Thursday, October 31, 2013

And Yet! And Yet!

I'm taking out the garbage, and I happen to glance at the withered raspberry patch. Wait a second! There's another harvest! 

What in the world!? 

I recall back in 2010 when the same phenomenon happened with my peppers. I had put the garden to rest in my mind, but the garden had other thoughts.

But wait, ya'll: We've had frost; we've had flurries; we've even had berries rotting. Those raspberries were done.

And yet.

As I gather in the new berries, I think about harvesting words and November's novel writing mission. I had given up on fiction, but fiction has other thoughts for me. It's been a long time: story writing feels frosted over, rotting even, by now.

And yet! And yet!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The 6th Annual Halloween Boo Platter

I almost didn't make the traditional Boo Platter this year. But, if you remember, this platter just might represent my most memorable act.

The email comes in from the 3rd grade teacher that we're still in need of veggies for the class Halloween Party.

OK, OK, I'll do it. 

I love the Boo Platter. It's one of those traditions that we'll all remember in 30 years. This year, I interviewed some children on the walk to school about their favorite vegetables. Surprisingly, broccoli won as a favorite.

So, I give you. . . The 2013 Halloween Boo Platter. The spinach dip sits on the side in a bread roll. I'm going to scatter a couple of these filled bread rolls around the platter and perhaps claim they're actually severed heads with brains spilling out. Gross! How could I! 

They'll love it.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Let Them Cook

I've let my oldest daughter loose in the kitchen. We're having a great time together. It's messy, a little inconvenient, and time consuming, but cooking with my daughter is one of my favorite activities as a mom.

I'm passing something on; it feels like we're participating in the ancient rhythms of hearth and home.

We're learning a whole new vocabulary of verbs: strain, simmer, sauté. We're grasping the fine distinctions between chop, dice, and mince. We're discovering you can add too much and too little. 

We listen to Broadway musicals on Pandora. She turns the music up way too loud for me, but I remember that I'm older and she's younger. I think I know every word to every song in Wicked.

So far, we've mastered apple pie, apple turnovers, various stir-fry recipes (with various sauces--her favorite is ginger peanut), homemade butter, and potato and bacon soup. After school, we're learning Swedish Pancakes from her American Girl Kirsten cookbook. 

I have to relax my controlling urges and let kitchen art happen. Once she learned how to hold a knife and how not to catch herself on fire, she was good to go. It's worth it. Last night we ate a delicious soup with fresh bread that I didn't invent or carry out. 

Let them cook. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Big Goal: Participating in the Divine Nature

This morning, I glance at a new study guide called How People Change, by Timothy Lane and Paul David Tripp.

I'm struck by the governing question of the text. It's this:

What hopes and goals give direction to your life? 

Well, I'm so glad you asked.

I realize how easily I veer off course in my ambitions--whether writing, parenting, teaching, or even emotional well-being. The authors present the idea that the best hope and goal for a life is to "participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption of the world caused by evil desires" (2 Peter 1:4).

Can I really say that the singular hope and goal of my life is to "participate in the divine nature" and to help others do the same? Is becoming more Christ-like my hope and goal above all else?

If so, then I realize all my experiences, both good and bad, function as stepping stones toward this goal if I allow them to. When filtered through this lens, I experience joy I never thought I could have. I know God is working to help me participate more and more in the divine nature.

If this is the hope and goal, then what happens to us doesn't paralyze us with fear or insecurity. We realize that God has the power to bring everything under His control to complete the good work He began in us.

He uses everything to help us participate in the divine nature.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Countdown to National Novel Writing Month! Let's Do This!

Dear Friends,

On November 1st--a mere 5 days away--I'm going to begin my new novel as part of National Novel Writing Month. Won't you join me and start your own novel? So far, two of my friends have joined up.

From November 1 through November 30, YOU can join us and commit to writing 1667 words a day to complete a 50,000 word novel in one month. Sign up at the website here. 

Who has time for this? Who would do this? YOU do! YOU would! As the website claims: The World Needs Your Novel.

