Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The First Word You Think of in the Morning

We live our lives through language. Lately I've been noticing the very first word that comes to my mind when I wake up in the morning. 

Sometimes, the words invoke despair. They bring about a world of doubt, hopelessness, and cynicism. They fill me with anxiety. 

But for the last several days, I've opened my eyes and immediately remember that I'm "seated in Christ in the heavenly realms" and that I'm invited to receive from God and replenish any empty places in me.

These mercies are new every morning. I wake up today and live in the words receive and replenish.

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Question They Ask Most

As folks write about their blog's year-in-review, I decide to look up the information about my blog's traffic sources. How do readers find Live with Flair? What leads them here?

I discover that just like last year, the most-asked question people googled in 2013 that led them to my blog was this:

How do I stay out of trouble? This question leads readers to a blog I wrote in 2010 called 50 Ways to Stay Out of Trouble.

Does this question's frequency surprise you? I'm surprised!

This same question haunts Paul as he writes Romans 7 about why he continues to do what he doesn't want to do. He wants to be good. He wants to do the right thing, yet he finds that he cannot. Apart from Christ's power in him, he finds himself enslaved to sin. How do I stay out of trouble? 

He can't stay out of trouble. He's powerless to do this.

While I hope the most-searched for list (provided below for your enjoyment) gives you ideas for how to stay out of trouble, it won't solve the root of the issue. It won't set you free from yourself or your desires. God can. God is the only one who can. Perhaps, then, the question isn't, "How do I stay out of trouble?" The question is, "Who can save me from this body of death?"

And the answer, of course, is Jesus.

50 Ways to Stay Out of Trouble

It's a big weekend in my town. It's a big party weekend. This means I avoid campus and expect a really low attendance in my early classes on Monday. It's always the same story: students act out this script of what it means to be a college student.

Last year, a man came to my office hours and asked me if I had any ideas for how he could stay out of trouble. He'd been arrested, he'd had several underage drinking citations, and his GPA had plummeted from a 4.0 to a 1.7. Feeling like he'd squandered the last four years of his life, he asked me what I did for fun that didn't involve getting drunk. He wondered what a life looks like that doesn't involve partying. As I talked about my own college years, he started to make a list for himself. He was writing a new script.

So, as a shout-out to my students who want a different script for their evening, I'm providing 50 ways to stay out of trouble. I once heard a speaker say that the definition of pleasure is: “having fun with no negative consequences.” Living with flair has something to do with experiencing pleasure in ways that don't harm you or anybody else. Hence, my tried and true 50 ways to stay out of trouble.

1.Learn the moves to “Beat It” (or Thriller, or Single Ladies, or any dance)
2.Cook a gourmet meal with your friend. (Remember: good things happen with cutting boards)
3.Play improvizational games (Watch “Whose Line is it Anyway” or just play charades)
4.Organize your desk. (This will feel really good)
5.Do a movie marathon of 1980's John Hughes movies. Or James Bond. Or Spielberg.
6.Visit every coffee shop downtown and evaluate each one. (I did this one Fall semester)
7.Plant something. (I'm doing this now)
8.Call your parents. (I should do this)
9.Call somebody from your childhood.
10.Read a bestselling novel. Then go talk to people about it. Book clubs are cool.
11.Go thrift store shopping.
12.Find neighborhood garage sales and buy unusual things.
13.Go to a local park and swing very high so you can jump out of the swing.
14.Go for a long walk. See if you can walk for an entire hour.
15.Search for new music on iTunes. Fall in love with a new band.
16.Get into a fascinating conversation with a stranger.
17.Go to church.
18.Plan some dreams for the next decade. Write out your personal mission statement.
19.Help somebody do something.
20.Watch people. Tell a story about their lives.
21.Learn a new sport.
22.Start a “flair” blog and tell me about it.
23.Get a great night's sleep.
24.Go to a fancy grocery store and buy the most expensive chocolate just to try it.
25.Go to a pet store and hold all the new kittens and puppies.
26.Find a creek and sit by it.
27.Build your own kite and then fly it somewhere. You can google instructions.
28.Start a collection of some really obscure thing.
29.Learn to draw something.
30.Make a flip book comic.
31.Go in search of the world's most comfortable slippers.
32.Learn a different language. (I want to learn Chinese this summer)
33.Go to a toy store and play with the toys.
34.Hang out at a bookstore and read for an hour.
35.Volunteer to help at a shelter or a community center.
36.Join a club.
37.Drive down a country road. (Rt. 550 changed my life)
38.Learn double dutch jump rope.
39.Do something that gets your heart rate up for 40 minutes and see how good you feel.
40.Practice being alone for an entire evening.
41.Donate stuff you don't need.
42.Read a chapter in a textbook because you want to learn something, not because it's on the test.
43.Reread a book from your childhood. (I reread To Kill A Mockingbird)
44.Hiking. Camping.
45.Make a scrap book.
46.Invent a game to play.
47.Create an ad campaign to motivate people to do something.
48.Teach somebody how to do something.
49.Watch an entire season of a show on DVD in one day. 24? Lost? The Office?
50.Make water your beverage selection for the whole weekend. Hydration can change your life.

So there. Here's to living with flair.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

I'm Not the Only One

I'm amazed that when you share your deepest insecurities and struggles, someone always says, "You, too? You mean I'm not the only one?"

This morning, I share my thoughts on being "seated in Christ" with a crowd of folks. I'm confessing my current struggles with the 3 A's: Appearance, Affluence, and Achievement. I wonder if I sound crazy or stupid or just irrelevant. 

Did anyone else feel the way I felt about their lives? Was anyone else battling for a seat at the table?

One by one, they come. Students approach, often with tears in their eyes, to confess how the felt the same way I had described. 

