Thursday, December 19, 2013

Pushover, Thy Name is Anna

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

Then we got Shadow.

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

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

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

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

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

I talk back.

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

And I break down.

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 16, 2013


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

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

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

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

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

We're doing okay.

We're doing.

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

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Season

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

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

So, how's it going?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Radio

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Tree-dition Rocks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All is well.

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

Thank you.

Monday, December 2, 2013

A Few of my Favorite Things:

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

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

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

So, what are my other favorite things?

Breville Electric Kettle: $79.99

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

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

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

Clear Plastic Christmas Balls from Walmart: .88

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

Method Spray Cleaner: $2.99

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

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

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

Chevron Scarves from Pick Your Plum:

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

Flocked Hangars: $1.00 each

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

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

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

What are a few of YOUR favorite things?

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Thankful Book

I thought I would share one of our family’s Thanksgiving traditions with you. We travel every Thanksgiving, and I wanted a way to document some of the things we were thankful for, but I didn’t want to cart around anything bulky on our road trips. In 2007 I ran across a little book at The One Spot in Target. I threw it in my purse and carried it around for a full week, knowing that if I took it out, I’d most certainly forget to pack it for Thanksgiving.

This will be the 7th year we will pass the little book around the table at my aunt’s house and each write something in it we are thankful for. Each year that I’ve remembered to bring it has been a little Thanksgiving miracle in itself. But I’m so glad I did, especially since our son Jack is no longer here to write in the book.

Two and a half months after the accident, we were faced with our first Thanksgiving without him. We brought out the little striped book, realizing that although we still had things to be thankful for, our loss was so enormous, so painful, so staggering, that we had to dig really deep to even sit at the table with his empty chair, let alone write in the book. My sister, Liz, wrote the only thing she could muster up that day, being thankful for “modern transportation” so we could be together in our grief.

We laughed and cried as we looked back over Jack’s entries, as each year he spelled it “thankfull” instead of thankful. I saw the years he was “thankfull” for Legos, and family, and even ‘dough,’ a little joke he started making when he was in kindergarten. Jack was quirky. He rarely had an answer you would expect. I asked him why he had said dough. Was he talking about money, a la the Welcome Back Kotter era? No, the kid was really just thankful for dough-- you know, the kind they hand out to play with at Italian restaurants while you wait. Ok. Then there was the year he was thankful for Prester John, a legendary Christian King from the 12th Century whom none of us had ever heard of. Quirky, right?

I treasure the little book, and love looking back over it.

The entries aren’t long and detailed. On year my nephew just wrote, “you people” as his contribution. Last year our daughter Margaret wrote, “I’m thankful for Shadow (our dog), family, cousins, grammar, and a house/food.”

This Thanksgiving, two years after our horrible loss, I am able to consider many more things that I’m thankful for, including the inexplicable joy that creeps into our days as I realize that 12 short years mothering my son were preferable to a lifetime of never knowing him at all. I am thankful I am able to breathe more easily and see the years in front of me not as a bleak, miserable life sentence, but as a time for more memories to be made and more growth to come as time marches me closer to being with him once again.

When I was getting out the Thanksgiving book this year, I saw a craft Jack had made in school. And I was grateful for whichever teacher or room mother forced him to do it. You know, the good old, ‘trace your hand and turn it into a turkey’ craft where you write down things you are thankful for? It says,


Dear Mom and Dad

Thank you for:

            Being great parents,

            Taking care of me,

            Loving me forever.


I think the word choice is perfect, because that’s how it is, isn’t it? Even though times will change and certain cherished ones no longer sit in the chairs around the table, our love for them never ends. It truly is forever.


Happy Thanksgiving.



Monday, November 25, 2013

Giveaway Holly Lane Designs

Tiffany, of Holly Lane Designs, has given me a beautiful sterling silver Birds of the Air Pendant to give away today as a Thanksgiving Thank You to my wonderful readers. The design is based on Matthew 6:26  "Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?"

I met Tiffany a few years ago and carried her line of beautiful jewelry in the Christian bookstore where I worked until a few months ago. When Jack died, Tiffany was very touched, especially because one of her sons is exactly Jack's age. You probably remember when she designed the Jack's Promise pendant that speaks to his love of puzzles and includes his favorite Bible verse, Luke 1:37. I wear it on a silver chain almost every day.


Here are some other examples of her work.

