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:

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.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

It's Just Beautiful

This morning, the Winterberry Bush explodes in color.

That's all. It's just beautiful. And I'm thankful.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

For the Pleasure of It

Today I remember the letter Kurt Vonnegut wrote to a group of students with some amazing writing advice. I read the letter because one of my favorite websites, Letters of Note, unearthed it this week.  Visit this great website to read all sorts of letters written by famous people.

Kurt Vonnegut wrote perhaps the best encouragement I've read in a while. He tells students to write--not for money or fame--"but to experience becoming, to find out what's inside of you, to make your soul grow."(underlining his)

As an assignment, Vonnegut tells students to write a poem and to work very hard at it. He instructs writers not to tell anyone and not to show anyone. Instead, he tells the writer to rip it to shreds and discard it. Then, he writes, "You will find that you have already been gloriously rewarded for your poem."

I love that he reminds us to write for the pure pleasure of it and that the act of writing is its own reward. Although I think writing happens best in community, I do agree that writing helps us become who we are. It grows us.

Friday, November 1, 2013

What I Love Most About Getting Older

Today I turn 38 years old! It's been a great day. I realize that what makes this day so full of birthday flair: I know what I love and who I am. It's taken a long time to get here.

I love being older and knowing that I love coffee, long stretches of writing with a candle lit, extravagant perfume, fuzzy slippers, and Thai food for dinner. I love that when someone asks, "What can I do for you?" I know the answer. I used to not know. I used to feel guilty if I expressed what I really wanted.

Early this morning, a friend texts and asks me for my exact coffee order--exactly what I want. I almost texted back, "I'll take anything, you decide." Why would I do this? No more! I know what I want! Why hold back ?

Now--this year especially--I know what I want. Today, I want time to write, beautiful scents around me and on me, comfortable shoes, and someone to make dinner.

I love today.