Come into the light, my friends. When you share the deepest, most hidden thing, one by one, others will come to say--with profound relief and gratitude--"I'm not the only one!"

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Nothing Hides Here

The cats alert me that something's outside the window. They pace nervously, meowing and pawing at the glass.

It's a little bird.

I peer outside and notice the tangle of branches against the morning sky. I've looked out this same window for seven years. I used to wait for the most glorious morning when the Weeping Cherry blooms for those precious few days in the spring. That's the thing to see. But this morning, I love the skeletal branches, the deep shadows, the dim winter light, and the pale browns. I love that, like this, one can see the birds. They have no foliage in which to hide.

God reminds me that there's something to experience and rejoice in no matter how bare the landscape appears. Nothing hides here.

I think of Psalm 65:

The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; 
where morning dawns, where evening fades
you call forth songs of joy. 

Friday, December 27, 2013

A Final Thought on Christmas: Do You Hear?

I'm still listening to Christmas music in my home. I notice how many songs ask me to "hear." Many Christmas carols, in fact, ask the listener to stop and "hear the angels sing." Oh hush the noise, ye men of strife, and hear the angels sing. 

As I think about 2014 fast approaching, I decide to add "hear" to my list of resolutions. I want to hush the noise and hear the angels sing.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

If You're Comparing Your Christmas

This morning, I remember a statement from July 2011. Back then, I thought that everyone else was having so much more fun than I was in a different location, with different friends, and with different experiences.

It was painful to think like this.

This Christmas, the thought didn't cross my mind as I saw all the beautiful pictures on social media. In fact, I was so happy for everyone else. I was truly thankful for all the joy I saw on Facebook and Twitter. Part of this transformation in my heart was my new understanding of Ephesians 2:6 (being seated in Christ in the heavenly realms) and this little quote from the Hayden Planetarium. Read below, and enjoy:

All Seats Provide Equal Viewing of the Universe

I discovered this quote at the public library yesterday.  It's from the Museum Guide from Hayden Planetarium inside a novel by Lorrie Moore.  I read it out loud and it seemed to catch in my throat.  All week I've wanted to go home to Pennsylvania.  All week I've imagined a different life.  It seemed, as I read it again, that some great voice of wisdom gently whispered in my ear. 

I turned to my daughter and read it to her.

"Do you know what that means?"  I asked.  "It means that no matter where you are, you have an equal chance to perceive the beauty of God."

When I want to trade seats to find a better view, I'm going to sit tight and realize my equal chance to see--right where I am--the beautiful things God wants to show me.  

Journal:  What do I see today that proves I have an equal chance to see the beauty of God?

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Loneliest and Best Christmas Eve

A few Christmas Eve's ago, our family didn't know what to do after the Christmas Eve church service. We were far from family and friends and a little lonely. 

Out of the blue, my husband suggested we go out to dinner at a Japanese restaurant for hibachi (where they cook the food at your table). 

When we arrived, another family had just come from a Christmas Eve service at another church in town. They, too, were starting a new and strange tradition of hibachi on Christmas Eve. We had a lovely evening talking to these complete strangers

We laughed at the end of the evening and said, "We'll see you next year--same time, same place."

A year passes. 

This year, we go to the same restaurant. We wonder if that family would remember. It seems like a long-shot. As we enter the restaurant, the family stands right there! They were waiting for us after a whole year. In fact, they actually had other plans but remembered our hibachi night. They changed plans in order to find us at the restaurant. 

We didn't even recall names; we just knew faces. Immediately, however, we reconnect, laugh, share stories of pets and vacations and even favorite Christmas morning breakfast recipes (baked French toast!) We exchange business cards this time. We say it again, "We'll see you next year--same time, same place." 

Another family actually joined us this time--complete strangers who wanted to start a strange and wonderful Christmas Eve hibachi tradition. 

Three families now don't feel alone on Christmas Eve. 

I suppose I'm learning how connected we are to one another. We don't ever have to feel alone. Complete strangers are waiting to join you for dinner on Christmas Eve.

They'll be there next year, too. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

In a Single Night

When I was in 6th grade, my teacher, Mrs. Kaiser, told the class what Christmas was like for her as a child. She went to her grandparents' farmhouse out in the country. All the aunts and uncles and cousins gathered for Christmas Eve. What was strange was that nobody decorated for Christmas. No lights, no tree, no sweets, no presents. Christmas had not arrived.

That Christmas Eve, all the children slept in the basement. They went to bed in a normal farmhouse that had no evidence of Christmas at all.

Sometime in the night, the entire house transformed. Every surface was covered with garlands of pine, lights, and Christmas decorations. In the night, an enormous Christmas tree somehow arrived, decorated with the most beautiful ornaments. Presents burst from under the tree and went up the stairs of that farmhouse. Kitchen counters magically filled with cookies and pies. The table erupted with food.

In this family, Christmas came all at once, in a single night. My teacher explained that the magical transformation--so thorough and complete--brought so much wonder and joy to her heart. In a single night, everything changed.

I thought about this story for years. I imagined the faces of those children as they crept up the basement stairs. I imagined the wonder, the disbelief, the awe, and the mystery. But how? When? Who? 

In a single night, everything changed.

That is Christmas: a little baby born one night. In a single night, the whole world was set free by something so wonderful and so mysterious as God coming down to us.

We creep up the basement stairs, open the door, and let the light of Christmas flood our hearts.

In a single night, everything changes.

Monday, December 23, 2013

All the Christmas Goodies

For the Christmas holidays this year, we make traditional iced Christmas cookies to share, but we also attempt a Red Velvet Cake and various kinds of fudge. The endless supply of sweets is just part of the season around here. If you stop by, you won't leave without a plate of something sweet to take with you.

