hockers that were half a foot tall.

Once I came back from a 2-week trip to Grandma’s having put on so much weight my mom said she didn’t recognize me. (I wonder why?) Nowadays she says she doesn’t recognize herself.

“Jenny, this morning I pulled up my dungarees and they fell right down to the floor.”

I told her we’d need to go shopping for cute underwear if she’s going to be marching around all-indecent. She says only if we can pick up some spaghetti and sausage on the way back.

“Jenny I ate so much tonight that I’m waddling like a duck. And I don’t know if anybody will believe me, but I truly think that I put on a little bit of weight. Just a little bit.  And I don’t know if anyone can tell, but I can. And that counts.”

She sighs and gets real for a moment.

Tells me she’s tired of eating. Tired of feeding the cancer. Wonders what the point is.

Then right back to Gam.

“Oh well! Who feels like a milkshake?!”

Ninja Trait #4: Diligence (Gam’s Magic Refrigerator)

If I could pick one thing to remember about my grandmother, among the many, it’d be that she was diligent–particularly in the prayer area.

That and the fact that she has a magic refrigerator.

Gam's Magic Refrigerator. I'm #3!

I can’t think of another person in my life who has been so diligent in bugging God for me and about me–even when I was too angry to talk to Him myself.

Big things, little things, in-between things. Things that you don’t think should be significant enough for anyone’s time–yet she’s waking up and laying down and breathing prayers for you. Sometimes in the middle of NCIS. Which is kind of a big deal, if you know Gam.

And, if its important enough, it goes on her refrigerator.

The refrigerator prayer list is reserved for important things. And where you rank is very telling.

Sometimes she’ll call me to say, “Jenny, I put you on my refrigerator. You’re number three right now.” (She wants me to feel honored by that. I always do.)

Big, important things–tho “important” might be a relative term. She won’t put my husband on there; I’ve asked. But she will put strange things one there. Bad weeks at work, fluke illnesses, blind dates.

There was my broken wrist. I took a spill at my friend 30th birthday party–an 80’s themed roller skating fiesta where I face-planted before even completing my first lap around. What was originally guestimated as “you’ll probably need surgery and have a cast for a couple months” (a little disconcerting for someone who types for a living) turned into a few fractures that could be managed with a velcro brace that could be removed to shower. Funny–I told Gam the one thing I was dreading the most was not being able to be fully clean.

An awful burn healed over without needing the skin graft that was talked about–and a bad infection caught before it sent me to the ER.

Losing my license (more on that later) diverted by the weirdest coincidence.

And then there’s my friends. I think she’s picked up on the fact that I feel loved when she loves my friends–so they get Refrigerator Priority. More than I do, actually.

I have a dear childhood friend that had a stroke at age 29. She went straight on the refrigerator to the very top of the list. I know for a fact that Gam prayed for her every day–all day.  She’s doing well now and is expecting her 2nd kiddo soon.

Another friend who experienced a few things no girl should ever have to even hear about–she went right up there, too. Immediately, with no questions asked.

And another–Frankenstein’s Grandaughter.

“What’s your little friend’s name, again?” Gam would ask. “Charlie? Chauncey?”

“It’s Kelsey.”

“Oh. Whatever. She’s on my refrigerator. In great big letters!”

Gam could never remember Kelsey. But she could remember that Kelsey’s great grandma was the lady who wrote Frankenstein. So I don’t know if God gives brownie points when he hears “Please Bless Frankenstein’s Grandaughter”–but that’s how Gam remembered her. And I do believe it worked.

Why wouldn’t it?


In her honor–perhaps even to catch some of the magic refrigerator magic–I’ve started my own Refrigerator List. I hope it works as well.

Let me know if you’d ever like to be on it.

Ninja Trait #8: Ingenuity.

Gam’s favorite vino is Beringer White Zinfandel. I tell her all the time that blushes are for wusses. She tells me I have no room to talk.

She told me a story once about driving home from a party after enjoying one drink too many.

Murphy’s Law would say she’d be pulled over by the police–as of course she was.

When the officer got out of the car and asked her to roll down her window, she immediately started crying.

Is this some sort of girl code the female population has known about for years and years? Cry in front of the police officer and get off the hook?

It’s never worked for me . . . but it did for her. Dang ninja skills.

“Have you been drinking tonight, mam?”

Gam confessed. Sort of.

“Oh, officer,” she sobbed. “THANK YOU for pulling me over!”

The police officer was puzzled.

Thank you. You SAVED MY LIFE!”

He’d obviously never gotten a reaction like that before.

“You truly did . . . if it weren’t for you, I could have driven this car right off the road. Or even worse, hurt someone. What was I thinking, officer? Oh thank you, thank you, thank you for what you’ve done.”

Then, she stepped out of the car and gave him a big hug.

I think he must have been so perplexed that he put away the clip board and told her to be careful driving home.