Monday, July 9, 2018

What if the Underdog is your Under-WEAR?

I've always rooted for the underdog.

Maybe that's why I like sports' movies so much, even though I'm not into sports at all. I know it's why I brought a handful of flowers to the creepy shirtless guy who hung out in his yard next to my elementary school watching the children come and go. I'd heard he once had a job and a family, but now he just had his great dane, my crooked smile that was sure to make his day, and a lack of shirts.

I remember my mom telling me that while my gesture was nice, I didn't need to do it again.

My whole life I've had a heart for the bruised and lonely and a way of putting myself in others' shoes. Like a heat-seeking missile, I can foist myself on someone who looks uncomfortable at a party, whether or not they really need or want the attention I give. Even thrifting furniture is a small way of rescuing something from the dump and giving it one more chance.

Today I took this love of the underdog to a new level.

A new low, that is.

I've gained 15 lbs this year, mainly from M&M's and Netflix, and today I decided to suck it up and buy new underwear that fits. I grabbed a pack from a peg at Walmart, because I'm fancy that way. One pair had been pulled out and unceremoniously shoved back in. I pulled it out again, held it up to see if this new, improved size would work for me, then dropped the whole pack in my cart. The Undie-Rumpler had done me a favor by taking the guesswork out of sizing. I could have then looked for a neat, intact pack to purchase, but I was concerned no one would buy this rumpled one, and it would be relegated to the clearance bin or worse.

I'm home now, and I just pulled all 7 pairs out. The crumpled pair still looks like the right size, but the other 6 are gigantic. HUGE. Someone must have done some swapping in the store, and not only did not worry about leaving a disheveled pack as the underdog, didn't give a hoot about some poor shopper like me ending up with the wrong sizes. Sure, I've opened a pack or two in my time, to check sizes, but mix packs? Never. Clearly, this person is heartless and has watched neither Radio, Rudy, nor Remember the Titans.

With the high cost of babysitting, and my desire to never take a toddler shopping with me again, I guess I'll just keep them all. Shoving them back in the pack now would all but guarantee no one would buy them. Besides, I did just purchase two family size bags of Peanut M&M's, so I'm guessing  the undies won't be too big for long.

Monday, June 25, 2018

A Generosity of Spirit

We enjoyed spending last week at our friends' vacation home in the Northern Neck of Virginia. My brother, sister and their families joined us. Andrew became a proficient driveway scooter-er, and blueberry picker, Margaret caught her first fish (and threw it back!), and we basked in the generosity of our friends opening their home to us yet again.





As you may remember, this was the first place we vacationed after Jack's death, when we couldn't bear doing our usual beach trip without him. It's also where I started writing Rare Bird on a cold winter's day, and experienced the radical generosity of a local tow truck driver.

If you don't remember that story, please read it here! It continues to inspire me, and convict me, years later.

I want to be generous, too.

But what if I don't have a beautiful vacation home to share, or a powder blue Volkswagen to lend to a complete stranger? How can I be generous to others, especially when it doesn't come naturally to me?

What about showing a generosity of spirit?

Our world seems so angry and ugly right now. Lots of yelling. Name calling. Divisive, dehumanizing language. Unfiltered thoughts coming out in ALL CAPS. It's almost too depressing to write about, so it quiets my voice sometimes, when I want to speak up, when I need to speak up. It's easy to feel helpless in a world that seems topsy turvy.

The phrase generosity of spirit made me think of the fruits of the spirit in the Bible. I think they are a very good measure to hold up against our leaders, our policies, and ourselves:

But the fruit of the spirit is: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.


Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Announcing My T-shirt Shop!

A few weeks ago I told Tim I'd started designing t-shirts. He looked at me like I had two heads. A pained "Why?" was all he could muster.

Next, I told Margaret and she responded, "That's weird."

So, with a huge vote of confidence from the home team, I thought I'd share with you my latest endeavor:

An Inch of Gray T-shirts on Amazon!

I absolutely LOVE typography t-shirts, and I've had a couple of ideas knocking around in my head for a while, but I didn't know how produce them for myself, or for others if they were interested.

