Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Sending Your Voice Into the World

On the walk home from school, an extraordinary sight greets us.  A beautiful hot air balloon hovers in the morning sky.  (My husband's phone snapped this photo, but you can't tell how vibrant the balloon is.  Just imagine!)

I race into the middle of the street, spread my arms wide, and wave at them.  I'm jumping in the air, and I'm calling out, "Hello up there!  Hello up there!"  I realize I'm a colossal embarrassment. I realize this doesn't make any sense.

Someone on the ground says, "They won't be able to hear you."

But still, I shout and wave.  Then, I hear an answer.

"Hello!"  They hear me!  They answer.  They wave and call down from inside the basket.  I see a tiny arm waving to me.  I hear the voice and smile.   Our voices travel across this huge distance.   

All morning, I realize how ridiculous of a notion it was to raise my voice and expect an answer.  But my voice was heard, and an answer did come.

You just never know how far your voice will travel.  You never know who might hear--from no matter how far away or in whatever unusual circumstance--the thing you have to say.

Living with flair means you go ahead and send your voice out into the world.  You have no idea who can hear it and answer you. 

Journal:  Go ahead and say what you want to say today. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

We Walk On

It started again this morning:  We walk the neighborhood children to school, and we'll do it every single school morning. 

I love this routine.  The other parents do, too.  They even park their cars down near the school and come back to their houses to walk their children to school (and then depart for work).  But there's no other way about it; we commit to this walk-to-school campaign, and we do it.  It's faster to drive.  It's easier to drive.  It makes no sense to waste this time walking when there's a bus or a minivan right here.

But we do it.  We give up a whole hour (for those walking back home) to do it.  I counted nearly 30 of us (dads, moms, a toddler, and children) on the hill.  Originally, it was for fitness, really.  Now?  It's changed our lives and our neighborhood.  

There's something so right and good about children walking to school and enjoying the company of adults beside them.  We love these children, and we love our public schools.  We walk on, pick up new children on the path, and brave the huge hill through the woods.  We give hugs good-bye to children who don't even belong to us, and then the adults walk back home. We talk about our work, our dreams, our struggles.  We talk about our children, our plans, our faith. 

This is real life lived together.  We'll be back together tomorrow. 
Journal:  Is there a way to get children and adults to walk together in your neighborhood? 

Monday, August 29, 2011

Let Yourself Loose

Driving on the highway in our little old Honda (the one with no air conditioning), I roll down every window and open the sunroof.  The little girls in the backseat shriek with laughter as the wind makes their hair fly all around them.  We drive faster.  I remember that April morning in 2010 when we let our hands fly in the wind in this same car. 

Live with Flair became my patient teacher back then; I had to learn to really live and, as Thoreau insisted, to "live deep and suck all the marrow out of life."  That was over a year ago now.

So I'm driving in my Honda at the same steering wheel I held in my hands before a wedding ring, a baby's finger, or any deep wrinkles set into my skin.  The children ask me to take my hair down.  I slide the elastic band out of my hair, unravel all of it, and let it loose.  It rises up and circles above my head.  I can't even see the road for a minute.

That's what it's like to cast off restraint and just surrender.  It might seem like a tangled mess and you won't be able to see where you are going.  But you'll be laughing.  It won't matter where you end up because the journey matters more.

My friend, the one who told me I was the perfect mother for my particular children said that she sometimes feels like a racehorse that just needs to be let loose to run and do the thing she was made to do.  I think of that picture on so many days.  Something holds us back.  I imagine the gate opening for us today and great beautiful horses released to run. 

Living with flair means you let yourself loose. 

Journal:  What's holding you back? 

Sunday, August 28, 2011

I Wasn't Supposed to Have Even One

All year, I've waited for the raspberries.  Finally, we have a single ripe berry on the bush this morning. 

I complain to my husband about how unproductive the berries have been.  "Look at the neighbor's berries!  They have so many ripe berries! We have one!" 

"We weren't supposed to have any this year," my husband--the gardening expert--reminds me.  "The neighbor's plants are mature, and ours are young.  Next year, we'll have our berries."

