Monday, September 1, 2014

Goings-on, Musings, and How to Help Launch Rare Bird

My goodness, last Wednesday was a big day with a feature article in The Washington Post's Style section! Considering I've read Style over my cereal almost every morning since I was 11, this was a surreal experience.

If you haven't had a chance to read it, HERE YOU GO.

And if the article brought you here for the first time, WELCOME to An Inch of Gray! So glad you are here!

I was honored to have a chance to talk about Rare Bird and grief with Washington Post writer Nora Krug. She spent a lot of time with me and was thorough and kind. The photographer was delightful, and she took a variety of photos.

I know they wanted the photos to match up with the somber nature of the story, but I would have loved for them to choose a few of us smiling.

For one thing, if someone who reads the article is in early grief, I want him or her to see a smile and think, "Maybe I'll smile again someday." I want people to see laughter and realize that you can laugh even in the hardest times. I know we do! And, if you have met me in person, you know that I love to laugh and I smile a lot, if only to keep my jowls at bay, or because I have a really bad case of "Angry Resting Face."

In all, the article did a wonderful job of introducing people to our story, and to the upcoming book, and I'm so grateful.

Thank to all of the readers who signed up for the Thunderclap campaign last week.

Below, I've listed some additional suggestions of how YOU can help launch Rare Bird: A Memoir of Loss and Love. Please do only what you feel comfortable with. I don't want this to be stressful for you, and if I find out my Aunt Betty is trying to figure out "The Twitter" for my sake, I'll feel terrible.

1) Pre-order the book online or through your local bookstore.

2) Share this video trailer with your friends :

3) "Like" the An Inch of Gray Facebook Page so you won't miss out on launch events/news.

4) If you are on Goodreads, mark Rare Bird as "To Read"

5) Ask your local library and/or church to order the book.

6) Once you have read the book, PLEASE leave a review on Amazon and/or Goodreads.

7) Read the book with your book club, Sunday School, or grief group (Discussion guide is coming) soon)

8) Hold loosely to your copy of Rare Bird-- keep an eye open for opportunities to give it away to someone who would benefit from it.

9) Let me know if your organization would like to learn about Rare Bird or have me come speak.

10) If you refer to Rare Bird on Social Media, use the hastag #rarebird (BTW, my twitter handle is @aninchofgray)

Thank you so much for your help!

You make me feel smiley:

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Monday, August 25, 2014

How (NOT) to Save on School Supplies

So Margaret needs a fancy-pants calculator for math this year.

This weekend we headed off to Target to do our school supply shopping and found the one we needed for $129.99.  Holy moly.

She chose the pink one, which I was happy about, because I remember from my teaching days that calculators like this tend to get stolen. I figured a bright pink one might be easier to keep track of than a black one.  We got out of Target for $199 plus change. Yes, we purchased most of her school supplies, but we also found some comfy sweats, blank t-shirts for tie-dying, an 18 pack of colorful pens that I just had to have, and a couple boxes of Special K. Target is a dangerous place.

Later that day, we learned that Staples had the same calculator on sale for $89.99! Except it wasn't really on sale; it just qualified for $5 off with a coupon plus a $35 rebate. Still, $40 bucks is $40 bucks, right? So Margaret and I planned another outing to go get a second calculator and return the first one to Target another day. Tim did a little online research and determined the same calculator, only in black, was $99 at Amazon, with free shipping. He posited: "Would it be worth the extra $10 and the color change to just stay home?"

Nah, Silly Man! We've got this shopping thing covered.

So we headed out to Staples. We took the toll road, which cost $2.00, but we were saving $40, so who really cared? Once we got to Staples, we easily found what we needed...and then some.

Yep, the pink calculator was there, but so was a wall calendar for me, and the binders Margaret still needed at $11 a pop. Eleven Dollars. Eleven. Oh for the days when I got the kids their binders at the thrift store for .69 each. I considered trying to slip some "vintage" binders by her later in the week, but these ELEVEN DOLLAR binders were in our hand, not in the bush, so we bought them.

We also loaded up on some spiral notebooks for our Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes. At the register, several other items mysteriously materialized in our cart: Burt's Bees lip balm, a bag of sour candy because our blood sugar was plummeting, and another jumbo pack of pens for me.

Staples Haul: $200 before $35 rebate. Oh, and what happened to the $5 off coupon? It was on Tim's desk at home, left there during his stint as an internet researcher.

Anyhooo, I am none too impressed with Margaret's and my shopping skills right now, and will tremble with fear until I unload the first calculator at Target AND get my rebate from Staples. Then there's the problem that I'll probably be tempted by other shiny objects at Target when I go. Or what if they have a sale on Boyfriend T's, cardigans, or miscellaneous plastic items?  How much is this calculator going to cost us????