A friend I met at a conference this spring talked me through how to open up an online t-shirt shop, so I jumped in and got creative. I now have variations of 5 designs available.

I am thrilled with how they turned out, and I hope you love them too!

And as for Tim's WHY, here are my top three reasons for designing these t-shirts:

1) It's a way to feel productive and creative when I can't seem to find enough time to devote to writing and other creative pursuits right now.

2) I now have the cool typography t-shirts I wanted that pertain to different aspects of my life.

3) I hope to earn income to help with blog-related expenses such as web hosting.

Here I am in my first design.

Geriatric Mama: I can't read this without my glasses




Yes, I crack myself up. 

Do not, I repeat DO NOT buy this t-shirt for someone else as a joke. Sure, you can send a friend the link (please do!!!!)  but make sure SHE wants the shirt, or you could end up getting hurt. 

All bets are off for the counterpart, Old as Dirt Dad, which would make a super-fun Father's Day Gift. It's a terrible double standard, I realize.

See all of my designs here! They are available in a variety of colors.

Let me know what you think, and please share them with anyone you think would like them.

Size note: These are premium t-shirts made out of super-soft, thin fabric, not the bulky t-shirts of yesteryear. They are slim cut. I bought several samples to see what Amazon meant by SIZE UP in the instructions. In the women's cut, which is quite fitted, I wear a Large, when normally I'd be a Medium, and they only go up to XL. In the men's cut I wear a Small or Medium, and they go up to 3XL. I like both cuts for different reasons. The men's cut is roomier, with a bigger design, but it is NOT BULKY,  so don't hesitate to buy a men's size if you want some extra room.


























Monday, June 4, 2018

Playing Cars

I am very much in demand to play cars, morning noon and night.

I've never quite known how "playing cars" works, so I do a lot of zooming in a circle, hoping not to get dizzy.

There's a process and there are rules, but I'm not sure what they are. Sometimes it seems as if they are in flux. I only really know the rules when I break one.

If I stop moving for too long, such as to sip my tea or check Facebook on my phone, I get reprimanded. Not sure if this is how Keanu Reeves felt in the movie Speed, but I won't stop long enough to find out.

Friday, June 1, 2018

INVITATION Healing Your Empty Arms after a Miscarriage, Stillbirth, or the Loss of Your Baby or Child

Last summer I spoke at a grief conference and was honored to spend time with Pam Vredevelt, professional counselor and author of many books, including Empty Arms and The Empty Arms Journal. Pam's caring nature instantly put me at ease, and I could understand how she has helped so many hurting moms over the years. 

When I found out she was conducting a new LIVE, online class to help mothers work through grief, I wanted to partner with her and let my readers know about it. I know words like healing and grief work can sound scary-- they sure did to me-- but don't let them stand in the way of your learning to experience joy again after facing such a devastating loss.

Healing after the loss of a child is a scary thing to look at from behind the starting line. It seems 
like an overwhelming process full of deep sadness, frustration, guilt, and many unknowns.
...so I completely understand why it might seem easier to just set the whole reality of your loss 
aside and focus on other things.
...or to put off working through your loss until later.
You can try things here and there that don't add up to real results, or take a proven path that delivers.  That’s why I’m sharing this wonderful, Biblical and Brain-science based proven path for 
healing after a miscarriage, stillbirth or the loss of your baby or child. 

Much of Pam's work centers around 
pregnancy and baby loss, so I reached out to her to see if this course would also be helpful for those who 
lost children after infancy. She says absolutely, but feel free to reach out to her if you have specific 
questions about that.
I'm going to tell you more, but you can take a shortcut straight to the source and learn more about the 
process at www.myemptyarms.com,  a six-hour LIVE interactive online experience with 
Professional Counselor, Pam Vredevelt.  (Pam has a genuine gift and personal experience with 
this subject, having lost her first baby half way through the pregnancy and years later a sixteen 
year old son after a car accident.  Pam leads this life-changing experience LIVE, in real time, so 
that you can interact with her in the comfort of your own home via her video conference room.

You don't need to spend years stuck in the heartbreak, anxiety, or guilt that steals your joy and 
leaves you feeling exhausted. . .