I wasn't supposed to have any.  The truth of it resonates deep in my soul.  I expect and demand so much.  I look at all my worries on this Sunday:  my daughter's possible gluten allergy, news of a sick friend in the hospital, my deadlines, my students.  I place them all in the great lap of God.  I'm humbled before that lap; I do not demand or complain. 

His great blessing brought into my life the very things I now worry about.  His great blessing--when I did not deserve even one of these things--children, friends, work or whatever it is--means I cleanse my heart and rejoice in the very things about which I want to complain. 

That one bright berry--when I wasn't supposed to have any--tastes sweeter than you can imagine. 

Journal:  Am I fretting over a blessing? 

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Everything Else Can Wait

My youngest arranges all the nail polish bottles on the kitchen table and asks me to paint her toenails.

Seriously?  I can think of 20 more important and urgent things to do instead of painting her toenails.  I do not have time for this. 

But I look at that little face and those little, little toes.  

In even just a few years, she won't ask for this.  One day, she'll paint her own toes, in her own bedroom, in her own house even.  Maybe it's because another school year starts this week, or maybe it's because I can see how tall she's grown by the markings on the kitchen wall.  Whatever the reason, I suddenly can't imagine anything more important or more urgent than those little toes. 

So here I am, painting little toenails silver and neon pink.  Everything else can wait.

Journal:  What aspects of parenting annoy most folks now that they end up missing once their children are grown? 

Friday, August 26, 2011

Quite Possibly The Worst Expression Ever

Today I peer inside my own eye.  The doctor takes an x-ray to examine a benign choroidal nevus (a freckle deep inside my eye).  I tell him that "choroidal nevus" sounds more like a garage band name than a medical term. I have him write the phrase down because I'm absolutely fascinated.

We look at my eye, and the doctor translates.  He points out the little tributaries--little creeks--of vessels that flow to my bright yellow optic nerve.  It's an atlas representing a foreign land of color and texture I've never seen before. He travels back into my history--how my eye formed as a baby and how the shape of the cornea grew--as he points to the edges of this universe. 

It's my eye.  I've missed my calling:  I want to go to school to study the human eye.

I realize the mystery and wonder of the whole world, right down to each tiny vessel in the eye.  At this very moment, I'm seeing.  It's sublime, unimaginable, and cause for the kind of euphoric celebration of an explorer who finally spies the New World.   I want to learn more! Why would we ever exclaim, "I'm bored! There's nothing to do!" when the whole world longs to be explored? 

If anyone says, "I'm bored," to me today, I'm going to point to my eye.  There's an eye to learn about right now.

Journal:  What new thing can I learn about today? 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

What Happens When a Person Teaches Verbs All Day Long

I give my freshmen students a list of 500 of my favorite verbs.  I tell them about grapple and fritter and elucidate and debunk.  I tell them how much I love the verbs restore and lavish.  

I leave class and hear the verbs all around me.  Some shimmer and delight; others depress and discourage.  I deflate when I think about criticize, complain, weaken and diminish.  I brighten when I hear celebrate, proclaim, manifest, and renew

After all these years of teaching writing, I start to see my life in verb form. I work to make them the kinds of verbs I want: 
Pray. Bake. Nurture. Teach. Discover. Write. Love. Enliven. Converse. Organize. Inspire. Connect. Encourage. Laugh. Shine. Hug. Rest. Hope. Mentor. Reveal.

I've learned.  Get rid of anything feeble, negative, or critical.  Edit out the verbs that don't make your life jump off the page. 

Living with flair means we choose the right life verbs. 
Journal:  What 10 verbs animate your life? 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

What I Found in My Garden

This morning, I discover an unusual sight in my raspberry bushes:  the bumblebees appear to be sleeping.  They attach their fuzzy legs to the berries and just relax. 

I  can't believe it!  Normally, I  won't even get near the berries because of the frenzy of bumblebee activity.  They never stop moving as they dart in and out of the flowers.   
Sleeping Bumblebee
But it actually looks like this bee rests her little head upon the flower. I call my entomologist friend, and she confirms that bees do rest. They also take a break if they need to warm up their wings against the chill of the morning dew. 

I come inside, sip my coffee and think about doing nothing at all for the morning.   I remember that even the bumblebees rest. I relax and tell the family I'm warming up my wings for the day. 

