Celebrating 100 Days of Flair with. . . Fire Ants

Here I am, at the grand celebration of my 100th day of the “Live with Flair” blog, and the flair moment is. . . fire ants.  I was secretly hoping for fanfare. Something big!  Something extraordinary!  Maybe I’d wake up to an elephant in my front yard or I’d find buried treasure.   

But it’s fire ants.  I suppose that’s rather true to the project:  I want to find the extraordinary meaning in the common things.  Well, here goes. 

I’m walking in an area where fire ants bite us as we travel from the front porch to where our cars are parked.  A fire ant bite can be extremely painful and, for those of us with allergies to bites and stings, potentially deadly.

A family member calls out:  “Just keep movin’!  They won’t get ya if you just keep movin’!  It’s when you stop that those fire ants get into your shoes!”

It becomes a family joke whenever we leave the car.  “Just keep movin!” we repeat, laughing but also running to the porch as fast as we can.   

Something about that phrase made the flair bells ring.  To avoid those ants, it’s absolutely critical that I don’t stay in one place.  I have to move.  I can’t be stagnant or else trouble comes. 

If you look up the word “stagnant” you’ll find it means this:  Lacking freshness, motion, flow, progress, or change; stale.

I want a life that moves.  I want motion, flow, progress, and change.  I want fresh.

As I age, I realize I have to create motion.  I have to choose progress and flow.  Maybe it means I read a new book or find a new friend.   Or it means I learn a new skill.  Or I learn a new dance. 

Left to themselves, things do stagnate.  Without thinking, I could stay right here, doing nothing.  And in that place of stale, unwanted things invade and take over–like fire ants.  Friendships, marriage, parent-child relationships, spiritual growth, my relationship to myself, my relationship to the natural world, my teaching, my writing–it can all stagnate unless I develop a plan for fresh flow.

Living with flair means creating fresh flow.  It means running like crazy so the fire ants don’t get into my shoes.  Whatever it takes, I want to avoid that sting of stale.


Feeling Homesick at Home

Sometimes I feel homesick.  But it’s not for any particular home or family.  It’s the weirdest feeling.  I’ll be sitting there, doing the dishes or folding laundry, and I’ll feel that something is horribly wrong.  I’m in the wrong place, and everything feels sad, and I just need to take my husband and children and get home.   

I feel like the wild daisy in A.R. Ammons’s poem, “Loss.”  He describes a wild daisy “half-wild with loss” who turns “any way the wind does” and lifts up her petals to float off her stem and go.  It’s an image of terrible longing. 

What must it feel like to be rooted nowhere, to belong nowhere, and move like that with the chaos of the wind?  Some of us live that way simply because we don’t know where to put down roots.  We can’t find a sure place to land.  On those days, we are wanderers, and even if we have the strongest physical sense of home and place, we still feel lost at sea. 

There’s a homesickness in our soul, even on our best days. 

So I’m doing the dishes, longing for home, and I recall Frederick Beuchner’s book by the same title.  Beuchner’s writing soothes my soul because he says we are all longing for a spiritual home. The sense of belonging and rightness comes when we put down deep spiritual, not just physical, roots.  

Maybe there’s hope for me.  

Beuchner’s book, The Longing for Home, reminds me how narrow my ideas of home are.  My home is not my house.  That homesick feeling is a cry for heaven.  

But what do I do with today?  Is there a way to find a home in this day, even though I’m made for another Home? 

Beuchner says this:  

“In the entire history of the universe, let alone in your own history, there has never been another day just like today, and there will never be another just like it again. Today is the point to which all your yesterdays have been leading since the hour of your birth. It is the point from which all your tomorrows will proceed until the hour of your death. If you were aware of how precious today is, you could hardly live through it. Unless you are aware of how precious it is, you can hardly be said to be living at all.”  

Today is precious.  So precious I can hardly live through it.   I can find my home in this very day, with God, and belong somewhere while I long for Home.  Living with flair has something to do with finding what’s precious even when I’m wandering. 


Swimming Beneath the Geese

I’m swimming in a lake with my daughters, and another family nearby starts feeding the geese.  Within seconds, a gaggle surrounds us.  They come from every direction, leaving the shore and their organized formations across the lake.  Our heads bob along in the water right against their soft, wild feathers.  I’m so close that I can look into those deep black eyes and touch the fuzzy heads of the goslings.

It doesn’t seem right how close we are. It seems other-worldly. We aren’t separate from the wild; we’re swimming along with it. 

The family with the goose food offers me a handful.  If I’m still enough, someone tells me, the geese will eat from my hand.

And so I am.  And so they do.

I’m told we can swim under the geese and even touch their webbed feet.  Because the geese are used to floating logs and debris, they don’t mind when you hold their feet.  My daughter tightens her goggles and dives under the surface to swim beneath the geese.

