11.4.18 Creating a Bank Account of Cozy

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Salted caramel hot chocolate. Thick, warm slices of buttered toast. Snuggles under a new, warm blanket. Reading a classic while it’s raining … bright colored leaves painting the sidewalk. The first fire of the season, logs snapping as amber shadows dance on your walls. This is the Danish concept of Hygge – dedicating oneself to the pursuit of coziness and comfort.

I was honored to be asked by the editors of Bella Grace to discuss what cozy looks like. November first, this special edition of Bella Grace Magazine came out and is available at Barnes and Nobles, or online. Tonight I finally took the time to dive in and I was instantly neck deep in seasonally sweet ideas and ways to slow the pace of my racing days. From creating oil-infused baths to hosting a Scottish “Cookie Shine,” I am tempted beyond all reason to fill my antique teacup and crawl into bed to read the rest.

I hope that you’ll take a moment to read “Creating a Bank Account of Cozy,” my article and journal prompt and tell me one cozy aspect involving each of your senses. As a sneak peek, I’ll share one of mine.

Taste: Warm pumpkin muffins fresh from the oven

Sound: Strong wind that wrestles the last leaves off trees

Smell: The thick smell of melting chocolate

Touch: Layers upon layers of fleece, cotton, and wool

Sight: The brilliant encore of Maples and Oaks in the finale of Fall

Your turn to turn on your cozy! I’d love to hear your thoughts on how the Danish concept of Hygge might affect you as the season turns.

Be well and stay comfortable friends,

Elle

10.18.18 But First …

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“Seeming to do is not doing.” Thomas Edison

Sometimes I get so frustrated with myself because I haven’t figured out how to do it all. I try. Trust me I try. But somehow … busy and busier is never enough to accomplish everything – or sometimes anything of value.

I find I’m at the, “But then/But first,” stage of my life. I have to finish that email, but then I have a meeting at four, but first I need to talk to so-and-so about such-and-such, but then I need to get my daughter to her haircut, but first I need to get home to let the dog out before she gets a U.T.I., but then my son has soccer, but first I probably need to feed him something … OH YEAH! I need to go pick up the groceries I ordered online this morning since I knew I wouldn’t have time to actually go – but then I’d make him late for his practice, but first I’d better make something out of the nothing groceries I’ve got left.

And on. And on. And on.

I’m a bit tired if you couldn’t tell. And my friends, I hope you aren’t. I hope you have a wealth of sleep-saturated nights and lazy-day mornings. I hope that your first “thing to do” isn’t until eleven o’clock. I hope your laundry is somehow magically done without your having done it, and the dishes put themselves away. I hope that when you get up you find that you still have two more hours to rest. And when your day ends, I hope there is nothing on your to do list but a checked-off load of accomplishments. I wish this reality for you … because at this point in my life … that is a fantasy.

My sweet husband (aka: the cute roommate I have that I think might have a crush on me sometimes when our eyes happen to meet as we pass each other every other day) fell asleep putting my daughter to bed. There she was wide awake as daddy breathed just a little too evenly beside her. I left him there because jealousy is a sin and I’m trying to be virtuous … that and if he stayed, I’d get to workout without interruption.

It is late, and tomorrow is dangerously close to today. I need to get to sleep myself but then, this whole circus will start up again so first I had to reach my typing fingers out into the world to assure myself I am not alone. Right? Are you with me exhausted friends? If so, carry on weary soldiers. If not … God bless you and keep you where you are.

Off to bed, but then someone has to turn out the light, but first I need to go wake him up to do it!

Dreaming of longer days,

Elle

 

 

10.9.18 Picturesque Song

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Every once in awhile, when I quiet my busy long enough to feel – life finds another way to bring me back. Sometimes it’s in the unexpected shift in the clouds that reveals an iridescent promise. Sometimes it’s the smile you didn’t see coming from the person who never does. And sometimes, it’s the words you didn’t know you needed to hear until you heard them.  Lately there’s a song that I’ve been loving called “Testify” by the band Needtobreathe. Although all of the lyrics speak to me, there is one line … isn’t there always … that draws me in and holds me.

“Mist on the mountain, rising from the ground – there’s no denying beauty makes a sound.” 

