Monday, July 21, 2014

Talking Turkey

We are on a boat in beautiful Turkey. Stunning views, warm water, and delicious food. I'm doing a bunch of reading and even having a little white wine with lunch. Margaret is loving being with kids her own age. I'm not sure she even realizes we are on this trip with her!

 My only complaint is the heat which, Hello... Turkey in July....should not have surprised me! I am wilting a bit.

 We explored an early church in an underground city which was amazing-- tunnel after tunnel after tunnel. We also floated high above valleys rock formations in a hot air balloon. 

Here is our latest meal:

Not too shabby, huh? and that's just LUNCH.

And here we are in a salt lake, followed by a sunrise view from the basket of our balloon.. 

We are tying blue ribbons in honor of Jack along the way.

Some days have felt a bit like Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (plus boats!) because we are covering a lot of ground, but I am so grateful for this experience.

The friends we are with are beautiful and caring, and I realize life is less about an incredible setting and more about the people around us.

Speaking of amazing people, I wish you were here.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Thrifty Summer Styling

Blame it on the nightly ice cream or the 2 (still) injured shoulders, but late spring/early summer found me with 3+ social events looming on my calendar and a closet full of clothes that were too small. We have a major family vacation coming up, and I knew any new clothes would have to be of the "twice-loved" variety. Let's see how it all turned out:

Wedding #1
Elegant country club setting in Bethesda, MD. Stunning young bride and groom. We will not discuss the epic argument that transpired by the three people pictured below on the way to the wedding.

Strapless dark blue Target dress purchased for $5 at the thrift store. When I got it home, however, I realized I'd over-estimated my cup size, so there was a lot of gaping fabric. A quick trip to the tailor to have it taken in put the dress up into the $45 dollar range. And, it was now so tight in the ribcage,  it was hard to breathe, and laughing was out of the question. New at Target, the dress would  probably would have been about $25.

Win? Not so sure.

P.S. I forgot to get my roots dyed before the wedding.
P.P.S. Yes, Margaret is wearing a brand spanking new dress. No one said life was fair.

Wedding #2:
Outdoor wedding at a national park on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Perfect weather! Service under the trees, then reception with live music in a big, breezy barn. Gray cotton J. Crew dress from thrift shop $6.50. Cool and comfy, plus pockets for my cell phone. Definite win.

Wedding # 3:
Took place at our annual camping trip in West Virginia. Read more about those trips here, here, and here. Ceremony in meadow surrounded by mountains. Vows under an arbor made by my brother, the groom.

I ran out of time to buy a "new" dress and pulled out dress # 2 again. It was cool and comfy, and this got the price per wear down to just $3.25. Win-Win!

 (Margaret helping bride and groom put flowers on arbor a few hours before the ceremony)

(My big brother the groom)

More thrifty finds to follow!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Angel Watching Over Me?

As a little girl, I pored over my picture Bible, sang Vacation Bible School songs around the house, and prayed earnestly that God would somehow be as real to me as he was to my mom. 
“Mom! Come here!” I called out one night, long after bedtime. I was around 7 years old. My sister slept soundly in her twin bed next to mine. My mother opened the door to our darkened room and asked me what was wrong.

“An angel! I saw an angel on the ceiling, right by the door!” 
I couldn’t really describe what I’d seen. It was more a shadowy, safe presence, than anything else. Angel is the word that came to me, even though I saw no wings, no halo, no face. Maybe I'd been sleeping and had dreamed it up.
“That’s great, Anna” my mom said, not making it sound all that great.

“Go back to sleep.”
So I did.
I felt dismissed and decided to keep any future angel sightings to myself. It wouldn’t be until I became a parent that I would fully understand that having a wakened child go back to sleep can feel more important to moms and dads than whatever heavenly visitors may have stopped by. I mean, I'd actually once crawled right into Margaret's crib, my boob in her mouth, just so she and I could get a little sleep.
I didn’t mind that no one else had seen what I had, and I didn't tell anyone else about it. Seeing an angel, a shadow, or whatever it had been, was odd. Sure, I’d asked God to become real to me, but I thought angels were limited to my picture Bible or their annual shout-out at Christmas. Later, they would become "in vogue" and could be seen on everything from lovely Christmas ornaments to cheesy plastic keepsakes. I decided I'd stick with my Bible verses and songs, thank you very much, and leave the matter of angels to others.

In fact, I wouldn't give angels another thought for the next 34 years...

What about you? Have you ever thought about angels?

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Wonder-filled Wednesday

The spring after Jack's accident, my childhood friend Brenda pulls into the parking lot of the small school where her husband is headmaster. She is going to deliver the monthly chapel message to the students. She has asked our permission to share about Jack's life and death, and how a perfectly imperfect little boy had a meaningful, trusting relationship with God.