My five year old has pink goggles that sit on the pier.  My husband tosses them out to me, and I dive deep under the gaggle, turn myself over, and look up towards the heavens.  It’s all feathers, little webbed feet, and the jeweled water swirling above my head as the sun shines down.

I stored that experience away, like I hope my daughters did, in that place in my imagination reserved for the magical, the heavenly, and the purely happy.  Maybe one day, when life bears down on my children with that weight of sadness that comes to us all eventually, in its own way, they would recall this morning swim beneath the geese.  They could live again in that moment when something rare and beautiful happened.  And they’d catch it–all feathered, webbed, and jeweled–in their hands.

It could be their flair for that day.


Can You Remember Your 8th Grade English Teacher?

I’m chopping romaine lettuce this morning, and all of a sudden, I’m back in 8th grade.  It’s 1988.  My teacher, Mrs. Guiles, tells the class:  “You know you are in a nice restaurant when you don’t have to use a knife to eat your salad.  You want to eat at restaurants that bother to make each piece of salad bite size.”  We nod, imagining fine dining and the lives we would lead as adults.

I cut the romaine leaf down the spine lengthwise and then cut each side into small pieces.  Mrs. Guiles has been gone for several years.  But as I methodically cut the lettuce, I can hear her voice and see her pacing around my English class like it happened that morning.

It was English.  We were supposed to be reading books and writing–not learning what makes a good salad.  

It wasn’t just salad.   She taught us many random tidbits that were supposed to help us live well.  For example, she made us stand up when an adult walked into the room.  What did that have to do with writing?

“It shows respect.  You will honor your elders.  It’s the right thing to do.”  Every time anybody walked in the room–a secretary, another teacher, someone’s parent–we rose from out seats, quickly and quietly. 

Salads?  Rising from our seats? 

“And you must learn the art of the beautifully composed thank-you note.”  She set the scene:  We had just returned from a visit to New England.  A fine family had invited us to dinner, and we dined (on perfectly sized lettuce).  Now, we must write a thank-you note.   It had to radiate.  It had to merit framing.  I imagined that one day, I’d visit some family far away and write the sort of thank-you notes she described.  

“Include something so very specific, so very vivid.  Tell what you loved about your hostess and the accommodations!  Mention a lovely dish!”  She’d prance around the room.  She was a tiny woman who made flourishes in the air with her hands. 

And that thank-you note?  It had to be perfect.  She was impossible! 

We had no excuse.  All year, we had to recite, from memory, lists of linking verbs and prepositions.  She was mean and horrible.  We all talked about how much we resented her.  We didn’t sign up for that kind of torture.

How dare she insist we know everything about grammar as explained in a dusty red textbook more suited for college students?   Who or whom?  She or her?  Comma or semi-colon?  We could punctuate any sentence she wrote on the board, while, mid-punctuation, we rose to greet an elder who walked into the room. And then we’d return to our seats to engage in the lost art of sentence diagramming. 

Orderly sentences mingled with orderly living.  It was infrastructure–those commas, those little symbols we used to designate types of conjunctions, those ways we talked about verbs–to build our lives upon.  And while things were falling apart in 1988–AIDS, Missile Defense, the Iran-Contra scandal, the Soviet war in Afghanistan, the war on drugs–I felt fear that a child shouldn’t. 

But I didn’t feel that way in English class.  Everything was manageable, predictable, and right when contained within those commas and parentheses.

Try me; I knew what to do with that sentence.  Everything else was up in the air, but I knew in the depths of my soul that the comma would make the meaning right. 

I’m chopping lettuce, thanking God for that woman who set my life on a trajectory it hasn’t since left:  grammar, writing, and living with flair.


Flair with Introverts

I’m learning that flair assumes many forms. Many introverted forms. Forms like puzzles and card games. If you hang out with my husband and his family, you learn these things.


So I’m sitting at a card table. The children are playing Go Fish and War and probably some mysterious game called Solitaire. (My husband still laughs at me when I tell people I don’t know the rules of Solitaire. I’m an extrovert to the extreme–not much alone time)


There’s a 1000 piece puzzle before me (an old Milton Bradley, not a Springbok—apparently there are standards for good puzzles and Springbok is the best). Anyway, the puzzle. The puzzle is called, “ By a Canal, Holland.” I’ve been patiently assembling the sky when my husband announces that I’m doing it wrong. He says there are rules to puzzling like:


  1. Find all the edge pieces.
  2. Group them kindly by color.
  3. Claim your puzzle region.
  4. Begin assembling.
  5. Do not stop until the wee hours of the night.
  6. Start trash-talking about how you are “puzzle master” and “this puzzle is no match for me.”
  7. Reminisce about other puzzles you have put together in your lifetime: the 3D Notre Dame, the impossible Globe one, the historical puzzles, the Coca-Cola Memorabilia puzzle that’s framed in your basement, the fluffy kittens, the Wizard of Oz.
  8. Decide who gets to put the last piece in (the one who has worked the longest).
  9. Rebuke the person who swoops down at the last minute and tries to put in the last piece.
    So I’m doing the puzzle. And I start thinking about what region of my brain is being activated.  This puzzle is good for my brain!  It’s good for my marriage!  It’s good for my family!  I need to hang out with introverts more!


