Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Shepherd's Treasure-- A GIVEAWAY!!!!

Jack and Margaret missed out on the whole Elf on a Shelf thing, because by the time the book came out, they were well past the Santa stage.

It was probably for the best.

I don't know if I ever told you, but we downplayed Santa in our home because my husband Tim was kind of traumatized as a kid when he found out the truth about the big guy in red. He felt betrayed and manipulated, and it caused some trust issues/faith issues that took a while to work out. As a result, he asked if we could have a "Santa-lite" home, and we did.

One result was we found ways to integrate more Advent rituals into our home instead.

Last year, with a little one in the house again, I came across something that I knew would be a fun  tradition to start with Andrew, and a GREAT FIT for our family.

It's called The Shepherd's Treasure and is the sweetest way to prepare our hearts and home for celebrating Jesus's birth. 

Each box comes with an adorable plush Shepherd and Baby Jesus, and a big, beautiful hardcover book.

The book shares the story of a young Shepherd looking for Baby Jesus, and is super encouraging and uplifting. It helps kids know just how special they are.

Each day in December, the Shepherd moves somewhere new in your home looking for the baby, culminating with his finding Jesus in the manger on Christmas morning.

The kids have fun searching for the Shepherd each day, and anticipation builds for Jesus's birthday.

Hiding places can be simple (ME!) or elaborate (Pinterest). There is even a calendar full of creative ideas available on the website if, unlike me, you want to take it up a notch.

You can also order (optional) Advent Cards with Bible verses on them that  provide ideas of things your family can do together each day to share God's love with someone else.

The Shepherd's Treasure is a sweet and meaningful tradition for a family wanting to find a way to focus on Jesus as the very best gift of all!

I contacted the creators of The Shepherd's Treasure and they have agreed to give one An Inch of Gray Reader The Shepherd's Treasure (book and plush figures). It comes in a great keepsake box so it is easy to store year to year. If you don't have little ones at home, considering entering anyway and giving The Shepherd's Treasure as a gift.

Entries in the Continental U.S. only, please.

Easy ways to enter using this entry form :
1)Visit The Shepherd's Treasure Facebook page (mandatory)
2)Leave an email address for (VERY RARE) emails from me such as info about my book or speaking engagements (optional)

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Always Rockin' It

I went to my 30th high school reunion Saturday night. It was hard to get motivated to put on fancy clothes when I'd spent Andrew's nap time snuggled in bed with a good book, but I rallied and had a wonderful time.

There were lots of hugs from old friends, and I even danced for maybe the second time this millennium, throwing my hands in the air and trying not to wonder if I looked like a doofus.

The next morning, I hopped in the shower. My showers have to be fast, because there's usually a pint-sized observer outside the glass door, either wailing or trying to climb in. I have the routine down:

1) Wash key areas.

2) Take the razor and do a swipe in each pit, 3 swipes for each leg, below the knee only.

3) Wash hair as needed, which considering I am a gym dropout, is not often.

When I got out of the shower and put on deodorant, I thought, "Good grief! Somehow dog hair must have gotten stuck on my deodorant.  WHY is there not a single dog-hair-free zone in this house?!"

I grabbed reading glasses from the counter for closer inspection. Dear Lord. That big tuft of hair was not from the deodorant. Or the dog. It was firmly my armpit.

I'm guessing that months and months of careless shaving left me with quite the overgrowth in one concentrated area.

Clearly, a single swipe of the razor was not enough.

BTW, I  thought you might like to see the SLEEVELESS dress I wore Saturday night. I will NOT zoom in. I will NOT zoom in. 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

So (NOT) Together

Hey, did you vote today?

I did.

It's big election year in Virginia, and people are coming out in droves despite the rain. I love the quiet orderliness of our polling place-- an elementary school gymnasium. People there may be on different sides of the political aisle, but there are just quiet hellos and hugs for neighbors you may not have seen in a while, and the chance to buy items to support the local high school's marching band. It's civil, and weighty, and dignified.

After I checked in, a polling volunteer said to me, "Be sure you put your ID away. You don't want to lose it." I nodded, because of course, that's what I was planning on doing next. When I didn't get my wallet out fast enough, however, she continued, in a sincere voice, "Yes, take your time. It's that important." After I'd tucked it away under her watchful gaze, I headed over to the table to vote, then exited the gym.

The whole process took 5 minutes, and as always, it felt like a privilege.

When I got in the car and secured my seat belt, I thought of how the woman, while unfailingly kind, didn't seem convinced I would take good care of my ID. I mean, after all, I'm pushing 50 and have never lost my driver's license. Sheesh. Perhaps there'd been a lot of lost ID's so far that morning.

