How to Savor (and Lose Weight) with Flair

Living with flair means to savor. You take the smallest thing (a punctuation mark, a turtle, a hand in the wind), and like some judge on Iron Chef, you test its quality. Then you announce its worth. Announcing the worth of small things has changed my life this month. I anticipate the greatness of common moments.

Today’s “flair moment” came in the form of a meat cake. They do exist. http://www.blackwidowbakery.com/demo/meatcake/. A friend celebrated her 28th birthday party at my home last night, and someone honored her with a meat cake. The frosting was mashed potatoes whipped as lovely as buttercream. The rosettes were perfectly formed swirls of bacon. It was food art at its best.

I tried a little–just enough to savor the taste. Appreciating its artistry provided more pleasure than the actual eating (although it was good). I love to consider the art in food. Give me sushi or lemon meringue pies, and I’ll enjoy the composition and admire the chef. I tend to not overeat when the food itself is lovely.

And food is lovely. Why don’t I notice it? Eating is common; I do it usually 3-5 times a day, every single day of my life (sometimes more–sometimes a lot more). I tended to not notice my food, though, until this year.

I’ve lost 35 pounds, and it has something to do with living with flair–with savoring things. Stopping to enjoy the beauty of my food has helped me not shove it so quickly, and in such large amounts, into my mouth. Can eating be an act of thanksgiving, of worship, of . . . flair? I want to savor flavors, textures, colors, and smells. I want to take small bites and be completely satisfied with the greatness of small portions. I really don’t need more.

Living with flair means savoring. And, as a result, being satisfied with much less than I thought I’d need (in my stomach and in my life).

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5 Ways to Write with Flair

If I’m going to live with flair, I have to think about communicating with flair. Most of us will have thousands of occasions for writing in the next year: emails, text messages, resumes, blog entries, cover letters, articles, love letters, essays, reports, memos, or our next big novel. After ten years of teaching, after reading over six thousand student essays (I counted once), and after analyzing more grammar books than any person should, I wrote this book called “How to Write with Flair.” And then I thought about living with flair, and well, you know the rest.

But back to how to write with flair.

It’s easy. I know 5 tricks. Ready?

1. Choose a verb with flair. Eliminate feeble verbs (am is are was were has have had seems appear exists). These verbs don’t show anything happening. Use exciting verbs. I love verbs like grapple and fritter. Grapple with strong verbs to fritter away the feeble ones.

2. Toggle between the Big 5 punctuation marks: Semicolon, colon, dash, parentheses, comma. Here’s a paragraph that embeds these tricks.

When you want to create complexity and voice in your writing, try using the Big 5. To highlight a part of your sentence–like this one–use dashes. Dashes shout. On the other hand, if you want to whisper and share a secret with an audience (like this one), use parentheses. Parentheses whisper. Semicolons confuse most; they unite full sentences that belong together because the second sentence explains or amplifies the first. Commas help the reader along by following introductory clauses, or they combine two sentences when you want to use a conjunction like and, but, for, or, nor, so (We can talk later about this; commas are really hard unless you had grammar instruction as a kid). Finally, the colon designates that a list or definition will follow. So the Big 5 include: semicolon, colon, dash, parentheses, comma. Do you feel smart?

3. Vary the length of your sentences and change the way they start to create rhythm. See sample paragraph above.

4. Garnish your paragraph with some clever wordplay if you can. Common cleverness in writing includes: puns, repeated first words, self-answering questions, understatement, just being funny, just being YOU.

5. Engage your audience. Establish rapport by talking to them. Are you wondering how this works? Just notice them in your writing (like I just did). Make it obvious that you are talking to people.

Try these simple things to create some flair in your emails or reports today. Enjoy some written flair.

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The Holy in the Dusty

I think you can clean a basement with flair. It takes some imagination though. Right now, I’m covered with dust and dead ladybugs. Cleaning a basement this morning made me think about what motivates me to do it at all:

1.I have to believe in the inherent rightness of order and beauty.

2.I have to believe it can become a holy place. Why not? Why couldn’t wonderful and miraculous things happen in my basement?

