Blooming Now?

My youngest daughter bought me a package of Paperwhite Narcissus bulbs for planting indoors. We planted them on November 1st, and today, they bloomed! This only took 20 days from planting to enjoyment. Fragrant! Lovely!

Do you remember when I wrote about the “Chilling Requirement” of certain fruit trees in Pennsylvania? The peach trees, for example, need 1000 hours of rest in below 40 degree weather for dormancy. They won’t flower and produce fruit unless they meet this chilling requirement. The chilling requirement for some plants enables them to then come alive in a new season. Only then will they begin to grow.

Back then, I wondered what my own chilling requirement might be.

Paperwhites, however, have no chilling requirement. As soon as you plant them, the bulbs immediately begin to grow. Unlike other bulbs like daffodils and tulips (that require adequate chilling), paperwhites just bloom no matter what. You just add water! And you can stagger your plantings so you have continuous blooms throughout the holiday season.

I love looking at and smelling my paperwhites. They remind me of a certain readiness for action, a certain ability to spring to life when it’s time. I tell God I’m ready–anytime and anywhere–to grow and bloom. Instead of considering traditional patterns of rest and dormancy, God might invite me to be more paperwhite than tulip this season.

It’s all inside of us. Just add water, and we’re ready. We don’t pay attention to traditional patterns; when God says to bloom, we do it.

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I Know It Cold

It’s cold! My cats curl up by the heaters and steal all the warmth they can. 

My winter routine begins: 

We humidify the air. We wear layers. We apply lotion and lip balm. We drink warm beverages and slurp soups that simmer on the stove. We retire to bed earlier and close the drapes against the frosty night.
In the mornings, we drink hot coffee as the house heats up. Still in fluffy slippers, we debate with the neighbors via hilarious texts exactly how cold it must be for us to drive to school instead of walk. 
The winter comes like it has before, but this year, I realize I’ve truly adapted. 

It’s cold, but I know what to do. I know this season by heart. 

Living with flair means learning winter’s lessons and knowing how to adapt to a new season. I don’t resist; I snuggle into it and can hardly wait to see what gifts it will bring. 
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When a Child Says This to You

The 4th graders are studying astronomy in school. Back at home, I decide to show some children the amazing video from the Hayden Planetarium. In their Digital Universe Video, viewers can observe a film that “incorporates data from dozens of organizations worldwide to create the most complete and accurate 3-D atlas of the universe from the local solar neighborhood out to the edge of the observable universe.”

The edge of the observable universe! We’re sitting there in front of the computer, mouths agape and eyes so wide. The children have so many questions! Black holes, worm holes, other galaxies. . . we just can’t believe it all. I tell them about sublime experiences and how what we’re feeling is that coupling of wonder and fear because the thing we’re observing goes beyond human imagination.

“It’s just so incredible,” I say. “When I get to heaven, I’m going to have so many question about this. I will ask God about everything. Won’t you?”

A child turns to face me like I am a crazy person, like I’m absolutely insane and completely unintelligent.

She says slowly, “Why would any of this matter? I won’t be concerned about all this because I’ll be with Jesus.”

In that one statement, I realized that even my most sublime experience on earth–and even out to the edge of the observable universe–will not compare to being with Jesus.

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It Happens While You’re Doing Something Else

Well, I wrote a book and published it.

It happened. It really happened.

Do you know what is more exciting than the fact that this happened? It’s how it happened.

It happened when I was doing something else.

You see, my whole life–from the time I wrote about a tree for Arbor Day as a 6 year old–I wanted to write books. So I did. I wrote novels and all sorts of stories and poems and non-fiction pieces. Every day, I wrote. I found agents and publishers and editors, but nobody wanted to publish my stories.

Nobody.

But I still wrote novels. 5 years ago, I decided to start blogging (because of my friend Laurie!) about little moments of grace and joy each day. Every day, I wrote. Last year, I met with the Italian Mama after another series of rejections from publishers, and I’ll never forget what she said.

I said, “I just don’t know what I’m supposed to do. What am I doing? What about my books? Aren’t I supposed to be publishing all this? What should I write?”

She said, “I think it’s your blog. That’s your writing. That is enough.”

It didn’t feel like enough. It didn’t feel like a dream at all. My blog was my journal that some people read, but it wasn’t the same as a book.

Then, the summer came, and we neared the 5th year of my daily blogging. My husband and I were driving home from a trip, and he turned to me and said, “I wish we had all your favorite blogs together in a book.” Meanwhile, my friend Margaret Baker noticed the seasonal patterns of all my blogs and wondered if I could compile those blogs by seasons and make a devotional book.