So I guess what I'm saying is, I think Tim was right.

But you don't need to say anything to him. And certainly DO NOT tell him we ended up at TJ Maxx after Staples. It was right next door, and we really needed that pina colada scented candle and those mugs.

Update: Just dug through my purse for the Target receipt and it turns out the calculator was on sale for $90.00. Yep, all of this to save .01 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Help Launch Rare Bird!

NOTE FROM ANNA: Even though we are now over 100 people on the sign up, PLEASE take part anyway! More people=more people hearing about Rare Bird!

Hey amazing people! We're gearing up behind the scenes getting everything ready for the launch of Rare Bird on September 9th! There are several ways you can help get the word out about the book. I'm putting those together in a list for you that I'll share in a few days, but the first way to help is ready right here, right now.

Sign up for Thunderclap!

For those of you not familiar with how a Thunderclap works, here are the details:
1. If we get 100 people to sign up, a one-time, pre-written tweet or Facebook status will go out at a scheduled time on the day the book releases, September 9th. It's basically a social media blitz, and it's super easy to join.
2. All you have to do is click on the link below and choose to tweet and/or FB the pre-written promotion. Feel free to add your own comment describing the book for Facebook updates. Also, don't forget to use the share option after you sign up, where you can notify your followers you joined and that they can too! The beauty is that once you sign up, it's a done deal. Nothing to remember on Sept 9!
Questions? Ask away in the comments below! And as always, THANK YOU for your love and support!!!
Oh, and as an extra THANK YOU for signing up, please enjoy this picture of my dear husband nerding out in a brown jumpsuit. I have no words:


Friday, August 22, 2014

Sept 11, 2011

Here's one from a few years ago, about how my ex-boyfriend taught me about just showing up. Well, Chris and his rock-star wife, Cheryl, could use some "showing up" right now. This summer they've moved across the country with their 3 kids, started new jobs, are building a new house, and in the midst of it all Cheryl was diagnosed with breast cancer. She has had surgery and is now undergoing treatment. Will you join me in praying for them? Thank you!

Sunday morning I sit at my desk trying to put into words what kind of kid Jack was. I am hoping to write something worthy enough to be read at his memorial service tomorrow. This desk is where I write my blog, recording the funny things the kids say and detailing my latest thrifty home projects, most of which involve spray paint. It’s been two and a half days since our lives were turned upside down, and I try to be inspiring, honest and positive when all I really want is to turn back the clock.
Beside me is Chris, my high school friend and college boyfriend. He has dropped everything, and with the blessing of his wife and three kids, has flown in from Wisconsin to be by our sides. “I’ll do anything,” he says. “Clean the gutters, take care of Shadow. Read at the funeral. Anything.” He has learned a lot about grief since his best friend dropped dead at 40. He has learned about showing up. So this is what he does, shows up and sits next to me as I try to describe my boy.

Chris and I were dating when my mom died. I had flown back to Virginia from attending a dance with him in Colorado, and the next day my mother died while I held her hand. I had to call Chris and tell him. When he said he’d fly home to be with me, I told him to stay to take part in a wedding where he was a groomsman. I said it, and I meant it, sort of. This was long before I had heard the term “passive-aggressive,” but on the day of the funeral, I really wish I’d asked him to be there. I didn’t know I’d need him, but I did. So now, even though we’ve seen each other only a handful of times in the past 20 years, he sits next to me, and I run different phrases by him.

After a while he says, “Um, Anna, I feel like you are glaring at me like I did something wrong and you want to murder me.” He’s treading lightly, but he’s brave and says it anyway. And he’s right. “I’m glaring because I’m so damn mad that Jack is dead! But I’m not mad at you.” And he’s cool with that, and calmly suggests that maybe I glare at a point on the wall slightly above his head from here on out, and we both know he’s the perfect person to be with me right now.

I get something down that captures a little slice of Jack’s home life, and hopefully gives comfort to those who will be at the service. I describe Jack’s interests, his homebody personality, his humor.  I don’t know how to capture his humble nature, his generosity of spirit, his laughter, or the way his world became our world. Chris says, “I know you aren’t sure you can read this. And people will say you don’t have to, because they want to protect you. But I know you can do it and I think you should.” He’s right. I mean what the hell do I need protecting from at this point? I want to be the one speaking for Jack. I am his mother. So I will.

