I arrive to the elementary school with a giant turtle, Cleopatra, a fairytale queen, and a cat in tow. We merge with a Rubik’s Cube, a jellyfish, and a 1920’s flapper. Today, children will parade around the school and enjoy a Halloween party in their classrooms.
Parents bring treats for these parties, and once again, I feel that old anxiety about baking and creativity.
But my daughter doesn’t want what the other mothers can bring. She begs for the “Boo Platter.” It’s the third year of making this platter, and still, she wants it. The legend of the “Boo Platter” as my most memorable act continues.
I shape the letters and realize I can experiment. Instead of vegetables, I peel exotic fruits.
I’m giggling as I make this silly old platter that doesn’t seem that special. But for my daughter, this platter means so much. Now, it’s tradition.
It’s a tradition that taught me perhaps the best principle of motherhood: Be Yourself. You’re the perfect mother for these children; God chose you and not somebody else.
So I’ll keep writing. I’ll keep making words for them because they cherish even this little Boo.
Journal: What’s something so unique to you as a parent or caregiver?
This morning, the snow on the trees looks just like cotton on a hot, blue-sky summer day.
|Cotton or Snow?
I love the way the mind works by analogy and association. I know the beauty of this tree branch because of what it approximates: it’s like something else. Is this what it means to learn? Is this what it means to make sense of something?
I know it’s freezing out here. I know the branch icily traps this snow. There’s nothing cotton about it.
But turning this snow into cotton for a moment brought some joy to the day.
Journal: Can you think of a good comparison that brings some joy?
It’s snowing! We scatter about the house, looking for mittens and boots. This first snow, according to the Artist Friend, is particularly generous.
It falls in great big glops, and so we know we’ve got packing snow.
You don’t need to tell a child what to do in packing snow like this.
They make snowballs.
They eat snowballs.
They throw snowballs. They attack one another, but then they turn their snowballs into a snowman.
I loved my brief Autumn, and as I stand at my kitchen sink and look out to the forest, I welcome Winter. What a generous snowfall; what a generous moment between sisters; what a generous warmth I feel as I look through this window.
Living with flair means we embrace this generous winter.
Have you had snow yet?
Do you ever have a morning when you don’t want to get out of bed but you finally do and then you don’t want to get out of the shower but you finally do? You slug along and wonder how in the world this day could be any good.
I’ve had so many days like this. I’ve wasted so many beautiful mornings.
I sip my coffee and walk out into the driveway. Frost covers everything. Already, my wonderful season changes.
But you know, if you’ve read this blog for any amount of time, how this is going to go: I look closer.
|Love Note in the Frost
The sun rises higher in the sky, and I realize the morning offers more gifts. The forest, for one thing, reminds me to look deep into the dark and bare spots and find that bright yellow place.
The oak tree tells me to lift my eyes as high as I can, above this bitter morning, and take in the sun as it shines on those leaves.
|Oak Tree Waving Good Morning
Even today, I find a message in the frost and gifts within the trees. Thank you Lord, for the little arm of this oak tree that waves a “Good morning!” to me and for the hand that writes in the frost.
Journal: Have you already found a gift today?
On the walk to school, my rurally-raised neighbor (who knows everything about the land) comments upon the beauty of various trees’ habits. She informs me that a tree’s habit refers to its overall shape.
She identifies trees by their habits. Some trees squat and spread lower to the ground:
Others rise tall into the sky as perfect vase shapes:
Some grow into beautiful ovals:
And some unfold against the sky like Japanese fans.
But as I look around me, I notice something astounding. Some trees in the forest don’t squat or unfold. Some don’t rise up and spread their arms wide.
I learn that if other plants or objects crowd a tree, the intended habit changes. It diminishes. Stunted and pressed upon, the tree loses potential somehow.
I think about the simple and natural need for space. We have an intended shape–our best habit–but when crowded and pressured, we change.
I think about making room for my husband, children, friends, students–and myself–to unfold, to stretch wide. Do I stifle? Do I crowd? What would it look like to give everybody some breathing room?
Today, I’m making space for my best habit to take shape. I want to unfold like a bright yellow fan.
Journal: Do you feel like you’ve taken shape into your best habit? What allowed this?
My neighbor has a gift. She’s an artist, but nobody really knows–at least we didn’t–until she began to show us all.
Her drawings make me so happy. They evoke something in me that the real object doesn’t. I realize I’m just looking at a drawing of a little girl’s shoes, but something about this artwork delights me.