People began emailing about which blogs I should include. Excitement grew. A friend and blog reader in Texas–we’ve never met!– offered to consult with me as an editor for free. She wanted to preorder so many books! Her excitement made this project happen. This woman I have never seen spurred me on.

My great friend, Rachel, who designed the cover for How to Write with Flair, took a concept I had for a cover (I told her I wrote often about acorns and just love those little acorns!), and she made this.

Yesterday, I approved my proof copy, and my independent publishing platform (Createspace) began printing copies for everyone who began placing their orders.

It was 5 years in the making, this book.

I didn’t know I was writing it.

It wasn’t traditional or glamorous. It was more hidden and thoughtful, with a group of friends cheering me on. Isn’t that what living with flair has always been about?

The greatest thing was happening, and I didn’t know it. I’m glad God kept it a secret. I just blogged, but He knew the whole story. He knew that one day, the book I dreamed of all my life would arrive in a different package, in an unexpected way.

That’s just like Him. And I’m so thankful that, although this book is exciting, He–and His methods–are the Most Exciting Thing. I just love thinking about it.

And I love you and wanted to thank you for the past 5 years. In another 5 years, we’ll have Volume 2.

Meanwhile, here’s the link to various ways to enjoy the book:

Createspace Estore 

Paperback from Amazon

Kindle edition 

I suppose I really have learned to go about God-ordained little tasks and let Him handle the outcome for me. It’s always better this way.

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In the Cool Cellar of Your Heart

This morning on the way to church, we’re talking about how we can’t wait for next summer because the artichokes take two years to produce. My daughter planted these plants from a seed and carefully tended them through the spring and summer.

But my husband cleaned out the beds, uprooted all the old plants, and smoothed over the garden since the snow is on the way.

“What? You didn’t! No! Those were her artichoke plants that come back each year! They produce in the second season! No!”

We’re so disappointed. We’re so sad about all that work and waiting.

He feels terrible, but what can be done? We return home from church and dig through the leaf and weeds pile to find the tangled mess of roots and frosted over leaves. Can’t we just replant the thing? It seems too late.

Just as my daughter loses hope, my husband reads that, actually, uprooting your artichoke plants protects them, strengthens them, and accelerates their growth in the spring. We read how, in colder climates, gardeners should dig up their artichoke plants and dry the roots in a cool, dry place.

They sprout rapidly when replanted in the warmer weather.

My daughter is so excited. “I’ve always wanted a real root cellar,” she says. We’re now a prairie family. We’ve converted a corner of our basement to artichoke roots.

I’m laughing about how quickly our disappointment turns to hope. I tell everyone that this is a true Live with Flair moment because what looked like disaster was protection. What looked like loss was a strengthening for future abundance. What looked like a mistake was actually part of a critical design.

Besides, yesterday we didn’t have a root cellar. Now we do.

And I remember that if I feel uprooted in any way, it’s accelerating my growth for another season. I will wait patiently in the cool cellar of my heart.

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The Best Butternut Squash, Turnip, and Sweet Potato Soup (in 30 minutes!)

While my husband was busy doing this before the coming snow. . .

I emptied packages of fresh cut butternut squash, turnip, and sweet potato into my largest pan with two tablespoons olive oil.

While this began to cook, I chopped up three celery stalks, three large carrots, five garlic cloves, and one large onion. This went straight into the pan.

Add 1 tablespoon of cumin, 1 teaspoon nutmeg, and 1 teaspoon salt. Let this cook with the lid on (stirring occasionally) for 25 minutes until everything is mushy.

Put 1/3 of your cooked veggies into the blender with 2 cups chicken broth. Blend and repeat until all the veggies are nicely blended. You’ll use six cups of chicken broth. Serve yourself up a delicious bowl of autumn soup. . .

. . . and save the rest for lunches during your work week.

Enjoy!

Live with Flair Autumn Soup

Add to a large pan the following (with 2 tablespoons olive oil)

1 package fresh cut butternut squash
1 package fresh cut sweet potato
1 package fresh cut turnip
3 celery stalks
3 large carrots
1 large onion
5 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon cumin
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt

Cook on medium heat for 25 minutes with the lid on (stirring occasionally)

Blend in thirds with 6 cups chicken broth divided.

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Deciding Beforehand

I realizing the power of deciding beforehand in order to eliminate decision-making and stress in the moment. This works for more than just morning routines! Read on!

With children, you try to eliminate as much decision-making as possible in time-sensitive situations. You know the drill: pack lunches and backpacks the night before, pick out outfits, and place coats, mittens, boots, and hats by the door. It’s all decided beforehand, so you sail through the morning.

