Monday, November 4, 2019

My Top Tips to Surviving the Dinner Grind, Plus Home Chef Delivery 4 Meals for $14.80!

The is the slightly-crazed smile of a woman who has HAD IT with the Dinner Grind. If you have followed me for a while, you know I've done it all: bulk freezer cooking, meal prep services at a central kitchen, weekly Asian food delivery, threatening to strike. 

This post contains affiliate links.

Today I'm sharing my top 4 tips for Dinnertime:

1) Meal Delivery Kit 2-3 nights a week. Tim and I have tried many different services and find you can't beat the selection, flexibility, portion size, or price of Home Chef! We are able to get 2-person or family-sized meals, tailor our meals to specific dietary needs, and whip up healthy, delicious dinners several times a week without the hassle of buying a bunch of special ingredients and spices we might use only once or twice. Home Chef gets us out of our eating rut, feels special, and is less expensive than going out to eat.

We saved $35 on our first order with this limited time offer, and so can YOU using this unique affiliate code.

If you want to try it, the absolutely cheapest way (which we did) is to:

Follow my affiliate link
Give any dietary specifications/dislikes
Choose the plan 2 Meals a Week for 2 people,
Head to check out.
Home Chef then takes $35 off and your 4 meals are a total of $14.80!
(Of course, the $35 discount for other size orders if you choose)

For this price, it's a WONDERFUL way to try out a meal prep service, whether for the short-term or as a long-term dinner solution!

2) One Tried and True Crowd Pleaser With Jack and Margaret it was Taco Tuesday. With Andrew it is Spaghetti and Meatballs Tuesdays :) We keep all ingredients on hand in the pantry and freezer so we have one cheap, no-brainer meal every week. I don't eat much pasta, so I eat mine over frozen spriralized squash.

3) Costco Prepared Meals I go every few months, buy a bunch of these meals and freeze them. They bake in the oven for a hands-off meal. Our favorites are Salmon with Herb Butter and Meatloaf with Mashed Potatoes.

4) Crock pot or Instant Pot one night per week. I prefer the crock pot, particularly in soup season. Here's my favorite white chicken chili recipe. Lentil soup is also great in the crock-pot-- with no soaking needed. There's nothing like having dinner cooking when you leave the house in the morning.

These tips should get you 5 or 6 dinners a week, leaving room for pizza or Taco Bell one night, of course!

What are your top dinner tips?

Friday, November 1, 2019

Come see me in Warrenton, VA Tomorrow!

Hi Dears!

Halloween is behind us. Andrew had a WONDERFUL time trick or treating with his pirate-clad grandma, grandpa and dad. I doled out candy and cleaned the pantry.

For those of you for whom Halloween is very difficult, either because of the endless gore or because you are missing someone special, I hope today provides needed relief.

I'm sorry for the late notice, but I want to make sure you know that I'll be speaking in Warrenton, VA tomorrow at Cornerstone Baptist Church and I'd LOVE to see you there! I've been posting about it on Facebook, but I realize not all of you connect with me that way.

Be forewarned-- the photo on this flyer is  a few years old, so adjust your expectations about what I look like accordingly! :)

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Fab Fit Fun Box is Coming My Way! Want to try it too for 50% OFF?

As many of you saw on my Facebook Live Video this morning, I am super excited that I finally took the plunge to order a Fab Fit Fun box! I've been wanting to do it for months, but when I saw this month's 50% off deal, with between 250-350 worth of luxury goodies for only $25, I couldn't resist any longer. My BFF just got her box and loves it! If you want to check it out and see all that Fab Fit Fun offers, please use my affiliate link here! The discount code is: OMG50

I'll share pictures when my box arrives!

XO, Anna

Monday, October 14, 2019


Don't for a second think you don't make a difference in the lives of others. 

I just got back from the park with Andrew, where I saw a woman I recognized from my early childhood playing with her grandkids. I introduced myself, and after she got over the shock of seeing me with a 3 year old, she said:

"Your mom saved me."

When she and her husband moved to our town from out of state, she was isolated and alone with a newborn. My mother met her and said, "Come to my house on Tuesday." The woman told of babies lined up in cribs in the dining room, tuna fish sandwiches for mothers and kids, cups of coffee, and surreptitious drags on cigarettes. One Tuesday led to another and another. Later, Mom invited her to a Bible study and eventually, our church. 

I can picture our big old house with toys strewn across the floor, and pots full of inexpensive coffee. The drafty house where something always needed fixing. With 3 kids under 4 years old, Mom offered nothing fancy, just a welcoming spirit, irreverent sense of humor, and radical hospitality. With a husband who worked long hours, and all family support out of state, she may have felt frustrated and house-bound, so she invited people to come to her. 

I doubt my mother knew that what she offered this other woman would have ripples all the way to this park 50 years later. Not to be too dramatic, but I am guessing the love and encouragement that made a young mom feel less isolated and helped plug her into a faith community rippled outward for three generations, all the way to the grandkids I saw today at the park. 

My mom, who never left the country, held a fancy job or went on a real vacation, made a difference in people's lives because she made them feel special and worth it. And you know what? Everyone is worth it. If you help other people know they are worth your time, your friendship, your notice, then you too make a difference. 

This message hit home for me today because I am a frustrated achiever. I couldn't just punch a clock at Blockbuster in grad school for my $3.10 an hour; I had to be employee of the month. I couldn't just teach English; I wanted to be the best. I willingly put achievement on the back burner as a stay-at-home mom, because holy hell if you don't yet know that trying to "achieve" as a parent is an exercise in hubris and futility, you will figure it out at some point. Big-time.