To enter the giveaway, please head over to and sign up for Tiffany's email list. She promises not to share your email with anyone and will only send out emails about  Holly Lane Designs specials.  Leave me a comment here to let me know you have entered.
Get an additional entry by liking An Inch of Gray on Facebook and letting me know with an additional comment.
For a third entry, like Holly Lane Designs on Facebook and let me know about it.
Giveaway closes Friday morning at 10 am.
Also, if your name doesn't connect me to an email address, please make sure you leave one so I can let you know if you win! Thanks!
Blessings and Love to you this Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 21, 2013


“I don’t want you to think this is weird, Anna, but I know of a baby who needs a home. Is that something you and Tim would be interested in doing? my friend Brenda asks. “My sister was in the shower praying about a family for a baby that will be born in March and needs a home, and your family kept coming to mind. She called me first to see if it would be too freaky to ask you.”

My two best friends from childhood sit on the couch in the living room. It has been just one year since we lost Jack. They both look at me, wondering if they have crossed into forbidden grieving mom territory by mentioning a new baby. After all, they know that suggesting that Jack can somehow be replaced is ludicrous.

I answer immediately, “Of course we’re interested!” I talk to Tim the next day as we walk down the sidewalk, Margaret a few steps ahead of us, “Absolutely.” He says, without hesitation. Considering it takes us longer to by a new humidifier than it takes some people we know to marry, divorce, and remarry, it’s astounding that he and I are immediately on the same page.

“What are you two whispering about?  I know you’re talking about me!” Margaret interrupts, turning around. I say, “Actually, there’s a teenager who is pregnant and is not married. We’re talking about possibly adopting her baby. Is that something you think our family should consider?” “Consider? Let’s do it!” she answers.

Tim and I always assumed we’d have more than two kids. We are each the youngest of three, so if our moms had stopped at two, well, where would this world be? But then life and babyhood came around it was a lot harder and more tiring than it seemed like it would be. Tim worked long hours first in graduate school and then at work and only saw the kids on weekends for the first few years. When he was home, he was absolutely “on” as a daddy, but he wasn’t home all that often. I didn’t have a mom around to help me make it through the weeds or give me a break. Even at the time I knew I was on holy ground, pouring myself into Jack and Margaret day after day, but it was so hard to imagine being able to add one more to the mix.

So they grew. And things got so much easier. And it got increasingly more difficult to want to disrupt the tender dynamic our family formed. One thing Tim and I noticed was that kids do not necessarily add strength to a marriage. At least not ours. They were huge balls of need in baby and toddler packages. They accentuated our already big differences, they sucked our extra money away, and they robbed us of any precious sleep that could serve as a balm for misunderstandings and hurt feelings.

We would come close. Once, during a period of rampant baby discussion, we took a trip to the beach with friends. “What are you guys talking about?” Tim asked as he approached my two friends and me. “Well, I was explaining how Baby Fever has hit our house yet again,” I replied. “Baby Fever? I don’t know what you’re talking about,” was his response. I was pissed and embarrassed. I didn’t like the implication that I was just making stuff up to entertain my friends.

Later, in our bedroom, I told Tim how hurt and unsupported I felt when he denied knowing what I was talking about. “Oh, you mean how we’ve been talking about having a baby? I was thrown off by the words ‘Baby Fever.”  Sheesh. He’s analyzing my words? Any desire I had to procreate with him shriveled up on the spot. I didn’t care if we were in a nice rented beach house with a king sized bed!

And so it went for years. First it was the lack of time together. Then the weeds of baby and toddlerhood. Then we had a glimpse of freedom as Jack and Margaret became more independent. We just never had another.

Jack would ask during snuggle time, “When are you having another baby? Please. Please. Please.” “Jack, I think I’m too old.” “You aren’t too old, mom!” Just think. You thought you were too old when you were 35. If’ you had had one then, you could have a 2 year old by now. Don’t make the same mistake again.”

Then,“Mom, what if you had had one when you were 38?”

And, “Mom, what if you had had one when you were 40?”

On and on it went. The last time Jack asked me I had just turned 41, and he wasn’t with us much longer after that.

I wasn’t sure what my big issue was. I’d ask myself, if we accidentally became pregnant would I be happy? Yes. Always yes. But we couldn’t seem to take the plunge. Standing in the bathroom of a Florida bar, celebrating the 40th birthdays of my college girlfriends, I tried to explain how I felt to my friend Kathy as we washed our hands. “I’ve always wanted another one, Kathy.” My eyes got teary. “I guess I’m just afraid. Afraid that I’m asking too much.” Jack and Margaret were such a blessing, and I was afraid that maybe I’d hit my limit on blessings.
Maybe another child would either be the straw that would break the back of our marriage, or would break me of the patience and love I’d been able to give my kids for more than a decade. Or maybe we'd be given a baby with needs so great that it would be too much for me. I didn't feel strong enough. It just felt like asking for one more was pushing things. I think, as I had done my whole life, I was trying to stay under the radar. Not flying too high.  Not asking for too much. Hoping that I could somehow get the life I wanted by being agreeable and not making a fuss.