You don't need a huge amount of time to effectively work through the impact of your loss when 
you have the right guidance and support. . .

and

You DEFINITELY don't have to try to find your way through the darkness alone.
In fact, in Pam’s ONLINE transforming experience you’ll be surrounded by other women who 
‘get it’ because they too have lost a baby/babies, and are eager to gain the essential skills to 
effectively heal.
Here’s what I’m inviting you to do. Give yourself a fresh start.   

Join Pam on a proven path through grief into brighter, more meaningful tomorrows.
1.      Learn the The 'Good Grief' Path.  Discover and practice a scientifically proven ‘Good Grief’ 
pattern that rewires the brain, promotes healing, and prevents you from getting stuck in painful 
unresolved grief.

2.      Learn how to Give Grief a Voice. Discover how to tune-in to grief and compassionately listen to your 
heart. Learn skills that help you feel safe while you label, sort, and give grief a voice.

3.      Learn How to Let Go of Overwhelming Sadness. Learn and practice the skills that empower you to 
compassionately explore and release your sadness, discover meaning, and awaken joy.

4.    Learn How to Let Go of Anger and Frustration. Compassionately explore and release the 
anger around your loss that may be harbored against yourself, others, or God.  Discover the key 
connection between fear, anxiety, and anger, and practice skills to manage your anger so that it 
doesn’t manage and overpower you.  Learn positive ways to respond to the insensitive things 
people say after the loss of a baby to protect against energy drain and bitterness.

5.      Letting Go of Guilt and Shame. Learn and practice the skills to compassionately explore and release 
guilt, shame, and self-blame.

6.      Create a Personalized Plan that nurtures ongoing healing and awakens joy.
During the 6 one-hour LIVE sessions on Saturday mornings, Pam will walk you step by step 
If you're feeling overwhelmed, don't worry. Pam will make it simple by giving you detailed 
instruction with each step, plus live coaching to make sure you get to USE and DO the things she 
teaches you.
This is an amazing opportunity to learn from an expert who has helped thousands on the path of 
healing to fully recover.  I hope you're able to participate!
Much Love, Anna
P.S. Pam is purposefully limiting the number of participants, so she can deliver a high level 
experience to all attendees. If you are in need of hope and healing after a miscarriage, 
stillbirth, or the loss of a baby or child, this could be the very thing you’ve been praying 
would come along.





Monday, May 28, 2018

You're (not?) Going to Miss This

There were many things I was quite happy to be finished with, when it came to parenting.

And yet, that's not how things are panning out, with Sweet Andrew on the scene.

Things I never thought I'd have to experience again:

Lice
10 pm poster board emergencies
Potty Training
Play dates
Science projects
4th grade math
Bullies
Video games and screen-time limits
The glug glug sound right before projectile vomiting
"This is the worst day ever!"
"I hate you"
"I'm stupid"
Candy Land
Friend drama
Tantrums in public
Tantrums in private
Not making the team
Night terrors
Croup
My kid being left out
Back to school night
"But everybody's doing it!"
Boring stories about ____________ (Legos, Superheroes, Pokemon, Trains, Ponies, Calico Critters)
Chorus concerts
Eddie Haskells and Mean Girls
Time Out
Speech therapy
Mouth expanders
Standardized tests
Guppies
Hamsters
Driving lessons
Discipline issues
Reading logs
Homework
Sleepovers
Picky eaters
Amusement parks



There's a flip-side, of course...

Things I never thought I'd get to experience again:

Dimpled hands and thighs
Snuggles
Blowing raspberries
Chubby naked booties
Footy pajamas
Squeals of joy
Onesies
Peek-a-boo
"This is the best day ever!"
"Will you marry me, Mommy?"
Nightly baths
Hot Cross Buns on the recorder
Uno and Connect Four
Preppy clothes
School concerts
The tooth fairy
"I love you THIS much!"
Play-doh
Laptime
Naptime
Reading aloud
Mispronunciations
The barbershop
Vacation Bible School
Snow days
Making Valentines
The ice cream truck
Scooby Doo
Light sabers
Richard Scarry
Slow walks around the neighborhood
Stuffed animals
Splashing in puddles
Caterpillars and cicadas
Tag
Feeding ducks
Lightning bugs
Loveys
Giggles
Legos
Soft cheeks and ticklish necks
Homemade Mother's Day gifts
Local carnivals
Ruffling hair
Now I lay me down to sleep
Sandcastles and tide pools
Silly songs
Hooked on Phonics
Late night musings
Love notes
Making the team
Puzzles
Jesus Loves Me this I Know
Playing chase
Holding hands
Being brave
...and so much more


I am grateful.