Living with flair means turning the boring and hard into the stuff of wonder.

Cleaning a basement means you touch objects: papers, toys, stuff. Then you reminisce briefly. Then you toss that thing in a bin for Salvation Army, a recycling bin, or the Big Black Trash Bag. I realize the deep psychology behind my attachment to objects. There’s a story attached to each one; I know this. But there’s also freedom in moving on to new stories, cleansing a home, and getting some fresh air in.

I have to make space for the new.

As I cleaned my office in the far recesses of the basement this morning, I thought about how to sanctify it somehow. As I cleaned, I tried to set it apart for the use it would have. How much grading, lesson planning, reflection, writing, or correspondence happens right in that space? What if, as I cleaned, I prayed that the space would be used for good, for blessing, for unimaginable joy? Why do we think churches or temples are the only holy sites?

I moved onto the unholy play area. As I tossed toys and torn Polly Pocket dresses (those things are the bane of my existence), I prayed over the new space. Could God infuse the playroom with wonder, creativity, and friendship? Could miracles happen in my dusty basement? What children would play here? What students would gather? What family memories would happen and be stored deep for generations?

My prayers, often, are too limited in scope. Not today. Not in my basement.

Cleaning a basement has something to do with cleaning the heart and mind and inviting beauty in. Living with flair means setting apart the dirtiest and dustiest (the bowels of a house!) for a joyous use.

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Flair for a Lifetime

I’m trying to train myself to notice things. That’s really what living with flair means. I try to notice interesting things about the day and connect these moments to larger questions about life. Simple. Sometimes this practice results in ridiculous amounts of joy and laughter.

Take, for example, my afternoon drive in my minivan to go return overdue library books (not flair).

In my attempt to notice (literally pay attention), I tried to deliberately watch people as I waited at a stoplight downtown. Maybe I’d find a bit of flair in doing this.

All of a sudden, I saw this really cute guy out of the corner of my eye. In a college town filled with guys, this one caught my attention. In a brief glance, I noticed his sunglasses, his jeans, and how he had his hands shoved into his pockets. I looked away, embarrassed that I would notice hot guys in the crosswalk at my age. But nevertheless, I had to look back. I wanted to get one more look at this gorgeous guy.

I looked back and started giggling. I knew that guy. The guy was my husband! I’m not kidding! It was! He was walking back to his office from a lunch appointment. I’m laughing as I write this.

I called him immediately.

So it was his flair for the day too.

I suppose living with flair has something to do with loving deeply, noticing that person because you’ve chosen to pay attention, and then telling that person exactly what you see. Seeing my husband in a different setting caught me by surprise. And I noticed him. That kind of flair can last a lifetime.

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A Rope and a Smile

Every morning, without fail, these two little boys find me on the walk to school, and they ask me for a “cat story.” They know I have three cats. Don’t worry: I heard that you don’t become a crazy cat woman until you have 5 cats. I’m well below this threshold. And don’t worry: this won’t become a blog about my cats.

So the boys wanted a cat story. Here goes:

My little black and white cat likes us to run around the house, dragging a yellow rope she found somewhere. Recently, she’s learned to find the rope, grasp it in her mouth, and carry it to wherever we are sitting (this is a big deal for a little cat). If I’m busy, she finds anyone who’ll help. She brings the rope, drops it by a foot, and then meows and meows for somebody, anybody, to drag this rope for her to chase.

She’s relentless.

You’d think this would annoy me; it delights me instead.

I recognized something about this little kitty. Cats are supremely independent, supremely aloof. And yet, what does this cat do? Learning to carry a rope to me, dropping it like that, needing me so much, is cat flair. She temporarily suspends her superior, I-don’t-need-you, cattitude. She knows she can’t make the rope jiggle and race across the living room. This cat knows her limitations. This somehow doesn’t bother her. That’s the flair.

Why is it so hard to admit when I have a need that only another person can meet? I’m the type of girl who would find the rope, even drag it someplace in hopes of playing, and figure out a way to make it move myself. What’s with this attitude of independence? When was the last time I admitted to somebody that I needed them, really needed them?