I look at Chris and think of the sacrifice he made just to show up for us. I don't know if I'd have the guts to do that for a friend separated by such time and distance. I think of his wife and kids who are juggling so many things at home so he can be here. I realize I have something to learn from Chris today.
And I inwardly make a note to myself to share with Margaret that it’s certainly a lot easier for exes to show up for each other in times of crisis if they’ve never slept together.

Friday, August 15, 2014

The 6 Stages of Food Storage Container Ownership:


1)      Confidence and Grandiosity: My containers match! They are new!  I have a container zone and a lid zone. Any items that do not speak to me with their usefulness and beauty will land on the donation pile. The streamlined organization I now see reflects the order and contentment of my life. There is nothing I can’t do! I will savor my time with them, and keep them in their unsullied state. Jaunty shelf liner adds to my general awesomeness!

2)  Enjoyment: As I drift to sleep this first night, I know I have a kick-ass cabinet full of containers to meet all of my food storage needs. Bonus points: Pretty Colors! Extra Extra Credit: Labels!

3) Reality, Confusion, and Bargaining: So maybe I don’t have time to stack the bottoms in concentric circles every time. Sure, I throw them in, slam the door, and hope for the best, but every container has a mate. Of this I am sure. Gah! Lids have started rolling to the black hole in the back. Perhaps I must adjust my plan. I PROMISE to store each container with its lid on. Sure it takes up more space, but never again shall they part.

4) Denial: I do not recognize anything in this cabinet! Are kids stealing my stuff? Who has replaced my beautiful containers with one corn nib, a kit for making homemade popsicles, a sesame noodles container from Whole Foods, and a black Lean Cuisine tray? This is NOT MY CABINET. THIS IS NOT A THING OF BEAUTY! All I want to do is put my crappy food away, so it can be rejected again tomorrow.

5) Despair:   If one more plastic thing falls on me when I open this door, I will torch this crap. You say the fumes are bad for me? Whatevs.

6) Acceptance: Today the dishwasher melted my last perfectly sized container. The only ones left will hold either a full-sized lasagna or a grape. All matchmaking attempts have failed and my unpartnered pile has grown in size but shrunk in usefulness. I will breathe through my frustration. I will acknowledge that organized storage containers are not part of my life. That Nothing Gold can Stay. I will use tin foil as a cover. And perhaps someday soon, I will dream of the future and Google plastic-ware with attached lids.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Heart Issues

Four year old Margaret started to cry in her booster seat. I looked in the rear view mirror. “What’s the matter?” I figured a tag was poking her, her socks weren't "just right," or she was hungry. With a defeated, gaspy cry, she answered, “Sometimes…sometimes I just have a hard time loving Jesus.” Woah. This was not even close to anything I expected to hear.

I had no immediate answer for her, so I turned it over to Jack, in the “way back” of the minivan. I didn’t know if he’d been listening, but I said, “Jack, is there anything you could say to Margaret?” I was used to his surprising us with wisdom and a near-adult understanding of issues. Maybe he had learned something in school that would give her comfort. I don’t know, but I knew I had nothing.

He responded quickly, “Well, I always knew that about you, Margaret…” Uh oh. Not what I’d been hoping for. Little boy Jack doled out judgment, not comfort, giving his sister the absolute last thing she needed. Maybe Margaret didn’t seem as devout as he did at all of six years old. Maybe he’d seen her do one too many shimmy dances  and donkey kicks during nightly prayers. Who knows? But in that instant, I saw in Jack’s response the response of so many people, the assumption that he could see into someone else’s heart.

I redirected the conversation, but not before saying, “You know what, Margaret?  Sometimes I have a hard time loving Jesus, too. I can’t see Him. It’s hard to love someone I can’t touch and feel.” I was 31 years older than Margaret, but in that moment, in her vulnerability, I knew she spoke a truth shared by me and by many.

And Jack’s reaction, although shocking at the time, reminds me of how often we judge, thinking we have a window into each other’s hearts. Thinking it’s our place to determine how devoted someone else is, rather than focusing on our own heart condition.  It's uncharitable, and unbiblical, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s (4 year old sister's) eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?
I suppose, perhaps, that people think I have a strong faith. But just last week I had a really hard time loving Jesus. I begged Him to help make an impossible situation better, but it felt like I was speaking into the darkness. I told Him I trusted Him, but it was just so hard and scary. Much of what was going on felt far too close to almost 3 years ago when our world came crashing down, when our prayers weren't answered in the way we wanted.
And yet He came through. Man, did He come through, in powerful and miraculous ways! But what I've learned, and am still learning, is that He somehow comes through even when things don't turn out the way we want. Even when we are neglecting to address the planks in our eyes. And even when we have a hard time loving Him.