Journal:  How will you rest today? 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Bring Out Your Crystal

For no reason at all, I want to really set the table for dinner.  I have a whole wedding's worth of crystal stemware and water pitchers that I never use.  It suddenly seems ridiculous to have items in a home that one never uses because they are too nice or too good. 

I climb up to the high cabinets, find my crystal, wash each piece free of dust, and set my table.  I even unearth my crystal candlesticks and light candles.  They seem funny next to the chicken pot pie. 

My daughters arrive home and squeal that we have crystal goblets on the table. 

They hold their goblets carefully--shaking a little--and sip solemnly.  Our conversation seems more adult; we chew our food thoroughly and we rest our forks when we want to speak. We keep our napkins in our lap, and nobody dips their fingers in the candle wax.  What a beautiful dinner! 

Living with flair means bringing out the crystal.  I don't want to own something too good or too nice to use. 

Journal:  Do you have things you never use because they are too expensive? 

Monday, August 22, 2011

Why I Love My Mini-Muffin Pan

For the last week, I've studied the fine art of mini-muffin making.  I think I'm getting better in the kitchen! 

Every few days, we make another batch and fill snack bags with a few for lunchboxes.  Muffins freeze and defrost so well, and I reasoned that a homemade version would save us a fortune.  Instead of the grocery store's Little Bites, we made our own. I call them Little Nibblers!

I love the idea of packing a lunch box, opening my freezer, and finding shelves upon shelves of homemade goodies to tuck inside. 

It feels so cozy somehow.  It feels so nurturing.  

But it's an art form.  I had to think beyond blueberry. So far, we've made coconut (of course), strawberry, peach, and chocolate peanut butter.  Next we'll try pumpkin, raspberry, and blackberry.  Oh, the possibilities of my mini-muffin pan!

Living with flair means you make little homemade treats because it feels good, saves money, and makes lunch packing easy.  Maybe I'm making a memory for my daughters as they recall their mother covered in flour and berry stains as she gets ready for back-to-school lunches. 

Journal:  What else can I make homemade?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Live Wide

My daughter tells me I must come to the garden to see another kind of butterfly.  He's golden.

Golden Spotted Butterfly
His wing pattern looks more leopard than insect, more African than Pennsylvania backyard.  On top, he's a tiger, but on the bottom, he's a giraffe or spotted fawn.  Up close, his compound eye reminds me that he can see in virtually every direction at once

Butterfly Eye
His wide angled eyes--with miniscule sensors--perceive the back, front, top, bottom, left, and right of him.  There's something amazing about that kind of perception.  He cannot see far, but he can see wide

I'm reminded of my own limits when pitted against this marvelous creature.  I cannot see that wide.  My vision is bascially limited to what's directly in front of me.  Isn't it strange that humans can see far but not wide?  We have to turn our heads to consider what's beside us.  Unfortunately, I often race ahead into an imagined future--the one out there in front of just me--and I forget to widen my embrace to my left and my right. 

I want to live wide. 

I'm a girl who was supposed to go far.   Remember my obsession with achievement, affluence, and appearance?  I'm so glad I decided to stop trying to go far and instead live wide.  I pray I can gather whatever community I can in my life.  I want to widely welcome, love, and encourage right here.   I don't go far; I go wide.  

I learn to turn my head.  Living with flair means I live wide.

Journal:  What's happening to the left and right of me?   

Saturday, August 20, 2011

What a Child Needs to Hear from You

I'm visiting with my dear friend, the one who told me that the sign of a happy childhood is dirty children.  This is my same friend who raises five children without a television set or computer games.  I'm always eager for what new parenting advice she'll impart.

Today, I watch and listen.  Over and over again, I hear her tell her children, "I just love to be with you."  Her teenage daughter comes to sit next to her, and she says, "I'm so glad!  I just love to be with you."  She still walks with the teenager to school, she says, "because I just love to be with her so much."  She says it so that daughter can overhear her. 

The teenager's beaming face lights the whole kitchen.

Later, we leave to go on a walk in the neighborhood, and the oldest children want to come along.  Their mother says, "Of course!  I just love to be with you!" 

