Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Great American Nail Salon 4th of July

Disney World, Photo by Olivia Knutson

Since we are an entire family are "Pyros" and reside in one the few cities in LA County that allow "Safe and Sane" fireworks; the 4th of July around the Knutson Manor is unrestrained, sticky, dangerous and LOUD.

Every year Mr. K  grills the perennial hot dogs and hamburgers and for dessert he makes homemade, from scratch, peppermint ice cream. Playing the role of Mrs. K, I plan to make the Jello three layer red, white and blue "Jiggler" dessert or the sheet cake with cream cheese frosting, blueberries and strawberries decorated like a flag. I have made this every year since I can remember...the plans... not the actual food items. The actual dessert is probably never going to happen, but it is a my festive holiday ritual and I'm nothing if not traditional. I usually end up opening the chips and putting them in a bowl. We do have standards, you know.

 My job is to sit in the lawn chair out front and yell at the children, as they race past me into the house, to not bother Mr. K as he's working cooking/cursing on the ice cream. He spends hours in the kitchen grumbling to himself about temperatures, ice to salt ratios and running to the store for stuff he forgot. He tries not to hit the dozens of children that run amuck on our cul-de-sac, as he races to Ralphs and then Vons, because Ralphs never has what he needs. This is his festive holiday ritual.

The kids run in and out of the house all day; bringing out toys, games, peppermint candy stolen from Mr. K in the kitchen and Barbies. Barbies seem to reproduce asexually, like starfish, in our home in the bathtub and under the girls' beds. They are always partially clothed, topless or bottomless and have wet hair.  I have no idea why.

The children's job is to complete three tasks to signal the lighting of the fireworks.

  • Task number one is run in and out of the house as many times possible while being screamed at to "GET OUT"! 
  • Number two is as I explained earlier, to drag outside as many toys as possible and get them all sticky and grassy. 
  • The final task usually takes all day, but having the neighborhood children and friends with large families is helpful. They must make sure the floors inside especially the bathroom floors are sufficiently moist with a special holiday spritzer of.....
"Barbie hair"- Water
"Red soda" (a holiday miracle since we stopped serving red soda/punch years ago)
"I half washed my hands and the dirt and soap dripped down from the counters"- Water
And lastly, "little boy I can't aim" Pee Pee.

It takes all day for this cocktail to ferment in to slightly reddish brown trail marking a pathway throughout the house. But then and only then can the real fun begin. The Lighting/ Jumping of the fireworks!

"Guys go back in the house and spill some more soda on the floor, it's not quite sticky enough"


I have a favorite nail salon "Happy Nails" it's located in my local shopping mall. Like most nail salons in the Los Angeles area it is staffed by Vietnamese women.  I have been going there regularly for years. I began getting my pedicures there when I came back from Haiti the first time.

Some of you know, but in case you don't, our youngest daughter is adopted from Haiti. It took much longer than expected, four years in fact and in that time she was diagnosed with a Brain Tumor, which lengthened the adoption process. Needless to say I ended up visiting Haiti a lot, over twenty times. While I hated waiting for our daughter to come home, I found myself falling in love with Haiti. I'm so thankful for the time I was able to spend there. I love the noise, the food, Haitian church worship, the artwork, the bumpy roads, the pigs, the roosters and the people. I love the Haitian people.

One of the few things I didn't enjoy there were the mosquitoes, although they enjoyed me, a little too much. I was always spraying my feet and ankles as they are a know mosquito delicacy. Only the truly caustic stuff worked to keep them away, but it would take a toll on my feet. The spray would always melt my toenail polish and slightly burn the soles of my feet. I would always come home with nasty looking trotters. This is why I began to visit Happy Nails.

I remember the first visit to the salon I explained why my feet were so disgusting, the ladies seem nonplussed and began to chatter away in Vietnamese to one another. Perhaps they were talking about the chubby lady with Haitian Trench Foot, but I doubt it. Anyway, I would just sit back and let them scrub away while I longed for my daughter and Haiti. Going to the nail salon became part of my Haiti ritual. I would return home, cry for a day, have my nails done and then plan for the next visit.

I became a regular at Happy Nails. I even started learning the ladies names in English and Vietnamese. I had to stick to English though, because I'm so Caucasian it makes me butcher name pronunciations other than those used in the Mid-Western United States from 1940-1965. The ladies also got to know my story and that of our daughter in Haiti. I learned that most of the ladies lived in Little Saigon in Orange County, traveled a distance over 30 miles for work, were American citizens and many of them supported their families on their income alone. Finally after four years our daughter came home in late summer 2008 and my visits to the salon stopped.

