Thursday, March 29, 2018

More In Common Than Not

When I admire the rolling hills,
you believe they are only more mountains to climb.

When I am inspired by a new challenge,
you are overwhelmed by the simple aspects of each day.

When your heart becomes heavy and your breathing labored,
take a deep breath, and begin to hold every thought captive.

When I am surrounded by others and thrive on the company,
you often retreat and are invigorated by the solace.

When I am delighted at the idea of travel and exploring,
you find the only outings necessary are for groceries or work.

I wonder if you and I will ever meet in between.
If we will ever have more in common than not.

When I am enthralled by an audience and take the stage,
you explore the back recesses of a coffee shop no one frequents.

When my mind wanders and I brainstorm about the future,
you find ways to dive into bed just so each day will end.

When your heart becomes heavy and your breath labored,
take a deep breath, and begin to hold every thought captive.  

When I find myself enjoying friendships I never thought possible,
you draw your select few closer and avoid anyone new.

When I am filled with uncontainable joy and laugh freely,
you find unrestrained displays of emotion embarrassing.

I wonder if you and I will ever met in between.
If we will ever have more in common than not.

Not Enough Lysol In the World

This time of year is tough for me. Living in Minnesota, winter has a tendency to hold on way too long for my liking. Sometimes it is the middle of April before spring makes even the slightest appearance. And it isn’t unheard of to often be freezing in May. I find myself this week of Easter praying for all things spring and summer.  For daffodils and tulips, for the grass to become green and the trees to bud and flower. I have a feeling I am still going to face a few more weeks of snow and ice and the need to modify work schedules due to slippery roads and school delays.

I also find this time of year difficult because of sickness and germs. I am sick now with an upper respiratory infection and horrible cough. I pray I don’t pass it on to my kids as life becomes even more challenging when I am sick and then I need to take care of sick kids. I want to Lysol every surface of my home, ban other children from visiting and open the windows and air out the house. Once again, we live in Minnesota.  If I would do that, everyone would then catch a cold and be sick. Defeating the purpose of enabling germs to flee the Gavin abode.

My family doesn’t participate in any winter sports. Minnesota is full of winter wonders. Skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, ice fishing, snowmobiling, winter hunting. The list goes on. We do not do any of these things. Golfing, swimming, walking and hiking, biking. All of the outdoor physical activities that we enjoy are all during the summer.

I am a Professional Organizer and spend these last couple of weeks before tax day with my clients preparing and finalizing tax packages. And sometimes even doing taxes with clients.  I have learned so much over the years about taxes and documentation, and because of it, I have no desire whatsoever to ever want to do our own taxes. We have an amazing accountant who has taken care of everything for us each year for the last 15 years. To not have to think about our own personal taxes is a breath of fresh air.  I watch many of clients worry, toil, cry, give up and ultimately become next to impossible to deal with during tax season. My eyes end up hurting, I then struggle with blurry vision and I am burdened with a confused mind from too much information ingested when working on taxes with my clients. I can’t even pretend that I want to continue doing taxes in any form, ever again.

April 17th will arrive, sooner or later.  Most of the snow should be gone. Almost every client will have been diligent and completed their taxes or forwarded them to their accountant of choice. Flowers will be pretending to make an appearance and spring may be just around the corner.  A walk in my shirt sleeves may have already taken place. Lily will have had her bike removed from the garage ceiling hooks for a couple of weeks, the tires pumped full of air and she will have found her daily bike riding groove, a swift circle or 12 around the neighborhood. And requests for outdoor playtime will increase. The shut ins that my children have become over the winter months will emerge from the dark recesses of the basement playroom and they will entertain the idea of playing for extended times outside.  

These are the signs of spring.

These are the signs I wait for.

These are the signs that inspire me.

I love spring. But I love summer even more. Hot days, cooler nights. Swimming and bonfires. Dinners on the deck with friends and family. Relaxed bedtimes and late evening walks before the mosquitoes emerge with a vengeance. Outdoor concerts and farmers markets. Garage Sales. Oh, how I have missed garage sales. Vacations to Wisconsin, up North and to Grandma’s cabin.  This is what I am waiting for.

Until then,  I will locate another Kleenex box, make sure we are stocked up on cough drops and night time cough medicines, and continue Lysoling every reachable surface.  The glimmer of hope that warmer days are on the horizon is all I need to know that this Minnesota eternal winter will eventually end. It is said that...All good things must come to an end.  Well, in Minnesota, we say - Believe it or not, this Minnesota Winter will end.  - Mostly we say this because most of us need a reminder that it is actually true.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Okay Google

Okay Google. Where is the closest Starbucks to my location?  Okay Google. Is there other Cheddar’s Restaurants between Kansas City and Branson?  Okay Google. How many grams of sugar are in chocolate milk vs. skim milk? Okay Google. How much beer does the average American consume each year? Okay Google. How many albums does the band Skillet have? Okay Google. When does Jen Ledger’s album release happen?