And I know I'll do my best to handle all the stuff on the first list too, and enjoy it as much as possible, even if it won't be easy.

Except LICE.  Please God, no lice.







Friday, May 18, 2018

Love you Forever

Andrew has started napping again after 8 months, and I am overjoyed! This means I get a break, and that we are back into a pre-nap reading routine.

The clear favorite is still Richard Scarry's Cars and Trucks and Things That Go, but I introduced him to Love you Forever this week.

Love it or hate it, this book gets a reaction out of people, sort of the like the wonderfully creeptastic "The Giving Tree" which I remember fondly from childhood, even though as an adult the relentless sacrifices of motherhood sometimes make me feel like a chopped up, scooped out, stump of my former self.

I'll never forget reading Love you Forever to Jack as I rocked him in his tiny bedroom in our first home. His crib had made way for a big boy bed, because little sister was on her way in a matter of days. I positioned him on my lap as best I could and kissed his little head and neck, singing and crying my way through the book. I was overcome with the feeling that he was being displaced and with the worry that, despite everyone's assurances, my heart wasn't capable of growing to accommodate a new baby. Everything was about to change, and in a made-up tune I sobbed and squeezed out: "I'll love you forever, I'll like you for always, as long as I'm living my baby you'll be."

Jack's cowlick was exactly like the boy's in the book, and while I could never image leaning a ladder up against my married son's window (boundaries, much?) I did want him to know that despite a new little one coming into our home, he'd always be my baby. I wanted to squeeze him a little too tightly and never let him go.

Margaret never got into the book the way Jack and I did. Perhaps it was the male protagonist, the fact that she was what you would call a "busy baby" with less patience for books at that age, or that she, like many people. thought the whole premise was weird, weird, weird. The book got tucked away for a long time.

I wasn't sure what my reaction would be to reading the book again, but there it was on the shelf. Would I cry the way I did with Jack? Would I cry even more, knowing that I never got to hold and cuddle and potentially stalk Jack after he'd barely turned twelve and went to heaven?

I didn't cry, and my made-up tune came right back to me today as I rocked Andrew back and forth, his tummy sticking out under a faded little polo shirt, chubby hands clutching not one but 2 loveys. I wondered if Andrew would bat the book away after a few pages, in favor of one more search for Goldbug, one more colossal smash-up of cars and trucks. But he listened attentively as I rocked and sang.

At one point, he pointed to the boy, now a young man, and said, "He growed up." Yes, he did. That is what I pictured for Jack all those years ago. And that is what I do picture for Andrew and Margaret. "You'll grow up too, Andrew"

One of the most tender things about this book is how the young man says his mom will still be his mom after she dies. He holds her and sings, "As long as I'm living my mommy you'll be." I love that, and it has certainly been true for me these 30 years since my mom went to heaven.

In an instant it becomes clear to me the only thing I'd change about this book, even though I am firmly in the Love you Forever Camp. I'd get rid of the words, "As long as I'm living" because if I've learned one thing in recent years, it's that forever truly means forever, and none of it is limited by whether anyone's body is living and breathing or not.

Love never dies.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Why I Stopped Sleeping with my Husband

I am a bad sleeper. 

Some months and years are better than others, but since childhood I’ve often been restless or awake while the rest of the household sleeps. I’m one who takes it upon herself to solve the world’s problems in the wee morning hours, and is embarrassingly familiar with late-night infomercials. With all of the research about getting less than 6 hours shortening one’s life, it’s enough to make a bad sleeper lose even more sleep. 