I just held on for the ride and thought my 40's and 50's would be the chance to prove myself as a productive member of society who made a difference. Once I found my passion for writing and speaking, I imagined myself speaking from large stages (you win a car! and you win a car!), writing more books, and contributing to my family financially in significant ways. Instead, I found myself in the park on a gorgeous October day pushing Andrew "higher! higher!" And despite knowing how fleeting his childhood will be, I also know I'm not guaranteed a season of productivity after he's grown. We are not promised tomorrow, only today. 

Nothing I did today felt very epic. I didn't figure out how to promote my books. I failed to make childcare arrangements so I could go to a conference and learn, once again, how much I don't know about social media. I didn't even buy baby carrots.

But I did play in the park with Andrew. I did enjoy a beautiful walk with a newly-bereaved friend. This afternoon I can encourage my friend across the street that she's doing a great job with baby #2 while wrangling baby #1 (BTW, Kelly, you are!). Tonight I can return an email from a precious mama whose teen daughter died unexpectedly in September. I can try not to take out my exhaustion and peri-menopausal period on my husband when he's trying to watch the "baseball playoffs", whatever that means. 

It may not be much.

It doesn't feel like much. 

But you know what? Ripples rarely do. 

We all make ripples, whether positively or negatively. Maybe I'll never make a big splash in this lifetime, but I can try to make my ripples more helpful than hurtful. More generous than stingy. More loving than lacking. 

And even if I think tuna fish is gross, I can open my home and heart just a little bit more. 

Here, have a cheese stick.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Always Andy's Mom Podcast for Bereaved Parents and Those who Support Us

I want to introduce you to a new podcast for bereaved parents. Losing a Child: Always Andy's Mom.

It is the kind of podcast I dreamed of setting up years ago, but never did. Marcy Larson, Andy's mom, is amazing, and the stories and guests on this podcast will help bereaved parents feel less alone!

I was honored to be a guest on the podcast this week. While I am sad that my head cold made my audio less than ideal, I hope you will give it a listen and subscribe to the podcast so you won't miss a single episode.



Wednesday, October 2, 2019

The Turn of a Page: Living in the After

While organizing our basement recently, I came across our family calendar page from September 2011. It hung next to the kitchen door of our old house, and if something wasn't written on the calendar, it wasn't going to happen.

After Jack's sudden death, I couldn't bear to see all of his activities for the entire school year, which I'd dutifully filled out in Sharpie as soon as school, practice and scout schedules came out. Things as mundane as dental appointments screamed LOSS and UNFAIRNESS and DESPAIR. What about the Bible study I was supposed to lead, but I'd cancel, along with any other activities of mine outside of work and caring for my lonely little girl? Did I even believe what I once taught?

What about the day itself, September 8th, mocking me with its normalcy? Nothing unique there: the cleaning lady, packing for a camping trip, a work meeting with a pastor friend, a Walmart run. Nothing notable on a day when my world shifted on its axis. When I stood in the hallway of the church and shared with a friend a strange foreboding I had about Jack and his friendships, then laughed it off, all but forgotten a few hours later when it might have mattered. How do you recognize rumblings of a cosmic shift when you speak the language of Sharpies and calendars and soccer snacks, not souls, heaven, life and death?

I remember saving my mother's check register after her sudden death at age 46. I looked at it to marvel at the stark before/after of a full life and then an absence. Everyone else's life seemed to be going forward as usual, but ours had stopped. I could see that four days ago, one week ago, one month ago, she was paying bills. Bills! For that same reason, I suppose, I saved this one calendar page.

To remember a life before the after.

Our calendar today doesn't look much different. It hangs in the same spot in a different house, that is remarkably similar to the one before. Sure, preschool swim lessons, and Margaret's college breaks take the place of elementary school busy-ness, but there are still grocery runs, vet visits, and hair color appointments.

And life is very, very different.

I have learned to live in this new life, to lean into it, and to embrace it as much as my sleep-deprived self will let me. How did I get here, to this place of being able to live in the mundane again while being keenly aware of the spiritual reality of my loved ones being by my side every step of the way? How do I now experience joy in the land of the living? I have no easy answers how this shift happened. Time. Hugs from Heaven. You. Gratitude. Letting tears flow.

If you are living in the shocking, stark AFTER right now, all of those things sound trite and meaningless. I know. I remember. I honor you and that reality.

But I will just whisper, I'm still here. I may not know exactly how I got here, but I'm here, just a bit farther down the road, and if that helps at all, I'm grateful.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

I Can Only Imagine

On September 11, 2001 I sat in the parlor of our church with my besties from my moms' group. We were so happy to be together after a summer apart. It was my chance to show off newborn Margaret, while 2 year old Jack played happily in the nursery. In the room that day we had a flight attendant, a woman whose husband worked at the Pentagon, another whose sister worked in the World Trade Center, and another for whom the Oklahoma City terrorist attack was not just an abstraction, but a reality. Her husband was the only one who called and said, "Get home now. This is terrorism."

As the news unfolded, we tried to take in what we were hearing, yet for the most part, we continued in our meeting. It didn't seem real. I looked at our agenda items, and crossed them off one by one. Later, as people fled Washington DC, some on foot, Tim chose to stay at work in his office, 3 blocks from the White House. It didn't cross his mind to come home early.

Our passivity seemed stark to me. As we learned more, I became certain that if told that everything was fine and to return to my desk at the Trade Center, I would have done so. It worried me that I didn't seem to have much of a survival instinct. I remembered back to childhood when my brother and sister would chase me and I would just stop. I knew they'd catch me sooner or later, so why not make it sooner?

When we heard of flight attendants and passengers fighting back, of fire fighters trudging up flight after flight of stairs toward the danger, I tried to picture myself in their position of bravery and self-sacrifice and couldn't.

