Friday, January 12, 2018

Sponsor the Gift of Rare Bird

It seems like each time I log on to my computer or turn on the TV, I see another tragedy unfold.

Sometimes, when I am able to locate a mailing address, I send a grieving family a signed copy of my book. Love gifts such as this meant a lot to me when I was in deep, early grief. THANK YOU to those of you who reached out to me in that way! Most times, however, I get overwhelmed by the logistics and expense and do nothing.

I'd like to invite you, as a reader of An Inch of Gray, to sponsor the donation of a copy of Rare Bird to a hurting family when you hear about a tragedy on the news or in your community. 

Each sponsorship is $15 and includes a signed hardcover copy of Rare Bird (retail $22.99), a note from me to the family, packaging, and shipping. I think this could be a good way to help me reach out to people I might not otherwise hear about.

I would need an address (U.S. only, please) and pertinent details that will help me inscribe the book and to make sure I'm not sending multiple books to the same family.

If this interests you, please email me at

And, as always, if you would like to purchase a hardcover book for yourself or a friend (also $15 including shipping), this email is the best way to contact me about it. Paperbacks are available on Amazon, and wherever books are sold.

Again and again, I hear how this book brings light to those in the darkness of grief. Thank you for spreading that light!

Friday, January 5, 2018

Rare Bird, South Africa

I know some of you were hoping I'd have a rare bird moment in South Africa, so I am especially happy to share this story with you.

A few days into our trip, we were out on an afternoon game drive, looking for the elusive black rhino. I said to myself, to Jack, to God: "I need a rare bird. Something really cool, like a bird landing on our truck or something. But it can't be something Chris (our guide) will explain away, like, 'Oh, that happens every day around here.'"

Of course seeing any exotic animal was thrilling to us, but we could sense that Chris was more enthusiastic when he'd locate some animals rather than others. For instance, we were excited each time we saw zebras and warthogs (Pumba!) but Chris gave those more of a yawn because of what a common sight they were on the reserve.

Just a few minutes later, as we drove across a frighteningly narrow trail that dropped off into a pond, Chris stopped the truck short. He pointed out a bird in the tree right next to us. It was a smallish bird, and none of us would have noticed it if he hadn't said anything. He told us it was a Diederik Cuckoo that likely hadn't yet learned to fly.

He told us more. They are brood parasites, which mean they lay a single egg in another bird's nest. Once hatched, this bird tends to kill off any of the original offspring who really belong in the nest. Boo. That didn't seem to be very nice, but it was fascinating. I still hoped this bird was for me. After all, everyone says how terribly mean blue jays are, but I love them for all of the comfort they've brought us.

But was this bird rare or special enough to be my sign? I mean, it hadn't landed on our car, or my arm. It was just sitting in a tree.

Chris radioed his best buddy and fellow guide, Bernie, to bring her group right over. Bernie pulled up, equally excited, and started snapping photos with her enormous camera. As the official photographer of the reserve, she wanted to capture this bird while she had a chance.

After about 10 more minutes of observing the cuckoo, we pulled away. Chris turned back to us and said, "That was incredible. I see them flying occasionally, but I haven't had a chance to see one up close like this in a long time, maybe 8-10 years."

Thank you. Thank you.

Monday, January 1, 2018

South Africa Recap

We made it back to the U.S. on Christmas Eve after a wonderful trip to South Africa. As you know I was nervous about leaving Andrew behind, but he flourished under the care of his aunties, and he seems to still like me.

So, how did this big trip come about?

Tim and Margaret went out of town for his parents' 50th a couple of years ago. I was left alone,  on Jack's 17th birthday, because I was hugely pregnant and couldn't travel. There was a charity auction at Margaret's school that night, but after a terrible day, I wasn't up for going. Instead, I placed an online bid for an African Safari right before the auction ended. I figured Margaret and I could have a nice mother-daughter trip before college. Later, when Tim decided to join us, it became a family trip sans Andrew.

In addition to leaving Andrew behind, I was a bit stressed about the rigors of travel. I'd never been on such a long trip before. The good news? Sitting crammed in economy seats and in airports for over 24 hours straight was downright relaxing compared to toddler wrangling. I just watched a lot of movies and tried (and failed) to sleep. Sure, I was tired, but I've been tired for a long damn time and it didn't seem any worse than usual.

The game reserve, Zulu Nyala, caters almost exclusively to school auctions. It is not one of the well-known, ritzy reserves you may have heard of. That was fine with us, as we are not very ritzy people. It was small and uncrowded, with only about 50 guest rooms, a lobby, a pool area, and a restaurant/bar/dining hall. As you can see, the setting was gorgeous.

view overlooking the reserve from the pool area:

 view outside our room:

The weather was perfect-- chilly in the mornings, warm in the afternoons, and windy pretty much all the time.

We had two game drives in an open Land Cruiser each day, the first at 5:40 a.m. I thought a 5 a.m. wake-up would be miserable, given that this was our first break from early rising in 20 months, but it was fine. We'd go out for 2 1/2 hours and then come back for breakfast. After that, we'd read or nap, have lunch, and go out on another drive for 2-3 hours in the afternoon. Our guide was animated and informative, our fellow travelers delightful, and we were engrossed as we bumped and flew along the rough paths looking for animals to observe.

And the animals did not disappoint! 