 Yverline in Haiti July 4th 2008. One month before emigrating


In Ancient Greece on the Island of Crete a fresco was created in the Palace of Knossos. It is of a man leaping over a bull to celebrate an archaic holiday. It's a lot like that here at the Knutson Manor on our country's birthday. Of course this is always done with utmost attention to safety, this is America after all, not Greece!  Did they have "Safe and Sane" bulls? No! I should think not. But we on the other hand DO have "Safe and Sane" fireworks. We also work up to our daring feats against the gods of gunpowder, we don't just leap on in.

First we begin with a few sparklers waving them around discreetly and cautiously. Then someone decides they need to write their name in the air, then another tops that and writes theirs on the sidewalk in burning sparkler soot. After that the kids kind of whip themselves in a frenzy running up and down the street ala "Statue of Liberty" crying out occasionally when a spark lands on bare skin. Soon one of the sassy older kids pretends to smoke the sparklers like they're Cruella de Ville sashaying all about. This causes the parents to feign shock and yell, "Knock it off, you're setting a bad example". They do this while trying to stifle a snort, which is a skill in of itself.

After the sparklers are all gone and one of the smaller kids has a melt down, out come the Snaps. These come in a tiny matchbox packed with sawdust and look like little twists of toilet paper with black powder inside, because,  basically that's what they are. These require no supervision so the adults big kids can set up the REAL fireworks. Typically there are a few minor injuries, mostly from throwing the whole pack into the wind and a piece of sawdust gets into an eye, or one of the bigger children has hoarded a whole handful and thrown them at an unsuspecting barefoot sibling, culminating in loud crackles followed by screaming. Which coincidentally is the signal for the jumping to begin.

With Sparkler


Cruella De Ville


Almost a year after our daughter came home I took her to Happy Nails for a 4th of July "Mommy and Me" pedicure. The ladies were glad to see me and I introduced them to my girl, Yverline. There were quite a few new women working that day who didn't know our story. Some of the veteran employees were filling in the others in Vietnamese. I had a new girl working with me and she asked about the adoption and why my daughter was in a wheelchair. I explained how her adoption took a long time and how she was diagnosed with a brain tumor and that since she had come home to us she has had one surgery and treatment after another, but was doing well. She then excused herself and began going around the salon asking the other ladies something in Vietnamese.

She was collecting money.

She returned and asked if my daughter would like a free manicure with flowers and jewels. I was moved as I know these ladies work so hard for a living. If you have ever been to a nail salon you will know everything is extra, especially jewels and flowers; so to have them pool their tip money to make a little girl's day special was especially poignant. Yverline beamed with her hands and toes freshly painted.

As we were finishing up I causally asked what she was doing to celebrate the 4th. She answered, "We always go to the movies, all of us." As she said this she gestured to all the other women. "Oh, why is that, do you ever go to see the fireworks in the park?,  I said. She then began to explain that as children growing up in Vietnam during the war, that the sound of fireworks gave them flashbacks. To avoid the the noise they would go in a large group to the theater.

I was stunned and my eyes began to fill with tears.

I gave her a huge hug and thanked her and the rest of the women over and over again.  We then headed home.

 Blurry photo of Yverline's hand painted flowers and jewels


After the signal the big kids jump first, their grace and timing are flawless. Then the middle kids who are nearly as elegant are up; usually there is a shy child who through taunting gentle encouragement by older siblings overcome their fears and graduate to firework leaper. The younger ones run and stop about 10 feet away and kick in the direction of the pyrotechnic display in an act of defiance to the firework demons. Then the adults try their luck, which is similar to Ancient Greece; except we are the bulls, sweating, snorting and out of breath; barley clearing the sparks.  Then sadly it's over too soon only the mess remains

...oh and the smell of smoke in our hair
...and the half melted ice cream and leftovers that need to go in the fridge
...and all the sticky grassy Barbies
...and the floors (sigh)


So this year will be no different and no less dysfunctional at the Knutson Manor. But before it all gets going I will stop and think about all the immigrants who made and are making this country great.

My grandparents and great grandparents.

My beautiful daughter.

And the generous women at Happy Nails who live with the pain of the past and the promise of the future .