A familiar Christian song plays on the radio as she pulls into the parking lot, and as she looks toward a tree on the grounds that she sees several times every day, she notices something she has never noticed before. A bald eagle has made a nest there. She takes a picture for me, thinking of course of Jack, our rare bird.
Gathering her purse and her keys, she listens more closely to the lyrics on the radio: “I will rise when He calls my name, no more sorrow, no more pain. I will rise, on eagles’ wings, before my God, fall on my knees, And Rise. I will rise.”
A rare bird and the healing words about the promise of heaven seem fitting as she walks into the building to share Jack’s story.

Saturday, June 28, 2014


I've been dealing with vertigo for about two weeks now. First come the bed spins, the whoosh in my ears and my stomach when I try to sit up, and then, once upright, the strange, loopy way of looking at the world.

I wonder, why do the trees lunge and dip for me, when I suspect they are still standing at attention for others?

Mid-way into the second week, I begin to feel so much better. Driving is okay. My balance returns.  It is a relief to feel almost like myself again, to know the vertigo is a temporary affliction that leaves me pretty much clinging to my bed during the regular end of the school year craziness-- so that's kind of a win.

In some ways, the vertigo took me back to the early days of shock and grief.

Back then, there was a real sense that the world I was looking at was a different one than others saw. I remember the leaves on the trees being so astounding clear and individualized, and the sky so alarmingly blue, that I felt extra vulnerable, as if I'd somehow stepped outside but forgotten my skin. People and things moved all around me, but felt separated from me, as if we were all running smoothly on conveyor belts, turning this way and that, like the maid in the Jetsons. I craved connection, and stability, and the way things were before.

My house and yard looked exactly the same, as did my pretty little town, but a growing awareness that something horrific had happened, right here, made it all feel seem off-kilter and sinister. The old world of school, and work, and kids, and church ceased to exist in a flash, in a moment. The new upside down one, of learning how to outlive a precious child, flashed its skewed existence at me day after day until I could begin to get my bearings.

It would take months and months of living with a profound sense of vulnerability and disorientation for me to begin to feel a little better. Of course it was a new self that emerged, standing not-quite-upright as before, but stable enough to face the challenges ahead as the future spun before me in a new, unwanted direction.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Podcast Time!

I was honored to be invited to be the lovely Sarah Bagley's guest on her podcast series, which is about trying to get rid of perfectionism and embrace living a "B+" life.

How much do you love that concept???

We had a great time chatting about a variety of topics such as raising kids with sock issues, writing, my AMAZING readers, grief, and tons of inside scoop on Rare Bird! She was such a gracious host. I was a bit nervous and interrupt-y at first, not sure how this whole podcast thing worked, but Sarah made me feel so comfortable that we soon got our groove and didn't want it to end.

I hope you'll have a chance to check it out here!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Book Update-- The Long Version!

I have had so much to tell you about the book, Rare Bird: A Memoir of Loss and Love, but I think I've been hesitant to go into the details, because to say it OUT LOUD will make it true, as in the train has left the station and there is no turning back. This is both exciting and nerve wracking. But here goes:

The book is finished! 

Thank you for your patience as I've muddled my way through as a first-time author. Thank you for showing up again and again, and for encouraging me that not only was I up for the challenge, but that you would read whatever I wrote.

Publishing can be a slow process, so I hope I haven't worn you out over the past year and 1/2. Here's an inside glimpse at how it all went down:

Aug 2012: Contacted via email by an agent in New York to chat about possibly writing a book. I know, REALLY. We meet up during the annual mega-blogging convention BlogHer. At 11 months in, this is at the very lowest point in my grief journey. I feel fragile and incompetent, but when I meet with her I begin to think that writing a book could be a good thing, if for nothing else than to give me a reason to write, write, write and feel, feel, feel. It was a low-key, exploratory conversation that led me to seriously consider writing a book.

Oct 2012: Commit to writing a memoir, with Convergent Books as the publisher. Convergent is an imprint of Random House, and the decision that we'd be a good fit came after several heartfelt phone conversations. They have been sensitive and supportive since Day 1! Seriously, I felt cared about and nurtured through the whole process. We both acknowledged that writing a book so soon after a tragedy could present special challenges. We knew I wouldn't have the wisdom and the distance that might come 5, 10, or maybe 15 years out, but we saw value in this as well. Since my grief was still very much unfolding as I wrote, I was able to capture a real, raw picture of what early grief is like. I am so grateful they took a chance on me.

Jan 2012-Oct 2013: After 3 months of hemming and hawing, procrastinating, Googling "How to write a book" and coming up empty, cursing the fact that I hadn't taken writing classes in college (how much have I used this French minor anyway?), I set up shop in the back corner of Panera on my days off of work. It looked like: Grab a cup or three of Earl Gray. Cruise Facebook. Write. Let things bubble up. Write some more. Cry. Try to discover what THIS book is about, hmmm...seems like it's grief and God and hope... pare down to just that. Dump everything else I wrote in a folder to look at months or years down the road. Turn in the manuscript. Wonder, is it finished, or am I just tired?

