Wednesday, September 30, 2015

3 Happy Things on Wednesday

1. My friend delivered a purple mum to my front porch on Saturday, and today, I really enjoyed that mum.

2. Today I connected two people who needed to know one another because I could tell they were kindred spirits. I made the introduction and went about my day. Later, I saw them walking together on campus, completely absorbed in a joyful conversation. I hid myself from view and watched them for a minute. I smiled about them all afternoon. 

3. My wise friend told me to juice some oranges and boost my vitamin C since I'm feeling so lethargic. I juiced lemons and oranges, added gingerale, and sipped on the fizzing bliss all afternoon. I now feel like a new woman. 

Mums, matchmaking, and mandarin orange fizzy drinks--it's a fun little Wednesday. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

No Umbrella

I forget my umbrella. It's cold, dreary, and miserable. I run to my car, and still, I'm soaked.

My daughter forgets her umbrella! It's cold, wet, and magical! She insists on walking home with her friend, in the rain, "for the fun and for the puddles." She's soaked through and so happy.

Oh, perspective! Oh, point of view! 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

When Everyone Has Dogs

I live in a dog neighborhood. I love the dogs! I love Peanut, Skittles, and Belle on my street, and I love the regulars I see on the walk to school every morning. On any given day, I'll pass a dozen dogs with their owners.

But we don't have a dog. We have cats.

One day a few weeks ago, I decided to join the dog club by putting our enormous dalmatian dog stuffed animal (a present for my youngest when she was two) in the window.

From the outside, it looks like we indeed have a dog. He gazes down upon the neighbors, and folks point up and wonder about him all day long. The little children absolutely love him, and they don't realize he's not real.

My across-the-street neighbor (after she survived the shock of him staring down at her) advises me to dress him for Halloween. I must! I might change his costumes with the seasons; I can see the Pilgrim hat, the Santa hat, the New Years party hat. . .

I tell her that we have a collection of large stuffed animals given to us by grandparents including a gorilla, a tiger, an elephant, and an alligator. These life size creatures are just waiting their turn on the window bench to freak the neighbors out as they walk by.

"Oh, yes! Do that!" my neighbor says as we laugh about it together.

I think I will.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Plugging Into the Supply: The Best Image of a Neighborhood

My sister tells me of an unusual circumstance on her street this morning. Because of a broken water pipe, the county turns off the water to a neighbor's home. What can he do while he waits for the repair?

Apparently, he can plug into another home's supply. He can run a hose from my sister's house back to his house. When she hears of this possible solution, she says without hesitation, "Yes! You can plug into my supply!"

The offer has me smiling all morning. I think about my own spiritual and physical supply that I invite neighbors to plug into with each new day. I want to be that filled, that overflowing with God's love and provision, that available with resources that I stand there ready for the hose.

And I think about what I lack and how, in my own time of need, I tap into so many neighbors' supplies of time, meals, encouragement, and even transportation. I've plugged in through sickness, disappointment, fear, loneliness, and car trouble.

When we're in need, we plug in. When we're in great supply, we open the gate, affix the hose, and let what we have bless the house who needs it most.

Friday, September 25, 2015

A Timely Southern Expression

My wonderful mother-in-law, a fine southern woman, has educated me well in the art of southern living. In the past 15 years of marriage into a southern family, I've learned all about fried chicken, fried okra, sweet tea, and pimento cheese sandwiches. I've learned about slow time around the table.

I know southern food, and I thought I knew most southern expressions and even used them myself. I could reckon so, carry on, go somewhere directly, be fixin' to do something, and straighten up something that was cattywampus. I could be "as serious as a heart attack" and make sure I "didn't get too big for my britches."

Other phrases I needed help understanding, so folks in town (thank you Mrs. Weaver!) tutored me back in the early days of marriage. I learned that "the devil's beatin' his wife" meant it's sunny but also raining. I learned that when I was nearly finished with the dishes, I was "on the short rows" based on the short rows at the end of the tobacco fields where the tractors would turn around.