A few years ago, realizing how important sleep is to overall health, I decided that instead of just trying to power through on grit and caffeine, I’d make an effort to get a few more hours each night.

First, my husband and I switched to a king-sized bed, hoping the extra space would help. We plotted out our territories, leaving a hefty margin in the middle that no one dared cross. It worked for a while, but then I found myself pregnant at age 46 (I guess there had been some crossing). Pregnancy, nursing, pumping, and all of the nighttime waking disrupted whatever tenuous grasp I had on precious sleep. Our baby was an amazing gift, but I was fried, again.

And just when I thought things couldn’t get worse, menopause set in. Enter night sweats and frequent trips to the bathroom to squeeze out a whopping 3 drops of pee. My eye shades, noise machine, and essential oils were no match for this new stage of life. I tossed, turned, growled, and occasionally reached out to kick my snoring husband, but I did not sleep.


When our toddler started waking in the night after a family trip, I’d had it. We would bring him into our bed, and while he and my husband fell right back to sleep, I’d stare at the ceiling fretting that if I Iet my guard down, our son would roll off the bed or get tangled in the covers. And what about world hunger and nuclear proliferation? Everyone knows that worrying is worse at night. 

Soon I took to slipping out as soon as our little one joined us. I’d find refuge on the living room couch or the floor of the basement. I knew it made no sense that I could fall asleep more quickly in these less than comfy places than in my own bed, but the change of location seemed to break the “It’s 3 am and I know I will never sleep again” worry cycle. 

Recently, we dragged a mattress to the floor of the basement, and I now have a more comfortable refuge. Sometimes I go there in the middle of the night; other times I scoot down as soon as everyone else goes to sleep. Even when our toddler sleeps through the night, there is something about being completely “off duty” that helps me sleep more soundly. I can pop a melatonin if I want. The cool, dark basement means less sweating, and when I wake at night I’m able to convince my bladder that the long trip upstairs to the bathroom just isn’t worth it.

Would I rather be snuggling with my husband in our own bed? Sure. But in nearly 26 years together, we’ve learned that there are stages to a marriage. I’m sure Tim would rather sleep alone than have a sweaty, seething menopausal woman next to him concocting ways to murder him in his (blissful) sleep. I’m not kidding, that man smiles as he dreams. It’s infuriating.

As for the impact fleeing the marital bed has on our sex life? Well, with a teen who stays up late, and a toddler who wakes up early, I’d say our opportunities are already rather limited. However, aiming for 6 hours of sleep a night can’t help but improve my mood, if you know what I mean.

Monday, April 30, 2018

The Things we Carry

If you follow An Inch of Gray on Facebook, you know Andrew had a little adventure last week. 

We'd had a great day of puddle jumping, hair cutting, and general toddler fun. I had a chicken in the oven, and we were in the home stretch heading toward dinner and bedtime. As I stood in the kitchen, pouring myself a cup of tea, Andrew walked up and showed me his hand. He had taken the lid off a tiki torch canister and lodged a chubby finer in the hole where the wick is supposed to go. I picked him up and slathered dish soap all over it hoping it would slide right off. Next I tried a tub of butter. The more I tried, the more swollen his finger got, and then it started to bleed. He went from thinking he was awfully clever to crying and really wishing the lid would come off.

If Tim had been home, I probably would have googled, "How to dislodge a finger from a tiki torch lid," and we would have worked together to get it off. Perhaps we would have gone down to the basement to see if we had any tin snips to cut right through the lid. 

Instead, as Andrew wailed, and his finger grew more and more purple, I called 911. I figured they would have a tool to free his finger, and they could get there faster than if I put Andrew in the car to drive to the ER during rush hour. 

As soon as he heard that an ambulance was coming, Andrew stopped crying and was super happy. Bubbly, in fact. And that's when my second-guessing set in. He was obviously not in that much pain, and I was using valuable county resources for something minor. But in the back of my mind, I wondered if he could lose the use of his finger if I'd waited. 

