a boat

I love the photo I received the other day of our toddler grandson, Theo, sitting in his boat – a plain old cardboard box.

And yesterday when I spoke with his dad on the phone, I could hear Theo in the background – “Toot, toot, toot, toot”.

“He’s in his boat”, his dad shared.

I know this is the first of many cardboard boxes for Theo that will become whatever he wants it to be. And I look forward to seeing where his imagination takes him.

It’s such a good reminder – for kids of all ages. For the box is definitely not limited to toddlers by any means.  Children of any age are inspired by an empty box/boxes. Add some string, duct tape, cardboard tubes, other recyclables and watch the creativity flow and play happen.

A few days ago I overheard a few moms discussing activities to fill their children’s summer schedules, wanting to be sure their children were engaged.

I really hope they include an empty box- or two.



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The Marsh was alive with the sound of families.

That’s the way it often is when we walk in the La Crosse Marsh on a Sunday – and this Sunday morning was perfect for all to be out.

From groups of family members and friends joining together in The Promise Walk for Preeclampsia  (one grandmother sharing she was walking in memory of her grandson): to young families pushing strollers and wearing babies; toddlers on shoulder rides; canine family members, some still wet from a swim; school-aged children running on ahead; elderly folks with canes walking carefully; the pensive lone walker perhaps finding his own peace; the young couple holding hands, sharing a quiet intimacy; two young teens, energetic and fast on their skateboards; a lone dad pushing his infant son while he napped- this was for me a celebration across the continuum of life.

And amidst all of this, the natural world joined in, alive in all its splendor – there to be seen for the watchful eye.Turtles galore – sunning themselves on logs, with their necks stretched high; egrets majestic, standing motionless; a family of ducks – the mama, the papa, and seven ducklings gliding quietly along the shore; a quick and mysterious “plop” in the water too quick to know what lurked beneath; an eagle circling grandly overhead.

Why is any of this so special?

I can only speak for myself, but family, (however one defines it) and nature is such a shared experience, and to witness it in all its varying stages – and species – and emotions, is to feel the significance of what it means to be alive.

An  ordinary day – and seeing the extraordinary in it.  A gift I am grateful for.

What can you see as extraordinary in your ordinary day?


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A Hallmark moment – a cliche we’ve all become familiar with – a moment that captures your emotions, takes your breath away,  and you feel “all’s right with the world”.

At Play Shoppe on Friday morning,  our tiny but earnest group of all little boys, carrying baskets, charmingly  greeted and adorned our friends at Bethany St. Joseph’s Care Center with multiple paper flowers each.

A moment so sweet – so definitely a Hallmark moment.

Later on that morning, at Seminary Park, where we had gone to run, climb and play – it happened again.

Two little boys were running up and down the play structure, climbing up and zooming down the slide. Sounds pretty ordinary.  But one of the little guys was more agile –  the youngest of two brothers, used to keeping up with his older sibling.  For the other little boy, a watchful observer, this was a new experience.

So … the faster little boy would hold his hand out to his new friend, help him up the different levels of the play structure, hold hands as they flew down the side by side slides and then –  start all over again.

No adult was encouraging this gesture of friendship – it just happened – naturally. And the mutual feeling of friendship was obvious.

I can’t help but think that the sharing and kindness between these two boys on the climbing structure reflected the sharing and kindness displayed at the Care Center – that they are somehow connected.

And that’s why, for so many years, The Parenting Place Play Shoppe continues to visit and greet the older residents at Bethany St. Joseph’s.

For when we begin to reach out to others, to share and help, it plants a seed within and offers a hand to another new friend.




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loose parts

Loose parts seem to be on everyone’s mind at The Parenting Place these days.  Setting up our work areas after the construction is done is very satisfying – except for the loose parts that seem to be everywhere – the missing ones you’re searching  for like your own personal stapler, your clock, your favorite vase – and then the genuine loose parts nobody wants to claim – and we wonder, “what shall we do with these?”

Most of my co-workers usually stop and ask me first “Do you want this box, this tube, these shells, these pieces of cardboard?”

For they know the pleasure I get from finding really special loose parts to add to the “junk” that children love to use.  Those of you who have come to our Children’s Festival are familiar with the loose parts we collect for our Art Factory.  There’s something so real, so intriguing, so empowering for a child to sort through these loose parts – both recycled and nature’s – select their favorites and let their imaginations soar.

That’s why I never get tired of sharing ideas with parents about how easy it is to provide this type of play, curiosity  and satisfaction at home and why it is so significant.

Coming up on Monday, May 16th from 6-7:30 PM at The Parenting Place, there’s a Parent Discussion Circle on this very topic – “Don’t Throw Away Your Child’s Favorite Toys”. Registration is necessary for this discussion group.  Limited childcare is available.  Call 784-8125 to register.  

Loose parts – we love you!


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Two eight-year-old boys shooting baskets in the driveway of one of their homes.  All is well- until it wasn’t.

One boy throws the basketball purposely and directly at his friend’s face.  His unsuspecting friend feels the sting of this action, loses his cool, begins to cry, and goes after his friend/foe, tackling him down onto the ground.

His friend begins to cry.  Now – two boys sitting in the driveway in tears.

Dad arrives on the scene.  “What the hek is going on?” he asks his son.

Listening to his son’s response, the dad says “okay” and then turned and listened to why the other boy was crying.  “Okay”, said the dad.

Then looking at both boys, Dad said, “Well – are you finished?”

Both boys agreed, jumped up and resumed shooting baskets and laughing together.

Listening to both sides -( listening is the operative word here).  Giving them each their say and listening.  No lectures, no judgements, no time-outs, no guilt.

Just “Are you finished now?”

Sometimes the best lesson in mending disputes is just having each side heard.

This was a teachable moment – but not one Dad needed to personally take on.  Just by asking and listening to each boy, the teachable moment was their own.



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Daddy …. shoulder

A shoulder to lean on – to fall asleep on – how sweet is that!

A dad recently shared that from the time his son was a tiny infant, he would fall peacefully asleep, holding him on his shoulder.

Now even at just-turned-three-years-old, when this little guy needs to connect, to be comforted, to be reassured, he says, “Daddy … shoulder.

Oh that we could all know and ask so purely for what we need, what would help us when things pile up, in times of stress, when we could use a hug.

I know – we pride ourselves on our independence and self-reliance.  We think we should be able to do this on our own – we are reluctant to say “you know what I need?”

But I think we can learn a lot from this little three-year-old boy … who at one moment is exploring and displaying his own independent spirit, and the next is saying, “Daddy ...shoulder”.

Maybe we can begin to pay attention when the people in our lives say “Can I help?”, “What do you need?, “Let me know if you need anything”.

Maybe we can begin to listen – and realize – “Oh, – my -wow –  there’s a shoulder for me to lean on”.

Try it.




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Thank you

Sometimes things just get accomplished quietly, quickly, without a lot of fanfare. Sometimes there’s a person who knows how to organize, to pull things together, to get the job done.

Sometimes that person just does it – without seeking attention.

I know a person like that.  The Parenting Place knows a person like that.

Julee Katonah, site manager and Parent Educator at The Parenting Place in Tomah has built connections with and for families and community organizations over the years. This caring energy and responsiveness to families and their needs has made Julee a household name in Tomah.

And that’s why Julee will be missed by all of us at The Parenting Place – here in La Crosse, in Sparta, and most especially in Tomah as she pursues and shares her talents at her new job.

Julee is the type of person who might just like to slip away without a lot of attention.  But, I get to say we noticed, Julee – we appreciated, we will miss you, and we all wish you the very best.

Thank you, Julee.

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