We'll today, I was complaining about how some of the fruit farms don't yet have apple cider. I said, "I'm so disappointed!" I said it as if this were the worst thing in the whole world.

My mother-in-law turns to me and simply says, "Well now, build a bridge and get over it."

Build a bridge and get over it! Stop your complaining! This isn't anything to fuss about!

I thought about the expression all day. When I want to complain about anything, I know I'll shut my mouth. I'll build a bridge and get over it real quick now. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Morning Light in the Forest

I love foggy mornings that make the sunbeams visible. On the walk to school, we stop and observe the sunlight filtering through the forest. It's so beautiful that we pause and look, take pictures, and sigh.

I will forever love dappled, foggy morning light streaming through trees. I pray I walk a million more miles with these neighbors, on this path, by these woods, in this light.

We agree that long after our children are grown, when we're so old we creak and stumble, we'll walk to school and chase the light.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Hearing All the Stories

I've mostly solved my travel anxiety issues! I realize how much I love asking people about their lives wherever I am. When any setting becomes a rich wonderland of stories, I take my focus off myself and my mind's worries. 

I participate in something extraordinary: you

I've met a researcher caring for Native American communities and offering insight into high risk behaviors. I've listened to tales of bitterness and forgiveness. I've learned of supernatural revelation and prayers. 

Wherever God takes me, I eagerly await your story. And now, you're part of my story. We're in this life together.

So I can travel better now. I'm on the lookout for stories. Who has time for worry? 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

An Inside Peek at Publishing and Promotion (So Excited!)

My little overnight bag is packed because I'm flying to Chicago to speak at Moody Chapel tomorrow. I have two radio interviews while I'm there (WMBI and Chris Fabry Live). I fly home right after. It's so exciting! I'm actually giddy about the people I'll spend time with and even the food I might eat (Just being honest about the food.) I'll get to talk about Jesus and encourage people!

The best part is I just write and arrive places, and my publisher and publicity manager set everything up. They arrange flights and meetings and email you organized itineraries of your time. I knew that part of publishing a book involved promotion, but I didn't realize how it would happen. I was so nervous that book promotion meant me constantly talking about myself, posting pictures of myself on Facebook, tweeting about what airport I happened to sit in, and Instagramming myself every hour. I couldn't do it! It would hurt my soul!

I even told my new website designer from Moody that if my website was a big picture of my face and all about me that I would absolutely cringe. I know that an author website is part of it all, but still.

I didn't want to be a marketing expert; I wanted to be a writer. 

Know this: A great publisher lets you be a writer, not a publicist or marketing expert. A great publisher offers you a team of people who care about you and the book you've written so you don't have to worry all day long about marketing. You can be yourself and celebrate without becoming consumed with fame, sales, or attention.

Praise God for publicists, marketing teams, and godly publishers who let writers write!

It's a fun week. I think back to that first time on local NPR over 5 years ago when I wore my pearls even though nobody would ever see them through the radio. Do you remember? And now, it's the radio again, and I'm going to do it all with flair. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

What You're Used to Seeing

A magnificent transformation occurs in my kitchen. How? I decide it's time to clean the window screens. They just seem dusty and more like a platform for spider webs than anything else. I don't really notice on most days, but since I'm in a change-of-season cleaning frenzy, I pop the screens out to wash them.

But then I realize that I never open these particular windows, especially now in the colder weather. I question why I have screens at all. I therefore put them aside into storage and go about washing my kitchen window, inside and out.

You would think I lived in a brand new sort of house.

The clear view to the forest! The immensely bright late morning sun! It's like that allergy commercial when someone pulls the hazy film off and you see things as they really are, as they are supposed to be. 

That screen blocked more than I could ever imagine. That screen--that I really couldn't discern--hindered my whole experience of the landscape around me. It filtered everything into a dim version of a backyard.

