Friday, May 18, 2018

Love you Forever

Andrew has started napping again after 8 months, and I am overjoyed! This means I get a break, and that we are back into a pre-nap reading routine.

The clear favorite is still Richard Scarry's Cars and Trucks and Things That Go, but I introduced him to Love you Forever this week.

Love it or hate it, this book gets a reaction out of people, sort of the like the wonderfully creeptastic "The Giving Tree" which I remember fondly from childhood, even though as an adult the relentless sacrifices of motherhood sometimes make me feel like a chopped up, scooped out, stump of my former self.

I'll never forget reading Love you Forever to Jack as I rocked him in his tiny bedroom in our first home. His crib had made way for a big boy bed, because little sister was on her way in a matter of days. I positioned him on my lap as best I could and kissed his little head and neck, singing and crying my way through the book. I was overcome with the feeling that he was being displaced and with the worry that, despite everyone's assurances, my heart wasn't capable of growing to accommodate a new baby. Everything was about to change, and in a made-up tune I sobbed and squeezed out: "I'll love you forever, I'll like you for always, as long as I'm living my baby you'll be."

Jack's cowlick was exactly like the boy's in the book, and while I could never image leaning a ladder up against my married son's window (boundaries, much?) I did want him to know that despite a new little one coming into our home, he'd always be my baby. I wanted to squeeze him a little too tightly and never let him go.

Margaret never got into the book the way Jack and I did. Perhaps it was the male protagonist, the fact that she was what you would call a "busy baby" with less patience for books at that age, or that she, like many people. thought the whole premise was weird, weird, weird. The book got tucked away for a long time.

I wasn't sure what my reaction would be to reading the book again, but there it was on the shelf. Would I cry the way I did with Jack? Would I cry even more, knowing that I never got to hold and cuddle and potentially stalk Jack after he'd barely turned twelve and went to heaven?

I didn't cry, and my made-up tune came right back to me today as I rocked Andrew back and forth, his tummy sticking out under a faded little polo shirt, chubby hands clutching not one but 2 loveys. I wondered if Andrew would bat the book away after a few pages, in favor of one more search for Goldbug, one more colossal smash-up of cars and trucks. But he listened attentively as I rocked and sang.

At one point, he pointed to the boy, now a young man, and said, "He growed up." Yes, he did. That is what I pictured for Jack all those years ago. And that is what I do picture for Andrew and Margaret. "You'll grow up too, Andrew"

One of the most tender things about this book is how the young man says his mom will still be his mom after she dies. He holds her and sings, "As long as I'm living my mommy you'll be." I love that, and it has certainly been true for me these 30 years since my mom went to heaven.

In an instant it becomes clear to me the only thing I'd change about this book, even though I am firmly in the Love you Forever Camp. I'd get rid of the words, "As long as I'm living" because if I've learned one thing in recent years, it's that forever truly means forever, and none of it is limited by whether anyone's body is living and breathing or not.

Love never dies.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Why I Stopped Sleeping with my Husband

I am a bad sleeper. 

Some months and years are better than others, but since childhood I’ve often been restless or awake while the rest of the household sleeps. I’m one who takes it upon herself to solve the world’s problems in the wee morning hours, and is embarrassingly familiar with late-night infomercials. With all of the research about getting less than 6 hours shortening one’s life, it’s enough to make a bad sleeper lose even more sleep. 

A few years ago, realizing how important sleep is to overall health, I decided that instead of just trying to power through on grit and caffeine, I’d make an effort to get a few more hours each night.

First, my husband and I switched to a king-sized bed, hoping the extra space would help. We plotted out our territories, leaving a hefty margin in the middle that no one dared cross. It worked for a while, but then I found myself pregnant at age 46 (I guess there had been some crossing). Pregnancy, nursing, pumping, and all of the nighttime waking disrupted whatever tenuous grasp I had on precious sleep. Our baby was an amazing gift, but I was fried, again.

And just when I thought things couldn’t get worse, menopause set in. Enter night sweats and frequent trips to the bathroom to squeeze out a whopping 3 drops of pee. My eye shades, noise machine, and essential oils were no match for this new stage of life. I tossed, turned, growled, and occasionally reached out to kick my snoring husband, but I did not sleep.


