Thursday, December 19, 2013

Pushover, Thy Name is Anna

When the kids were little, we told them that if they asked one of us for something, didn't get the answer they wanted, and then tried to go to the other parent, the answer would always be NO. Tim and I didn't always agree, but we agreed to back each other up. This helped keep the good cop/bad cop dynamic out of our relationship with the kids. And we were consistent with a NO BADGERING rule, too. Badgering = Not a chance.

Then we got Shadow.

From early on, it has been clear Shadow loves Tim best. He is her Alpha. We tested this theory a few times by each taking a piece of dog food, and scattering to hide in four different areas of the house. We would make little noises and see whom she would find first. Always, always Tim. Her fave.

Tim is firm with Shadow, and she adores and respects him. Me? Not so much. Shadow does not give me the time of day unless she wants something. I'm like the indulgent grandma who has taken things too far. And what does Shadow want? Food. Always food. If Tim and I are both home when she wants to eat, suddenly I become Miss Popular.  She comes to find me because she knows I will break down and feed her earlier than Mr.Scheduled. In an instant, I become the most fabulous, adored pet Mom in the entire world.

Things have gotten out of hand since I started working from home a few months ago. Shadow starts jonesing for her evening meal around noon. Noon! I try to lay low and keep my motions to a minimum, because any trip to the bathroom or the fridge seems to awaken her desire for dinner.

In the past, I would get home from work and school pickup around 3:30. That seemed at least in the dinner-zone, so I would indulge her. After all, she'd been shut up in the house all day, and I felt sorry for her.

But now we are home together all day, and I know what to expect. First she gets off her dog bed, which is next to my desk. Then she stands next to me, looking so cute with her big amber eyes. Then she starts to talk, "Mwwoorrarooar. "Which I guess means 'food.'

I talk back.

I am firm: "No!" "Go sit down!" I reason with her: "If I feed you now, it's going to be a looooooong time before breakfast tomorrow! You'll regret it."  But if  I don't hop up immediately to feed her, she starts to bark, and bark, and bark.

And I break down.

I know it's kind of embarrassing that I don't let children badger me into things, but more often than not, I give in to Shadow. I tried earplugs. Bark. Bark. Bark. I tried putting her outside. Bark. Bark. Bark. Bark. Bark. I tried conducting my life from a table at Panera to avoid the whole issue.

The earliest I've given in was at 1 pm, okay maybe 12:55 during a conference call, when one of the other participants suggested I perhaps should go take care of my dog. Bark. Bark. Bark.

I know I'm teaching Shadow that I'm a pushover. "That Lady in the slippers gives me food when I bark! Yay! Let me not slacken in my barking! My barking works! Best barker ever!"

I'm hoping with Tim home more over Christmas break, we can get Shadow back on her old routine.

If not, I could always do what my sister, who is the dog-Mom of Shadow's sister does, hide in the car checking Facebook until she reaches a respectable feeding time.

Monday, December 16, 2013


Margaret and Tim were making snickerdoodles after church yesterday when they ran out of flour. We decided to borrow from one of our neighbors rather than go to the store, so Margaret and I bundled up and traipsed across the street. My neighbor apologized for the huge pile of blankets in her hallway, and I laughed, thinking of all of the times Jack, Margaret, and friends had stirred up our old house, moving things around as part of a game. I glanced to the right, and saw that three kids had set up a sort of ramp of pillows, blankets and couch cushions to slide down the carpeted stairs to the basement.

As Margaret and I carried the flour back home, I started to cry quietly. I think she thought I was missing Jack, which of course I was, because it was hard and wonderful to see those cute boys who reminded me so much of him, but I was missing her old life, too, when there were made-up games to occupy a Sunday afternoon. Kids around the kitchen table cracking each other up, talking about nothing and everything. When Margaret had the easy give and take of kids in and out of our home, and the noise and chaos they brought with them.

