Wednesday, February 15, 2017

A Love of Reading

I go up and down the thrift shop aisles, familiar covers catching my eye. I've donated so many books to this store over the years, I wouldn't be surprised to see my name inside a few of them.

My little stack in the cart grows. Out of the whole pile, only one of the the titles is new to me.

Does it feel wasteful re-buying the same titles I've read and donated before?

Not at all, because something extraordinary is happening in my house. My daughter has found her love of reading again! Despite a 24-7 bombardment of social media, and days filled with school and sports, she still makes time to read books. I know too well that it's MUCH easier to scroll on my phone these days than open a book, so I'm even more impressed by her desire to read, especially after a few years of not reading much at all. That she wants to discuss what she's read, using words like symbol, narrator, and setting is almost too much for me to handle.

Love. Love. Love.

I had barely hoped this would happen, because she never showed interest in reading those books that meant a lot to me as a little girl: The Secret Garden, Gone With the Wind, Heidi, etc.

But now we are sharing grown-up books and it's delightful.

How did this happen, when it seems as if so much of schooling actually sucks the joy of learning out of kids?

One teacher.

Her 10th grade English teacher spends the beginning of every class sharing a book with her students. Five minutes is all it takes to give a brief synopsis of the book and share what makes it interesting. Students are free to take a turn doing the same, and Margaret's must-read list has grown.

Today she sent me a link of 3 more books to look out for.

So you bet these books are going home with me today. If out of these, she just reads one or two, I'll be happy. And maybe seeing her read more will get me off of Facebook for a while so I can do the same.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Giveaway Time: The Zipadee-Zip!

You know how much I love doing giveaways here at An Inch of Gray, and I'm super excited about this latest one!

When Andrew was born, we couldn't believe how much better sleep solutions were for babies than 15 years ago. We had user-friendly swaddles that he couldn't break out of, and he slept right next to our bed in a Rock and Play Sleeper. Total game-changers that meant more sleep for baby, Mom, and Dad!

As Andrew hit the 5 month mark, Tim and I got really nervous. We knew that it was just a matter of time before he would start to roll over in his sleep, and we'd have to discontinue the swaddles and the Rock and Play.

We were seriously stressed about how to move him to a crib, because we just didn't have the energy for an ugly, protracted transition.

I started researching on-line and found something called a Zipadee-Zip. You may remember when I mentioned it in an earlier post about how I love As Seen On TV products. Yes, Sleeping Baby, the company that makes the Zipadee-Zip was featured on one of my favorite shows, Shark Tank.

Here's the video from their episode!

Zipadee-Zip is a sleep sack that allows babies to roll onto their tummies and back again because their arms aren't constrained. It does, however, give them much more of a confined feeling than pj's  or other sleep sacks, and this resistance helps keep them asleep longer. It was invented specifically as a solution for the swaddle to no-swaddle transition. 

Tim and I are grateful that the Zipadee-Zip helped Andrew make the change to his crib. We were expecting him to FREAK OUT for at least a week, but he got used to his crib in just a couple of days. Almost 6 months later, he still wears the Zipadee-Zip every night and during his (infrequent) naps. They help him feel secure, signal that it's time to sleep, and help keep him warm since babies aren't allowed to have blankets in the crib. Another way I use the Zipadee-Zip is as a cover-up in the doctor's office or other public places where I don't want him to get too germy, and as an extra non-bulky layer in the car seat or stroller.

Here he is taking a snooze in his at the DMV while big sister got her learner's permit.

He has one with a seashell print, and a fleece one with foxes on it. So cute!

When Andrew no longer needs a Zippadee Zip, I plan on getting him The Flying Squirrel, fun pj's with a similar shape and feel that fit kids well into elementary school, but I'm not in a rush. A lot of parents keep using the Zipadee-Zip up until 2 years old or when transitioning out of the crib.

You can use it with just a diaper or a onesie underneath, but since it's winter, we put it over Andrew's pj's. Doesn't he look so happy to have just woken up?

Sleeping Baby has offered to give a free Zipadee-Zip to one of my readers. If you do not have a child or grandchild in the infant to toddler range, please share this giveaway with those people in your lives who do!

I want as many people as possible to hear about this product that helped me so much!

Entries limited to the Continental U.S.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thank you, Sleeping Baby, for sponsoring this giveaway!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

What's the Word?

Yesterday I hired a babysitter, Nadia, so I could write run errands.

