Tuesday, August 4, 2015

N is for Nails

No, not these nails
            Not the nails carpenters use, though I’ve certainly seen enough of those this summer while entertaining myself with multiple episodes of Fixer Upper, Property Brothers, and Love It or List It on HGTV. 
No, I’m talking about fingerNAILS, but I can’t say N is for Fingernails, and I don’t want to go back to F, or I’ll have to come up through G, H, I, J, K, L, and M again. No thanks.

            I prefer painted toenails to painted fingernails, since a pedicure can last forever. That’s because I don’t cook, wash up the kitchen, type, or play ukulele with my toes. My toes have displayed a lovely orangey shade for a few weeks with no signs of wear and tear, though I walked barefoot in the sand in Maryland.

            Saturday I decided to paint my fingernails the same shade so as to look more chic and polished to attend a bridal shower with my friend. I gave them two coats and stood in front of a fan in between coats to encourage drying. By the time I buckled into my friend’s car, I realized I had a little indentation in two nails already. I was going to touch them up before going to Sunday School, but I didn’t. Now it’s Tuesday, and I can no longer see the indentations, but only because the color has worn off the tips of all ten fingernails. I have a date with a bottle of remover and a bag of cotton balls.

Jaunty Jamberry Nails
            Faux nails offer an alternative to polish. A friend had an online Jamberry Nails party, and I bought a few sets; they are floppy vinyl attached with heat. I experimented with the sample, enough to cover my pinky nails. I looked pretty funky with black and white stripes on my pinkies, giving me some street cred with the teens I teach. The Jams lasted through a week of showers, but I still haven’t gotten around to applying the full sets.

Clare's fabulous faux nails for the formal
            I also had a set of long faux nails from Clare’s. I used lots of glue to affix them before attending my school’s formal banquet in May. My hands looked fabulous, though handling knife, fork, and spoon presented a challenge. After a full week, and with an impending ukulele lesson, I used a nail clipper to trim the nails down to a size for working hands. The nails didn’t crack, and lasted another week until I was really sick of them and wanted them off. After soaking in nail polish remover, I found some pale, scratched up, sickly real nails underneath. I have been nursing them back to health ever since.

            Before attending my writers’ conference in June, I applied a set of Avon nails, similar to Jamberry. The multicolored overlays didn’t stand up to all the ukulele practices and performances that week. Strumming G, C, E, and A shredded their sparkly loveliness. Later in the week, I peeled them off and stuck them in the notebook I used in a session, and there they remain.

These cuties remind me of my sister and me.
            This fascination with nails and makeup and hair and jewelry and ruffles and bows and sparkles starts when we’re little girls. How much is nature and how much is nurture? I don’t know.

            Some Christian groups take very seriously the warnings given in Scripture. The Apostle Peter wrote, “Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God.” 1 Peter 3:3 – 4, NLT

            And who can forget—no matter how hard I try—that annoying, overachieving Proverbs 31 woman? “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.” (Proverbs 31:30 – 31, NIV) Everything that woman’s hands did from verses 10 through 27 would have destroyed any manicure known to womankind.

            So does God prefer us plain-faced with short, unpolished nails and the hair color and texture he chose for us? I could look like a nun, but even nuns don't look like nuns any more. To consider another side of this issue, read the second chapter of Esther. It was the excessive beautification of Esther that put her in the position to save the Jewish people and the messianic line.

            I confess I’m not ready to give up my feeble attempts to look better. I’ll color my hair brown…and then watch the silvery roots grow in. I’ll massage the overpriced Dead Sea Minerals gel under my eyes…waiting for the results promised by the Israelis at the mall. I’ll paint my toe nails often and my fingernails…whenever I get around to it.

            But I will continuously remind myself that only Christ can give me a beauty that doesn’t chip, crack, or peel.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

M is for Miracle Max

Miracle Max, perfectly played by Billy Crystal,
is my second favorite miracle worker of all time.

            If you don’t know Miracle Max, you haven’t watched the Princess Bride dozens of times. If you haven’t watched the Princess Bride dozens of times, what’s wrong with you?

            To review:  Inigo and Fezzik bring Westley’s dead body to Max for a miracle, and after Max diagnoses Westley as “only mostly dead,” Max prepares a chocolate-coated pill to revive Westley, and sends the three heroes off to “storm the castle.” 
A Marvel superhero I hadn't heard of?
            M is also for Miracle Man. I don’t mean the Marvel comic superhero; I didn’t know about him till just now, and that’s saying something, because I grew up in a comic book family, as my brothers will attest. No, Jesus is the Miracle Man.