Our house is quiet now. We use electronics to fill the hours and the silence. With the exception of the clothes strewn all over Margaret's floor, and the shoes Shadow insists on stashing around the house, things pretty much stay in their places now, which is nice, except when it isn't.

People talk of the hustle and bustle of these days leading up to Christmas, but we don't really feel it.

But we make plans. We go to a play and out to dinner. We go to church. Tim and Margaret bake delicious cookies from the recipe she learned in Home Ec.

We're doing okay.

We're doing.

It's just very different. And different takes more getting used to than one might think.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Season

NOTE: Mary Dawn Carrier, you won the beautiful Holly Lane Designs pendant. I haven't been able to reach you. Please email me so I can send it to you.

Sorry to shout. I just really want Mary Dawn to get her pendant.

So, how's it going?

There's so much hustle and bustle all around, I wonder if we are even reading blogs this close to Christmas? I am. But I'm not all that hustle-y or bustle-y this year, so I may not be a good one to ask.

Right now I'm more p.j.-y and avoid-y. I don't have many presents to buy, which makes me feel down, and it's not helped by all of the frantic ads on t.v. which make me feel like I. NEED. TO. SHOP. NOW. for my full and bountiful life! I headed out to Bed, Bath, and Beyond yesterday, with no agenda but clutching my 20% off coupon in my hand. Before long, I found a bunch of stuff I wanted... for myself. Spirit of giving, I say.

I decided not to send cards this year, so that doesn't feel very festive, and I've been in a bit of a holding pattern with book revisions, which may or may not be freaking me out. So, I've spent December thus far watching a lot of tv and going to various yearly doctor's appointments. Oh, and buying new tires. I never realized I had oversized, fancy tires on my car until it was pointed out to me at three different tire establishments (ka-ching!). Please notice their radiant beauty if you see me around town.

This weekend our family will attend a play together, our fourth year doing so. I think that may get me in the mood. I haven't done anything for Advent, and I can really feel the difference in my spirit, and not in a good way. It's so easy to lose any wonder of the season and see the Christmas Story as, well, just another story.

So today I'm sharing a beautiful post written by a blogger and frequent reader of An Inch of Gray. Kelly Cone, from The Cone Zone, writes how she saw Christmas in a new way while sharing the Christmas Story with her foster children.

You will love it! Seriously, go read it! You and I can catch up more later.

I hope you are doing well, whether you are feeling overwhelmed or, like me, kind of under-whelmed this month.

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Radio

I had an emergency radio. I bought it from L.L. Bean, and it had a hand crank-- no batteries needed. It had a flashlight, an alarm signal, and a place you could plug in a cellphone to charge. It came in a small black case and made me feel prepared. For what, I'm not so sure. I envisioned it would be useful in a blizzard, a hurricane or a terrorist attack.

Perhaps I thought that in buying such a thing, I was sending out a message to the universe that I'd done my due diligence, so any crisis could/should just move right along please. I carried it from house to house in my young mothering like I'd moved my dog-eared junior high folder with CPR instructions in it, making a mental note to myself when the guidelines dropped the 2 breath standard in favor of just chest compressions. Surely, if I'd carried that green folder off to college, and grad school, and into home ownership and motherhood, I'd be off the hook from actually having to perform CPR, from the terrifying privilege of having to save a life.

I write this today because on the balmy afternoon and evening of Jack's accident, it never crossed my mind to get out the emergency radio. We were tucked in our cozy home. We were laughing. We were snacking. Yes, we were experiencing very strange and notable weather, but it just didn't click with me that there could be danger on our plain little cul de sac. Life seemed so normal. So relaxed. So hopeful.

Perhaps the radio could have alerted me to just how bad the situation was, if I'd bothered to turn it on. Maybe it could have snapped me to attention. Who knows? Like my neighbors up and down the street, who sent their kids out in the rain to play, I was living in the middle of an emergency situation without even realizing it.