And then I wonder. Was Jack’s begging for another sibling his way of trying to make sure that Margaret would not be alone? I don’t know.

But I do know that Tim, Margaret, and I each answered without a second’s hesitation, that we would gladly adopt a baby who needed a home. And this baby was practically falling in our laps! I was surprised it felt so good to think about this baby. To reach outside of our grief.

A week later we got the phone call. The girl’s family had picked someone else, before they had even heard of our family. We were very, very disappointed but not devastated. There was something so positive in the “Yes” -- in the opening ourselves up to the future. To having enough confidence in ourselves as a family, despite the shame and horror of losing Jack, to think that even in our depleted state we could make a difference in someone else’s life. There was hope there.


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Sweet Surprise

Six or seven years ago, I was thinking of going back to work part-time after being home with the kids. But I was lost. I didn't know where to start. I knew I didn't want to teach English full-time like I had before Jack was born, because I didn't think I could handle the intense workload and also be able to parent Jack and Margaret. Plus, my confidence was shot. I used to be a pretty good teacher, but what if I didn't know how to do anything anymore?

It was easy to forget what I had done in the past and also discount any wisdom and experience that came from almost a decade of volunteering in the community and stumbling my way through parenting.

This was around the time the term "Sweet Spot" started being thrown around a lot. At first I thought it was something racy, which I guess it could be but there is no way I'm googling it, but then I found out it refers to the place on a racquet or a bat that produces the best results. I tried to think about it in terms of what I liked and what I could do fairly well, and scribbled a list called,

"What is my Sweet Spot?"

I found that list again when I was packing for our move this past August. This is what it says:

-Teaching a group
-Organizing (parties, projects, events)
-Writing and speaking
-Problem solving in classes and meetings
-Making people laugh
-Bringing people together

At the time I was disappointed that my list was so short, and that it didn't contain anything like "XYZ computer language" that would impress a boss. Instead of specifics, my list was more like, "Okay, if I'm going to try figure out how to manage home and work, what sorts of things would I enjoy doing and be able to do fairly well?"

It would be another year before I found a part-time job as the manager of a small, Christian bookstore. It didn't check off my entire list, but it turned out to be a lovely, fulfilling job for almost 5 years. Right around that same time, I started blogging, even though I didn't really even know what a blog was.

Looking back on that list today, I see how blogging has fulfilled more items on that list than a paying job did. It nurtured my writing and ignited in me a passion I didn't even know I had. I can see how it has brought people together in friendship and support. True, I thought I'd be the one bringing people together, never that people would be coming together to support my hurting heart after a tragedy, but that is what has happened. Hopefully, I've made you laugh sometimes. I'm pretty sure I've made you cry, even though we all know that was never my intention.

Your support has helped me feel brave enough to keep showing up, to keep writing, and even to try to write a book at a time when I've never been more personally rocked or depleted.

I just want to thank you that. For being community. For caring.

In thinking about the words "Sweet Spot" again today, I realize that you, my friends, have made this place, this blog, into a sweet spot. It's a sweet space to laugh, cry, be real, and give and get support, and that comes from you, not anything inside of me.

I could never have guessed that when I wrote that list so long ago.

Have you thought about what your "sweet spot" may be?

Monday, November 4, 2013

It's All in the Jeans

(photo from JAG jeans website)
I've put on a few lbs lately, and my jeans protested being stretched to the limit. So I ventured out to the mall to buy a new pair. Yeah, super fun. After mucho humiliation in the young, cool department, I decided to give the older ladies' department a try.

After loading my arms with skinny jeans, because apparently older ladies are expected to shoehorn themselves into skinny jeans like the rest of us, something caught my eye.

First I thought it was a rack of  maternity jeans, which didn't make sense because I was in the older ladies' department, but no, they were something called JAG jeans-- high waisted, pull-on stretch jeans with no zipper or belt loops. I thought it would be hi-larious to try them on and possibly make fun of them here on the blog.

I mean, they looked like they'd come up not quite to boob level, but bra-less boob level for sure. The wide fabric band on top was like one of those belly bands that pregnant women wear, except I was pregnant like a million years ago and missed out on that whole thing.

Sure that I was in for a good laugh, I pulled them on and felt... comfortable!

What had started as a joke suddenly got real, Dude.

