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 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-- I would love for you to join us.


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.


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 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..."