Doesn’t it just make you breathe slower? Close your eyes? And hear it?

What does beauty sound like to you?

I’m not sure I ever thought about it before, but now that I have, I often find myself wondering at what beauty sounds like, and little by little, my list grows.

Beauty sounds like the recession of a wave, pulling back the might of a swell.

Beauty sounds like the contented breathing of love sleeping evenly beside you.

Beauty sounds like the rustle of leaves … the hint of change swirling underfoot.

Beauty sounds like the quiet voice urging you one more time, to carry on.

Beauty sounds like a chance.

Beauty sounds like a choice.

Beauty sounds like a prayer, offered up without anything but remaining hope.

 

What do you hear? I’d love to know what beauty sounds like to you dear ones. Let’s make our own picturesque song.

Elle

Trepidatious Hearts 9.30.18

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“Build me a son, O Lord, who will be strong enough to know when he is weak, and brave enough to face himself when he is afraid, one who will be proud and unbending in honest defeat, and humble and gentle in victory.” – Douglas MacArthur

I am a little anxious writing tonight because I so desperately want to get this right. For the past few weeks I have been confronted with a tangle of thoughts and quotes and words and perspectives that have all built to a feeling to speak … I’m still not sure I know exactly what to say, but I can’t ignore the itch to try, and I pray something will come that is worthy of sharing, worthy of feeling and passing on.

I have been loving a song lately called “Charlie Boy,” by The Lumineers. It is about a young man feeling compelled by the speech of J.F.K. to enter into the war, and to fight for something bigger than himself – freedom. And as such, it is about a mother who is forced to accept his decision to fight, and ultimately, to die. The lyrics sing to her, “… don’t hang your head, love should make you feel goodIn uniform you raised a man, who volunteered to stand.” Based on of a true story, I wonder how many brave young men and women have heeded a call I consistently choose to ignore. I crave safety, not the price of it. I yearn to be protected, not defend myself. Having children has only deepened this yearning for sanctuary, I think because I want to offer my son and daughter a promise that’s not mine to give – that they’re always going to be okay.

When my son was five and in kindergarten the Sandy Hook shooting happened. As a teacher, I always knew the threat was real, but when I had a son in a school, and I wasn’t with him – something shifted in me that has perpetually remained unaltered. I’ll never forget the months of shaking hands when I hugged him goodbye and sent him off to class … the way I looked back at the locked door thinking it wasn’t safe enough … the way I questioned the administration about the how they planned to increase the security measures of a small private school. Nothing seemed right for a long time, and every afternoon, when I picked him up, I realized that I’d release a breath I hadn’t known I’d been holding. It’s the same feeling I now have when I read accounts of families sold into slavery, of the Holocaust, of human trafficking  … to me they are all tales of mothers being taken from their children. And I can’t read stories as impartial accounts of history anymore, because all I hear is the injustice of a mother’s broken heart, and the empathy in me rises so that I can hardly breathe.

There is something about my son, my daughter, that have made objectivity impossible. I can no longer look at a situation apart from them, because they are my own precious version of gravity, holding my identity in this time and space in history. And I wish – I wish with every fiber of my being, that the world could understand this love … because if it could, I really believe things would be better. I’m reading an amazing book called Circus Mirandus, and in it, there is a section where a magician offers a little boy an illusion to see anything he wishes to see, as long as he understands it cannot be real. The boy wishes to see his father home from war, and in the illusion, the boy’s mother says something to him that absolutely wrecks me … and I found myself wishing, beyond all wishes, that it wasn’t an illusion, that it wasn’t a beautiful part of a beautiful story, because it is so very acutely the way I believe things should be.

“The war ended all at once and very calmly. It was as if, between one moment and the next, all the mothers of all the soldiers in the world had checked their clocks and realized that their children had been out playing for too long … The soldiers shook hands with one another and wished one another well. Then they raced back to their mothers or to their wives and sons.” – Cassie Beasley

And can’t you just see it? Can’t you see all the misunderstandings, the judgements, the hatred erased as if it were one big confusing game that has just gone on too long? Can’t you picture soldiers, gang members, politicians, and rivals shaking their heads in sudden confusion, bewildered at the mistakes they didn’t ever intend to go that far? If only everyone heard their mothers’ voices calling them back to themselves. If only everyone heard their father calling them home.