Living with flair means joining the introverts for a night. It’s puzzling, that world, but good for my brain, my marriage, my family, and my flair.


Why Bother with Christianity?

If you can be happy without Jesus, why bother?  I’ve been thinking about this lately.  I’ve been thinking about all the happiness blogs people have sent my way.  It seems that all over the world, folks find legitimate forms of happiness apart from knowing God.  I know what this feels like.  I know that when I exercise, eat right, blog about my flair, and do any other host of mood-modifying activities, I can be happy.

I used to think that people went to church and read their Bible because they were unhappy.  They become Christians because of the promise of happiness.  While I do think that going to church and reading the Bible dramatically increase the likelihood of happiness, I don’t think that Christianity is a religion that promises happiness.  Happy Christians tend to do other things that boost their mood like, for example, engaging in vibrant church communities.  But happiness, in this case, is a byproduct of lifestyle.  Jesus doesn’t promise happiness. 

However, Jesus does promise one very important thing.

He promises. . . peace. 

Jesus said this:  “In me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”  Jesus says that he leaves us “peace.”  I thought back to the blessing God commanded to be spoken over the nation of Israel.  Simply this:  that God would turn his face towards them and give them peace.  Later, Jesus is prophetically described in the book of Isaiah as our “Prince of Peace.” 

This morning I skimmed my Bible for passages that describe the peace of Jesus.  Romans 5, it turns out, defines the peace of a believer.  Here, the writer tells us 3 reasons Christians have peace:

1.  They find favor with God by faith alone, not by anything they do or fail to do.  They are completely reconciled to a Holy God because of faith in Jesus.  This point alone astounds me.  I can talk to the God of the Universe, and He loves me.  Unbelievable! 
2.  Because of Jesus, they have hope in the glory of God (his power and presence) in every situation.
3.  They can rejoice in suffering because of what it produces in them (perseverance, character, hope).  When God directs a person’s life, suffering has meaning and will produce good

Curiously, New Testament writers claim that Jesus himself is our peace.  Paul writes:   “He himself is our peace” since in his very body he reconciles sinful mankind with the holiness of God.  By his very body, he grants access to God.  Christianity, after all, is a religion about God’s body:   the incarnation–that little baby come to earth as a God-man– the crucifixion–God hanging on a cross to die, and the resurrection–the literal body of Jesus conquering death.  And in the ascension, Jesus returns to the Father but leaves the promised Holy Spirit who indwells believers at the moment they believe.

Is peace better than happiness?  Absolutely.  The assurance of God’s peace which, according to scripture, transcends understanding, is deeper and more profound than mere mood.  So while happiness is something I can moderate, my peace comes from Jesus alone.

Living with flair means I depend upon the sure peace of God even when flair fluctuates.


Why You Need Artistic Friends

I’m an embarrassment to the world of arts and crafts.  I’ve never even used a glue gun.  But when you spend a day with an extraordinarily gifted artist, you have to enter her world.

The artist enters the room wearing flip-flops decorated with bunches of green grapes–she made them for a wine-tasting party–and we all can’t help but notice them.  Soon, my girls are asking about these flip-flops, and the artist says, “We can make any kind you want!”

Next thing I know, we are in Wal-Mart buying bright flip-flops.  Then we are in a craft store buying miniature birds, butterflies, orchids, and lots of jewels.  Within minutes, the artist has the girls sketching flip-flop designs.  She hands me a piece of paper and some butterflies.

I’m wondering when the cameras pop out and tell me this is all one big prank.  I don’t do arts and crafts. 

But when you hang out with an artist, you learn to do artistic, whimsical, and spontaneous things.

It felt a lot like flair. 

I learned to inhabit that world, burning my fingers on hot glue and pricking myself on butterfly antennae.

Later, I wear these flip-flops outside.  Mothers and their daughters shriek with delight and want to know where we got our shoes.  I imagine a Red Sea of children parting in awe as my flip-flops walk by.  Those families are already at Wal-Mart and firing up their glue guns.  I’ve created a flip-flop revolution.

So I’m adding this to the list of spontaneous and supremely silly things:  dancing in my kitchen, learning double-dutch, and now, gluing butterflies on my shoes.  Living with flair means you hang around artistic people and make things every once in a while.