Oh, to remove whatever's dimming my own heart's experience! Oh, to tear off the filter and wipe away the grime to reveal what's always there but shadowed! I take a deep breath and ask God to do this kind of cleansing in me. I cannot look out my window without thinking of all I missed with that screen blocking my view.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

This Must Be For Me

My daughters and I return from the store with a new little rug to place in front of the kitchen sink. Within minutes, our cat, Snowflake, who otherwise refuses to make public appearances, stretches out upon it and curls up into a comfortable little loaf of relaxation.

This is now her little rug, apparently.

I comment to my friend that cats think everything brought into the home must be a gift for them. It's endearing and sweet, and I laugh about it all afternoon. I look at that little cat and think how precious it is to believe that what's brought in must surely be some kind of gift from a benevolent owner.

I think of this cat-like behavior that suddenly seems less selfish and more trusting. It's audacious in an instructive kind of my way for me. I want to stand at the door of my life and see what's coming and think, "Oh, this must be a gift for me," because God is that kind of God.

I want to be more cat-like in my simple belief that what's coming is necessarily a good gift--no matter what the form. Can you imagine approaching the day like this?

Oh, this? This must be for me.

This must be for me because You are a good God of great gifts. 

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Perpetual Kingdom

More and more, I hear sad news. More and more, I realize that my physical reality does not match my expectations for the joy and blessings one might expect in life. There's so much to grieve and so much to worry over.

And yet.

I read this morning astonishing words written by Hannah Whitall Smith (I read her little devotional, God is Enough, most every morning). She writes: "In so far as God's will is done in any individual life, it does bring heaven down into that life and makes that person live in a perpetual kingdom."

A perpetual kingdom? Here? Now? In this kind of sorrowful life all around? One has only to watch the news and wonder what kind of kingdom this is.

I find this truth at work: I'm beginning to feel the perpetual kingdom inside. There's a soul kind of joy and peace and love that exist in the midst of physical distress. I think of how, in 2 Corinthians 4:16 we are told, "Do not lose heart. Though outwardly, we are wasting away, inwardly we are being renewed day by day."

The inward renewal stands in stark contrast to the outward wasting. I tell my friend that it's like a hatching of the soul to live in this kind of kingdom reality when everything else--to the natural senses--wastes away in moments of loss and disappointment, disease and suffering.

So I think of our own souls more and more. This is what God promises to guard and care for. This is what lives in the perpetual kingdom, available now, to the eye of faith.

Friday, September 18, 2015

It's the Orange and Blue

Right around this time of year, I see such vibrant blues: the bluebirds, the sky, even recycling bins--they all pop differently. 

Then I realize it's because of the orangey-brown everywhere: the acorns, leaf tips, and pumpkins. 

The contrast of blue and orange (opposites!) enhances so much around me this season. 

I don't particularly enjoy blue or orange, but together, I can't resist their beauty. 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

If Your Group Isn't Gelling: Try These 4 Things

Right around this point in the semester, classes and various campus groups should gel. 

It should feel like a community, like a gathering of like-minded friends committed to the same goal.

It should feel like a group complete with inside jokes. You walk in, and everyone knows your name. They might even know where you've been and where you're going next. There's a freedom of expression, a sigh of relaxation, and an ease of togetherness.

When this doesn't happen by the end of September in my classes, I amp up the following (besides fervent prayer for community):

1). Treats! Treats of all kinds to share--whether coffee, candy, or baked goods--create community as we're all eating together. 

2). The teacher (or leader) should share even more about herself. Show family pictures. Play favorite songs. Describe professional projects, life outside of class, and hobbies. Do this more and more. 

3). Talk about what everyone's watching or listening to, what news they care about, or what kind of places they enjoying going on campus. Agree to all watch or listen to the same things. Maybe everyone's going to watch the same television show and talk about it before class. Maybe everyone will follow the same news story. 

4). More name games! Yes, even more name games. I include my updated list below. 

I hope these tips help your classrooms and groups this week. 