When our toddler started waking in the night after a family trip, I’d had it. We would bring him into our bed, and while he and my husband fell right back to sleep, I’d stare at the ceiling fretting that if I Iet my guard down, our son would roll off the bed or get tangled in the covers. And what about world hunger and nuclear proliferation? Everyone knows that worrying is worse at night. 

Soon I took to slipping out as soon as our little one joined us. I’d find refuge on the living room couch or the floor of the basement. I knew it made no sense that I could fall asleep more quickly in these less than comfy places than in my own bed, but the change of location seemed to break the “It’s 3 am and I know I will never sleep again” worry cycle. 

Recently, we dragged a mattress to the floor of the basement, and I now have a more comfortable refuge. Sometimes I go there in the middle of the night; other times I scoot down as soon as everyone else goes to sleep. Even when our toddler sleeps through the night, there is something about being completely “off duty” that helps me sleep more soundly. I can pop a melatonin if I want. The cool, dark basement means less sweating, and when I wake at night I’m able to convince my bladder that the long trip upstairs to the bathroom just isn’t worth it.

Would I rather be snuggling with my husband in our own bed? Sure. But in nearly 26 years together, we’ve learned that there are stages to a marriage. I’m sure Tim would rather sleep alone than have a sweaty, seething menopausal woman next to him concocting ways to murder him in his (blissful) sleep. I’m not kidding, that man smiles as he dreams. It’s infuriating.

As for the impact fleeing the marital bed has on our sex life? Well, with a teen who stays up late, and a toddler who wakes up early, I’d say our opportunities are already rather limited. However, aiming for 6 hours of sleep a night can’t help but improve my mood, if you know what I mean.

Monday, April 30, 2018

The Things we Carry

If you follow An Inch of Gray on Facebook, you know Andrew had a little adventure last week. 

We'd had a great day of puddle jumping, hair cutting, and general toddler fun. I had a chicken in the oven, and we were in the home stretch heading toward dinner and bedtime. As I stood in the kitchen, pouring myself a cup of tea, Andrew walked up and showed me his hand. He had taken the lid off a tiki torch canister and lodged a chubby finer in the hole where the wick is supposed to go. I picked him up and slathered dish soap all over it hoping it would slide right off. Next I tried a tub of butter. The more I tried, the more swollen his finger got, and then it started to bleed. He went from thinking he was awfully clever to crying and really wishing the lid would come off.

If Tim had been home, I probably would have googled, "How to dislodge a finger from a tiki torch lid," and we would have worked together to get it off. Perhaps we would have gone down to the basement to see if we had any tin snips to cut right through the lid. 

Instead, as Andrew wailed, and his finger grew more and more purple, I called 911. I figured they would have a tool to free his finger, and they could get there faster than if I put Andrew in the car to drive to the ER during rush hour. 

As soon as he heard that an ambulance was coming, Andrew stopped crying and was super happy. Bubbly, in fact. And that's when my second-guessing set in. He was obviously not in that much pain, and I was using valuable county resources for something minor. But in the back of my mind, I wondered if he could lose the use of his finger if I'd waited. 

The EMT's came and looked at it, as he happily marveled at their cool ride. Instead of snipping the lid off, as I'd assumed they would, they said we need to go to the ER. While the EMT’s had a tool that could cut rings off easily, it wasn’t the right fit for the lid. Oops. I’d figured that if these guys had the Jaws of Life to extract people from cars, a toddler finger would be easy-peasy. 

Within minutes, we were in an ambulance heading to a nearby hospital. Andrew thoroughly enjoyed the ride from the comfort of my lap, pointing out the motorcycle, trash truck, and numerous cars he saw through the rear doors.

Once at the ER, a doctor and 2 nurses worked together to remove the lid. Their tool of choice? A new shoelace, threaded through the opening. They were able to wind it around his finger to control the swelling and pull the lid off. We were finished within minutes— Andrew's cut so minor he needed just some Neosporin and a bandaid.

It was a happy ending to a stressful situation. Getting the ER bill will be a bit more stressful, but that story is not today's story.

For as we rode in the ambulance, I was able to relax a bit, breathe, and consider my actions and motivations. 

I realized that in the moment Andrew came to me, I entered crisis mode and was taken back to 2011 and Jack's accident. Of course I didn't think Andrew would DIE because of his minor injury, but I no longer trusted my judgment to gauge the situation. I wanted the help of professionals because I was no longer confident I could make the right decisions for my kids.  

