Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Lasagne!

Because baby's first lasagne requires a handsome elf and an immediate bath:




Friday, December 16, 2016

Still Standing!


Hooray! Our Christmas tree is still standing this morning. It's a bit bare in spots, where I took off my favorite ornaments in case it fell during the night.

Upon looking at it, I realized that in some ways, I'm like this tree:

I'm not where I thought I'd end up. The tree certainly never imagined it'd be transported from a forest or tree farm into my family room; I never thought I'd be a bereaved mother, a mom to an infant at age 47, the author of a book, or even in a new neighborhood.

I look normal from the outside. The tree looks perfectly acceptable with its angels, glass balls, heirloom ornaments, and layers of beads, but what is unseen is the trauma/drama it has gone through to get here. I look unremarkable, too, a suburban woman driving a family car on numerous errands,  shopping at the grocery store, and waiting in the carpool line. The tree reminds me to be gentle with others, because everyone has a story, even if it doesn't show from the outside.

I am leaning, a little bit bent, but not broken. Sure, like the tree, I've fallen down, but I'm semi-upright now. I am altered by my experiences, just as the tree was changed by the weather, its growing conditions, and our bumbling attempts to help it stand straight. But while I am changed, I am still me. The tree needs hidden supports to keep it from falling. My unseen, yet important anchors are friends who stand by me, prayers that lift me up, and the decision to hunt for gratitude every single day.

I'm a bit messy. The tree drops needles, and has oozed sap on our hardwoods. We put a plastic sheet under it to make sure water didn't leak out. In its "realness" the tree brings issues that an artificial tree wouldn't. I try to be real, too, even though I'm messy:  I cry sometimes, I curse, and I write what is real, not necessarily what is tidy.

I can still let my light shine. The beautiful glow this tree gives off in the darkened family room is its own sort of magic. I no longer see the twine holding it up, the room feels 10 degrees warmer, and I experience the wonder of Christmas when I look at it. I, too, can bring light in the darkness to those who need it with a hug, laughter, or even by just be being me.

So can you! 



p.s. Oh, and one more similarity: I don't drink enough water, even though it's good for me!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Why Did We Have to Say, "This is the Easiest Christmas Tree Ever!"?

Tonight we will either be successful shoring up our Christmas tree, or we'll be taking it down 11 days before Christmas. I wouldn't say this year's tree experience has been as rough as the time three years ago that Tim chopped the lights with gardening shears AFTER the entire tree was decorated, but it HAS been a challenge. The kids' tree is still front and center when you walk in the house, in its easy-to-assemble and semi-stable artificial glory, but the real tree downstairs has been causing problems.

Because of the difficulty of taking Andrew anywhere in the evening, I quickly picked a tree out by myself one morning this week instead of waiting for us all to go after work. I didn't like going by myself. It reminded me of doing that after my mom died. Maybe the tree didn't like it much either.

Plopping it in the stand, Tim and I both remarked on how easy it was, since the tree was smaller and lighter than usual.

However, no matter how many times we twisted, the screws wouldn't anchor on anything. The trunk was a soggy, pulpy mess. After about 10 minutes, Tim said he was giving up. I suggested we toss it on the back deck and throw some white lights on it for an outdoor decoration. Margaret begged us to rally, from her comfortable perch on the couch, of course.

I suggested we could anchor it to the walls with twine, as my grandpa would have done, but Tim was having none of that, saying, "I've never heard of anyone doing that before!" So, I guess if he hasn't heard of it, it can't possibly be a thing.

Eventually, he made little shims out of wood so that the screws would have somewhere to go, AND we used fishing line to anchor it to a heavy table on one side and my favorite hulking "dumpster dive" on the other. All was well, and I decorated it until 12:30 am.

The next day it was leaning.

And leaning.

And leaning.

We tightened all the things.

Because we are going on a trip, we don't think it's fair that our house sitters and the dogs should have to deal with a downed tree and potentially hundreds of broken glass ornaments.

So after Tim puts Andrew to bed tonight (Yay, Tim! He does it every night), we will assess whether to up our fishing line game, or take down the tree. I always love how spacious the house feels after the trees are down, but it does seem a bit early in the season for that...

I'll keep you posted!

p.s. I ran across this old post from 2009 in which I call the family by pseudonyms, show how grumpy I am, and mention a surprise after-40 pregnancy. What?!? 

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Caught not Taught: More Lessons from My Mother

One day I was a young college student, thinking that my mother would always be there to pick me up if I fell down; the next I was a motherless daughter.

In the decade between when I lost her and when I began having children of my own, I had plenty of time to consider what her mothering meant to me. In realizing that only 18 years of memories had to last a lifetime, I soon became aware of what stood out as important, and what would most influence me as a mother. 

Rather than any grand gestures, the secure gift of her presence impacted me the most, and I try to give that to my children despite a distraction-filled life. 

You see, she was the mom who would stop what she was doing to play board games with rowdy teenagers, or cut our boyfriends’ hair on a tall stool in the kitchen. That’s also where we’d find her when we wanted to talk. Speaking of kitchens, ours was a messy one, papers piled high the counters, yet there was always room for one more person at the table at dinnertime. 