50 Name Games! Enjoy! 

1.  What is the most interesting course you have ever taken in school?
2.  What is your favorite quotation?
3.  What is one item you might keep forever?
4.  What were you known for in high school?  Did you have any nicknames?
5.  If you could have witnessed any event in sports history, what would it be?
6.  What is something you consider beautiful?
7.  What was your first CD or song you played over and over again?
8.  What accomplishment are you most proud of?
9.  If you could be an apprentice to any person, living or deceased, from whom would you want to learn?
10.  What are three things that make you happy?
11.  What's one movie you think everyone should see?  What's a movie you think nobody should see?
12.  Who inspires you?
13.  What's one thing you want to do before you die?
14.  Get in groups of three people.  What's the most bizarre thing you have in common?
15.  Whenever you are having a bad day, what is the best thing you can do to help cheer yourself up?
16.  Have you ever experienced something unexplainable or supernatural?
17.  What was your best Halloween costume?
18.  What’s the last item you purchased?
19.  What was the last thing you Googled?
20.  What YouTube video do you watch over and over?
21.  What's the kindest act you've ever witnessed?
22.  Tell us one thing you know you do well (a talent?) and one thing you know you cannot do.
23.  What is your favorite way to procrastinate?
24.  What is your favorite home-cooked meal?
25.  What was your favorite childhood toy?
26.  What do you do other than study?  What clubs are you involved in?
27.  What was your first job?
28.  Have you met a famous person? Who?
29.  What's the story behind your name?
30.  Do you believe in anything that most people might not believe in?
31.  I wish everyone would___________________
32.  What's the best sound effect you can make?
33.  What's the funniest thing you did as a kid that people still talk about today?
34.  What idea do you think is worth arguing about?
35.  Tell us something quirky about you. 
36.  For what reason do others often seek your help or input?
37. Share your guilty pleasure (something you enjoy that embarrasses you—like watching Disney Channel)?
38. What is one thing that’s important for others to know about you?
39. Do you still do anything today that you also loved to do as a child?
40. Do you have any daily rituals?
41. What is the most misunderstood word you can think of?
42. What is the first book you remember changing you somehow?
43. Pass on one piece of wisdom to the class.
44. Do you have an irrational fear or strange addiction?
45. What’s been the most surprising thing about college?
46. What is your biggest pet peeve?
47. Tell us about any animal friends you have.
49. What’s something new you’ve learned this week?
50. What thought keeps you up at night? 

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Acorn Flour and Most Delicious Bread

I'm crunching enormous acorns underfoot on the walk to school, and it's not even October yet. I remember the afternoon in October 2011 when we gathered acorns to make the most delicious Acorn Bread. I wish to do so again, so I reread my post and have reposted it here for you.

And, of course, the lesson in bitterness still applies to this little heart of mine.

If you have an acorn recipe, I would love to hear about it!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

How We Made Acorn Flour (A Lesson in Bitterness)

We gather the acorns from our oak tree.

A Bowl of Acorns

Then, we carefully crack the shells and remove the nutmeat (I use a little hammer and a pick).

Cracking Acorns (with a Hammer!)

Shelling Acorns

We shell about 2 cups worth of nuts because this is our first experiment.   

Acorn Nutmeat 
Then, it's time for the long process of removing the tannins.  I learn that tannins can harm you; they inflict stomach distress and kidney problems if you consume large amounts of this bitter substance.  Removing the bitter tannins requires time and a steady flush of fresh water--either cold (like in a stream over a week-long period as the Native Americans did) or boiling hot (the quicker way).

Removing Acorn Tannins by Boiling Method
When boiling, the water turns a deep brownish-black.  Every 20 minutes, I change the water.  After several hours, the water boils clear, and that tells me the tannins are gone.  To be sure, I'm told to taste a nut.  If it tastes like a sweet pasta--bland and not bitter--I've successfully leached the tannins.  Since my acorns are from a Red Oak, they taste supremely bitter (as opposed to a White Oak), so removing these tannins takes nearly 4 hours.  If I had finely chopped the nuts, I could leach them faster.