Since we're all too busy watching our favorite movies like Polar Express, Elf, Deck the Halls, Miracle on 34th Street, It's a Wonderful Life, some version of A Christmas Carol, and of course, White Christmas, we have to think about food to eat on the days before the Christmas Feast.

This year, we make a pan of Beef and Bean Enchiladas and another huge casserole dish of Chicken Divan. You can pre-make both and then heat up servings whenever you want. Making these ahead of time means the cook can relax and watch movies, with a cookie in one hand and a warm beverage in the other, instead of working in the kitchen.

There's still Gingerbread Houses to build tomorrow and apple pies to make. I'm not involved in either of these feats; my daughters are old enough to enact their own traditions.

I'll be watching White Christmas in my pajamas.

Then, we'll join our community at our Christmas Eve service.

I'm just so thankful.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

A Little Quote from Saving Mr. Banks

I loved Saving Mr. Banks, and I especially love when Walt Disney explains why we tell stories.

He says that the purpose of storytelling is to "restore order with imagination" and to "instill hope again and again."

I love the idea of restoring order and instilling hope. That's exactly right.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Before Meeting with Friends and Family, Remember Empathy

This video has helped me remember how to listen to others and what to say to them when they are hurting.


The best part of the short video is how Dr. Brown advises us not to say "At least. . . " when someone shares something sad. Watch the video, and you'll see what I mean.

You will love this video, and it will make your holiday even better.


Friday, December 20, 2013

Force Quit

Today a PowerPoint application on my mac freezes. I'm relatively new to the world of Macintosh, so I can't remember how to "force quit." I know I can override an unresponsive app, I just have to remember. Thankfully, I discover on my outdated keyboard that it's Ctrl, Alt, Esc. 

Problem solved.

I remember how just last night my husband reminded me of certain obligations and priorities. I'm sitting there, overwhelmed with last minute things, and he says, "Cancel this, reschedule that, and say no to this."

Really? That's OK? 

It was my force quit. It's like I'd forgotten how to schedule myself. I'm spinning so hard, I'm becoming ineffective and unresponsive. It's hindering everything else.

I think we need other people to give us permission to Force Quit sometimes.

Cancel, Reschedule, and No. 

It's OK. People love you and won't mind. They'd rather have you fully working than spinning in an unresponsive, frozen trance of exhaustion!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Oh, So Ugly

We have a stubborn oak tree that won't drop her leaves.

She just won't!

These leaves endure snow, sleet, ice, and rain. They survive harsh winter winds, and they refuse to drop. It's nearly Christmas, and they still hang on.

They sit there in all their crispy brown mess, blocking my view. Ugly! 

I've wondered about this ugly mass of leaves for 7 years now. I learn today the reason why this oak tree hangs on to her leaves. There's even a name for it: marcescence. 

Holding on to the dead leaves (marcescence) protects the branches from hungry deer and bear who eat the bark. The leaves also trap snow which helps water the roots. Some theorize that the leaves stay to warm new buds and twigs and drop only when it's an ideal time to fertilize in the spring. If the leaves dropped in fall, they'd decompose before spring, and this is when the tree needs the nutrients of the decomposing leaves the most. 

The apparent refusal to do what all the other trees do--at the time they do it--actually signifies something smart and adaptive. Trees that manifest marcescence are the smartest and best! 

So if our timing's all wrong and we feel behind all the others, let's remember my sturdy oak tree. Having a different schedule might just mean we're doing what we need to do to protect and nourish ourselves and others. 

I slow down, hold on to my leaves, and smile up at my lovely caramel oak leaves. How marvelous they are! 

Isn't it funny how when you understand something, you suddenly find beauty in what was once ugly

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Inching Back to Clarity

I'm at a stoplight in town, and suddenly the radio station turns to fuzz. I inch forward, and it clears back to beautiful music. I inch back to fuzz and then forward again to clarity. If I go backwards a little more, I hear the music, too.

I try this two more times.

It's funny--and remarkable--how sensitive my placement on that intersection becomes.

With a slight adjustment, I find clarity. It requires a sensitive touch; a little this way, a little that way, and it's clear. I'm aligned. I'm in sync.

When I'm all out of sorts, I like to recall how, at that intersection, it didn't take much to get back to clarity. I don't need major readjustments or dramatic, catastrophic change. I just need little tweaks here and there. Before I beg for an entire overhaul of my life when things don't feel right, I think about slight change. 

Maybe it's going to the movies, having lunch with a friend, taking a nap, or drinking a fancy holiday beverage. A little thing might just inch me back to clarity.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

And I Quote Lumiere

This morning, I'm mopping the kitchen floor to the Beauty and the Beast soundtrack. Lumiere cries in despair:

Life is so unnerving 
for a servant who's not serving. 
He's not whole without a soul to wait upon! 

I remember a conversation with my husband and others about the way we're made to live best. As I read through the scriptures, I find so much evidence that we're to--like Christ--humble ourselves and take on the very nature of a servant.

We're told to "lose our lives" and to "spend ourselves on behalf of others." Rather than finding this reality exhausting, demeaning, or imprisoning, we instead find joy. We work best when we give our lives away.

Instead of self-promotion, self-exultation, and self-satisfaction, we're to orient ourselves around Jesus and what's He's doing in the lives of others.

The Christmas season is a great time for me to remember this. Christ did not come to be served but to serve.

Monday, December 16, 2013

No Matter What Happens

Some mornings, I wake up and say, "No matter what happens today, God, I belong to you."

It's something I like to remember especially if I have fear and anxiety in my heart.

I can easily overwhelm myself if I think about accidents, failures, illness, or crime. If you battle any type of anxiety, you know the feeling that you're not safe or that something terrible is just about to happen.