A Stranger Tells Me His Secret

Many of my flair moments in the past 90 days occurred during conversations with strangers: the tired woman at the grocery store,  the neighborhood boy,  the hard-working Amish man, the precious waitress who gave my daughter a bad day mantra, the mean people at the drive-thru, that wonderful unknown woman who gave me the complement that changed my life, the curious woman and her service dog, the man at Starbucks, the man chasing trash in the parking lot, or the little boy explaining why he loves the rain because it makes the worms come out.

Remembering these conversations–and the flair they brought forth–reminds me to challenge myself to engage more with people who cross my path.

There’s flair there, I just know it.

I am leaving a restaurant, and a man whose job it is to hold open the door greets me with a big smile.  He proudly holds open the door with such gusto I have to stop.

“Thank you!”  I say happily.  And then again:  “Thank you so much.”

He smiles bigger (if that were even possible).  This employee is happier than he should be in this heat with this on-your-feet job.   I have to find out why. 

I say, “When you hold the door like that, it makes us all feel like celebrities.”

He frowns and shakes his head.  He says, “You should feel like that all the time, not just when somebody is holding a door.”

“All the time?  How is that possible?”  I say, my arms crossed.  The rest of my party is already in the parking lot, and I’m hanging around to talk to a strangely happy man.

“Above ground,” he says softly.


“Above ground,” he repeats.

I lean in and whisper, “What in the world does that mean?”  People stream past us, a whole crowd of them, and I’m ducking my head back and forth to try and maintain eye contact.

He waves his hands like he’s shooing me away.  I stand my ground.

“I’d have to explain it and it takes too long,” he said.

“Well,” I say, raising my eyebrows.  This was flair, and I wasn’t about to leave it.

“OK,” he says, the crowd thinning so he can give me some time.

“You just say to yourself that you’re above ground.  You aren’t stuck where you are, on this ground.   It’s not about where your feet are or where you are hanging out.  You can be above it–above it all.   You are above ground.  Do you get it?  It’s not about where you are or what you are doing.  That’s why you can be the celebrity every day.”

He’s already on to other parties.  He’s like a rock star that bothered to take a moment to talk to the little people.  He’s big stuff, the real deal, and he’s happy.  

And I’m writing down his words, learning from a stranger, because he was there, above ground, holding the door for me.


10 Things You Learn About Life When You Go to the Beach

1.  Don’t have lots of stuff.  The sand gets in everything, and it’s a lot to manage when you’re tired.  Less is more.

2.  Listen to older and wiser people.  Grandpa knows where to park and find the best spot.  He had to do it before GPS and iPhones.  

3. You need protection of all sorts–the more the better (SPF 100). 

4.  Find places to rest in the shade.

5.  Don’t expect to find whole things (shells, starfish, crabs).  Most everything is broken but still beautiful.

6.  When you leave the shore and venture out, it’s best to have  folks (grandma and grandpa) watching you and with you (Mom and Dad).  The sea is dangerous, so the more people you have aware of you, the better.

7.  Your instincts tell you to race back to the shore when a wave is coming.  Do not do this.  It will pummel you and toss you so hard you’ll be beyond recognition afterward.  Move towards the wave (the fear, the new thing, the huge transition), and you’ll find it will let you rise up high.  As my daughter says, “The wave only looks big.  When you swim through it, it becomes small.”

8.  Know when it’s time to go home.   Too much riding the waves means you can’t make it back to your car.

9.  Stop for ice-cream on the way back to the car.  Sometimes a sweet, cold treat helps everybody manage if they’ve not figured out number 8.

10.Take pictures and look at them a lot.    


The Picture of the One-Eyed Cat

Here is my one-eyed cat.

He likes to lounge around with his best friend, Snowflake, who I think looks like an upside down skunk.  She’s the one who pulls the yellow rope around like a dog.

Anyway, the point of this. . .

Jack has one eye. He was a wild cat who injured himself somehow.  His eye and mouth were infected.  Eventually, his eye had to be removed.  A local pet store, who rescued both Jack and Snowflake, asked if anyone would take the cats in.

So we did (I didn’t want to at all–it’s my husband who loves cats mostly).  I resisted with every fiber of my being (Now, I’m completely in love with cats.  I would write blogs about these cats).

Jack’s one eye was strange and a little creepy.  But soon, nobody noticed or even cared anymore. Sometimes, because he only has one eye, he bangs into stuff.

He is a tough kitty.

Too tough.  He didn’t even purr, not once, ever.

I noticed this one day.  Months had gone by, and Jack didn’t purr.  Not once, ever.

Our injured, wild cat had lost his purr. Years of sorrow had clogged him up.  The purr didn’t work.

The family and I decided to embark on a project to help our injured, wild kitty rediscover cat joy.  That purr was in there somewhere.  We brushed him, snuggled him, fed him, bathed him, pet him, loved him and loved him and loved him.

One day, he’s lying there, and like a slow machine winding up and letting loose, I hear it coming.  Jack found his purr.  And the moral of the cat story?

You know.