Remembering her generosity with her time and her heart made me want to parent the way she did, in a loving and relaxed way. When I became a parent, and my own competitiveness and perfectionism threatened to sink me, I’d remember my mother. If I got wrapped around the axel about my daughter not sleeping in her crib, I’d remember the comfort folding myself into my mother’s soft body in bed when I didn’t feel well. When I’d get embarrassed that my son acted silly in class, I’d remember a mother who never made me feel bad for the low marks on my own report card under the heading, “Exhibits Self Control.”

I could remind myself that sleep methods would come and go, and report cards would end up tucked away in a folder somewhere, but being a present mom, not a perfect one, could last a lifetime, even after I was gone.

What she gave me most, in life and in death, I believe, is perspective. The perspective to realize that a child in the bed now and then, does not lead to an adult in the bed. That, like me, my kids would someday learn to exhibit self control. And that while I felt much calmer with clutter-free countertops, clutter wouldn’t detract one bit from my kids’ childhood. 

And, unlike my friends who still had their mothers. I knew that it could all vanish in an instant. 

Sad as that sounds, those who experience loss are often given this unsought gift of knowing what is important. Instead of running myself ragged trying to construct for my children the “perfect childhood,” lest it all be ripped away in an instant, perspective gave me permission to create tiny rituals and play to my strengths, which is what my mother did.

Mom would pull a large jar of Peter Pan peanut butter out of a brown paper grocery bag and place it wordlessly on the counter. It was a silent challenge. Whichever kid noticed first would grab the jar, open it, and scoop a finger full of peanut butter out, earning bragging rights. Skiing in the alps, it wasn’t, but it taught me that the tiny rituals are what knit families together. I may be much less laid back than my mom was, but I can institute Ice Cream for Breakfast Day on the first snow day of the year, make up silly sayings as I drive around town with my kids, tell the same old stories as I unpack the Christmas ornaments each year, and stay up later than I want to if my teenager finally feels like talking.

Mom was a lackluster costume maker and a mediocre gift giver. But she could decorate the heck out of a house and patiently read the same chapter books over and over. She practiced hospitality in our home and wherever she went with her big smile and ready laugh.  Most importantly, she saw her three kids as distinct individuals, not just extensions of herself. 

I can't bake cookies worth a darn, and the family is much happier on nights when Daddy cooks dinner. I get grumpy when the house is a mess, and you wouldn't want to talk to me in the morning before I've had my 3rd cup of tea. My hair braiding skills are just as bad as my math ones. But I can find  humor in most circumstances, I apologize often, and I'm pretty good at seeing someone else's point of view. I am extremely loyal, will keep confidences, and am a generous ice cream scooper and snuggler. 

The way I remember my mom-- she was a flesh and blood person who loved hard and didn't try to do or be all things to all people. She was enough. 


The gift of her presence, and the impact of tiny rituals, not grand gestures, whether they were based on her religious faith or even a silly jar of peanut butter are what I remember most, and what helped me formulate my own To Do/To Be list as a mom.


1) Be present
2) Have Perspective
3) Play to your strengths
4) LOVE

Of course, some days are easier than others.

What would your To Do/To Be list look like?

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

TV Temptations: A Different Kind of Shopping Guide

You already know that I'm a sucker for "As Seen on TV" products.

Of course there is my ardent affection for the Scrub Daddy, which is Shark Tank's biggest success story ever. That little scrubber is amazing AND cheerful. I love to give them to friends in my modest imitation of Oprah: "YOU get a Scrub Daddy!" "And YOU get a Scrub Daddy!" I love how it never gets smelly, and it works differently in hot and cold water.



But did you know that we used another Shark Tank product to transition Baby Andrew out of his beloved swaddle? The Zippadee Zip makes him look like a cute little starfish, and it gives him that extra security and snugness he craves.

Today I was in my happy place, Bed Bath and Beyond, and when I looked in my cart, I realized just how many products I use are from infomercials, shopping networks, or Shark Tank. There was this potato pocket thing Margaret got me last Christmas, knowing my love for fun gadgets and of course POTATOES. Who wouldn't love a perfectly baked potato in 3 minutes? It works so well and it's easy for her to use.



Then there was the Veggetti Spiralizer  I bought for myself and as a gift. Margaret has so much fun turning zucchini into noodles, and at only $20, how could I resist? No one is going to make me think zucchini tastes like pasta, but I love to saute a bit of garlic, onion, plus "zoodles" and serve with pasta sauce. I also use it to slice potatoes for soups.



Today I bought Tim a My Pillow, because he is always stealing mine. I say to him, "Did you take My Pillow" and stage whisper "trademark" because he is a patent lawyer and I think that's pretty funny. He's getting his own for Christmas so he will leave mine alone.

A lot of these products I learn about on TV but then order online at Amazon or buy in stores like Bed, Bath and Beyond.

I remember my first TV purchase, way back in the 80's. I hesitate to tell you, but it was the Gut Buster, a spring loaded contraption guaranteed to bust my "gut." We didn't even call them abs back then. I don't know whether it worked or not, because I never tried it. A few years later, I unloaded it at a garage sale. I'm happy to report I'm one of the few who never ordered a Thigh Master, courtesy of Suzanne Somers. They are always springing up on the thrift store shelves, but I've resisted thus far.

What about Huggable Hangers? Total game changer in my closet, and the generic ones work just as well as the name brand ones do. And Joy Mangano's My Little Steamer means I'll raise yet another child who doesn't know what an iron is.