When I say,"No matter what happens today, God, I belong to you," I'm affirming that the Lord holds me in the palm of his mighty hand and can take care of me.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Variation on a Theme: Three Kinds of Fudge

Today we made good old-fashioned Fantasy Fudge; this was the same kind my own mom made when I was a girl. We went nut-free, but traditionally, my mom added chopped walnuts.

We decide to make three kinds for little holiday gifts. We choose butterscotch with crumbles of a caramel candy bar, white chocolate with crushed peppermint, and traditional chocolate.

We use the recipe for Fantasy Fudge on the marshmallow fluff jar. For our variations, we just switch out the dark chocolate for whatever other morsels we wanted from the candy aisle. Since the fudge is so rich, we cut it into very small pieces once it cools.

We layer the fudge into bags and little boxes for treats to share.

I loved bringing an old tradition back. I loved our variations, too.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

I Didn't Believe It

Today I made hot buttered popcorn with extra salt. I stirred homemade lemonade.

Then, with lemonade and popcorn in hand, I watched an entire movie with my daughters in the basement. It was Smurfs 2 from Redbox. I laughed! It was cute!

I remember being a new mom 11 years ago. I met an older mother who told me that one day, it wouldn't be this hard. This task of mothering--the exhausting labor of it--would change. One day, she promised, I'd sit with these babies and we'd enjoy a movie together. Nobody would need a diaper change, a sippy cup, or a nap. Nobody would need me for any physical thing for a whole afternoon.

I didn't believe it. I couldn't imagine it! A whole movie? No! Something I'd enjoy too? Really?

And now I'm here.

I'm here, and I sat alone in my kitchen a minute ago. I called out to my perfectly contented children, "Does anyone need mommy for anything?"

"We're fine!"

Part of my heart wished that someone would need something.

(That thought only lasted a minute, but it was a nice, nostalgic thought!)

Friday, December 13, 2013

Snow on the Way, S'mores on the Stove

We've added another way to feel cozy and special on these cold winter nights: we make s'mores on the stove. 

We love them, and we feel comforted that we don't have a fireplace in our home. We roast our marshmallows, put them on a graham cracker with some chocolate, and enjoy a treat.

It doesn't matter what you feel you're lacking to make an evening special; you can always improvise, and I promise they'll love that memory most of all.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

You Need Only to Be Still

As I walk to my classroom today, I feel overwhelmed with various situations and dilemmas. 

I'm praying and asking God for the wisdom I need. What immediately comes to mind is the verse in Exodus 14:14:

The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.

Here, Moses tells the people of Israel that the do not need to be afraid. 

They could stand firm. They could stay calm. 

Moses says to the terrified people, "See the deliverance the Lord will bring you today."

Be still. See. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Reminder: Hydrate in the Winter

The nurse attempts to draw blood for my yearly thyroid test today, and she can't. She brings in another nurse (the expert who can "draw blood from a rock") who takes one look at my arm, presses into all my veins, and shakes her head.

"You're dehydrated," she reports. "What have you been drinking?"

"Coffee. More coffee. Tea. More tea. More coffee." 

She sends me home to return to the lab after a day of drinking water. 

In the winter, I want warm beverages that unfortunately also act as diuretics. Because it's cold, I stay away from cool glasses of water. I forget to carry a water bottle in my mittened hands. 

Today's reminder: Hydrate in the winter!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Pattern I'm Seeing

This same day, back in 2010, I blogged on teaching writing. I explained to my classes that they must "write like a jellyfish."

The next year, on this same day, God provided the most beautiful answer to prayer when I asked God to send my daughter some joy.

In 2012, on this same day, I remember to rely on God and not my own strength.

Now, in 2013, on this very day, I'm dwelling on the same themes of writing, prayer, and grace. As I trace the work of God in my life over the past four years, I can see the pattern.

It's a beautiful pattern. I see the themes so clearly.

Do you see your own life containing certain themes?

Monday, December 9, 2013

"When you're living in fear, every issue is overwhelming." ~Ed Dobson

Today I watch a short film by David Cook, "Consider the Birds," that documents the journey of Ed Dobson as he battles ALS.  In the clip I watch, Ed says, "When you're living in fear, every issue is overwhelming."

Instead of fear, Ed talks about letting go of his future and trusting God who will never leave or forsake him. And this doesn't happen once; this happens multiple times a day as Ed tries to "live in the moment."

This quote about fear stays with me all day. We don't want to live in fear, and with God, we don't have to.

Although it costs to watch the movie, you can watch the trailer for free here: https://flannel.org/products/eds-story-1-3

Sunday, December 8, 2013


It's winter here! The Winterberry Bush holds the evidence, and I'll watch it all season from my window.

I love what I can see through bare branches. You've heard it said that light shines through our broken places, and today I remember what I might see better when something's missing.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Other Abundant Life

I have a list in my head of what constitutes the "abundant life" Jesus describes in John 10. His promise is that "[He] has come so that we might have life and have it abundantly," so naturally, I imagine all sorts of wonderful things that could come about in my life.

This morning, however, I wonder if I've really surrendered to God's idea of what abundant life means for me. Am I willing to receive the abundant life He offers (and not the one I'm devising in my mind)?

I feel a strange and wonderful freedom--most moments of true surrender feel strange and wonderful at the same time--because I'm allowing God to build my life and bring all the abundance He's planned.

I cease blocking this abundance by my own effort to craft what I think abundance means. Does it mean more friends, more money, more house, more success, more. . . anything?

It doesn't matter what I think about it. I can let that go and invite God to shape my abundant life which will be better and brighter than anything I could make happen on my own.