I'm going to try it. I have no idea what I'm going to write about really, I just have a few scenes about a melancholy young girl who gets lost in the game lands behind my house. It's hunting season in my novel and very dangerous. Something extraordinary happens to her.

If you want a life theme for your November 2013, I suggest this: Say Something In Writing Every Single Day.

Best wishes on your writing life,

Heather Holleman

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Neck of the Woods

Today I learn that the phrase "neck of the woods" refers to a narrow region. A "neck" means a narrow stretch of something. So, in my narrow little yard--my neck of the woods--we love to go outside to catch falling leaves.

When I was a little girl, I loved to catch falling leaves. We thought it brought good luck or that a wish might come true if you were able to catch a leaf before it reached the ground.

So that's what we're doing in my neck of the woods today.

Friday, October 25, 2013

A Fun Pumpkin Craft: Paint Them Silver

Today, I learn that you can spray paint little plastic pumpkins silver, and they look beautiful against candlelight. You can leave them around for Christmas, too.

We spray a primer coat on them first.

Then, we apply the silver coat.

I never imagined I could enjoy silver pumpkins, but I love them!


Thursday, October 24, 2013

"Who Can Show Us Any Good?": Encouragement for Sad Days

This morning as I sat in my minivan after another night of comforting sad children over the death of our beloved cat, I felt the weight of sorrow in my heart. So much sorrow! Not just for pets that die, but for all the other sorrow in my own community and across the whole world. I realize that losing a pet is a small thing compared to other sorrows that potentially await us all. What if things actually don't get better? What if they get worse?

A wise pastor told my husband that life gets harder, but joy gets greater.

I'm having a hard time with it. I can't muster up the hope today. In fact, I feel Creeping Cynicism. I don't want to pray. I don't want to read my Bible.

But a phrase keeps repeating in my mind as I sit  in my minivan. It's the question in Psalm 4: "Who can show us any good?" When life weighed the psalmist down, he asked the question I feel myself asking on my worst days. What's the point? Who can show me any good today?

I remember the answer from my own childhood when I memorized Psalm 4. The answer is this:

Lift the light of your countenance upon us, O Lord. 
You have put gladness in my heart,
More than when their grain and new wine abound.
In peace I will lie down and sleep,
For you alone, O Lord, make me to dwell in safety.

I ask God to put the kind of gladness in my heart that doesn't depend upon what happens to me. I thank God that He gives peace and helps me dwell in a kind of safety I cannot comprehend. He does it. He puts it in there. Who can show us any good? Even in the midst of the distressing question, God puts gladness, peace, and safety there.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Beauty of Empathy

Today I realize how important it is to understand and share the feelings of others. In other words, to have empathy.

Is there anything more beautiful than sitting with a loved one and expressing your feelings, only to have them understand them and share them with you?

Tell me more about how you're feeling. Help me understand. Let me share this with you. 

God did not leave us alone with our emotions. I'm so thankful for empathy.

I want to be an empathetic friend, wife, and mother. Living with flair means, perhaps most of all, living empathetically.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

I'm So Glad We Took a Chance on Him

This morning, our little one-eyed cat had a blood clot and died. It's a very sad day in our household.

I'm so glad we could love him all these years. I'm so glad we took a chance on a one-eyed cat with a broken tail. Jack taught our family to love wounded things. He was a great and spunky cat. Here's my favorite blog about him from a few years ago. Thank you for reading about Jack. Click here for the original post with working links:

Sneaking Up on Jack, I Caught Him Doing This:

Jack Basks in the Sun
He was basking.

My One-Eyed Cat, Jack, continues to teach me how to live with flair.  First he learned how to purr and taught me something about finding yourself again, even when you've been wounded.  Then, he let out his first meow, and I learned something about rediscovering my voice.  Then, despite those wounds,he began caring for other cats, and that showed me the power of serving others.

Then he started becoming fully alive, doing all the things that normal kitties do.  Next, he learned courage, standing up for himself and proclaiming what he loved and needed.

But then his scar started leaking, and it felt like were were starting over.  But Jack got better, and today, I find him basking in the sun.

