Monday, December 29, 2014

6 Little Words

Years ago, I was helping out at Jack's Christmas party at school. I think it may have been 5th grade. One of the activities was to have the kids write something they could give Jesus for Christmas. I can't remember what they did after that-- perhaps we hung it in a tiny stocking on Christmas Eve. I do remember watching Jack as he sat, pencil in hand, and wondering what he would write. Would he take the assignment seriously, or would he make up something silly? The other kids were writing, and writing, and writing. Were the promising they would be more obedient in the coming year, be better siblings, or give their allowances to the needy? I never knew. But I did see Jack write something on his piece of paper and fold it up into a teeny tiny bundle. At some point later I had a chance to snoop look at it. This is what it said:

I want to love you more
6 little words.

I realized in that moment that my heart and my son's hearts were the same. There were many things I could do and could promise to "give" to God in the coming year, but my true desire was to love Him more. And I believed that loving Him more would help me love others better.

But even then, I knew I couldn't WILL myself into more love. I couldn't generate love either, although LOVING ACTIONS can often lead to feelings of love. I knew then, and I know even more now, that as long as I am living in this world with family, friends, neighbors, and strangers, I will need more love than I have. Slights linger. Hurts dull but resist healing. Expectations seem unmet. I don't love God as much as I wish I did (and He's, um, GOD), so how on earth can I love wretched humans like me? Especially me?

Last night Margaret and I finished reading The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom. Corrie tells of touring the world speaking of love and hope amidst horrible circumstances, something she learned first-hand while imprisoned in a concentration camp after helping Dutch Jews evade capture during WWII. At one of her speeches after the war, a former SS guard that Corrie recognized stretched out his hand to her. He was full of contrition as he thanked her for her message of God's forgiveness. Corrie couldn't shake it. All of the memories of the camp filled her mind and her heart. She couldn't lift her hand from her side. Despite God's faithfulness and provision, despite all she knew and preached about forgiveness, Corrie could not take his hand. It was simply too much to ask her to do. She prayed, but nothing happened.

"I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. 'Jesus I cannot forgive him. Give your forgiveness.'"

"Into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me. And so I discovered that is its not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world's healing hinges, but on His. When he tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself."

This made me think again of Jack's "gift" those years ago. 6 little words. It was nothing, really, that Jack could give on his own. Jack needed the receiver of the gift to do the providing, to be the giver of LOVE.

So perhaps the only gift I can give this year is really a humble, silent prayer. For more love to love God with, and for His love to give me what I so desperately need in order to love others.

More Love.

Love More.


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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Finished Night Stands with Crappy Photos

Here's an update on my latest rehab project:
This week I took a little time to transform these dated nightstands, which if you remember, cost me $15/pr:
To these:
The tops were warped, chipped, and stained. I cleaned them thoroughly, then used 2 coats of CeCe Caldwell's Natural Chalk and Clay Paint in Seattle Mist that I purchased in Falls Church at Stifel and Capra After that, I coated everything with a water-based top coat for protection. I distressed them ever so slightly around the sides and edges so that it wouldn't seem traumatic when life happens to them (and it will).
I know most of us wanted to switch the handles out for something contemporary for my friend's more modern tastes. However, the 2 inch spread of the holes made it really, really hard to find replacement knobs, so I decided to stick with what we had. Hopefully the glossy white paint will work with my Arnebya's décor. If not, I'll sell them on Craigslist and keep looking.
The drawers were grimy inside so I cleaned them and lines them with gray and white scrapbook paper, secured by spray adhesive: 

I'll let you know if she likes them.
Tim's mom and Margaret are in the kitchen making gingerbread cookies, Tim and I will go out to a concert in a few hours, and Shadow is here at my feet. From my house to yours, I'd like to wish you love and peace this week.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Not So Busy

I know this may sound weird, but despite all the talk about hustle and bustle this time of year, it's possible to not be that busy at all.

And if you are already a bit out on the margins, a lack of busy-ness can make you feel even less relevant or plugged into a world where tight schedules are laid out in the smallest of increments, and busy-ness is a badge of honor.

I'm not all that busy for a variety of reasons.

Margaret is at an age where there are no more room mothers, class parties, or nativity pageants. She doesn't play an instrument, so we can cross "recital" off of the list. There are no visits to Santa, and thank God, she can go to the mall with her friends now and not with me.

I decided against a family Christmas card this year, so there's no licking and sticking. And if our kitchen smells anything like gingerbread, it's because of the talent and generosity of friends, not any grand effort on my part. I'm much more of an eater than a baker.

Shopping took place right here at my computer with just a few clicks. Instead of circling stuff in the ToysRus or Target catalog like the kids did when they were small, Margaret just emailed me applicable links. It's good for me to shop from home, because when I head out on my own, I'm more likely to sneak off to the thrift store and come home with another car load of chairs.

There has been a bit of volunteer work, and some writing for other outlets (including a second article for Woman's Day!) but not I didn't schedule any speaking engagements for December, so my work load has been light.

Many good things can come out of time spent DOING:  connecting with others, making memories, volunteering, and celebrating the season.

But in this culture (and often cult) of busy-ness, it's good to remember that there may be people who aren't as busy as we might think.

They may be grieving, or lonely, or perhaps just entering a different phase of life with a little more breathing room than they are used to. They may not be feeling very joyful at all.

I sent an email out to my fabulous grief group last week, wondering if we could meet up for dinner. I wondered if it was ridiculous to hope to get together before the new year. We hadn't all five been together in at least 6 months. One by one the emails came back, "I'm in!" and we gathered last night at a local restaurant for a wonderful time together. I'm glad I threw it out there and didn't just assume that each woman would be too busy.

