1/13/22

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

It’s that time of year again. That time that immediately follows the holidays from Thanksgiving through Christmas through New Year’s. We go from celebrating and partying to viewing constant pokes on all forms of media about how we should be eating better and exercising more…and at the same time, we’re besieged with commercials about comfort foods. Warm, satisfying foods that can melt snowmen, make a wintry blast feel like the tropics, and turn the heat up on our insides while we crank the thermostat for our outsides.

Which is why, a couple weeks ago, when Michael asked me what I’d like to have on the grocery shopping list, I answered, “Oatmeal.”

Oh, oatmeal!

Now I’m no stranger to the gym. Since the pandemic hit, I don’t often go two days in a row, but I do go. I joined a new gym a short time ago, one that has a pool, so I can use my new ability to keep myself afloat and call my frantic splashing and paddling exercise. I love it.

I eat fairly well, despite the fact that I have Oral Allergy Syndrome, which means I’m allergic to all raw fruits and vegetables, plus quite a few seeds and nuts, though I can still eat berries and green grapes. The allergy is spreading; this week, I reacted to a packet of taco seasoning my husband used when he made his famous nachos. I eat a lot of cooked fruits, but unfortunately, the most common place you’ll find cooked fruits is in pies and cobblers and crumbles. Yum.

But I try.

Lately, the temperature has dipped. It was two below zero when I left the gym last Monday night, and I was convinced my hair, still wet from the pool, would freeze and snap right off. We have snow on the ground. When I see that famous commercial of the snowman coming in from outside and slurping up a bowl of soup, which miraculously melts the snowman into a little boy, I immediately want soup. And chili. And hotdish and hot casseroles. And hot chocolate. Laced with crème de menthe.

And oatmeal.

Yum.

When I was a kid living in northern Minnesota, oatmeal was a rare treat in my house. There was no instant version yet, and so my mother had to haul out the large cardboard canister with the white-haired guy with the funny hat plastered on it. She didn’t make individual servings, but a whole pot, for all of us, and she had to stir and stir and stir before dumping the wonderful- smelling, but disgusting-looking, glop into our bowls.

Then my dad doctored it for us, in a way I’ve never seen anyone else do. First, he put several pats of butter into our bowls, and we watched it melt into golden trails through the glop. He sprinkled on sugar. And then he added just a bit of milk.

It was amazingly good. I started drinking coffee at a young age (third grade, I believe), and coffee and oatmeal for breakfast made me not care that I was about to walk to school in snowpants, a heavy winter jacket, a hat and mittens, hood pulled up and tied under my chin, a scarf around my throat, big clunky boots on my feet. I was warm the whole way, and it wasn’t the attire that made me so.

Yum.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I was overcome with cravings for oatmeal. He was due on January 28th, and at Christmas, I left my job as a secretary for Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Ozaukee County so that I could become a stay-at-home mom. Every morning, I hauled my very pregnant body out of bed, retrieved my own canister with the white-haired man with the funny hat, stirred and stirred and stirred, and then added butter, sugar, and milk. And then I made another bowl for lunch. And sometimes, a bowl before bed. Christopher was born ten days early, on January 18th, and when I had breakfast in the hospital, I requested oatmeal. It came without butter and sugar and milk. Bleah.

It was my mom that made the oatmeal. It was my dad that made it good.

And so, when my husband asked, I answered, “Oatmeal.”

It’s the season.

We do have that fabled white-haired man canister in our cupboards, but that’s only brought out when I make my meat loaf, which requires old-fashioned oatmeal. What my husband brings home to me from the grocery store still has that man on it, but the oatmeal is instant, and made individual serving by individual serving. I open a packet, empty it into my favorite bowl, add water, and stick it in the microwave for one minute and thirty seconds. No stirring, stirring, stirring. No big pot. No waiting.

I keep myself busy during the one minute and thirty seconds by preparing to doctor. I get out the butter and the milk. I forego the sugar and even the Equal, because the oatmeal I favor is flavored – maple and brown sugar.

When the microwave beeps, I do my best Dad imitation. Butter pats. Golden trails in the glop. A little bit of milk. I pop it back in the microwave for 30 seconds, because the milk cools it down too fast. In that 30 seconds, I pour my cup of strong black coffee. And then I have breakfast, like I did so long ago, not caring about the snow on my deck, the temperature my cell phone tells me it is outside, the wind whistling at the windows.

My father didn’t cook much, except for stints at the outdoor grill. But the man knew his oatmeal.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Winter in northern Minnesota. I was dressed this way just to get the mail from the mailbox at the end of our driveway.
Oatmeal! That glorious glop!
Interestingly, when I was looking for oatmeal images, I found this one with a pat of butter. It said it was traditional Scottish oatmeal. I was always told, when I was growing up, that I was a quarter Irish. When I did an ancestry kit a few years ago, there was no Irish in me. Instead, there was Scottish. So maybe that’s why I like this version of oatmeal.

1/6/22

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

This past Tuesday, my novel, All Told, was released. It’s my 12th book; sixth novel. I was asked if Book #12 is as exciting as Book #1.

I’ve known for my entire life that I’m a writer. I used to trace the pictures in my picture books and then rewrite the stories the way I felt they should be written. I didn’t apply the word “writer” to myself until the fifth grade, when my teacher, Mrs. Faticci, told me that’s what I was. I wrote about that in an earlier Moment. I didn’t connect what I liked to do – put words together with the pictures that rolled through my mind – with those wonderful books I read. When the word writer was given to me, I shuddered with joy. It was as much me as my name.

I started submitting to magazines when I was twelve years old. My first published piece appeared when I was fifteen as a four-part serial in the Catholic Herald Citizen, of all places. I rewrote the story of Christ in 70’s slang. When I went to college at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, I tried making writing my hobby, and I majored in special education (with a focus on autism – that was fortuitous) and then social work. But the only thing that lit me up were my literature classes and my creative writing workshops. Against my parents’ will, I switched my major to writing, and again, felt like my name fit.

