Ready or not....




I signed up for some new things this year. I am going to be teaching an introductory course in public speaking at our local state university. Crazy! But it is always something I have wanted to try so when they saught me out, I had to say yes. Of course, I am a bit scared. Not in the "Oh shit, what am I doing?" sort of scared, but more in the low grade, fear-of-the-unknown scared. The content bothers me none. Monroe's motivated sequence is as motivating as it was 10 years ago. 18 year olds are still 18 albeit with more technology. What I am happy about is that public speaking is pretty raw and you cannot hide behind much of anything. A gadget will not save you- of this I am certain.

So...I will instill confidence through the espousal of preparation and practice, practice, practice, and heed my own advice starting....tomorrow.

It's my birthday and I am going to live it up by eating a carbohydrate and cleaning. Both are things I do not do on a regular basis and I always want my birthday to feel different than a usual day.

I love birthdays- mine or anyone elses. Again, I know some people just kind of roll their eyes but to me, I need more than stacks of normal days on end. That is why I am constantly on the look out for any little thing to kick my days up a notch. I will take a smarmy holiday, a pretty sunset, or a unexpected kind gesture as the hint to amplify if I can.

On this birthday, my 43rd, I want to cry because I am just so-out-of-this- world blesssed and that crazy girl you see grinning is me...wondering about the challenges she will take on this year with a fervor and committment that seems newly-found yet long-brewing at the same time.












What I didn't say...

What I didn't say in my holiday letter is that there is so much that never makes it to the page. No one wants to read about your heartbreaks and disappointments and struggles and mistakes. We carefully craft the news of our year to suggest our positive outlook, highlight our endearing offspring, and nuance our hopes and beliefs for the future so they seem similar to everyone elses.

Some years, however, it is just too much. One storm after another blows through, and it is good enough to just be standing. I get why many just send out a picture. What is in your heart can be just too difficult to share and feels impossible to ignore.

Thankfully, I always have the spirit of giving in my heart. In fact, it is one of my favorite things to do. I got this from my mom, who has perfected the art of gift-giving. She thinks about it, carries little bits of people with her all year round in order to find that something that shows she knows someone, gets them, and most of all loves them enough to find just the right item to express this love. How much money she has had to do this over the years has varied, as it has for me. That is the part that never matters. Through careful planning, ingenuity, and just plain thoughtfullness, she always manages to give the perfect gift.

My mom has had some tough years. I have, too. But it seems we always rebound for Christmas. Even if we can't set a word to a page, we can get outside of ourselves long enough to think of someone else and that is what saves us. I know many who view the commercialism of Christmas tiresome and shallow. I will agree to a point. But it feels good to get out of your head and into the heart of someone else: how can I make their day? how can I show what they mean to me? Words do fail. What is left is to offer our hearts through a gesture of kindness or a small, tangible offering of love that cannot be verbally expressed.

Merry Christmas.

Restless Gray Girl

Save the last dance for me

My kids got a disco strobe light recently. A friend decided it was just what we needed to christen a large space that we have that seems to scream, "Dance Party!"

We do dance. I dance, the kids dance, Big Man dances. Ok. Big Man dances in the I-am-a-fun-dad-and-won't-be-a-stick-in-the-mud sort of way, but he does dance. However, he loves to exaggerate the white man's overbite, and fluidity is not part of his game. Still...he dances.

When the kids were smaller and the death march was upon us (these are the hours between 4:00 p.m. and dinner for the uninformed-a time that can stretch out forever), we used to just head to the basement and dance through it. Spinning and twirling and improvised break dancing would get us all sweating and the death march eased into a pleasant stroll towards dinner.

Today, we continue to dance but less often. The new strobe light has prompted the kids to have other kids over to make up their own shows and routines. Only when no one is available do they call in parental troops.

Last weekend, Big Man felt like strolling down a musical memory lane and had the most eclectic mix blasting from his home computer. Lionel Richie, the Beastie Boys, White Stripe, and some heinous opera wafted through the rooms of our home and it was interesting to see what made the kids move. What was more interesting was this: Big Man asked me to dance.

I said yes and off we went twirling around the room. Thing 1 was grinning and Thing 2 alternated between giggling and gagging.

"You don't look like you are having much fun," said Big Man.

"Hey! It's hard to look like you are having fun when you're in shock!" I replied.

Many moons ago, Big Man and I won a free dance lesson three months before our wedding. We went thinking we might take a few more lessons to prep ourselves for our big day. They never asked us back. Even though Big Man is 6 feet 2 inches tall and I am not, the height difference was apparently the least of our problems. It still stings to think that we never got pimped to buy lessons for our own wedding.

And that was the last time we really danced together. There have been dance parties a'plenty since kids, but he and I just don't take to the dance floor together.

Until this past weekend. Briefly, I did wonder what was going on in his head. But my experience with men in general and Big Man specifically suggests that complexity of thought isn't usually part of the equation. I am sure it was something very simple like, "I like this song. I need to grab my girl and dance." I am proud to know I have matured out of the "needing to know everything he is thinking" phase in our relationship. I have learned the hard way that more often than not, it just isn't that complicated.

So he asked me to dance and I said yes. And while I don't think it was our last dance, it was a good one...and I am glad he saved it for me.

What I can't say

Most years I can't wait to get to my holiday letter. I like updating in a self-deprecating, newsy sort-of-way. As the month cruises by, I get cards and holiday letters with little notes in them that say, "Looking forward to your letter". I like that others look forward to reading as much as I do writing it.


But this year I really struggled.


Generally, I like to write what I might like to read. Hinting at the downside suggests that no one life is perfect, yet a total scrooge-out misses the point completely.


But sometimes what is in your heart just isn't what people want to know.


What I can't say is that I still think about Andrew, not because I knew him well, but because I am a mom and as such, wonder how a person moves on from such a loss.


What I can't say is that his death is still working on me in ways I don't get and my need to do something grows stronger even if the what seems just as murky as it was when it was fresh.


What I can't say is that my brother is braver than I will ever be for working his AA steps one day, one hour, one minute at a time, and that his work is far greater than anything I will ever do.


What I can't say that while I love my kids, I don't feel that need to micromanage and coach and schedule the hell out of their life. I love it when they leave me alone as much as I love when they pile in my bed at 6:30 a.m. for massive snuggling and tickle time.


What I can't say is as much joy as family can bring you, there can also be immense pain.


What I can't say that I don't get why I want what is best for everyone more than what is best for me as an individual. Taking it for the team has always been good for me and when the talk turns to politics, the divides seems greater than ever before and I want to scream, "It's about all of us...not just you."


I get it now...why I get those pictures of a happy family with a name stamped on the bottom. Because it is hard sometimes to paint a picture of your year in an honest fashion....all you can do is choose the moments you want to share. And sometimes, the moment you plan for and create is the one you most want to work with.


What I can't say is that I view the letter as a gift and when you are struggling inside, it is hard to give.


Thing 2 decided to helps me sign and stuff the envelopes, and she voiced what I knew to be true. She was disappointed in my letter full of pictures and little text.
"Mom, where is all your writing? That is the best part. You are funny, mom!"


Ugh.


I can disappoint the masses just fine...but my baby doll?


"Well, hon. It was really hard this year. I had a lot going on in my head...and I just didn't feel funny."


With the shrug of a carefree tween she says, "Next year will be better" and continues to sign in her middle school script that is sure to bring a few smiles.


What I can say is her nudge of optimism is just what I needed to let it all go and enjoy what really matters this season.




















A picture-perfect tree

The kids love getting the Christmas tree. We go to the same tree lot every year--there are singing decorations and a mass of people in a heated garage drinking and tying things on wreaths "artistically". Between gulps of PBR, they remember to ask our kids if they would like a candy cane over the noise of the chainsaw that is trimming the trunk of our tree. What can I say? I am a sucker for tradition.

We always manage to find a decent looking tree and Big Man gets the lights on just so thanks to years of serious tutelage from his father. He retreats to the couch admiring his work and waiting for the odd request to "hang this up there, dad" or "I can't reach this, dad" never really minding about the particulars.