Of course trying to inject myself into these scenarios was futile. It's similar to when I hear someone say, "Well, I would have gone all Mama Bear on them..." when discussing a scenario related to a child. Maybe. Perhaps. Maybe not. How do you know?

I would have liked to have believed I would have plunged into a raging creek after my dying son, not sat quietly in our kitchen waiting for news. I would have imagined Tim would have run to the creek, yet he came quietly to the door, shattered, confused, saying, "What do I do? Should I go down there?"

For all of the heroic acts of that terrible day 18 years ago, surely there were ordinary acts too. People sitting at their desks, trying to make a phone call. Those not processing, wondering if the whole work day would be a waste. Making nervous jokes. Weighing the options of climbing down 60-plus flights of stairs in high heels versus waiting until everything was resolved. It was the final few moments of a world where steel buildings didn't fall. Right before people had to make a terrible choice of staying in a burning skyscraper or leaping out of one.

Or maybe it was really the "during" but not yet the "after."

And when the after came, and we were able to imagine scenarios, so inconceivable a short time before, our country came together in the magnitude and sacredness of the horror and loss of life and promise. We put small differences aside. We talked to strangers. We hung out American flags. We went to church. We honored the pain and grief.

18 years later, domestic terrorists hunt down and murder our children in school. Our children spend time training for and injecting themselves into scenarios such as deciding whether to be brave and try to confront a shooter. How to block a door. Whether to throw their bodies on top of each other. Or whether to crouch and pray for survival.

I try to imagine if we'd been told in September 2001 that our great country would be losing kids this way, not just 2 years post-Columbine, but 20. We would surely have pictured ourselves coming together in love and bravery, putting all differences aside and finding a way to protect our children.

But sometimes what we imagine we would do is not what we do.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Ready or Not (Mom), Here She Comes!

We move Margaret into her dorm on Friday.

Today, instead of taking her to lunch and exhorting her to never swim in a quarry, to keep her drink with her at all times, and to attend any and all goofy activities her RA sets up, I am sitting at McDonald's with Andrew enjoying a 59 cent cone. People ask how I'm coping with Margaret, my original "baby", heading off to school. But the truth is, I haven't been able to focus on what I'm feeling, at least not yet, because I'm in the day-to-day of keeping up with an active 3 year old during what surely is the word's longest preschool break.

I am processing neither Margaret's imminent departure nor the fact that the nest I always thought would be empty as of Sept 2019 is full-ish again. Questions like-- "Who am I now? What is it like to parent a young-adult, when I never had the chance to have an adult mother/daughter relationship? Will I be able to do the dorm move-in for Andrew when I'm 65?"-- all remain unexamined. No, I'm just doing the thing. And the thing seems to be snuggling on the couch with too much Netflix, reminding Andrew to un-clench when I wipe his bottom, and an awful lot of playing with the garden hose.

It makes me think of when Jack died, almost 8 years ago. My very first thoughts in those terrifying moments turned to the need to make Margaret feel safe. To showing my sadness but also my strength (what strength?) so she wouldn't think I would disappear too. I didn't check out. I drove to every soccer practice, marveling that the other parents would even let their kids drive with me, when inside I felt so utterly unhinged, each telephone pole taunting me with sweet relief if only I would steer into it. My love for and my responsibility toward Margaret kept me going. And things got better. Much, much better.

I'm NOT comparing college drop-off to the death of a child, but rather pondering whether being busy and focused on other things is healthy, or whether it's just one more way of covering up, rather than exploring one's feelings. I don't know any other way. Just as I was glad when college classes started up soon after my mom died, I was grateful Margaret's needs were too ever-present to ignore. I was grateful to have to go to work to try to stimulate my brain. Keeping busy with Andrew, which can feel both soul-sucking and life-giving, hasn't left much room to consider my girl's latest chapter even though it is right upon us.

But then I remember it didn't all go unexamined, in the face of responsibility, busy-ness, and gaping need. Late nights with you and this laptop were where I did most of my processing those years ago, and I'm grateful you are here with me now.

Friday, August 9, 2019


Do you know what an ampersand is? 

It’s the “&” symbol on a keyboard. A long time ago, I bought a huge ampersand to hang on my office wall. It had no special meaning for me then, but it does now. 

I realized recently that I’ve been living, and even flourishing, in what I’ll call an ampersand life: a life of AND. 

You see, when my sweet son Jack died by drowning, I could not imagine anything other than a future of abject grief and pain. Life felt meaningless and our family hopelessly broken. I am very sorry that many of my readers also know the pain of child loss.

I noticed over time, however, that I’d begun living a life of hope that I could not have fathomed right away, and that certain actions and attitudes helped get me there. 

First was letting myself feel my grief. I used writing to explore feelings of loneliness, pain, anger, fear, and sadness. I did not answer with “fine” when people asked how I was doing. My husband used exercise to push his body to its limits and feel the loss of Jack. You might have a church group, a therapist, a group like TCF or Bereaved Parents of the USA, or one safe person who acknowledges your loss and doesn’t rush you or run away, no matter what scary feelings you share. 

I also tried to be open to the possibility of hope. Even when I felt very little hope, I let myself be open to the chance of hope at some point in the future. To do this, I limited my use of words like “always” and “never” because when I told myself, “I will always feel this way,” and “life will never get better,” I felt closed off from hope.

Staying connected to Jack helped too. I looked for signs from him everywhere, calling them “hugs from heaven”. I dug deep for gratitude and realized I was grateful for the 12 years I’d been able to hug him and hold him on earth. I shared stories about Jack, and said his name.