During times of pregnancy insomnia I learned all you would want to know about the Shark vacuum, and I'm very happy with mine.

The list goes on to skincare, jewelry, even flip flops.

I've been beyond thrilled with 90% of the products I've purchased that I first saw on TV. I couldn't tell you about the Ped Egg, though, because as soon as I bought it, I became too hesitant to use it on my callous-y feet. I was nervous I'd cut myself. I told Jack, "I think I'm afraid of my Ped Egg" and he fell on the floor laughing, and said, "Mom! I love you!" Oh, and remember the post when he also thought it was pretty lame when I bought a $5 knock-off of the As Seen on TV Shake Weight? Never used that one, either.



Which brings me to the 10% of products that have been an utter failure for me. Almost all of them, like the Gut Buster and the Shake Weight, are exercise-related. I try to avoid buying these products because I know they will just gather dust until I get rid of them, amid shame and self-flaggelation, which appears to be the only kind of exercise I engage in on a regular basis.

But today, when I was at Bed Bath an Beyond, there was something tempting right up front at the register. For only $39.99 I could purchase the Simply Fit Board I've been eying it ever since I saw the cutest, fittest, grandma inventor demonstrating it on Shark Tank. After all, I want to be cute and fit, and I already feel like a grandma.



At the last second I hoisted it into my cart and handed over my 20% off coupon. It was heavier than I thought, so perhaps THAT was my workout for the day.

SOOOOO, do you think I should return it NOW, or wait until I wrap it and unwrap it on Christmas morning?

--affiliate links are above for your convenience, just don't tell me if you buy a gut buster--

Monday, November 28, 2016

A Cozy Blanket: Giving Tuesday!

As I've mentioned before, having a new baby makes me feel connected to other mothers around the world.

It is impossible for me to ignore that while Andrew has so much, there are so many babies who have so little.  Recently, as I gathered up his outgrown onesies and cozy, extra baby blankets, I looked into mailing them to some of the Armenian women I met on my trip with World Vision.

In the process, I was reminded of something I've learned when it comes to charitable giving: it is often best to let local organizations choose what best suits the needs of local people, because they can help in strategic, cost effective ways. For instance, I discovered it would cost me over $45 to mail a small receiving blanket and onesie to Armenia, far more than the items were worth. Yet if I made a monetary donation, local World Vision workers could ensure that just the right help finds those who need it.

In my research about baby blankets, I read several touching stories about how something a simple as a blanket can make a difference to a mother and child, like Seida and Joyce in Zambia.



Because of the cold, Seida worried about the well-being of her children, especially for her seven-month-old Joyce. “My worry was how my children will survive the cold, especially for Joyce who doesn’t have anything better to keep her warm.” 

“I am grateful to World Vision for giving me such a precious gift which I never expected. Who else could have given it to me here?” she asked further. “I have four children but none of them has ever had a privilege to feel the warmth of a blanket like this one.” 

“As you can see I am not the only one who is happy; my daughter is happy, too. We never expected this,” Seida said joyfully.

She adds, “Although at the clinic we are advised to have such blankets at the time of delivery and after to keep the babies warm, I have never afforded any.”  

“Now that I have this blanket, I’ll use it well so that the next child can also use it and benefit. As a mother, wrapping my child in such a blanket brings me honor and pride,” Seida says further.

Seida’s fear about exposing her daughter to the cold had been that the baby could get sick and die. “At the clinic we are advised to keep our babies warm always because they can suffer from pneumonia, a very dangerous disease which does not cure easily. So the blanket will help my child a lot.”

Seida is a small-scale farmer who cannot afford to buy such a blanket because they are expensive and cannot be accessed anywhere in rural areas.

Wow. That humbles me, big-time, and makes me want to give that kind of joy and warmth to other mothers in need this Christmas.


TODAY is Giving Tuesday! 


I absolutely LOVE Giving Tuesday! Any gift given to World Vision today will be generously matched with a product donation from Thirty-One Gifts up to $2,000,000, so any donation you make will have twice the impact for helping families in need around the world.

The Thirty-One Gifts donation of product includes items like apparel, thermals, and totes. Last year, the Thirty-One Gifts blankets that were included in their Giving Tuesday match were used in World Vision programs around the world to keep infants warm and healthy. 

You can choose ANY item to donate through World Vision today, such as the variety of items offered in the World Vision Gift Catalog, but if you want to make a direct donation to support new mothers and their infants, I recommend the New Mother and Baby Kit!  

And no need to worry about all of Andrew's extra clothes and blankets. I gave them to a friend who is going to hand deliver them to her new great grandson in Hondurus! 

Micah 6:8



Saturday, November 26, 2016

Hardcover Copies of Rare Bird

I'd love to sign and mail a hardcover copy of Rare Bird for your friends and loved ones this holiday season. Each book is $15 shipped. 

Email rarebirdbook@gmail.com to order!



Friday, November 18, 2016

True Colors

Yesterday we put Jack's old surfboard sheets on the extra bed in the baby's room, where I sleep from about 3-6 most mornings after I've tended to Andrew. We haven't used those sheets in the three years we've lived in this house, but yesterday the other set was in the wash and our cleaning lady, who helps out twice a month, offered to change the beds for me. I couldn't say no. What a treat it is to have a bed made up nicely rather than in the haphazard way I do it! (Remember when Jack used to make Tim's and my bed every morning for a dollar?)

