Hope for the Out-of-Tune

Today, the Piano Tuner comes to tune the piano.

We have to be very quiet so he can listen.

I learn that the Piano Tuner makes minute adjustments to the tension of the piano strings. He’s listening for how the notes on my particular piano interact and tunes my piano based on its unique features.

The piano will not, on its own, stay in tune.  The whole instrument experiences continual stress from both internal and external sources.  Even slight changes in atmospheric pressure can undo my little piano within just a few weeks.   

So we call the Piano Tuner, and he sets the instrument right.

I listen, watching him work. “Is it hopeless?” I ask, embarrassed for how long it’s been.

“Not at all!” 

When he’s finished, he plays extraordinary music–warm, beautiful, rich, and resonant–that I didn’t realize could come from this piano.

There’s hope for the out-of-tune!  There’s hope for me yet!  

Lord, come and set me right today.  Make any adjustment you need; apply or undo any tension.  Let music flow out of me that’s tuned perfectly to your perfect ear. 

I know how quickly and how thoroughly I go out of tune (not just with my horrible singing voice!) in attitude, ambition, and action. I remember the great hymn and sing out:  “Tune my heart to sing Thy grace.”

How does God tune the out-of-tune in you?


The Happy Greeting

Last year, I learned the power of the Warm Welcome when folks return home, but last night, our family considered the importance of the Happy Greeting. 

I’m teaching the children (and myself) how to greet another person.   To greet means to show verbal and visible signs of recognition and welcome:

Good morning!  Good afternoon!  Good evening!  I’m so glad to see you!  How are you?  You look lovely today!  I’m so happy you’re here! 

We practice greeting each other–by name– around the dinner table.  We use cheerful voices, and we form big smiles and twinkling bright eyes.  We realize that every person we see today is made in the image of God and endowed with dignity, mystery, wonder, and unfathomable beauty.  Each person we see today matters. 

The Happy Greeting includes saying that person’s name to honor that no other person–amid the 6 billion people on the earth–is like that person.   When I think about the unique treasure each soul contains, I’m humbled and awed by that special presence in front of me.

Living with flair means we give a happy greeting today.  I’m so very, very glad to see you!

Who needs a happy greeting today? 


3 Lessons from a Magnificent (But Terrifying) Spider

Today I meet a cross orbweaver spider.

Cross Orbweaver Spider

In the cooler weather, I know these spiders find warmth inside my house.  Spiders terrify me, but I want to give her a chance.  One can’t destroy another just because of fear, just because of misunderstanding. 

Orbweaver Spider in the Woods

I learn that this spider rarely bites.  In fact, it’s supremely difficult to provoke her.   Inside a home, she’ll eat dust mites, fruit flies, and various pests.  Her webs help clean the house. 

I also learn that she eats her web every single night and builds a fresh one every single morning.  She keeps her web free of debris by starting over every single day.

I love that she starts fresh each morning, removing debris from the day before.  I love that she stays calm and unprovoked.  I love that she’s helpful. 

I want to be more like her.  Welcome, little spider.

Do you encounter unusual spiders in your home this time of year?


I Didn’t Even Know I Was Empty

The original title of this blog was, “In Praise of Big Breakfasts.” 

I married into a family of big breakfast eaters.  My mother-in-law, up before the sun, presents platters of bacon, fried eggs, toast, fresh coffee, and jam.  In this world of Southern Living, you wake up to kitchen aromas that beckon you from bed.  You gather at the breakfast table, you bow your head in prayer, and you eat

Early on in my marriage, I realized that most things, according to my sweet mother-in-law, (fatigue, headaches, bad moods, various ailments) might be traced back to one fatal flaw:  you didn’t eat breakfast

But I’m the type of girl who spills out the door with just coffee–too rushed and not hungry–to start my day.  Besides, who is ever hungry in the morning? 

I’m told I am hungry, but I just don’t know it yet. 

I begin to notice a trend amongst the happy, energetic, fit, and positive folks around me:

They eat breakfast. 

They eat big breakfasts.

So I try it.  Living with flair means you take cues from folks who live like you want to live.  For a whole year, I eat eggs and toast just to see what would happen.

By Golly!  It works.  This morning, I up the ante:  Greek yogurt, fruit, egg and toast.  I fill up. 

There’s something about breakfast.  Living with flair means you eat it.  Imagine the truth of it:  I am hungry even if I don’t feel like I am.  I wonder what else I need physically, emotionally, spiritually, socially, that doesn’t register yet. What am I missing? 

I finish my yogurt and move into the day.  I’ll filled, and I didn’t even know I was empty.  

What do you eat for breakfast?  Tell us about your big breakfast!   


Your Own Mulling Spices

I put a tablespoon of mulling spices in a pot of water and allow them to simmer. These mulling spices include dried orange peel, cloves, allspice, and cinnamon.  Sometimes I add ginger or vanilla.

The simmering mulling spices fragrance and humidify the dry winter air. 

I’m standing over the simmering pot, and I think about this particular blend of spices mulling.  I love that the verb mull also means to think about something deeply and at length.

I want to mull over the right kinds of things.  

When we mull over beautiful things; when we mull over hope and possibility; when we mull over our blessings, this simmering sends up the kind of aroma that softens and fragrances a whole home.  I imagine I’m throwing various spices into my heart that generate peace and predictable cheerfulness.

What will I mull over today and what will it produce in this little heart, these little children, this little home?

What’s a good thing you like to mull over? 


How to Write a Great Holiday Letter

After years of trying to write good Christmas letters, I realize that my own letters fall into one of three categories. 

