On the walk home from school, an extraordinary sight greets us. A beautiful hot air balloon hovers in the morning sky. (My husband’s phone snapped this photo, but you can’t tell how vibrant the balloon is. Just imagine!)
I race into the middle of the street, spread my arms wide, and wave at them. I’m jumping in the air, and I’m calling out, “Hello up there! Hello up there!” I realize I’m a colossal embarrassment. I realize this doesn’t make any sense.
Someone on the ground says, “They won’t be able to hear you.”
But still, I shout and wave. Then, I hear an answer.
“Hello!” They hear me! They answer. They wave and call down from inside the basket. I see a tiny arm waving to me. I hear the voice and smile. Our voices travel across this huge distance.
All morning, I realize how ridiculous of a notion it was to raise my voice and expect an answer. But my voice was heard, and an answer did come.
You just never know how far your voice will travel. You never know who might hear–from no matter how far away or in whatever unusual circumstance–the thing you have to say.
Living with flair means you go ahead and send your voice out into the world. You have no idea who can hear it and answer you.
Journal: Go ahead and say what you want to say today.
It started again this morning: We walk the neighborhood children to school, and we’ll do it every single school morning.
I love this routine. The other parents do, too. They even park their cars down near the school and come back to their houses to walk their children to school (and then depart for work). But there’s no other way about it; we commit to this walk-to-school campaign, and we do it. It’s faster to drive. It’s easier to drive. It makes no sense to waste this time walking when there’s a bus or a minivan right here.
But we do it. We give up a whole hour (for those walking back home) to do it. I counted nearly 30 of us (dads, moms, a toddler, and children) on the hill. Originally, it was for fitness, really. Now? It’s changed our lives and our neighborhood.
There’s something so right and good about children walking to school and enjoying the company of adults beside them. We love these children, and we love our public schools. We walk on, pick up new children on the path, and brave the huge hill through the woods. We give hugs good-bye to children who don’t even belong to us, and then the adults walk back home. We talk about our work, our dreams, our struggles. We talk about our children, our plans, our faith.
This is real life lived together. We’ll be back together tomorrow.
Journal: Is there a way to get children and adults to walk together in your neighborhood?
Driving on the highway in our little old Honda (the one with no air conditioning), I roll down every window and open the sunroof. The little girls in the backseat shriek with laughter as the wind makes their hair fly all around them. We drive faster. I remember that April morning in 2010 when we let our hands fly in the wind in this same car.
Live with Flair became my patient teacher back then; I had to learn to really live and, as Thoreau insisted, to “live deep and suck all the marrow out of life.” That was over a year ago now.
So I’m driving in my Honda at the same steering wheel I held in my hands before a wedding ring, a baby’s finger, or any deep wrinkles set into my skin. The children ask me to take my hair down. I slide the elastic band out of my hair, unravel all of it, and let it loose. It rises up and circles above my head. I can’t even see the road for a minute.
That’s what it’s like to cast off restraint and just surrender. It might seem like a tangled mess and you won’t be able to see where you are going. But you’ll be laughing. It won’t matter where you end up because the journey matters more.
My friend, the one who told me I was the perfect mother for my particular children said that she sometimes feels like a racehorse that just needs to be let loose to run and do the thing she was made to do. I think of that picture on so many days. Something holds us back. I imagine the gate opening for us today and great beautiful horses released to run.
Living with flair means you let yourself loose.
Journal: What’s holding you back?
All year, I’ve waited for the raspberries. Finally, we have a single ripe berry on the bush this morning.
I complain to my husband about how unproductive the berries have been. “Look at the neighbor’s berries! They have so many ripe berries! We have one!”
“We weren’t supposed to have any this year,” my husband–the gardening expert–reminds me. “The neighbor’s plants are mature, and ours are young. Next year, we’ll have our berries.”
I wasn’t supposed to have any. The truth of it resonates deep in my soul. I expect and demand so much. I look at all my worries on this Sunday: my daughter’s possible gluten allergy, news of a sick friend in the hospital, my deadlines, my students. I place them all in the great lap of God. I’m humbled before that lap; I do not demand or complain.
His great blessing brought into my life the very things I now worry about. His great blessing–when I did not deserve even one of these things–children, friends, work or whatever it is–means I cleanse my heart and rejoice in the very things about which I want to complain.
That one bright berry–when I wasn’t supposed to have any–tastes sweeter than you can imagine.
Journal: Am I fretting over a blessing?
My youngest arranges all the nail polish bottles on the kitchen table and asks me to paint her toenails.
Seriously? I can think of 20 more important and urgent things to do instead of painting her toenails. I do not have time for this.
But I look at that little face and those little, little toes.
In even just a few years, she won’t ask for this. One day, she’ll paint her own toes, in her own bedroom, in her own house even. Maybe it’s because another school year starts this week, or maybe it’s because I can see how tall she’s grown by the markings on the kitchen wall. Whatever the reason, I suddenly can’t imagine anything more important or more urgent than those little toes.