I glanced over at my center console. On it sat my very favorite pair of earrings-- sparkly silver feathers from Pandora. I may not have showered today, but I was well-accessorized and even had make-up on, in case I ran into any long-lost friends on my one big outing for the day. On the drive over, however, I'd felt one earring fall off, the back disappearing somewhere in the car or down my shirt. I'd placed both earrings on the console while I went inside the school.

Now, still wondering why the poll lady didn't think I could take good care of my personal property, I backed out of the parking space to let a waiting car pull in.

Clink. Clink.

Both earrings flew off the console into the depths of the car. An hour of searching turned up just one earring, a Littlest Pet Shop dog, a tube of hydrocortisone cream and two gummy bears caked in dog hair.

I think I need to go back and tell the polling lady she had every right to be concerned.

Monday, October 23, 2017

With Sympathy

A great deal has been said about President Trump's handling, or mis-handling, of a phone call to express his condolences to Myeshia Johnson after the death of her husband La David T. Johnson as he served our country in Niger.

Mrs. Johnson and several others who heard the call were offended by Trump's saying, "He knew what he signed up for, but when it happens it hurts anyway." 

While Trump has denied saying it, I believe he said it but that it likely conveyed something he never intended-- that somehow it's not as bad to lose a loved one if he/she entered the situation willingly, such as through service to our country.

By denying his words, and then trying to cast doubt on the perception of "the wife" and "that congresswoman" he comes off as cruel and self-centered, and he breaks one of the first rules of offering sympathy which is don't make it about yourself.

And trust me, bereaved people remember quite accurately the tone deaf and hurtful words people say, despite how hard we might try to forget. 

Often the greatest harm comes from the words "AT LEAST" tacked onto expressions of sympathy.

At least you can have more children.
At least he is no longer on drugs.
At least you were married for 26 years.
At least she's in a better place.
At least he knew what he signed up for.

At leasts do not help the griever one iota, but people use them because they are trying to mitigate the magnitude of the loss, trying to make sense out of something that doesn't make sense and that cannot be fixed.

Grievers find no solace in at leasts. They are living the waking nightmare of trying to imagine a future without the one they love. They do not want their loss explained away or diminished.

A lot of discussion about what Trump said focuses on the phrase, "He knew what he signed up for" and fails to mention that he followed it with, "but when it happens it hurts anyway." That's not accurate, and that's probably what makes Trump so angry, angry enough to lash out at a grieving family, even as he says he is a champion of our soldiers and veterans. He did, in fact, acknowledge the Johnsons' pain, but we can see here how starting out with his own version of "at least" hurt more than it helped.

You may hear cries, even from the White House, that that Johnson family and their local congresswoman (and friend) are attempting to politicize his death. When your loved one's body is broken into pieces, when your child doesn't come home, you don't give a damn about politics. But you hurt, deeply, and you want to call out what you see as bad behavior or disrespect toward your loved one. At such a raw, tumultuous time it makes a whole lot more sense for a griever to be hurt and angry, than for someone to be angry at a griever. 

A good leader or a good friend can look outside of the discomfort he or she feels, can admit to not having the right words, and can show up without defensiveness or self-justification, even if it means taking the brunt of someone's hurt and pain. Caring, heartfelt words and presence are a balm, regardless of who gives them.

Of course it's not easy. 

Before my son died in a freak accident, I'm sure I said unhelpful and perhaps even hurtful things to grievers. I likely still do, but I'm getting better. People tell me they are so afraid of saying the wrong thing, they don't say anything at all. But because grief is incredibly disorienting and isolating, I encourage people to pick up the phone, make the call, or write the card anyway, even if it feels risky.

The more basic the better:

I am so sorry for your loss.
This really hurts.
(Loved one's name) will never be forgotten.
Words fail me.
I care about you and (loved one's name).

Yes, you might stumble or fumble. We all do. Be GRATEFUL if you are able to find out if your words have caused harm, for then you can address it. President Trump quickly discovered his words did more harm than good. In humility, he could have said, "I am sorry I caused you more pain. My words didn't reflect what I was trying to convey."

Or perhaps: "Words fail me, but that doesn't diminish how sorry I am for your great loss."

Addressing it does NOT mean denying you said what you did, or trying to justify yourself. What is perceived and received by the griever is what is most important here, if your intent is truly to provide sympathy and succor.

A dear friend drifted away after my son died. When I expressed that I felt she wasn't there for me, she pointed out she had sent me texts that I'd left unanswered. I'm sure she could have pulled them up on her phone as proof.

At a time of great loss, is it more important to dig in to try to win an argument, or to come alongside someone who is hurting? 

What can we all learn from this? 

