About Elizabeth di Grazia

An artist, I follow the nudge inside of me. This nudge led me to write Peace Corps stories, find the front door to the Loft, and to graduate from Hamline’s MFA program. The story that became my thesis for Hamline is woven into my book manuscript: HOUSE OF FIRE: From the Ashes, A Family, a memoir of healing and redemption. It’s a story about family. And a story about love–for my partner Jody and the son and daughter we adopted from Guatemala. Most days, I can be found working as a Human Resource Manager for a foundry in Minneapolis. When I am not at the foundry I may be volunteering as a Police Reserve Officer for Richfield, MN or kicking butt at Kor Am Tae Kwon Do.

When It’s Your Children, Your School. Rumor of Threat.

Without much reaction, I read the email from Steve Unowsky, Superintendent of Richfield Schools. I figured his email was a patterned response to the Florida shootings, stating the school takes all threats seriously.

Immediately after I received a text from Juan Jose’.

Did you guys get an email from school?

Yes. About your safety.

Yeah. I’m not sure what it says on the email.

 His text compelled me to read Unowsky’s email closer. I sat upright. My senses now on high alert. Email came at 9:30.

I wasn’t alarmed because of my experience with the Richfield school district and the Richfield police department. I trusted that the school and police department had matters in hand and that the safest place for Juan Jose’ and Crystel was to remain in school.

On many occasions, I’ve interacted with school administrators because of concerns for my own children or other children. At times, I’ve asked them to intervene and have a conversation with Juan Jose’ or Crystel, or to check in on another student that might be struggling. There are times I’ve been an advocate for my children and at times, against my children’s wishes, a proponent for Richfield schools.

Richfield administrators have regarded my concerns seriously and with empathy.

Jody, Coach Marty, Beth

Jody and I also volunteer at many school events and have been active in Juan Jose’s and Crystel’s sport activities. This has allowed us more occasions to interact with teachers, coaches, and school officials.

As an active volunteer police reserve officer for over ten years, I trust our police department and the men and women who serve.

Even so, I imagined something happening, not today, but in the future in Juan Jose’s classroom. Tears welled up. Stop it, Beth, I told myself. That’s not what is happening now.

I continued my text: If anything ever happens let me and Mama Jody know. We can go home and put on our police reserve uniforms and be near the school. I’ll forward Unowsky’s email to you.

He responded: Kids are leaving school because of the email. Parents are just pulling them out.

It felt important to keep Juan Jose’ and Crystel in school. To trust what I knew that I could trust. My experience with Richfield schools and the Richfield police. I don’t think we need to do that. It’s just a message saying they are on alert. I sent you the email.

I got it. I heard a couple of people saying their parents want them to go home.

 You’re okay. They are just checking out rumors.

 I know. Just checking in.

I sent a heart emoji. If we get a call out to be a presence around the school, I’ll let you know.

 Okay. Thumbs up emoji.

 Just read this email. I agree. Jody texted.

 A little later Juan Jose’ texted: Everyone is freaking out. I’m like the only one who’s not.

I didn’t want other students to see Juan Jose’ and Crystel leaving. They know their moms are in police reserves. When Jody and I are at school events, we are also watching over their kids. Please tell your sister. There is nothing to worry about. If there is Mama Jody and I will come to the school.

 Okay but I never see Crystel.

Send her a text. It is helpful being a part of the police department. And Mama Jody and I are. Mama Jody and I even have patrol tonight. 


 Jody texted. We just got an update from Unowsky that basically confirms decision to stay at school. I forward to you.

Juan texted: There’s a few people who have just left class.

A little later, Everyone left. He sent a photo.

 Woah. Not you, though. I texted.

Ya smiley face emoji. I was proud of him.

I’ll pick you after school, I said.

Crystel and Juan Jose’ playing games on McGruff (me).

That evening volunteering as police reserve officers, Jody and I spent time being a presence at the Richfield middle school dance and at the High School for the girls’ senior night basketball game. Both events were mellow and low key.

I continue to trust the Richfield schools and the Richfield police department.

Because, I trust you and me. We are the police. We are the school. We are the community.







The faster she went the harder she laughed.

Laughter rolls out of her bedroom followed by a shriek and right after a long, “Nooooo.” More loud laughter. You’d think that she had a gaggle of girls in her bedroom.

It’s just thee Crystel as she likes to call herself.

I always wanted to know what it looked like for a child to not be abused. I’d think about that when she was 2 years old sitting on my lap. Her head resting against me. Us rocking. Her legs splayed either which way. I knew even then.

I’d do anything to protect my kids, for them to have a life that I did not. Sometimes, much to their dismay.