Road tripping with the Gavin’s often looks like an eternal Google commercial. We live in a world where we rely heavily on the internet to answer our questions.  Lily will often realize this and question how we found out information without having cell phones or even the internet.  When I tell her that we were just content not knowing, she can’t even understand what I am saying. But how did you find Starbucks? We didn’t have Starbucks.  How did you know where to eat lunch when you were traveling? We would just drive until we found a restaurant that looked good and then we would stop the car.

Lily asked last night how we would find out movie times. I told her it was either printed in the newspaper or we would call the theater and ask the times. She asked how we called them if we didn’t have a cell phone. I told her that we had home phones that were attached to the wall by a cord and we would use the rotary dial and call the theater. She asked me what a rotary dial was.

Lily just finished writing a paper at school. I asked her what books she used as references. She had no idea what I was talking about. References? Do you mean websites?  Zach’s favorite activity at school involves a scavenger hunt list where he takes a picture on an ipad of the found item. Zach wonders why ipad use without internet access is so frustrating.  He wants to play on the ipad, he is holding the ipad, mom unlocked the screen, why doesn’t it work? When we don’t have access to wireless internet, Lily can’t understand why only certain books on the kindle are downloadable.  I typed it in mom, why can’t I download it and read it now?

When I was Lily’s age (11) and I got home from school each day, I would have a snack and watch Little House on the Prairie.  She asked if we had the whole dvd set. I told her no, it was actually on tv every afternoon. What? You watched a show on tv after school? Isn’t that when all the afternoon talk shows are on?  Just after we finished talking about Little House on the Prairie, we passed an Amish horse drawn buggy. We talked about not having electricity or phones or tv or internet. Lily was baffled. We tried to find the Amish Trading post somewhere in Osceola, MO. It apparently was too off the beaten path and we never found it. We only found the bus depot.  Lily was fascinated that they live the way that they do, and was flustered that we couldn’t find the trading post. “It must be well hidden. They didn’t want to sell us anything anyway because they need it for themselves.”

Daily, I am able to point out the differences between when I was kid and now. Occasionally I will share stories with Lily about when Grandma Jo and Great Grandma Charlotte were little girls and what life was like for them.  I once told her about when my mom, Jo Cook, was a little girl and televisions became available for their home. She said that because they lived near a tv station in St. Paul, MN, they were able to get one or two stations. She remembers feeling like she was popular but then realized that the kids on the street came over after school mostly to watch tv and enjoy her mom’s yummy snacks.  She shared that she remembered spending hours in the library working on papers in high school and that secretarial school was a challenge because if she didn’t arrive early enough each day, she would get one of the older manual typewriters and the keys would stick. Lily didn’t know what I was talking about when I told her that I even had a typewriter as a child and that when computers were brought into my elementary school, we only used them to actually learn how to type and to play Oregon Trail during free time. She asked me...what is Oregon Trail?

Daily I am grateful for technological advancements. For electricity, indoor plumbing, televisions, vcr’s, dvd players, computers, laptops, ipads, cell phones, the internet, and absolutely for Google. Because without google, I wouldn’t be able to research the history of the Guernsey cow. Or find out when The Greatest Showman will be released on DVD. And I surely wouldn’t be able ever know what direction to turn. My use of google maps makes me look like I am adulting at a very high level. Google. I salute you.

Friday, March 23, 2018

I Just Can't With You

Exasperation. Plain and simple exasperation. I just can’t with you.

Occasionally, I feel that I struggle more than most. I struggle with patience, with empathy and with the ability to work through discord with my kids. At the ages of 15 and 11, you would think I have learned a thing or two by now. You would be mistaken. I fail miserably almost every day when it comes to being a parent. It isn’t even that I hold myself to an unobtainable level of perfectionism.  I apparently missed the day they did all the parenting training. Not sure who “they” are or when this training was provided, but I for sure missed it.

The one thing I do know, is that I have placed my own personal comfort as more important than my kids. I want them to do what they are told when they are told to do it and do it with a good attitude. Is that too much to ask? I repeat my above wishes to them almost daily and ask them to repeat it to me as if they are The Gavin Family Rules written somewhere but they have yet to be found. When my kids fall into a rut and don’t do what they are told when they are told to do it an with a good attitude, I fall apart.  Usually, it starts with detecting sass or blatant disregard. My heart rate increases, my exasperation begins to boil. Almost like blood boiling, but exasperation bubbles up out of nowhere rather than slowly and noticeably. Exasperation peaks it ugly head usually at worst of times. As in, in front of people. Or in a public restaurant bathroom. Or, the best place, in the dining room at Chic-Fil-A.