What a world we could promise our children.

What peace our trepidatious hearts could feel.

 

 

 

9.16.18 Choose You

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In his book, Choose Yourself, James Altucher says, “Only think about the people you enjoy. Only read the books you enjoy, that make you happy to be human. Only go to the events that actually make you laugh or fall in love. Only deal with the people who love you back …” in other words … choose you! 

I find this somewhat difficult to do. At times, I feel like unless I am being productive, achieving something (regardless of how menial it may be), or pursuing accomplishment, I am wasting time. More and more I am realizing that both society and I have been lying to myself. Sometimes … more than sometimes, we need to do nothing more than refill our own cups, renew our own spirits, and realize our value comes from being, not doing.

In her infinite four-years-older-than-me-wisdom, my sister bought me a fabulous book for my birthday (and dress and boots to wear while I read it!). More of a journal really, it’s called 3,000 Questions About Me, and I absolutely LOVE it. More often than not my sweet family and friends and anyone who is stuck in my vicinity for more than twenty minutes will hear me chime in, “Hey, let’s play the question game.” This means that from would you rather to what’s your favorite, let’s pretend, to what if … I will pretty much ask you questions until you turn blue in the face from answering them all. (Sometimes I secretly applaud myself for choosing my occupation of teaching so I have an educational excuse to pepper those little angels with as many questions as I want to!) The thing is though, I rarely ask myself to answer the questions I ask, and this book has been giving me permission to do so.

So Friday night, my family went to a fun park, and I chose myself. I did some housework, I grocery shopped, and then I gave myself forty-whole-minutes to answering questions about me. Honestly, I didn’t know the answers to quite a few of them, and in some ways this thrilled me. Choosing you is like giving yourself permission to meet and interview the parts of yourself you’ve not really paid attention to recently – or ever. I don’t know what my most marked characteristic is … I’ve not decided what the next wonder of the world should be … I don’t know my Chinese zodiac sign … I’ve yet to explore what food best describes my personality … but the good news is, if I choose myself a few more Friday nights, I might begin to, and the better I know myself, the better able I am to be authentically known by others.

Choose you – because in doing so, you are allowing more of yourself to be open to the world that longs to know you better.

Elle

8.8.18 My Kind of People

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“I don’t like noodles Auntie Elle.”

“We are AT Noodles and Company buddy, what did you think that they made here?”

“I don’t know.”

“Noodles. That’s what they make here.”

Blank stare.

“So what do you think you’d like to get then?”

Looking up at the menu board for a long time, my nephew studied the pictured options, finally resting on something near the bottom and pointing to it.

“Garlic bread.”

“Garlic bread?”

“Yeah, I like garlic bread.”

“Do you want something with your garlic bread like soup or a salad or something? I feel like garlic bread isn’t really a meal.”

Looking for another length of time, he pointed once more.

“Pineapple.”

“Pineapple … you want pineapple with your garlic bread.”

“Yeah.”

“Not buttered noodles or chicken or veggies.”

“No.”

“Well alright … garlic bread and pineapple it is.”

“And I’ll have six pieces instead of three so it’s more.”

“It’s more alright buddy, but okay, six it is.”

This was the conversation I had with my eight-year-old nephew when I was watching him and his brother and sister for a week this summer. Going from a mother of two to five had its challenges, but honestly, even on the worst day (like that one, where we were stuck in the dentist’s office for two hours and my daughter had a cavity for the first time and a major meltdown because she had a cavity for the first time) conversations like this happen, and then it is all okay.

I struggle with people who say they don’t like kids. What’s not to like? As a teacher and mother, I feel that little people are the absolute best kind of people – my kind. I find even more that adults that I truly enjoy are so enjoyable because I can still see the kid in them, and that is my favorite part.

Yesterday my son held the door open for me and said, “Hey mom … how old do you think you’ll be when you go to live in one of those nursery homes?” It took every ounce of my kegal-exercised-control not to pee my pants laughing. I told him that I figured somewhere in my eighties, but that he could help me make the decision based on how I was doing upstairs. God bless him.