The verb leach, by the way, means to drain away and remove.  Here I am, leaching bitterness out of acorns, and the spiritual parallel rises up as surely as the sweet smell of acorn nutmeat.   Those nuts submit to the process of cleansing, of uncomfortably stressful temperatures, over a long period of time.  No wonder life seems hard sometimes.

Perhaps I'm being leached.

Finally, I take the leached nuts and grind them in a food processor.  I want a course grind for a hearty, nutty bread.

Grinding the Acorn Nuts
I add a few cups to a regular bread recipe (flour, yeast, honey or sugar, oil, egg).  I knead the dough, let it rise for one hour, and bake it at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.  I've heard you want to use equal parts acorn flour and another flour or even cornmeal. 

Acorn Flour for Bread 

Acorn Bread Loaf

The bread tastes absolutely delicious.  It's a warm, nutty, rich bread that the girls spread with sweet cream butter for breakfast.  I'm not an expert in acorns, but the research claims that as long as you leach out the tannins, your acorns can provide muffins, breads, pancakes, cakes, and a whole variety of baked goods. 

But you need that fresh water, boiled for a long time. 

Lord, leach me.  Remove every bitter thing in my heart.  

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

What I Respect Most in Others

In her book, Writing to Change the World, Mary Pipher asks writers to consider various questions to help us understand ourselves better. One of her questions is this:

What do you most respect in others? 

Immediately, I knew.

It's kindness. 

In other words, benevolence. In other words, the willingness to want, with every interaction, to help others and to love them. I find kindness irresistible. I'd rather have kind children than smart, talented, or beautiful ones. I'd rather be known as kind than clever. 

It's kindness. I pray for this character trait to grow in me and my family more and more. 

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Day I Lectured in a Math Class

Today I guest lectured in a Math class of all things. Are you chuckling with compassion? I comforted myself and eased my nerves by saying, "Whatever weakness I possess in math, I more than make up for in verbs."

I aimed to help math students write more clearly and effectively as they blog about various measurable environmental issues--whether water, meat consumption, fracking, or any interesting and timely environmental matter. I'm inviting them to showcase their equations and results in a way that engages a real audience and motivates them to change.

What a fun, unusual day! Picture me up there alongside the math professors. Picture all the incomprehensible math formulas swirling about (they weren't actually there; I saw them in my mind, and I didn't understand a single thing). Picture my song and dance of verbs, semicolons, and sentence patterns.

Patterns? Hey, this moment synchronized writing and numbers after all. Writing contains a numeric component! Oh, beautiful harmony!

Yes, I brought a handout with 400 of my favorite verbs. I counted them, probably incorrectly. 

I wish to collaborate even more with my mathematics professor friends. I enjoyed myself thoroughly. I even took a photo to commemorate the day I lectured to mathematics students and survived.

And I was invited back next semester. Sweet victory!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Better and Better

On this beautifully chilled Sunday, we all enjoy Pennsylvania's gentle transition to autumn. We bring in enormous acorns to paint already, and we've even turned over the closets into colder weather clothes. We swing the back door wide open to let in the crisp morning air. We brew coffee and bring home the pumpkin spiced creamer now available. I'll make my first batch of butternut squash soup this week.

It's autumn! Nothing feels better than this as I get dressed for church. It's such a happy morning, and I haven't even had coffee yet.

As I pull the pumpkin spiced creamer from the refrigerator full of a disproportionate amount of joy (it's just creamer), my youngest shakes her head as if I'm simply too easy to please. She looks at me and says, "Well this day just keeps getting better and better for you doesn't it?"

Yes, it does. It's the kind of season that brings better and better things. I can't wait for the leaves to change colors, for the apple cider at the fruit farm, for the harvest candles and wreaths, and for the warm sweaters--no coat yet--that I pull on each morning.

Yes, it gets better and better.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Strange, Relaxing Things

I love to practice typing. I know it's strange. But it is so relaxing to take online typing tests. I sit there, typing, and let the worries of the world dissolve.