You see, when I’d reached the scene of Jack's accident, just seconds after he somehow ended up in the raging water, I tried to take care of the situation myself. Instead of calling 911, I got in my car to drive to a spot where my heart told me he would be, exactly where his body was found a few hours later. This wasted time. 

So last week, I didn't trust my judgment. My relatively calm demeanor and desire to not make a fuss had failed my children in small ways over the years, and had failed Jack in the biggest way possible. 

I know I am forgiven. I know it in my heart and in my head. Jack has graciously let me know in his own way that I should not beat myself up for those precious seconds, yet I guess they still inform my actions. 

I saw that last week. 

Margaret was home. She is almost 17 now. She could have driven us to the hospital while I comforted Andrew in the back seat of the car. But in those frantic moments, I could only see her as a frightened 10 year old again, whose brother was in crisis.  As the adrenaline rushed through my body, I wanted to spare her pain and assure her everything was okay, and I wanted her to know that this time, the professionals, not MOM, would help us.

People always ask me if I’m overprotective because of what happened to Jack, and I’ve been able to answer truthfully, NO. In fact I live with a degree of freedom that most people don’t have, in understanding that I’m not really in control of very much.


Yet I carry that day in my mind, and in my body. In my quiet moments and my more frenzied ones. It wasn’t until last week, with Andrew’s little finger, that I realized I carry that day in a way I’d never even considered before. 



Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Book Release Party

George Atkisson's book release party was a huge hit!

Friends, neighbors, and family members gathered to celebrate his enormous accomplishment of publishing The Chalice and the Stirrup Cup at age 94. He had a wonderful time telling us some of the backstory on the novel and signing copies.

It has been so fun to share this story with you. If you haven't checked out George's book yet-- available on Kindle, softcover, or hardcover-- please do.

He is enjoying all of the feedback.








Monday, April 2, 2018

The Man Next Door, Part 3


George and I talked about his goals of finding an agent, shopping the manuscript to New York publishers, and how long that might take. I wasn't trying to be snarky about his age, which is one of the neatest things about this story, but I also didn't want to discount it. After losing my mom when she was 46 and my son at 12, I've come to realize that tomorrow is never promised.

I asked him if he wanted to invest years and possibly not ever get published, or whether he would consider self-publishing in order to make make his dream come true. I could tell he'd need to wrap his brain around the idea, so I let him know that I am self-publishing my upcoming children's book, and that it could be a faster way to get his book in the hands of readers.

Savvy as ever, George asked whether, if after self-publishing, he could still have his book traditionally published if someone showed interest in it. Yep. I explained that freeing it from the cardboard box in his bedroom could be a good first step in that direction. 

I reached out to a local friend who had already done research about self-publishing  and asked if she would be willing to edit George's book and shepherd him through the process. I knew she was not only a fantastic editor but a great conversationalist who would be awesome company for him as they worked through the process. The value of human contact is no small thing. I had no idea if they would develop a friendship, but I sure hoped they would.

I told him I felt bad I didn't have the time to be the one to get his book to print, but he made me feel better by saying, "Well, you are going to write about it on your blog, right?"

Do you love him, or what?

So here I am, spreading the news of the man next door, an amazing debut author, who at the young age of 94 (95 in June!) never gave up on his dream. Through work, family life and retirement. Through losing his beloved wife of 69 years. Through being housebound. George Atkisson did not let any of that stop him, and I know my life is richer for having witnessed this.

George holding his book for the first time

George and his editor, Michelle Layer Rahal

When we handed him his book for the first-time, he was speechless. It was a moment more than 40 years in the making.

For years I avoided getting to know my neighbor. How grateful I am to have not missed the chance to make a new friend and immerse myself in George's characters and the world he created.

Next week we are having a small book launch party at George's house for The Chalice and the Stirrup Cup, and now I'd like to introduce it to you!