That cat won't leave the warm spot in the window.  He gazes up in the bright sunlight and lets himself become toasty warm.  As I watch Jack basking, I suddenly want to join him on the window ledge.  To bask meansto receive great pleasure from something.

Did I bask today?    I want to bask in the love of God.  Did God design us toderive great pleasure from knowing Him and enjoying creation?  Oh, the great pleasure of sleeping in a sun ray, eating fresh pineapple, teaching a boy to jump rope, finding a perfect verb, or listening to a cat purr.  What things exist in my life today that God places there from which I am toderive great pleasure?

Jack wants to know as well.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Catching Words As They Fall

All of a sudden today--right in the middle of daily life (when there's no time at all)--I sit to write the paragraph I've been mulling over for a month. It's as if it just overflows out of me naturally and easily. I'm just catching words as they fall.

Why can't it always be this way?

I think about overflowing things. Overflow, as a noun, denotes excess or surplus that the available space can't accommodate.

Maybe, the thing I'm thinking about must become so large in me that it runs over. If the writing's not flowing, maybe the thing isn't large enough to me yet.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Best Learning Environment

This weekend, I learned so much about how to create a great learning environment. I didn't limit this information to formal classroom settings; I decided I could apply the ideas to my home life and my own life as a student. I want, after all, to remain a great student for the entirety of my life.

I learn that great teaching happens in environments of wonder and awe. The teacher and student both assume positions of humility before the greatness of the subject. They connect with one another as they pursue truth.

If ever I'm bored with semicolons, I know that I've lost the wonder of language and the beauty of effective communication that enables a profound mystery. We're ordering thoughts here. We're incarnating. We're doing something so incredible to get the voice in your head onto the page. When we fall in love with the subject again, we remember the joy of this teaching and learning task.

I want beauty and wonder to invade us through these lessons on rhetoric and grammar. Because it's always about more than the thing itself. It's always about allegory, myth, and a greater narrative.

Even the semicolon tells a great story.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

When You Learn Your Name

I decide to research my own name last night because I become fascinated by name trends in the United States by decade. I knew my name referred to a Scottish flower, but I never read the legend behind the name.

I learn that the cheerful, sturdy Heather plant decorates the desolate and gloomy moors because, according to a local folk tale, nobody else would.

The sturdy oak was too high-maintenance and wanted better soil. The fragrant honeysuckle only wanted to climb high and not sit low to the ground. The beautiful rose was too delicate for the harsh winds that blew across the moorland. So when the Heather plant volunteered, God was so pleased that he gave her the oak's sturdy bark, the honeysuckle's fragrance, and the rose's beauty.

I like this legend, and I wish I knew it when I was young. I like inhabiting the meaning of it; I can decorate desolate places--the places nobody else will go.

Do you know the story behind your name?

Friday, October 18, 2013

Each Time Astonishing

We live on a particularly leafy street.

This particular tree sits right in our front yard, and I spy it through my Weeping Cherry every morning.

The Weeping Cherry, by the way, still boasts a full head of foliage, and my oldest climbs it to read. One day, she'll be too big for this.

We're all growing and changing, going through our own seasons, and each change brings its own beauty. I realize that no matter how many times I see the leaves change, it's still astonishing and new. I'm thankful again for times of barren black branches, abundant green foliage, and then the bright cry of autumn leaves. Each necessary. Each coming around in time.


Thursday, October 17, 2013

It Was Rigged

This morning, nobody can access the Internet. Since everything, including our phones and television, depends upon this service, we find ourselves stuck with ancient things like books and crayons.  We even gravitate to crude tools of invention: ropes and boards.

Once outside, I watch my daughters toss the double-dutch ropes over the tree limbs and then tie them to old lumber from the garage. They swing all morning. It's the best morning we've had in months.

(I had nothing to do with it, but I did send my husband out later to check their knots and secure the seat).

Yes, our morning was rigged, in more ways than one. We had an unfair advantage without the sophistication of advanced distractions.

I hope these sisters had a great talk out there on the swings. I hope the Internet fails tomorrow morning, too.


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Terrible Danger of Efficiency

I've had a major life course correction these past few weeks.

Imagine the old me efficiently mastering the tasks of the day in a frenzied zeal of productivity. 