My kids are the best. Like when my daughter insults an entire state and all of its inhabitants in a gas station right across the state border.  Or when my son yells at a little kid who is crying in a restaurant to be quiet. Sure. These things happen in every family. Kids are awkward. They don’t yet know what things shouldn’t be said in front of others.  However, what really makes my skin crawl is sassing, blatant disrespect and overt disobedience. When my daughter sasses, I may or not be known to say, “In all of the years of me being your mom, have I ever responded positively when you choose to talk to me like that.”  Or when I ask my son to unload the dishwasher before he plays, and he says no, and bolts downstairs slamming the door. I usually then find myself standing in the kitchen, experiencing a little bit of shock and awe and find myself not even wanting to call him back to get the job done. Often deciding that it is easier to just do it myself rather than continue to deal with disobedience. But then all common sense returns, and I call that kid back and lay down the law of Gavin Land.

Then I enter into the murky waters of my will versus my children's will. I am stubborn mom. I am stubborn wife. I am just stubborn. I want my way, when I want it and no one shall convince me otherwise.  I know this is a major fault on my part. I think it came from years in the workplace being the one in charge. Understanding work loads, project timelines and future additional work increase, I created an overall plan of action and recruited others to ensure that a project was completed by a proposed deadline.  Now, being self employed, it is just me, myself and I. I need to complete everything by a given time, and there isn’t anyone else to help or recruit. I am in charge of me. So I often tackle large projects immediately to ensure that completion with excellence is the final outcome. I discovered that now with children, I try to carry over a similar process. Where I have failed, is communicating the plan that I created in my head. I don’t take the time to communicate the how and the why.  I just say - this is what needs to be done, do it. And often, do it now. And because I said so. And when questions arise, I get irritated. Because I am the Mom and I said so. Do it. Half the time, I have given too little instruction or guidance and have overestimated my kids ability. Just because a child is 11 or even 15, doesn’t mean that they are equipped to see something through to completion.

So most of this boils down to patience and my ability to communicate effectively. My kids are always going to sass, be disrespectful or disobey on occasion. But if I will practice patience, instruct thoroughly, and encourage along the way, the outcome may prove to be much different. Children that are given a task, with the means and knowledge of how to complete it and encouragement along the way, will often complete the task in a timely fashion and with a semi good attitude. When I say semi, I am being realistic because we are talking about preteens and teens here.

I can not always control how my children act, but I can control how I react to their behavior.  It is all about my response. If my child sasses and I respond with, “I just can’t with you.” I have discouraged the child and encouraged further sassing.  But if I deal with the sass immediately, talk about what the real problem is, we can work through it better together as a team. Rather than approaching our relationship as a dictator and one being dictated to, a team working together is what I want to envision.

I do not have parenting thing all figured out. I probably never will. But I don’t want to be the mom that yells. I don’t want to be the mom that feels on edge because of publicly unruly children.  I do want to practice patience. I do want to teach and guide and encourage my kids. I also want to ensure that they know that I am there for them when they are upset, that I can listen and be respectful myself. And that we really are a team that can work together.  The changes that need to take place in my home, begin with me. My mouth, my mind, my thoughts. Then I will be somewhat more of the mom my kids deserve.

Ornamental Grasses

When I was a child, we didn’t travel very often.  I didn’t even board a plane until I was 11 years old. We would go to cabins in the woods for a couple nights or so, but they were always within a few hours of home. My dad and mom worked very hard to support our family, but money for vacations was a very lofty concept.  I remember day road trips to Rochester or Red Wing and occasionally Duluth or Brainerd. But what I remember most is the adventures that we would have.

My dad would rise early to accomplish everything that he needed to each day.  He wouldn’t eat breakfast right away, but dressed and rushed to complete his to do list. I remember thinking that my dad was the busiest person in the world.  Sleep, work, eat, get stuff done at home, repeat. He was always on the go. He rarely sat down and just relaxed. He sometimes would watch tv with us in the evenings. But mostly, he would work in his shop in the basement.  Tinkering with this and that, I wasn’t really sure what he did down there. I sometimes made up stories that he was creating a time machine or designing an invention so amazing he would change the world.

On Saturday or Sunday afternoons when all of my dad’s work was completed, he would bathe, change his clothes eat a meal and rally the troops, which were my sister Angie and I.  Angie was a very accomplished dancer and she would often be busy with extra practices, performances or competitions on the weekends. But when she was home, we both looked forward to what the day would bring. What adventure my dad would create.
Sometimes we discovered a new section of woods that was waiting for us to explore. I would hear a little stream running nearby or my dad would see tracks and point them out.  Angie would hear a bird or an owl and ask which one made that sound. We engaged our senses as we explored the amazing world around us.