Reluctantly, she shows her sketches to the neighborhood children, and they gather around her in wonder. “You drew that? You really drew it? With pencil? How?”
If you ever get a chance to speak with an artist, I highly recommend it. I ask Jennifer Kelly to explain to me why I love this drawing so much. She writes, “There’s just something little-girly about the shoes, kicked off in a rush to go play. Their shape is reminiscent of the body’s long curves; the interior almost calls you to put your foot in, and your skin tingles, remembering the feel of your last pair of flats. Maybe the visceral nature of pencil strokes enhances the touch-feel-experience of the memory.”
Living with flair means you seek out your neighbor’s hidden talents. And if you are the neighbor with the gift, living with flair means you offer it to the world. You go public, you open your sketch book, and you let the community be delighted by you and God’s creativity flowing through you.
Journal: What gift are you hiding from us?
Autumn arrives and fades so quickly.
Already, some trees surrender their leaves.
The weather report predicts snow for later this week. Snow! I’m never ready for it.
All day, I’m reminded of these glorious colors that do not last.
I look up from my life, and time has fallen around my feet like leaves from an oak tree in winter. I tell my oldest daughter to enjoy these carefree days of childhood while they last. A college student’s mother visits my class and tells the students to “be sponges and enjoy college while it lasts.”
This impulse (and commitment) to blog–to record a moment in time–has something to do with capturing the fleeting day. This day happened! It really did! The sky was that blue. The leaves were this vibrant.
Each day offers something. One day, I’ll rake them together like a pile of leaves to jump in, squealing with delight like I did as a girl.
Journal: What moment would you want to record about this day?
As I walk in the field, I pick my way around the worst weed. The farmer tells me it’s called Velvetleaf, and, as far as crop weeds go, it’s an absolute terror: competitive, nutrient-draining, murderous of other plants, and just plain ugly.
|Velvetleaf in the Field
You can’t destroy Velvetleaf. The seeds stay viable in the earth for over 50 years. Impervious to weed killer–even the strongest herbicides–this damaging, noxious plant represents a farmer’s nightmare.
My mother sees something different.
With an eye for beauty, she asks the farmer if we might take a few stalks. He laughs out loud and shakes his head. “You don’t want that stuff,” he insists. “Even one seed pod dropped on your lawn will destroy it, and you won’t be able to get rid of it.”
“We would like some,” she says as he continues to laugh.
Back home, my mother takes a vase and builds the most beautiful bouquet to fill out the corner behind my piano.
You take a weed–even an ancient one that can last generations–and you turn it into something beautiful.
If you can’t destroy it, make it beautiful.
Journal: Have you ever made something beautiful out of what others consider worthless?
We drive out to the pumpkin patch.
I let my daughter loose against the Autumn landscape.
She finds the one she wants, and it weighs as much as she does. Grandpa carries it back to the tractor.
With pumpkins this size, we’ll be eating roasted pumpkin seeds for weeks.
I think about that little girl racing through rows and rows of pumpkins for the taking. Life is so big, so abundant, that you can’t even carry the harvest back yourself.
Journal: Do you have pumpkin patch memories?
Last night, I attend my first contra dance. My own husband has invited the family (including my parents!) out dancing. Contra dance, otherwise known as patterned folk dancing, has great potential to create a fool out of me. You know how uncoordinated I am.
I resist going until the very last minute.
But I know that living with flair means I try new things and embrace–not just endure–new experiences. It helps that Devin, my friend and contra dancing expert, has been telling me for two whole years that I will love contra dancing.
When you go to a contra dance, you become swept up (quite literally) in a world gone by. You feel like you’re at the Dance at Grandpa’s from the Little House books. The band plays all the traditional folk tunes, and a caller tells you what to do. It doesn’t matter what you look like or how old you are. Nobody cares because when the caller tells you to switch partners, you do it. You find yourself dancing with a 4 year old and then a 70 year old, a teenager, and then your husband. You find yourself dancing with your own father for the first time since your wedding day.
You’ll hold hands with complete strangers, form a circle, and shout together. My own daughters learn the dances and circle off away from me.
It occurs to me that this is exactly what communities should do on a Friday night in a college town. I didn’t want to leave.
I now love the verbs promenade and do-si-do.
Living with flair means you attend a community contra dance sometime this year.
Journal: Have you been to a contra dance?