All along, my most favorite thing to write was the short story. My stories began to appear here, there, and everywhere. But it felt like the way to prove you were really a writer, you had to write a novel. And so I began to try.

After college, I joined a community education workshop led by Waukesha writer Ellen Hunnicutt. She became one of my most impactful mentors and cheerleaders. She told me that what made a writer a writer wasn’t talent. It was determination and discipline. So I settled in to be determined and disciplined. I never questioned that I had the talent. Writing is the only thing about myself that I’ve never questioned. Everything else…hoo boy.

My first novel wouldn’t be published until I was fifty years old.

I went through four agents. My last two were top-notch New York City agents. The third represented the book that would become, much later, In Grace’s Time. We were told the book was beautiful, but too “quiet”. After a year of submitting, she told me to shelve the book and try the next one. That was The Home For Wayward Clocks. When she read it, she told me it was stunning, but that she didn’t represent “dark” books.

So I had the choice of keeping my top-notch agent and writing another book, or firing her. I fired her.

A short time after agent #4 started submitting Clocks, we heard from an editor at Scribner’s. She loved the book, but said it needed editorial direction. She also felt it was too early in the submission process to give that direction, that someone else might take it as is. So my agent shopped it for a year, before she said, in a distinct echo from agent #3, to shelve the book and write another one. When I asked about re-submitting it to Scribner’s, she said she didn’t want me to do that, because often the editor lost interest in the time that it took to rewrite the book, and it was just a waste of energy. I was lucky at that time to be asked to be a graduate assistant for a residency at the college where I’d received my MFA in fiction (yes, I returned to grad school) and Wally Lamb was there too, as a speaker. We went to the same school. So I pulled Wally aside and asked for his advice.

He said, “New York editors don’t give second chances. Tell your agent that she works for you. Then set up a meeting with the editor. Listen carefully to what she wants to do and decide if you can do it. Then do it.” And that’s what I did.

The editor said she wanted me to change it from first person to third – EASY! – and she wanted me to bring out the “fairytale nature of the book.”

Say what?

For six months, I rewrote the book. In that time, we were contacted by an editor from Algonquin who saw one of my stories and wondered if I had a novel. So now I had two waiting editors.

Both of them rejected Clocks. Scribner’s because she’d moved to a new publishing house and was no longer interested in literary fiction. And I honestly don’t remember why Algonquin said no.

So I was back to square one. Shelve the book and keep the agent? Or fire the agent?

I fired her. And I went out on my own. And then I sold it on my own. To a publisher who took it as is, no changes, and who said to me, “New York missed out on you.”

Determination and discipline, doncha know. Thank you, Ellen.

When The Home For Wayward Clocks came out, I was fifty years old. And then came Enlarged Hearts (short story collection), Learning To Tell (A Life)Time (novel, and the sequel to Clocks), Rise From The River (novel), Oddities & Endings; The Collected Stories Of Kathie Giorgio (short story collection), True Light Falls In Many Forms (poetry chapbook), In Grace’s Time (novel), Today’s Moment Of Happiness Despite The News; A Collection of Spontaneous Essays (the first year of this blog, in book form), When You Finally Said No (poetry chapbook), If You Tame Me (novel), and No Matter Which Way You Look, There Is More To See (full-length collection of poetry). I’ve had three publishers.

And now…All Told. A novel. And my fourth publisher.

Throughout this time, many, many short stories, poems, and short memoir, were published in magazines and anthologies.

In August of this year, my poetry chapbook, Olivia In Five, Seven, Five; Autism In Haiku, will be released. Book #13.

I am putting the finishing touches on Book #14, a novel.

I am my name. Kathie Giorgio. Writer. It is not a hobby and never has been. It’s a life. A lifetime. I am never more happy than when I’m writing.

So back to the question at the beginning of this blog. Is  Book #12 as exciting as Book #1? Yes, yes, yes. And Books #2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11. Book #13 to come. Book #14 in progress.

Yes. It’s my name. It’s who I am. And there is nothing like feeling like you actually belong in your own skin.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

All Told is available pretty much everywhere. Look for it at your favorite bookseller. It will be launched at a special event for the Southeast Wisconsin Festival Of Books on January 27 at 7:00 p.m. central time. It is a Zoom event, so anyone from anywhere can come. I will be reading from the book, and then I’ll be interviewed by Jim Higgins, the books editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. It’s a free event, but you need to register. Here’s how: https://www.booksco.com/event/kathie-giorgio-virtual-author-event-sewi

All 11 books.

Book #12. All Told. A novel.

 

12/30/21

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Christmas, of course, brings with it presents. And usually, there’s one or two that really stand out. That happened for me this year, though I have to say…the present that really stuck out and struck my heart is one I picked out myself.

A few weeks ago, when we were watching Olivia at her concert with the Wisconsin Intergenerational Orchestra, my mind couldn’t help but wander to the music I loved to listen to, and the music I loved to make. From sixth grade through tenth, I played the trumpet, which I hated. I don’t even know where that trumpet is now. I lent it to someone somewhere along the way, and have long since lost track of it. I have always loved to sing, and for quite a while, I partnered myself with an instrument that became mine by pure happenstance.

I no longer remember if I was living in Minnesota or if I’d already moved to Wisconsin when my parents decided to replace my brother’s Wurlitzer organ with the mighty Hammond. But I do remember standing in the music store, growing increasingly bored as my parents hemmed and hawed over whether or not they would actually buy the organ. I wandered away and looked in a showcase at the front of the store. Inside, I saw an instrument I recognized.

An autoharp.

It looked just like the one my music teacher in school, Mrs. Lindstrom, used when she came to our classroom to teach. (This is why I’m pretty sure I was still in Minnesota; that’s where Mrs. Lindstrom was.) From time to time, Mrs. Lindstrom let me come to the front of the class and strum the autoharp in accompaniment to the songs we were singing. I loved that instrument. It was like playing a guitar, but I didn’t have to figure out which fingers to use on the strings. I just pressed a button and strummed and the chord was right there.