That's the phrase I hear the most coming out of this mother's mouth.

I make lunch with my daughters later, and I tell them, "I just love to be with you."  I walk outside and push them on the swing and tell them, "I just love to be with you."

Something's changed between us already.  

I wonder if children would make better choices, grow in confidence, overflow with happiness, and connect better with their parents if we practiced saying, "I just love to be with you."  I want my children to overhear me tell the neighbors this.  I want my children to know I'd choose them.  I want my children to know that those words reflect the boundless love of God who adores and delights in them.

I'm going to tell more children that I love to be with them.  

Journal:  What child in your life needs to hear the words, "I just love to be with you"?  

Friday, August 19, 2011

Increase the Fun

At the pool, my youngest begs me to go down the water slides with her. 

I have that feeling that I'm too old to do this sort of thing.  But then I see something that changes my mind.  

The Italian Mama goes down the slides whether her children are with her or not.  She does it for her own fun! I watch her climb the steep steps in her red bathing suit and then emerge in a great splash at the bottom of the slide. 

I follow her to the slides, challenged and inspired.  I remember her telling me that in any given day, 80% of life is work and only 20% is fun.  We want to tip the balance in favor of more fun

On this day, I think we did.  

Journal:  How are you going to increase the fun today? 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Nectar Made for You

We stand by the neighbor's flowerbeds and watch butterflies dance and skip across the petunias. 

Black Swallowtail in the Petunias

I learn that this butterfly tastes the flowers with her feet to decide whether she wants to drink the nectar here.  The dance we observe is a taste-test (who knew?).  Next, she unfolds her proboscis (a straw!) to slurp up the nectar inside the flower. 

Black Swallowtail Tasting with Feet © Live with Flair
 Then she dives into the flower she wants and drinks. 

Black Swallowtail Drinking Nectar
I watch in amazement at the tasting dance.  She's discerning--picky and sensitive--about where she quenches her thirst.  I find myself remembering the dance and longing for the kind of sensitivity that would alert me to where and when I might dive in.

Our feet will take us many places during this new season, but I only want to dive deeply into places of real nectar.  If it doesn't suit me, I rise in the dance and skip on to new openings.  So many cups beg for our sipping.  I want the nectar made for me. 

Journal:  What will I say "no" to this new upcoming season?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Does He Really?

I'm reading the forward to Immaculee Ilibagiza's memoir, Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust.  I'm overcome by this quote by Dr. Wayne Dyer:  "The laws of the material world do not apply in the presence of the God-realized."

I have no idea what I'm getting into when I read Immaculee's account.  It's horrifying, shocking, and impossible to imagine.  And yet, in the midst of this woman's battle to survive the genocide of millions--including her own family--she forgives, loves, and experiences God in supernatural ways.

She hides in a tiny bathroom with 7 other women for 91 days while killers hunt for her.  91 days.  In a bathroom smaller than a closet.  With 7 women.  What does Immaculee do?  She prays.  She receives comfort from a real God who really hears prayer, who really protects, who really directs, who really loves, and who really gives us power to let go of hurt and anger.  This God heals.     

Her material reality told her one truth, but God's reality was something totally different.  

Journal:  Let's pray that we have the faith, courage, and love that Immaculee does. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Why We Need a "Yes!" Day

It's only 7:30 PM, and I'm falling asleep.  My oldest daughter climbs up beside me on the bed and says, "Mom, you really need a Yes! day.  That's what you need!  Remember the Yes! day?"

Oh, I remember.

A few years ago, I felt like every word out of my mouth was, "No."  I'd scream that word about everything.  No she couldn't eat this, touch that, go there.  No she couldn't stay up late, sleep out in a tent, climb that tree, bake that thing, or visit that place.

I saw her little shoulders slump down further and further with every "No!"

So one day, I told her I was changing my ways.  We were going to try out a Yes! day.  For one entire day, I would say Yes! to every single thing she asked.   

It was a very long and very strange day.

It involved brownies for breakfast, glitter, playgrounds, visiting neighborhood dogs, eating pizza, and watching movies.  It involved baking, bubble baths, lip gloss, and dancing. It involved Polly Pockets somehow.  I can't remember each event, but I remember I learned to say, "Yes!"