1. Too Much Information
2. Too Much “We’re Awesome”
3. Truly Inspirational and Insightful

Too Much Information means I’m telling readers what I ate at every Mexican restaurant on my trip.  Too Much We’re Awesome means I use the letter as a catalog of all my children’s (and pets’) accomplishments.  

I want to inspire and teach, not brag and exhaust. 

Truly Inspirational and Insightful Holiday Letters teach us something.  They inspire us–and even make us laugh–with the insight we’ve gained this year. When these letters (I’m thinking of some of my favorite over the years) arrive, my husband literally sits down with a cup of coffee to enjoy the humor and insight that he knows the letter will offer.

With this goal in mind, we can eliminate any extraneous information that doesn’t offer insight.  With this goal in mind, we can ask ourselves if we’ve designed a paragraph intended to evoke jealousy or prove our worth.  With this goal in mind, we can purify our motivation to love our reader.

If the sentence doesn’t match these goals, chop it out.

As a devotional practice, I use the Holiday Letter task as a way to reflect on my year.  What did I learn?  How did our family change?  What did we overcome?  What wisdom can we offer now? 

These holiday letters inspire.  These holiday letters are worth sending.  And sometimes a great holiday letter will matter more than the cute photo of my children in matching sweaters by the tree. 

You can use the “Flair Checklist” below to help with your writing style.  Enjoy! And here’s a link to the Italian Mama’s sample Holiday Letter.

(How to Write with Flair:  Strong verbs, cool punctuation marks, varied sentence lengths and openings, some garnish, and appeals to your audience.  Order the book here:  https://www.createspace.com/3471782)

Flair Checklist
1.   Do I use vivid verbs?
2.   Are my verbs in their strongest form (cutting board test)?
3.   Do I juggle some secret ingredients throughout my writing (semicolons, dashes, commas, parentheses, and colons)?
4.   Do I “stir the pot” with varied sentence structures and lengths?
5.   Have I embellished my writing with garnish in some form?
6.   Have I analyzed my audience? Do I know them?
7.   Do I attempt to build rapport with my readers?
8.   Does my diction match my intent and my audience?
9.   Have I shown my audience that I understand them and have listened to them?
10. Would my audience feel cared for by me? Do I put in some love?
11.  Do I appeal to emotion in this writing (pathos)?
12.  Do I seem trustworthy (ethos)?
13.  Do I engage the reader’s reasoning skills (logos)?
14.  Do I make use of good transition sentences?
15.  Have I demonstrated the importance of my topic? Do I tell my readers why this writing matters?
16.  Was I able to form an analogy to advance my point?
17.  Did I enjoy the process of writing this? What can I do differently to celebrate the writing task?
18.  Do I offer a unique contribution to the conversation surrounding my topic?
19.  Do I avoid cliché in my writing?
20.  Is this writing memorable?

What advice would you offer for writing great Holiday Letters? 


Feast on the Empty

We’re walking in the woods this Thanksgiving Day, and autumn has starved the whole landscape of color.  

When I look up, I see tree branches stretched toward heaven like coral against a blue sea. 

Tree Branches Like Coral

The branches tangle up in currents of blue and white

Tangled in the Sky

We’re all down here, swimming in a great blue sea.  I’m miniature against an enormous coral reef.  I see it in my mind, and the whole story unfolds in color. 

The emptiness invites the poetry.

When life seems stark, you get to make the beauty yourself.  You feast on the empty. 

Happy Thanksgiving! 


Cutest Turkey Vegetable Platter

I find this adorable vegetable platter made to look like a turkey (thank you, Amy Locurto at “Living Locurto” for the great idea), and I can’t resist.  After the Boo Platter tradition began, I learned that even my simplest attempts to create whimsical traditions don’t go unnoticed or forgotten. 

We arrange bok choy and spinach, then carrots, and then sliced peppers of alternating colors for beautiful feathers.  We use cucumbers and then half a green pepper as the face.  We improvise with olives and a pepper slice to finish the turkey’s expression.  Finally, we use celery for feet. 

Turkey Vegetable Platter

I actually have to force my children to stop eating the vegetables so I can take a photo.   Welcome, Turkey Veggie Platter, to our Thanksgiving traditions. 

Isn’t it funny how children will eat vegetables made to look like something else? 


If You Know How to Use It

I read this morning a fascinating quote from E.Stanley Jones:

“A young army officer said this, ‘Weather, in war, is always favorable, if you know how to use it.’ That is the point–if you know how to use it.  The fact is that everything that comes to you in life is favorable–if you know how to use it.” 

I look at the day before me and grimace over the tasks, but then I wonder, Is everything favorable if I know how to use it?

I look out at the icy rain and frown over the weather, but then I ask myself:  How can I use this? 

Beautiful things are coming; I’m already choosing joy.  Over these last 600 blog entries, I’m learning to use whatever comes in order to learn, grow, and find beauty. That’s God promise, and I find that He keeps it. 

Do you know how to use whatever you’re going through?


Invest in Future Happiness

Emptying the dishwasher late at night does not make me very happy.  I’m tired.  But I do it, night after night, because when I wake up to a clean kitchen and an empty dishwasher, I feel so happy. 

“I’m investing in future happiness!” I call out to the family.  I’m picking up toys, straightening pillows, and organizing for the next day. 

I realize that when I don’t want to do something (exercise, cleaning), it’s because the payoff often comes later and not right now.  But right now isn’t always the most important thing. 

I have to remember that living with flair means we learn to invest in future happiness too. 

How do you invest in future happiness?