I just realized that, if I ever stopped teaching or writing, I would make an amazing typist. I can type 105 words per minute! I'm trying to improve my score.

I'm so glad I could share this strange enjoyment with you.

So, here I go, being myself and loving to type.

Friday, September 11, 2015

How It's Going to Happen

This morning I find myself reading the story of when Naaman was healed of leprosy in 2 Kings 5. It's been years since I've read this account of a commander who seeks healing from the Lord. Do you know it?

If you remember, Naaman goes to the prophet Elisha, but Elisha merely sends a messenger to Naaman to announce something rather common and ordinary. The messenger tells Naaman, "Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed."

What a joy! What an incredible promise! Restoration! Healing! Cleansing!

But no. Naaman leaves angry.

He's so disappointed in this boring remedy.

He wants Elisha to call on the name of the Lord in a grand display of power and authority. He wants Elisha to "wave his hand over the spot and cure [him]." Scripture says that the messenger's words of merely washing in the Jordan causes "rage" within Naaman. His servants, however, tell him something wonderful:

"If the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you 'Wash and be cleansed'!"

So Naaman comes to his senses and does this ordinary act of washing. He merely washes seven times in the Jordan. He's healed. He's restored. His flesh "became clean like that of a young boy."

I think about how impossible it was for Naaman to accept God's ordinary and boring instructions. Oh, I know what that feels like! But these simple instructions overflowed with the power and authority of the Lord. They were the means of healing, but Naaman couldn't see it. He was just disappointed in God.

He thought that God worked in grand, showy displays. Naaman thought, perhaps, that if God had asked him to do something really hard, really important, or really unique that surely that must be how God worked.

But it wasn't. The supernatural moment came through something ordinary. As I layer up ordinary days of walking children to school, preparing after school snacks, and loving my neighbors within this mile, I remember the power and presence of God that come about in simple, everyday moments.

If I'm disappointed because I wanted some other kind of grand evidence of God's work in my life, I remember Naaman and God's simple instructions.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Telling A New Story About Yourself

I listen to a line by Jennifer Aaker, professor of Marketing at the Stanford Graduate School of Business in her Leadership and Management video called, "Harnessing the Power of Stories." A few years ago, I wrote a post about this same line. 

The line? 

This: "First, which stories might you want to stop telling? They're not useful to you anymore. The second is, what are new stories you need to cultivate?" 

Maybe there's a story you should stop telling. 

Maybe there's one you must now tell. 

I remember the line today because so many of us keep telling the same story about our lives that maybe we need to stop telling because it's a toxic narrative, an unproductive tale of woe, or a shadow narrative that the enemy of our soul traps us in. I've spent years chained to certain stories of rejection, loss, or bitter memories. I didn't know how to let my life tell a different story. 

Aaker challenges us to "populate" our portfolios with new, great stories that showcase who we are, what we value, and how others change from our narratives. The stories I began to tell of Neighborhood Fitness and the Walk to School Campaign, my "Go Early" model of community building and classroom name games, and my journey of being seated with Christ changed me and empowered others. 

They are new stories of hope and vision and victory. Even this blog was a way to populate my life with new stories each day. 

I think that Aaker's advice helped me break free from telling stories that don't, somehow, heal and empower others. When I feel trapped again in some kind of negative, hopeless narrative, I can give myself permission to tell this story differently or tell a different story entirely.

And really, these new stories are all the same theme of once this, now this. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Giving Not to Get

This morning, the Italian Mama and I talk about coming to the point in our lives when we work from a sense of giving--of love, really--and not from a need to gain importance or prove ourselves.

Why does it take so long to get here? Why couldn't I have felt this way in my 20's and 30's (yes, I turn 40 in a few weeks)? Why was so much about striving to matter and to make a contribution that was really about me more than anything else?

What does work feel like now? It feels like love, peace, and joy. It feels like self-abandonment and Holy Spirit overflow into teaching, writing, and community work.