When I was 9, a small body of water flooded in the woods when the snow melted.  It created a vast pond four times the original size. My dad had believed that a natural spring could be found underneath and that it continued to feed this now almost lake sized body  of water. It took almost the entire summer for the water to seep into the earth and for this now lake to recede back to its original pond size. And what the waters left behind! Yes, there were fish and polished stones. But the ornamental grasses that eventually dried out. They were so beautiful I could hardly stand it.  Once dry, they would bend and sway in the slight breeze. They would wave at us as we passed by. The grasses made me wish I possessed artistic talent so that I could paint them and capture even a glimpse of their beauty. I asked my dad if we could bring some home to mom so she could see them too. Dad said that he didn’t think they would last very long but that we could.  As he went to open his pocket knife to cut the stalks, I impulsively grabbed a handful of them and tried to pull them from dirt. They firmly held their ground. I lost my grip and my balance at the same time and the stalks sliced up the palms of my hands. I gasped and held my hands close to my chest. I winced my eyes shut and took a few deep breaths. My dad rushed to me, took my hands and pulled me towards the edge of the water. He quickly knelt and pulled me to the muddy ground with him. As he pried my hands open, The tears started to pour down my face.  I saw the blood release into the water.

My dad held my hands in the water for what seemed like forever. He repeated the same things to me over and over again. You are okay.  I know it hurts. Just a little blood. You are going to be fine. Once the blood flowing into the water decreased, my dad let go of my hands and fished in one of his many pockets for a bandana. He removed my hands from the water and gently patted them dry.  He ripped the bandana in half and gingerly tied up both of my hands. He smiled, kissed each of my hands and stood. I remained kneeling in the mud next to pond and looked up at him. When my dad realized I wasn’t moving on my own accord, he placed his hands under my arms and hoisted me to a standing position.  I wiped the last of my tears with back of hand and saw my sister standing maybe 10 feet away. She had remained silent the entire time. Watching, observing and not saying a word. Angie was either amazed at my dad's innate ability to take care of any given situation or she was baffled at my stupidity and childish impulsivity.

I don’t remember much about the rest of that day. I remember the beautiful grasses, the desire to show my mom the grasses, the pain and the blood, my dad’s take charge attitude and my sisters silence. But what I do remember was when my sister and I took the lead and headed home, I turned around and saw my father. He was kneeling on his left knee, pocket knife open in his hand and he was carefully cutting the stalks.  Two maybe three at time. He put his thin glove back on his hand and picked up the beautiful array of grasses. He stood and proceeded in our direction. My dad had the grasses in his hand and was prepared to bring them home. He wanted to gift them to my mom per my request so that she too could enjoy them, even if only for a short time.

These are the daily adventures that I remember. These brief glimpses are the memories that I hold dear.  I remember more of the day to day happenings than the grandiose trips or experiences. I remember laughter. I remember trying new foods and working together in the yard and garden. I remember sitting at the dining room table with friends and family an enjoying each others company.  I remember the simple, mundane, perfection. That is what made the biggest impression on me. The time that was spent with my loved ones. The conversations that we had and the joy that got to experience together. I remember how I was cared for, encouraged, nurtured and loved. And those memories are the best ones of all.  

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Size Matters

"Gosh you have such a pretty face."
"You are so tall, like an Amazon woman!"
"I am not sure if they sell clothes in your size, but we should be able to find something super cute."
"If you lost about 25 pounds you would be gorgeous."
"I can't date you, you are exactly as tall as I am."
"You should join Beach Body/Drink Plexus/ Join my gym/Really Focus on Walking and Swimming/ Avoid Carbs /Go Keto."

My name is Kelli J Gavin. I am 42 years old.  I have been 5'10" since I was 12 years old and I am a plus size woman.  All of the quotes above have been said to my face by others. And I have probably heard another thousand comments about my appearance, stature and size.

About 8 years old with my baby cousin

I became very aware at a young age that I wasn't the most attractive child. What I didn't possess in looks I made up for in personality. Exuding confidence, I began singing and performing which made me feel like I was amazing.  Big hair, often with a bad perm, the big glasses showed up around 3rd grade and lasted until I was 13 in 8th grade. The summer before 9th grade, I met a boy, and then the glasses were only used for class and watching tv at home. I grew my hair out and started dressing better.

Back, row, 2nd from right. 