Juan Jose’ was five-years old and was taking an indeterminate amount of time in the Super Target men’s bathroom. I couldn’t stand it one more second. I opened the bathroom door and hollered. “Juan Jose’ are you okay?” When he didn’t answer, I walked in, asking as I went. “Juan, Juan are you okay?”

“Yeeeeees,” came his voice.

When he was older, not yet a teen, he once thought he could take refuge from Mama Beth at the Xcel Energy Center during a concert. After a length of time, I texted him, “Juan Jose’ if you don’t tell me that you’re okay, I’m coming in the bathroom.” I waited a moment. “I’m coming.” I stepped into the bathroom.

“I’m fiiiiinne,” came his voice from a stall.

“Just checking,” I said.

Crystel tries to snarl sometimes. I tell her that she’ll never get as good as me. My teenage years was one long snarl. I show it to her. She laughs.

Her laughter is delightful. She doesn’t hide her beauty under an overflowing t-shirt or use her hair to hide her face. I could just sit and look at her, she’s so confident and unafraid. Of course, I don’t. She’s a teenager. She spends a large amount of time in her bedroom.

As does Juan Jose’. Usually he has the lights off in his #manboycave.

But, when he smiles … that room lights right up.

That’s what a teenage boy can do with his smile.





8 years old.

Entitlement is not a disease that I suffer from. In 1970, I was one of the kids who in middle school stood in the principal’s office amidst a tangle of classmates wondering why I was there. I was no stranger to the principal’s office. However, as I looked around at the others gathered, I wondered what our connection was. The Principal explained that a free lunch program started, and the ones gathered would be receivers of this new subsidy for low income families. Sweeping the small room with my eyes, I took stock. Two students were my siblings, the other seven were from families in our small town and farming community. We all knew each other. We were the ones on the fringes. It wasn’t difficult in our small community to know where you were on the economic ladder.

There wasn’t any money for a letterman’s jacket, yearbook, or class pictures. You knew what you could and couldn’t ask for at Christmas time. I never expected any inheritance from my parents. They simply didn’t have the money.

Jody and I feel blessed and fortunate for what we have. We truly are the lucky ones who have enough in this world.

Our teenage children also have enough. They don’t lack for anything. As well as having jobs, they have parents who like to give to them.

They have the letterman jackets, the yearbooks, the mopeds, and spending money.

Sometimes they feel entitled. They want for more.

This is when we stop. Give pause. In a way that isn’t too overbearing, too apparent, or overt, we seek to bring to their attention what they have. We want them to feel fortunate and blessed like we do. The best way we have found is to say, “No”. Or, “Use your own money from your job”. Or, “Write a letter what you are grateful for”. Or, “Fill a bag with toys, clothes, or whatever you are asking for to give away before we buy anything new”. Or, “Look around at others in your school and your community and notice the disparity”.

Our 4 trips to Guatemala, their birth country, have helped. We don’t need to say anything. They see what we see. As soon as we leave the airport, all of us are shocked into another reality.

This past Christmas, instead of opening presents on Christmas Eve, we played a grateful game. Though that isn’t what we called it. It was simply a game. The four of us joined together for a round robin of what we received during the year without it being on our birthday or holiday. Jody and I wanted the children to acknowledge all that they are blessed with. There was plenty.

Spring vacation Florida trip, South Dakota summer vacation, mopeds, helicopter rides, hot air balloon rides, Everglades airboat ride, jet ski rides, letterman jacket, updates to our house, etc.

Prior to our round robin, we did open one gift. A family values lazy susan. Words of wisdom, love and encouragement are colorfully displayed on this decorative table centerpiece. It would be great if this simple reminder would leave the teens feeling full of gratitude all year long. I doubt it.

That’s when we can pause. Stop. And, start counting our blessings.

I Confess…

Unity Minister, Aunt Jo, at Juan Jose’s and Crystel’s christening ceremony at our home.

On Sundays, I could be sitting in a pew. I’m not. I’m writing to you. Crystel is on social media. Juan Jose’ is sleeping. Jody has left to do maintenance on police cars as her volunteer job as a police reserve officer, and then she’ll visit her mother.

Sometimes, I feel guilty about not taking my kids to church.

During the holiday season, when Crystel was little, she’d holler out, “Look, there’s the little people,” when she’d spot a manger in a yard. Spotting the little people became a game we played in the car, as well as eyeing left over door wreaths that lasted well into the summer.

Aunt Amie blessing Juan Jose’ and Crystel

The guilt or the want for the children to create an image of God to their own liking propelled Jody and me to the front door of a popular church in Minneapolis. The preschoolers attended Sunday school while we listened to the service. That was fine until I found myself writing poetry during the mass. Why do that at church when you can do it at home?

We soon joined another church that we thought would be our forever church. We became hospitality hosts and also taught Sunday school. It was teaching Sunday school where I learned that I didn’t like 5th graders much. Then our kids were 5th graders and we were teaching them.