The EMT's came and looked at it, as he happily marveled at their cool ride. Instead of snipping the lid off, as I'd assumed they would, they said we need to go to the ER. While the EMT’s had a tool that could cut rings off easily, it wasn’t the right fit for the lid. Oops. I’d figured that if these guys had the Jaws of Life to extract people from cars, a toddler finger would be easy-peasy. 

Within minutes, we were in an ambulance heading to a nearby hospital. Andrew thoroughly enjoyed the ride from the comfort of my lap, pointing out the motorcycle, trash truck, and numerous cars he saw through the rear doors.

Once at the ER, a doctor and 2 nurses worked together to remove the lid. Their tool of choice? A new shoelace, threaded through the opening. They were able to wind it around his finger to control the swelling and pull the lid off. We were finished within minutes— Andrew's cut so minor he needed just some Neosporin and a bandaid.

It was a happy ending to a stressful situation. Getting the ER bill will be a bit more stressful, but that story is not today's story.

For as we rode in the ambulance, I was able to relax a bit, breathe, and consider my actions and motivations. 

I realized that in the moment Andrew came to me, I entered crisis mode and was taken back to 2011 and Jack's accident. Of course I didn't think Andrew would DIE because of his minor injury, but I no longer trusted my judgment to gauge the situation. I wanted the help of professionals because I was no longer confident I could make the right decisions for my kids.  

You see, when I’d reached the scene of Jack's accident, just seconds after he somehow ended up in the raging water, I tried to take care of the situation myself. Instead of calling 911, I got in my car to drive to a spot where my heart told me he would be, exactly where his body was found a few hours later. This wasted time. 

So last week, I didn't trust my judgment. My relatively calm demeanor and desire to not make a fuss had failed my children in small ways over the years, and had failed Jack in the biggest way possible. 

I know I am forgiven. I know it in my heart and in my head. Jack has graciously let me know in his own way that I should not beat myself up for those precious seconds, yet I guess they still inform my actions. 

I saw that last week. 

Margaret was home. She is almost 17 now. She could have driven us to the hospital while I comforted Andrew in the back seat of the car. But in those frantic moments, I could only see her as a frightened 10 year old again, whose brother was in crisis.  As the adrenaline rushed through my body, I wanted to spare her pain and assure her everything was okay, and I wanted her to know that this time, the professionals, not MOM, would help us.

People always ask me if I’m overprotective because of what happened to Jack, and I’ve been able to answer truthfully, NO. In fact I live with a degree of freedom that most people don’t have, in understanding that I’m not really in control of very much.


Yet I carry that day in my mind, and in my body. In my quiet moments and my more frenzied ones. It wasn’t until last week, with Andrew’s little finger, that I realized I carry that day in a way I’d never even considered before. 



Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Book Release Party

George Atkisson's book release party was a huge hit!

Friends, neighbors, and family members gathered to celebrate his enormous accomplishment of publishing The Chalice and the Stirrup Cup at age 94. He had a wonderful time telling us some of the backstory on the novel and signing copies.

It has been so fun to share this story with you. If you haven't checked out George's book yet-- available on Kindle, softcover, or hardcover-- please do.

He is enjoying all of the feedback.








Monday, April 2, 2018

The Man Next Door, Part 3


George and I talked about his goals of finding an agent, shopping the manuscript to New York publishers, and how long that might take. I wasn't trying to be snarky about his age, which is one of the neatest things about this story, but I also didn't want to discount it. After losing my mom when she was 46 and my son at 12, I've come to realize that tomorrow is never promised.

I asked him if he wanted to invest years and possibly not ever get published, or whether he would consider self-publishing in order to make make his dream come true. I could tell he'd need to wrap his brain around the idea, so I let him know that I am self-publishing my upcoming children's book, and that it could be a faster way to get his book in the hands of readers.

Savvy as ever, George asked whether, if after self-publishing, he could still have his book traditionally published if someone showed interest in it. Yep. I explained that freeing it from the cardboard box in his bedroom could be a good first step in that direction. 

I reached out to a local friend who had already done research about self-publishing  and asked if she would be willing to edit George's book and shepherd him through the process. I knew she was not only a fantastic editor but a great conversationalist who would be awesome company for him as they worked through the process. The value of human contact is no small thing. I had no idea if they would develop a friendship, but I sure hoped they would.