I guess the radio didn't do the real job I bought it for.

Zipped up in its little black case, among the kids' backpacks and sports equipment, it didn't serve as any kind of insurance policy that bad things wouldn't happen to our family.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Tree-dition Rocks

I'm about to start revisions for my book, so I may be scarce for the next few week. It's exciting to be entering the "home stretch." and I really appreciate your prayers and support!

Before I disappear, however, I have a few things to share with you.

First, Bear is dead. Margaret's sweet hamster that Auntie Liz bought her a few days after the accident has died. We had a quick burial in the back yard, and shed some serious tears. Bear was a very dear pet who let me carry him around, baby talk to him, and never once nipped at us.

Second, I need to tell you about our Christmas tree fun. So, you know how we've always had a Kids' Tree and a Grown-up Tree? I know Kristen Howerton got flack on Twitter last week for wanting to put up a separate Kids' Tree, because she didn't want to cover her main tree with all of the dough and paper plate ornaments from her four kids.  Well, I say "More power to you, Sister!" We've been doing that for years and the kids have always loved it! I'm pretty sure having two (or three or four!) trees does not mean you love your kids any less.

You see, our family attended an Advent craft workshop for 9 years straight. Each kid came home with 10-12 ornaments per year. That's a lot of glitter and macaroni, people. There was no way my mom's gold balls and silver bows were going to fit on one tree with all of that homemade goodness. Thus, the two trees.

The kids felt special, plus it helped me seem much more laid back than I was when Tim's mom sent us 2 identical Hallmark Mark McGuire baseball player ornaments one year. Instead of hiding them on the lower inner reaches of the regular tree, I got to exclaim, "Wouldn't these be so festive on the Kids' Tree!?" without looking like too much of a jerk. Over the years, the contents of the trees got more intermingled as we put more of the kids' projects on the main tree, such as the paper ornaments they made with the names of Jesus on them.

Anyway, in the old house, the Kids' Tree was a large artificial tree that stood in the upstairs stairwell right outside Jack and Margaret's rooms. I liked how its lights sparkled through the window as we pulled into the driveway. In the new house, there's no such spot, so the Kids' Tree is now front and center in the living room, and you see it right when you walk in the door.

But that still left the matter of the "real" tree. After a colossal Thanksgiving road trip, that started out with my feeling hopeful and positive and ended up screaming sadness and LACK into my heart, we made it home to a dead hamster and the task of purchasing and putting up the real tree. Tim got it in the stand for me. He debated cutting off a few lower branches to make a more solid fit, but then decided against it. I said nothing.

I waited for him to do the lights, which is his usual job. I prefer to be the one who says, "Dude, you need more lights in that bare spot" than the one actually doing it. Tim, however, wasn't feeling well, and decided to watch football instead. I was aggravated but decided to turn over a holiday new leaf.

Instead of reminding him that he had spent 3 hours working on his sister's tree on Saturday, and helping my brother with various home projects during the 6 days of male bonding time they had sans families before Thanksgiving, I kept my annoyed mouth shut. Killing him with kindness wasn't an option, so I just opted not to kill him.

I waited until the family went to bed and did all the lights myself. Then, I started to decorate. One thing led to another until the tree was almost finished after about 3 hours.

Except then it began to lean at an odd angle. It was not secure in the stand. I lovingly woke up Tim and inquired as to whether he might be willing to come downstairs and straighten the tree with me, lest it fall crashing down in the night. He demurred and resumed sleeping.

It didn't fall, yet I was forced to look at the Leaning Tower of Tree-sa all day yesterday.

Last night Tim was ready to deal with it. Which is good, because if I had to look it one more day, wondering when my heirloom ornaments were going to break, I think I'd have to turn my new leaf right back to the other side.