The woman standing behind the showcase smiled at me, and I smiled back. “That’s an autoharp,” I said. “My music teacher lets me play hers.” The woman opened the showcase, drew the instrument out and handed me a felt pick. I was delighted and began to strum.

The salesman working with my parents noticed. He said to my parents, “If you decide to buy the Hammond, I’ll throw in the autoharp for your little girl.”

I still didn’t pay any attention to what was going on with the sale, but when we walked out of the store, I was carrying the box with the autoharp.

For years and years, that autoharp and its box resided under my bed. I would go upstairs to my room, shut the door, pull it out, and play. I played the songs in the book they gave me and I made up songs of my own. I played it when I was sad, and I played it when I was happy, and I played it when I just wanted to surround myself with music that included me in it.

There are no photographs of me playing the autoharp. I was always behind my closed door.

Whenever I moved, whether with my parents, or later, with my first husband, the autoharp came with me. But when I packed up to leave that first husband, I brought very little with me. My autoharp, at that time, was still in its box, but on a shelf in a storeroom in our basement. I didn’t think of it when I left. When I did think of it, and I asked my ex-husband about it, he told me it was gone.

Just gone.

All of this passed through my mind as I sat, listening to Olivia play her violin with the orchestra.

That night, I went onto a website that sells used instruments. When I put autoharp in the search bar, I was amazed at the number of instruments that came up. And so many of them looked like mine! They were the same brand. Some of them had the years listed that a particular model was made, and so I searched through the years that covered when I most likely received my autoharp. When I found one particular one, I picked it out because it looked so much like mine.

I went downstairs and talked to Michael. I asked if he was okay if I chose my own present this year.

“You want a what?” he said.

When I told him about it, he sent me back upstairs to my computer with his blessing.

I bought the autoharp. The seller contacted me and said he’d be sending it out the next day. Then, the next day, he told me that snow prevented him from getting out. “It’s okay,” I said. “It’s a Christmas present, but it’s for me.” I explained that I was now 61 years old, and I wanted to reunite with this instrument that meant so much to a much younger me.

He sent it out the next day.

I asked him if he included picks and a tuning fork. I mentioned that the pick I liked most was a felt pick, because it didn’t make the metallic pinging sounds against the strings.

A day later, he emailed me and said I would be receiving a package from Amazon, with a tuning fork and felt picks. “Merry Christmas!” he said.

I tracked the package until it finally showed up at my door. When I unwrapped it, it was in its original box. And I couldn’t believe it.

My original autoharp had a puncture hole in the lower right of the box. So did this one.

Now, I know that it’s most likely not mine. But I’m happy to believe that it could be.

I don’t have a room here where I can close the door and sit and play, so I haven’t played it yet, other than quietly strumming the strings sometimes when I pass it. But I will play it. And I will sing. I don’t think I’ll be sitting on the floor pretzel-legged though. Those days are long gone.

For now, it’s enough to look at it. And remember singing and playing.

A part of me has come home.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

In the box. The puncture is in the lower right corner.

 

And there it is.

 

12/23/21

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

It’s amazing to me that, right after writing about how a young friend’s handheld game system was returned to her in a lost and found, and how that event restored for me a faith in the simple goodness of people, that lesson would come again. But this time, directly to me and to my husband, Michael.

Last Sunday, when Michael returned home from grocery shopping at Woodman’s, he walked slowly up the stairs to my office. “I have to tell you something,” he said.

The tone of his voice instantly alarmed me. I imagined his losing my bank card, which I sent with him to pay for the groceries. I imagined his newly healed lack-of-toe suddenly aching with a new ache and bursting into a blood fountain. “What now?” I cried.

“I lost my wedding ring.”

Now I have to admit, my response was a lackluster, but relieved, “Oh, okay.” His news wasn’t either of the above scenarios. And I was also in the middle of doing the studio’s ledger, which I hadn’t done in two weeks because I’d been sick. When I do the ledger, it’s like four very close walls and a low ceiling come down around me, and all I can see is my computer screen with the numbers. Even after 17 years in business, I am terrified of doing the ledger. I am not good at math, and I am convinced that I will do some huge mistake that will bring the studio to its knees in one strike of the keyboard. The actual walls of our home could fall down around me, and I wouldn’t notice, while I’m doing the ledger.

And so I said, “Oh, okay,” and returned to my work. Michael went downstairs. And it wasn’t until I was done with the ledger, when I closed the file, that I looked at my blank screen and said, “Oh, no!”

We’ve been married for 22 years. Those rings have rarely left our fingers. Recently, when Michael was in the hospital with his foot infection, he handed me his ring as he was taken off to surgery. I took off my own ring, put on his, then put my ring back on next to it. It seemed right that during that time apart, our rings would be together, on my hand.

I went downstairs and got the rest of the details. Michael has lost a lot of weight. He didn’t try to; it’s the result of working at a job that has him constantly on his feet and walking at least 7 miles a day. His ring had become very loose and we’d talked about getting it sized. At the grocery store, Michael had the ring when he began bagging at the self checkout. When he was done, the ring was gone. As he began to search, the manager came over to see what was wrong. Then the manager checked the video and confirmed that at the start of bagging, the ring was on his finger. At the end, not. So the ring had to be right there somewhere.

Michael tore apart the bags he’d packed. The manager tore apart the register. They looked over and under and into everything in the area.

No ring.

Michael left with a promise from the manager that they would keep looking and would call if it was found. Olivia told me that when Michael got into her car, he was in tears.

Apparently, my husband was more upset over this loss of the symbol of our marriage than he was over the recent amputation of his own toe.

I began to do what I could. I went on the NextDoor app and posted what happened, and asked anyone going to Woodman’s to look for the ring. I thought maybe fresh, and unpanicked, eyes might see better. I contacted Rogers & Holland, where we originally purchased the rings, to see if there was any chance they still had the same ring in a vault somewhere.