I told him I felt bad I didn't have the time to be the one to get his book to print, but he made me feel better by saying, "Well, you are going to write about it on your blog, right?"

Do you love him, or what?

So here I am, spreading the news of the man next door, an amazing debut author, who at the young age of 94 (95 in June!) never gave up on his dream. Through work, family life and retirement. Through losing his beloved wife of 69 years. Through being housebound. George Atkisson did not let any of that stop him, and I know my life is richer for having witnessed this.

George holding his book for the first time

George and his editor, Michelle Layer Rahal

When we handed him his book for the first-time, he was speechless. It was a moment more than 40 years in the making.

For years I avoided getting to know my neighbor. How grateful I am to have not missed the chance to make a new friend and immerse myself in George's characters and the world he created.

Next week we are having a small book launch party at George's house for The Chalice and the Stirrup Cup, and now I'd like to introduce it to you!




The Chalice and the Stirrup Cup is a wonderful coming of age novel that begins shortly after World War I. This book has romance, history, theology, and characters you will root for. Here's a quick description:

"Only three things matter to Billie: her horse, her writings, and JD. But JD, the strong and introspective farm boy growing up in the shadow of his alcoholic father, has yet to determine what he wants out of life, and no one seems to expect much out of him, especially Billie's wealthy parents. It appears that JD is set to run with the hounds until an unexpected benefactor steps up to redirect his route. Though bound together by their love for each other, poetry, and the great outdoors, it is their opposing views on God that ultimately influence the choices JD and Billie will make. For Billie, trying to understand God is like describing a rose to a blind person. If she can succeed in this task, perhaps she would believe. Set in rural Virginia in the aftermaths of World Wars I and II, The Chalice and the Stirrup Cup chronicles the escapades of two unlikely friends as they grow and mature in this coming-of-age story. Their friendship sustains them through the darkest times, but it is their search for God that ultimately impacts how they live and love."

Please celebrate George Atkisson's enormous accomplishment from wherever you live.

Purchase his book (available in hardcover, softcover, and kindle) and/or leave an encouraging comment for him.

Please contact me if you have a local book club that would like to read George's book and connect with him.

And if you are a publisher looking for a new author, I have a special one in mind!

(affiliate links included)



Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Man Next Door, Part 2

Read Part One Here

Tim looked at me like I was crazy when I carted the box of binders inside. He knew how frustrated I was at my lack of time to write, and he was afraid I'd spend too much time wading through someone else's work to do my own. I also think he worried that I'd be too nice if I didn't like the book, even though George had insisted he wanted me to be straight with him. I was worried about that, too.

Sometimes it was a slog going through the double-spaced pages. This was no short memoir, like I had written. It was an epic novel spanning decades, exploring class, family dynamics, American History, and theology. Some of the chapters plopped me right into the scene, leaving me wondering which thread of the story I was reading about. George told me he sometimes liked to keep his readers guessing, but I didn't want to have to guess. Tenses occasionally shifted, making me lose my place.

But each night, when I turned out my light, I thought about JD, the young boy in the novel. I pictured him growing and maturing among the agricultural fields and streams where my suburban town now stands. I wondered if he'd go off to college. If he'd get the girl. If he'd find faith.

It dawned on me.

JD and the other characters had become real to me. And once again, I was awed by how anyone ever writes fiction. How I could hear JD's voice in my head as clearly as someone I knew in real life. How I could practically smell the reek of liquor as his alcoholic father stumbled in and out of his life. How the funny and poignant anecdotes of the townspeople placed me in a community as believable as the one I live in right now.

In my pre-sleep thoughts, it was as if I were watching a movie.

I was no expert on publishing, and certainly not on fiction, but I knew without a doubt I could tell my 94 year old neighbor that I loved his book and wanted to help.

More to come...

Read Part Three Here

The Man Next Door, Part One

I have the neatest story to tell you.

Shortly after we moved into our neighborhood, I learned there was a really interesting man next door. He'd lived in our town for his 90+ years and was filled with good stories about local history.