This works in so many areas of my life like teaching (lesson plans in advance, grading rubrics, etc.), dinner preparation (advanced shopping and menus), exercising (it happens three days a week, written into the schedule beforehand), and cleaning days (it works like clockwork because it’s a routine that nobody has to decide to do anymore).

I’ve been applying the same principle of deciding beforehand to eating. I know that sounds supremely boring and rigid, but for someone who has trouble managing her environment, deciding beforehand removes all the stress of it. If you decide in the morning what you’ll eat for the day, you can start to stick with it because every moment isn’t a decision about the whole thing.

(I suppose that one must stick with these decisions to see success, but it’s worth a shot!)

I do feel more peace of mind and less stress when I decide beforehand on all sort of issues, and lately, it’s healthy eating. I enjoy talking to other healthy folks (like my friend Rob who eats the same healthy things, at the same time, each day of his life and actually enjoys the routine of it) and learning their secrets. Deciding beforehand is one of those secrets.

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Roots That Feed on Nothing

In between my two classrooms on campus, a tangled mess of a tree sits. Those low sprawling branches look more like the root structure than the branches.

I walk past those roots that feed on nothing but air.

It’s an image of emptiness and futility.

I recall Proverbs 15 and the mouth that feeds on folly. I think of the deluded heart in Isaiah 44 that feeds on ashes. I think of Ephraim in Hosea 12 who feeds on the wind. In each case, we read a warning about those who believe they have found soul-sustanance but are, in fact, starving.

Oh, that my roots would go down deep and feed my soul! I read how Jesus invites others into this nourishment. He says, astonishingly, that “the one who feeds on me will live” (John 6), and that “all who come to me will never thirst” (John 4).

I do not want to feed on air. I think about what I’m drawing in and upon what I let my soul feed.

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You Don’t Always Get to Pick

My daughter arrives indoors with the ripest, most juiciest blackberry I’ve ever seen. She pops it in her mouth and says, “See, I told you. They’re still growing.”

It’s mid-November. It’s supposed to snow tomorrow. We’ve had frost and freezing temperatures for weeks.

How, oh how can this be?

I finally brave the cold and venture out to the old blackberry patch this afternoon. I see the truth for myself. For whatever reason, this branch produces fruit when everyone says it should not. It’s not the right time! These aren’t the right circumstances!

And yet. 

I’m reminded that sometimes, we don’t get to pick the when and how of our own fruitfulness. Sometimes, the fruitful season comes just as we’re ready to hibernate. Sometimes, it comes just when we think we’re too withered and too empty to produce a thing.

God’s Spirit does whatever He pleases, whenever He pleases, and however He pleases.

I don’t get to pick. But I do get the joy of seeing something marvelous happen that was never supposed to happen in this way, at this time.

Those glorious ripening blackberries represent a truth I needed to remember today.

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My Symbol of Motherhood

It’s a small object, usually lost, often overlooked, but of prime importance in our family.

I present to you that the Goody Ouchless Elastics (hair bands) represent motherhood to me. First of all, I buy the 30 pack almost every few months. You would think we could keep them all in one place, but no. In fact, within days, each rubber band has found its way into obscurity. They hide in couches, underneath furniture, in doll hair, in the minivan, in bathroom drawers, and in the bedsheets. They hide in the tall grass by the tree swing, when, in a moment of pure abandon, a daughter releases that hair from the confines of the ponytail and flings the band away as she swings.

The Goody Ouchless Elastics can’t stay put. They’re somewhere in lockers, school desks, a gym shoe,  or a backpack’s cavern. They’re under the dinner table, in the doll house, with the cat toys. They’re there, but I can’t find one when I need them. 

They humble me. They conquer me.

The Goody Ouchless Elastics have been with me from the time I once brushed so lovingly and so patiently that hair into perfect braids or ponytails of equal height and thickness. Now, my daughters gather up their own hair into buns or loose side braids.

I could mark the years by my relationship with these rubber bands. Today, I purchase another 30 pack at the grocery store. I keep them handy. I sneak one into a gym bag or a few by their hairbrushes. I keep a stockpile in my own bathroom. In a month, I’ll have to purchase more.

I don’t understand what’s happening; they’re here, but then they’re gone.

They symbolize the inevitable. They mark how one day I’ll vacuum this old house and not once have to stop to slip a found rubber band around my wrist. Not once will I scramble about in the morning, looking for that hair tie for a girl late for school.

On that day, I’ll send a package in the mail to my daughters with the Goody Ouchless Elastics 30 Pack.

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