The folks on the NextDoor app were amazing, sending well wishes and hopes that we’d find it. Rogers & Holland responded, asking for a description and picture of the rings, so they could look for it.

On Tuesday morning, when I got up, I found a message on the NextDoor app from the same nice man who repaired our Little Free Library. He said he went to Woodman’s to take a peek under the belt of the register. And then he said, “Somebody returned your husband’s ring at Woodman’s!! They have it!”

Ohmygod.

I instantly woke up Michael, who had the day off. “They have it!” I said. I’ve never seen him wake up so fast. His breath rushed out with a whoosh and he hugged me so hard, I toppled into the bed.

I called Woodman’s, and they confirmed that they had it. As soon as I was done with morning clients, we went there to retrieve it. The women at the customer service desk cheered.

Then we drove directly to Rogers & Holland to get the ring sized. The women at the customer service desk cheered.

The people on the NextDoor app cheered.

We felt like the whole world cheered. And so did we. The ring isn’t back on Michael’s finger yet, but it will be soon.

And so my moment of happiness? There are two.

One, I have a husband who, even after 22 years of marriage, was heartbroken at the loss of a simple piece of jewelry that represents our union.

And two, despite the Big Bad News, there are still many good people in the world. Someone returned that ring, instead of keeping it for themselves or selling it. I wish we knew who it was. And so maybe, instead of focusing on all the Big Bad News, created by and spouted over by Big Bad People, we should be paying attention to the Everyday Good. Because it’s out there. And while the news might be Big and Bad, the Good still overcomes it.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Our rings, a few years ago, when we had them repaired.
The rings.
Our engagement photo. His hair is black. Mine is long.
One of our wedding photos. It’s in a heart shape because it used to be in a heart-shaped frame.
Entire family, many years ago. From left to right: my oldest son Christopher and his wife Amber, my middle son Andy, then Michael, I’m in front of Michael, Olivia is in front of me, and then my daughter Katie.
Family photo from several years ago. Michael, me, and Olivia.

12/16/21

And so this week’s moment of happiness.

In the mail today, there was a package from my sister, Marilyn. She’s long since given up writing a note on it, saying to not open until Christmas, because I always ignored that anyway. I tore in and found a beautiful pair of earrings and…a Grinch hand towel. A bright, Grinch-green hand towel, with the Grinch’s face glaring on it.

Perfect.

Grinch pretty much describes me during the Christmas season. It just seems to add to my already overdone to-do list. I love shopping, but I don’t love “having” to shop, to purchase things by a certain date. I don’t love online shopping, but with COVID, that really seems the best way to go. Putting up decorations entails a drive to the off-site storage unit, because we don’t have a basement, and so all Christmas stuff, among other things we probably don’t need, are kept there. Then we have to load up the car and haul it all upstairs. So that I don’t have to drive back to the storage unit, all of the boxes are kept stuffed in my car until everything is returned when the tree comes down on New Year’s Day. I don’t have time to wrap presents until Christmas Eve, and it is a day of bending, twisting, cutting, taping, until my body aches.

In other words, work. Work, work, and work. When I talked with Eva, my student who lives in Australia, this week, I asked her to walk down her street to the ocean-front beach and enjoy a beach Christmas for me. Christmas is a summer holiday for her. Barbecues on the beach. Warm weather.

We had 70 mile per hour winds last night. One of our lit outdoor spiral Christmas trees is gone.

But, oh, last Christmas. Christmas 2020, the pandemic Christmas. Because we were doing it all on Zoom, we didn’t make a trip to the storage unit. We didn’t put the tree up. I dropped wrapped presents off at different houses, and I mailed them to my daughter in Louisiana.

I felt sad. I didn’t miss the work, but…I did. I missed my family.

At the last minute, I bought a small countertop Christmas tree and shipped it to myself. It came complete with ornaments and lights and garland, and Livvy and I decorated it. I found a small wooden ornament of the nativity scene and I shipped that to myself too, and it sat beneath the tree, as nativity scenes have been under Christmas trees since I was a child. Presents for Michael, Olivia and me nearly buried the little tree. But in my home, there weren’t any presents for Christopher, Amber, Andy, Katie, Nick…and Grandbaby Maya Mae. They were waiting at their homes, and I would watch them open these gifts on a computer screen, while Michael and Olivia watched on their screens. Late, late, late that Christmas Eve, while Michael and Olivia slept, I went downstairs, turned on the tree to see the glow behind the presents, sat in my chair, and wept.

This year, the pandemic still rages on. But we’re vaccinated. And we’re getting together. Last weekend, Michael, Olivia, Andy and I went out to the storage unit and loaded up the Christmas stuff. There is a beautiful tree in my living room. Michael and I watched as Olivia and Andy decorated it. Andy took special care to find the ornaments that featured photos of my kids. As brand new babies. Toddlers. Children.

Christopher. Andy. Katie. Olivia.

My daughter Katie and her husband Nick will not be here. They live in Louisiana, and the pandemic still feels too threatening to them to travel. I haven’t seen my daughter in three years. Even with the others around me, the ache I feel is often unbearable.

The big tree is up. The stockings are hung. The presents are all locked in my convertible, waiting to be wrapped on Christmas Eve. The little wooden ornament nativity scene is at the foot of the little tree. The nativity scene I picked out and purchased in 2019 when I was trying desperately to make myself feel something, anything, positive about Christmas is under the big tree.

The other night, when I couldn’t sleep, I crept downstairs, like last year’s Christmas Eve. I turned on the lights on both trees. Standing in front of the big one, I let my eyes rove from ornament to ornament.

New babies. Toddlers. Children.

Christopher. Andy. Katie. Olivia.

Carefully, I unhooked the ornament that shows Katie on her very first Christmas. Snoopy holds an oval that encases her baby face, capped with a white bonnet. I held it clasped tightly in my hand, the way I used to clasp her little hand, sat in my chair, and admired my two trees, the only lights in this brand new morning.