              In JesusQuest, my Gospels course for high school students, we color code miracles in red. If you do this in any of the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) the number of miracles is staggering. 

               A few years ago, I found this definition of a miracle, and I’ve taught it to my students ever since:  An unusual event, requiring a supernatural agent, that authenticates the message or the messenger. (I would credit the source, but I don’t remember it.)

             In plain English that means a miraculous event is not an everyday ordinary event. It’s not accomplished by humans alone without God's help. It’s done to reveal the identity of the miracle worker or the truth of his message.
            Of course we toss around the word “miracle” in everyday language. That’s okay so long as we recognize that’s not how it’s being used in the Bible. People gush over the miracle of a new baby. Um, we know what causes that. And it happens a lot.
   Now when Mary conceived Jesus without Joseph’s help, that was a miracle.
            We also gush over the miracle of modern medicine. Believe me, I am very thankful for the brilliant, skilled doctor who put two titanium plates and ten screws in my right ankle in November of 2013. However, I believe he went to medical school to learn how to do that. Now if the second set of x-rays had revealed no fractures, that would have been a miracle.
            If everything is a miracle, then nothing is a miracle. It’s like Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon, “where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.” If all the children are above average, there’s a new average, and none is above average.
            So, because of my preference for precise language, and because of my compulsion for correct theology, I tend to be a skeptic about miracles, especially televised or big rally miracles. Or miracles that happened to your cousin’s brother-in-law’s paperboy’s step-grandmother. In other words, miracles that can’t be validated. 

            But when I know the person? And I know how sick she was? That's a miracle I can believe. I will not attempt to recount Susan Swan’s miracle, but instead send you to her blog, where she has four posts about it, starting with http://susanreithswan.com/2014/08/03/god-still-works-miracles-part-one/

            If you made it back here after visiting Susan’s blog, treat yourself to a this video, depictions of Jesus’ miracles, accompanied by a calm, uplifting song. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

L is for Loser

One definition of “loser” at www.dictionary.com is “a person who has failed at a particular activity.” I am forced to embrace this title because of my epic failure in the kitchen this morning.

Me sharing coffee truth
If you know me even a little bit, you know I have a special relationship with coffee. Maybe it’s a passive aggressive relationship. I aggressively pursue coffee which just sits there passively. I honor coffee with my Pinterest board entitled “the Coffee Driven Life,” which is a collection of funny and witty sayings about coffee dependence, and unfortunately these sayings are more true than funny. 

If you, too, are caffeine-addicted, then you may also realize that the person least able to make coffee first thing in the morning is the person who needs it most. Without my favorite drug, I am not smart enough to make coffee that will make me smart enough to make coffee.

The Keurig is a as close to being a no-brainer as any coffee maker I’ve encountered, although I sometimes have difficulty with the fill-with-water part and the press-the-button part. But occasionally I bring out my little 4 cup Mr. Coffee for a special occasion, and this month’s special occasion is that my former student Caleb brought me Hungarian coffee. From Hungary. That may seem an obvious point, but I’m sure a person could get Hungarian coffee without traveling to Hungary. After all, one can buy Jamaican coffee at TJ Maxx. But Caleb did not buy the Hungarian coffee at TJ Maxx. Or in Jamaica. He bought it in Hungary and brought it home on a plane and delivered it to my house.

So I’ve been enjoying a little carafe of Hungarian coffee each morning, even though several thoughtful steps are required of my non-caffeinated brain. 1) Position the paper filter. 2) Peel the top off the container. 3) Measure the coffee and place it in the filter. 4) Pour the water into the water area. 5) Press the on button.

Most mornings I stand and watch the machine’s magic, or make toast, or pour cereal, but this morning I foolishly decided to do something useful. I’ve been working on getting rid of excess plastic containers and having a neatly organized container storage area. Part of this process includes leaving lids and containers on the counter by the toaster for several days while I invent reasons to deal with it later. But this morning I put some of them away, with my back to Mr. Coffee’s wonderful aroma and sizzling music.