Oh, the joy of surrendering even this.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Working Out of Your Weaknesses

Let me confess how absolutely terrible I am at all things administrative. Things like posting grades, finishing recommendations, sending thank-you notes, responding promptly to email and texts, and all other kinds of office work drive me crazy.

I'm a big picture creative person. I'm awful at details. Are you like this? Help me!

I woke up this morning asking God to send me an assistant to do all this work. I'm an artist, people. I can't possibly be expected to complete regular, everyday tasks in a timely manner!

I realize this about myself, so I resort to making little lists and rewarding myself with something like a fresh cup of coffee for everything I can check off the list.

I also know that not everybody gets the privilege of always working out of their strengths.

When God asks us to work out of our weaknesses, we know that the one who calls also enables. So I do have my Assistant this morning. I'm praying for the power and the ability to do what doesn't come naturally to me.

That's how you'll know it wasn't me at all.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

What You Have to Accept Before Going Into It

Guess what? My kitchen is a disaster of food coloring and sprinkles, and I'm totally OK with it. After ten years of making Christmas Cookies with our favorite recipe ever, I know what to expect. I even blogged about it last year, so I know exactly what I'm getting into.

If you remember, I have pictures of the sprinkle explosion.  

All day, I keep thinking that it's worth it. It's worth it for so many reasons: family memories, laughter, tradition, yumminess, blessing neighbors with treats. . . Besides, I believe this is the Best Cookie Recipe Ever. It's actually called, "The Best Rolled Sugar Cookies Recipe." 

I accept the terms of this cookie making event. I think that's a big part of living with flair; you learn to accept (and even celebrate) what's going to happen as you go into certain stages.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Fog on the Path

We wake up to fog.

Fog in the Woods

With poor visibility on the walk to school, we nevertheless press on. In fact, it's beautiful. We know the fog won't last long, so we enjoy it. I think about all the confusing, unclear, or unseen things on my own path. Perhaps I'm to stop and relish the particular delight of poor visibility. We don't know what's before us, and it feels so exciting. We feel the strange beauty of dark and dreary things on this walk.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Cutting Beautiful Snowflakes (A Craft Even I Like)

Every December, we cut snowflakes to decorate our doors. We've been cutting snowflakes for years, and, no matter how many I cut, I still love the surprise of it. I tried to make a cat face, but it turned out like a batman face with hearts all over it (see below).

We fold paper and make all sorts of fabulous designs. You can use this website to learn how to fold the paper: http://www.wikihow.com/Cut-Elegant-Paper-Snowflakes.

Right now, I have three little girls cutting snowflakes at the kitchen table. I will be sweeping up little white scraps of paper for days. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Not My Problem

I recently heard my husband describing an interview he heard with the late Bill Bright. When asked about some of the biggest problems he had faced in his life, Dr. Bright replied that he didn't have any problems.

When the interviewer pressed him on it--surely Dr. Bright had problems!--the man insisted that he had no problems.

The interviewer kept asking him over and over again because he just couldn't believe that a man's life couldn't have any problems.

At this, Dr. Bright explained that he didn't say his life didn't have problems. He said that they weren't his problems. They were God's problems. Bill said that he had no problems because he transferred ownership of his life to Jesus and therefore any problems were really God's problems.

Bill Bright later restated that if his only concern is what the Master wants, then his life could be problem free.

Today, I throw my hands in the air with relief. This is not my problem. It's God's problem, and He can handle it. 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Welcome December: A Bible Reading Plan

At the first of every month, I remember how wise people told me that they start reading Psalms and Proverbs that day. 

If you read five Psalms a day and one chapter of Proverbs, you'll finish the books by the end of the month. 

This I've accomplished intermittently since 1995. I write in the margins of my enormous green Bible things I'm praying about. I'm amazed how Psalms and Proverbs so readily apply to my exact circumstances each time I read them.

I'm excited to begin today!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

All the Ways to Laugh Together

Our family has experienced so much laughter lately. It's something I've prayed for; we needed some lively amusement in light of a hard few months. As I think about the gift of laughter, I'm amazed by how precious a gift it is to look someone in the eye--even a complete stranger--slap your thigh, throw back your head, and laugh uncontrollably about anything: our own blunders, a well-timed joke or pun, a shared memory, animal antics, and irony.

We love irony.

We also love finding the amusing thing when we're otherwise disappointed (again, another challenge here at Live with Flair). I remember the time as a little girl when my mother made a beautiful roasted chicken. She set it on the porch to cool, and as we stood there in the kitchen, we saw a family of bold raccoons arrive and proceed to eat our entire dinner. We laughed so hard even though we never ate that delicious chicken.

We pray for laughter to enter our relationships. I think God loves to answer this prayer, and perhaps He's laughing with you.

Did you laugh really hard today?

Friday, November 29, 2013

"The significant is often the most hidden."

Today I read a little quote from Henri Nouwen:

@HenriNouwen: In God's eyes the most significant is often the most hidden.

Again, I love the challenge of it. The thing we think is the most inconsequential, unimportant, or unworthy might be the most significant.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Challenge of Thankfulness

Happy Thanksgiving! I'm thankful for YOU as readers and friends. 

I love thinking of thankfulness as a challenge; if things seem awful, it's that much more rewarding to find the good news. There's always a bit of good if we look for it. There's always God's loving care and comfort to experience. 

I'm thankful that God gives us the ability to see Him in every trial--if we look. If we seek, we will find Him. 

Thank you! Thank you, God, for being here.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Great Thanksgiving Quiz for Around the Table

The Amazing Baker Family sent my family a fabulous Thanksgiving quiz to try around the dinner table. Of course, they didn't provide the answers (that would be too easy!), but I'm sure you'll have fun debating the answers and looking them up yourselves.

I hope this quiz creates some great conversations.