Oct 2013-Sept 2014: Wrangle, wrangle, struggle with choosing the right title for the book. Settle on my all-time favorite Rare Bird, which was Margaret's very first suggestion, in, umm, October 2012, and was the overwhelming victor in our little survey here at An Inch of Gray.  Laugh when the copy editor emails me after reading the manuscript, at that time temporarily titled Tenderness, "Um, has anyone considered titling this book Rare Bird?"

Wrangle, struggle over cover images. Fall in love with a gorgeous cover inspired by a Wonder-Filled Wednesday post about how all the stock photos in Michael's Craft Store looked just like my kids! Let the skillful editors work their magic. Ditch a couple of chapters that don't seem to fit in. Send out Advance Reader copies to people in the publishing world and to fellow bloggers who have expressed willingness to support the book through their blogs and social media. Come up with marketing and publicity strategies. Realize I should probably figure out how to use twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest... oh my!

It's interesting that one of the first things my agent, Rebecca, warned me about when we talked that day in NYC was that I'd have to be willing to still be immersed in the topic of the book years down the road, when it came time to promote it. I said, OF COURSE, because I couldn't see how a minute of my life could stray from thinking about losing Jack. Inconceivable. The truth is, a memoir is a snapshot of a particular time in a life, and by the time the book comes out in September, I won't be in the exact same place I was when I agreed to write it, when I turned in the completed manuscript, or even where I am today. It will be my pleasure to talk about it, because I feel that it represents something positive and hopefully helpful to have come out of something so awful, but not every minute of every day is consumed by grief now. Thank God.

That's interesting for me to consider. Maybe this is a little like how Angelina feels because I'm guessing she finished Maleficent a few years ago, and she and Brad have gone on to make like 18 more babies and 14 more films since then, but then she is interviewed by Vanity Fair about... the release of Maleficent. Yeah, I'm sure it's exactly like that, since my life is so very much like Brangelina's. Anyhoo....back to the book.

Where do blog readers fit in?

Well, first you MUST know this book would not have happened if it weren't for you, cheering me on and being brave enough to show up here day after day as I experienced the shock and pain of grief. Without your support, I could not have kept blogging, and therefore would never have been given the opportunity to write this book.  At my most fragile state, I was able to accept a new and frightening challenge because YOU convinced me through emails and comments that our story somehow, in some way, made a difference in your life and could do the same for others.  Thank you!

As we get closer to September, I'll let you know specific ways you can help launch the book, which will probably include: buying the book (for you and your 50 closest friends!) anywhere books are sold, telling people about the book, reading it in your wine, er, book clubs, posting a review on Amazon and Goodreads as quickly as possible, and any other ideas you/we drum up together! You'll probably be on Anna/Rare Bird overload for the month of September as we try to let as many people as possible know about the book, so thank you in advance for your patience.

A quick story:

When I first committed to writing the book, I took a look at the contract provided by the publisher, still wondering if I was strong enough to do it. The publication date listed on the contract, out of 365 possible days of the year, was March 18, Jack's birthday! I took that as a God wink and affirmation that this was a good decision.

Well, the book took longer than I thought, and the date was bumped to sometime in the fall. I recently found out the publishing date: September 9. That's just one day after the 3rd anniversary of Jack's accident. God wink? I don't know. Ugh. I hate September now. But I do know it will keep me busy at the most difficult time of the year for me, and I'll get share an awful lot about Jack!

And another:

When the boxes of Advance Reader Copies showed up on my doorstep, left by my adorable UPS man Danny, I didn't know what I was feeling. I used scissors to slowly slice through the tape of the top box, and there it was: an honest to God book with my name on the cover.

I'd heard of many authors breaking down in tears to see their work come to fruition like this. My eyes were dry. I stared into the box at the beautiful cover. I could smell that awesome new-book smell.  I picked one of the beautiful books up and put it back down quickly. Yes, I was proud. Yes, I was so grateful for the chance to write and publish a book, something far more talented and deserving writers may not have had the opportunity to do, but truthfully, I wanted  more.

I didn't want boxes of books. I wanted Jack.

Jack, who had been my sidekick for 12 years. Who understood me. Who made me a mom. I put the leash on Shadow and took her for a walk, so I could think. I knew that this book wouldn't have happened without Jack's accident. I knew I should be proud of what I'd been able to do, with God's help and your help, in my most wretched state. Deep down I knew that this book could provide something to help friends understand friends better, and for grievers to feel less alone. I knew it could give all of us a glimpse of a big, loving, mysterious God.

So, yes, I am excited about the book. And grateful. But I want Jack.