I love the quote from Kent Nerburn that says, “Remember to be gentle with yourself and others. We are all children of chance and none can say why some fields will blossom while others lay brown beneath the August sun.” The thing is, I really believe that no child should ever be a child of chance. We have schools, we have teachers, and principals and aides and volunteers and absolutely NO excuse. By God it is our job to LOVE them, not to like or to tolerate, but to love. I might be stepping out here, but I would go so far as to argue that if you as a teacher do not love the students God puts in your way, you are no longer called to teach.

The last days of my summer are ebbing to a close, and as melancholy as I feel about the quickly fading fireflies and the earlier approaching mornings … I am still excited. I’ve bought new lantern globes, pencil toppers, and name plates. I’ve begun moving desks and replenishing marker supplies. I got new fringe rugs and about two-hundred colored paperclips divided according to shade because those are necessary to the balance of my room of course! I can’t help it. I am a kid person, because I am very much in touch with the kid in me, and I let her voice dictate a great deal of my adult decisions because she is still right.

Children (even naughty ones, God love them … they’re the most fun) are the best kind of people, and it takes nothing to make them happy. Frederick Douglass once said, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” I pray this year, as the academic turn comes once again, that everyone will remember this quote and take the time to love a kid just by giving them five uninterrupted minutes of your time.

Even if they talk about Pokemon.

Or Shopkins.

Or bugs.

Or knock-knock jokes.

Or guess my number.

Or why questions.

Or foods they hate.

Or foods they love.

Whatever it is … give them time.

You never know, by doing so, we just might be healing humanity one garlic bread and pineapple dinner at a time.

Please share your favorite kid quote with me. I’d love to giggle along.

Elle

8.2.18 Crave

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I crave that creative place

where my mind 

is free to wander 

just a bit

to dabble and dance

in and out 

of a memory or two

lingering in places particularly sweet

and allowing my heartbeat to quicken with reinvented remembering

I love to fall into a good conversation

where the words tumble over themselves 

in an effort to explore the emotions born with them

pushing past inherited perspectives and perceptions 

searching for what is true in your shared or borrowed states of mind

and heart

I wish time was a little less relative 

to everything

and everyone

that there would be more of it in the space of a day

or a moment that doesn’t necessarily need, but wants more attention

so that a detail

a look

or a longing wouldn’t have to go without

I crave that creative place

I love

to wish

7.25.18 Someone Like Him

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“Sons are the anchors of a mother’s life.” – Sophocles

When he was eight, my son looked up at me and said, “Hey mom, when I go to college … you’ll come right?”

“Of course,” I replied. And can I just say that until the offer is formally rescinded, I plan to find an apartment with a four-year lease, and keep my word.

Eleven. That is what this almost-as-tall-as-me charmer just turned, and my heart hurts with pride and pain at the clock and calendar that refuse to slow for me, regardless of my pleas. Ironically, he asked for a pocket watch for his birthday, and every few minutes, when he checks the time, I feel my heart racing the second hand as the visceral reminder that our time is fleeting. Emerson once said that, “Men are what their mother’s made them.” Though he may be a few years off from being a man, I can’t agree with Emerson, because nothing I have done in the past eleven years could have made a boy this good … this pure-hearted, or kind.

Whether it is right or wrong, a reversal of roles or even always appropriate … I depend on this little guy – on his perspectives, his judgement, his prayers, and even his bravery. He is a shoulder worth leaning into because underneath those mischievous smiles, there is a core of integrity and honor that can only be heaven-lent. I’m not sure how fair it is for me to need him at times probably more than he needs me, but there it is. My truth.

Just the other day I ran into a friend with a son the same age. She said she just finished running four miles with another friend of ours with another son the same age. After our pleasantries, I watched her sculpted runner legs leave and turned to my son saying, “Do you think it’s bad I’m not a runner mom? All your friends’ moms seem to run and I don’t. I rollerblade and walk and …”

“Mom,” he said, maturity washing over his little man features. “That’s silly. If anything they should feel bad because they’re all the same and you do things that are different.”

Cry.