When our cleaning lady saw the colorful surfboards, she immediately recognized them as Jack's. I didn't think much of it until this morning at three when I crawled under the navy blue comforter and between the familiar sheets. It took me right back to snuggle time with Jack.

Gosh, he loved his old bedroom, the largest in the house, with its built-in bookshelves and big windows. He loved the lime green walls (he called them chartreuse) and the navy and white stripes that Tim and I somehow painted without messing up or even arguing. But Jack was a little concerned about the surfer theme that I "dove" into wholeheartedly as I planned his big boy room.  Surfboard sheets, beach shack signs, little shark and surfboard lights around his windows. "Is it okay to have a surfer room if I don't surf?" he asked. Sure it was. Plus, I thought there would be plenty of times Jack would go in the ocean, at his own pace, even if he never became a surfer. I couldn't know he wouldn't ever leave the sand.

His concerns seemed so cute to me, but not surprising.

Jack always wanted to be authentic.

A few years later, when I bought him a Mountain Dew shirt at Five Below, it sat unworn in his dresser for months. Finally I asked, "Are you ever going to wear that shirt, or should I donate it?" He answered that he didn't feel right wearing it if he'd never tasted Mountain Dew. He said it was kind of like false advertising, since he didn't know whether Mountain Dew was good or not. I replied, "You know you could have asked me, right? We can get you a Mountain Dew to see what you think." He was surprised, but delighted, and it became one of favorite shirts that last year.

I try to be authentic, too.

I want my inner and outer selves to match. I want to live out my values even if inertia, laziness, and  too much comfort try to entice me to do otherwise.

And I want to offer no shocking surprises should Dateline rig up the house with hidden cameras, or record my interactions with anyone from family members to strangers. Sometimes my intentions are really good, but my actions don't show evidence of it. Instead of being loving, generous and expansive, I am cranky, insular, and selfish.

The things that I think about, and how I spend my time and my money do not always reflect what I tell myself my true priorities are.

Plus, there is the risk that if I show my authentic self and people don't like it, I've made a mistake in being vulnerable.

Just some thoughts I have today, sparked by memories of a young boy who made sure his insides and outside matched.






Monday, November 14, 2016

When has Saying "Calm Down" ever Calmed Anyone Down in the History of Calming Down?

I was honored to give a talk on Friday to a Christian networking group. I spoke about finding hope in grief, and I used my personal experiences to illustrate strategies that I have found helpful in the midst of great pain.

My first point was to LET YOURSELF FEEL THE PAIN/LET YOURSELF GRIEVE.

One of my greatest hopes in writing so much about grief for the past 5 years, is that I can help grievers and those people who are trying to support/understand them navigate grief in healthy ways. And truly, this kind of understanding is needed for ALL of us, for we will all grieve in this lifetime.

I bring this up today because there are many people in our country grieving what feels like a sudden and unexpected loss, and there are many others saying, "Move on!" "Get over it!" "Let it go!"

Yes, one of the ways in which we do find hope amidst great pain is in letting go of things eventually,  --primarily an expectation for the way we thought things would/should be. This is something that often comes with time, but it is never effective if INFLICTED on someone else.

If we do not let ourselves feel or acknowledge grief, it festers, it rots, it grows. Acknowledging pain and brokenness does the opposite.

I have friends who were not able to be around my pain in losing Jack. It spoke to their deepest fears of losing a child of their own. And perhaps the messiness of my grief made them uncomfortable. I became "other". They wanted me to get better, fast, and maybe not talk/write about it so much. But if I had stuffed my grief, shoved it away, and MOVED ON, not only would I likely be in a much darker place now, I also would not have used my hard-earned (yet unsought) wisdom in service to others.

You see, pain that is tamped down or stifled says, "I've been hurt. This isn't fair! I want to hurt others so they will feel as miserable as I do!" Pain that is let out into the light, into the world, says, "I'm hurting. I will not calm down, sit down, shut up, or pretend that everything's okay. My grief is not on someone else's timetable.  I may not get the time machine I long for, but I will look ahead right now to see how I can help someone else."

That is what is going to happen. Pain that is let out in the air, not tamped down, will effect positive change.

Sure, the "losers" will eventually "let go" of their expectation of victory for their candidate. I don't believe that's the crux of what's going on anyway. But, if given the opportunity and RESPECT to feel their feelings, just as every griever deserves, they will be able to channel this disappointment into not pretending everything is okay, but rather into continuing to work for/fight for what they believe is right in a world that feels upside down to them right now.

That's what I'm thinking today.

But first I need to say I am sorry.

I am sorry for any role I may have had in not understanding pain that has gone unacknowledged or festered for many years and that may have led to an election outcome that I didn't expect.

I am sorry for oversimplifying here when I share my heart with you, and if for any reason you feel carelessly lumped into one category/one motivation/one issue when I write about the election, I am sorry for that, too.

I am sorry if linking election grief to the grief of losing a loved one causes any of you more pain than you are already experiencing. I promise that's not what I'm trying to do.

And I'm sorry if saying I will not pretend everything is okay in our country right now causes anyone to think that I am someone who wants to stir up trouble, or that I am a whiner.

