Waking Up to Cat Breath

This morning, my cat who looks more like a skunk wakes me up with very loud purring.  She’s right in my face, purring with that horrible cat-breath.  I’m not moving, so she puts one little paw on my nose.  Purr, purr, purr. 

I pet her and lean in to figure out the source of her purring.  The purring mechanism confuses even the most intelligent of scientists; nobody can discover how a cat actually purrs.  It just seems to happen.  It’s not even daylight yet, and already I’m encountering mystery.  How do you purr, little cat?

We don’t know how they purr, but we hypothesize why.  I read that cats purr for three reasons:  happiness, friendship, and intention.   They purr to communicate contentment and relaxation.  They purr as a sign of offering friendship.  Finally, they purr to express a specific request or intention (feed me, love me). 

What if my communication today rose up from a deep mysterious place of good tidings?  What if my sounds offered to the world around me today, even from daybreak, expressed happiness, friendship, and clear, good intentions?

Consider the mysterious cat.  I approach you purring, pouring out happiness, friendship, and good intention.

Just so dogs don’t feel left out today (hello, Roberta!), I wanted to leave you with the quote, “Wag more, bark less.”  For cats, it’s “purr more, hiss less.”  I’m asking God to help me turn from hiss to purr today. 


This Looks Like You

My friend (who really is so close she’s like my sister) stops by this morning before the walk to school and hands me a beautiful new purse.

“This looks like you,” she says.

But it’s not my birthday!  It’s not Christmas!

I immediately put it on my shoulder.  Two neighbors announce they have “purse envy.” Nobody has ever said that to me before.  I’m not the kind of girl who goes shopping for purses.   I still use the brown purse my father bought me for my 16th birthday.  Yes, my handbags are over 20 years old. 

But not anymore.  I have a new bright and whimsical purse.  I have a new purse because I have a friend who gives me things that “look like me.”

Living with flair means being that kind of friend.  I want to be a better gift giver.  I want to find little treasures that could delight someone the way I was this morning at 8:00 AM. 

Journal:  When was the last time you gave a gift to someone?


Listen to This Story

Vernal Pond in PA

Today, I had time to listen to different folks tell me a story.

I ask a neighbor to tell me the story about how she moved from one county to another.

I ask a complete stranger to tell me the story of how she transferred from one college to another.

Both women said, “It’s a long story.”

I said, “I have time.”

I decide I want to have the time in my life to listen to long stories.

I’m teaching memoir writing this month for the college seniors. They have incredible and beautiful stories deep inside that nobody has yet asked them to tell.

I wonder how many people we encounter each day who have incredible and beautiful stories deep inside.

They are in there, hidden away like a secret vernal pond.

Living with flair means I encourage others to tell the story inside of them.  It’s been an amazing day because I’ve lived the adventure of listening.

And here’s the picture of me listening to the sound of snow falling on the vernal pond.  Thank you, Jennifer, for being part of my story.

(photo taken today by Jennifer Kelly and her fancy phone)
Journal:  What if I asked this person to tell me his or her story?


The Worst Gift-Giver

I’m a horrible gift-giver.  It takes me forever to think about what would delight another person, and so I abandon the task altogether.   Other folks present beautiful, timely, unexpected gifts to their friends just because they saw something and thought to themselves, “My friend would love this.” 

I wish I were a better gift-giver!  I think of the kinds of “good gifts” God rains down–often beautiful, timely, and unexpected blessings.  I want to learn how to reflect that goodness to others. 

Yesterday, a former student of mine asks if I’ll meet her on campus because she has a little gift for me.  Nothing special, she tells me.

When she arrives with some other students, she pushes across the table a jar of Coconut Satin and Silk Lotion from a little company called Soaps and Such out in Auburn, New York.  Over her holiday break, she figured out how to find some for me. 

“It’s the smell you always commented on–the lotion smell you said you loved,” she says, smiling. “You can’t buy it anywhere but from this one place.  It’s homemade.”  

I open the jar and smell the coconut lotion that transports me to a tropical paradise. We all pass it around and lather our hands with it.

Last year, as I walked by this student’s desk to return her papers, I would linger and say, “What is that smell?  It smells just like coconut!  I wish I smelled like that all day.”

I’d be writing on the chalkboard, and I’d start craving coconut cake.   

It was her Coconut Satin and Silk Lotion.

That was six months ago.  

The student observes the tiniest detail and remembers.   It wasn’t a particularly expensive gift.  It wasn’t large or even wrapped.  But it changed my whole day. 