"Why do I need a Yes! day?"  I ask her, rubbing my eyes and yawning.

"You need a break.  You need to say Yes! to yourself."

(insert long pause as a mother sits up, tilts her head, and considers the wisdom of a child)

She's nodding with the words of an ancient soul.  "You need to wake up and say Yes! to the stuff you want.  You know, the things you love.  Maybe just for a day, you could say Yes! to all the things you love and want."  She furrows her eyebrows very seriously.  "Like coffee.  You could get the best coffee tomorrow."   

I want to cry.  Moms forget to say Yes! to themselves.

Journal:  What am I saying Yes! to today?

Monday, August 15, 2011

My Kitchen Table and the Snowspeeder

Neighbor boys introduce me to the intricacies of Star Wars.  They spread Legos across my counter top and build V-Wing Starfighters.   I learn the whole story beginning with Qui Gon Jinn and ending with Luke Skywalker.  I'm thrilled that my kitchen now houses the Legos snowspeeder from Episode V (the boys alert me that I must write that as a Roman Numeral to be precise).   

I've learned more about boys and Star Wars this last hour than I ever thought a person could.  My daughters haven't introduced me to this world, and I haven't been that attentive when my husband attempted to.  I realize something:  Living with flair means learning what other folks care about.  You enter into that world, you ask good questions, and you take a seat at the table and build another Starfighter. 

Journal:  What's the latest culture you've tried to learn about? 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

What a Change of Background Can Do

I realize today that I love experimenting with background.  The word technically means the "scenery behind the main object of contemplation, especially when perceived as a framework for it."  We distinguish objects and circumstances--understanding them properly--because we measure them against their background. 

Live with Flair is my background.  A different background changes how we understand and see. 

I gaze into a deep, clear lake, and I have to capture the apple tree against that beauty.  What's behind the object--the setting--fascinates me.  It frames and contextualizes.  It tells a story. 

Just as in photography and writing, I think carefully about what background I'm choosing to view my own life against.  What subtext, what ideologies, what memories, what conversations?  Do these frame my life the way I want--in beauty, hope, and joy--or do they obscure, depress, and oppress?

I'm starting to wonder if I can identify sources of unhappiness and despair by asking folks what singular background they view themselves against.  

I chose a different frame the day I started blogging.  I decided to set my life against the background that I've been "blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ" and that nothing happens to me today that God doesn't use to "work out everything in conformity to the purpose of his will." 

It's been 510 days of seeing life differently.  God is good.  All the time. 

Journal:  Do I need to change my background today? 

Saturday, August 13, 2011

It Doesn't Look Like the Picture Says It's Supposed To

My oldest wants to make a raspberry cheesecake.

No problem!  We have a cookbook for children that shows delightful pictures of perfect daughters pureeing raspberries and making lovely designs on their cheesecakes.

My daughters make a mess of a creation. At least the cheesecake is actually in the pie pan.  

My daughters say, "It's our original design, Mom."

It doesn't look like the picture.  I have to remember that it won't.

As the school year begins and I fret and am tempted to compare my children to everybody else, I will remember this picture and the cheesecake we made.  We are originals.  We won't look like the picture I have in my head of what we're supposed to be like.

Journal:  Do you struggle with things not looking like they are supposed to look? 

Friday, August 12, 2011

Where You Shouldn't Go and What You Shouldn't Do

A neighbor knocks on our door and begs us to come pick his peaches.  "Take all you want!"  They have so many peaches falling off their trees that the ground reeks of them.  

"But beware of the yellow jackets," he says ominously and then departs for his travels.

I take my youngest daughter to the peach trees.  I carry an epi-pen for my yellow jacket allergy, a bucket, and my dreams of peach ice cream and cobbler.

We cannot even approach the tree.  Armies of yellow jackets fight over smashed peaches.  Yellow jackets blanket the lawn.  They suffocate the tree trunks and swarm aggressively. I look down and see masses of them sucking the sweet juice off of rotting peaches.

There's nowhere to walk without endangering ourselves.  Finally, we gingerly travel in a wide circle around the tree and try to reach the luscious fruit by hanging far over the deck.  As I reach for a peach above my head, I enclose a fist full of yellow jackets that were feasting on the other side of my peach.  Shaking my hand free of them, I start running. 