The Baker Family Thanksgiving Quiz 2013—Baker Family

1. What is the ONLY animal whose testimony is allowed in a court of law?
2. What is the ONLY continent without mold or mildew?
3. What is the ONLY fruit with seeds that grow on the outside?
4. Which is the ONLY state in the USA in which houseflies cannot live?
5. Who was the ONLY woman to win two Nobel Prizes?
6. Which are the ONLY other creatures apart from human beings that go into battle into formation?
7.  Which is the ONLY mammal that cannot jump?
8.  What is the ONLY musical instrument native to the USA?
9.  What is the only word in the English language that is pronounced the same after the last four letters are dropped?
10. What are the only animals to shed emotional tears?
11.  Which is the ONLY South American country with English as its official language?
12. What is the ONLY ancient Wonder of the World still standing?
13. What is the ONLY city located on two continents?
14. What is the ONLY mammal that can fly?
15. What is the ONLY human food manufactured by an insect?
16. Which is the ONLY country with a 100% literacy rate?
17. What is the ONLY substance on earth that is naturally present as a solid, liquid and gas?
18.   Apart from human beings, which is the ONLY animal that can learn to stand on its head?
19. Which is the only continent without any glaciers?
20.  Who is the only president who later became a senator?
21.  Where is the only place where the USA flag is flown continuously?
22. Who was the only president to give his entire salary to charity?
23. Who was the only president with his name inscribed on a plaque on the moon?
24. What is the only crime mentioned in the US Constitution?
25.  What is the only mammal with a bill?

     How did you do? 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Two Great Quotes from Children

We have two new favorite quotes said by children:

"If you're not afraid, you're not making memories."


"Weird is just a side effect of awesome."

So go be weird and afraid today.

Monday, November 25, 2013

A Prayer for Children

My friend directs me a great daily email that provides a different prayer each day for children. I have loved receiving these short daily emails, so I thought I'd share the joy. Here's the link to the website, and you can sign up for the daily email if you wish: http://prayersoverourchildren.wordpress.com

Today, for example, I read a simple but profound prayer from Galatians 6: "Encourage my children to share each other’s problems and troubles. Help them keep each other on the right path being careful not to fall into the same temptations themselves. Give them Your wisdom so they can gently and humbly help others overcome sin." Galatians 6:1-2 (from Prayers Over Our Children).

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Turkey Vegetable Platter

As you get ready for a wonderful Thanksgiving, don't forget the Turkey Veggie Platter for the children! 

Here's the link from last year with working links (otherwise, just read below!)

Cutest Turkey Vegetable Platter
I find this adorable vegetable platter made to look like a turkey (thank you, Amy Locurto at "Living Locurto" for the great idea), and I can't resist.  After the Boo Platter tradition began, I learned that even my simplest attempts to create whimsical traditions don't go unnoticed or forgotten.

We arrange bok choy and spinach, then carrots, and then sliced peppers of alternating colors for beautiful feathers.  We use cucumbers and then half a green pepper as the face.  We improvise with olives and a pepper slice to finish the turkey's expression.  Finally, we use celery for feet.

Turkey Vegetable Platter

I actually have to force my children to stop eating the vegetables so I can take a photo.   Welcome, Turkey Veggie Platter, to our Thanksgiving traditions. 

Isn't it funny how children will eat vegetables made to look like something else? 

Friday, November 22, 2013

A Quick Family Correction: The Return of the Warm Welcome and Happy Greeting

This week, we bring back The Warm Welcome and The Happy Greeting because we've lagged terribly as a family.

If you remember, The Warm Welcome aims to de-stress those around us by offering a greeting, a nice beverage, a relaxing atmosphere, and kind conversation (imagine candles lit, soft music, and hot cocoa). We've been too rushed and demanding lately, so we reinstate this immediately.

The lack of Happy Greetings saddens me! My oldest tried to introduce herself to a new girl on Tuesday, and this girl looked away, acted supremely annoyed, and essentially ignored the greeting. I later tell my daughters what it means to greet another person. The greet is a polite declaration of recognition and respect.

We, as a family, forget to greet one another in the morning and after school when we see each other again after some time has passed.

Yesterday, the oldest daughter decides to warmly greet the other--Hello! I'm so glad to see you again! How was your day?--and the youngest beams.

The Warm Welcome and the Happy Greeting: It changes the whole mood of our home.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

In Advance

Are you someone who thanks God in advance for what is about to happen? Last night, the youth pastor tells us how Jesus thanks God in advance of the miraculous feeding of the five thousand. 

I remember years ago listening to a woman pray. When she began to ask God for something, she always thanked Him in advance for what she was certain He would do. 

What faith! What an understanding that God is good and will do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine! 

We thank God in advance today for what we know He will do. 


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Element of Fun

This morning, I hear Mary Poppins declare:

"In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. Find the fun and--snap!--the job's a game."

I immediately remember the "Fun Theory" Volkswagen initiative that attempted to change people's behavior by making what you wanted them to do fun. Here, people choose to walk up stairs instead of riding the escalator because it's more fun. 

Can I add in an element of fun to whatever job I'm doing? I think so--especially with Mary Poppins music in the background.

I'm excited to find the element of fun in vacuuming the minivan right now. I think I'm going to see what treasures I can find that have been missing for months.

Have fun with your jobs today!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

No One Else Can Say It

Why write a memoir? For their last assignment in my writing course, students compose a single-event memoir. We talk about all the kinds of experiences they've had in their lives. We talk about travel, after-school jobs, illness, encounters with wild animals or famous people, existential questions, romance, turning point moments, transitions to adulthood, and even sporting events. We talk about grandparents and mothers and adventures in Croatia. We talk about backyard swings, concerts, and little sisters. 