For something is already stirred up in this country we love, that is for sure, and I won't be quiet and I won't calm down if there is ANYTHING I can do to help make it better, whether that makes people uncomfortable or not. My biggest fear is that we will stop paying attention to what's going on, and before we know it, what felt outrageous a year ago, or a month ago, or a day ago, will start to feel normalized. That's one of the greatest risks of calming down.

My trust is in God alone, not in any man/woman or office.

Yet I believe that God calls me to look beyond my own comfort/privilege/security to the needs of others, to not numb myself, to stay engaged with eyes wide open, and to call out prejudice, hatred, and injustice when I see it.

 Calmly or otherwise.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Line of Stupidity: A Tale of Chores Yet Undone

I'd like to show you something that I haven't shown many people.

It's one of our dirty little secrets:


I know my photos are crappy, as usual, but I'm hoping you can see where the lovely, fresh gray paint on the left joins up with the yellow faux plasterwork paint on the right. Do you? Good.

That's the LINE OF STUPIDITY.

Perhaps you have something similar in your house.

You see, when we had our major kitchen renovation done in Jan/Feb, we had the main level, which isn't a very large space, painted a lovely shade of gray, Moonshine by Benjamin Moore. Our kitchen renovators were pros, and they did a wonderful job. When they were putting on the finishing touches, we told them to stop painting right there, at the LINE OF STUPIDITY, because we wanted to finish the job ourselves to save money.

Now if you have ever renovated a kitchen, you know that you are basically hemorrhaging the big bucks at that point in the game. Would a few hundred dollars more have made much of a difference? I don't know. We didn't even ASK what it would have cost for them to keep painting. But I do know they could have hammered it out in about an hour or two, if that.

In the time since the kitchen was completed, my pregnant belly yielded forth a precious baby, who is on the verge of crawling now, our daughter finished up 9th grade and is well into 10th, yet the yellow remains.


It's not even a lot of yellow. Our upstairs hall is tiny, and is 3/4 white molding and doorways which we do not intend to paint.

 Now before we blame this whole debacle on the the innocent baby in our house, and his never-ending needs, I must confess that it's not as if we could not have seen this coming. Remember when we had french doors installed at the old house, told the handyman we would paint them ourselves, only to call him back ONE YEAR LATER to do the job? Yeah. Me too.

So please, help a girl out. Or at least her husband out, and tell me of any unfinished projects you have staring you in the face.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Bird

So, as most of you know, Jack said his first word when he was ridiculously young. I thought it was when he was 6 months old, but when I looked it up in his baby calendar last night, I see it was a few days after her turned 7 months. He started imitating a hand motion I made when I changed his diaper under his origami bird mobile, and then he said it aloud. He was VERY pleased with himself.




Here he is making the cute motion:



It became a fixture in our house. People would think he was so clever to know how to wave, but he was really just saying bird.

Well, at the beginning of October, when Andrew turned 6 months old, he started making the same hand motion. It was so darn cute! He would stare at his hand and do the royal wave. He entertained himself in church, in the car, and around the house. Of course, it reminded us so much of Jack, and felt like real God-wink. Even when Andrew would awake at night due to being sick, he would thrust his hand in the air and do his little wave.

I've been wanting to share this with you, with the caveat that we are NOT trying to make Andrew into a little Jack. It has just been so fun to watch. We say "bird" when he does it, but to Andrew, it probably means something entirely different that we haven't decoded yet. It comes and goes.

It was very special to have him do it last weekend when Tim's parents were in town, because he could show Grandma Mary-- a huge bird lover who helped Jack get into birds in the first place. Here they are, looking very serious as they check out our feeder together:




This past weekend the weather was even better, and we were able to be outside quite a bit more, which Andrew enjoyed. He is still battling congestion, so sleep is not great, but the smiles help everyone!




Happy Monday!?!

p.s. Have you entered my jewelry giveaway?

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Custom Jewelry Giveaway

I am loving my custom Jack handwriting necklace so much! Andrew loves to grab it, too.

I asked Christine, of No Way Out Make My Day if we could do another giveaway for An Inch of Gray readers and she said SURE!

That means the winner can pick ANY item from her site, and she will customize it with your loved one's handwriting.

This is the one I have:


And here is one she made for a dear friend of  mine:


There are also options that combine inspirational quotes with handwriting. What a great gift for any daughter:


There are many more possibilities in her store.

Here's how to enter: 


For an extra entry, please share the giveaway on FB, twitter, or instagram.

That's it! 

Oh, and Christine is offering my readers 20% off any piece from her collection for the duration of the giveaway (one week)-- perfect for early Christmas shopping.

Just use the code ANINCHOFGRAY during check out in her etsy shop for 20% off.

Thanks, Christine, and THANK YOU for reading!




a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, October 21, 2016

Bleeding Out

The baby and I wait in the high school parking lot as school lets out. Upperclassmen head to their cars. Several of Jack's friends hop in together and pull away. One has a beard.

Our windows are down because the A/C is broken, and for some reason it's 80 degrees in late October. When the crying starts, everyone can hear it. I feel a bit like a freak. I'm the lady with the dead son and the new baby who is doing everything she can not to embarrass her living teenager in the high school lot. I stand outside the car in my too-short shorts and grungy t-shirt, and try to entertain him.