Yes, I wept.

But the tree is up. The ornaments are here. And on Christmas day, my home will be filled with laughter and exclamations, my son Andy will hold the garbage bag and my son Christopher will throw crumpled-up wrapping paper and miss the target every time. Olivia will play the elf and wear the jester hat that works as an elf hat. Grandbaby Maya Mae will rip with abandon.

I’ll miss the one that’s not here, again. But Christmas will not be on a screen this year. It will be at home.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Grinch towel from my sister, Marilyn. It looks just like me!
The little tree from last year.
The big tree returns.
Katie’s first Christmas ornament.
My Katie.

12/9/21

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Well, let’s have a moment of honesty here, as well as the moment of happiness. Lately, all through the month of November and into December, I’ve really struggled coming up with the Moment. I mean, really struggled. There has been so much big, Big, BIG BAD stuff going on in the world. And in my country. And in my state. And in my home and my community.

I went right from dealing with Michael’s sudden toe amputation to the Waukesha holiday parade disaster to a condo building in Waukesha behaving like the one in Florida and being suddenly declared uninhabitable and displacing so many people at Christmastime to a 14-year old boy car-jacking an 87-year old’s car as she dropped off books at our public library. He sexually assaulted her.

He’s 14. She’s 87. Here. In my city.

Lately, there’s been so much ugly. Just so much. Several times a day, I am finding myself saying, “I just don’t understand.” And I don’t.

I’ve been fighting a bout of insomnia, and today, that morphed into what seems to be a case of the stomach flu. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it isn’t all a reaction to the things going on around me. Big bad things. There are times I feel like I can’t breathe. And I just don’t understand.

And so I thought back to the beginning of this blog. For the first year, I wrote a Moment every single day. But because I wrote it every day, I learned that while there may be big, Big, BIG BAD things happening, we have to look for the little moments of happiness. If we watch only for the big ones, rainbows, unicorns, you know the drill, well, we’ll likely be disappointed. And then beaten down by the big, Big, BIG BAD things.

So here is something that happened.

I am an Animal Crossing nut. I started playing the video game years ago, when it was on one system or another, and I have always loved it. It’s pretty much the only game I play. My family also plays, and we have a Facebook group where we have our Animal Crossing discussions. One of the members of the group is Rayne, a young woman who is my middle son Andy’s best friend, and who has been a part of my family since they were in high school. I think of Rayne as my daughter-by-proxy. Playing this game is a lot like writing a story or a book, which probably explains why I love it so.

When this pandemic first started, and I was having trouble dealing with it (big, Big, BIG Bad stuff), Rayne told me I needed to start playing Animal Crossing again, the new version, on the Nintendo Switch. My son immediately chimed in and said he would get the system for me. And so, I’ve been playing. It has helped enormously. Most of our group is in Wisconsin, but my oldest daughter is in Louisiana and Rayne is in Oregon. But we all connect on Animal Crossing.

The Nintendo Switch can be played on your television, or you can carry it along with you.

One day, Rayne was taking the train to work, and when she got there, she realized her Switch was no longer in her bag. It was gone. Her island was gone. All her characters were gone.

Of course, we all thought the worst. Either someone reached in her bag on the crowded train and took it, or it fell out and the person who found it kept it.

Within a few minutes, I was asking my son about how hard it would be to find a new Switch for Rayne this Christmas season. “I’m already on it,” he said.

“I’ll pay for it,” I said.

“I’ll go half with you,” he said.

I am a kind person. I have raised a kind son. All of my children are kind. Even the one by proxy, who thought of me at the beginning of the pandemic. Who drove three hours to see me on my birthday last summer, when I was on the Oregon coast.

The new Switch was found and ordered.

And then…and then…

Rayne burst onto our Facebook Group with a photo of her holding the Switch. “It was in the TriMet Lost And Found! I’m picking it up after work!”

Someone found it and turned it in. They didn’t keep it for themselves. They returned it.

Whoever that person is, I wish I could find you and thank you personally. At a time when I was beginning to wonder if there was any good left in anyone, when I was saying, “I don’t understand,” several times a day, when we’re all seeing horrific things happening here, there, and everywhere, here was someone who did the right thing. A small thing. But the right thing, and a right thing that made a difference.

The right thing. And you can tell it’s the right thing by the smile that’s going on under that mask in the photo.

As for the new Switch that my son and I bought, we’re giving it to my husband Michael, so he can have his very own island under his very own control, instead of sharing mine with me. I can be a little bossy.

Oh, stranger who returned the Switch, thank you. Your small gesture made a big, Big, BIG difference.

Now I’m going back to bed. Someone send chicken soup, please.  I have the !@#$% stomach flu (not a big, Big, BIG BAD thing, but yuk!) but I really wanted to have the Moment out there.

Hope for better tomorrows. Look for small good things.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Just like in real life! My little character loves going to the coffee shop for a cuppa created by the great Brewster.
Me and Rayne, out for lunch on my birthday last summer in Oregon.
The photo Rayne sent when she was reunited with her Switch!

 

12/2/21

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

When you have one of those musical-type kids, or one of those artsy-type kids, or one of those writery-type kids, it’s always a challenge to find them ways to express their passions and interests. And when you have one of those kids who is all of those things, you’re often dashing between concerts and art shows, or standing outside the bedroom door, admiring a practice session, or leaning over a shoulder, watching an art piece come together, or listening to a story or a poem.

And when that child goes to college, it doesn’t change. You want them to reach out and excel in their major, but you also want those passions to continue, even if they go into a field where music, art, or writing isn’t at the forefront.

Or if they choose a field where one passion is chosen over the others.

When Olivia went to college, she chose to combine her interests in art and psychology and major in art therapy. At the college, along with art therapy classes, she takes many art classes. She joined the school’s literary magazine and quickly became the author of many articles and essays, even winning awards.

But her music…well, her music.