"Let's go!" I shout to my daughter.  "This isn't a good place for us!  It's not safe!"  We race home.  Suddenly the taste of peach cobbler isn't that appetizing.

Lesson learned:  Run away from harmful environments.  Flee!  My epi-pen was no match for a swarm of yellow jackets.  Living with flair means not being foolish.  There are some places we should not go and some activities we should not do.  That's what I want to tell my daughters and the incoming college freshman.  Stay out of trouble by fleeing environments that are just not good for you.

Journal:  Where should I stop going and what should I stop doing because it's not good for me anymore? 

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Lizzy Traband (the One-Handed Horse Rider) Teaches Me Her Method

I'm driving way out into the country to a farm.  It's a nice afternoon to see some horses, and in Central Pennsylvania, you don't have to go far.  You leave a complex life and find quiet beauty out here. 

And this isn't just any farm.  

Lizzy Traband, a young girl born with one hand, lives at the farm we're visiting. One of my students (who rides at this barn) invites and escorts us. 

Lizzy Traband Teaching My Daughter to Ride

My daughters are nervous to meet her.  Lizzy was featured in American Girl magazine, and it feels like we're meeting a celebrity.  Once they meet her, there's nothing to worry about.  She's offering treats and friendship at the first encounter. 

For a whole afternoon, the girls follow Lizzy around.  You don't notice that she has one hand:  she's cleaning out stalls, feeding her horses, and performing tricks with her pony, Puddles.  The whole time, Lizzy's teaching me all about her technique called Taiji Horsemanship.  It's a method.  Her principles are simple:  kindness, stillness, communication, simplicity.  She teaches that "failure is a requirement of success" and that "you need a plan so you can ride with purpose."

Lizzy takes her time, steps back, and revisits simple rules.  She lives out her own method. 

As we drink lemonade together in the barn, I think more about what I've observed here:  Kindness, stillness, communication, and simplicity between horse and rider.  It's not just about horses; I realize the power of these principles in mothering and friendship.  I think about a writer's relationship to her own words or a photographer's interaction with the natural world.

I move out across the landscape more quietly, more kindly.  With this kind of stillness and simplicity, the colors do indeed seem all the more vibrant.

Lily at Carousel Fam

Journal:  If you approached your tasks and relationships like a taiji horseman, what would change? 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Living Room Before and After (My Attempt at Decorating)

It's never a good time to paint your living room.  

But we decide to refresh the living room--give it a little lift (my neighbor's words)--before the school year starts.  For a year, I've been thinking:  blue, blue, blue. 


And after:

I love it!  You take a risk with painting a room.  You say to yourself, "What are we doing!?" And later, "What did we do?"  But creativity insists that you dive in.  Something about this blue cheers and warms me, so I trusted that instinct (and I have a husband who loves adventure, painting, and blue striped curtains that happen to be on sale).  

Living with flair means you attempt creativity in the spaces where you live.  You find what cheers and warms and you just do it

Journal:  What space needs a little refresher today? 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Mothers Who Get in the Way

I'm lounging by the neighborhood pool, and I notice a group of teenage boys wildly attacking one another, throwing one another into the water, and performing ever-increasing feats of manliness for all to see.  I'm worried someone will get hurt, especially the young children trying to swim. 

One mother gets up from her seat and positions herself directly in their path.  She sits down, dips her feet in the pool, and reclines as water, sweat, and testosterone fall like grenades around her peaceful form.  

"What are you doing?" I ask and join her while shielding my face from the onslaught of water and muscles.  I know this mother has a teenage son, so I'm curious about her behavior. 

"I'm putting myself in the way."

She's stationed herself between the teenagers and the young children.  She whispers to me that one of her best parenting strategies is to "be in the way."   Sure enough, those boys redirect their energy away from the young children trying to swim.

"Just be in the way," she says.

I nod my head and think of all the times I have already been "in the way" of family members, students, and neighbors.  Something about getting right in the middle of somebody's business--being obviously in the way--could help avert harm.  And I'm so thankful for all the mothers, teachers, pastors, and friends who stood in my way when I went about my own disastrous plans.  "Get out of my way!" I'd think.  "You're ruining my plan!"