Now, almost eight years after Jack's death, I experience genuine joy and hope every day. The disorienting pain has softened into a gentle longing and a real appreciation for the time I have left on earth. I find value and meaning in relationships, work, and life again—without faking it!

So what does any of this have to do with an ampersand?

None of this healing came from ignoring the fact that my son died, or shoving feelings of grief away. It came from learning to live in the AND. 

This is what it looks like for me:

I hold sadness & joy at the same time.
I miss my son’s physical presence & I am fully present in the lives of my living loved ones.
I miss the past & I’m excited for the future.
I grieve & I am healing.
I have lost friends & I have made new ones.
My child died & I can still be close to him.
I have one foot in heaven & one foot on earth.
I know great pain & I know great love.

AND does not negate reality. It is not an easy, cheap fix. It is holding two truths at the same time. It is an awareness of the complexity of life and loss & an embracing of what is versus what could have been.

What might living in the AND look like for you?

Monday, July 29, 2019

Helping College-Aged Students Deal with Depression

This is a sponsored post.

People sometimes ask me whether having lost one child, I am extra fearful about the safety of my other children. In general, I’d say no. Jack’s sudden death and the confluence of bizarre circumstances that led to it, convinced me that no amount of worrying can completely protect our kids from harm. Sure it’s scary, but there’s a certain freedom in that. 

My experiences with grief and trauma have, however, connected me to many families who have experienced teen depression and suicide, and with Margaret heading to college in the fall, this topic looms large! With suicide now the second-leading cause of death for college students, I know it must also be on the mind of many, many of you with high school and college-aged kids. I want to be informed for my family’s sake, and I want to share information with you.

I recently teamed up with Med-IQ to help generate awareness about depression among teens, and learn more about how I as a parent can identify risk factors and access resources. Med-IQ is an accredited medical education company that provides an exceptional educational experience for physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and other health-care professionals. Look for several posts from me on this topic as I learn more! 

Maybe your family is good at communicating, but mine isn’t. Sure, I may overshare on the internet, but at home it’s a different story. 

It reminds me of when Margaret was 6 years old. Two girls in her class were fighting over her. There was drama. Both of the other moms knew all about it because their daughters talked about it daily, yet I didn’t hear a peep from mine, who was smack-dab in the center of  it all. It was an early example of how much my family struggles when it comes to talking about uncomfortable issues and emotions. Heap grief and trauma on top of that and we struggle even more. 

Not that emotional well-being should be a hard issue to discuss, but it is still stigmatized, most particularly for boys and students of color. It is so much easier to talk about physical illness than mental illness; colleges want to change this. 

In fact, the doctors at Med-IQ stressed the importance of looking at mental health in the same way we look at the physical health of our teens. One of the psychiatrists from the University of Michigan, who has decades of experience helping college kids with depression put it this way: “Every student should have a check-up from the neck up!”

Don’t you love that? But how does one even start the conversation about depression and mental health in order to get this “check-up”? A College Guidefrom the National Alliance on Mental Illness gave me pointers. I am printing it out for Tim and Margaret to read so we can all have the same info. 

There is also a great online screeningtool that students can access at any time to see if they might need mental health services. It even connects directly to resources at specific colleges, including my daughter’s. I took the screening myself to see what it was like, and I think asking your child to take this quiz every 6 months or so might be a good way to open up conversation and “check in.”

Transitioning to college is going to be an adjustment in every way. New friends. Freedom. Academic stress. Readily available alcohol and drugs. I’d be lying if I said I’m not nervous about it. I found the following list to be a good starting point of what to look for now and revisit later when school starts:

Signs that your son/daughter might be depressed:

Feeling very sad or withdrawn for more than two weeks.
Severe out-of-control risk-taking behaviors
Sudden overwhelming fear for no reason
Not eating, throwing up, or using laxatives to lose weight.
Seeing, hearing or believing things that are not real
Repeatedly and excessively using drugs or alcohol
Drastic changes in mood, behavior, personality or sleeping habits
Extreme difficulty concentrating/staying still
Intense worries or fears that get in the way of daily activities.
Trying to harm oneself or planning to do so.
I also found this fact-sheet of statistics and risk-factors about college suicideto be very helpful. 
Some of the info really got me down, but everything I read says it’s better to be more informed, than less. If this is starting to sound discouraging, I’ll say I’ve also learned that certain positive or protective factors common on campuses that can mitigate the risk of suicide such as connectedness to the school community, physical activity and exercise, social support such as RA’s, faculty, and friends, plans for the future, and access to services. 
Collegeswant to support students. Parents want the same thing. When we have more knowledge, we are more equipped to help.
I hope you’ll follow along to learn more.

Important:Med-IQ is conducting an anonymous survey and would appreciate your input. The survey, which includes additional education on this topic, will take less than 15 minutes to complete. Survey responses are shared only in aggregate. Your responses to these survey questions will provide Med-IQ with important information about your experiences with depression and mental health in your college-age child which will help us develop future educational initiatives. Please take the SURVEY HERE.

Once you’ve completed the survey you will have the option of providing your email address to be entered into a drawing administered by SOMA Strategies to win 1 of 10 $100 Visa cards. If you choose to enter, your email address will not be sold, kept, or stored; email addresses are used only to randomly draw the winners and notify them of their prize. 

I was compensated by Med-IQ through an educational grant from Otsuka America Pharmaceutical, Inc and Lundbeck to write about depression in college-aged students. All opinions are my own.

Links to external sites are provided as a convenience and for informational purposes only. They are not intended and should not be construed as legal or medical advice, nor are they endorsements of any organization. Med-IQ bears no responsibility for the accuracy, legality, or content of any external site. Contact the external site for answers to questions regarding its content. 