Sure, there was the risk that all of that lycra could give way to mid-day crotch sag, making me look like Justin Bieber, but maybe it was worth the risk. They felt so good. Then I wondered if it makes any sense to buy jeans when you've gained a little weight; isn't it better to stay uncomfortable as a motivator?  Shouldn't I keep my jeans  "aspirational?" 

Oh my. I wanted the jeans. I tried to justify that I could promise myself I'd never wear them out of the house, since I work from home now, but I've tried that line of reasoning with slippers, yoga pants, and my banana clip, and my resolve never lasts. What starts as a quick trip to the mailbox soon becomes a milk run to the grocery store, then who knows? If I bought these jeans I'd have to be willing to wear them out and about with high-waisted pride.

I was not ready to commit to that.

So, I stripped them off and started trying on the stack of "real" jeans,  you know the ones with zippers. Let's just call them Chafey, Scratchy, and Squeezy. It was like putting on pantyhose immediately after taking off flannel pj's. I was in trouble.

I put the un-jeans back on and looked at my rear. Could I really make these things work? In the car world, a Jag might conjure up the terms "streamlined and sexy," but these Jags were not doing my butt any favors, that's for sure.

But what about the convenience?  If I had a pee emergency, there would be no belt to fumble with, nothing to slow me down. Can I get an Amen on that one?  I would always wear a long shirt or sweater. NO ONE would have to know I lacked a zipper.

So after ten minutes of internal debate, I decided to buy them, even though I am terrified that Margaret will find out. At age 12, she looks with scorn upon all of my clothes and claims I invented the fact that I was "Best Dressed of the Class of 1987."  The first time I bend down and she sees the stretchy fabric reaching toward my clavicles I'll be discovered. 

I got to the cash register and handed them to the older lady working there, along with a coupon clipped out of the newspaper, because that's how I roll. Her response, "Oh? High waistband? I had a pair of pants like this once!"


Judge all you want, but I'm super comfy right now.

Turning in my "Best Dressed Card" momentarily.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Help a Sister Out?

So, I'm still struggling with the title. I love all of the suggestions you made on the An Inch of Gray Facebook page! Thank you for the thought and care you put into your suggestions. That means a lot to me.

My favorite has got to be:

If Legos Could Build a Stairway to Heaven, I'd Rock That Sh*t

But I have a feeling that one wouldn't go over too well with the publisher, so I'm asking you if you want to weigh in on some of the other options below.

This does NOT mean the one we pick will be the one selected, because there are a lot of other factors that go into the decision that I don't know much about. Like people really do judge a book by its cover (title!). Sheesh! I thought that was just an expression.

So please, if none of these get picked and you hate whatever title the book ends up with, please buy it anyway. I'm already terrified enough that by the time it's published people won't be reading books anymore and we'll just be getting little electric shocks via our cell phones that implant info directly into our brains. 

You can always use construction paper, Sharpies, and duct tape to make your own cover and title if you don't like the one that's picked. I'll help, I promise!

Okay, so here are some thoughts just to give you a little background on these ideas.

Rare Bird and When Love Grows Wings are a nod to Jack's first word, "bird," the poem my friend wrote about Jack called "rara avis" or "rare bird," and to all of the ways God has used birds to show us Jack is okay. It also ties in with bird imagery in the book as Tim and I read our speech to Jack a few months before the accident saying, "Jack, soon you will be flying on your own..."

I like So Close and This Close because they have two meanings. I was so close or this close to saving Jack down by the creek, but I didn't. Jack's and my relationship was so close. In the aftermath, I have realized the surprising fact that God and Jack are So Close/ This Close to us in our grief, and that Heaven is much closer than I ever thought.

Falling Water refers to the rain that took Jack from us. It also references a scene when I took Jack to summer camp one day too early, so we spent special time together at Fallingwater, a home designed by Frank Llyod Wright in PA.

The Loved Ones refers to how relatives of someone who died are always called, "the loved ones" but we don't give it much thought. During our grief we come to realize we really are the loved ones. Jack loves us still. God loves us and takes care of us in our pain.

More refers to the way my mind and heart have been opened to more pain, more grief, more love, more community, more God, and more mystery since Jack died.
THANK YOU for your help with this! I appreciate you.

Which Title Do You Like Best?
Rare Bird
So Close
This Close
The Loved Ones
When Love Grows Wings
Please Specify:
Poll Maker

Which Subtitle Do You Like Best?
A mother's story of sudden loss and surprising hope
A mother's story of incredible loss and impossible hope
A memoir of early grief
A story about a boy in the rain and what comes next
A spiritual memoir of life, death, and what comes next
A story of a boy who flew too soon
The surprising power of hope in loss
Please Specify:

Poll Maker

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween

...from our house to yours!