Little guy has been sick all week and has been a big ball of misery and need. Really, he's been sick on and off for a month, and his discomfort and our lack of sleep is wearing us down. Margaret sleeps on the floor of the basement to get away from the noise, and Tim and I take turns walking and suctioning and comforting.

We don't want Margaret to feel like she can't ask for help, like this ride, just because we have a baby now, so Andrew and I wait.

I try not to play the game of should's. Jack should be driving Margaret home! This should be his senior year! There should be more noise in our house, but not necessarily of the crying variety!

It's all so very disappointing.

It's not like I haven't known disappointment, with the early loss of my mother, and the surrendering of so many plans. One of the greatest disappointments of my adult life was not being able to purchase my family home when Tim and I got married. The timing and numbers just didn't work out. I was supporting Tim on my teacher's salary while he finished law school. Within just two years, we could have afforded the mortgage and then some, raising our kids across the street from the elementary school, just a short walk from the community pool. I so wanted to hang on to that drafty old house with the tin roof, and build a family in what I considered the best place on earth to grow up.

It's hard not to think that if we had somehow managed to buy that house, Jack would have lived. The kids would be at a different high school across town right now. And I wouldn't be sweating it out in this parking lot.

The crying continues. Is that poop oozing up Andrew's onesie? I free him from his carseat to change him on the front seat. As I do, I feel something on my leg. The irony is not lost on me that as I change his diaper-- and the poop that somehow ends up on his neck and his hair-- that I've just started my period, and have no way of taking care of my own personal hygiene.

Once you start guessing about the little things and the big, the questions get more cosmic than earthy like diapers and blood.  If a soul is meant to live here just a limited time before going on to the next phase, if our days are truly numbered in His book, would it have mattered if we'd lived across town on our own little acre, away from the storm, away from the creek? Or, would Jack's soul have crash landed into his destiny and found another way?

I don't know.

But I do know that I am at my best when I am grateful. Grateful for the time I did get to spend in the house that built me. Grateful for the chubby baby born out of sorrow, beating so many odds already in his life. Grateful for 12 years with Jack's physical presence, and grateful for the knowledge that our relationship continues. Grateful the the upperclassmen eventually empty the lot and I can hold and bounce Andrew, now clad in nothing but a diaper, until Margaret appears. And grateful for a teenager, who probably had a lot of her own stuff to deal with during this long day, who sees my wet eyes behind my sunglasses, and offers to bring Andrew into the house when we get home, so I can go to the bathroom in peace.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Makeup Eraser

Margaret reminded me that I was going to post about one of our favorite products several months ago...oops!

Better late than never.

She is my product girl and has introduced me to the likes of BB cream and eyebrow plumper. Her advice is usually spot on!

She also knows I love to save money, so when she asked for a $20 washcloth last Christmas, I was not enthused. She accurately pointed out, however, that we were spending at least $6 a month on makeup removal towelettes, so if the washcloth worked, we would actually save money.

Here it is:
Well, it works!

And at almost one year in, we have saved a bundle, reduced waste, and the cloth is still going strong. She uses different small areas of the cloth for 3-4 days in a row before it needs laundering.  It comes out of the wash perfectly clean and ready to use again. The cloth is chemical free, and although I don't know how it does its magic and sorcery, it gently removes all of her makeup using just water.

I am glad not to be purchasing disposable wipes anymore, or having raccoon-eyed makeup stains on our other washcloths and towels. The Makeup Eraser is available in stores like Sephora and Nordstrom, as well as on Amazon.

This is not a sponsored post; we just enjoy the Makeup Eraser and think you will, too. Affiliate link provided for your convenience.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Monday Catch-up and new article up on FOR HER


We had a great weekend of beautiful weather, apple picking, photography, and Andrew adjusting to his crib. Tim and I even had a night out with friends at a comedy club where one of my dear friends performed. Margaret commented on how easy it was to get the baby to go to sleep, so I think our babysitting game is looking up! Here she is taking pictures at an old mill for photography class.


Today, Andrew woke up with another cold that I'm afraid could turn croupy, so please send prayers our way that he won't lose the ground he's gained in his crib and that he feels better soon! Exactly one month ago today is when he got sick last time, and we are still a bit of a mess.

BIG NEWS: I have a new article up today on For Her, a gorgeous lifestyle magazine. I wrote about a weird thing I did that helped our marriage. I hope you'll read it, and also check out the other great articles on For Her.

Happy Monday!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Redeemable

Found this little coupon recently that I guess Jack gave me at some point for a birthday or other holiday. "One date of your choice with Jack. Expires: never."

I sure wish I'd redeemed it so we'd have another memory together.


But what a "date" it will be when we are together again!

p.s. If you have coupons like this sitting around, I suggest redeeming them before the teen years. I tried to get Margaret to pay up for "70 minutes of snuggle time" last week but she was not interested! :)

p.p.s. Look at her grumpy little face in her two year old portrait! Ha!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Wall

We've hit the wall.

I wasn't sure when or if it would happen-- that feeling that if you don't get a good night's sleep you might lose your mind. When you stagger through the house like a zombie, communicating only in grunts and groans. When, in the darkness, hope is hard to conjure.

I thought I was pretty close to the wall this summer in Connecticut as I paced up and down a country road in my pj's at 5:30 am, a screaming Andrew in my arms. If I dared slow down, the screaming got worse, so I speed-walked, bouncing him back and forth in my arms, eventually watching a gorgeous sunrise I would have rather missed.