At the last minute, a workman I've been trying to connect with came over, so I had to stick around. Our twice a month cleaning lady, Marie, was also there. So, for an hour or so, we had a full house, and Nadia and Marie had a chance to chat.

Later, Nadia said to me, "Marie says Andrew looks just like your other boy did. She says he was very clever, and Andrew is clever too. See? We don't know how God works. You are lucky. Lucky!"

The word lucky struck me as a little off, but something could have been lost in the translation. There were several languages in play as Marie and Nadia, two women of faith from distant parts of the world, admired and talked about the baby.

With my story, I don't know if anyone would call me "lucky."

Besides, lucky sounds so random.

Christians tend to use the word BLESSED instead. Blessed is a way to say, "I don't think this is random, but it also doesn't come just from my own hard work or striving." When Christians say they are blessed, to describe a new house, car, job, and, yes, even their children, it's a way of expressing deep gratitude...but it can also be problematic. This article sums that up pretty well.

It makes me think of when people say, "There but for the grace of God go I," in describing terrible things that happen to children. I get that this sentiment is a way to connect, to say, "Hey, what happened to you could have happened to anyone!" But it can also make a person feel as if she's somehow outside of God's grace when terrible things do happen.

And of course that's not true.

Words can be confusing.

In speaking to groups, I sometimes unpack my troubled relationship with the verse: "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."


I didn't feel blessed to not have my mom at my wedding.

I didn't feel blessed to have Margaret lose her very best friend in a stupid creek.

And I didn't feel blessed last week when Jack's precious classmates generously gave up a Sunday afternoon to meet Andrew and spend time with us. Instead, I felt stricken and depressed, missing spending day after day with these kids whom I have loved since they were 6 years old, and hurting so much that they are about to go to off to college and more new adventures without Jack.

In Jesus's upside down view of the world, however, grievers ARE blessed.

Why? Not because they are free from pain, or they receive some sort of material or physical reward for the hell they've been through, but because they will receive comfort, often in the form of love from others, and always in a spiritual way from God himself, who never leaves us alone in our pain.

Time after time I have been comforted in my grief. I now know this verse is true.

And I think every baby is a blessing, an undeserved gift for which to be grateful. But I don't know why some people who desperately want children are not able to have them. Is it random? Is it luck?

Back to the babysitter's words. Am I lucky to have a baby in the house when I'm 47? Andrew's surprise appearance certainly defied great odds.

Am I blessed? Yes, if being blessed is really another way of framing the word GRATEFUL. And does it ease some of the pain of losing Jack that Andrew, with the exception of his eyes being almond-shaped to Jack's round, looks just like his big brother? Does buying little boy clothes again, wiping a baby boy tush, and getting Jack's wooden trains out of storage feel somehow redemptive and healing?  It sure does. That's what the baby sitter was getting at.



I'll go with comforted.

For I do still mourn, and I am comforted. God can do that, and I believe Andrew is one way He's doing it in my life.

Friday, February 3, 2017

What I've Been Reading: Disaster Falls: A Family Story

The book I've been wanting to tell you about has been released! Disaster Falls: A Family Story chronicles a family's loss of their 8 year old son in a rafting accident. I love how the title doesn’t just represent the name of the accident site, but also that disaster has befallen this small family, and they must figure out a way to make it through. 

There are many parallels to my own family, but I believe this book is an excellent read for ANYONE, regardless of life experience. We will all face loss, whether the shocking, out of order death of a child, or the more expected death of parents, grandparents, and eventually spouses. Told from the father's point of view, with a chronology that takes you back and forth in the family's history, Disaster Falls does an excellent job of showing how each member in a family grieves differently. It also covers the death of the author's father, with whom he had a contentious and complicated relationship. 

There were so many a-ha moments for me in this book, not the least of which is when Gerson details, without judgment, the different ways in which people did/did not reach out to comfort him, and the various ways he and his wife tried to find their footing. The author is a historian, and I love the way he brings the history of the river and waterfall into the story. While my book, Rare Bird, captures the anguish and messy rawness of early grief, Gerson’s book is more restrained in a way that reminds me of Paul Kalinithi’s When Breath Becomes Air.  It is poignant and eloquent, and never goes for shock value. Disaster Falls is not just another sad story, but a beautifully written LIFE story, as a father uses his memories, journals, and experience as a historian and researcher to grapple with his son’s death.

(affiliate links included for your convenience)

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Show Me The Love

In my Stitch Fix post, I mentioned I still hadn't gotten back to my pre-baby shape.