To see our Halloween pics through the years, check this out.

I'll be eating candy and writing tonight. What do you have planned? 

Monday, October 21, 2013

To Love

A reader sent me this many months ago. It was hard to read back then, because I couldn't have pictured ever having a good day. Now, I can.

...from the novel Goodbye for Now by Laurie Frankel

"To love is to lose. It's just that simple. Maybe not today but someday. It is the inevitable condition of humanity. Some sadness has no remedy. Some sadness you can't make better."

"But then why isn't everyone walking around miserable all the time?"

"Because ice cream still tastes good. And sunny and seventy-five is still a lovely day. And funny movies make you laugh, and work is sometimes fulfilling, and a beer with a friend is nice. And other people love you, too.  [Death] has been around since time immemorial. You've run up against it. And there's no getting around or over it. You stop and build your life right there at the base of that wall. But it's okay. That's where everyone else is too. Everyone else is either there or on their way. There is no other side, but there's plenty of space there to build a life and plenty of company. Welcome to the wall."

So I live my life right here,  knowing that death is real and can't be avoided, and some days are indeed very, very good. But I do believe that those I love who have gone before me will be waiting. And the biggest reason this life can still seem bearable, and even often beautiful, is because of that hope.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Re-Post, Home Run

Was looking through the blog today getting inspiration for the book I'm working on. Came across this and it made me cry.

This one is for moms who are struggling as they watch their kids struggle today:

Home Run.


Sunday, October 13, 2013

Sunshine after the Storm: A Survival Guide for the Grieving Mother

I was honored to be asked to contribute to an anthology for grieving mothers. It is a survival guide for moms, with an emphasis on pregnancy and infant loss.

The release was timed to coincide with Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day, which is Oct 15. We will offer the eBook free on Amazon from Oct 13-17!

Here's the link!

The print version is coming out shortly, and I'll be sure to let you know when, because there must still be people out there like me who want to hold a book in their hands.

If you or someone you love would be blessed by the messages of this book, that you are not alone and that you can survive, please pass along the word.

Remember, FREE Oct 13-17. Let's get this book in the hands of those who need it.


Friday, October 11, 2013

Gallery Wall

I have a lot of artwork to hang in the new house. I'd like to paint a few rooms first, so most of the paintings and pictures and mirrors will lean against a wall in the basement until I get around to it, say next summer? I love the paint color in our family room, however, so it was time to get some things on the walls! I started with twice as many pieces as made it onto this wall, so they'll find homes elsewhere in the house.

My first step was looking at what I thought would go well together. This included a painting by my mother in law of the "house that made me," some high school artwork by my mom, inspiring paintings by friends, and an amazing portrait of Jack by one of his classmates. Yeah, an 8th grader did that. Wow.

I had signs, too, one purchased from TJ Maxx and another hand painted by Kristi from Barn Owl Primitives with the words my sister said about Jack at his funeral, This is what she learned from him:

I wanted art from Margaret and Jack on there as well, so you'll find her fish painting plus his watercolor Tiffany window. The wooden piece is  a slat/spindle (?) from the porch railing of my great grandparents' house that is no longer standing in WV, and it hangs below a tender painting of Jack and his cousin.

I tried Martha Stewart's technique first, of cutting brown kraft paper the size of each piece and then taping them to the walls. But the paper got curly and kept falling down, so I moved to the floor. I taped off an area the same size as the space on the wall and just arranged and rearranged until I liked it.

Then I had Tim start the nailing, so I could step back and see if it was coming together the way I wanted.

It's so nice to have these sweet paintings on the wall. Makes me want to get going and personalize more of the house.

So, what do you think of the piece of furniture beneath the gallery wall? We call it "The Dumpster Dive" because I got it out off someone's trash pile about 8 years ago. I have never loved Tim more than when he helped me remove it from the curb and get it inside the back of the minivan without making any snarky comments.

It lived in the carport at the old house and I knew that when the movers came last month it would be my one and only opportunity to get it inside after 8 yrs of waiting. Even at the last minute, the (male) movers and my (male) husband were debating the wisdom of bringing it inside a house and saying things like, "well, maybe if you fix it up." Puh-lease. Ain't no changing the Dumpster Dive.

There is a teeny weeny issue in that I think it is infested with carpenter bees. And that the latent larvae inside the bee tunnels may hatch sometime next spring and start feeding on the wood of our house, thereby reducing it to a pile of rubble.

Small issue, I'm sure. I mean, look at how great it is!