But that was nothing compared to where Tim and I find ourselves now. If you look at recent photos of Tim, he looks tired and gaunt. I look tired and whatever the opposite of gaunt is. Being tired makes me hungry.

For months 2-5 Andrew slept well at night. I didn't dare mention it here, for fear of the jinx. Even our pediatrician just had us nod at the 2 and 4 months appointments when asked about night-time sleep. He held up his hand to keep us from uttering the words, "He's sleeping well" aloud. Andrew got up once a night during that period, and that worked for us.

Then, at 5 1/2 months we started daycare, Andrew got his first cold, and it turned into croup. Naturally, the night-time routine would be disrupted. But now we are on week 3 of that, and we can't get our mojo back. His 6 month appointment is today, so the doc will tell us it's time to get rid of everything that used to work for us anyway: the tight velcro swaddles, and the miracle worker  Rock and Play that sits next to our bed and allows us to tend to him right away before he goes full-on ape-shit. Its womb-like, angled surface was awesome for a baby with reflux, and the proximity was perfect for quick feedings.

There's a perfectly good crib in his room down the hall. We will be introducing him to it now. So he'll be un-swaddled, un-angled, and without his mom there to pop in a pacifier whenever it pops out. We wish we could find a way to help him acclimate him to his new surroundings that did not involve screaming and waking up the whole house. Poor Margaret, who as a busy high schooler puts in 18 hour days with school, sports, and then homework, doesn't need to be kept up by crying all night long.

Most nights Tim and I take turns hiding in the basement with Andrew when he won't go back to sleep. I whisper-beg him to be content to snuggle up with me the way Margaret and Jack did, collapsing into my warm body in bed and falling asleep. I want to say, "What could be better than to sleep with mom? Win-Win." Nope. I wish he would let me rock him in the roomy recliner, so I could doze off, too. But he insists on more deliberate movement. The circular path around and around the couch. The bobbing this way and that, and walking up and down, up and down the stairs. Occasionally I slow down and try to get horizontal on whatever surface is nearby: bed, couch, floor. I eschew a blanket because I don't want him to think I'm actually going to sleep. Last night I spent some time with my right leg partially covered by a baby washcloth in an attempt to stay warm.

Sometimes, I give up and turn on the lights, place toys in front of him, and let him play. He sits up straight as a school master, and quickly finds his grin. The cries turn to coos within seconds as he gets down to the business of play. I smile at the cuteness, then wonder how much more of this we can take.

The thing is, I have PERSPECTIVE that I didn't have with the first two kids. I KNOW this stage won't last forever. We will get through it. I also know this isn't the end of the world, because we've been there, too. But I also have the perspective that sleep issues, while HUGE, are only the beginning of the parenting issues we will face with Andrew. Can I get an AMEN, middle school parents? That's something that first-time parents don't always grasp when they are knee-deep in diapers and onesies.

And that makes me feel more tired. And old as shit.

I've never been a morning person, but staying up all night with a baby makes me grateful for sunrise when it comes, and for the warm cup (or three) of tea that awaits, because that means the night is finally over.

"Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning." Psalm 30:5


Happy 6 month birthday, Miracle Baby!


Monday, October 3, 2016

Homecoming!

My sweet girl went to Homecoming this weekend. Andrew tried to dress up for the occasion in a Polo outfit, but he was popping out of his pants. I know the feeling, wee one.


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Solid Food!

We are starting on solids! I'm too lazy to figure it out, so we've just done rice cereal and oatmeal so far. Maybe a sweet potato or squash next?

I wonder if Andrew's nose will turn orange from squash the way Jack's did?


Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Three

Jack didn't like the number 2.

At all.

If you have read Rare Bird, you'll know that as a little guy (around 6 years old) grappling with OCD, his compulsion was to "even things up." An inadvertent tap on the left leg meant a tap on the right HAD to follow, sometimes on a loop. OCD is a bossy illness, and who likes to be bossed around?

I'm not loving the number 2 right now either.

In my almost 47 years on earth, I do not remember living in such a divisive time. Me vs. You. Us vs. Them. Insiders vs. Outsiders. There is an attempt to make someone else into "other" in a way that says, "our differences are too great." I will stay right here in my box and not worry about what's happening to you over there in yours. I will close my eyes and cover my ears if necessary, or occupy myself with distractions if need be, but I will not see your pain.

No one wants to be a humble servant, and to be teachable, when power or perceived power is so much more alluring.

We value fame over mercy.

We'd rather be right than be kind, and oh, we're absolutely sure we are right.

We feel that money or status somehow equals value, and that poverty is a moral failing.

We have a hard time looking beyond our own experiences into those of someone of a different color, gender, or from a different culture.

The number 3 had an entirely different effect on Jack than 2 did. It was his favorite number. I was happy that baby Andrew was born on April 3rd, because I think his big brother would get a kick out of that.

Three reminds me of the trinity. The three persons of God-- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, push me out of my comfort zone. Three says, while it may hurt your brain to try to understand these distinct yet unified, equally important parts, here we are. I don't get to choose which person of God is "the best." The trinity continuously says NO to duality and YES to mystery. NO to "other" and YES to THREE.

The trinity says, "It's complicated, but we're holy, and we're here in it with you."