The best part of the whole experience is getting out the ornaments. I started giving the kids ornaments when they were babies- things to reflect their interests and experiences. It's always fun to have them take them out because they laugh at what in no longer of interest to them. Last year's fling with ice skating is barely noticed when Harry Potter and friends are revealed. Various dragons and dinosaurs show the steadfast love of a little boy. The small, glittering Eiffel Tower reflects a big dream of a little girl and the Darth Vader who stands watch over the heard of dinosaurs suggests the influence of a father and an auntie. "Let's hitch a wave!" gets thrown about when we spy the San Diego Zoo ornaments because the kids got to boogie board for the first time on that trip to California.

And this is ends the romantic part of decorating the tree.

A few days ago, I realized we had mistakenly thrown out lights in the never ending quest to pare down and get rid of stuff. Big Man and Things picked up some lights one day while I was working. Apparently, there was quite a discussion over what sort, color, and size. But as we were pulling out the ornaments, Big Man tested the lights and a strange look came over his face.

"Oh! They are so big, bright, and cheery!" chirped Thing 1.

"Umm...that's because they are meant for the great outdoors," replied Big Man.

Jumbo, mulit-colored LED lights. Or obnxious, loud, and head-ache inducing.

But no matter. I can tell by looking at my family that re-doing lights is not on the agenda. Things are now anxious to fill this gaily lit (or garish, depending on your take of things) tree.

Most of Thing 2's ornaments sit at the four and half foot mark. Darth Vader presides over the dinosaurs and the Christmas Dragon that every boy must have- suggesting that the battle between evil and evil-er could start any minute. Thing 1 was more thoughtful in her presentation. The glittering replica of the Eiffel Tower could not compete with the hot pink tutu so they were distributed in a manner that one could really appreciate each ornament on it's own.

It is obvious that I have given these ornaments to my kids without a thought to color coordination or taste. I was simply finding things that would chronicle their interests and experiences. Why, 10 years into this, did it now occur to me that they must put these suckers somewhere is beyond me. In years past, we have had two trees. I bought a cheap artificial one and put it in the basement where they play and let them have at it. In my cleaning spree,however, I decided two trees was totally unneccessary.

Oh well.

My family clumps together a lot like the ornaments Thing 2 placed at foot four and half of our tree. Depsite eight perfectly good rooms in the house, we all seem to end up in the same space, the lights are bright (and loud) like my kiddos, and I just don't have a Martha Stewart bone in my body to un-do what might appear to some as a garish tree. But I know a reflection of joy and enthusiasm when I see it. And to this beholder, it really is quite beautiful.

The Gift of An Ordinary Day

Right now I am re-reading Katrina Kenison's book The Gift of an Ordinary Day in preparation for her visit to The Book Shelf on Friday. I don't often re-read books because the stack is too high. What started out as a thorough skimming has becoming a full-on read with post-it notes plastering the book because for any parent, there is just a wealth of reflective material.


Katrina and her husband made the choice to uproot their sons as one was entering high school. They were searching for a place where their eldest could thrive and a place where they, as a family, could slow down. This became a three year quest and in the midst of all it, their youngest son makes that heroic transformation of boy to young man. It isn't easy on any of them, and I think what draws me most to this book is the comforting cadence throughout that suggests it will be ok. We all have hair raising moments as parents, or unexpected hilarity, or anger so profound and deep that we can't see past it. When you are in the fire of a struggle with any kid, the last thing you are thinking is that it is going to be ok. Katrina offers assurance and the gift of hindsight that this is true--she and her sons still speak, share laughs and love, and enough ordinary moments to fill the tens of journals that she has kept throughout their lives together. And it is the ordinary that Katrina espouses, the willingness to dig into every day life with your family remaining fully aware that every moment is a gift.


Perhaps the greatest reminder Katrina gives to me is that my job is not to shape my kids into an image that I have, but to coax them toward who they already are...to allow them the freedom to fully explore the gifts they already possess in a way that feels right and true to them.


I am so excited that Katrina is coming to Winona. She resides in New Hampshire and her oldest son graduates from college in St. Olaf this year. I knew he would be performing in his final Christmas concert this year so on a whim, I e-mailed her to ask if she might like to stop by and talk with us about her book and experiences. She said yes! Since my daughter is beginning to round the first bend of puberty, I cannot wait to experience some of her assurance first-hand.



If you are at all curious, check this out-- http://bookshelfwinona.com/. I would love for you to join us.

So?

Ann Patchett, author of State of Wonder and Bel Canto, just opened an independent book store in Nashville. An author who is going to see what it's like from the other side...but I bet she won't have any trouble getting any guest speakers. Which makes me wonder who that side of things will change her view of what she does.


Little book stores can't often get big name speakers...mainly because we can't pay them, but often they are too out of the way, too small, etc.

Humble pie

It's humbling to know that your brother picks up tin or scrap metal along the side of the road for an income. He brings a meaning most of us really don't know to the word 'frugal.'

His road has not been an easy one, yet I wonder at times how different life might be if your focus is as laser-sharp as his now seems to be. Most of his time is centered on staying sober. The in-between moments are filled with stretching his few dollars and concern for friends who are in similar boats.

At Thanksgiving, Kelley said out loud that he was thankful for being alive. Being grateful for anything has never been easy for Kelley, and I believe his whole world must look a lot different now that he recognizes-- he's here.

I have not been a good sister to Kelley. Frankly, I have always been a bit scared of him. He was either angry or drunk and this doesn't do much for relationship building.

My baby brother has looked after him in years past by pulling him out of this bar or that and taking him home. Had I been around, I am not sure I could have done that. If I did, I am ashamed to admit that my concern for others would have been greater than the concern I felt for Kelley.

To appease my bad-sister conscience, I like to imagine a web of energy that connects me to Kelley. Right now I have a direct line that is running from Winona to Sioux City and it follows him on his countless walks to meetings, the grocery, or metal hunting, all the while sending little messages.

"Yes, you can do it. You are doing it."

"Yes. I do love you. I always have."

"Your new friends are lucky to have you."

"Keep it up, Kelley."

Maybe it's a cop-out, but it's what I have for now. It's a start.

I apologize

The kids have been sick, I have been sick, and the change in seasons always does a number on me. But here we are, and it's Thanksgiving already. It's one of my favorite days because I like to look at the little things in my life (and big) and reflect on what I feel thankful for.

I confess that I see a lot that distresses me. Wars still rage, people don't have jobs, and our Congress is an embarrassment. Meanwhile, anyone who feels different from the norm remains scared and bullies continue to bully. It's hard in times like this to just put on a game face and buck up.

But that I must do.

Meanwhile, normal life chugs along. A few nights back, I was not feeling well, Big Man was on call, and I was attempting to put the kids to bed. It wasn't going well, I was tired, frustrated, sick, and I just gave up. I went to bed, the kids stalked me, I ignored them, and tears were had by all. Eventually, one fell asleep next to me, and one passed out on the floor.

I woke up the next morning with a note on my bed stand. It read, "I'm sorry, mommy. I still love you."

It gets like this, you know. You are pushed to the limit and all that is left is to say is I still love you despite all the crap.

I feel like that about my kids some days. I feel like that about our country most days.

Something's gotta give, something will give, but I still love it here because I get to say things like this without fear. My little neighborhood sports "Drill Baby Drill" signs amidst a host of blue. Despite apparent idealogical differences, the undercurrent of friendly neighborhood kindness remains. In any direction I look, I know I can get help should I need it in the form of snow shoveling, kid-watching, and the lending of eggs, sugar, and tools.

My neighbors remain kind even if we disagree. My mom still sends holiday cards and thank you notes even when I fall abysmally behind on such tasks, and my babies still love me despite my imperfections and I could not be more grateful. When people look beyond differences, see past imperfections, and make inroads towards forgiveness....well, that is when I really feel grateful. It seems everywhere I look, there are lessons to be learned.

And that is where I am left, in my own home, trying to do better. I can be grateful that my kids teach me everyday and that I am willing to learn from them.

Maybe this is where I am hung-up. It doesn't seem like as a country, we are willing to learn. I hope I am wrong and if I am, I apologize.


Icky

The news is just icky. Our Super Committee was anything but super, stores are opening on Thanksgiving Day when really, don't we all just need a break? Over and over we hear, we need jobs, the war is costing us too much, our Congress is ineffectual and our schools need to do better. I was heartened Monday morning when finally, people put the blame elsewhere- on parents! How refreshing not to have teachers being blasted. But, you know, as parents we have nothing else to worry about- those jobs we don't have, but at least we now have vats of time to read and inquire into our child's life without the stress of needing to be 3 places at once.


And then, there are those of us who are attempting to make a point by occupying Wall Street and once again, the message gets convoluted. I don't see how being fed up with big banks and big money is an issue we can't all agree on. Yes, we are in charge of our own destiny- but we are in this world together and if we all have the same oppor

Wonderful Wimpy

Today Thing 1 invited Thing 2 into her bedroom and Thing 2 went willingly. The impetice to this major event was Jeff Kinney, author of the bestselling series Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Thing 2 had mentioned that many of his classmates were reading them so Thing 1 offered her books to Thing 2. The compedium is incomplete- numbers 2 and 3 are missing. They are likely under the pit from hell (her bed) or gone forever because they were mistaken for library books and returned. At any rate, parents overheard a normal conversation happening and were so stunned that Things overheard parent's sudden silence and closed the door. Hmph!

Thing 2 later emerged skipping out of Thing 1's bedroom. Yes, he was skipping! And he settled right in to read and no one forced him to!

These kids of mine do not fight every minute of the day, but they certainly do not seek out one another's company so I left feeling grateful for Jeff Kinney, bestselling author and miracle worker.

Maybe I should box up a few thousand copies of the Wimpy Kid series and ship them off to Iraq and Iran. It seems we've tried everything else...
I don't watch a lot of tv, but I tuned in to see Gabby Giffords last night. After the hell of last week that continues to emerge, I thought a good story was in order. And while her journey is far from over, the journey itself was remarkable to see. If, as individuals,we possessed an ounce of her tenacity and spirit and fight, collectively we could really turn a lot around in our own lives and in society.


I started to think about love. It seemed to emanate from the screen- her husband was next to her every inch of the way and his desires to see her succeed seemed to match her own. I wonder, do we all feel that kind of love from someone. I am blessed. I do. And because of that, the only thing that beats me down....is myself.


The Gabby Giffords in our world need to stand up. They need to shout, they need to bring us to our feet in a chorus of let's do it. Let's get it done, inch by inch...come on!

In my quiet moments

Today, in my quiet moments, I will think of Uncle Jim who survived Vietnam. I will re-live my grandma telling the story of his return and how happy he was to hold a baby, me, when he came home. I don't know how true any of this is. Stories get passed down and sometimes they are told in a way that can re-shape the memory so it fits into a manner that feels good to us. The truth is harder to take, and grandma never wanted to discuss Vietnam. When Jim came home, he was home and that was that. The only mention of Vietnam was about his safe return and my birth. Perhaps it was a generational thing, perhaps it was just a Louise Gray thing, but it never seemed quite right.

Today, in my quiet moments, I will think of my husband's patients. There are many who will live with psychological and physical ramifications of their service time for the rest of their lives. He has seen first-hand the pain of re-entry into a world they do not know. The stories he tells are not pretty.

Today, in my quiet moments, I will give thanks for all the "old-timers" I have seen bravely marching in parades proudly carrying the flag and quietly insisting that we not forget. Finally, I understand what that was all about.

Today, in my quiet moments, I will give thanks for Mike, my cousin, who has lost track of the number of missions he's been on and has always returned safely to us.

Today, in my quiet moments, I will not shake the Taps from Andrew's funeral. Andrew will not be a Veteran. I will worry about his parents and siblings, and then I will worry about all the other families who have lost someone and wonder what, if anything, can I do?

Today, in my quiet moments, I will hear the Taps playing and hope others hear it, too.

Out-of-the-ordinary ordinary

Big Man has taken to cutting out mulitples of a cartoon-ish shaped bird that we are soon going to be decorating. This idea came from a piece of art we saw and really liked on a recent trip. Big Man has such a can-do spirit. I am delighted and skeptical at the same time. Make a 3-D shark out of lumber scraps and fabric? Sure! Make a dragon out of paper mache? Sure! Look at some art and say,"We could do that?" Sure! He has artistic talents I wasn't fully aware of when we married. Had I known I am sure I would have still gone through with it, but I would have re-considered my own artistic endeavors.

I used to like to dabble in watercolor paints. I didn't create pictures so much as make designs on paper that I then liked to make cards from. One night (long before kids and daring to take on such a creative endeavor seemed possible), I was messing around with my paints and he sat down to join me. We were quiet and doing our own thing. About twenty minutes pass and he is looking at his picture. It is the perfect rendition of Millie, our old cocker-spaniel. It looks like a professional painting with shading and detail and depth. I had been mixing colors and experimenting with "designs" which we all know means my fine motor skills lack finesse. My shapes and patterns and lines were absract at best. I didn't say a thing. I left the paints, the paper, and that table and haven't touched them since.


This new bird-thing? I am tempted to design my own bird in my typical fashion, while I am sure his will look like a replica of our national bird.
I love that our kids view art as an everyday thing and the breadth of possibility is well-represented within our home. My role is show them where we start and Big Man's provides a little aspiration.


To have a dad that spends his off-hours cutting out birds from foam board all in the name of art and fun might seem a little unusual, but this is par for the course for my kids. I hope they get what they've got someday...the best kind of ordinary.

Hey, what happened here?

It used to be that I would chauffer Thing 1 around in relative calm- save for the 93.3 head-bobbing music that blared from the our car stereo. In fact, not five point three seconds goes by before I am asked, directed, commanded, "Mom! Please! Can you turn the radio to 93.3?" The urgency in her voice suggests life will not continue until we hear Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Rhihanna, or the nine millionth play of Train's "Soul Sister". Yikes.

I do remember the need for a radio. But, and here it comes, when I was a kid, all we had to work with was an A.M. country station so after the pork belly futures were endured, my "jamming sessions" were limited to the Statler Brothers and Johnny Cash. If I wanted "good music", I had to wait FOREVER for Friday Night Videos.

So what has changed as of late is that while the request for the radio is still important, she has taken to talking to me about driving. It used to be that Thing 1 tuned into the music, singing and looking out the window in a tween reverie while sneaking peaks in the mirror during a particularly favorite part of a song. I used this time for my own musings. The songs stopped bothering me because I would check out and into my own reverie of fascinating minutae. Did I put that load of laundry in the dryer? Will two pounds of chicken thaw in three hours ? Did I make the dental appointments for Friday or Monday? Always, I try to notice the beauty...if chauffering does nothing for the soul, it does give me ample time to enjoy our bluffs and lake and seasonal changes.

But all of this has been out of whack because suddenly, I am being peppered with commentary and questions about my driving.

"Mom, I think you should merge now!"

"Mom, why do you always use this lane?"

"Mom, everyone is passing us!"

"Mom, don't you think we should let the truck go first?"

"Hey! It's red! Why are you turning?"

What gives? I have suggested delicately that since I have been driving successfully for awhile, odds are in our favor that it will continue without her help. But...road signs and lights and my tendencies have now become a complete fascination that not even Train can deter.

Maybe I will get her a drivers training manual for Christmas, but the problem is she will read it. Her love for rules combined with her keen obervations will no doubt cast a shadow on my less-than-perfect driving habits. I can hear it now.


"Mom, the book says..."

Restless again...

After my whirlwind week, I am restless again. It is hard to quiet the mind at times. Over the last four days, I have written essays in my head and delivered several speeches to imaginary audiences. I haven't gotten the sustained amount of time to flesh out any of it, but there are scraps of ideas written here and there and a shitty first draft (thanks again, Ann Lamott) just hanging out there screaming for more attention. This draft is tackling something I have long pondered...organized religion and my failure to connect to it or it to me.

I know someone who has made it a goal to "get right with God" during the school year. I have joked that if they are successful, I want the rights to the secret and my own mega-church will be born....to heck with this writing gig.

But it is no joke. I know this because I have met so many people who feel like there is pressure to "figure God out" and make some sort of sense and peace before the end is here. I hear people worry about their kids and their souls and I wonder...why am I not worried? My kids are kids- innocent and loving and just who they should be. Any problem there may be with God and me is not theirs to bear.

So...this is where my mind goes. It would seem much more beneficial to me to tackle things like order in the household or even organic cleaning strategies and yet success in those areas also eludes me.

Thank goodness for Halloween. It's a good night for pretending....I will act as if I have all the answers. Though I am fooling no one...including myself.

Where, oh where have I been?

Wow.

The last 8 days have been wild. I spent a few fantastic days with Big Man and Things taking in hot spots like a pumpkin patch in Byron and Owatanna's famous reptile and amphibian zoo. Who knew that in the fertile farmland of southern Minnesota reptiles could flourish? I sent the Man and Boy in first since I did not trust the fading sign and tin roof. Thing 2 popped his head out and said, "It's good, mom. Everything is in a cage!" That was my green light.

Big Man's mom, who hates to cook, made him a lovely birthday meal. Her efforts showed her love and once again, we were both reminded of how well we scored in the mom-department.

Later in the weekend, I enjoyed time with the adults in my family and it was the first time in a long time where everyone seemed relaxed. Without children around, we could start and finish a conversation. We laughed and ate and made fun of each other- all of the things we do best.

Finally, I met Randy Roberts Potts and fell in an unrequited love with a gay man. It's all good. Hundreds of other women in Minnesota did the same and his partner, Keaton, gets to gloat with the assurance that he is all his.

But anyway.

I got through my speech, though barely. Little emotions popped up unexpectedly. The story I told happened 20 years ago. I was fact-checking with my sister and she almost couldn't remember her coming-out story. Funny, huh? You think these defining moments will stick with you forever but apparently good and bad fade so there is that.

The discussion in Winona was open and heartfelt and I hope there will be a ripple of conversation that continues throughout the year as we march toward the election.

I said in my speech that love is love.

I know this to be true. In my home, from my family, friends, and perfect strangers. I met a transgender woman with her female partner, I met a concerned parent on edge for her child who might be gay and is wondering how to help him because her husband, she fears, will not handle it well, I met a young man out to everyone but his parents and African American youth struggling with their truth as gay young adults and how it will fit into their culture. I met a lesbian woman so jazzed to see a straight mom speaking out for people like her. My words were heartfelt and true and confirmed.

For my lifetime I have felt that love is love and this was proven many times over in the last eight days.

Yes, it is great to be me. What is even greater, however, is seeing others free and comfortable being who they are despite what our society seems to throw at them. Everyone just wants a place, a chance, a voice. We all really want the same thing...to love and be loved. And for it to be recognized and validated. It's not a big deal and yet...it is the biggest deal.

A little cleaned-up

I am busy, busy, busy preparing for Randy Roberts Potts to visit Minnesota and specifically Winona on Monday. I cleaned up a prior blog post and turned it into an OpEd. for our local paper.

Every word rings true for me and my hope, as always, is to give people food for thought.

http://www.winonadailynews.com/news/opinion/article_512980a4-fb55-11e0-91ba-001cc4c002e0.html

It's in the bag...or is it?

I work in the best kind of retail situation, a small, independent bookstore situated next to a cafe whose great coffee and scones (maple scones with drippy maple icing) test my will every time I work. Enticing smells waft around us all day long.Usually, they are sauteeing garlic and this my new trick to entertaining. I will saute garlic 2 minutes prior to the guest's arrival time. Even if we are having frozen pizza or my latest efforts fail, the brain will think differently.


But anyway.


Part of our customer service routine involves asking questions. How can I help you? Would you like to join our frequent buyer's club? Would you like to be informed of any upcoming events? Would you care for a bag today?


That last question seems so innocent. Ever since I can remember learning the art of persuasion (high school English, though we were far from artful in our early attempts), the environment has been part of a nation-wide debate. For most of my adult life, one tiny answer to helping thwart some environmental issues is dealing with the ubiquitous bags.


To that end, we always ask because people in our neck of the woods feel pretty strongly about bags. They carry backpacks, book bags, recycled store bags, or simply use their naked little hands. 85% of our customers don't use bags. We have one customer who, upon her first purchase in our new location, took one of our cheery paper bags with a twine handle and has carried it in with her for every purchase since. I always ask how it's holding up. I will give her another bag when the time comes. We are that kind of business. We give our customers bags if they would like them.


I hit a little snag in this operation for the first time yesterday. A woman was making the purchase of one handmade card that was enclosed in a plastic sleeve to prevent fingerprints from destroying it. So....I asked my usual questions to which this woman replied, "Well, why wouldn't I? Are bags expensive for you?"


Um...forget to put on your nice-girl pants today, did you?
No. I did not say that. What I said was, "Many of our customers carry their own bags or prefer not to take one."


"Who has ever heard such a thing?"


Um...environment, environment, environment. Reduce, reuse, recylce? I am sure I could rattle off some tree and plastic statistics if she gave me a minute. Miss I-forgot-my-nice-girl-pants appears to have been around a bit longer than me so where has she been?


In my polite, the customer is always right (except in this instance) manner I said, "I do believe some people just don't want to accumulate bags. In the end, people feel it may save some trees. We always ask. I am happy to give you a bag."


"Well, hurry up with this nonsense. I have a taxi, can't you see?"


Um, no. I do not face a window nor police the transportation systems of our customers. My now-fuming brain has prevented the rote operation of the cash register from running smoothly and, of course, she wants me to count her change from the five dollar bill. Twice. Doesn't she have a taxi?


"You remember, now, next time. I like bags."


Ha, I thought. I don't like bags! And I mean that pun with every mean girl, naughty bone in my body.


But I smiled and said my usual closing. "I will. Thank you for coming. Have a nice day."


There is the popular belief that what you put out into the world comes back to you. Was this some sort of payback? Or should Miss Environmental be a bit concerned for her future? I won't know so I better keep on the nice-girl pants and work on my nice-girl brain so that one doesn't betray the other. I think I got lucky this time.

Let me know.

We have all heard stories of people whose lives have changed in minutes. One minute they are riding to the top of a mountain and 15 minutes later, they have crashed their bike and severed their spinal cord. Suddenly, their future holds daily physical therapy and the hope that they can sit up on their own.

Or, someone opens to the door to receive an unexpected visitor and suddenly the life of your child can only be discussed in the past tense.

How do the rest of us take in these things? What do we do with the unbelievable misfortune of others? How do we honor the loss and pain and utter unfairness of one person's draw against our lucky hand?

Is it that we walk along knowing our fortune could change at any minute? Is it that we say thank you for the use of our legs and the smell of our daughter's neck? Take nothing for granted--from the scent of dry leaves to the sticky pool of milk left to curdle on the table yet again, to the curious stickiness of your son's bedroom floor.

I ponder these things and know I can't be the only one to do so.

So far, all I can come up with is that I will try to live with grace.

I love the word grace. Within it is humility, forgiveness, and honest appreciation. I did not look up the definition. I gave it my own and sometimes I think that is the best I can do...give the world my own take, my own way of honoring all the pain and suffering and live it in a way that suggests that I have done so.

If someone has a better idea, please let me know.

Gotcha!

My kids were nice to each other twice this weekend. I saw it and didn't believe it. I stalked them a bit (carefully, slowly, quietly around the perimeter of their play zone), and left the house without comment. I kept this secret to myself and kind of marinated in it. I finally burst at coffee with some friends. "My kids....they were playing together! With joy! Like they were having fun! Together! I.....I don't know what to say. It was just so....wild and crazy and...do you think it will happen again?"

No one knew what to say because these dear friends have kids who actively like each other.

Later in the weekend, my daughter expressed her disbelief. "Mom, in the middle of playing with Thing 2, I just...couldn't believe it. I almost stopped because it was just so....wild."

The magic continued when the entire family went on a hike and there was minimal grousing. Actual fun transpired. No one complained and two minutes into the hike, I witnessed skipping. Skipping! And a bit of humming and lots of pine cone gathering. Thing 2 stopped with a "Ta-dah!" and swept his arms out toward a view he found compelling. "It's not the look-out, but it's a look!"

Yes, there was an unusual mojo in our family this weekend. Like the 80 degree weather in October in Minnesota, I will hold on tightly to these glorious and fleeting moments before reality sets in.

Just dreamin'

I read a quote that said something to this effect: An apology doesn't have to be a declaration of who is right or wrong. It just means that you value the relationship more than your ego.

I fear our world is too full of egos.

I fear our lack of progress is a result of our inablity to let go of "me" and really talk about all of us.

If you wanted to start a laundry list of things that are unforgivable, it stands to reason that pitted against that list is what you are willing to give up. In my life, I have known people who have given up sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, and entire families because they were mired in their own sense of rightness.

I hope I never get too far into my own self to be willing to give up the people in my life. I hope that I always value my family, friends, and community more than my own sense of "right".

Perhaps this is what is wrong with our country. It seems we are willing to give up health care, quality education, clean air and water, jobs, military benefits, and an entire middle class because no one can admit to the error in their ways and apologize. I don't want to think so, but as I watch the biggest group of ego-maniacs fail at progress, our United States Congress, I do wonder.

I have this crazy little dream. There are warm cookies and cold milk and everyone is in their slippers. The lights are dim as the President steps into the congressional chamber. He walks around and asks people about their families. This is also part of my dream...that he knows them well enough to ask these sorts of questions. The tapes aren't rolling and people are just people and soon everyone is talking about their kids and their stories...even those millionaires have stories because I bet some were self-made millionaires. It dawns on them suddenly that the people they are talking about are the people who elected them and this elusive future they frequently grandstand is actually the future of their own children and grandchildren and soon the conversations get really animated and exciting and remorseful when they realize what a huge disservice they have done to us. There is no right or left...just a huge bunch of people in slippers walking around talking and soon...they start calling their moms and dads and old friends for advice and opinions. They dig out paper and pen and make charts and just....dig in. At the end of the night which has become the next morning, the glasses are empty and there are crumbs everywhere. Everyone is tired and it is finally, finally, finally! the new day we have been longing for.

The breaking news of the morning shows sleep-deprived people with bedhead apologizing desperately to the American people for their assinine behavior and then the real work begins.

I'd accept because I am more interested in creating a better relationship that provides for our future than dwelling on the fantastic fiasco we have been living in.

So a quote and a silly dream will have to satisfy me for now. A girl could do worse, I suppose.

It looks better here.

I took this post off my blog because I couldn't get the format right. The Twin Cities Daily Planet got it in the brief amount of time it was up. Their format is much more readable!

Here is the link to Weird, huh? Not quite...

http://www.tcdailyplanet.net/blog/lisa-gray/weird-huh-not-quite

Email alert!

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Simply click on the "Follow by email" gadget and sign up so you can read me hot off the press.

Did that sound weird?

Heartbreak

Sometimes the heart snaps and breaks swiftly and cleanly in half. This can be painful and gut-wrenching....but after you catch your breath, the healing begins.

Sometimes, though, it is just a slow erosion, a willingness to let hope die at a snail's pace because there is always some sort of flicker, however faint, that things just might change.

Living in a world with evidence of both all around makes a person marvel at the resiliency of people. I bet if you look around today, you might witness a miracle.

Maybe, you are the miracle.

Pony up!

My dad has a little pony that he "got for the grandkids." Yeah, right. Dad wanted the pony because he wanted the cart that goes with it, along with the lead and the bridle and the peace of mind he gets just knowing there is a pony on his little piece of land.
So we got the pony cart out on a day when September was offering up it's finest and one by one, the pony hauled around the grandkids and a few adults. He was done being a showman by the time I got my turn and refused some simple instructions. My dad was chuckling because "he's an animal, not a machine" and the boys "get so frustrated when he doesn't do what he's s'posed to...just like kids, huh?" and I was laughing along with dad.

To say my dad hasn't always had it easy is an understatement, yet he is steadfast in his willingness to seek out the things that make him happy.

Even if I don't get it...old tractors and ponies past their prime, he loves them all with a dedication that I only seem to have for my kids and books.

Different things keep people going. Who am I to judge what makes people happy even when I want to? All I know is that my dad can still laugh and smile despite an anxious and sometimes heavy heart. And for that I say bring on the tractors and the ponies....just don't bring them to my house.

My birthday boy.

It seems he was born to the wrong mother, the way that we clash so. But, it's what we've got and man, do I love the heck out of him. Despite the number of times we eye each other warily and brace ourselves for another round of the disagreement du jour, I know he knows I love him. In fact, it's sort of a competition. The very end of bedtime always involves a back and forth over who loves who more. We get creative.

"I love you more than chocolate, coffee, and shoes!" I scream.

"I love you more than melted cheese and sharks!" he screams back.

Sometimes we travel. "I love you to the center of the earth where there is molten lava and temperatures you could not stand!" I proudly claim.

"I love you to infinity and beyond and beyond and beyond!" he states knowing there is no way to top that.

No matter what we say, he's got me. As I am leaving he always says, "You will never win, mom. No matter what you say, I love you more." He snuggles down with a big grin and drifts off completely satisfied with trumping me.

I don't tell him how wrong he is. How can his eight year old, little-boy self possibly get the depth and breadth of a mom's heart for her child? As much as I feel mystified and bewildered and frustrated and off-course, I feel committed to loving his little being in ways I don't even get.

After a final good-night, I walk out his door with my own smile of satisfaction. I let him win and...I always will.

My imagination.

I should be more disturbed by what I found behind my son's bed. Actually, I should be more bothered that I ventured to go there in the first place because I know what I am getting into. Among the detrius were three rotting apple cores... and one was quite furry. The bright side is that he eats apples! Great for health and all that. Another added bonus was that I used a Pokemon card also in the debris to scoop them up and I threw the whole lot away. That felt great. I know, I know. Pokemon cards, to the ill-informed, multiply like fruit flies. However, it just seemed like such a great act of mom-rebellion that I tossed that bad boy in the garbage knowing full well that 12 more will likely come home tomorrow.

But no. The rotting apple cores didn't really bother me. I know my son. I know that after we say good-night, he will attempt his covert missions into the kitchen and begin an after-hours private life that amuses him and shuts us out. I get it and don't really care as long as I am not bothered. Judgey parents judge all you want...the boy has his life.

At any rate, what bothered me were the clean pairs of underwear scattered around the perimiter of his room. I picked up five pairs and I could only imagine the scenario. Dressing, if you have read this blog at all, can be challenging for Thing 2, and underwear is a battle that I have chosen not to take on. But he knows how I feel so I can only guess about his dilemma every morning. "I am getting dressed, I am getting dressed. Here I go, I think I will make mom really happy and even put on my underwear. Oh...but I don't really like them. But it will make her so happy. But...,but..., but...." So, the evidence is clear in what wins for this internal battle. Or at least this is what I think. Maybe he just gets distracted, which is just as likely.

And that is what bothers me. I can't really know. I can't ask him because attention drawn will thwart any minor progress, if it is indeed progress, made.

I do realize how weird I am. I am a junk yard dog looking for any little scrap I can find. I need some evidence that this kid hears me and even it's not really there, isn't it ok that I imagine it?

Puppy's Last Stand

Thing 1 was recently engaged in a losing battle. She was trying to extend the life of a well-loved, well-worn, mostly decapitated, long ago stuffed puppy named....Puppy. Such was her desire to succeed that she gamely dug out sewing paraphenalia and sat for two solid hours attempting to stitch some life back into Puppy. I was of no use to her. I can't sew, can rarely thread a needle, and most of the other tools were unrecognizable to me. She must have gotten this kit from a relative.

But I admired her can-do spirit. She gets that from Big Man. Me? I know what I am good and not good at and rarely bust out of my boundaries. With the world so crazy these days, I like the predictabiltiy of knowing who I am. One thing I can count on is that I can't sew.

Puppy now sports a very tenous hold on the last stage of his life. The bright red thread screams, "I will not go down without a fight."

I get that. I feel that way a lot, which is why I write.
At the very least, you put something out there and maybe someone pauses, maybe a small ripple is made. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

So, no, I didn't teach Thing 1 to sew, but it seems, at least somewhere in this wonky, disjointed life we lead, a larger lesson has been imparted and that maybe I had something to do with it......maybe.

From the bottom up.

How we approach tasks, whether menial or significant, is interesting and I always wonder what it says about who we really are. For instance, my son always gets naked and puts his socks on first. I find this odd for the obvious reasons and when I asked him about his method his reply was, "I start at the bottom, work my way up, and that way I don't forget any pieces." What stops him from also putting on his shoes is that he tried it once and found it too hard to shove everything through the holes in his underwear (assuming underwear was going to be part of his day). At any rate, he revised his system a bit and it works for him.

I guess we all have methods that work for us and they don't really need to make sense to others, unless what you are doing is affecting someone else. How Thing 2 arrives at getting dressed doesn't really matter. But I don't impose my will on it and that is what really counts. In fact, it's a major milestone in our relationhip and I like to think it will pay off as silly as it sounds. Too much of his own little world is dictated by the big people of his world and the parameters of school. No matter how many rules get thrown his way, Thing 2 always seems to find some little way to tweak it so that it looks like he is following the rules...but barely. He just doesn't like to do things exactly as expected. He has a light in his eye and a ready smile for those who notice and I love to see people who catch it and appreciate it. He will learn all too soon that this won't always fly, but part of growing up is making these judgements and dealing with the consequences.

So now I smile when I know he's dressing. As much as I worry about his rogue behavior, I think, "This boy, my boy, is going to be just fine. He is always going to find a way to make something his own and he is going to be more than fine."

Taking the Long Way Around

This is supposed to be the year of writing, the year of the Book. Tell that to the kids, the husband, the book group, the dog, the part-time job, the schools, and my home. None seems real supportive of my efforts. Progress made: None.

CNN has dissed me but I do have an editor in my address box, I've missed yet another deadline, and the number of original words written since school started is sitting at about 14. Oh well.

I did give a two hour presentation to a group of day care providers on the differences in parenting cultures- Eastern versus Western philosphies. It's a long story as to how that happened for me but suffice to say that is was fun, I got to talk, and they paid me. None of this was part of my original 2011 plan for Year of the Book.

What is happening is the formation of a group called ART. This stands for Andrew's Round Table and we are a group of concerned straight citizens who want to promote dialogue regarding the marriage amendment and what it could mean to Minnesotans. To that end, we have secured a young man by the name of Randy Potts to help us with our quest. Randy just happens to be the gay grandson of the late Oral Roberts. He has a heart-breaking and compelling story that puts yet one more face on the humanity of our mission. And lucky beyond measure, I am charged with the task of finding a venue in Winona for him to share this story, as well as seeing to the other details that go along with planning an event.

I guess I have made some progress....just not in the form of my original plan. This seems to be the way of the world...reality constantly butts into your personal agenda. The trick is rolling with it and soaking up unforeseen gifts and finding the grace in times of great personal challenge.

Randy Potts will be in Winona on October 24th no matter how little progress gets made on My Book. And I care so much that he is coming that it will be worth setting aside my own agenda to give myself over to this experience.

What I thought I would write and what needs to be written may not jive and maybe that's the point. The plan I had versus the one out there for me aren't the same and I am just too slow to recognize it. So my new plan is to not make one and take advantage of all that comes my way.

Still singing

I was sitting on my couch in a little condominium in Madison, Wisconsin nursing my three month old baby girl. I was watching the Today show and trying to make sense of the news break. Before I saw what I saw, I was ignorant and uninformed and a tad too into my own life. I yelled to Big Man, "Hey! Come look at this! A plane just flew into the World Trade Center!" I watched and couldn't believe the coincidence- another plane into another tower. I was dumb and Big Man was grave. I didn't get it then, and in my heart of hearts I don't want to get it now.

As I relive that day with everyone else this weekend, I am trying desperately to recall what life was like before in order to make sense of our after. Ten years have passed and I alternate between scouring the news headlines and burying my head in the sand.

The courage and valor of the firefighters who lived and died is something that stays with me. At one of my son's preschool field trips, they toured a little fire house and all the little kids wanted to know, "Do you do what they do in New York?"

So many lives altered in one day, a thriving, pulsing city stopped on a dime and forced to turn inward and channel the kindness they are renowned for hiding, but they rose to the unbelievable nightmare and from grief and horror, stories, always it is the stories, emerge of hope...and our humanity.

There is much talk of getting over it and indeed we have and must move forward....but how can we get over it when so many were lost to us? Try telling the countless children who lost their moms or dads to get over it. Try telling those who lost their best friends, the loves of their lives to get over it. Try telling the strangers who saw people risk their lives for them to get over it. It's ridiculous. I think it's ok to carry little bits of grief with us. In doing so, we are carrying a constant melody with us, a song that says I love you, I miss you everyday, I am grateful for the time you were here, I am sorry for your loss, I am appreciative of everything you tried to do for us, I miss you, I love you.

Maybe I'm crazy, but I don't think that is song we should never stop singing.

And we're off!

Thing 1 did not want me to take her picture getting on the bus. There were big kids looking out the window. So today, I will have to try again and alter the memory book of the first day of school. This implies I have a memory book rather than a lumpy pile of keepsakes waiting for divine intervention.

Thing 2 is worried about people noticing the warts on his knee (he will be wearing long pants and band-aids) and the shape of his head. "Does it look round or oval?" Umm....round? "I don't want to be called a dufus." Ok. Is there something out there in popular culture I have missed? And which is worse- round or oval? Is there a head shape that screams dufus? And who uses that word, dufus? Not anyone in this house, except for Thing 2 apparently.

My worries are different. Will their teachers be successful in bringing out the best in them? Will the school of hard knocks make them stronger or send them home crying? Will the pressures of testing detract from the joy of learning for both student and teacher?

School is so different from my own grade school days. We demand more of and give less to the people we entrust our children to.

Why is it so easy to forget that we are all on the same team. If I have one wish for everyone this year, it's that we act like it.

A gift

A new friend of mine had one of those weeks where nothings seemed to go right. Some of it was life-changing sorts of stuff, and other things were smaller yet seemed bigger simply because of timing. Oh, and she was also trying to enjoy the last week before her daughter left for her freshmen year of college.


I bring this up only because during the midst of her pain and chaos she brought be an amazing gift, my book. She and her daughter printed out my blog entries from day one, as well as my published articles. There are over 200 entries. She knows that this is the year I am finally allowing myself the time to try and get my writing out on a larger platform and to start that book I keep talking about. She left it on my doorstep and my daughter said, "I don't think you have to start mom. Look at this! You already have a book!" It is three-ring binder that is four inches thick.


I cried.


Not for the tangible evidence of my efforts but for the kindness behind the gift. I knew what was happening behind the scenes in my friend's life. Why this? For me?


I talked to her and she said that it was just too much. She needed to get outside of her persoanl ick and just do something that felt good. She knew about my goals, yet she knew me well enought to know that I probably needed some prodding. Seeing all of the my work in one place would be a great motivator, and it gave her some time to channel her frustrations into action.


It was humbling that I was the recipient of this. My default reaction to acts of kindness directed my way is that I don't deserve it. Truly, though, it was the best, most perfect thing that anyone could have done for me. Why her and why me, I am not going to dwell on.


What I will think about everytime I see that binder is the power behind kindess. We all know trajedy can strike out of nowhere. But the same is true for kindness and yet the two seem linked in ways that can be difficult to understand.


What would happen, though, if our headlines focused more on the kindness? Even the little things like "Girl publishes book six months after friend kicks her mental butt" or "Little boy rescues injured bird by making a splint out of popsicle sticks"? Yes, those headlines do exist, but it seems we really have to dig for them.


I don't want to live in a place where we have to dig for kindness. But thinking about it isn't enough. I've got to make my own headlines.

A deck of cards.

It seems that much of who my kids were meant to be was set from the minute they were born. One child came out with eyes wide open and her outlook on life remains, to this day, the same. I can see how she will float through life with a smile, her innate curiosity ever-present, and her steely determination will keep her moving. The other child took his time emerging. He was slow and the birth was difficult and to this day, it seems he rattles like a ball in an old pin-ball machine. He'll bump into things and get re-directed, but eventually he'll get there and make a joke out of it. Their way of dealing with life has been true since even before they toddled.

From the moment of conception, there is little to be done about our physical attributes and sexual preferences and general temperament. We can spend a lifetime hiding our true longings and fighting against what was given and in the end, we will break ourselves for it.

So why do we make people believe they should be anything different than who they are?

I am a white mom from rural Iowa with two kids. I grew up in an area where it was not uncommon to hear unkind remarks about "those damn Mexians" who came to work in our meat packing plants because they desperately needed money for their own families. I grew up not having a lot of exposure to cultural differences. I grew up watching a sister think there was something wrong with her. There wasn't, but she is gay. I went to college where I met a young Laotian whom I dated for awhile because he was kind and funny. My grandfather said, "Isn't it just as easy to find a white guy?"

It makes me wonder if there is an empathy and acceptance gene as well because how could I know that what he was saying was wrong given the environment I grew up in?

I hate the word tolerance when it comes to discussing people who seem different from us. It makes me think of living with my son who, despite my gentle and not-so-gentle reminders, leaves his socks in whatever room he is in. I tolerate that. But tolerating people? We live and raise and interact and do business and receive services and share ideas with people. And people deserve more than just tolerance. They deserve respect and civil rights and justice.

I keep coming back to the time someone told me, "You liberals just want everything to be fair." I have watched people bury their stillborn babies and I've lost some babies of my own. I've watched people I love battle cancer, die from brain aneurisms, go bankrupt, and be shunned from their own families for perceived wrong-doings. I've witnessed physical maladies wreak havoc on family members so I feel pretty confident in saying life isn't fair.

But getting treated equally means that we share some basic human rights and what happens after that is yours to determine. Sadly, racism and gay-bashing will likely continue because many people choose to remain ill-informed, ignorant, or unwilling to admit that people are who they are.

My children were born with their own unique set of traits. Life will pan out differently for each of them, and one or the other will likely claim that something isn't fair. They will be right.

There is no disputing that everyone gets dealt a different hand, but there seems to be no good reason why we can't play from the same deck.

Legos save lives.

Sometimes the worst place to be is inside your own head. We have all entered an internal labyrinth that leads you to no place you really want to be yet it seems to hard to get out of.
I recommend having a kid around. If you don't have one, borrow one.
I was spending a little too much time in a very dangerous maze of psychological drama when I heard this, "A lego! I swallowed a lego!"
You can't possibly say, "Not now. I am cruising through hell and I quite like it." So....you take a deep breath, and try not to ask the obvious questions like, "Why and how?" and instead offer assurance that death will not occur. Immediately you begin peppering silly and serious questions like,"What color? how big? what flavor? what shape? did it taste good?" You offer the rudimentary digestion law of what goes in must come out. Soon the whole converation runs amok in a good way and this is one time where poop-talk is the best kind of silly.
So, the trip to hell inside your head has abruptly ended and you have forgotten why you even went.
Legos save lives...this is no joke.

I am restless, too.

People keep asking me, "Where is it?"

All I can say is, "I don't know."

After the frenetic business of last Wednesday, Irene started slamming her way up the Eastern seaboard. The news people had other things on their mind besides one girl's hope for national publication. I have been counselled to not give up on CNN yet.

So I will keep all of those people whose lives have been up-ended once again by mother nature in my thoughts. I will pretend my own little brush with success doesn't niggle at me and go about counting the hours down until school starts. The popsicles are gone and will not be replaced. The kids are now reduced to Greek yogurt with honey if they need a sweet fix and therefore, I am no longer the mom who is cool. I will live with that.

Meanwhile, there is this tiny group of people in Minnesota who are about to make some waves of their own. Waves that we hope rattle enough people toward some common sense in the fall of 2012. I will keep you posted on this as I know more.

So be gone, restlessness. While these last few days before school starts seem long, I know the year will fly by and I need to make the most of every minute.

Older but clearly not wiser.

Thing 1 is a tween. She spent 4th grader learning about all that is going to happen to her and her body in the next few years. A lot of it isn't that exciting. Once, when perusing an American Girl book on changes that girls go through, she told me that she had to stop in the middle of the book. "Those last few chapters, mom? I am NOT ready for that."

Well, me neither.

But apparently she has done her reading and we have done some talking. But no matter how much of either you do, it never prepares you for the real thing. This past weekend, we were out and about with Grandma and an auntie. We were window shopping and after leaving she was sulky. It wasn't like her--she doesn't really ask for or seem to want a lot so I asked her what was up. "Mom! You know my emotions are all over the place. I don't know why I am feelings this way. YOU should know that!"

Ok.

And last night, she was unsettled going to bed. The dance of needing this and wanting that was making my teeth grind. In exasperation I said, "What, exactly, do you want from me?"

"A little reassurance would be nice."

Yeah...that directness? She got that from me.

I am not crazy for being scared and we are merely at the beginning.

You don't have a life...do you?





This was our motto from The Op. Ed. Project. The goal was to send out our pieces to a state or national news organization. So I did. I chose CNN. A week later they contacted me...they want to use my piece. Holy moly! Holy moly! How many times am I allowed to say that? Holy moly! This was over a week ago and it seemed like it was going to happen fast. I got a little excited and, um....told some people. But....well, news is fickle. There are things like Libya...people finding their voices all over the world. And then there are a few earthquakes in places where earthquakes aren't supposed to happen and....and...and....oh well.

So the editor calls me again and has just "a few things for me to do. Ten minutes tops. Can you do it? You don't have a life, do you?" How do I tell a SERIOUS news person I have to take my 10 year old to violin practice 5 minutes ago and that my son is 2 hours over his screen time limit because I wanted to tweak another paragraph while doing laundry, filling out school forms, and paying bills online?

I didn't. I said, "Sure!" and started to sweat and hastily shoved my violin player off on another mom while frantically searching for River Monsters and Dicovery Channel Shark Week re-runs.

The waiting game is on to see if what I have is indeed up to snuff. And I am here to tell you that what you read on CNN is no joke. Every statement I made that wasn't personal to my own experiences had to be checked once and twice and three times. I did this, but they wanted more. So, I respect their reputation and strive to live up to it or my voice will not be heard through them or anyone else. Pat, the editor, is likely cleaning up after the earthquake and not sweating my small stuff. And I am checking the number of hours available on Shark Week.

It's middle school all over again

Thing 1 is headed to middle school. We entered the building and got directed to whichever "house" you were put in. This was not nearly as fun as using the sorting hat at Hogwarts. There were squeals of delight when friends found themselves in the same place. Thing 2 had a face that fell as one by one, her pals found themselves together in a different house from her.

So we start with some initial disappointment, but Thing 1 is nothing if not confident. She has the innate ability to focus on what is in front of her and seems to float with whomever and whatever is around her. People don't often influence her decisions unless she gets totally caught up in a group moment.

I fear this middle school thing will change that. I have always loved how other people's opinions of her choices don't matter to her. I have always watched with interest how she puts her interests out there--France, Harry Potter, voracious reading, art, knitting, travel, swimming- and some kids will look at her with a weird curiosity. But then she will shrug and happily carry on with her pursuits anyway. We were at a pool recently and none of her friends wanted to play or couldn't agree. She headed in to do laps without a glance backwards.

She got none of this from me.

I hope the vat of middle school juice isn't so powerful that she loses that confidence and security in what she loves.

I suppose I'll dig out my old cheerleading skirt and pom poms and do what I do best....offer encouragement all the while hoping she won't need it.

Luxury

My brother has been sober for a year. The small chip in recognition seems minor to the amount of effort expended. A year ago, the country boy was forced into the city with an old pair of tennis shoes, no driver's license, little money, and only one goal--to get sober. From jail to on-site rehab to a halfway house to low income housing, the country boy has learned the city streets and where to find the meetings and which big box store has the cheapest soda. There were many days when all he had to do was attend meetings. Some days, he attended eight meetings.

There were a few visits to my parent's home where he could be found pacing, muttering, pacing some more, and abruptly interrupting other conversations. I was stopped with this one day.

"Whadya think of this?"

He shoved some papers in my hand. After a quick read, I found an aptitude test that blatantly spelled out the many deficiencies of my brother who has struggled since I've known him to make anything work in his life. He wasn't really looking for reassurance. He was matter-of-fact and with a shrug he seemed to say, "See? I knew all along that I had a lot wrong with me. Now I have the proof in writing."

He has no education to speak of, several learning difficulties, depression, and poor communication skills.

I don't know why some of us have to claw and eek our way towards any little morsel of goodness or success. I don't know why life just knocks the hell out of some people over and over again. I don't know why I can't look at him with conviction and say, "Hey, you've made it this far. This is something."

People, including me, forget so easily that normal is just another word for luxurious.

The Op. Ed Project: Part 2

A little back-tracking

Let me be up front by saying that I was not trying to downplay my own voice or the places that I earned my degrees. I have many friends and acquaintenances who graduated from state schools and now teach at state schools and many others who have gone on to contribute significantly to the world at-large. I just needed to use it as a reference point for the company that I was keeping. In the end, my story is my own as I see it and to me, it is without a lot bells and whistles.

The teacher
Katherine Lanpher, fearless leader who isn't afraid to share her own fears, made us laugh, cry, sweat, shake our heads, and sit up straighter all at the same time. Her bio states that she is a former MPR talk show host, creator of the "Talking Volumes"series on MPR, host of the flagship Barnes and Noble "Upstairs at Union Square" author series, contributing editor to More magazine, and author of the collection of stories about her move to New York City called Leap Days. She is an award winning journalist and teacher of The Op. Ed. Project which is dedicated to promoting women and minority voices in mainstream media. In short, this woman has been around the block.

In my eyes she is a task master with a racaus laugh and pure heart. She cares within an inch of her life about getting women to see that their voices matter and has little patience for the self-deprecation that midwestern women seem to wear as easily as their winter parkas. She is not afraid to laugh at herself, but she owns what she knows with a steely security which fits her well. She is up front about the fact that is was also hard-won.

All around the country she is trying to get others to own it as well. But trying on this ownership of voice for size is probably worse than fitting yourself with a custom-made bra in a room full of mirrors. Grossly uncomfortable and unforgiving, especially with eight other people in the room watching.

The process

It seemed simple enough. We all had a message that we wanted to get out so what do you want people to know or do, why, and why should anyone listen to you?

Um, well, because, because, because.....

Yes ladies, we are going to have to be quite a bit more specific.

Show, don't tell.

Make us care. Shock us, make us laugh, cry, or make us mad. Anything that gets our attention but get our attention and prove that this matters because your essential experience tells us so.

In the course of a week we wrote three to five drafts of the the same piece. Each morning we would go to class and begin the process of reading each one, discussing what worked and where improvements needed to be made. This seems simple enough, but with 10 sets of ridiculously smart and thoughtful eyes going over them, it took a long time.

What astounded me is that everyone gave themselves over to the process every single time. Everyone was sincere and compassionate all the time. I had my own moments. I admit after my third draft I lost it because it was hard, so hard to take in all of these great ideas and stay true to the course of your intentions before it started to feel like we should all sign off on my piece. I chose to write about Michele Bachmann so there were new things to consider every day I was there. I would read news in the morning and at night and I felt pelted and overwhelmed by what I could and should say. There were so many directions to take. Katherine finally just had to stop me.

"What is it? What has you so fired up about her? What is the one thing you are trying to say?"

Discrimination and homophobia are not frivolous and side matters. She has been evading questions about these topics and it has been killing me. Anyone running for president knows discrimination is a very serious issue.

"Ok. Who are you? Why should we listen to you?"

Because I am married, I am at home with kids. I am the picture of happy married life in Michele Bachmann's world.

"But?"

But I know discrimination and homophobia are not side matters.

"Bingo!"

And finally, after three sleepless nights and countless hours of analysis, I gravitated toward home, my own voice.

The Grand Finale

Most finished. Most were able to get their pieces to a place where both student and teacher agreed that we were ready to "Push Send". This was a huge moment because this is what it was all about. Sending our voices out to editors to consider for national placement. State papers, national news websites and newspapers. Regardless of the outcome, we had done what we set out to do.

The waiting game

I would love to share my piece here, but I am still waiting to hear from a news source. And because of all the work, I will at least give it the time it deserves before I share it. My piece matters and it will get out there somewhere. And I truly hope it is on a national platform.

Because this is the first time that I really do believe that what I have to say should be read not only by friends and badgered blog followers, but by everyone interested in the 2012 elections. Linking my piece on Facebook is great, but my voice should transcend social media because my message is important.

And yeah, that is what I learned. What I say matters.




































The Op.Ed Project: Part 1

The experience I had on Madeline Island was so overwhelming that I can't just write one little snippet. There will be pieces of it shared as I try to wrap my brain around it all.


To Katherine, Marcia, Marilyn, Ginny, Brenda, Terri, Jacey, Judy, and Mary--

Thank you.

Part 1:

The Op. Ed. Project was created and designed specifically to get minority voices out into mainstream media. Suffice it to say that the voices that get published most frequently are from men. This totally jives with what Gloria Steinam was telling someone from the Star Tribune recently. She was being asked about how far we've come as women in the mainstream media and the workforce. She said something along the lines of this, "The movement is still young. I am 70 and have been working on it for over half of my life, but the movement is still a baby. It's only 40 years old. It generally takes 100 years for successful assimilation into society of any major social movement to be complete. " This would explain why we don't hear from more women in our media sources.

Katherine Lanpher, former MPR talk show host, was my teacher for this project. Eight other women and myself convened to discuss our areas of expertise and the causes that we wished to promote. Among us were a nationally recognized expert in dyslexia, one international business marketing executive, a law librarian, a master teacher in language arts, an advocate for people with disabilities who survived her own disability, another Ph.D and Mayo educator, and a marketing executive who is moving on to study theology, and me.

Her job was get us to see how we could use our expertise to create a powerful voice to add credence to the causes or ideas that move us. We are trying to become "thought leaders."

It was hard. I couldn't get past the expertise exercise. Our very first task was to fill in these blanks.

My name is _____and I am an expert in _________because______.

Marcia could say, "My name is Marcia and I am an expert in educating educators about dyslexia because I earned my Ph. D. in this area, taught at Stanford, published a book on the topic, and taught thousands of educators how to treat dyslexia." Wham bam, Marcia.

But for me it was much more difficult. I don't have an area of expertise. And if you do any reading on the project, you will discover that they are working hard to call out women from some lofty places-Harvard and Wall Street and NASA- because while these women have worked hard and earned their place in some very prestigious places, they still don't get their voices out there in mainstream media and they need to.

Me....I have no lofty education. The University of Minnesota at Mankato is not going to turn anyone's head. But I graduated and got my Masters and from where I hail it was way more than I could have hoped for. Now that I am home with kids, digging around for expertise is difficult. Katherine would prod us, dig around in our stories looking for what she called "shiny baubles", a significant something, a link that lends weight to why our voice matters.

And this is where I stumbled. My voice matters and I do believe that, but unlike Judy, who rescued companies from financial disaster, or Mary who speaks 4 languages and conducts business in mulitiple countries, it was hard to name what I have.

Katherine made a point of saying how hard this was for anyone from no matter where they hailed. I kept working in reverse, though, and I am not sure she could see that I could dig, really dig, and there would be no name dropping or place dropping, no titles or claims to fame.

I didn't let it stop me or even slow me down because if nothing, I am determined. The ideas on my mind were important and I stuck with them to the end.

After a little time and a full night's sleep, I've decided I would re-do what I originally said, which was that I write a mean eulogy. What can I say? It was hard! Here is my second effort and it is more than enough:

"My name is Lisa Gray and I am an expert observer of the human condition. I am a "taker-inner" of the world around me and what I see often moves me so much it hurts. And so I write to make sense and hope that when I do, it helps others, too. I am a voracious reader so this helps me craft my observations and put them in the context of the outside world.

My daughter Lucy, my shiny bauble, says, "Mom, you notice things other people don't." I have a blog and small town papers publish my opinions and I keep the "average" person, whatever that means, on my mind because that is who I am. Just an average girl who cares."