8th Grade 

Absolutely, almost every kid goes through an awkward stage. Mine just seemed to last a bit longer. As I mentioned, I was very tall in Junior High and towered over most of the boys. I realized that I needed to walk tall, shift my shoulders back and smile as to draw any and all attention away from the rest of my body. The smile is what came easily. I love life. I enjoy all of it.  Often, teachers would greet me with OH! Welcome Miss Smiles or Hello Sunshine! I also became very aware of the positive attention I received from everyone when I displayed an outgoing larger than life personality.

By the time I entered high school, I discovered drama and plays in addition to singing. I was very involved in my church youth group and enjoyed a great group of tight friends. I was often busy with after school activities and occasional dates, parties and get together's.  I overheard one morning a conversation between two girls in the bathroom at school. "She is just so tall. She is bigger to, isn't she? It is a good thing she can sing and she is nice, otherwise no one would pay any attention to her." The other girl said, "Kelli is I guess a fat girl trying not to look fat." They both giggled and left the restroom. I stayed in that stall frozen. What?  I knew I was tall, I knew I was nearing plus size, but I thought that was just me and didn't involve anyone else. Did other people talk about me? Did people think I was overweight? Fat?

I went home and talked with my mom. I cried talking with her even though I didn't want to. My mom had always carried extra weight on her. She was a lot shorter than I was and never had to deal with comments about being an Amazon woman.  She said, "Never let the words of others become the truth about yourself that you believe. You are perfectly and wonderfully made. You are tall and beautiful and are becoming a real woman. Real women have curves. Real women don't worry about what other people think. Real women are few and far between.  Be the leader of other real woman. Not a follower of the little girls."  I know that everything that my mother said, she said out of love and personal first hand knowledge. But when she said it, I became even more aware of the fact that I was very different from the other perfect, small, very blond girls. And I wasn't yet at a stage where I wanted to be different. I wanted to fit in. I wanted to blend in.

Left, with my mom and sister. 

I missed out on a few opportunities when I was in high school and in college that I was clearly qualified for, even over qualified for.  I didn't make it into a singing group in high school and then again in college. I was the same height and sometimes the same size as the boys, towered over the girls. I just didn't fit in to the "aesthetic" of the group, or so I was told by the directors of the groups. It had nothing to do with my talent, my experience or ability.

Freshman year of college 

When I applied for a position at a financial institution, I was told, that my appearance would be a great deterrent for "customers" with shady motives.  Was I a scary person? Did my height overwhelm or intimidate people?

My husband and I are exactly the same height. I wore flats at my wedding so that I wouldn't be taller in the wedding pictures. Numerous people commented on my shoes.  I thought they were beautiful. Cream with hand sewn pearls and perfectly pointed toes.  "Oh, look at your shoes. So nice!"  "Perfect shoe choice." The comments weren't really compliments at all. They were back handed comments about the fact that I was wearing flats, as not to appear too tall.

My wedding day with my mom and sister. 

All these years later, and all the odd comments I have received in my lifetime, I have come to one realization. Size does matter. The height of a woman. The size of a woman. It matters.  Not too big. Not too small. Just right in the middle.  If you are too small, you have an eating disorder. If you are too big, you must over indulge and have eating issues. If you are tall, you are intimidating. If you are short, you must be young or have a need to be taken care of. What?  Where did these ideas come from? They absolutely weren't from women.

Women just want to exist. We don't want to be judged. We don't want to have to worry that all the eyes in a room are on us, judging us. Deciding if we are too big or too small. If we are strong or weak. If we have an imposing stature or demeanor. We don't want others to form opinions about us based on appearance.

Yes, I enjoy clothes and makeup and I want my hair to have more good days than bad. I wouldn't describe myself as beautiful, but age has been kind to me.  I do not want to judged positively or negatively based on my physical appearance. When people see me, really see me, I want them to see my heart. I want them to see my love for others.  How I care so much sometimes until it hurts. I want them to see that I love my kids, my husband, my friends and family. That I have a great work ethic, that I don't give up and that I am able to always see what is good in every situation.  I want them to see that I am enthralled with what life still has in store for me. I want them to know that what they think about me doesn't matter.  Because I know who I am. I am a woman who loves the Lord and her family. I am a woman who is confident and doesn't rely on the perceptions of others to make up my identity, my value.

Me at 42

Size does matter in our world today.  But I don't plan on giving it any more worth than necessary. It might be because confidence sneaked in at an early age. I have shared that confidence with my 11 year old daughter.  She is going to need it someday. The world is a harsh place to dwell when size matters more than it should.

Loving my 40s

Thursday, March 15, 2018


I sat down the last three days in a row to write.  Ended up scraping or erasing everything I wrote.  Some days I feel compelled yet uninspired to write. There are days that the words spill out of me, but collectively it amounts to nothing more than drivel. Today, I sat down to write, and it ended up being a letter that would probably not be sent.