Efficiency governed my life.

In fact, I judged the success of each day by how much I could squeeze in. I relished advanced preparation, shortcuts, multi-tasking, checklists, and all the other trappings of a Type A, High I, ENFJ type of woman.

More, more, more! Faster, faster, faster!

But why? Why?

I was cutting up chicken for tomorrow's pot pie, and I thought about all the time I was saving. But was I really saving time? What was I doing with all this hypothetical time? I was just cramming in more stuff, being ever more efficient, in a stifling, exhausting, and never-ending cycle.

What would happen if I simply weren't efficient anymore? What would happen if I stopped trying to maximize my productivity?

In a strange and beautiful moment, time froze as I put the pot pie away for another day. I rested my chin on my folded hands and took a deep breath.

There's no benefit to efficiency if it only keeps you on a treadmill. There's no benefit to efficiency if it keeps you so future-oriented that you're never actually enjoying the present moment at all. 

Lately, I'm enjoying my tasks in a slow, focused, and present manner. I'm not interested in saving time. I'm interested in living my life fully and joyfully. Efficiency steals that kind of life from me. Efficiency steals peace from my heart.

Besides, it all gets done anyway--at least the important things. Try abandoning efficiency, and you'll see what I mean.

(I actually don't see Jesus as efficient in scripture, by the way. Do you?)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Reverse Mentoring

Today, I'm passing on a wonderful blog post by Jay Lorenzen on "Reverse Mentoring." He writes about "tapping into the wisdom of the young." I found this post so refreshing and delightful, especially since I love learning from young people.

Enjoy his post here:

Living with flair means learning from the young.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Final Harvest and In-Between Living

I think I've picked my last bowl of raspberries for the season.

What a great harvest! I think about that lovely routine of gathering all the ripe things in life. The summer and early fall felt so abundant and juicy.

But now? I look at all the withered things about the garden. I know it's a necessary ending--that wintering in order to grow fruit again next summer--but it feels so empty.

The feeling only lasts a moment because I know this: with a freezer full of berries, I'll feast on sweet things all winter. I've stored up, like those who recall God's great faithfulness in seasons of emptiness, so it's not empty at all. We feast on what we've stored up of Him.

Maybe that's what winter is for. It's a deeper enjoyment, a deeper feast.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Random Things That Make Me Happy Today

1. Coming home to the smell of something cooking in the crockpot.
2. Writing. Writing anything at all. Writing right this very moment.
3. Finding a new book at a yard sale and thinking it might become the best novel you've ever read.
4. When siblings play together happily.
5. Singing to a song on the radio while driving with the windows down.
6. Wise people who stop to impart wisdom.
7. Warm socks that don't have holes in them.
8. Candles burning.
9. People doing exactly what God made them to do.
10. Rain on the roof.

And I'm happier now that I told you ten things that made this day a little more wonderful.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

An Emotional Mom Learns a Drama-Free Way to Talk to Pre-Teens

I'm learning how to better communicate with my family and friends. Most recently, I learned how often I like to rescue and react when someone comes to me with distressing emotions.

So, hypothetically, when my pre-teen begins to share about her day, I go into rescue mode. Then, I react with all sorts of dramatic emotions (not surprising!). I want to solve the problem, help by my intense emotional reaction, and immediately provide smart strategies. I want to enter in to her emotional states.

No! This doesn't help her!

I learn that instead of rescuing and reacting, responding and rejoicing serve the other person best.

I'm invited to respond with empathy (You seem confused, worried, sad, or angry). I might even share how one might normally feel to help the person clarify how she's actually feeling. (I can imagine someone feeling jealous, lonely, or scared).

Then, and this is the missing piece for me, I learn to ask, "What did you do? or How did it go?"

How did you handle that?

Then, I remember to rejoice with every decision the person made on their own. This kind of conversing empowers others, releases them to feel in control of their emotions, and keeps the drama to a minimum. It tilts the emotional drama back to peaceful rejoicing.

For those of you moms out there who share my emotional intensity, remember the 2 R's: respond and rejoice. Instead of react or rescue, we respond and rejoice.