Making condolence calls from the White House, or from your house, while necessary, is likely not anyone's favorite thing to do. You may feel tongue-tied and vulnerable. Any step feels like a potential mis-step. Do it anyway. You are on holy ground. When you mess up, as we all do, apologize for how it was perceived and felt by the grievers, not by you. Use the deceased person's name, again and again. Our greatest fear is that our loved one will be forgotten. Acknowledge pain with NO qualifications, no excuses, no buts or at leasts. 

Yes, words often fail. 
No, we can't fix anything. 
But we show up anyway, and we try to offer comfort.

And to the President: keep making those calls. It's what you signed up for, even though it hurts.

p.s. Current events led me to write this post about expressing sympathy, and I welcome your thoughts about it here. However, I will delete comments that are hurtful or disrespectful. Thank you!

Friday, October 20, 2017


Things feel tough right now. Not cosmic-level tough, just frazzle-making, quick-tempered, cranky tough. Tim is busy at work, Margaret is surviving the hell that is JUNIOR YEAR, and I'm deep into toddler-land with a sick and stuffed-up Andrew. My 12 hours a week of freedom while he's at Mother's Day Out have yet to exceed 8 and it's nearly November. Tim and I have done some really fun things lately, but not as a couple or as a family.

We are all tired.

Tim and Margaret work late into each night after putting in full days. I follow Andrew around, yet I'm not always fully engaged. We rely on our phones, computers, and tv too much, which cuts down on productivity and eliminates family time. "Communication" is by text, if at all. Because we are tired, we become less generous and grace-filled. In fact, we are grace-emptied. We start to think, "But what about MY NEEDS?" When we hit smallish bumps in the road, we catastrophize about the future, telling ourselves, "It will ALWAYS be this tough."

A few mornings ago, we were deep in the morning rush. It was clear Margaret would be late for school as she tried to finish up an assignment. Tim, her driver, felt angry and manipulated. I felt resentful of getting up before the sun with a toddler. In the midst of all of this, knocks started coming on the door.

Poor communication meant I had no idea Tim had hired landscapers to do some work for us that morning. The dogs barked, Andrew cried, Tim sighed, I groaned. More knocks came. Oh, yeah, our cleaning lady and her sister were here for our twice monthly cleaning.

Knock Knock.

Are those the garage door people? Darn. I'd assumed everyone would be out of the house before they got here. Even in the chaos of that moment, I realized how fortunate we are to have a house, and to be able to have help to keep it running smoothly.

But nothing felt smooth.

It's one thing to have a rough morning family-wise; it's another to do it with 7 extra people as witnesses to your disfunction. Tim and Margaret eventually huffed and puffed out of the house, I parked Andrew in front of Little Einsteins (again), and I got to discuss garage door motors in my pj's.

I know better days are ahead-- they always are-- but boy would it be nice to feel well-rested, more connected, and optimistic here at Team Donaldson. I've found what sometimes helps us is getting OUT of the house together for something low-key such as lunch at a Mexican restaurant or a mandatory walk on a local trail. If we can't get out, then eating a meal together or watching a show we all like helps.

What about you? How do you knit things together when it feels like you are unraveling?

Friday, October 13, 2017

Bard's Alley Event Tonight!

I'll be signing books and speaking at Bard's Alley bookstore in Vienna, VA at 7 pm tonight. If you are local and can join me, I'd love to meet you!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Tim's Newest Love Interest

My last two Stitch Fix boxes have been huge hits; each time I kept 3 out of the 5 items sent to me.

My latest box garnered me buttery soft navy dress pants, a flowy cranberry cardigan, and a gray wool pullover with cool braided sleeves. Once again, I really felt like my stylist had a handle on what I was looking for. So why am I not showing you pictures of MY latest haul? Well, someone else has taken my spot as the Stitch Fix husband Tim.

Remember how I got him a fix for Valentine's Day? Since then, he has kept 10 out of 10 pieces sent to him! He even kept SHOES. I mean, leave it to a man to update his entire closet without having to expend an ounce of energy. He informed us that his next Fix is on its way and he is practically giddy.

Margaret and I are just glad we helped him fill out his style profile because we love everything he has gotten. Last time he asked for work clothes, and this time wanted casual staples. Everything is trimmer and more on-trend than what he is used to wearing. Not sure if I should want my husband looking even younger and cooler than he does, but oh well.

If you think you or your significant other would like having your own personal stylist hand select clothes for you, then check out Stitch Fix. There is a $20 styling fee, but when you purchase even one article of clothing, the fee is applied to the cost of it. And if you are like Tim, and keep every single item, there is a 25% discount on everything. 

If you do end up with something you don't like, it's a breeze to pop it in the prepaid mailer (provided) and stick it in your mailbox for pickup. I am still laughing about the fluffy pirate-looking shirt my friend got sent. Not sure how that happened, but at least it was entertaining for us and easy to return for her!

As always, I get a small commission if you sign up though my links. 

Happy Fixing!