Friday, July 19, 2019

Summer Check-in

Well, hello there...

My bright idea of re-joining the gym so Andrew could go to up to THREE hours of childcare a day tanked. It was even a DROP-OFF place so I could run to the grocery store or to Panera to write! Andrew was fine with it until the big kids got out of school and the playroom got crowded. He decided he'd only go if there were just FOUR other kids there. Quite specific. So once again I am paying for the fancy gym, but not going. Enjoy your green smoothies and stair masters those of you who actually go!

Margaret, flush with cash from graduation, has decided that work is over-rated and has been clocking in a massive 6 hours of employment each week. Next summer will be a real wake-up call. I've offered to have her babysit Andrew without even needing to get dressed or leave the house, but those two are like oil and water. You might think sibling rivalry wouldn't exist with a 15 year age difference, but you would be sorely mistaken. He refused to let her take him for ICE CREAM today, for heaven's sake.

Margaret's big issue this summer was getting locked out of Instagram because 1) her phone broke 2) we are doofuses who had a defunct email account and phone number attached to her account. The great news is that thanks to an AWESOME blog reader and her multi-talented cousin, Margaret is back in! She immediately went with a friend to take glamor shots in the parking lot of Taco Bell, which I don't quite understand, but to each her own.

My big news is/was that we almost bought a small vacation home. This is something we've been working on for 3 years, and we were supposed to close on it today and go down there on Sunday. I had bags and boxes and board games ready to go. Alas, a bunch of complications came up and we pulled out. I am feeling down about it, weirdly not because I really enjoy the idea of "vacationing" with a three year old (is there such a thing?) but because I envisioned a) accessorizing it with gusto b) opening it up for small-group getaways and writing and grief retreats. My mind was spinning in an excited way and now it just feels blah.

Speaking of grief retreats, I'm honored to be going to Michigan next week to speak at a retreat for grieving moms through a wonderful organization called Starlight Ministries. My blah self wonders what I have to offer when Andrew and I are still in our pj's at 12:18 pm and I haven't written in eons. Deep down, however, I know that if I show up and open myself up to being used, God will take care of the rest.

Last night our nephew (Jack's BFF) came to spend the night and do some work in the area. The dynamic shifted immediately, as if we all let out a collective deep breath we didn't know we were holding. Although most days feel normal, there is still a palpable feeling that there should be a 20-something young man here. It feels so natural, so right. Our family looks vastly different from how it did with Jack alive. But there is muscle memory of how it once was, and those few times that we get to approximate it again, feel anything but blah.

Love you friends. How is your summer going?

Friday, June 28, 2019

Life is Weird

On Friday nights our town has live music and food on the town green. Last Friday Tim and I took Andrew.

We sat on a blanket next to a couple from our neighborhood with young kids Andrew's age. It was great to know we'd reached the stage where we could take him somewhere a little past bedtime, and we could hang out with adults.

As I looked around, I was struck by how many people I knew. Friends from Andrew's preschool across town. Jen from "Moms' Group" when Jack and Margaret were born, who later worked in Tim's office when we dipped our toes back into the working world. Ann, whom I met at "the park" in between kid 1 and kid 2, when we both wore oversized t-shirts, jean shorts, and weary looks. Parents from Margaret's field hockey team. People from both of the churches we attend.

I spotted a group of adults in camp chairs, and realized it was the parents of Jack's baseball teammates. Some had recent high school graduates, so we talked about the craziness of beach week and how glad we were that the kids all made it home safely. Turning to a baseball dad, I blurted out what popped into my head, "My life is so weird!" I gestured to where Tim and Andrew were waiting to get ice cream. 

They smiled and nodded. They may not know me well, but they do know that my life is weird. One kid in heaven, one heading to college, one in the line for ice cream with his daddy.

Jen's kids are both out of the house now, even though I still remember her son Chris as an infant, dwarfing Jack, who was older. She has gone back to work full-time in her field. Ann's son, Jack's friend from preschool, is studying in North Carolina. I was on that same timetable, until I wasn't.

It reminded me of a blog post, "Why B Normal?" written soon after Jack's accident, about how as a child I'd always imagined my life would be just a little bit different, even though I'm the most steady, predictable person I know. 

And it's true. My life is different. It often feels weird.

Yet thinking about it later, I realized that almost every one of the people on the town green likely had been thrown curveballs: death, divorce, infertility, mental and physical illness, job struggles, discrimination, interpersonal challenges, disappointment, crises of faith, and more. 

Shortly before she died, leaving me motherless at 18, my mom jotted a phrase on a piece of scrap paper and taped it to the fridge. It read, "Life is a very strange time."

I had no idea what it meant, but it didn't take me very long to figure it out.

Life has, indeed, been a very strange time.


We had to duck out of the concert earlier than the empty nesters happily holding their wineglasses, because bedtime awaited; until then, I soaked in the crisp air of a near-perfect June evening. Glad to be out of the house. Grateful to see so many familiar faces and to have friends from the different stages of my life. Open to those I would meet in the next stages as well.

Life is weird, sometimes hard, and often good.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Help Them Help You

May 31st was the anniversary of my mom's death.

She died when she was 46 and I was 18.

Mid-morning on the 31st, I texted Tim and Margaret reminding them that this was the day my mom died. They sent back short texts of sympathy, and I appreciated it. I also wrote on the family wall calendar "Mom 31 years." These two actions gave Tim and Margaret the greatest chance of reaching out and acknowledging my mom's death. Instead of waiting for them to show up for me (OR NOT) as I've done many years in the past, I chose to help them help me.