Well, those folks who were in my way saved my life.

I love this pool mother's attitude.  That tiny little woman got right in the mix with a dozen sweaty teens.  She was in the way.  And that's what mothers do.  

Journal:  Do you need to get in somebody's way today? 

Monday, August 8, 2011

A Dark, Sweet Pleasure

As Seamus Heaney wrote in his poem, "Blackberry Picking," the red berries finally "inked up and that hunger / sent us out" to harvest.

It's all poetry in my yard today:

Ripe Blackberries

The blackberries bring a joy I can't name.  I don't need anything else but those warm berries in my hand.  They deliver a dark, sweet pleasure. 

It's a daily provision--just a handful of fruit--each morning. 

We turn to the overgrown, unattended vegetable garden, and I send the girls within the tangled vines like jungle explorers.

The oldest sends up the offering. 

Another handful--just enough--for lunch.  I'd been thinking of the beauty of the Lord's prayer:  Give us this day our daily bread.  There's just enough today.  We don't store or fret over this.   We just open our hands and are filled with what we need for today. 

Journal:  Hold your palm open and ask God to fill it with what you need today. 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Ugliest Mushroom

I'm back in the woods for the first time all summer. 

As the sun sets, the children gather burrs to make the roof of a fairy house, and my neighbor and I discuss the invention of Velcro arising out of viewing these burrs under magnification.

The burrs hook and cling to anything near them.  Relentless, intense, and desperate.  I love the shameless audacity of a burr.  I need you!  I won't let you go! 

"They're just awful," my friend reminds me"Just wait till the fall when you can't get them out of your hair." 

Meanwhile, mushrooms decorate the forest.  I remember believing that little gnomes lived within them.

My daughter finds this red one that seemed to appear overnight.  We take pictures as evidence.

Red Mushroom.  Home for a Gnome? 

My friend points out the ugliest mushroom we've ever seen.  It's probably poisonous.

The Ugliest Mushroom

I kinda like this mushroom.  Awful burrs and ugly mushrooms.  Ugly:  repulsive and unpleasant.  That's only one way to see them.  Even the ugly has something to give if you examine it the right way.  Burrs give us Velcro and this ugly mushroom catches the setting sun. 

It's beautiful out here in the woods. 

Journal:  Yes, nature has some ugliness to it.  What's an ugly natural thing?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Doing What You Love

Today I remember a conversation I had with my husband years ago.  We were talking about careers and our future.  We asked this question:  "What makes you feel most alive and most like yourself?"  His answer matched exactly with what he was already doing with his life.

Mine didn't, but I was getting there.  I felt most alive and most me when I was teaching and writing.  So I reasoned that God made me for these things.  In His goodness and creativity, perhaps God made it so that when we are doing what we are supposed to be doing, it will feel like we're fully alive, energized, and truly ourselves.   

I'm starting to believe that when we find that thing we were made for, it won't feel like drudgery.  Maybe it won't feel like work.  

Psychologist Greg Hocott was once asked how he could manage his difficult counseling practice.  He writes, "I think the answer is found in doing what God created us to do. We are all endowed with specific talents and gifts, and as long as we live within them, 'work' seems less difficult."

Maybe this explains why blogging never feels like work.  Maybe this explains why I can't wait for the new semester to start.  I'll tell my students that I love teaching and writing so much that I would do it for free.  That's a good thing, I'll tell them, because I practically am doing it for free.  Nobody teaches for the money!

Living with flair means finding ways to do what we love.  It means being brave enough to pursue those paths. 

Journal:  Do you love your work so much you would do it for free?

Friday, August 5, 2011

Seaweed and My Back-to-School Plan

I'm learning that children eat anything if you wrap it in seaweed.

I make a pot of rice and then mix in some rice vinegar. 

I spread the sticky rice over the seaweed, and then I arrange some cream cheese, scrambled eggs, and spinach on top.

I roll it up.

I slice and serve it.

The sushi disappears.