Here I am.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

What I'm Teaching this Week

I know that some of you readers follow my blog because you love it when I talk about writing or give a writing lesson, so for you, here's a snapshot of my week in a college writing course.

This week, I'm teaching on the thesis position--embedded in a stellar introduction--in my freshman course. These writers analyze a single print advertisement to showcase what rhetorical strategies designers use to create consumer desire. This paper also critiques the ideology--or worldview--presented in the advertisement. We spend our classroom time noting curious and often-overlooked observations about these ads. We talk about complexity, subtlety, and why their analysis matters. Shaping these thoughts into a precise statement about what the paper will argue (that moves beyond the obvious) challenges students, but by the end of the week, they'll have it down.

They write introductions that appeal to ethos (their expertise or trustworthiness), pathos (emotion), and logos (logical reasoning). They must juggle these terms in addition to kairos (good timing of the argument). These freshmen already know how to masterfully use the semicolon, dash, colon, parentheses, comma, varied sentence patterns, and word play, so we're all primed to write. They'll read their fabulous introductions aloud on Thursday and endure the critique of their peers.

My juniors and seniors have a less complex but much more anxious week: they share their resume, cover letter, and personal mission statement for review. Today, each student read all 24 professional packets of their class peers and noted (in addition to editing and revising format or weak sentences) what made these materials memorable. Why would an employee hire this person? How will they add value? Afterwards, we voted for the most impressive professional packet. Thursday, they turn this material in for a grade and begin their next project: The Signature Story (a short, professional memoir piece).

I still use How to Write with Flair for the first two weeks of class. I know it might sound boring or too much work, but we are having a great time using vivid verbs, playing name games, and gaining an authentic written voice. What could be more fun?

Monday, September 7, 2015

As I Cleaned the Blinds

As I cleaned the plastic blinds today--each one by hand with a little cloth and hot water--I realized what I wasn't thinking.

I wasn't wishing for different blinds.

I wasn't wishing for other views out of the window that let me peer on the great oak that one autumn dropped so many acorns we had to make acorn flour.

I wasn't wishing for a different task or a more important or glamorous one. I wasn't wishing for my children to be any different from exactly as they are--even the way they make the cookie dough and then abandon it so I'm baking the cookies by myself every single time.

The timer dings as I wring out my cloth, wash my hands, and then bring the cookies from the oven. I arrange more dough on the pan and set the timer again.

I return to the kind of task that nobody will ever notice unless I point it out: "Did you see my sparkling blinds? How clean they are? Did you notice?"

No. Nobody thinks about the blinds.

But still, I stand there and feel settled into the moment and into my own life. I'm cleaning the blinds for me. I'm simply enjoying the routine task of it and the full minute it takes for each little slat.

Nothing has to be different. I'm in no hurry and have no one to please.

So I clean the blinds and thank God for every little thing: the cookies, the blinds, the oak tree, the acorns, and the children here. I wasn't asking for anything else for once in my life.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Surrounding Nature of God

I think about the hiding place within the Lord today. I'm reading Psalm 32--David's teaching psalm (a maskil)--and I'm enthralled by this concept of the surrounding nature of God. The psalm declares to God:

You are my hiding place;
you will protect me from trouble
and surround me with songs of deliverance.
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.

And a few verses later, I read how "the Lord's unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in him."

When I sit alone in my bedroom and look out as the morning sun filters through the Weeping Cherry, I imagine myself hidden in this great thicket of God's embrace. How strange to consider the spiritual reality that we are inside of God somehow. How wonderful to understand that we are enclosed in a space bordered by songs. How secure to know that, here, God teaches us with His loving eye on us.

With His loving eye on us!

Later, in church, I turn to Exodus 23:20 and read an astonishing mystery. God says, "Behold, I am going to send an angel before you to guard you along the way and to bring you into the place which I have prepared."

I think about this God--this surrounding, singing, teaching, watching God, this God who sends angels, this God who guards us along the way--and I feel a different kind of joy and peace rise up within me.