That's often how it is with grief. The griever is the one who much educate others how best to help. Give me space. Don't give me space. Say his name. Be silent. Talk. Listen. Go on a walk with me. Celebrate a holiday with me. Ignore this stupid holiday with me. My mom died and I want you to mention it.

Is this fair to ask of an already depleted person?

Absolutely not. But if you are grieving, you've likely learned that not much is fair anyway. However, the alternative is for even more pain to be piled on top of pain as we feel unacknowledged, forgotten, or misunderstood.

Shortly after Jack died, my friend Mary seemed absent. I am not saying she wasn't there at our house or for the funeral, but it felt like she was silently disappearing. I knew she loved Jack, and I knew she loved me. I spent an enormous amount of time and energy wondering what Mary was thinking and why she wasn't reaching out. I worried that her own grief for Jack was overwhelming.

Over text we decided to go out to lunch. After talk of mundane topics such as church news and how her son was doing in Algebra died down, I told her I missed her and broached  how she seemed unwilling or unable to grieve Jack with me. To talk about it. To acknowledge the shock. To voice how f*ing unbelievable and devastating it was that Jack had died. Really died.

 It was awkward.

We both cried. She explained that she'd been giving me the space and privacy she thought she'd want if one of her children died. My snarky side wanted to say that I'd been documenting my grief for thousands of people and she surely could have found clues on my blog, but I didn't.

For a lesser friend, I would not have brought up my disappointment and needs at all, but I cared enough about Mary to want to help her help me. Then, she could decide what to do with the information.

That's why I texted Tim and Margaret about my mom last week. Life is disappointing enough. People are disappointing. I know because I disappoint people regularly and fall short all. of. the. darn. time.

Honestly stating our needs can feel risky and vulnerable, but it gives someone a greater chance to be there for us in the ways we need. My friendship with Mary was never the same, but I am glad I said what I did.

If there is a specific way a friend or family member could better support you, consider showing them how, even if you might be angry pissed annoyed that you even have to.

Posting on Facebook on Jack's birthday, the anniversary of his death, or other important dates, and giving people the opportunity to comment, is a huge comfort to me, and it doesn't require anyone else to remember the dates. This is one of the ways I help others help me.

Maybe you can remind your friends that Mother's or Father's Day is tough, or that this was the month your baby was due.

Help someone help you.


Monday, May 20, 2019

Current State of Affairs

I'm not going to say this parenting a preschooler and a teenager thing is impossible, but I will say it isn't always super-fun. Check out these voice texts between Tim and me when I was out much longer on Saturday than I'd intended:

I'm glad a sense of humor helps.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Why I Just Ate 1/2 of a Sheet Cake

Yesterday was sweet Andrew's 3rd birthday.

You may be thinking how fast that went.

For you.

For me, it has been both lightning fast and excruciatingly slow as I've re-learned the ropes of parenting a baby, toddler, and now preschooler. Being a geriatric mom has been miraculous, difficult, and unusual while also seeming like the most natural thing in the world.

Our day didn't have the best beginning because Andrew was so excited he woke up well before 6 ready to party. Problem was, the casual gathering I'd thrown together for a couple of our neighbor kids wasn't scheduled until 5 pm. Explaining to a newly minted three-nager that he'd have to wait 11 hours to eat his dump truck cake went over about as well as you can imagine. He was wailing by the time I wrestled him out the door to preschool, at which point I accidentally bonked his head against the car.

But what I thought would be a rough day for him, was more so for me.

My sister texted me an album of photos she'd taken the day of his birth. I scrolled through frame after frame of unflattering photos. I'm not saying that birth photography can't be beautiful. Black and whites, filters, and professional equipment yield artistic gold and capture the beauty and intensity of the moment.

My sister's i-phone 6, clicking second after second during Andrew's birth yielded a bunch of grainy, poorly lit photos of interest only to those of us who were there. They showcased my many chins, strained blood vessels in my eyes, and stages of undress that you care not one whit about mid-labor, when you're convinced you are about to poop on the bed, but that probably don't belong floating around on the cloud after that. Even baby Andrew didn't look so hot. He looked distraught and very, very sticky. As I browsed, I couldn't remember the proper terminology for all the gunk that covered him, but the words "womb cheese"popped into my head and stuck. I decided that if I somehow became miraculously pregnant at 50-something, I'd hire a professional photographer.

I quickly decided to post the one photo that passed muster: Tim holding newborn Andrew, cozy, clean and swaddled-- cheese-free and pinkish.

After a few hours of blissful alone time (i.e. a deep, deep dental cleaning in which my lack of flossing was evident) I headed into preschool to drop off birthday cookies. Ding. My sister texted, asking if I knew that one of the photos I'd posted showed boob.




Dear Lord, I'd somehow posted the entire album, boobs, triple chins, womb cheese, umbilical cords and all.

Nervous texts flew back and forth as I frantically deleted, and she checked and re-checked my wall.

Still there.

Still there.

Still there.


Thank God.

"Don't worry," she said, lying, "no one clicks through those albums."

By the time the neighbors came over with their little ones for pizza and a moon bounce, I was still feeling like a doofus.

First to arrive was my friend Kelsey. We all know how amazing it is to have a friend right across the street with whom you click, and whose kid is the perfect age for yours. Visions of child-swaps, carpooling, short-hand conversations and girls' nights out pop into your head before the moving van has even turned the corner. I've spent the 6 months since she and her young family moved in getting to know Kelsey and trying not to come across as "too anything": too old, too eager, too weird. I'm cognizant of not trying to scare her or my other wonderful neighbors off. But each time I think I won't tell her another long-winded story about what's going on in our lives, I do anyway, because she's just that easy to talk to.