Wearing only my heart on my sleeve isn't something I have experienced. I wear every single emotion on my sleeve.  My hurt, my love, my joy and happiness, my pain and discontentment. I wear my pride, disappointment, envy, desire and regret a little too close to my collar.  Those emotions and feelings seem to sneak up on me and threaten to weigh me down at times. Sometimes, they pile up on my chest and compress any air I have left out of me. Other times, they form hands that strangle and hold on for too long around my neck. Restriction is how I have started thinking about it.  When my heart hurts and my throat feels tight and my chest faces collapse, I often just flee rather than face the emotions head on.  Fleeing to me is obvious avoidance.  Sometimes avoidance is self preservation. Other times, my avoidance is to preserve the other person.

My heart has been hurting for some time now over a situation that hasn't remedied itself.  I care for the other person, will never walk away from them and can not see a day when they will not be in my life in some way, shape or form.  Usually, when I sit down to write about relationships, heart hurts and joy, my feelings about a person or a situation change. Often, I am able to forgive and move forward after something that has hurt me just by writing about the situation from my perspective. I work through what I am feeling and quickly discard anything that is not true or obviously inflated from my rash decisions or snarky comebacks.

I haven't been able to write about this.  And after spending time in much prayer on my own and then the other night with my friend Katie, not only do I feel that my feelings are valid, I held my tongue, didn't say anything that I should seek forgiveness for and didn't act upon my feelings in a negative manner. But then I realized that I was also holding a grudge, avoiding and justifying my actions while completely placing all the blame on the other person.  And then, the realization that I was in this all alone. The other person is completely unaware of what I am thinking and how I feel.  I did this to myself.

Self sabotage is a real thing. A relationship is working, working well, and then you think or believe something that isn't true and it slowly begins to crumble. I did this.  It is all about what my expectations were. If I never voiced my hopes and expectations, how can I possibly hold the other person accountable when I think they have failed me? Any rational person will tell you that this line of thinking will lead you down rabbit hole after rabbit hole.  Obviously, I haven't been rational.

So here I am 6 months out, and I have finally realized, I have made this all about me. I have placed my comfort, my wishes, my desire for happiness and contentment before the other person.  Why is what I want more important?  Aren't all relationships about give and take and sometimes giving a whole lot more?  Self centered and selfish and spiteful are apparently characteristics I have mastered.  And mastery of any of those characteristics aren't something I want to share with others.

I need to fix this.  It is the only way.  If I want to feel better about this, if I want to mend this relationship, I need to be honest.  I need to state that I had unvoiced expectations that were not met and I now realize that I had withdrawn my friendship because of it.  I need to talk about how I now realize that I placed my own comfort ahead of theirs. But mostly, I need to apologize and ask for forgiveness.  I need to humble myself. I need to leave any and all spitefulness behind me.

Tonight, I will take the first step in relationship repair. I will send a text message and say hello. If it is received well, I will suggest a phone call maybe this weekend. But I will take that first step.  There is no longer room for spitefulness in my life. My collar has been too tight for too long.

Monday, March 5, 2018

The First Five Hours

It is Monday, and both kids have the day off school today. Zach's was a scheduled day off due to end of term I believe and Lily's day was cancelled late last night because the pending ice and snow storm.  No complaints from me.  We all got to sleep in a bit and there isn't anywhere we need to rush off to today. The ice started late last night and hit the windows with such force, I thought for sure both of the kids would wake up in a panic.

This morning, the ice pellets continued.  The wind has picked up and the second story windows are breathing from its force. The National Weather Service says the 5+ inches of snow will start soon.  And because we live in Minnesota that 5+ inches means absolutely no snow and school was cancelled for no reason, or it means 2 1/2 feet of snow and everything will shut down tomorrow also. Minnesota winter is no joke.  It sees a storm coming and says, hold my beer. Minnesota is  always a show off that everyone runs from when they see it coming.

So laundry will be done, maybe a little baking and cooking and I will play catch up on life. I will pack back packs, send a few emails, respond to a couple invites and absolutely 100% take a nap.  Because whenever you are given the chance to nap, always nap.  I will also play a game or 10 of Gin and Uno with Lily and pretend to be fascinated by Zach's wii golf game.  I will also water my ten plants.  I must keep that poinsettia that my mother in law gave me the day after Thanksgiving alive. Not really sure why I must keep it alive, but those beautiful red and green leaves compel me to continue breathing life into it.

I read a bit this morning from two books. One, I hope the action picks up a bit and that I begin to actually care about the characters more.  The other one, an easy, smooth read that I will pick up again shortly. It easily transports me to the beach. Which I am not afraid to admit my tendency to be a Thalassophile. Especially in these last few weeks of a long, cold winter.