We saw warthogs, impalas, elephants, giraffes, zebras, rhinos, cheetahs, wildebeast, lions (on a different reserve), monkeys, baboons, nyalas, hippos, alligators, birds, and dung beetles! I will never forget what it was like to be so close to these magnificent creatures as they went about their business. We even had elephants come super close to our vehicle!

After dinner, we'd read some more or watch a tv show we'd downloaded on our iPad and be asleep  super early.

The latter part of the week we went on a few excursions. One, to a neighboring reserve that had lions, to the Indian Ocean for a few hours, and to an elephant rescue. As you can see, the elephant in the photo below is free to roam wherever he wants. That little fenced enclosure was just to keep us from getting too close to him if he wasn't ready.

Margaret rolled with all of the planes, trains, and automobiles of such a major trip even though she had a terrible cold. As a bonus, she and Tim even managed to sleep for almost the entire way home!

The time away from our usual routine was beneficial for all of us: to sit, to wait, to watch in anticipation and awe, to eat food prepared by others, to read, to rest.

Thank you for praying for us and following along with my updates on Facebook. It was an unforgettable trip.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

A Bumpy Ride?

Apparently Andrew has been playing with a doctor's kit at preschool. How do I know this? Well, on Friday he grabbed a tube of mascara while I was getting dressed in the bathroom, and proceeded to pretend to give me shots in each of the cellulite divots on my booty and thighs. I didn't realize cosmetic injections were part of imaginary play these days.

These kids sure keep us humble.

It reminded me of when little Margaret still couldn't speak too clearly yet. As I stood in my undies, she rubbed my upper thigh and said, "Dat bumpy, Mama!" When, I turned to gain a little personal space, she caressed the other thigh and said with wonder, "Dat bumpy too!"

Oh well, guess who just ordered Andrew his own doctor's kit on Amazon?

p.s. Tim, Margaret, and I go on our big trip to Africa on Friday. In case you missed it when I shared about it on Facebook a few weeks ago, we are taking Margaret on a 6 day safari in South Africa that I purchased at a charity auction a few years ago. We aren't ready, tensions are running pretty high, and it all seems so overwhelming. Could you please pray for Andrew (at home with his Aunties), and Tim, Margaret, and me as we travel? THANK YOU!

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Calgon, Take me Away!

I left the house for fewer than 10 minutes to drive around the neighborhood and get croup-y Andrew to fall asleep. Ever since he started preschool across town, he has preferred to start his nap in the car, even on non-school days. Thank goodness he transfers to the crib most days.

When I opened the door, giant sleeping toddler on my shoulder, I saw that those minutes were far too long for Shadow to refrain from dumping my entire purse on a quest for food. I hope those peanut butter crackers and business cards fulfilled your every desire, Shadow.

Apparently they didn't, because she's now begging me for her dinner at 2:30 pm.

On a cuter note, here's Andrew playing with the very sanitary tire store toys while I got a new rim today.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Toddler to Teen

I think I need an 8 year old.

Toddlers want to help All. The. Time. Every morning Andrew "unloads" the dishwasher. Of course he goes straight for the knives, buddies up to the pizza cutter, and sneezes on the Tupperware. His help is adorable, slower than cooling magma, and kind of gross. God forbid I forget to run the washer the night before. He does NOT understand why I do not want him to deliver slimy dishes to the cabinets. Of course he will also sit in a poop diaper, so I'm guessing cleanliness is not his #1 priority.

Big Sister considers household drudgery beneath her, certainly not worth leaving the comfort of her bed and Netflix. When forced to assist, she looks around the kitchen as if uninformed as to where we keep the drinking glasses. You would never guess she used to beg to clean the toilets.

Other chores? Sheer joy for a little one. I got Andrew a miniature Swiffer for free at a yard sale. It will be his "big" Christmas present. If I gave Big Sis a Swiffer, I think she'd call CPS. Her Christmas list includes cropped tops, oversized sweaters and expensive makeup sets with names like Sex and Pervy. On this ambitious list, items 1-16 totaled more than the cost of my wedding dress.

I told her how our family used to do the 3 present rule-- after all that's how many gifts Baby Jesus got. She scoffed and pitied her former ignorant, compliant little self.

Truly, an 8 year old would be perfect.

He might not be as eager as a toddler to do chores, but quality control would be less of an issue, and I could get some good work out of him before the teen years.

At least that's what I think. Check back in with me in 6 years and we'll see if Andrew's enthusiasm for helping has waned. I hope not, because Mom and Dad aren't getting any younger.

In the mean-time, I wonder how long it will take Big Sis to clue in that she can train Andrew to deliver a chilled La Croix and Cheez-its right to her bed, a germy smile on his face.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Tree Time

We will not be getting a live tree this year because we'll be gone for almost 10 days of December.

Usually, we have one artificial tree with all of the kids' ornaments on it, and a bigger, live tree with the "fancier" ones. After Jack died, the Kids' Tree became more precious to me than ever, and I've even started putting "non-Christmas" items on it, as a wonderful way to touch and remember special photographs and keepsakes once a year, such as Legos, and small crafts the kids made in school. I even tied our old house key on it with a ribbon, to remember where our family used to live.

Andrew and I set up the artificial tree today (in under a minute-- thank you pre-lit trees!) and I'll ask Margaret and Tim whether they would like to decorate it with the kids' ornaments or the fancy ones this year. Can't wait to see Andrew's reaction to ALL THINGS CHRISTMAS!

Love, joy, wonder, pain, and longing-- this season has it all.

Here's one of my favorite pictures from Christmas past when we picked out a tree: