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!"


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.


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 I know discrimination and homophobia are not side matters.


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."

It's all in fun.

I finally finished this piece and while the Pulitzer Prize will have to wait, it is good to put this out there. I did feel strongly about it, I did have evidence to support my claims, and my thesis is clear. Mrs. Reymond (may you rest in peace) would be so proud !
(persasive writing, 8th grade English class, 1982)


Misty transitions

There is a low mist sitting just above a field of wild flowers on Madeline Island. It is quiet and noisy at the same time. No street traffic to speak of and my brain won't shup up.

Being in the moment when it is all about you is an entirely different ballgame from enjoying time with your child or your mother or your spouse. "What would you like?" seems to be a trick question. I have joked with Big Man "that I am not responsible for other people's happiness". However, it seems catering to other people's happiness is more direct than figuring out how to spend wads of time in a beautiful place.
I am getting there. I am still abuzz after meeting a serious news person, Katherine Lanpher, who is smart and funny and direct and on-fire about women's voices in the news.
Despite feeling like I am still shedding skin I didn't know I had, I can feel I am in the right place at the right time. One instructor discussed stories as being everywhere, but finding the one that only you can and should tell is the trick. This made me smile because one major mantra from my teacher days within my writing curriculum was, "Everyone has a story. Tell me your story." News and opinion writing takes a different spin on this, of course, but the premise remains. We all have stories and they are important. It seems that our world has produced one shit storm after another and most days, I fear looking at the headlines. But then I think of Tommy Thayer, a man who was hunting one day, contracted a life- threatening infection, nearly died, and weeks later, was trying out his new prosthetic legs after a double amputation. Today he is thriving, and I hope to tell you his story one day. I think of Matt Shultz, battling and thus far winning the war against cancer. I think of my own parents who have weathered countless storms and still find ways to laugh. I think of people who have lost children (children!) and still get up in the morning. If we have nothing in this world, we have stories. They, more than any news, connect us in the ways that are right and essential and true.

I am not sure how any of this will fit in to what I am about to do, but for now I will let the mist continue to float and attempt to do the same.

Here I go!

Well, I am off to work on this: http://www.theopedproject.org/ and I am excited and nervous and worried and tired before I even start.

I will be gone for 5 nights and 6 days. There will be no one's food, underwear, health, or social issues that I will have to consider except for my own. I will be on Madeline Island and even if it is a terrible experience, it will be terrible in a beautiful place. And I will have hours to write. I will surely reflect upon on how wonderful my family is and this is always easier to do when they aren't around. Absence and all that, right?

I am sure I will walk like a pack mule for at least 2 days before I realize I am not carrying anything but my own stuff. I will look furtively over my shoulder for on-coming traffic even when there isn't any, and I will work to not bark out, "Manners! Use your manners!" if some of my peers aren't so genial as to do so.

I have to be honest. It feels a bit creepy and a whole lot selfish to take this trip.

But not enough to cancel.

Crazy. Stupid. Movie.

Big Man was feeling overwhelmed and cranky. The previous call night was a killer so I found a sitter for two and half hours and whisked him away to a movie. This might not sound like the best use of time, but I could see the evening ahead- him feeling like the kids were clawing at him and me feeling like I was running interference. Instead, I opted for bailing as many a stellar parent will do.

Except this movie Crazy.Stupid.Love., was billed as a "romantic comedy" and while funny, yes, it was sad in all the worst ways. A well-meaning, long- married couple shared physical space but were millions of miles apart in their heads and hearts. For all of the usual reasons, they had stopped tending to each other and without realizing it, veered off course. How this movie could even be funny relied on Steve Carrell portraying as only he can how ridiculous humans are and certainly, our species provides that there will never be a lack of material.

But my god...this movie was going to make us talk. And not about the kids! I could feel it as I teared up and Big Man grabbed my hand and soon we both started to get ticked. We wanted fun...not heartfelt conversation! There is a time and a place for everything! I knew I should have opted for Captain America.

Oh well. Talk we did and we both survived despite the lingering effects of such conversations in the morning. I did get an extra kiss so it wasn't all bad. But be careful what you wish for. You just might get it.

Cleaning out

There is a Mad Woman in our house. She is ransacking the Things' rooms and the cupboards and really, throwing out anything not secured by a nail. Mad Woman doesn't use nails so most things are up for grabs. The Epilepsy Foundation is about to win the jackpot.
Mad Woman comes about once a year. Every year she seems more disgruntled than the year before. Disgusted at her inability to purge further can cause her to make hasty decisions. Case in point: Michael Perry is missing! The Mad Woman owned his entire compedium at one time, 2 of which were signed by the man himself. This is an author she once successfully stalked. Of course this is her opinion and not his. Last night, she was working on a piece that required a direct quote from her favorite, Population 485.

It was nowhere to be found. NOWHERE! After fruitlessly rummaging through all boxes in the basement and further perusal throughout the book cases, Mad Woman came up short-of-breath, empty-handed, and baffled. How could this be? Ivanhoe, Little Women, White Fang, and, thankfully, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. However, NONE of those will work for a piece about small towns.

Cleaning out has always seemed detrimental to general health, and now it's affecting the writing of Mad Woman. She has been freewheeling with many books for sure. She loans them out and forgets to whom, but continues on her merry way while those she cannot part with stay nearby. Or so she thought.

Big Man has already suggested the library.

"Huh? The library? But, but...it's Michael Perry!"

The look on his face was not one of complete understanding.

"Yes. The library. I bet Michael Perry uses the library, too."



But still. The Mad Woman leaves today.