The Chalice and the Stirrup Cup is a wonderful coming of age novel that begins shortly after World War I. This book has romance, history, theology, and characters you will root for. Here's a quick description:

"Only three things matter to Billie: her horse, her writings, and JD. But JD, the strong and introspective farm boy growing up in the shadow of his alcoholic father, has yet to determine what he wants out of life, and no one seems to expect much out of him, especially Billie's wealthy parents. It appears that JD is set to run with the hounds until an unexpected benefactor steps up to redirect his route. Though bound together by their love for each other, poetry, and the great outdoors, it is their opposing views on God that ultimately influence the choices JD and Billie will make. For Billie, trying to understand God is like describing a rose to a blind person. If she can succeed in this task, perhaps she would believe. Set in rural Virginia in the aftermaths of World Wars I and II, The Chalice and the Stirrup Cup chronicles the escapades of two unlikely friends as they grow and mature in this coming-of-age story. Their friendship sustains them through the darkest times, but it is their search for God that ultimately impacts how they live and love."

Please celebrate George Atkisson's enormous accomplishment from wherever you live.

Purchase his book (available in hardcover, softcover, and kindle) and/or leave an encouraging comment for him.

Please contact me if you have a local book club that would like to read George's book and connect with him.

And if you are a publisher looking for a new author, I have a special one in mind!

(affiliate links included)



Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Man Next Door, Part 2

Read Part One Here

Tim looked at me like I was crazy when I carted the box of binders inside. He knew how frustrated I was at my lack of time to write, and he was afraid I'd spend too much time wading through someone else's work to do my own. I also think he worried that I'd be too nice if I didn't like the book, even though George had insisted he wanted me to be straight with him. I was worried about that, too.

Sometimes it was a slog going through the double-spaced pages. This was no short memoir, like I had written. It was an epic novel spanning decades, exploring class, family dynamics, American History, and theology. Some of the chapters plopped me right into the scene, leaving me wondering which thread of the story I was reading about. George told me he sometimes liked to keep his readers guessing, but I didn't want to have to guess. Tenses occasionally shifted, making me lose my place.

But each night, when I turned out my light, I thought about JD, the young boy in the novel. I pictured him growing and maturing among the agricultural fields and streams where my suburban town now stands. I wondered if he'd go off to college. If he'd get the girl. If he'd find faith.

It dawned on me.

JD and the other characters had become real to me. And once again, I was awed by how anyone ever writes fiction. How I could hear JD's voice in my head as clearly as someone I knew in real life. How I could practically smell the reek of liquor as his alcoholic father stumbled in and out of his life. How the funny and poignant anecdotes of the townspeople placed me in a community as believable as the one I live in right now.

In my pre-sleep thoughts, it was as if I were watching a movie.

I was no expert on publishing, and certainly not on fiction, but I knew without a doubt I could tell my 94 year old neighbor that I loved his book and wanted to help.

More to come...

Read Part Three Here

The Man Next Door, Part One

I have the neatest story to tell you.

Shortly after we moved into our neighborhood, I learned there was a really interesting man next door. He'd lived in our town for his 90+ years and was filled with good stories about local history.

You would think I hurried over to introduce myself. Nope. I told myself if I bumped into him, we'd chat, but I wasn't going to extend myself. I'd come out of my last neighborhood feeling bruised, broken, and vulnerable. I was running away from something instead of toward something, and if my new neighbors didn't reach out to me, I pretty much kept to myself. Tim prodded me to meet him, saying, "I really think you would hit it off." But I resisted.

Finally, late last year a knock came at the door. A young woman introduced herself as my elderly neighbor's caregiver, and handed me a slip of paper with a phone number on it.

I'd been summoned next door.

I arranged a babysitter and headed out. I walked upstairs to the bedroom where George spent his days, unable to walk as a result of a bout with polio when he was a young husband and father. Now I knew why I'd never bumped into him in the yard.

Within seconds, my fears vanished, and I was enthralled by what my charming neighbor had to say. We hit it off instantly, taking about history, politics, and faith. And even though I was paying a sitter by the hour, I didn't want to go home. I realized how much time I'd missed out on getting to know a kindred spirit.

As things wound down, George told me why he'd invited me over. I'd been summoned because George's daughter and granddaughter had read Rare Bird. George had also written a book. He'd started writing a novel way back in the 70's and wanted my professional advice. Could we talk agents, publishers, and publicity?

A few hours later, I walked back across the lawn carrying a cardboard box with three black binders in it-- George's manuscript--that had been around almost as long as I had.

I was excited but apprehensive.

I loved meeting my new friend, and was looking forward to reading his work, but what if it wasn't any good?

Read Part Two Here

Read Part Three Here