God Bless You and God Bless America

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Wordless Wednesday (well, almost)

U2 Rose Bowl Pasadena, California

Set List:
Get On Your Boots
Mysterious Ways
Beautiful Day (with a few lines from In God’s Country)
I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, with coda of Stand By Me,
Stuck In A Moment (acoustic guitar version)
No Line On The Horizon,
In A Little While (last verse spoken by an astronaut in the International Space Station),
Unknown Caller,
Until the End of the World
The Unforgettable Fire
City of Blinding Lights,
I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight
Sunday Bloody Sunday,
MLK (Martin Luther King tribute),
Walk On (Aung San Suu Kyi tribute) with Never Walk Alone snippet

Desmond Tutu recorded message

Amazing Grace
Where the Streets Have No Name
Ultraviolet (Light My Way)
With or Without You
Moment of Surrender

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Films for Easter

The Miracle MakerAll links were updated on 4/2/2012

It seems as though Christmas gets all the good inspirational holiday family movies. From the ever favorite "It's a Wonderful Life", "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas", "Charlie Brown Christmas" and the many incarnations of "A Christmas Carol" there are no shortage of films.

But poor Easter is sorely lacking in the inspirational family movie department. I know there is Mel Gibson's "Passion" and we own a copy, but that is not something we would ever sit down to watch as a family, especially since some of my children are still young. It is more of an event to be viewed sparingly and by older children only.

I really wish there were more family films about Easter, Christ, the Resurrection and the early church. But that doesn't mean that there are not some real gems that can be used to convey the message of sacrifice and redemption; in the same way parables are used to teach us more about the Kingdom of God.

Christ often taught His followers with parables. He told earthly stories with Heavenly meanings. John and I have always used stories to convey our love and the Father's love to our children; some of these are found in the Bible, in family accounts, in fiction and non-fiction books and in films.

So I decided to share some of our favorites to inspire you this Easter season. I hope you watch with your family and have meaningful discussions and draw inferences to our Lord and the Easter story while being emotionally engaged and entertained. I listed them by age group starting with films that can be watched with younger children and ending with late Jr. High/adult.

Enjoy and Happy Easter.

1. The Miracle Maker:

This is my favorite movie about the Ministry of Jesus hands down. If I wanted to share the Gospel in movie form with anyone, regardless of their age or background I would show them this movie. Why? Because it is the SIMPLE retelling of the ministry, passion, death and resurrection of Christ. Don't let the fact that it is made in stop-motion animation fool you, this movie packs a punch and is bibilicaly sound without being preachy or watering down the message. It also has a stellar voice cast, including Ralph Fiennes, Ian Holm, Julie Christie, Alfred Molina, William Hurt and Miranda Richardson.

You can see from this clip how compelling this version is

You can purchase "The Miracle Maker" Here

2. City Lights:

This is Charlie Chaplin's masterpiece. It follows the misadventures of his iconic movie character The Tramp, think homeless person, as he tries to assist a beautiful blind girl he meets on the streets. The genius of this film is the juxtaposition of slapstick comedy and some thoughtful commentary on society, homelessness, hopelessness, the rich, judging others and mercy. Without giving too much away there is also a subtext of being falsely accused so others can benefit and having to pay a debt to society that wasn't deserved. The ending of this movie is one of the most beautifully filmed scenes in all of cinema. While this is technically a "Silent Film" there are sound effects and the music was written by Chaplin himself. Please note there is some alcohol use/abuse and a comical suicide attempt (only Chaplin could get away with it) so I don't recommend it for small children.

This is the entire restored film on Youtube

3. Captains Courageous:

They just don't make films like this anymore. This film has everything: Its' story was written by Rudyard Kipling and stars Spencer Tracy, Freddie Bartholomew, Mickey Rooney, Melvyn Douglas, John Carradine and Lionel Barrymore. It was directed by Victor Fleming, who also directed Gone With The Wind and The Wizard of Oz. The story follows Harvey Cheyne a young, trust fund brat who falls off his father's ocean liner and picked up by a fishing boat. He is transformed by the love and discipline of Manuel a Portuguese fisherman. The Biblical analogies are woven throughout this film. Harvey is nearly dead when he comes out of the water (baptism). He is also separated emotionally and physically from his father who loves him and is restored by the love and sacrifice of (Im)Manuel. This is just a beautiful story of redemption.