Living with flair means acknowledging my limitations and approaching others for help. We think it annoys people, but more often than not, it delights.

Running around my house with an old yellow rope and a cat on my heels makes me smile. It’s a gift to me, not her.

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Why Men Need Playdates

I’m amazed with the sort of texts I receive on any given day. I’m underwhelmed by the kind my husband might get. For example, in the last two days, my girlfriends have texted me about new underwear, how much they love iced mochas, invitations to try on dresses, coffee dates, random comments about life, how much they love me, or about arranging various playdates with our children.

My husband? He maybe gets calls about when the minivan is ready from the autoshop. What men are texting him to celebrate new underwear or fantastic coffee drinks? I know he’s busy working and, you know, fixing things, but doesn’t he need to connect with guys? He does! He does!

This is why the women in my neighborhood intentionally arranged a playdate for all of our husbands: Friday Night Poker. Nobody knows the secret mysteries of this night, but we surmise it involves lots of laughter.

“We should do this more often,” somebody said at the poker night. “If, that is, it’s OK with everybody.”

So this week they are playing pool. When my husband needed to call one of the guys to arrange the night, he had to use my cell phone to find the number, and I had to call and talk to the wife first, who then found her husband and handed him the phone.

I know not all men are like this. But I wonder if most wish they had a playdate this weekend. Most men have trouble, unlike women, inviting men alongside them as they live life. Women, on the other hand, invite other women into nearly everything (bathrooms, dressing rooms, our kitchens and living rooms).

Seeing the joy of those guys getting together for now regular playdates has been on my mind all day. Living with flair means I facilitate friendships between the men in my life. Surely, they need it. Surely, they love it. They may not talk about underwear (maybe they do), but at least they are talking. Living with flair means honoring the men in my life who don’t have time to text all day about clothes or coffee. Maybe they would if they could. I think men need to have deep friendships, and for whatever reason (schedules, exhaustion, fear) they sometimes don’t. My flair for the day is intentionally being the kind of person who encourages playdates for men in my life.

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Finding Some Flair in Pain

I have a bad knee. One of these days I’m going to have to get a new one. My right knee has a personality of its own. Ever since a surgery I had in college, my knee has attitude.

Today it’s in a bad mood. So it hurts. It really hurts. I can’t sleep when it gets that way, and I wake up grumpy. And then I think about the fact that it’s hurting all day. Then I’m mad at my knee. And then I go crazy trying to think about what to do with the pain.

So here’s what I did for my out-of-the-ordinary flair moment:

I thought about all my knee has done for me in my life: the carpet burns it has endured as I crawled as a baby, the bike crashes it has absorbed, the stitches from that summer I fell at the pool, the times it had me kneeling in prayer, the beautiful landscapes it has taken me to, the nervous taps from my fingers it received all those long school days, the skirts it peeked out from when I was finally allowed to wear a miniskirt (hello 80’s), the garter it held up on my wedding day, the babies it bounced, the dirty hands wiped on it from children, the floors it helped scrub, the way it lets me dance (I’m getting better at “Beat It”), the walks it takes to school, the way I slap it in the coffee shop when seated with friends who make me laugh, the frisbee it lets me catch, impossibly, by the jump and the mid-air turn last night(that’s why I’m in pain). . .

Oh, the knee!

I’m not mad about my knee. Living with flair means being thankful for that darn bum knee. So, yes, it’s really painful today, but do you want to hear about how my knee once peddled me along the Potomac River at dusk? That day, I remembered loving my life because of the fish surfacing, because of the golden sun that lit every leaf with some magic radiance, and because of the hope I felt back then that my life could become extraordinary. I was 10 years old.

It’s not a solution to pain. But thanking my knee prevented another, more despairing pain: bitterness. Living with flair means I choose the beautiful and not the bitter.

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Flair in the Face

I’ve never met anyone who loves his or her own face.

This morning, as I put on lipstick (hey, you can take the woman out of the South, but you can’t take the South out of a woman), I had a flashback flair moment.