The difficulty it takes to grasp the Trinity, the three, leaves room for NOT knowing/understanding everything. To not oversimplifying. To being humble, and open, and not shutting down in the face of messiness or having our own weaknesses exposed. To asking for guidance and mercy as we try to grasp the infinite love of God, even when we see hate springing up all around us. Three not two.



"Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.

O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life."-- St. Francis of Assisi

Monday, September 19, 2016

My Baby is So Advanced, He Can Turn a Baby Cold into a Man Cold



Andrew was in day care about 5 days before he brought home his first cold. I don't want to let him out of the house ever again. Having tended to my other babies, many years ago, I thought I knew how to handle baby colds: a lot of snuggling, using a nasal aspirator and humidifier, and doing a bit of tending in the night.

This baby, however, managed to go full-on Man Cold on me.

Here's how my baby's cold is like a man cold:

A Man Colder denies he has a cold until he has spewed his germs everywhere. "It's just allergies." "Is something wrong with the thermostat?" "I'm really tired." A Man Colder is always the last to know he has a cold, yet the cold surprises no one but himself. Naturally, he has managed to touch all of the remotes in the house during the denial stage. Baby Andrew kept up with a rousing weekend of accompanying his sis to the orthodontist, going to church, and attending a party and staying out past bedtime. But the purple tinge around his eyes, the crying jags, and his inability to take a nap longer than 1/2 an hour suspiciously pointed to a cold, which eventually kicked in with dramatic fashion.

A Man Colder, once his cold is identified, cannot maintain a schedule and routine. While a woman will likely keep working, mothering, or campaigning for president while ill, a man cold makes the sufferer's life grind to a screeching halt, with a big, "I'm so sick!" preferably uttered amid coughs and sniffles, so that it sounds more like, "I'm tho thick!"A large pile of wadded tissues on the floor adds dramatic effect. For baby Andrew, who has gifted us with 8 and even 10 hour stretches of sleep for months, it meant jettisoning his routine, waking within 45 minutes of being put down for the night, and staying up, with much weeping and wailing, until dawn crested our hill.

A Man Colder must drag others into his suffering. Not able to quietly suffer, or, God forbid, suck it up, he needs to know that YOU KNOW just how ill he is. If he doesn't think there is enough attention coming his way, he might embark on a coughing fit, accidentally drop his mug of tea to the floor with a clatter because his feeble wrist can no longer hold it, or weakly summon you from another part of the house to bring him a small, ripe clementine, peeled, if you wouldn't mind. Under no circumstances should you give a Man Colder a bell to ring, even if it seems like it could make this process more efficient. You may also want to turn your text notifications way, way down. Andrew was not content to drag just his mother, his main squeeze, into his misery. He had to make sure his dad, both dogs, and the stressed out teenager in the next room were sufficiently aware of his inability to sleep. Only when the entire household was buzzing around him trying to figure out how to use a gadget called a Nose Frida, was he mildly satisfied.

A Man Colder's suffering waxes and wanes. Certain times of day are the worst for Mr. Man Cold, such as when it comes to working, attending Back to School Nights, or shuttling kids around, but he might be able to rally just a tad when watching sports on TV or if an intriguing opportunity arises, such as a corn hole game in the cul de sac. Andrew was completely miserable. Hour after hour passed with screaming and wailing, but when I took him to the basement to allow other family members a chance to get some sleep, he was wide awake and happy as a clam. All of the enticements of our rarely-visited basement, like a couch and a clunky old TV, captivated him. He didn't care that it was now 3 am; he found his smile again, and it was party-time! Oooh! Is that a Shop Vac?

During the night, I had a running tape going in my head: "I can't do this! I'll never sleep again! I'm too old for this crap! What if his routine is ruined???" The morning sun, or at least the morning drizzle, made me realized I may have catastrophized a bit, kind of like a Man Colder.

The baby and I are staying home today, watching cartoons, cuddling, and, I hope, napping!



Monday, September 12, 2016

Contain This


We are deep into the receptacle stage of parenting right now.

Throughout the house, there are places to park the baby when we need to put him down. Bouncy seat in the family room. Exersaucer and high chair in the kitchen. Johnny Jumper in the bathroom doorway. Bumbo in the living room.

I remember when Jack was little, I strictly limited his time in the exersaucer, not wanting it to inhibit his development. Now I'm just hoping to get Andrew though the next stage of childhood without being licked to his limit by Charlie the dog during floor time, rolling somewhere unsafe, and, well, these Hello Fresh dinners won't cook themselves.

Sometimes we just need a safe place to put him.

At five months, he's now big enough for this fun seat my (much younger) cousin told me about, that hangs on our kitchen counter:

 (affiliate link)

Remember this stage? He can't quite sit up unassisted, but he really wants to. He starts out okay, then does a forward bend to make any yogi proud, tilts off to one side, and ends with a surprise (to him) landing, looking up at the ceiling.

When Jack and Margaret eventually sat up on their own, I was blown away by how straight they kept their backs. To a baby, posture is serious business and could teach this mama a thing or two about not slouching over the computer.

It will be nice when Andrew can sit up and all of these plastic receptacles can be passed down to the next child (in a DIFFERENT family,  mind you), but for now, they keep the little guy happy.

However, carpet time will always be the best time, because it comes with built-in fun--- FEET.