I wrote back on 9/23/21 about how Olivia came to join the Wisconsin Intergenerational Orchestra. You can see this blog again if you look to the right side and click on the month of September in 2021. When she chose her college, Mount Mary University, she was told that there was a music department. Silly us, we didn’t look deeply into what that meant. We figured band, chorus, and orchestra. But no, it meant beginning guitar, beginning piano, and chorus.

Olivia brought her violin to school anyway. She continued her rigorous practice sessions and her lessons with a private teacher. But playing in an orchestra fell to the side.

For those who don’t play music, it may be hard to understand the connection between music and the mind. When you play music, or sing it, you become a part of the instrument. The music does more than come out of you, it becomes you. You often see musicians swaying as they play, their bodies giving in to the rhythm. Singers often close their eyes, sinking fully into their voices and the words and the sounds.

It’s a magical thing. I played trumpet in high school, though I wasn’t very good at it. And I didn’t often connect the way others did. I actually wanted to play flute; my parents said no, and led me to the trumpet instead. I’m not sure why, but the trumpet and I never fully joined, beyond my mouth in the mouthpiece. I played from sixth through tenth grades; I quit when I was a junior.

Chorus was another thing altogether, and singing remains a joy to me. However, I mostly play music and sing in the car, so closing my eyes isn’t an option! Still, I feel my body sway in the driver’s seat and I revel when my voice blends with the singer’s.

For Olivia, there was the violin. She was in the grade prior to when orchestra was offered in her school when she heard an orchestra play for an assembly in her school gym. Out of the whole orchestra, she zeroed in on the violin. When she came home from school that day, it was the first thing she told me about, before playground drama and lunchtime conversations. “I want to play the violin, Mama,” she said. This was in November, and she followed this quickly with “I’m going to ask Santa.”

Ohboy. Well, Santa delivered. And a love of the violin and music was born. Olivia went on to play acoustic guitar, electric guitar, and the ukulele. But the violin…well, that’s her love. And while playing on your own is wonderful, the magic really comes when you’re sitting in a big group and somehow, all those different instruments come together to form a sound that is whole. You are wrapped in music, inside and out. Olivia, in her junior year of college, wanted to be wrapped again.

And so, enter Wisconsin Intergenerational Orchestra, where Olivia sits with the first violins.

Last night, I sat down in an auditorium with Michael and my son Andy to listen to Olivia’s first concert. It was the orchestra’s first concert since the pandemic hit. Even before they started playing, you could feel a thrum of joy from the stage. When I ordered the tickets, I didn’t know where Olivia sat, so I just asked for the best available. Unfortunately, while this put us in the first row, it put us on the far right…and Olivia sat on the far left. I was able to go up to the stage and say hello to her and take her photo where she sat, waiting, her feet tapping with nerves and excitement.

Throughout the show, I had a clear view, through the music stands and other players, of Olivia’s feet and her legs, covered with black tights. With each song, I watched as her feet and legs bounced and jived with the music, keeping her rhythm, joining in with all the others, whose legs moved like a chorus line. In between songs, when the orchestra was asked to stand for acknowledgement, her head would pop up, looking directly at me, her bright red mask curved in what I knew was a smile.

The music was phenomenal. In my seat, my feet and legs joined with the orchestra’s, and my head bobbed with the rhythm too. I wasn’t making the music, but I was still a part of it. And I was with my daughter too.

When we met Olivia after the concert, the first words out of her mouth were, “That was so fun!”

It was spoken with the enthusiasm that can only come from a musical-type child, mixed in together with an artsy-type child and a writery-type child.

Amazing.

Offering great gratitude to the Wisconsin Intergenerational Orchestra.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Olivia on the day she received her first violin from Santa.
Olivia’s young hands learning the violin. Photo taken by her instructor, Marie Loeffler of Loeffler Studios.
Olivia at 12 years old, with her best friend, the violin.
Olivia’s senior photo, taken by Ron Wimmer of Wimmer Photography.
Last night. Olivia waiting for the start of the concert.
The Wisconsin Intergenerational Orchestra. Olivia is in the last row on the left, second one in, in the red mask.

11/25/21

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

This is the hardest blog I’ve ever had to write. It’s the hardest one I’ve ever had to think about.

I live in the heart of downtown Waukesha, Wisconsin. My business, AllWriters’ Workplace & Workshop, is here too – we live in a live-where-you-work condo.

Last Sunday was the city’s holiday Christmas parade. I was hoping to take my 8-year old granddaughter, Maya Mae, to it, but then Michael fell ill, as I wrote about last week. He’s home now, but I didn’t want to leave him on his own for any length of time. I didn’t know if my son and his wife decided to take Maya.

It was shortly after the parade started when I took some garbage out. I was expecting to hear the sound of the marching bands and maybe some cheering and laughter. Instead, I heard screams. And then sirens. Lots of sirens. So many sirens, and they weren’t traveling away. They were all around me.

One of my neighbors drove in and stopped next to me and rolled down her window. “Someone drove into the Christmas parade!” she cried. “I have a police scanner app on my phone! It’s horrible!”

It was. It was beyond horrible.

My first thought was of my son, my daughter-in-law. My granddaughter. I called my son and when he answered, I shouted into the phone, “Are you home? Are you safe?”

“We’re fine. Why?”

They’d gone grocery shopping. It was too cold and windy for the parade.

Then I called my middle son, in case he stopped to watch the parade on his way home from work. I called my youngest daughter, in case she and her best friend at college decided to go see the parade. I even dialed my oldest daughter before I remembered she lives in Louisiana now, and there was no way she’d be at the parade.

I think I went on auto-pilot. A shivering, shuddering sobbing auto-pilot.

As of today, six people have died from this rampage. One is an 8-year old boy. Over 60 people are in our area hospitals. One is the 12-year old brother of that 8-year old boy. The driver was caught. He wasn’t on a political attack. He wasn’t making a statement of any sort. He was running from a “domestic disturbance”. He drove through the first set of barricades at the beginning of the parade and, when he found himself on the parade route, apparently decided this was a good way to express his anger. Observers and police said his actions appeared intentional.