I remember dreading the days when my kids would be home from school and I couldn't go to work.  I would try to fill their day with arts and crafts and games and new toys. They would declare they were bored and continue to complain the rest of the day.  I discovered I was doing this whole parenting thing wrong.  I was trying to keep my kids entertained all day long, rather than teaching them and providing them with the tools to create their own fun.   Now, I never hear I am bored.  I never hear anything of sorts. My kids are ridiculous models of occupying themselves. 

Lily printed out color sheets on the computer this morning, promptly colored both and then Zach shared in the oohs and ahhs upon completion.  She picked up her room, helped gather laundry and read a book. She made herself breakfast burritos, and laughed watching the Jericho Lego movie. (all of 35 minutes long)  She said she wanted to go and see if friends could play, and soon both her friend Clara and she were laughing and playing with Star Wars figures up in her room.  It is noon. All of this in the first five hours of the day.

Zach watched the news, informed me of the weather and road situation and promptly left to write and draw up in his room. He reviewed the calendar for the rest of year, talked about upcoming vacations and then decided it was time to play some golf after helping with laundry baskets. He then thought lunch was a good idea and got out the peanut butter and honey, his huge red apple, sharp knife, butter knife, plate and then told me he wanted pretzels and fruit snacks. He then said he was going to make a grocery shopping list for our vacation in June. That may take him the better portion of the next hour. It is noon. All of this in the first five hours of the day.

I decided turkey burgers sounded good for dinner tonight and defrosted the ground turkey and the buns from the garage freezer. Zach immediately said, "I am not eating that" as I returned to the kitchen holding the freezing cold items. I promised him he had nothing to worry about as I already defrosted ham for him.  Some day, even if it kills me, I want Zach to eat a burger. Veggie, black bean, turkey, beef, I don't care. Just one burger.  Almost like my mission in life. Don't laugh. I am totally serious.

So now that these first five hours of the day have passed without issue, I want to also declare the next five hours as issue free.  Because momma needs a nap and I ain't got time for that.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Ourika, 1823, Claire de Duras- A Book Review of an Almost 200 Year Old Book

I love reading newly published books. The ones that people can't wait until they are on the bookstore shelves or available on Amazon Prime. I love the smell of new books, the firm bindings, the ability for each new book to alter my current state by changing how I think and feel. But I also love old books. Books that were written 20 years ago, 40 years ago, even 100 years ago or more. Timeless treasures that transport the reader but deliver eternal truths.

When I review books, I often look for not only something that I would be interested in, but also a book that would appeal to the masses. Someone of any religious background, from any nationality and from any socioeconomic beginning.

One of my favorite books these past 15 years is  entitled Ourika by Claire de Duras (nee: Claire-Louis Lechat de Coetnempren de Kersaint) Duchess Duras was a fascinating woman from France born into upper society in 1777.  Her family fled France after her father was killed during the French Revolution for refusing to vote in favor of Louis 15th. She married The Duke de Duras in 1797 but wasn't able to return to France until 1808.  In 1814, The Duke was given an important role in French court, where the Duchess de Duras oversaw a brilliant Salon in the Palace. Sick and depressed in 1822, she left French court with her husband and retired to the country. She wrote and began anonymously publishing before her untimely death in 1828.

The Duchess's most popular book is entitled Ourika. She published it privately and only printed 25 to 40 copies. It was then reprinted many times and became a best seller throughout the 1820's in Europe. By 1824, 4 plays were created based on the book. In the last 200 years, many writers have quoted and expanded on Ourika including Goethe. The book Ourika was the first book to have a Black Female Heroine based in Europe.

In 1977, the famous author John Fowles, translated the book into English and it inspired him to write The French Lieutenant's Woman.  He was immediately drawn to the story of Ourika and said that, "It was the first serious attempt by a white novelist to enter a black mind."

Based on a true story, the short book begins from the perspective of a doctor (not identified by name) being called to a French convent to a see a young African nun who was ill. Depressed, struggling with insomnia and fevers, the young nun was extremely small and thin, but was of complete sound mind. The doctor understood that she had found happiness and speaks of curing the past. (page 5)  The doctor knew the young African nun was dying, but went so far as to talk about recovering quickly.  The doctor continues to visit her many times and hears all of Ourika's story.

Ourika was rescued from a slave ship returning from Senegal at the age of 2. She was raised by a very wealthy French family. Ourika loved her guardian and all that surrounded her as she never knew anything different. She was told she was an angel and never thought she was different from all of the light skinned people that surrounded her. She had very little exposure to other children and grew up quite quickly. She was taught English and Italian, painting and dancing and was very well read.