Friday, October 11, 2013

The One Thing You Can Never Schedule

Today I recall what's missing from our family life these days: spontaneity.

This blog began, after all, as that spontaneous decision to dance in my kitchen with my neighbor.

Living with flair meant something natural, joyful, unconstrained, and surprising. It was a way to open up my life to make room for God's unscripted insertions into my day.

Over the past three years, I've learned that spontaneity brings joy to our lives. I'm laughing as I remember some spontaneous events over the past few years:

Like when a student brought a homemade pie to class.

Like when I climbed into a giant hamster wheel with my children.

Or when I went sledding the moment before an evening out--in my fancy clothes and pearls.

Oh, the blogs I've written about tickle fights, random atlas adventures, and spontaneous hospitality.

We've missed all this in our zeal to keep order, to maintain a schedule, and stay productive.

Living with flair means spontaneity. I can't wait to see what this day brings that I haven't scheduled!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Battlefield Cookies

For the past four years when I visit the battlefields of Gettysburg, our host brings us the most delicious cookie I've ever tasted. I refer to them as "Battlefield Cookies," and I think about them when I return home. Yes, they have some coconut in them. How did you ever guess that?

This year, I discover the caterer has ordered these cookies from a delightful shop called Hope's Cookies. You can order Battlefield Cookies (actually called Hope's Royale and enjoy them at home! They're expensive, but they arrive in cute little boxes. You can freeze them and pop them in lunch boxes, so I decide to place an order. I imagine sending little boxes to neighbors in need.

They arrive in two days. Fresh. Yummy. So good.

This morning, I remember my office mate has lost her dog and continues to endure various struggles. She needs a Battlefield Cookie since she's fighting so much. I pack some Battlefield Cookies in my purse.

I love the concept of a little treat during battle. Just an hour before, my husband read a psalm to me and reminded me of all the abundant goodness of the Lord stored up. For some reason, I think of my frozen Battlefield Cookies just stored up for me to enjoy and share with others.

The Lord is good. We're in a battle, but cookies are here.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

I Actually Did It (a Homemade Owl Costume)

With special thanks to the pattern from Alpha Mom blogger, I travel to the fabric store. My daughter has asked for an owl costume, and I can't find one pre-made anywhere.

"Can't we make one?" Oh, no. Anything but this. 

If you know me,  you know I have absolutely zero crafting or sewing skills. I do own a glue gun, though. So I travel to the fabric store, find the cheapest fabric, and spend the afternoon cutting out feathers. Imagine: music playing, children frolicking, and fabric feathers flying about the living room.

My oldest daughter teaches me how to vary a pattern so it looks like feathers. I hadn't considered this. We use hot glue, and I find myself strangely confident.

I start gluing. This is actually working.

She's going to wear it with a brown tutu and a painted owl face. I can't believe I did it.

Thank you, blogging world, for do-it-yourself costumes!

Monday, October 7, 2013

He Will Rescue You

As I read Psalm 35, I'm suddenly struck by the repetition of one word: rescue.

I learn afresh that God rescues us from what comes against us. I recall all I've been rescued from, and I can hardly contain the joy inside of me when I remember.

But today, I ask God to rescue me from ways of thinking and being that violate and disable the sweet peace He offers. I ask God to rescue me from fear that keeps me in a state of hyper-control and anxiety.

He rescues us! At the very end of this psalm, David--who wrote this while being hunted down by his enemies--writes, "The Lord be exalted who delights in the well-being of his servant."

I seldom remember that God truly delights in our well-being. He is our Rescuer from whatever distresses and endangers us.

Praise Him. When I feel hunted down by anything at all, whether internally or externally, I appeal to my Rescuer.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

What You Really Mean By That

Today I realize that people make time for things they want to do.

They do.

So when I proclaim, "I don't have time for this," I'm really articulating something else.

I'm really arguing that I don't want to do it or that it's simply not important enough. I'm revealing something about my own heart.

I begin to catch myself and rephrase my statements when I tell someone (or myself) that I don't have time for various activities or engagements. I actually have plenty of time. That's never the issue. It's not time; it's what I value.

