It Begins When it Ends: Saying Farewell to Students

As the semester ends at Penn State, I face these students one last time.  We’ll never be together like this–in this way–again.  These freshman will move on, and I’ll remain to greet the next class in January.

I never know what to say on the last day.   It never comes out right.  

Sometimes I just say good-bye and shoo them all away like they’re magnificent interruptions to my important schedule. They walk past my desk, and I pretend not to miss them already. 

I remember a seminary professor who told me this:  “A good course is never finished;  it just begins when it ends.”

We aren’t ending.  We’re beginning.   That helps me walk away.  I might not ever see them again, but I hope that something began in them this semester. 

Great teachers begin something beautiful.  Lord, let me be that teacher.

What was your best teacher–or best course– like?   


Everything You Need

My neighbor tells me that a little mouse is wintering in the sandbox by her woodpile.  Her daughter discovered him yesterday when she lifted the sandbox lid to play.

Little Mouse in his Winter House

The little mouse (who looks just like Mousekin from Mousekin’s Golden House) has built himself a cozy nest of leaves and twigs to prepare for winter.

A Mouse’s Winter Nest

All of a sudden, I’m brought back to the wonder of that childhood story:  the tiny mouse survives the harsh winter by building the warmest nest.  The snow and ice come, but Mousekin snuggles deep inside his winter home.

As a child, I loved the comfort of it all.   I thought about being that small against the enormity of winter.  With warmth, protection, and the feast of decaying pumpkin (or seeds and bark in this case), the mouse has more than enough. 

My neighbor invites us all over to peek in on our own Mousekin.   Winter doesn’t discourage the little mouse.  He’s plump, glossy, bright-eyed, and busy.   Something about that little mouse just delights me.  With such fine accommodations, this mouse will enjoy the winter.   He has everything he needs.

And for the moment, so do I.

As winter comes, I’m so thankful for the basic gifts of warmth, shelter, and food.  Who in my community needs more of these things? 


What Not to Say While Holiday Shopping

I’m standing in line at the store, and the salespeople rush around, trying to relieve the long lines waiting at each check-out station.  Every intercom announcement sounds off the code red.  People are waiting!  Lots of people are waiting!  Hurry, hurry!

A traffic jam of shopping carts blocks everyone’s path as people maneuver for the best possible position.  When a new line opens up, ladies fight for that precious spot at a free register.  Somebody is going to get hurt. 

What’s happened to our manners?

I’m yawning in my line and feeling awfully cozy in my winter coat.  I’m still sick and in no mood to rush around. 

The shopper in front of me decides to sign up for some special program. The cashier turns to me, nearly in tears, and says, “I’m just so sorry.  You can find another cashier if you need to.  This is going to take time, and I’m just so sorry.” 

“That’s OK,” I say.  “I really have nowhere to be.  I’m not in any hurry.”  I shove my hands in my pockets, look up to the ceiling, and wonder what I might blog about today.

Silence.  People glance over at me like I’ve just said a bad word out loud.  Someone frowns at me.  How dare I hinder this holiday rush? How dare I support the one slow-poke in everyone’s way?  

“Take all the time you need,” I insist to the slow-poke. Those six words wrap the two of us in a warm holiday embrace.  The cashier smiles and looks as if she might actually hug me. 

Living with flair means–especially in December–we let people take all the time they need.  What’s so important in my shopping cart anyway?  What makes my day more important than another person’s?

Are you the rushing one or the slow-poke?  I’m both!


Easy Does It (How to Survive the Holidays)

Tonight, we host a Christmas party for graduate students.  We’ve learned, after all these years and all sorts of gatherings in our home, that easy does it

Nobody cares if my cabinets have hand prints on them.

Nobody cares if I forget to dust the top of the refrigerator.

Nobody cares if I don’t have the kind of Christmas centerpieces you see in glossy magazines. 

We’re here to be together, so everybody can just relax, put their feet up, drink some holiday punch, and sing carols around the freshly tuned piano.

I decide to create some holiday cheer for guests with one of the easiest recipes I know:  Peppermint Bark.

We melt some white chocolate, add some peppermint extract, crush up some candy canes, sprinkle them on top with with chunks of white chocolate, smear it on a pan, let it cool in the fridge, break it up, and serve it.

Children love things that involve verbs like crush, smear, sprinkle, and break.  It’s so easy and fun, that we think of ways to embellish the recipe.

What if we make coconut bark?  Imagine!  Coconut, dark chocolate, and white chocolate:  

Bring on the season!  Living with flair means you can celebrate with easy and fun.

What’s your easiest and most fun holiday treat?


Unlikely Sucess

Today, Jack alerts me to a beautiful bird in the Weeping Cherry.

He talks to the bird with that strange broken meowing sound, moving his jaw rapidly.  I’ve wondered for years why cats make this sound when they look at birds. 

My husband tells me that cats imagine eating the bird and therefore make munching sounds with their mouths.

Jack’s on the hunt, imagining success.  Would a cat ever capture a bird like this?  Unlikely.  Would a cat with one eye, indoors, catch a bird like this?  Never.

Still, the cat munches.  Still, he visualizes success.

Maybe one day.  The confidence of my One-Eyed Cat inspires me.  The bird flies from the tree, uncaught, and Jack, undaunted, settles under the lights of the Christmas tree.  Maybe, in his mind, he simply let the bird go. 

Oh, Jack, you crazy cat, living with flair, in lights for all to see.  You don’t give up.  We won’t either.      
Happy Saturday!  Are you inspired to persevere today? 


Small Deposit, Big Return

Frost covers the clover this morning.

Frost Melts on the Clover

The children bend down, astonished by these small deposits of tiny white ice crystals.  Children teach me that the smallest thing often holds the most wonder.

I stand above the clover, and then I bow down to observe it.  I marvel at the conditions that frost this clover; that unseen hand requires air saturated with water vapor on surfaces cooler than the dew point.

I don’t understand it.  It fades within the hour from the warmth of the rising sun.  Frost, when I really observe it well, astonishes indeed. 

It’s not even noon, and I’ve already marveled.  Living with flair means marveling–being absolutely filled with wonder and astonishment–today.  I want to live my life greatly impressed.  Instead of cynicism or complaint, I want to marvel. 

What has astonished you today?


Something New to Try: Growing a Pineapple in Your Kitchen

Today, with my sore throat, chills, and aches, I walk around campus as one wading through swampland.  What good can come of this day?  I teach in a fog, drag my feet to the store, and then robot-like and half-asleep, put groceries in my cart.

Pineapple is on sale.

Back home, I read about the best way to cut pineapple, and I learn this from a neighboring website:  

You can grow pineapples inside your house.   A website shows me a step-by-step guide to cutting off the pineapple’s crown, letting in root in water for several weeks, potting it in soil, and then watching it grow to a mature plant.  Other sites claim that this fun project will keep children enthralled for the whole winter. 

I’m doing this!  I’m right this moment going to cut my pineapple, soak the crown, and let this new thing grow in my windowsill.  I’ll report back the progress.

Suddenly, the day shimmers with sweet pineapple warmth.  Living with flair means–no matter what kind of day we’re having–we discover some new and wonderful thing to try.

Have you tried this?


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?