Tell us a story! Tell us something that you've seen or felt or come to understand!

I love quoting Mary Pipher in her book, Writing to Change the World. I've share this quote every single semester because I love it so much. She writes in her chapter, "What You Alone Can Say," the following:

You have something to say that no one else can say.  Your history, your unique sensibilities, your sense of place and your language bestow upon you a singular authority.  Who but you can describe the hollyhocks in your grandmother's backyard or the creek outside of town that you fished as a child. . . ?"  

I do find it sublime to think of the 7.125 billion people on the planet and how, right now, you are the only one sitting where you're sitting, seeing what you're seeing as you see it, and feeling what you're feeling. I wish I knew what you were doing right now. It's just so interesting to consider it.

If you're discouraged in your blogging or in your writing in general (or in your speaking, for that matter), remember that you have something to say that no one else can say. We would love to hear it.

Monday, November 18, 2013

I Finished My Novel, So Now What?

I finished my young adult novel! It feels so great to finish.

Now, I send it to my agent, and we make a proposal to send to publishers. This sounds a lot easier than it is. This takes a long time, and it's very frustrating. I've written four other novels that have been heartily rejected.

If you remember, I thought I'd never write another novel. If you remember, I moved over to non-fiction.

The November National Novel Writing Month woke something up in me, so I'm glad I returned to fiction.

The good news is that I loved writing this novel. I loved that I wrote honestly and tried new things (like having a real villain, lots of conflict, and a climactic moment with just a little falling action instead of chapters and chapters of it). I also loved that I wrote from real experiences I had in middle school that I fictionalized and transformed. These were not easy experiences to think about, but in this end, they become beautiful (at least to me).

I remember a quote I found recently from James Joyce in which he says, "Art does not start as something beautiful, but from experiences that are rough and raw." This novel feels more authentic because of the "rough and raw" and the ways I wrote "close to the bone."

We'll see what happens. I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Two Strange But Fun Expressions

Today my youngest asks me why people yell Shotgun! when they want to sit in the front passenger seat.

It's because that seat was the armed defense of the messenger on a stagecoach. The person driving the horses needed protection, so the passenger held the shotgun to protect him. This, therefore, was the shotgun seat. So, yes, you can sit in the passenger seat if you're prepared to be my armed defense.

Then, my youngest is making cupcakes and accidentally drops the glass bowl. It shatters all over the kitchen. My husband comes in to comfort her and says, "Well, you can't have an omelet without breaking some eggs."

Huh? He means that accidents happen on the way to cooking greatness, but something doesn't sound right about that quote.

That's because Robespierre said this before he launched the Reign of Terror. I go find my husband to clarify this for future accidents.

It's still fun to say in the kitchen, though.


Saturday, November 16, 2013

3 Little Signs Winter's On the Way

We've tossed the pumpkins and mums into the compost bin; we've accepted the winterberries' arrival; we've raked every fallen leaf.

Welcome winter.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Go Ahead and Let Yourself

A former student arrives to my office with a book of J.R.R Tolkien's collected letters. She shares with me something so inspiring.

On March 2, 1916, Tolkien composed a letter to his girlfriend during his senior year of college. He writes, "This miserable drizzling afternoon I have been reading up old military lecture-notes again:--and getting bored with them after an hour and a half. I have done some touches to my nonsense fairy language--to its improvement. I often long to work at it and don't let myself 'cause though I love it so it does seem such a mad hobby!"

I often long to work at it and don't let myself 'cause though I love it so it does seem such a mad hobby!

We discuss how thankful we are that Tolkien did "let [him]self" work at what he so loved. This "nonsense fairy language" seeded the great books we now love, most notably, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

We talk about continuing on in the direction of our writing that we love. If it seems like nonsense or a mad hobby, maybe we're on to something great.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Trap Set for You

Today I read in Proverbs 13:14 that "the teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, turning a person from deadly traps."

I think about the wise teachers in my life who turned me away, at just the right time, from traps of all forms: bad relationships, risky behaviors, poor business decisions, or any other potentially ensnaring situations.

I read throughout scripture of the ways idols, evil desires, our own words, the pursuit of wealth, drunkenness, and even religious people can seduce us away from the fountain of life.

I also read in Psalm 31 the plea that God might keep us free from the trap set for us as we take refuge in Him.

Is there a trap set for us? I read in 2 Timothy 2 about coming to our senses to "escape the trap of the devil."

I pray that God brings wise teachers into my life and that I might become one of those wise teachers for others. Traps wait all around us, but wise words turn us from them. We need great wisdom and discernment to avoid traps because I realize how hidden they are. They don't look like traps; they masquerade as freedom, happiness, pleasure, fame, and wealth, but they ensnare us in the end.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

In All Things at All Times

Today my friend reminds me that there are graces each day. In the midst of difficult, exhausting, or disappointing circumstances, there are graces.

I thought about my own day and the little graces God sent to care for me.

I remember 2 Corinthians 9:8: "And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work."

In all things, at all times, having all that I need.

Thank you, God for all grace abounding to me.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

There's Always Beauty

I'm trudging along in my snow boots to attend my office hours with my head down, sighing. It's one of those days! I'm tired and moody. I need a nap.

I notice the snow melting on the fallen leaves. In the early afternoon sun, the snowflakes transform into perfect droplets on a leaf.

It's so beautiful.

I love beauty. I love that there's always beauty around us to enjoy. What a gift from God (especially on moody days)! Beauty invites us to go outside of ourselves and our bad days to remember a bigger story.

Monday, November 11, 2013

A Special Gift from the Local Artist

Local artist and dear friend, Jenny Kelly, delivers a memorial drawing of our sweet cat on Sunday morning. Jenny has a special gift of helping others grieve well--even if it's something that seems small or unimportant, like a pet.