There isn’t a day that goes by in this boy’s life where he doesn’t find a way to make me feel special … where he doesn’t make me believe that even if he could have hand-picked a mother, he would have chosen me. What in heaven’s reach did I do to deserve this? To deserve him?

We have our moments. But honestly … I can’t remember any of them significantly enough to even soften the halo around this post. I pray, with all my mother’s heart, that everyone have a someone like him.

Happy birthday baby boy,

I love you to Neverland,

Mommy (Elle)

6.26.18 Broken Angels

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“Family is not an important thing. It’s everything.” Michael J. Fox

Today I had the privilege of meeting a fresh from heaven darling for the first time – the beautiful daughter of my sweet friend, only two-days-old. I was immediately drawn into every detail of the encounter and tried to memorize the feeling of just being in the presence of this special moment. I took in every thread of their growing tapestry … from the way her daddy smiled a new smile, seemingly reserved just for her, to the way her toddler sister bragged about her new baby, to the precious handful of nicknames her mommy designated with each tender cuddle or kiss. It was holy, this love. It was pure. It was family in the way family should be. She was an angel born into a home that adored her. How I wish this was always the case.

A few weeks ago, I experienced quite the opposite. I was in a restaurant with my mom on a trip. I had just come off of an interview for a piece I was writing and I couldn’t wait to tell her every detail. But just as we both got our waters, a family was seated at the table behind us, and my concentration to the conversation was shattered for the next forty minutes. The family of five was soon to be six, as evidenced by a supremely uncomfortable and exhausted looking wife. She had dark rings under her eyes and did not smile once in the entirety of their visit. I’m not sure why she would however, as her husband was constantly berating the three kids whose ages ranged roughly between two and six. Between arguing about the expense of things, to nitpicking the way the oldest son was eating, to refusing to get his child a refilled drink, to displaying annoyance at having to cut food into pieces, or push up sleeves, or pick up a fork that fell … it literally hurt to witness such distain, such anger.

I kept losing my place in conversation and had to apologize to my mom over and over again for my distraction. She understood of course – the whole restaurant did at that point. My stomach turned in knots as I wrestled with determining what bothered me more … the fact that the three small children barely looked up from their plates out of fear, or the fact that another young life was being born into this already love-starved family. And as simple as it sounds to state it – I was so mad! I was so angry at the absolute disrespect this man had for the lives he brought into this world, and at the woman who not only allowed him to speak with such force, but then reinforced his words with her own jabs of disappointment and criticism at the children.

I hate doing nothing. I loathe when people say, “It’s not my concern,” because it’s just NOT true. Statements of copping out due to social graces are a weak excuse for doing the right thing. Being humane is everyone’s concern. Being kind is within everyone’s capability. After having taught for the past fourteen years, can you guess which type of family I see more of? Can you imagine why I might desperately wish to adopt so many of the past students I’ve taught? Do you understand why I spent as much time nurturing their emotional health as their educational growth? Because by the time so many of these middle school children reached me they were broken angels … and I had to wonder how long it had been since they had someone absolutely adore them. If ever.

Before leaving the restaurant that day, I stopped at that family’s table and took a moment to gush over the kids. I said how well behaved they were. I talked to them. I looked them in the eyes. I chatted about how I bet they were so excited to be great helpers to their parents with the new baby and how lucky their mom and dad were to have them. They looked up. They smiled and sat up a little straighter. And that was it. It was nothing … but it was everything I could do within that moment not to cry – not to yell, “How dare you,” to a complacent set of parents who didn’t realize the triple blessing before them. Hearts, after all, only turn hard to protect what once craved the love they weren’t given.

As for tonight … I am going to focus on this morning. I have to. I am going to see the sunlight that filtered into a room littered with new baby toys, with big sister joys, and with a mom and dad overflowing with tired exhilaration at the fact that their hearts just multiplied the amount of love they thought they could hold. I am going to imagine tiny, perfect breaths, rosebud lips, twitchy smiles brought on by invisible memories of heaven. And I am going to do my best to dream the impossible dream, that every child will be loved the way they deserve to be loved, appreciated for the miracle they really are, and found before they are ever lost.

Love fiercely, protect just the same … whether they are yours, or not.

Elle