So I plunge in, needing to unburden myself about my screw-up with the album.

She said,"Oh, I saw it and clicked through. I saw the boob picture and was like, 'Go, Anna!'"

Can you tell why I adore her?

"Don't push it, Anna. Don't try to be funny,"  I told my relieved self, yet seconds later these words popped out of my mouth, "Ok, but you didn't see any VAG did you?"

That, my friends, is why I have 1/2 of Andrew's sheet cake to keep my fork and my emotional eating company tonight.

I'll report back soon on whether I have any friends left.

And don't worry that I took too much of Andrew's beloved cake. After wailing about it for 11 hours, he decided one bite would suffice.

Monday, March 25, 2019

We've Still Got It?

Tim and I just had 23 wonderful hours away for a belated anniversary celebration. When your anniversary is Christmas week, you need to spread things out a bit.

My sister took care of Andrew and Charlie, while Margaret had a jam-packed weekend in NYC with her art class. We stayed at the Blackburn Inn in Staunton, VA. We picked it because it was close to my sister's, and we feel like we found a hidden gem! It used to be a psychiatric hospital, and then a medium security prison before sitting abandoned for years. Maybe that doesn't sound like a big draw, but I love history and old buildings. I loved how the historic architecture and traditional grounds were coupled with cool, modern furnishings and any amenity you could think of.

My former student is the food/beverage director there, and it was super fun to reconnect with her. She gave us great suggestions for things to do around town, even though we told her we'd probably be lame and binge-watch The Sopranos in our room.

Did I tell you Tim and I are tired and strung-out?

He came home one day last week, looked at almost-three-year-old Andrew and said, "I really don't know how we are going to do this." I knew what he meant. The truth is, we are doing it. Haggard and tired? Yes. But we are doing it. But I'm not always "up" either. That same day I almost cried because I felt overwhelmed with doctors' appointments, scheduling, and all the moving parts of making a family work. I feel like I'm dropping balls everywhere, even though we are a FAR cry from what one would call busy. That scares me.

Our night away was relaxing, romantic, and fun, and we even got 2.5 episodes of The Sopranos in before Tim fell asleep!

The next morning was much less romantic.

Did I tell you I'm a difficult sleeper? At home I sleep under a weighted blanket, with the additional 24 lbs of a puppy on my legs. I take a melatonin gummy, wear eye shades, and ear plugs if necessary. Even a tiny blue light from a phone charger across the room can sabotage my tenuous sleep. My bladder conspires against me. A neighbor's porch light or a full moon can keep me up for days. Yes, even with the shades closed tightly.

At the inn I couldn't find my eye shades because I'd tucked them somewhere "special" in my bag. I also felt restless with no dog on my legs, even though the bed, bedding and pillows were luxurious and comfortable.

So when I couldn't sleep, I had to get creative. Imagine how romantic Tim felt when he woke up next to me.

a) Mouthguard for teeth grinding? Yep!
b) Retainer for lower teeth? Of course!
c) Bad breath? See a and b.

But even after more than 20 yrs of marriage, I don't think he was expecting to see his wife wearing a pair of underwear on her head to serve as a makeshift eye-shade.

Clearly, the romance is not dead.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Good-bye, Shadow

Tuesday I let Shadow out in the yard while I got dressed for a pancake supper at our friends' house. When I came downstairs, Andrew decided he wanted to go for a walk. Even though we didn't have much daylight left, I said agreed and bundled him up.

When we walked out through the garage, I saw Shadow motionless on the grass.

My mind couldn't put together what I was seeing. Why was she on the cold ground? Was it even Shadow, or could it be the other chocolate lab that frequents our yard? What was happening? I put Andrew back in the house in front of the TV, whispered to Margaret that we might have a problem, and headed back out.

Yes, it was our Shadow. She was warm to the touch but lifeless. Her ears still velvet. I tucked my cold hands into the soft fold where her tummy met her legs and thought of what to do next.

Shadow was 12 years old; her death should not have come as a surprise, but it did. She was still  energetic, with barely any gray and just a little stiffness in her hips. The day had not seemed unusual in her world. Extra banana from me while I made my morning smoothie. A treat from Andrew later. Up to her usual tricks, she even seized an opportunity when the cleaning lady left the dog food/mop closet ajar. I caught her with her head inside a large bag of Purina before I called her name sternly and she backed out of there. All markers of a very good day.

So it was hard to imagine that in the few minutes she was outside, she would just...die. I am grateful we didn't have to deal with the usual issues related to the slow decline of an aging dog, but it felt shocking. Just the day before she'd jumped up onto the couch next to me, hoping I wouldn't notice.

With a dog, you tend to think you'll have a chance to say goodbye. When you and the vet talk about options and quality of life, and you finally make the hard, hard decision to let her go. When you whisper into her ear, "It's okay. Good girl. Good girl. I love you."

But in this instance, I knelt on the grass, closed her eyes, and called Tim on a ski trip in Utah. It felt similar to another call I'd had to make to Tim 7 years ago, but it was without panic and terror. Tim was her favorite person.

I let Charlie out so he could see her, sniff her, and understand. Margaret had been having a hard day already when I told her and asked if she wanted to see her. "Why would I want to do something like that?" she snapped. A few minutes later she came, saw her, touched her, this beloved one who was so familiar to us that we each had our preferred zones on her body. I wasn't sure about bringing Andrew out, but I did. I explained that she died and wondered if this would help make Jack and Grandma Margaret's deaths less abstract.

Two neighbors lifted Shadow into the back of the car, on top of Jack's butter-soft blue twin bed sheet, and Andrew and I drove in the dark to the vet. We talked about how much we were going to miss her, and Andrew comforted me from the back seat as I cried.

