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..."

Monday, July 6, 2015

J is for John.


Dean Jones plays St. John in Exile,
no doubt waiting for a reply from an editor.
First Century Scrolls
93 A.D.

John Bar Zebedee
Patmos, Aegean Sea

Dear Mr. St. John,

            I have reviewed your submission, The Gospel According to John. If you had bothered with market research, you would know we have already published three biographies of the obscure Galilean prophet. (Frankly, I wonder how Mr. St. Matthew and Dr. St. Luke got their manuscripts past our acquisitions editor; they’re so similar to Mr. St. Mark’s earlier effort as to be both mind numbing and plagiaristic.) Since this miracle worker from Nazareth has been gone for over half a century, it is doubtful there would be enough interest in his life to warrant a fourth biography.
            While I commend you for your unique approach, I think you don’t understand what interests modern readers. First, break up those long paragraphs of the prophet’s monologues—and what in Hades possessed you to use red ink?!—with action sequences.
            Second, lose the confusing and conflicting metaphors. I am the door? I am the vine? I am the bread of life? If you’re trying to drum up converts for your new religion, you’d do well to use plain Greek.
            Finally, get yourself a thesaurus. In a manuscript as short as yours, to use the same word one hundred times is lazy. Find a few synonyms for “faith” and “believe.”
You can buy a wax seal
just like St. John's at
            While First Century Scrolls has no interest in another biography of this messiah figure, it’s obvious you were well acquainted with the man. Have you ever thought of writing a few short letters about him? We’re about to launch our new Epistles line and I think you might find a niche there. If you’re interested in submitting an epistle, be sure to write “Requested Manuscript” next to the wax seal.

Best wishes,
Philologus, Editor