A dear reader commented and told me to knock it off, and I'm so glad she did! You see, I easily fell into the trap of being self-deprecating when it came to my body; her response reminded me to appreciate my body instead. 

She said exactly what I would have told a friend if she'd put her body down. I've been trying to model body positivity to my kids since day one. Like when 3 year old Margaret cradled my booty in her little hands and said, "Dat's bumpy Mommy!" I just thanked her and told her I was glad to have such a strong bottom and legs. When the kids commented on my boobs, or Jack reached out and flapped my underarms for entertainment, I reacted similarly. I made sure they saw me eat what I wanted and not be ruled by a scale. 

But with other women, it's so darn easy to break into the tired habit of communally wishing our tummies were tighter, our pants looser. Or, we put ourselves down in order to appear modest. I knew those clothes looked nice on me, but would that have seemed too show-off-y to say? Even at a Bible Study retreat last weekend with my close friends, we engaged in some stretch mark show and tell, and had a long discussion of rogue facial hair.

So, thanks to the reader who snapped me back to reality, this morning I spent some time thinking about the many reasons I appreciate my body. 

Here are a few:

I am still in AWE of how my body grew, carried, and nourished Baby Andrew, even at age 46!

I am grateful my body enjoys food so much. I love all kinds of food and have no allergies. From our first date on, I have always eaten more than my husband. However, when I was pregnant with Andrew, my heartburn was so terrible, food was not my friend. Even water made me cry. Since Andrew's birth, I've been grateful to able to thoroughly enjoy food again.

My arms are coming through for me in a BIG way. With 2 injured shoulders, I was concerned about having to lift a baby again. They get sore, for sure, but I can (and do!) pick up that 20+ lb hunk of cuteness hundreds of times a day. Today, it felt like 200 times by 8 a.m. An egg carton mattress topper helps give my shoulders a good rest at night, and I'm up for doing it again the next day. Thank you, arms and shoulders!

My teeth have never given me a minute's trouble. They are strong, and except for some stress grinding, in great shape. That's good, because Smiling's my Favorite. 

I'm even thankful for my inch of gray! It represents love and perseverance to me, because I started graying after the sudden loss of my mother when I was 18. It reminds me of what I've gone through and what I can do. 

My feet are a size 7 1/2, about as average as you can get. That makes it super-easy to shop for shoes. And as long as I wear only comfy ones, my feet are happy!

My heart. Grief actually hurts the heart. I felt it. Yet my heart continues to keep me going. Thank you, heart!

Those are just some of the reasons I'm grateful for my body. What about you? If you are suffering from chronic disease, when it feels as if your body is betraying you, some days it's probably hard to find a single thing to appreciate about it. 

I hope your body is kind to you today, and you to it!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Lead Paint, and Lead vs. Led

When Jack and Margaret were little, I did a lot of furniture refinishing. That's how some of you found me here on the blog. Because I like weathered, chippy furniture, I was particularly careful about lead paint and had all of my antiques tested by a professional.

Years later, I found a treasure, "The Dumpster Dive,"  an enormous green cabinet sitting by the side of the road. When I found it, the kids were way past the paint-licking stage, but I didn't want to take any chances, so I left it outside under the carport for years rather than bringing it inside.

When we moved into this house 3 years ago, I knew I had the perfect place for it in our family room, and because Margaret was a teen by that time, I didn't see a risk of having it inside. It looks terrific!

A few days ago, however, I was playing on the floor with Andrew, when I looked up and realized The Dumpster Dive could very well have lead paint on it. A quick test I ordered on-line confirmed that it does. I can either try to seal it with some kind of poly coating, or get rid of it. I feel like such a dummy for not even thinking about it until now, and I really hope Andrew hasn't suffered any ill effects from it! I'm just sitting here staring at it today, because it's huge and whatever I decide to do will have to be done with Tim's help when he gets home. Gah.

All of this LEAD talk made me think of something else entirely.

Many people mix up the words LEAD and LED.

I see a lot of great writing every day, and this seems to be a common error, even in published books. I'm not judging-- I recently put the word asses in a blog post when I meant assess! So, what have I noticed? I commonly see phrases like, "I felt lead to write this article." This is incorrect. The person is not talking about a metal. It should be, "I felt led to write this article."

SO, how does one remember the difference? I don't know.

LEAD (as in lead paint, a bucket of lead) and LED (as in I led the dog down the hill yesterday, I felt led to share this with you) sound exactly the same.

