Thursday, March 26, 2015

10 Things To Buy at the Dollar Store

My love for thrift shopping is well known. On any given day, I'm wearing some new-to-me item, even if, like today, it's noon and that item is my bathrobe. You also know about my love for small, unique businesses like my friend Theresa's gorgeous store, Stifel and Capra, in Falls Church and Tiffany's Christian jewelry at Holly Lane Designs.

One place I haven't written about much is the dollar store. I was thrilled when our town got a new one last year (Dollar Tree), where everything truly is a dollar. Our other one had become more like the 1.99-2.49 store in recent years. Boo.

I know that dollar stores can be an overwhelming jumble sometimes, leaving us feeling a bit like

So, here are 
The 10 Things I Always Buy at the Dollar Store:

1) Makeup Remover Pads, Cotton Balls, Cotton Swabs. These are MUCH cheaper at the dollar store than at a drug store, Target, or the grocery. I use these every day.

2) Denture Cleaner: I don't have dentures, but I do wear a mouth guard and a retainer each night to bed. Getting a jumbo box of these fizzy tablets for a dollar? Score!

3) Disposable Pans: When I cook for others (which is not that often because I'm a terrible cook) I try to use a disposable aluminum pan so that there is no worry about returning a dish to me. Dollar stores usually have 2 or 3-packs for a dollar.

4) Advil/Tylenol: While I wouldn't feel comfortable making the dollar store my primary drugstore, I have been buying pain relievers there for years with success. Huge price difference.

5) Greeting Cards: I still think it's nice to pay for a quality hand-crafted card every now and then, but I like to stock up on greeting cards at the dollar store. Sad to say, there is always a need for sympathy cards and thinking of you cards. My Dollar Tree sells them for .50 each. Having cards already available at home makes me more likely to send them.

6) Toothbrushes: We are germaphobes here, so we need lots of extra toothbrushes on hand.

7) Baggies: I try not to use a lot of baggies, but when I do need them, I get them from the dollar store. Unless I am doing heavy-duty freezing of soups, etc, the slightly flimsy dollar store baggies suit my needs for travel, food storage, etc.

8) Padded envelopes, packing supplies, manila folders: I needed a lot of these during my book launch, and the dollar store was a great place to find them! While I wouldn't use all dollar store office supplies (hello, fake Sharpees!) I really like their paper products. This is also THE place to go for poster board.

9) Garage sale supplies: price stickers, yard signs, etc. They have these at office supply stores for much more $$.

10) Balloons and Party Supplies: At our new dollar store, mylar balloons truly are a dollar. This is much cheaper than the grocery store or party stores. Other party supplies, such as plastic ware, colorful, disposable table cloths, and theme accessories are also plentiful, as are gift bags and tissue paper.

A successful dollar store shopping trip kind of makes me feel like this:

Except that's a stock photo I bought, not really a picture of me, so we'll just use our imaginations.

What do YOU like to buy at the dollar store?

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

2 Jars of Pears

Almost all of us took pictures of the same thing: the 2 jars of wild pears that Margarita canned late last summer.

I didn't ask what they meant to my colleagues on the World Vision trip to Armenia, but I knew what they meant for me.

For the past hour we had sat in Margarita and Gegham's dark yet tidy living room, warming ourselves by the wood stove in the middle. We talked with Gegham first, as Margarita was on her way home from school with Tigran, their eldest son. Tigran suffered seizures at age two and now, at 7, has paralysis on his right side and developmental delays.

Margarita attends school with him, whenever possible, to give him extra help. He qualifies for physical therapy, but the family cannot afford the transportation costs to get them from their tiny village to a clinic, so Margarita does most of it on her own.

Margarita's dedication and determination reminded me so much of other mamas I know, who stay right there in it, at school and at home, making sure their kids get what they need as far as extra help and support.

The alphabet poster on the wall reminded me of the one that hung on my pantry door when the kids were little, and the joy it was to support them as they learned their letters.

(Tigran writes with his left hand now, b/c of paralysis on his right side)
Margarita is a regular mom, dealing with the challenges of raising two young boys, but with the additional burden of groaning debt brought on by Tigran''s 20-day hospitalization years ago and exacerbated by long harsh winters that make growing enough food extremely difficult.