She knows how special this kitty was, especially to our children. She also knows that art helps unlock something in us. It's therapeutic; we need it.

She uses visual art to honor, empathize, celebrate, and memorialize. She's a treasure to our community. 

Jenny teaches me all the ways God uses our experiences and our talents to bless and enter into the lives of others. 

Jenny has a grieving ministry in our neighborhood for whatever you've lost--large or small. I'm so thankful for her. 


Sunday, November 10, 2013

"An Ideal Far Beyond Yours"

This morning, I read in Hannah Whitall's Smith's, God is Enough, an interesting assignment for the soul.

She insists: "Realize to yourself what your ideal shepherd would be--all that you would require from anyone filling such a position of trust and responsibility--and then know that an ideal far beyond yours was in the mind of our Lord when He said, 'I am the good shepherd'."

What would I require of such a Shepherd? What would I want Him to do for me? After I make that list of every single thing that might signify I'm truly cared for, God exceeds this in ways that are "immeasurably more than I could ask or imagine."

We are truly cared for, beyond all we could ask or imagine.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Almost Lost to Us: The Night Sky and Patient Observation

Last night, our great friend and meteorologist, David, takes us to view the night sky. It occurs to me that my children haven't been stargazing.

Because of light pollution, we find that we never go outside to gaze at the stars (like I did when I was a little girl). Stargazing, for me, ranks right up there with catching fireflies, wandering in a forest, catching minnows, and performing all the other traditional acts of childhood.

But my own children don't see the stars the way I did.

David knows where to drive outside of town to gaze at the stars. He knows weather conditions, galactic activity, and all the words to equip us to articulate what we're actually seeing up there including constellation names.

45 minutes outside of town, somewhere in Black Moshannon (I can't actually see where we are; it's that dark), we pull off the road and bundle up in sleeping backs right on the frosty ground. After waiting for the clouds to clear--and after warming up with hot cider--we see the stars.

It requires patient observation.

I catch three shooting stars. It was sublime!

On another weekend, we'll travel to Cherry Springs State Park--which in our state of Pennsylvania, has the least amount of light pollution.

Mostly, it was wonderful and important to see we are part of something so much bigger than ourselves. Observing the Milky Way, for example, silences us in awe and worship.

David took these photos with the Canon DSLR (Rebel T3) with the default lens.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Is There More? Another Great Conversation Technique

This week, I learn another way to communicate well with others. When they share with me, I can simply ask, "Is there more?" They offer more. "Is there more?" They offer more. "Is there more?"

Keep asking until they have no more to say.

I try it on my youngest as she reports something interesting that happened in Math class.

"Is there more?"

Oh yes. She goes on and on with more.

"Is there more?"

Yes. There's even more. 

"Is there more?"

Finally, she tilts her head up, looks at the ceiling for a moment and says, "Nope. That's all."

She's emptied it all out. She's verbalized all she needs to say about this.

My friend tries the same technique with me. I share a simple piece of information with her.

"Is there more?"

Well, yes. There is more.

There is more!

We listen well and let others verbalize what they need to share. That's another way to love people well.

First Little Snowflake

What a beautiful, snowy little morning!

It's a day of transition: Autumn dissolves into winter, and we can't wait.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

In Praise of Breakfast Casseroles

Last night, we break apart three larger dinner rolls. Then we whisk together six eggs, two cups milk, grated cheddar cheese, crumbled bacon (6 pieces) and sausage (4 patties), chopped spinach (2 cups), and salt and pepper.

We place the bread at the bottom of a casserole dish and pour our mixture on top.

We let it sit in the fridge all night. The first one up in the morning puts the breakfast casserole in the oven at 350 degrees for about an hour (or until firm).

We arrive to breakfast with ease: no mess, no stress. We slice the casserole into little squares and feast.

I love making breakfast the night before. I love that there's enough for tomorrow morning, too!

Just thought I'd share! And here are six more great breakfast casserole ideas (including Ham and Swiss, Cinnamon bun,  Peach French Toast, and Green Pepper Omelet). Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Your Little Pep Talk

A pep talk is a short speech or piece of writing intended to give others courage and enthusiasm to face the task ahead.

I didn't realize how much I needed a pep talk until I read Catherynn Valente's pep talk to writers who have signed up for the National Novel Writing Month challenge.

She tells me to "write close to the bone" and encourages me that any effort spent writing is never, ever wasted effort.

Yes. Yes! I feel courage! I'm enthused!

Every day, a new writing pep talk comes my way from various authors, and I simply need them. I love them. I didn't know what life could be like with them.

Perhaps I need to give someone else a little pep talk today.

What you're doing is great and bold and beautiful. Keep doing that thing, no matter what anyone says. We're with you; you're not alone. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Getting Ready to Start

This morning, my youngest crawls into bed to declare that it is time for this day to start.

"It's time! It's time for this day to start!"

I think it's such a lovely expression.I haven't thought of starting in terms of a day. It's true though; we start our day.

I think about this new day suddenly coming into being. It's fresh and new. Yesterday has ended.

I get out of bed and let the day begin. According to my daughter, we start it somehow. We put the whole thing in motion. We crank it up and let it loose.

It's time for this day to start.

Monday, November 4, 2013

On a Walk Like This

On the walk to school, bright leaves fell around us the entire way. The mile journey felt magical. With our hands raised towards the bright blue sky, adults and children alike twirled to catch the falling leaves in their hands. We knew we'd have a wish granted with every leaf we caught.

I caught two bright leaves in my mittened hands. Another father caught one and cheered. By the end of the walk, we'd all caught at least one.

We knew that something wonderful awaited us in this kind of world where leaves fall like this, on a walk like this, with neighbors like this.