So here I am, painting little toenails silver and neon pink. Everything else can wait.
Journal: What aspects of parenting annoy most folks now that they end up missing once their children are grown?
Today I peer inside my own eye. The doctor takes an x-ray to examine a benign choroidal nevus (a freckle deep inside my eye). I tell him that “choroidal nevus” sounds more like a garage band name than a medical term. I have him write the phrase down because I’m absolutely fascinated.
We look at my eye, and the doctor translates. He points out the little tributaries–little creeks–of vessels that flow to my bright yellow optic nerve. It’s an atlas representing a foreign land of color and texture I’ve never seen before. He travels back into my history–how my eye formed as a baby and how the shape of the cornea grew–as he points to the edges of this universe.
It’s my eye. I’ve missed my calling: I want to go to school to study the human eye.
I realize the mystery and wonder of the whole world, right down to each tiny vessel in the eye. At this very moment, I’m seeing. It’s sublime, unimaginable, and cause for the kind of euphoric celebration of an explorer who finally spies the New World. I want to learn more! Why would we ever exclaim, “I’m bored! There’s nothing to do!” when the whole world longs to be explored?
If anyone says, “I’m bored,” to me today, I’m going to point to my eye. There’s an eye to learn about right now.
Journal: What new thing can I learn about today?
I give my freshmen students a list of 500 of my favorite verbs. I tell them about grapple and fritter and elucidate and debunk. I tell them how much I love the verbs restore and lavish.
I leave class and hear the verbs all around me. Some shimmer and delight; others depress and discourage. I deflate when I think about criticize, complain, weaken and diminish. I brighten when I hear celebrate, proclaim, manifest, and renew.
After all these years of teaching writing, I start to see my life in verb form. I work to make them the kinds of verbs I want:
Pray. Bake. Nurture. Teach. Discover. Write. Love. Enliven. Converse. Organize. Inspire. Connect. Encourage. Laugh. Shine. Hug. Rest. Hope. Mentor. Reveal.
I’ve learned. Get rid of anything feeble, negative, or critical. Edit out the verbs that don’t make your life jump off the page.
Living with flair means we choose the right life verbs.
Journal: What 10 verbs animate your life?
This morning, I discover an unusual sight in my raspberry bushes: the bumblebees appear to be sleeping. They attach their fuzzy legs to the berries and just relax.
I can’t believe it! Normally, I won’t even get near the berries because of the frenzy of bumblebee activity. They never stop moving as they dart in and out of the flowers.
But it actually looks like this bee rests her little head upon the flower. I call my entomologist friend, and she confirms that bees do rest. They also take a break if they need to warm up their wings against the chill of the morning dew.
I come inside, sip my coffee and think about doing nothing at all for the morning. I remember that even the bumblebees rest. I relax and tell the family I’m warming up my wings for the day.
Journal: How will you rest today?
For no reason at all, I want to really set the table for dinner. I have a whole wedding’s worth of crystal stemware and water pitchers that I never use. It suddenly seems ridiculous to have items in a home that one never uses because they are too nice or too good.
I climb up to the high cabinets, find my crystal, wash each piece free of dust, and set my table. I even unearth my crystal candlesticks and light candles. They seem funny next to the chicken pot pie.
My daughters arrive home and squeal that we have crystal goblets on the table.
They hold their goblets carefully–shaking a little–and sip solemnly. Our conversation seems more adult; we chew our food thoroughly and we rest our forks when we want to speak. We keep our napkins in our lap, and nobody dips their fingers in the candle wax. What a beautiful dinner!
Living with flair means bringing out the crystal. I don’t want to own something too good or too nice to use.
Journal: Do you have things you never use because they are too expensive?
For the last week, I’ve studied the fine art of mini-muffin making. I think I’m getting better in the kitchen!
Every few days, we make another batch and fill snack bags with a few for lunchboxes. Muffins freeze and defrost so well, and I reasoned that a homemade version would save us a fortune. Instead of the grocery store’s Little Bites, we made our own. I call them Little Nibblers!
I love the idea of packing a lunch box, opening my freezer, and finding shelves upon shelves of homemade goodies to tuck inside.
It feels so cozy somehow. It feels so nurturing.
But it’s an art form. I had to think beyond blueberry. So far, we’ve made coconut (of course), strawberry, peach, and chocolate peanut butter. Next we’ll try pumpkin, raspberry, and blackberry. Oh, the possibilities of my mini-muffin pan!
Living with flair means you make little homemade treats because it feels good, saves money, and makes lunch packing easy. Maybe I’m making a memory for my daughters as they recall their mother covered in flour and berry stains as she gets ready for back-to-school lunches.
Journal: What else can I make homemade?