Not my kitchen, but you get the idea.
When I concluded enough time had passed, I prepared to reward myself with my first cup. Where was the carafe? Not on the hot surface collecting the freshly brewed coffee. I neglected one thing: step 6) Place carafe under filter. While the gleaming, empty carafe sat off to the side, coffee flooded the counter top. 

The water is supposed to run
THROUGH the filter.
This coffee maker has a feature which prevents liquid from flowing through the filter if the carafe is not in place, but even Mr. Coffee has his limits. The water had heated and been pumped into the filter where it was trapped, mixed with the grounds, and overflowed. I grabbed a few kitchen towels, unplugged Mr. Coffee, and dragged the whole mess into the sink. 

No colorful language spewed from my mouth in the early morning solitude of my kitchen, because I am a writer. Instead I exclaimed, “I can write about this!” Then I made a cup of Gloria Jean’s Hazlenut coffee with a K cup, which came from Grove City, Pennsylvania, not Hungary.

Cindy's Keurig disaster looked
something like this.
A few hours later at the Well Coffee House, I told my story to Cindy, my friend and fellow writer, who is also a loser, it turns out. She had a similar experience when she lived in Maine, only she used a full size, 12 cup Mr. Coffee. All of the floors sloped in her old house, so when she entered the kitchen, a brown river ran through it. She also managed more recently to make a Keurig overflow coffee and grounds. Cindy, I salute you. 

 After Mr. Coffee cooled down, I rinsed him off, so he’ll probably electrocute me the next time I plug him in. If so, I’ll write about it.

Monday, July 13, 2015

K is for King's Family Restaurants

On June 22, King’s Family Restaurants broke my heart.

I first discovered King’s on one of my many trips to writers conferences and conference board meetings in western Pennsylvania. If memory serves me (And really, why would it finally now?) my husband was with me and we stayed overnight at a motel. We could walk to King’s from the motel, so we did.

I've never actually eaten the Angry Mob.
We found the food to be tasty and well-priced, and that day I began my romance with Frownie Brownie, a feature of many King’s desserts. Each brownie had fudgy icing and a sad face. If you bought a dozen, they came packaged as a Pity Party. You could get an individual sundae built on the brownie, or a ginormous, decadent mass of brownies and ice cream to share with your depressed friends. It was called the Angry Mob.

I heard Frownie Brownie was created to answer Eat ‘n’ Park’s smiley cookies. That resonated with me. Don’t tell me, “Have a nice day!” I’ll have a bad day if I want to. Now hand me a brownie before I hurt you.

My traveling writer friends and I visited King’s whenever we could. You know you have a good friend when she realizes she’s driven past King’s and makes an illegal U turn on Route 80 to get you there. 

A generic Frownie Brownie,
not the one who sleeps in my bed.
When I traveled west during the school year, I brought back a Pity Party for my students. One October the brownies had pink icing, because apparently even Frownie supports breast cancer research. I eventually owned 2 Frownie tee shirts and even a plush Frownie Brownie. 

Once a sweet student sent money along to buy a plush Frownie for a fellow student. He was elated and discovered Frownie is washable after accidentally spraying him with the heavily scented body spray young teen boys use.

When I broke my ankles, my friend baked and decorated her own version of Frownie Brownies and brought them to the hospital. Yes, the same friend who made the illegal U turn.

A generic Frownie tee shirt,
not the one I wear.
As you can see, I had become a Frownie Brownie evangelist, spreading the good news of yumminess, comfort, and calories. I amassed a cultish following for King’s among people who’d never eaten there.

Then on June 22, King’s Family Restaurants broke my heart. My friend and I stopped there on our way to our conference and the hostess handed us thick new menus with a Pittsburgh theme. There was no trace of Frownie. No Pity Party. No Angry Mob. No tee shirts. No tiny plush key chains. No huggable big Frownies. Nothing remained of Frownie. Not even a crumb. 

Ironically, it was the new California owner who re-branded King’s away from Frownie and towards Pittsburgh. You can read the sad story here: http://triblive.com/business/headlines/8238403-74/kings-menu-gillingwater#axzz3fDdeGpPu

I have nothing against Pittsburgh. Several of my writer friends live there. It’s a good city for poets. I’ve never been there, but I’m pretty sure it’s not as tasty as a Pity Party. If I think about it too much, I become as irate as an Angry Mob.

On the way home from conference, my friend and I stopped at Eat 'n' Park. We had a nice day.

"Smile, though your heart is breaking..."