You can rent it on Netflix or purchase it on Amazon

4. The Dollmaker:

This film haunts me. It reminds me of a Steinbeck novel but with a redemptive ending. It is heartbreaking, powerful and a stunning portrayal of sacrifice. The main character is Gertie Nevels who uproots her children from the hills of Kentucky to follow her husband to a company town in Detroit. They suffer one hardship after another and the entire family is brought to the brink when they finally realize they were better off back at home. There is no money for them to return and that's when a sacrifice must be made. The characters are very "real" and are flawed, stubborn, at times cruel, unforgiving and despairing. Jane Fonda is a revelation, even if you don't like her as an actress, she will blow you away. The themes of this film are, forgiveness, bitterness, despair and redemption. Be prepared, you will cry. This is recommended only for mature children, 8th grade and older.

This trailer is really poorly produced but the film is stunning.

This is an impossible film to find but you can buy "The Dollmaker" Here

Monday, February 7, 2011

Music Mondays

Harry Nilsson - June 15, 1941 – January 15, 1994

Was a great cover artist whose own songs were also covered by the likes of, Frank Sinatra, Glen Campbell, Fred Astaire, Little Richard, The Yardbirds, The Shangri-Las, Three Dog Night, Ringo Starr, Stevie Nicks and so many others.

When John Lennon was asked who his favorite American Artist was he simply said, "Nilsson".

I chose three of Harrry's best.

One original and two covers. " Everybody's Talkin' ", written by Fred Neil, covered by Harry and made famous when played in 1969's Academy Award winner for Best Picture, Midnight Cowboy. "One" written by and performed by Nilsson and later a hit for Three Dog Night and Tommy James and the Shondells. And finally "Without You" a cover of a Badfinger song that is linked so strongly to Nilsson that many don't know he never wrote it.

"Everybody's Talkin'" 1969

"One" 1968

"Without You" 1971

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Monday, January 31, 2011

Music Mondays

I've decided to present songs that are meaningful to me on Mondays.

Since this is the *First* post, I wanted to start with a song about *Finishing*.

So I chose "Finish Well" by my dear friend Julia Schmidt.

I picked this particular song because, as a (uh-hum) middle-aged Christian woman I remember thinking while I was in my my 20's, why are so many of the older women in church so burned out and crabby? What happened?

I remember saying to myself, " I'm not going to let that happen to me."

So, now years later my family and friends are (I am) constantly reminding myself to "Finish Well" in life. With everything that life throws at us and all the business that we all let creep in, we can forget our first love.

At the end of our lives we want to hear the encouraging words spoken by our Savior to the Church of Thyatira.

Revelation 2:19
"I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first."

We don't want to hear the rebuke of The Church of Ephesus.

Revelation 2:4 "Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first."

So we need to be reminded to Finish Well.

Hebrews 12: 1(b) - 2(a) "let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith."

I don't want this as my epitaph.

or this

Definitely NOT this

Julia is a dear friend and I've had the pleasure of hearing her perform at such diverse venues as a Womens Shelter on skid row, Several coffee houses, and Retreats. Often I find myself humming and singing her tunes especially when I'm alone. I think her unique gift is that she pairs complex challenging themes with simple singable melodies. Her bio is as follows:

"Julia has been performing original songs both nationally and internationally for over 30 years. Her songs have been called refreshing and honest and cover topics from God’s grace and compassion, to our struggles with sin, to living authentically. Her sense of humor sometimes shines through in songs that are tongue-in-cheek, yet pull no punches. She uses music as a way to talk about emotions and topics that people tend to avoid discussing and desires to encourage people to look honestly at themselves and turn to Christ with the areas in which they struggle.

As a young adult, Julia toured the U.S. and Canada with Youth With a Mission and subsequently performed private concerts in North America and Europe. Today she lives in the Greater Los Angeles area with her husband and four children and continues writing songs from a Biblical worldview out of her experiences as a wife and mother."

She had this to say about "Finish Well"

"When I was in my pre-teens, there was an older couple at church, Mr. & Mrs. Willis. It was a fairly young church, so they were our token "gray-hairs." They must have been in their 80s, and whenever either of them spoke, everyone would stop and listen. They had been in full-time ministry together for their entire adult lives, and even though they were "retired," showed no signs of slowing down. When people would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would say, "Mrs. Willis." It's still true today -- I want to hit the finish line at full pelt, sprinting for the end, not looking to the left or right but keeping my eyes fixed not on the finish but on the prize that waits on the other side."

Listen Below:

You can listen to more of Julia's songs HERE and purchase them by sending an e-mail HERE

I would love to hear about what you are listening to. What is on your iPod, radio, or CD that means something to you? Or has encouraged you in the past? Leave your suggestions in the comment section below, with a brief explanation of why you love it. Perhaps it will turn up in an up-coming Monday.