David wrote the psalm to teach us this mystery: we can access the secret hiding place within God. His unfailing love surrounds us, and we can move about our ordinary days with this deep joy and peace.

I imagine in the chaos and rubble that a song and an angel surrounds everything about this moment.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

When Your Neighbor Gives You Zucchini

I never know what to do with zucchini.

My neighbor offers up her bounty, and they sit on my counter, mocking me. I think of every strange thing God adds into my life that makes me think: What shall I do with this now? What good is this?

Then I remember this like a distant message of hope: Zucchini Fritters.

You shred your zucchini using a cheese grater, press all the liquid out with paper towels, add 2 egg whites, 1/2 cup flour, salt, pepper, and whatever else you wish to add to your glorious little cakes (we grated an onion, but we could have used carrots or potatoes).

We bake these happy blobs like cookies at 400 degrees until crisp (these took nearly 30 minutes--longer than I thought!) I serve them to my daughter with a dollop of sour cream, and she begs for a few more.

We chose to bake these (because I thought they'd be healthier), but here's a yummy fried recipe from Just a Taste: 5 Ingredient Zucchini Fritters. 

I eat three of them for lunch and remember how I almost wasted God's good gifts because I couldn't imagine their use.

Friday, September 4, 2015

In Us All Along

Someone I never in a million years thought would ever, ever do something like this announced that he has, in fact, auditioned for community theater. It was a dream from long ago, perhaps tucked away deep into the heart, that just now awakens for its time in the spotlight.

The courage it took! I feel it all: the deep breath, the "Here goes!", the racing heart, and the shutting up of any voice that says, "You are too old."

I think of the time my friend after all these years--three decades of waiting--decided to audition for community theater and won the lead role in her fifties. Oh, how we cheered her on and gave so many flowers on opening night!

I think of the year the Italian Mama found her dancing shoes again after all those years.

I think of growing older and how, sometimes, dreams wake up and call out: It's time for me. 

Living with flair means, no matter what our age or how long it's been, we take a deep breath and do this new thing that's been in our hearts all along.

That's how it was the day I sat in my basement after five years of staying home and said to myself, "I want to teach college students again." That's how it was the day I knew I had to tell the story inside.

If it's time, it's time. Age and circumstances rarely matter. Dreams always find a way out.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Homework Hour

Believe it or not, my favorite time of the day is after dinner when everyone gathers again at the dinner table for "Homework Hour."

We can enjoy a warm beverage or a treat as every family member finishes some kind of work for an hour. It's a communal and collaborative hour. We talk about what we're all working on--whether a family history project for the 5th grader, a Spanish lesson for the 8th grader, finances for Dad, and grading for Mom. I love the togetherness and the lively chatter about what we're learning. Nobody is off hiding in a room or at a lonely desk somewhere; we're all just here with one another and enjoying the blessing of schoolwork.

Last night we institute the "Homework Hour" once again as the new school year and semester begins. Even if there's no homework assigned, we encourage some kind of work for the hour. Maybe we work ahead and anticipate what's coming. Maybe we start a new art or writing project.

Nobody asks to watch television or use technology during this hour. Why would we? It's too much fun being together like this as the hot and humid days of summer transform into the crisp and cozy evenings of autumn.

I can hardly wait for Homework Hour.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Like Anne of Green Gables

I finish reading Anne of Green Gables a few nights ago. This morning on the walk to school, a new little delight of a child walks beside me, and she has named sections of our journey just like Anne does on her own walk.

There's the Path of Peril, the Wondering Way, and others that I cannot remember. What I do remember is this: the reason why the one stretch of an impossible sidewalk's hill is called Wondering is that you can't make it to the top without distracting yourself with wondering about something.

I shall forever wonder on the Wondering Way. I shall be my bravest self on the Path of Peril. I shall traverse the Transfixing Trail. I shall pick juicy fruit when we pass Raspberry Delight.

What a glorious morning here in our neighborhood!