You would think I hurried over to introduce myself. Nope. I told myself if I bumped into him, we'd chat, but I wasn't going to extend myself. I'd come out of my last neighborhood feeling bruised, broken, and vulnerable. I was running away from something instead of toward something, and if my new neighbors didn't reach out to me, I pretty much kept to myself. Tim prodded me to meet him, saying, "I really think you would hit it off." But I resisted.

Finally, late last year a knock came at the door. A young woman introduced herself as my elderly neighbor's caregiver, and handed me a slip of paper with a phone number on it.

I'd been summoned next door.

I arranged a babysitter and headed out. I walked upstairs to the bedroom where George spent his days, unable to walk as a result of a bout with polio when he was a young husband and father. Now I knew why I'd never bumped into him in the yard.

Within seconds, my fears vanished, and I was enthralled by what my charming neighbor had to say. We hit it off instantly, taking about history, politics, and faith. And even though I was paying a sitter by the hour, I didn't want to go home. I realized how much time I'd missed out on getting to know a kindred spirit.

As things wound down, George told me why he'd invited me over. I'd been summoned because George's daughter and granddaughter had read Rare Bird. George had also written a book. He'd started writing a novel way back in the 70's and wanted my professional advice. Could we talk agents, publishers, and publicity?

A few hours later, I walked back across the lawn carrying a cardboard box with three black binders in it-- George's manuscript--that had been around almost as long as I had.

I was excited but apprehensive.

I loved meeting my new friend, and was looking forward to reading his work, but what if it wasn't any good?

Read Part Two Here

Read Part Three Here



Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Morbid Humor

I spent time with a grieving friend recently. Some of our conversation involved morbid, irreverent humor, and a generous helping of curse words. We bounced from topic to topic, and ridiculous cemetery stories were mixed in with talk about youth sports and silent, wide-eyed stares that said, "Is this really happening?" "WTH?"

It reminded me that humor, cursing, and wide-eyed disbelief all have a place in grief. Morbid laughter is not the same as the gentle laughter and even belly laughs that come during a memorial service as sweet and hilarious stories of a loved one are shared.

Morbid humor has an edge, and it might make people uncomfortable.

It's laughing at the sheer absurdity of it all. How life was one way yesterday, and oh so different today. When you'd just stocked up on a bunch of snacks that now will never be eaten, on Irish Spring soap that no one else wants. For how could stupid soap or Cheez-its "outlive" a beloved person?

See? Ridiculous.

I remember joking that I had a little cloud of doom that went with me wherever I went. Now if you'd just met me, with smile lines around my eyes and a talkative nature, you wouldn't jump to that conclusion. Doom? She's just a regular person. But what if you found out I was the girl whose mom died? What if, years later, I was known to you only as the mom of the boy in the creek?

Not exactly laugh-inducing.

But by describing myself as such, with my own little cloud of doom, I could laugh at the absurdity of  the most boring, predictable person in the universe living a life marked by something as dramatic as death. By making jokes, I could feel like I had some control of the narrative, even though deep down I'd come to realize I had none at all.

Morbid humor shows up as families do the unthinkable-- pick out clothes for funerals, write obituaries, or try to remember important details when their brains are misfiring and the sky looks too, too blue. It's easier to make fun of the way a hapless funeral director or grief therapist said something than to fully grasp why you were in the funeral home or in the therapist's office in the first place. It's easier and a lot more fun to play the "My Friend Compared my Loss to a ________ Game" than to agonize over whether anyone will ever truly understand the extent of your grief.

Morbid humor is the domain of the grievers themselves.

PLEASE know I wouldn't have taken kindly to someone making jokes around the death of my mother or my child. In fact, many grievers save this kind of humor for grief groups or with others who have "been there" and can "get" the sometimes snarky shorthand of grief. It feels safer in that atmosphere.

But what if they do share it with us?  How can we show support for a friend who lets us in on this sacred facet of grief?

Be honored. Buckle up for the ride. Embrace irreverence for a while. Listen. Hug. And if it feels right, throw in a few curse words now and then.




P.S. When Tim, Margaret and I entered our room at the safari lodge on our dream Africa trip last December, these insect repellents were the first thing I saw.