Gegham is a hard-working and industrious man, and last summer he managed to rent a tractor and make enough money to sustain them for almost the entire winter. They paid the rent, grew potatoes,  and purchased firewood.

Until now.

Which leads us to the pears.

There is another room of their crumbling, communist-era home, which sits unused and unheated because of fear that the damaged roof will cave in. Margarita uses the room for cold storage, and on a small table are two jars of pears, all that remain of her canning the summer before.

Our visit is the last week in February, a long way off from the next growing season in this part of Armenia, one that lasts a scant 2-3 months. These pears are what Magarita and Gegham have left. To her disappointment, some of the other jars of fruit she had canned had gone bad and grown murky and moldy, so this was it.

And there the similarities between our lives ended.

Sure, I could tell Margarita that on the other side of the world I have a daughter who shares her name.
Yes, I had delighted in teaching my kids their letters, and I hope I had been as good an advocate as she had when my own kids faced difficulties (although I always think I could have done more). But I never once wondered if we would have enough to feed them.

I never once faced this on laundry day:

In feeling connected one mother-heart to another with Margarita, I could no longer deny the extreme differences in our situations.

Margarita will continue to work with her kids on their schooling, bake the bread, and can the fruits and vegetables. Gegham will find a way to rent a tractor again this summer.

But they need more help emerging from the precipice in which jars of spoiled fruit truly make a difference. This help will come through sponsorship of their kids with World Vision. Both boys gained sponsors while we were there, and as World Vision gets established in their community, the family will be equipped to build even better lives for themselves.

They already have the love.

There are MANY more children in this village and region awaiting sponsorship, and perhaps YOUR family can help. Here's more information about sponsorship.

(photos by Laura Reinhardt and Amy Bellgardt)

Monday, March 23, 2015

Spring Fever

This gorgeous weather means it is time to put away the St. Patrick's Day decorations and forge ahead to Easter.
It's funny how when the kids were little, I went for a more formal look (lots of white, glass and matchy-matchiness), but now I'm so very sentimental about the preschool
crafts that couldn't match anything if they tried.

And oh how I love the paper mache tombs the kids made in elementary school.
 Naturally, we need colored eggs EVERYWHERE

So today, new pansies are planted, the piles and piles of winter dog poop are gone, and somehow Easter eggs sprouted up on our bushes.
There's nothing like a little sunshine and warmth and a few unnecessary plastic items after a LONG winter to make even a Monday seem better.
What do you like best about spring?

Thursday, March 19, 2015


Can we talk?

So here’s the thing. I think Jack looks like Justin Bieber. Maybe he doesn't to you, but to me there is a breath-catching, eye-widening response every time I see The Biebs, which is fairly often.
The slender build, the way he walks (lopes) and his coloring and features are spot on. My breath catches when I see Justin on TV, jutting out his chin, because when he’s moving, the similarities are even more pronounced.

What are the chances the boy we lost would resemble someone famous, so that when we turn on a tv or, to be honest, open a trashy magazine, he could be right there staring at us?

After my mom died, I began to think of her when I saw Princess Diana on TV. The short blonde hair, the strength coupled with sensitivity, and the motherly compassion just made me want to hug her and be hugged by her.
It’s a bit of a blessing, to be able to have a way to imagine what Jack would have looked like as he aged. But it’s also a curse, because as a mama, I just want to say, “Justin, stop with the weird pants that make it look like you have inserted your spindly legs into an upside down sweatshirt. Not one person on earth needs a crotch that hangs that low. And the Malfoy hair? No, just no. Stick with the beautiful brown, please.