These sorts of gifts challenge me to observe and remember so I can bless others.  I don’t know what I loved more:  the gift or the fact that she remembered I like the smell of coconut.

Living with flair means I observe, remember, and bless others with tiny gifts. 

Journal Question:   Sometimes I experience little blessings all day that show me God is watching and knows all the things I love.  As I learn to reflect God’s love, am I watching closely what tiny, simple things others love so I might give a gift to bless them?


But We Didn’t

Last night, our doorbell rings at 10:00 PM.  On our front porch, a woman in a gray sweater, sweat pants, and flip flops stands shivering.  We open the door, and she immediately apologizes.

“I’m so sorry to bother you,” she says.  “I’m house sitting for my parents while they travel.  I went into the garage to get something and the door to the house closed and locked behind me!  I’m locked out of my house!”

We invite this stranger into the warm living room.  Sitting by our Christmas tree, we call the locksmith.  But the locksmith can’t verify her identity, so we have to call the police to meet this woman at her own parent’s house to unlock the doors.  She waits on the couch until all the right folks arrive in her driveway to help her.

Meanwhile, I have no choice but to offer a beverage and make conversation.  I’m in my pajamas, and I sit cross-legged on the couch. 

We sit there, staring at one another.  I start to ask questions.

I discover wonderful things.  I hear about a screenplay she’s writing, a novel she’s selling, and her life in New York.  I learn about her theories of dating.  I learn about her degree in linguistics.  I learn about her sister on the West Coast. 

This stranger in flip flops is funny, vibrant, and kind.  I start to really like her.  I start to want to be her life long friend.

When it’s all over, I give her a huge hug like we’ve been friends forever.

She’s coming back today to leave her card. 

Friendship can enter your life at any time.  A stranger locked out of her house, shivering on your doorstep, might just become a dear friend.  You never know. 

We could have turned her away.  We could have hidden in the bedroom and not even answered the door.

But we didn’t.


How to Get This Thing to Work

My friend just emailed a picture of my daughter swinging on a glider swing with her daughter.  On a glider swing, two friends sit back to back.  The rhythm required to get the swing moving involves taking turns pulling up against the bar in front of you.  If you both try to pump at the same time, you don’t move.  It’s fun to watch children figure this concept out.  You have to let the other person move, and then you move, and then it’s back to you, then back to them.

But it doesn’t work if you both pull in your own direction at the same time.

The irony of surrendering to your partner, of deferring to the other person, is that you end up swinging higher.  You get the benefit of all her hard work.  But it doesn’t seem fair.  You have to resist the urge to be first, to control the whole gig.  Those urges end up sabotaging you in the end.

The picture of my daughter on the glider swing reminds me to cooperate.  It’s embarrassing how much I resist cooperation.  I want to lead!  I want to start it all!  But you there at my back, with me the whole time, have a stake in this experience.  What would happen if I saw us as truly interdependent, laced up at our backs, so that when you lead, I go higher?  What if saw my labor as elevating you as well? 

I’m not the surrendering type.  I’m learning, when I look at this picture, to cooperate with what’s at my back (God, my husband, my dear neighborhood friend, my colleagues, and even my own daughters).

Let me work with you.  That’s the way the swing works. 

(beautiful photo courtesy of S. Velegol)


Hold My Hand

Children hold hands.  They just do.  As I walk the children to school this morning, I notice how many of us hold hands naturally.  I wish we were all doing it.

When do we stop?  When did we become so self-conscious? 

Normally, we might hold hands to pray, to pull someone to safety, to keep our balance, to lead someone along, or to keep together in a crowd.

Whatever the case, when my hand rests in yours, it says, “I’m here with you.”  It’s a mark of belonging, of protection, and of love.

Maybe in other cultures, in other communities, hand-holding remains common and abundant, natural and obvious.  But here, I wonder if we aren’t making physical gestures of belonging, protection, and love enough.

I watch my daughter enter her new kindergarten class.  Complete strangers!  She finds a little girl (a pony tail and sparkly sandals) who also likes turtles and Polly Pocket, and as I watch them interact, I see that smile and movement together that signifies I found you; I see you; I like you

When it’s time to circle up on the carpet with the teacher, those two hold hands.  How natural, how obvious.

Living with flair means I hold a hand.  Could I do it?  Could I walk hand in hand with neighbors, colleagues, friends and not just my children?  Here, take my hand.

I found you; I see you; I like you.