Ourika's benefactor had two grandsons , the youngest named Charles who grew to be Ourika's closest and treasured friend. Charles and his older brother were sent away to school and Ourika mourned the separation.  At the age of 15, she overheard a conversation and came to the realization that, "[I] was black. Dependent, despised, without fortune, without resource, without a single being of my kind to help me through life."  (page 12)  When she became aware of her "negritude", (def.-development of racial consciousness) she began covering her skin and wearing a hat with a veil in public because she was aware that her dark skin tone separated her from all of French society. She never spoke to anyone about how she toiled privately over the realization that her life wouldn't be as she once thought.

In the summer of 1792, the French Revolution was stirring throughout all French societal classes and talks of emancipation began. To Ourika, she wasn't sure about how this would affect her, as she was neither slave nor free.  Charles and his older brother returned home in February of 1793 just after the execution of Louis the 16th.  Ourika and Charles's friendship made them inseparable. "To him, my companionship was like existence itself. He enjoyed it without noticing it. (page 26)
The Terror in France was in 1795, and their family of 4 was left to their own defenses. They knew a very solitude life during that terrible time in France history.

Charles fell in love with a young woman named  Anais, aged 16, he was 21.  Ourika felt so very alone as their marriage loomed. "Nobody needed me, I was isolated from all." (page 33)  Ourika fell very ill and missed the wedding. After Charles and Anais were married, they returned home often to visit. Anais had a beautiful baby boy and Ourika slipped into deeper despair and even questioned if her life wouldn't have been better if she were a black slave of a wealthy landowner.

She prayed that God would take her and help her be void of pain. She continued to be constantly ill. The same friend of her mistress whom she had heard all those years ago speaking of her skin color confronted her about her love and passion for Charles, "...all of your suffering comes from just one thing: and insane and doomed passion for Charles. And if you weren't madly in love with him, you could come perfectly to terms with being black." (page 42)

Ourika had always thought her affections for Charles were sisterly or matronly and this confrontation exposed the root cause of her eternal suffering. She then became gravely ill at this realization believing she had wasted her life away. She fought and hung on desperately to life. "Some instinct drove me toward God. I felt the need to throw myself into his arms and find peace there." (page 44) Ourika eventually did find that peace and her mind and body stabilized. She became a nun and lived peacefully but never fully physically recovered.  As soon as she finished telling her entire story to the doctor, she passed away.

To be honest, I wasn't able to write an actual book review and do this small treasure  the justice I believe it is due.  Most book reviews write themselves, but I felt I needed to explain more about the the author, provide additional historical background and give a detailed account of the life of Ourika.

Why is this story of an African woman living in France so important today even tough it was published close to 200 years ago? Not only was it based on a true story, it has given all of Europe and the Western World a glimpse into the life, the joys, the struggles and heartache of African people. Before this book was published in 1823, most white people had only ever seen black people of African origin in slave or servant positions. It brought about a shift of understanding that we were all human beings and that the idea of some day being equal wasn't an unrealistic idea to throw around. This so appropriately depicted African woman's struggle brought to light that she only found herself in turmoil when she began to think that she was different from everyone that surrounded her in her daily life. The feeling of being different, of being alone can cause the strongest of people to wallow in grief.

To this day, racism, sexism, and inequality abound and are ever present even in the farthest reaches of our world. As a Caucasian American woman (of Sicilian and Dutch descent) I have such a limited finite view of what being alone, sheltered, or without prospects or hope would actually look like. I have never experienced the feeling of being set apart or different or without anyone to call my own. But like Ourika, I have loved deeply, mourned continuously, adored family, been so very thankful to God for the life that has been given to me. Like Ourika, I did not understand what I was thinking or feeling until someone pulled me aside to explain their observations. Because of what she felt, feelings that every human being experiences, I was able to connect with this heroine and feel even if for a moment that I understood her heart. Ourika speaks to my heart, to my soul, to my desire to see things differently.

I have read this treasure 4 times and can honestly say, each time I find something new. Sometimes a quote, sometimes a visual picture of what Claire de Duras is trying to communicate to the reader. This is such an eye opening book for me and it touches my heart each time I devour its pages.  I can not recommend this book enough and all works by Claire de Duras.  Because with the reading of each new book, we often discover something about ourselves. I discovered a love for historical writing.

Works by Claire de Duras
Ourika (1823)
Edouard (1825)
Pensees de Louis XIV extraites  de ses ouvrages et de ses lettres manuscrites (1827)

Posthumous Works
Le frere ange (1829)
Reflexion e prieres inedites (1839)
Olivier, ou le secret (1971)

Unpublished Works
"Les memoires de Sophie"
Le moine, ou l'abbe du Mont Saint-Bernard"

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