What about a nice checked button down? Could we try the preppy thing for a little while? And speaking of a little while, I know you have been struggling for months. People think you’re a punk. And you are at that tough place where if you try to prove you AREN’T A PUNK, it just comes out like, 'Methinks thou dost protest too much.'
I believe your mom, that you are a good person. I do. When we met you in LA, you showed us nothing but class and kindness. You didn’t have to reach out to us in our pain, but you did, and I will always be grateful. Thank you. Growing up in the spotlight can’t be easy. And all that money isn’t doing you any favors either, surrounding you with hangers-on and “Yes” people all the time. I was relieved my kids weren’t prodigies at anything because, well, that would mean a lot more driving around for me, but also because there is just too much pressure when you shine and potentially flame out so young.
Could you just step back for a while, check out, or check-in somewhere or do whatever it would take to get back on solid ground? You have potentially sixty years or so ahead of you. This rough patch could become just a blip on the way to your finding your true self and living a life full of love and meaning."

But then I think selfishly, if Justin loses the bravado, the weird clothes, the bluster, and the hair dye, he might look even more like the one I’m missing. And that might hurt just a little too much.

p.s. After I wrote this I read an article on the same topic from the folks at What's Your Grief? Have you experienced anything like this?

p.p.s. Thank you for your kind words yesterday on Jack's 16th b-day. Please visit the Huffington Post to read my interview w/Melanie Bishop for the occasion.


Wednesday, March 18, 2015


Sixteen years ago today I became a mom. It was like coming home.
Happy Birthday, Sweet Jack!
Love never dies.



Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Flashback: Siblings, One Ordinary Morning


I see them standing in the ironwood tree next to the carport, feet resting on the thick, twisted branches as they face each other. No sports or errands crowd their agenda this spring morning, when their only job is to be kids. Our yard doesn’t have the huge climbing trees of my childhood, but a flowering cherry and Japanese dogwood in the front and this one on the side are good for a short climb, and apparently, snacking and talking. I can’t see what food they took up there. Scooby Doo fruit snacks, I’m guessing.  

Are they discussing school next year, and that fact that Tim and I can’t seem to get our act together to commit to public verses private for Jack? They’re probably grateful they have each other to bemoan the fact that Tim and I can’t make a decision to save our lives.  Most likely their chat is about neighborhood  or school gossip, or Jack is telling Margaret something about his Lego video game, which she may or may not be following.

I remember when he kept the two of us in his room for  hours, coaching us on all of the weird character names from one of his games. We used mnemonic devices to remember, so we’d be ready when he quizzed us.

He always quizzed us.

Margaret and I can still recite the characters’ names: “Haikaru with hair of blue!” with an enthusiastic shout, even though it’s been years, and we had no real clue what he was talking about. Why have we always so willingly and enthusiastically fed into Jack’s interests, whether trains, legos, or word play?
Is it because eldest children set the agenda for a family?
I certainly remember wanting my older brother to include me in his world, to throw me a bone of attention, even though I wasn’t at all interested in fishing, burping,  sports, or setting things on fire. I was just interested in him.

Margaret wears an aqua tank top and shorts, a satiny blue ribbon holding back her long brown pony tail. Jack’s soft heather green t-shirt is way too big, but fortunately is long enough to cover the top of the athletic shorts he’s taken to pulling down past his butt. All his pertinent business is covered by the shirt, but it’s weird to know that if you lifted it up, his boxer shorts would show. Is this teenager-dom, come one year early? I’ve decided to let it go, except for teasing him about it occasionally. He spends most of his time tucked and belted into his uniform khakis anyway.

Both kids have a sprinkle of freckles  starting to show on their button noses. By October they’ll be faded until next year. I can’t take any credit for the provenance of those noses or the striking eyes, which lean toward amber for Margaret, and the deepest brown for Jack. Mine are blue, and my nose and face are something I had to grow into. I love how anyone who sees Jack and Margaret immediately knows they are brother and sister.

From their vantage point they can see down the long driveway, and any neighbor kids who come out of their houses will be able to spot them too. This tree perch could be a way to drum up a game of soccer in someone’s front yard, or refrigerator tag in our driveway, the wheeled trashcans serving as bases. Jack and Margaret are not phone callers or door knockers. They do not foist themselves on anyone, but wait to be approached. 
They are sociable but on the introverted side. If no one calls, they remain content to stay at home, together. I understand the desire to make certain they are wanted, because I am like this too, but it stands in contrast to the more assertive kids whom I’ve encountered over the years. “Mrs. Donaldson, can Jack come out and play?” says a child at our kitchen door. “Well, he’s doing his homework right now,” I respond, gently inching the door closed. The child remains, faced pressed against the glass, just a few feet from our kitchen table. “It doesn’t look like he’s doing homework. It looks like he’s eating a snack.” We all crack up.