When I was eighteen years old, a woman I didn’t know stopped me as I was bending down to talk to a group of children at a summer camp where I worked.

She pulled me aside as the children ran on and said, “You have such a loving face.” Loving? Loving? Not beautiful? It was a strange and wonderful compliment. She continued to tell me that she saw how my face was loving the children.

As I put the lipstick down this morning, I thought about how that single statement changed how I think about my face. I started to love my face and what it could do. I still love make-up. I still curl my hair and pluck my eyebrows. I still conceal the dark circles under my eyes. It’s fun to primp sometimes.

But I don’t obsess about whether or not I’m beautiful.

Living with flair means loving my face because of whom it can show love to. And it means accepting (and giving) strange and wonderful compliments that have the power to change a life. That stranger used 5 words to strip away my fixation on beauty. It’s over a decade old, that compliment. But it’s my flair for today.

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Giving an “F” with Flair

You already impress me; you don’t have to earn my approval.

I believe this when I look at my students. It’s my theology of teaching (and life). Just as favor is bestowed on me, I bestow it on my students. This means students amaze me regardless of the paper they turn in. This makes grading hard. When you believe the best about people, when you see their inherent dignity, you find it nearly impossible to even give a B- without suffering internally. The “F’s” nearly hospitalize me.

“This hurts me more than it hurts you,” I told a student once.

“I believe you,” she said.

On my evaluations that year, she wrote that I was more traumatized by her C in the class than she was. And it does traumatize me. I think it has something to do with living with flair.

I like to find what’s right, not just what’s wrong. It’s a different way of looking at a paper (and a life). It’s easy to criticize; it’s easy to complain. Anybody can do it. What’s not so easy is finding the hidden gem of what’s right.

Flair means subtext. I have to look beneath the surface of something and glean the good. When it comes to student writing, I try to see what they would have said if they could have. I want to honor that, even if I have to fail a student.

Living with flair means I see beneath the error: the sloppy sentence construction, the incorrect comma, the feeble verb. It means I practice reversing the culture of criticism and complaint. I find the good, name it, and then evaluate what could improve.

There’s some beauty there, some perfectly crafted essay (or life!) buried beneath the mess.

I love what the poet Carl Sandburg’s wife wrote to him on a postcard at the lowest point in his writing life. She said, “You are great and great! I know the poems are in you, Carl. We just have to get them out of you.”

Living with flair means I draw out what’s often hidden beneath the sloppy, the incorrect, and the feeble. I find what’s right. As I’m grading this stack of papers today, I do it with flair. It means celebrating and not just criticizing.

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What a Pancake Can Do

I just threw a pancake across the kitchen, and my husband caught it on his plate. The sticky syrup helped snag it. He laughed and said, “Now that’s flair.”

We have a Saturday morning pancake ritual. Many families in our neighborhood do. There’s something about all of the neighbors, nestled in their cozy kitchens, eating pancakes in their respective houses that triggers the flair sensor.

The pancake ritual connects me to my family and my neighbors. I’m thankful that I can expand my sense of family to include an entire neighborhood. Rituals are like that: they connect people. We have a great neighborhood, but we didn’t always feel so connected.

This year, we put some rituals in place. We have a walking to school ritual, an evening bike riding and jump rope ritual, and a monthly potluck ritual. These patterns bind us together and create a wonderful community.

My sociologist friend (the same one who learned the “Beat It” moves in my kitchen with me) talks about the importance of ritual in relationships and in larger communities. Rituals are the mark of connectedness; they are sacred spaces that unite people. So when I’m drinking coffee with my husband at the same time every morning (7:00 AM—the kids are running around getting backpacks packed and teeth brushed), I feel close to him, secure, and connected. Our family rituals like dinner time questions, reading before bedtime, church on Sunday morning, or any host of regular, predictable events make us feel settled. In fact, if we try to change a family ritual, the kids will say, “But Mom, it’s tradition.”

So my flair for today is flipping pancakes with my family. I used to think that flair needed to be unique and unpredictable each day. But this morning, I realized the flair in the regular routine. The fact that it’s regular (same time, same ritual) makes it flair.

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