Shadow had always been the quietest, calmest car companion, because nothing made her happier than to know her family was on a trip with her. We'd often arrive at a destination with her stirring from the floorboard for the very first time. Scenery? Who cared? She was with her people. She loved us and we loved her.

She was already named when we adopted her at nearly one year old. Within hours of knowing her, we realized "Shadow" suited her for the way she wanted to be near us at all times. In fact, tales of her mischief, which I've shared with you over the years, stemmed either from her voracious appetite or from her anxiety of not being with her us. Just search "Dog" on this blog and you will read tale after tale about Shadow.

Standing on the kitchen table at the old house? She needed a way to keep watch for our car. Eating 100 vitamin D tablets from the counter top? Well, I did have the audacity to take Charlie in the car (to the vet) thereby leaving her behind  FOREVER! Incessant barking heard through the neighborhood when Andrew and I went on walks? She had to let us know she was right there, available, waiting for us to come home. And if we could please keep little Charlie from humping her mercilessly, that would be helpful, too.

As long as we were with her, she was fine. I remember the time Jack, Margaret and their cousins came crying to me because Shadow had disappeared. Run away. Gone forever. Turns out she was stuck in an upstairs bathroom because she'd quietly gone in to keep one of them company and been left behind. So many memories. Of Easter baskets eaten, so that she pooped pastel foil for days. Of the way she convinced this work-at-home mom that her evening meal should be served no later than 1:30 p.m. Of Santa hats, doggie Halloween costumes, and her very own Snuggie. Of kayak rides, tennis balls, family hikes, and the time she dragged me though the air.

Dogs don't live long, and part of life is saying goodbye to them.

Of course we will miss more than just our precious, loyal family member and Snuggler-in-Chief. She takes with her a connection to our old home, our old lives, to Jack and Margaret's childhood. She lived two months longer than Jack did, which makes it a good run for dog, but a ludicrous one for a child.

Thank you for everything, Shadow.

Good girl. Good girl. I love you.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Taking Down the Crib

 We planned on keeping Andrew in his happy yellow crib until he turned three. After the disintegration of his last remaining pacifier a few weeks ago, and the ensuing nights of restless sleep, things accelerated. 

Last Thursday, after bedtime and prayers, he was not settling down. I could hear him through the door, "Um, Mom? Mom! Mom-eeeeeeeeeee!!!" This went on for a while. I was TIRED. Exhausted, really, by the fact that there had been only 6 hours of Very Excellent Preschool since December 14. By Tim's long work hours, and his scary week-long bought with pneumonia. By the fact that with an aging dog and a toddler with poor aim, our house now smells like pee.

I really needed Andrew to fall asleep.

First, I went in for another hug. Next, I helped him locate his lovey, which he had thrown overboard  so he could yell, "I can't find LOVEY!" Almost out of ideas, I said, "Would you be more comfortable in your big boy bed?" An excited and not at all tired sounding, "YES!" led me to tuck him in the twin bed on the other side of his room.

He slept.

My friend's daughter is having another baby, so as soon as I got the a-ok from Andrew to give the crib away, we dismantled it and put it in my car. I'll probably drive around with it for 3 months before remembering to drop it off.

This feels different than when I gave away Jack and Margaret's crib. Back then, I hoped we would have a third child someday, but it felt uncertain. Would we ever figure out how to fit another child into our lives? The door felt more closed than open. In the short term, I knew our neighbor needed the crib, and we could use the extra space.

This time, I know that unless God himself wants to impregnate me to carry His child, there will be no more fruit of this geriatric womb. I toyed with keeping the crib for grand kids, but I have met  Margaret, and therefore know that is not a wise move. First, having a giant ball of need toddler in the house has convinced Margaret that babies are a heck of a lot of work, and she's not sure if she's up to it-- ever. Second, I realize there's nothing more fun for your self-esteem than having a grown daughter or daughter-in-law give you a self-righteous lecture when you try to pawn-off a decades-old baby crib aka death trap on them. I don't need a cute little Jenny Lind crib leaning against the basement wall either pressuring Margaret to procreate or showcasing how little I know about anything.

So off it goes.

His race car sheets and gray comforter arrive next week. I hope he likes them, but I know not to get too wrapped up in them.

Soon, he'll have his own ideas of how to decorate his room... and the little stinker is in our bed for half the night anyway.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Back to It!

Today Margaret is back to her senior year and Andrew is back in preschool. Time for a serious TV/Netflix detox for all of us! Some of the shows I watched were The Bodyguard and An Innocent Man.

We had a nice holiday, although we traded around pretty bad colds the entire time. We went through so many tissues. I thought we were in the clear until a little cutie sneezed right in Andrew's mouth at the barber shop the other day, and the whole cycle started over again. Gah!

Here are some photos from the past few weeks. I loved our Christmas PJ's this year. SO COZY.  Looks like a laugh on Andrew's face, but it was a cry-laugh by this point on Christmas Day.

3 day jaunt to NYC with Margaret and a few friends. They took artsy photos around the city:

Tim and I pretty much rested, since Andrew was in the capable care of my sister:

New Year's "hike" in the woods was a hit with Andrew:

Have you been watching Marie Kondo on Netflix? I haven't, but I did encourage Tim to unload a ton of shirts that no longer "sparked joy." Here's Andrew wearing one of Daddy's shirts.

Tomorrow my awesome sister in law is having surgery for breast cancer. Her body has already been through so much with lyme disease. Could you please pray for a smooth surgery and complete recovery?

Thank you!

Much love to you as we enter 2019. Thank you for being here for me. I am so happy to be here for you, too.