I have an imagination. I’m a writer, I’ve put my mind and my thoughts into all sorts of minds and bodies and souls and situations. But I can’t imagine being so angry, possibly at one person, that I would attack an entire parade of strangers. Strangers that included children, marching in a parade, watching a parade, laughing and waiting to be tossed candy.

I can’t imagine it. I can’t imagine feeling that way.

I watched on Tuesday as the driver appeared for the first time in court, for his bail to be set. The judge placed the bail at five million dollars.

The prosecutor told the court and the judge that a sixth death was added, and it was the 8-year old boy. The driver, who kept his head down throughout the proceeding, only looking up once at the judge, began to sob.

And God help me, I didn’t care. When the prosecutor said that he could be given a life sentence for each of the deaths, at least 6 now, at least 6 consecutive life sentences, who knows how many by the time this goes to court, I heard myself think, Good! Don’t ever let him see the light of day again! Is there a way we can put the death penalty into effect for just one person? And then I amended, No, no death penalty. Let him suffer in prison for the rest of his life. Let. Him. Suffer.

This was me, thinking that. This was me. I’ve been almost as shook by my own thoughts and feelings as I’ve been over this whole horrible impossible tragedy.

I’ve written about some pretty difficult and terrible things. Always, I’ve forced myself into the “bad guy’s” head, to make him or her human, to find out the why of their existence, and to feel for them. To feel some compassion. I’ve always succeeded in doing so.

During the Dahmer summer and afterwards, I listened to interviews with his grandmother and others who knew his background. Jeffrey Dahmer was a monster. But I felt compassion for him anyway.

Just last week, when Kyle Rittenhouse collapsed in court after he was told he’d walk away a free man, I teared up. I believe the verdict was dead wrong – he deserved punishment. But when he collapsed in court, I saw a then-17, now 18-year old boy who was in an impossible situation. I felt compassion.

But in a moment that froze me so hard, I still get the chills, I wanted Darrell Brooks dead. Or locked away and suffering forever.

That’s so not me. But this is an unbelievable, unfathomable situation.

Trying to come up with a moment of happiness has been so difficult this week. But on Tuesday, when I talked to my granddaughter, my Grandbaby Maya Mae, we discussed how schools have been closed this week, due to what happened at the parade, and how she wished she was in school. I assumed she was just missing the fun.

She looked at me, and her always huge eyes were even huger. They were wide and shiny, and they were filled with the compassion I so wished I could feel.

“Grandma Kathie,” she said, her pronunciation of my role and name no longer the Gamma Kaffee she said and I treasured for so long, “I just want to know that my friends are okay.”

In her eyes, in her compassion, I recognized my own. I just want to know that my little city is okay. I just want to reach out to everyone who has been hurt, and we’ve all been hurt, so I want to reach out to everybody. I want to do everything I can to help.

And in Maya Mae, there is another compassionate generation coming along.

I don’t feel any compassion for Darrell Brooks. Yet. Maybe I will, by the time this is all done. But that’s okay. My heart is in the right place, even if it’s very broken right now.

That’s the best I can do this week, everyone. I want you all to be okay.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

This says it all.
My Waukesha. Taken from the Barstow Street bridge, looking toward the Moreland Boulevard Bridge. The Fox River.

11/18/21

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

If you remember, almost two months ago, this blog post was about finding my fifth grade English teacher, Mrs. Fatticci. I’d been trying to find her for years, because she was the very first person who told me I was a writer. You can read this blog post again if you look on 9/30/21.

And my Moment this week? I didn’t just find her. I talked to her.

You would think, these days, that it’s easy to pretty much find anyone. But when the person you’re trying to find is someone you met in the fifth grade, and it was 1971, and she was a teacher, you only know her first name as “Mrs.” You really need first and last names to find someone, and “Mrs.” just wasn’t going to work. After my first book came out in 2011, and as more books came out and my success grew, I found myself just wanting to say thank you to her. But that lack of a first name confounded me. I even contacted the school, explained who I was, explained who she was, and was told, “We’re sorry, but we don’t have any record of her.”

How could they not have any record of the woman who essentially set me firmly on my path and said, “Hello, you wonderful girl! This is you. This is where you go. This is where you belong.”

Whenever Mrs. Fatticci talked to me, she called me, “you wonderful girl.”

I am 61 years old now. I was 11 years old then. But I can still hear her voice from the back of the classroom as she said, “Oh my god, Kathie. You’re a writer!” I don’t know how a voice can feel like a warm, perfect-fitting coat, but hers did. I was only eleven, but I suddenly felt my life, my self, make sense.

And I wanted to say thank you. Because she saw me. And she thought I was wonderful.

I don’t remember exactly why, on September 22, 2021, I decided to try again. I decided to search on Facebook just using her last name and see what came up, if there was anyone with that name anywhere near Esko, Minnesota. Someone did; a man who lived in Hibbing, about an hour north. I decided to send him a private message. I explained who I was, and who I was looking for, and why. Within an hour, he answered me.

“That’s my mom!”

He contacted her for me, then he called me and said, “She remembers you!” He said she would be giving me a call.

And then I didn’t hear anything. It became November, and I wondered what happened. I wondered if she didn’t really want to talk to me, a student from so long ago, one out of how many bajillion other kids, a quiet girl who spent time mostly by herself, and someone who moved away at the end of that year. Eventually, I shrugged it off, happy that at least I was able to express my gratitude through her son.

Then came November 9th. Out of nowhere, I received a friend request on Facebook from another Fatticci. I accepted, and then sent a message, asking if she was related to “Mrs.” Fatticci – I still didn’t know her first name. And this young woman answered, “Yes! She’s my mom! And I’m talking to her right now!” It turned out Mrs. Fatticci had to get a new phone and – we all know this story – was having trouble figuring out how to use it. She finally did and found my phone number and asked her daughter to check with me and make sure it was correct. It was. She was going to call me, hopefully that weekend. Mrs. Fatticci was going to call me!