(Photo “Hold My Hand” courtesy of Elizabeth Ann Colette)


The Poop Revelation

“Poop?  Poop?  You’re writing about poop?” my youngest challenged me.  “That’s gross, Mom.”  Well, what can I say?  I don’t always get to choose when the flair moment comes.  I just witness it.

On the walk to school this morning, my friend and I trailed behind her little dog (the one with the waggly tail).  When the dog stopped to poop, we stopped and waited, and then we waited some more while she picked up the poop and put it in a plastic bag. 

Meanwhile, the other parents and their kids ran ahead and up the hill through the woods.

“Thanks for waiting with me,” my friend said.

“No problem.  That’s what friendship is.  I wait while you deal with your poop.”

We looked at each other and laughed.  It’s so true.  How many days have we waited patiently while the other was dealing with her poop:  bad moods, freak-out days of too much work and not enough time, our “issues,” or any other situation that made us act less than our best, less than we knew we could be?  How many days did we commiserate about sick children, family drama, disappointments, personal failures?  

We put our arms around each other and walked up that hill.  Any friend that can appreciate my flair metaphors of picking up poop and walking up hills is a friend of mine.  I don’t even need to write it:  Living with flair means I stand beside my friends as they deal with their poop.  Even if everybody else is running up ahead, moving on with their days, I’m hanging around with the poop.  She’d do it for me.


After the Limo: Before and After and the Flair of Going Home

Here’s the picture of my friend 2 years ago.

She told me I could use this picture (besides, it’s the front page of the paper today and in local news). Below, you’ll see the “after” shot.   Here she is after we exited the limo and transformed her for her big reveal.  You’ll see me looking hyper as usual. 

After all the glitter (literally we had glitter dust on us) and glam (think Movie Stars), my friend looked at me around 9:30 PM, and we both knew it was time to go home.  It was an amazing, enchanted night with cameras, crowds, dancing–the works.  But when it got late, we just wanted . . . home. 

We drove back in my old Honda, back to our old neighborhood, back to our regular lives.  For an entire day, we were movie stars, but this morning, I woke up thankful to just be home.  Today I knew I’d be making pancakes, transplanting those seeds my daughter planted in the windowsill, and going to visit that newborn foal this afternoon.  Monday, I’ll walk the kids to schools, and later, we’ll do double-dutch in the parking lot.

Living with flair means wiping the glitter off and enjoying the simple things.  I loved the moment my friend looked at me and said, “I’m ready to go home.”  And did I mention that when we got there, her entire house was sparkling clean?  A crew came and transformed her house while she was busy getting the makeover.  Going home does feel better when you walk into a crystal clean house.  Which reminds me:  Saturday is cleaning day in my house (after pancakes and before gardening), so I’m back to the mundane, the anonymous, and the ordinary.  I can’t wait to enjoy a day of regular flair.  

Photo courtesy of Centre Daily Times (Craig Houtz)


You Never Know When a Limousine Will Show Up

You’ll never guess where I am.  Just a minute ago, I arrived here by limousine to a full day makeover. But it’s not for me; I’m just accompanying the winner of an extreme makeover contest in our town.

A few months ago, I wrote a little essay about a local mom who inspires me.  The winner of this contest would receive a full makeover (wardrobe, jewelry, massage, nails, hair, gym membership, new smile, makeup, housecleaning, a Wii Fit, photo shoot, and tons of other prizes).  When I heard about the contest, I had to nominate this mom.   She’s lost 100 pounds this year, but that’s not even the most important thing.  She’s totally transformed her whole life.  She’s been on a journey to find emotional and spiritual health.  I just love this girl!  I love sitting next to her in church, worshiping God and seeing her write down every word the pastor says.  I love seeing her choose hope and optimism even in hard circumstances.  She fights for happiness, and I just admire her so much. 

So all day, she gets to enjoy an incredible makeover.  Not only that, but at 6:00 PM she arrives (by limo) to her huge reveal party–just like you see on TV!  The press will be there: local news and ABC, magazines, photographers.  It’s the coolest thing to be a part of.

The real story here is that change is possible.  This friend has had an impossibly hard childhood.  She’s taught me that the past does not determine your future, and you can change your life.  Right before we got in the limo, I shared two  Bible verses with my friend.  I said, that “those who look to God will be radiant” (she is totally radiant right now), and that “anyone who is in Christ is a new creation.  The old has gone, the new has come ” (The new woman is here!).  In fact, I have to sign off; she’s nearly finished with her massage, and we are moving on to the hair salon.  More later (with pics I hope).

Living with flair is getting into a limo with someone who deserves a makeover.   It means going on the journey with friends who want to change their lives and being ready to celebrate.