Like so many sibling conversations Jack and Margaret have had, today’s stays between them. Sometimes, even though their personalities are different, it seems as if they share a brain. A single word or a look and they erupt into hysterical laughter. They don’t have to worry about figuring out social cues or sugar coating things for each other, so connected are they by genes and culture and experience and security. Margaret knows she can be super blunt with Jack and he’ll take it, whether she's telling him he has too much gel in his hair or is wearing the wrong shirt. In fact, he usually welcomes it, considering her counsel to be wise, even though she’s barely 10 years old. Jack, on the other hand, has learned to couch any advice to her in more gentle terms, so as not to put her on the attack. He always starts with, “Well, Margaret…” and although he finally found his “R’s” years ago with the help of speech therapy, he still says his sister’s name in a distinctive way.
Sometimes they talk about the girls who have crushes on Jack. It’s fun to speculate about. I love that Margaret is already getting that easy exposure to boys through Jack that my sister and I did with our big brother, John. To us, boys were not some mysterious, foreign species. We knew they were more or less like us, just with smellier feet.  

Already, Margaret is used to the pile of shoes the boys kick off when they dash into the house, heading down to video games or the basement. She has a comfortable rapport with her brother and his friends. Jack is her favorite, but it can’t be a bad thing having other boys around too, in and out all day with the slam of the kitchen door. And it goes both ways: Jack has been learning about how to understand women and their emotions ever since the day Margaret shook up his quiet life ten years ago.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Meh News, Very Good News, Great News!

It's great to be home, despite killer jet-lag conveniently coupled with Daylight Saving Time.

Tim and Margaret did very well while I was gone, and I couldn't believe my plane landed despite our most recent snowstorm.

I wanted to update you regarding Nikol. By the time we came out of the rural area and back into the city at the end of our trip, World Vision found out that Nikol had already been sponsored by someone else. It's great he is sponsored, but I was bummed, of course, because it really felt like I was meant to be in his life.

The very good news is that I quickly checked with Tim and Margaret, and we decided to try to sponsor one of Nikol's older brother's children, who live nearby and two of whom were still awaiting sponsors. We had visited Varden, Ani, and their three children immediately after leaving Nikol's house. They live in a small converted railroad car with a lean-to attached to it.

Their need is as great as Nikol's family. In fact, as we were chatting with them, Varden came in from his daily trek in search of firewood to heat their woodstove. They do not have a cow for the cow dung, and there are very few trees around, so this trek can take hours a day. The rest of the time he looks for odd jobs, occasionally working overnight at a nearby hydroelectric plant to try to keep the water from freezing.

This young family will greatly benefit from economic development opportunities when World Vision gets programs established in their region. I am excited to see how their lives and futures will improve as a result of child sponsorship and economic development.

And, I will be able to stay in touch with Nikol through his brother's family, so that feels great, too.

Meet Vahan:

Looks like he got those striking blue eyes from his grandma, Nikol's mom:

Vahan is such a sweet, sweet four year old. He did a puzzle with our team member, Addie, while we were visiting. I'm so looking forward to being in his life as he grows!

Here he is with Mom and Dad and his little sister, Mariam, who also needs a sponsor. Behind them you can see the windows into the train car where the five of them sleep. The other room is where they cook, eat, and play.
And here's Dad on his quest for firewood:
So there was some meh news (I wanted to sponsor Nikol) and some very good news (I get to sponsor Vahan AND Nikol has an awesome sponsor!) and here's some GREAT NEWS:

Remember Aida? As the week progressed, 5 of her 7 kids needed sponsors and YOU came through. Yep! An Inch of Gray readers sponsored each of the remaining children! This family will blossom with your financial, emotional, and spiritual support. THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart. Our big family is helping her family!

If you are interested in sponsoring a child, but have not had the opportunity to do so, there are many more children in need of sponsorship. Learn more here.