Uncle Scott and Aunt Ann

What pushed Jody and me toward the exit door, was having the feeling that we ‘had’ to hold hands and that we ‘had’ to hug people when it came that time in the service. I didn’t mind holding hands and hugging, it was the fact that I didn’t feel as if I had a choice to say, “No”.

When we told Juan Jose’ and Crystel that we were going to quit going to church, they beat us to the car.

Our church is volunteering at Loaves and Fishes once a month. I explained to the kids that our church was about giving and we are giving of our service. They haven’t complained since they know the alternative is finding and attending a church service on Sundays.

Uncle Marty, Aunt Kathy, and Aunt Pat

Sometimes, I still feel guilty. Are they finding God at Loaves and Fishes? Among the homeless? The poor? The people who come for a handout or companionship? Juan Jose’ and Crystel serve coffee, food, or help wash and dry dishes. Crystel may play piano or flute.

Crystel recently asked us what religion we were. I paused, searching for the right answer. “We respect all religions,” I told her. “That wasn’t my question,” she said bluntly.

“Well,” I said. “We aren’t anything.”

She asked about confirmation. Several of her friends will be confirmed this year. I told her that she could be, too, if she wanted to join a church and take classes. She shook her head no. She just liked the idea of getting the money you receive when you get confirmed.

Blessing for Crystel from Aunt Amie

“You were christened,” I said. “Your Aunt Jo christened you and Juan Jose’. Your chosen aunts and uncles gave you a blessing.”

Blessing for Juan Jose’ from Aunt Amie

My hope this Sunday is that my children will recognise God in themselves and others, whether it is Mama Jody visiting her mother, the folks at Loaves and Fishes, or in the people who aren’t anything.



My Wish Came True

My wish came true. On my annual trip to Destin, Florida for a human resources conference, I learned at hotel check-in that my guest room would be in the Emerald Tower on the 14th floor.

I smiled.

This would be my third stay at the Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort Hotel and Spa. My first time with a room that high that looked out towards Florida’s Emerald Coast.

I nodded along as the receptionist explained where the elevator was located.

Once in the room, I did my usual hotel check: looking behind the shower curtain, opening the closet door that held the ironing board, kicking under the bed to hear the thud of the base, and glancing behind the couch and chair.

I slid my patio door open and stepped out. I studied the brick wall to my left and right. A person would have to rappel up to get inside my room. Who would do that?

Kids’ laughter floated up to me. I viewed the white sand, the people walking on the beach, and the boogieboarders. I leaned back breathing in the sun’s warmth. I closed my eyes to bring even closer to my core the sound of the ocean waves. Ah, this was lovely.

For a moment, I held my breath. Could I leave my patio door open and fall asleep to the ocean waves?

Looking at my hotel from the beach. My room is on the 14th floor.

It took me years to feel safe enough in my own home to fall asleep while napping on the couch. I had to work hard to not chastise myself for relinquishing my watchful eye. Growing up, it had been my job to be vigilant. Being on alert sleeping or awake was my natural way of being. I had to teach my body that it was okay to rest. I did this by using an eye mask and earplugs. My signals to my body that it was time to sleep.

Even so, it was me who woke a moment before one of the babies did. I must have heard their rustling in the crib before they started whimpering. Later, it was me who woke Jody before one of our toddlers fell out of their bed in the hotel room. I reached across from my bed where Juan Jose’ and I were sleeping to theirs. I nudged Jody, “Crystel’s falling out of bed.” She quickly scooped the child up.

I have grown to be most comfortable with Jody sleeping beside me. She is a source of comfort. I have my deepest sleep in her presence.

I travel to Grand Forks, North Dakota, one week a month for work. I can’t take Jody with me. It helps to request the same hotel room. One that doesn’t have a connecting room. I continue to use earplugs and eye shades. I take the ironing board out of the closet and set it up against the hotel door. I push the rolling chair next to the ironing board. I figure, I’ll wake before the door opens.

All of my senses told me that I was safe in my guest room at the Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort Hotel and Spa on the 14th floor. Could I leave my patio door open and fall asleep to the sound of ocean waves? I took a deep breath. If not now, when?

That evening after our Welcome Gathering and dinner on the Sunside deck, I retreated to my room. After completing my hotel room check, I took the ironing board out of the closet and set it up against the door, pushed the rolling chair up next to it, and put another chair against the connecting door.

I walked out to the patio, listened to the rolling ocean waves. Even in the darkness you knew the ocean was there, splashing against the shore.

In bed, I imagined the universe holding me, embracing me. A mother and her child.

For the next four nights, I slept to the sound of waves breaking against the shore. When I’d wake in the night, I’d let it lull me to sleep again.