And do I believe that the God who calls me into certain tasks--and who authors and orders time--can provide what I need down to the second?

I'm thinking about this as I plan for my week.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

New Eyes

This morning I read Marcel Proust's quote that "the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes." 

I pray for new eyes to see beauty exactly where I am, to know the amazing Creator is here, and to understand the importance of where I am in God's plan. 

I remember the day in June when I Read that line from the Museum Guide from Hayden Plantetarium inside a novel by Lorrie Moore. It says that "all seats provide equal viewing of the universe." We don't need to change seats. We're right where we're supposed to be. 

Friday, October 4, 2013

And By Chance

I'm driving through the little town of Gettysburg. I've been on this road before, and I know my favorite little shop is coming up on the right. The man who sells Civil War artifacts and books has a sign that says, "By appointment and by chance."

I just love what the sign represents: it's a slow, peaceful, relaxed kind of business, in stark contrast to the way I've been living my life lately. I imagine an old man shrugging his shoulders--and probably smoking a pipe--as he tells customers that he's not really sure when he'll be around next. "You'll just have to chance it."

Then, in a restaurant by General Lee's headquarters, I stop to use the restroom. But it's not called a restroom. It's a Necessary Room for Ladies.  I've never heard it put quite like that before.

What belongs in the Necessary Room? I'm chuckling and trying to imagine what I'd put there.  I think I'm getting the message that it's OK to slow down, relax a bit, and stop thinking so much about unnecessary things.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

What Matters Most: A Journey Out of Micro-Managing

I find myself returning to old patterns lately. These life scripts try to narrate what matters most. For me, it's the Three A's: Appearance, Affluence, and Achievement. I find that I'm healed over these false sources of security and identity for myself, but they rear their ugly and devious ways in how I parent my daughters.

Lord, help me!

As I micro-manage their appearance and their school achievement, I start drowning in anxiety and fear. I even called my therapist because he warned me that parents reproduce dysfunctional ways of being in their children even when they feel mature and free themselves.

I repeat: Lord, help me!

As I cry out to God this morning, I recall one verse from Galatians 5 where Paul writes that, "the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love."

As I think about what matters most of all in the lives of my children, it's not their appearance, future job security, or their achievements; it's that they might live lives of radical faith and radical love.

That's what we're building here. When I'm tempted to micro-manage out of fear, I bore down deep into my own heart to realize the lie I'm believing.

Faith and love: this matters most. 


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Survey Your Territory

This morning my husband and I laugh about a cat that's just sitting on top of a house.

This little cat surveys his territory with such authority--such superiority--as if it all really belonged to him. In contrast to the huge house, and the whole neighborhood for that matter, this cat appears tiny. 

But he doesn't know that. Or if he does, it's of no consequence to him. 

Even if someone tried to tell him he owned nothing, was master over nothing, was ruler over no one, he wouldn't believe it. 

He lives out of a different reality, and you cannot change a cat's mind about it. He owns this neighborhood, so watch yourself. 

No matter how small we seem in contrast to what's around us, maybe we need to survey our God-given territories with new confidence--like the tiny orange kitty. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Honesty, What Could Be Better?

My youngest daughter always says exactly what's on her mind. There's no beating around the bush, equivocating, or flattering.

So when she invites my dear friend to dinner (who is also her most favorite person in the world), she's flabbergasted when the friend declines. My friend has other plans.

My daughter puts her hands on her little hips and says, "What could be better than me? What plans are better than me?"

She laughing at her own sassiness, but I see that sparkle in her eye that tells me she also sincerely can't imagine her favorite person missing a dinner date with her.

Oh, to have that self-confidence and assurance of your own awesomeness.

Later, she wants to recount a dramatic story from school. She stands in front of me and says, "Now, Mother, don't be distracted! Put down your phone! Stop cleaning dishes!" In other words, she has that same sparkle that says, "Nothing's more important than what I'm about to tell you."

Our silly demanding banter--what's better than me--reminds me so much of God's voice in my heart. Why would I ever decline an invitation or keep up my distracted multi-tasking when there's something to hear from God?

Nothing's more important. Nothing's better.

What's better than me?