Who knew that my daughters and their friends would eat whatever I roll into the rice and seaweed?  I experiment with fish, nectarines, various vegetables, and even more cream cheese.  Gone

I'm packing sushi for lunch when school starts with lots and lots of spinach.  Living with flair means you wrap things in seaweed sometimes because children (and adults) love novelty and food art.

Maybe we can endure anything if we just clothe it and present it correctly. 

Journal:  What can you arrange in a different way to make more appealing?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Positioned to Dance

The grove of trees behind my home stands completely still this morning. 

Except for one little tree.  That tree's bright green leaves shimmy and shake as if tickled by unseen fingers.  Her branches lift and fall, and the whole tree turns and glows in the new sun.  She's animated--breathing--and dancing to the wind. 

The other tall trees look on with doubt. 

I can't figure it out: Why would only one tree blow in the wind while the other trees around her, bored and exhausted, drop their boughs in silence? 

A wind current I cannot perceive ruffles the leaves of that one tree.  I've seen this sort of thing before.  In a forest, sometimes only a few trees catch the flow of the wind.  The others--too short or too tall, too near or too far--remain unaffected. 

I want to be that little tree positioned in the current of God's spirit today.  Let us breath and dance like that even in a crowd of doubters. Let us shimmy and be tickled.  

Journal:  What do you do to "keep in step with the Spirit?" 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Giving Your Full Attention

This afternoon, a friend tells me about a seminar she attended.  She describes the teacher as someone who "gave his full attention to each person." 

It seemed incredible--his focus, his intensity--that he could give to a person asking him a question.  Remarkable in his love and concern, this teacher left the kind of impression my friend had to describe to me.  Every person held his interest.  Every person was important enough for his full attention.     

Later, my husband wants to discuss a decision we need to make.  I'm fiddling with a camera, thinking about vacuuming, considering blogging about making sushi with my daughter, worrying about brushing my cats enough, planning my syllabus in my head, missing the Italian Mama, craving chocolate. . .

"May I please have your full attention?"

I sit down, look into his eyes, listen to his words, notice his hand gestures, consider his intonations.  For once, I zero-in with my full attention.  Everything else can wait.

I realize that when I withhold my full attention, I communicate to others that I don't find them important, interesting, or worthy.  How arrogant!  How self-focused!  I want to offer my full attention.  Everything else can wait.

Journal:  Who needs your full attention?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A Message from a Pandora Sphinx Moth

I arrive into my driveway, and an enormous Pandora Sphinx Moth greets me.  The moth--as big as my own hand--sits with authority as if sent to deliver a message.   We think, at first, a leaf attached itself to our door.  But then we see clearly.

Watch carefully.  Things are not what they seem

Pandora Sphinx Moth © Live with Flair

When you have a Pandora Sphinx Moth welcoming you home, you feel as if you're in another land with enchanted creatures.  Anything can happen here.  Look again, and you'll see wonderful things

I lean in and observe the velvety wing.  What a strange and curious world this is!  Even when I'm inside my house (folding laundry, cleaning dishes), I know the moth guards my door.  Just remembering that such a beautiful and mysterious insect exists somehow brings delight and wonder to the whole morning.  Living with flair means taking some time to observe the strangely beautiful. 

Pandora Sphinx Moth Wing © Live with Flair
Journal:  What strangely beautiful thing did you see today?

Monday, August 1, 2011

Verb of the Week

This morning, I talk to a student about the verb "rehabilitate."  It means to restore to normal, to recover, to reestablish good working order.  In terms of physical therapy, this verb represents hope.

Physical therapists know that rehabilitation happens in the context of a whole network of support:  individual, family, and community.  You aren't alone in the journey towards restoration.   It takes time, and we are all in this together. 

I think about this today because of the post-travel anxiety and moodiness I experience!  Nothing feels normal around here.  I'm rehabilitating--even still--from all those years of depression and anxiety.  Good days, bad days, hopeful days, hopeless days.

I'm learning not to fear the bad days anymore.  There's a true self that emerges when you let even the darkness out. 

It helps that my neighbors tell me that their friendship isn't dependent on my good, stable moods. 

Living with flair means we see life as a rehabilitation process.   As communities, we journey together patiently and offer one another the deepest, most beautiful hope.  Good days, bad days.  We are all in this together.

Journal:  Are you rehabilitating, too?