But that weekend, Michael went into the hospital and our world turned upside down. That’s what my blog was about last week. All thoughts of Mrs. Fatticci, my fifth grade year, a phone call, and for that matter, all thoughts of who I was and who I am, disappeared as everything focused down on Michael.

He came home from the hospital on Friday. And on Saturday, my phone suddenly rang. I didn’t recognize the number.

“Hello?”

“Hello! Is this Kathie?”

“Yes…”

“Hello, you wonderful girl! This is Jan Fatticci!”

And just like that, I was eleven again. Though simultaneously, my teacher had a first name. Jan.

She called me in the middle of chaos. She called me at a time when I was doubting myself and my ability to handle what was happening all around me. And she called me wonderful.

And so we talked. We both have experienced breast cancer. She still teaches, though in a daycare center now with two-year olds, and even though she’s 75, she says she will always teach. So will I.

When I mentioned her greeting, “Hello, you wonderful girl,” she said that she felt at the time that I needed uplifting. That I needed to know that there were people who believed in me, and that I should believe in myself.

I was silent for just a minute. “You came at just the right time then,” I said. “And you came at just the right time now.”

She’s ordering my books. And I am learning to think of her as Jan. My gosh, she’s only fourteen years older than I am! That takes a twist of the head to process.

But I can hear her voice. Then. And now.

Hello, you wonderful girl!

Oh my god, Kathie. You’re a writer!

She came at just the right time.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

My official 5th grade photo. My mother’s attempt at curling my hair and cutting my bangs.

 

11/11/21

And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Well, if you follow me on Facebook, you know that this has been the week from hell. I’m sure many are wondering if I will indeed be able to find a moment of happiness.

Yep.

So my husband Michael has been fighting a foot infection. He saw his doctor a week ago today and was put on a new set of antibiotics because the doctor wasn’t happy with his progress. On Saturday, his foot began to really hurt. On Sunday, he had to come home from work because he couldn’t stand to stand. I took him in to Urgent Care, who sent him to the ER. ER took an X-ray, said the bone wasn’t infected, but he needed to be admitted for IV antibiotics. Then they said, “Wait! He might have a blood clot!” and so they did an ultrasound. No blood clot. He was admitted and IV antibiotics started. Monday, the hospital called in an infectious diseases specialist. He said, “Let’s have an MRI, just to make sure there’s no bone infection.” On Tuesday, Michael’s doctor showed up; she hadn’t even been told he was in the hospital. She looked at the MRI and said, “We need to open this up and clean it out.” Later that day, she called him and said, “I’ve talked with the infectious diseases doctor. You need to be prepared to lose your little toe. There’s likely a bone infection.”

From Sunday to Tuesday, I never saw his doctor. She was supposed to call me. She didn’t.

On Wednesday, after we were given three different times for his surgery, they finally came to get him. The nurse told Michael, “I saw your surgery orders, which you will have to sign. They have the wrong foot listed. Make sure you have them change it.”

Uh-huh.

I walked beside the rolling bed as far as I was allowed. Then I watched him leave, clutching his glasses so he’d be able to read and hopefully fix these orders. I was left all alone in the hallway.

I can tell you I have never ever felt so alone in my life. Never.

I turned and went into the family waiting room. The volunteer there showed me the glowing board that listed everyone who was having surgery. The colors of their individual row changed with each step – waiting for surgery, surgery begins, surgery ends, patient is in recovery. I explained that my computer was in Michael’s room, and I was going to be up there to wait. She took down my cell number and said she would call me as Michael progressed.

She never called.

45 minutes later, a nurse poked her head into Michael’s room, where I’d dissolved into tears. “Oh!” she said. “He’s not here!”

“Um, no,” I said. “He’s in surgery. I think. No one has told me.”

“Oh!” she said brightly. “I can find out for you!”

She never came back.

At noon, an hour and a half after I was left alone in the hallway and Michael disappeared into the bowels of the hospital, I decided I was going to find my way back to the family waiting room and check that stupid glowing board. It was not a human, but maybe it would tell me. I wound around and down and finally found it. “Oh!” the volunteer said. “I tried to call you, but I must have written your phone number down wrong!”

I checked. She did. But she also had the room number where I was waiting – and there’s a phone in there.

“The doctor was here to see you,” she said. “She said she would find you in your husband’s room.”

When was this?

“At 11:30.” A half-hour ago. But at least now I knew that Michael was in the recovery room. The board told me.

I went back up to his room and crossed to the nurses’ station. I told the nurse what happened and she said she would page the doctor.

I didn’t hear from the doctor until Thursday morning when she called me.

The nurse said I should go ahead and have some lunch, that it would be a bit before Michael was back because he was experiencing low blood pressure. I was tempted to ask if they got the right toe, but I was so fit to be tied and exhausted by then, I just wandered down to the cafeteria. I think I ate.

Twenty minutes later, I returned to the room. I could see a nurse standing outside his door. And for the first time in I don’t know how long, I broke into a run.

I ran.

Looking over the nurse’s shoulder, I could see another nurse straightening out the bedcovers over a very familiar form. A form I’ve been married to for 22 years. A form I know so well. I reached over the nurse’s shoulder and pushed the door open a little further.

And Michael looked over. He looked right at me. And he smiled.

And there it was. My moment of absolute happiness.

(And so you know, they got the correct toe. Michael is expected to come home tomorrow, make a full recovery, and be back in a shoe and back at work in 3 weeks.)

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

Our engagement photo. From 1997.
Family photo several years later.
Entire family, many years ago. From left to right: my oldest son Christopher and his wife Amber, my middle son Andy, then Michael, I’m in front of Michael, Olivia is in front of me, and then my daughter Katie.

 

In hospital, getting better every minute, eating what is supposed to be meat loaf.