LED is past-tense.

Of what?

The word LEAD (rhymes with seed)

LEAD (verb, what a LEADER does) sounds different. "I hope he or she will lead our nation with grace and dignity."

Not sure why I'm riffing on this today, but if it helps anyone catch it in his/her writing, that would be great.

Now if we could only eradicate: "Thank you for the support you have shown Kevin and I," and, "Please give it to Kevin or myself."

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Stitch Fix Home Run

When my latest Stitch Fix box showed up, I wasn't very optimistic.

I'd just watched a great Netflix documentary called The Minimalists and donated half of my closet's contents to charity. Getting new clothes in the mail didn't seem very minimalist. I'd completely forgotten I had scheduled this fix a few months ago.

I also hadn't updated my preferences with current wardrobe needs and the fact that my body is not back in pre-baby shape. It is STRONGLY recommended that you communicate with your personal Stitch Fix stylist before a fix to ensure the best outcomes. Just a few sentences  about your tastes and current needs can help steer her in the right direction.

Could there possibly be anything in there tempting enough to claim both closet space and $$$?  My last fix, I ended up keeping just 2 out of the 5 items.

Who knew it would be very, very close to a home run?

The first item was a comfy shirt. I thought I'd pass on this because it was expensive, but once I put it on, I fell in love with the soft, quality fabric and the fact that it covered my butt and had a bit of ruching on the bottom. Truth be told, I'm still wearing a few maternity tops because of these same features. Also, burgundy is one of my all-time favorite colors to wear.

Bowie Solid Dolman Sleeve Top in Burgundy by Laila Jayde: $58

The next item was a colorful top made out of sheer fabric. It had the coolest sleeves and would be fun for now, as well as in the spring or summer with white jeans. I like how it is different from anything else I own.

Welllens Bow Sleeve Blouse by 41 Hawthorn $58

The next item was a pair of skinny velvet pants. I was not impressed by the price, but I was impressed by the fit. Super skinny and stretchy, but definitely pants not leggings. I'd call them velvet jeans if that makes sense. I can wear them with shirts that don't cover my butt. I've been looking for a pair of nice black pants for over a year and wasted over $40 each on 2 different pairs that DIDN'T work, so I decided to go ahead and invest in these. The only thing that would have improved them is if they had a wide, high elastic waistband (can you tell I'm still wearing maternity pants a lot, too?)

Baby not included.

Krissy Velveteen Skinny Pant; Kut From the Kloth $88

The next item was a cuff bracelet. This was my only disappointment because I remember the profile I filled out a few years ago says NO JEWELRY. I'll need to check and see if it still says that. This cuff is so cute, but I don't need it. In fact, I have a Stella and Dot cuff that I bought for myself for Christmas still hidden somewhere in this house. I hope to find it before Valentine's Day.

Ali Wrap Around Cuff Bay to Baubles $28

The last item was a dark purple (burgundy?) dress. This could not be MORE ME if it had my SSN embroidered on the hem, or if it were free. Sure, it looks suspiciously like a dress I already have, but that's because it is EXACTLY what I love, and is a better length for me. It also reminds me of the magic royal blue Stitch Fix dress I shrank a few years ago and have been missing ever since. Yes, that's a dog fence in my bedroom in an attempt to keep the baby from pitching over the weird 3 foot drop onto the hardwood floor. Thank you, 1980's home design.

Love the gold zipper in the back, and the tiny sleeves!

Delfine Ponte Dress by Eliza Jayde $98

The verdict?

I kept it all! I know this sounds weird, but I even kept the bracelet. The reason? If you keep all 5 items in a fix, you get a 25% discount. I figured it was worth keeping the $28 bracelet if I saved $82.50 on the entire fix! 

I guess I didn't have a very minimalist week, but I'm hoping I'll get a LOT of use out of these items rather than having them just hang in my closet. I love having fewer clothes in my closet, and I'm committed to culling things down to only items that I LOVE. Good thing I loved this Fix!

Do you think the dress can be dressed both up or down? I hope to wear it to a charity casino night and a bat mitzvah. 

If you are interested in getting clothing in the mail selected for you by a personal stylist, try Stitch Fix! 

The photo below includes my referral link:

P.S. Stitch Fix has started service for men's clothes and Tim says he is in a clothing rut and wants to try it! Ha! I'm getting him a gift certificate for Valentine's Day. Can't wait.