He lifted the fully decorated tree out of the stand, while I chopped off the offending branch. It was not an easy process. There were no I told you so's, no sounds at all really, just the tinkling of ornaments hitting the floor. After the tree was secure, I stood back and congratulated myself for not being a nag. All was well, even if the tree looked a little worse for the wear. The tree had survived, and so had our marriage.

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I spied Tim crouching near the base of the fully decorated and lit tree with a long pair of hedge clippers. One of the branches did not look quite right to him.  It protruded farther than was acceptable to his newfound Christmas decorating sensibilities. So he opened those suckers up and chopped off the branch along with a strand of lights--  and the entire tree went dark.

I still did not say a word, but climbed into bed with the tv remote and a large bag of M&M's.

Today I took the lights off and hung new ones, which was of course super-easy to do on a fully decorated tree.

The tree now looks fine, thank goodness, and my tongue is sore from biting it for the past 3 days.

All is well.

But could someone kindly inform my husband that "trimming the tree" does not mean what he thinks it means?

Thank you.

Monday, December 2, 2013

A Few of my Favorite Things:

One of my friends has a "Favorite Things" party each year in which you buy a few small items like your favorite lip gloss, a candle, or chocolates, and share them with other guests. Each person leaves with 3 little gifts, and you find new products that people really love. Kind of like on Oprah, but without the free cars or $80 t-shirts.

Anyway, I was thinking about some of my favorite things. Not like, Peace, Joy, and Hope, but things you can buy in a store.

This was hard because my two most favorite things, flannel penguin pj's, and the blue bathrobe that I am wearing right now at 11:06 a.m., are from a thrift store, so I don't even know where you could buy them.

So, what are my other favorite things?

Breville Electric Kettle: $79.99

Tea lovers rejoice! My most prized possession. I use it 8-10 times a day! It uses less electricity than heating up the stove, and it turns off automatically, so I can walk away from it without worrying about it boiling over. This is important since I almost burned down the house boiling lice combs.

Cuisinart Panini Maker and Griddle: $79.95 (sale!!)

I bought this for Tim because I was hoping he'd make me Paninis on it. Success! He can throw any kind of meat and cheese on bread and it comes out well. Add some pesto or sun dried tomatoes first...yum! We use the other side of the reversible plates for making pancakes or frying bacon or eggs. Amazon says it's regularly $185, but I always see it for under $100.

Clear Plastic Christmas Balls from Walmart: .88

At under a buck, these ornaments have endless possibilities. You could fill with sand from a beach trip, a photo of your kids, love notes, or colorful, shredded paper. I filled mine with some of Jack's Legos to hang on our tree.

Method Spray Cleaner: $2.99

Per Tim's and my pre-nup (just kidding, kind of), I clean counters frequently. I love having the kitchen smell like Cucumber, Lavender, or Grapefruit instead of chemicals and my bad cooking.

Jack's Promise Pendant from Holly Lane Designs: $48.00

Looks great when paired with a small crystal teardrop, also from HLD. This pendant is inspired by Jack and his interests. Verse, "For with God, nothing is impossible."

Chevron Scarves from Pick Your Plum:

Shoot! I just checked and these lightweight yet cozy chevron scarves are SOLD OUT! At under $5 a pop, that shouldn't surprise me. You won't catch me without one of these around my neck, inside or outside the house. I hope they'll bring this deal back!

Flocked Hangars: $1.00 each

Huggable Hangars, Slim-line hangars, call them what you will. These have transformed my closet. Somehow they miraculously make 1/3 more clothes fit into the same amount of space. And no strap slippage either! I usually buy mine at Bed Bath and Beyond or Target.

 Jesus Calling Devotional by Sarah Young: $8.00 (sale) - 15.99
Great gift for a friend! This little devotional addresses the reader as if Jesus is speaking to him/her. The right words as the right time, for sure. Margaret and I just finished reading the kids' one together.

So there you have it-- a few of my favorite things. The box of rosemary and olive oil Triscuits I ate while typing this probably should have made my list, too.

What are a few of YOUR favorite things?