As I write this, things will start to get busier for me. Family is coming into town in just a few days, and we have several parties, plays, and concerts to look forward to.

I don't regret the quiet month I've had at all, and in a way it will help me gear up for what is ahead.

But I'm especially glad that this quiet month has led me to think about others who despite all of the talk about the frantic pace of December may be feeling like their days are far too quiet.

I'm not sure what I'm going to do with this awareness, but I'm grateful to have it.

P.S. Head to Facebook and see the nightstands I  finally found for my friend Arnebya.

I hope you'll check out these recent articles I wrote:
Woman's Day Dec 2014 Print Edition on how to help a grieving friend.
Washington Family Magazine, on some of my favorite books!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Always Learning

Shortly after Rare Bird came out, a friend from my kids' old school invited me to lunch.

We mainly knew each other from the car pool line and quick hellos at school concerts, but I knew enough about Lori to know she is a big pray-er. In Christian circles we call this a "prayer warrior." I knew she had been praying about Rare Bird for more than a year, as well as praying for our family in other ways, because I had asked her to.

You see, Lori's knees hit the floor before her feet do in the mornings. And she doesn't just say, "I'll be praying for you," she does it. It doesn't matter if you are in the Target parking lot or the aisle at church, she will pray for you right then and there, and I love that about her. She is also very real, approachable, and easy to talk to.

When we met for lunch, Lori brought her journals from the time of Jack's accident.

She had something to share, but hoped I wouldn't think it was strange. I assured her that not a whole lot seems strange to me any more. Losing a child is the ultimate in strange.

Lori opened her journal and read about how God spoke to her during her prayers one morning a few days after the accident, telling her, "Go where they found him, and I will meet you there." She knew God was talking about Jack. I asked her what that was like; did she hear an audible voice? She replied that it was a clear knowing inside of her that God was speaking to her. I like thinking about how just as a sheep knows the shepherd's voice, we, too, can recognize the voice of God, especially as we spend more time with Him and know his nature.

The problem was, Lori didn't want to go to the creek. She resisted. Our small community was wracked with grief and confusion, and she didn't want to go to the spot where Jack was found. It was too sad, too hard.

She put it off, but one day, upon driving over the road where Jack's body was found, she pulled over, parked, and walked down to sit in the (dry) creek bed, the steep banks looming up on either side of her.

"Okay, God, I'm here and I'm ready."

And she waited.

She said God showed her a few things pertinent to her own life and her family, but nothing about Jack. Then she looked up toward where she knew our neighborhood was, and the direction Jack's body had traveled. At that moment she saw a large bush hanging out over the side of the creek, in front of a big bend. In that bush were three cardinals, which to her had been signs of God's faithfulness during a very difficult time in her life. At that moment, God spoke to Lori's spirit again, saying,

"Before he was there, he was with me."

God was sharing with her that before Jack's body was trapped and stuck, he was already in God's presence. What Lori experienced that day mirrored what I feel in my heart, and what others have shared with me.

She also felt God was telling her the words, "Sacred Ground" about where she sat.

Lori didn't explain why she hadn't shared her journal with me three years earlier, and I didn't ask.

I just figured there must have been a good reason. That is one difference between the Anna today and the Anna of three years ago. I have started to embrace mystery, and let go of having all the answers.

I don't get to choose to have Jack safe and alive with us to adulthood.
I don't get to choose which prayers get answered in the way I want them to.
I don't even get to choose how and when comfort comes to me!

You see, with my conservative faith background,  Lori would have been the ideal, even expected, messenger to deliver God's comfort to me, and I would have surely put her story in my book.

But she didn't share it. Not then.

Yet still the comfort came. Through the Holy Spirit.  Through blog readers around the world. Through a dear friend whose spiritual side had seemed wacky to me. Through dreams and visions. Through symbols as seemingly insignificant as clouds, blue jays, songs on the radio, and now, three years later, the hearts I seem to find everywhere around me.

I believe that if God wants to tell us something, in this case an assurance that Jack was with his Heavenly Father almost immediately, His message will get through. "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."

I wonder if  this was a case of my being stretched, personally, so that when the time came for me to use my broken heart to start reaching out to many other grievers, I would be able to listen to their experiences solely with love and not skepticism, even if their experiences differed widely from my own. Perhaps it was so that I would have to trust that the examples I put in my book would be the right ones to touch readers in a way they needed.

I don't know. It's a mystery.

But I am grateful to Lori, who listens to God. I am grateful to God, who finds ways to get through to us again and again. And I'm grateful to YOU, for being here with me.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

End Times and End Tables, OR, Can this Friendship be Saved?

I think I’m in trouble.

So my friend Arnebya has been itching to do some furniture rehab. We’ve talked types of paint, good thrifting locations, and ideal shades of gray. For months, she has struggled to find the perfect nightstands for her bedroom, and when she came across some on Craigslist, she sent me the link. They looked promising. Since they were in my town, not hers, I ran over to pick them up.

I was hoping they wouldn’t be too heavy for me to carry to the car. Not a problem. The tables were not just small, they were Lilliputian. And as sturdy as a soggy piece of cardboard. In a word, they were ANNOYING.

(I'd love to show you a photo, but after 2 hours of trying to get one to post, and having it want to break my blog, I've decided to forgo putting a pic here. You may use your imagination to conjure up the sheer crappiness of the nightstands or take a peek over on my Facebook page)

Take that bottom drawer, for instance.

If Arnebya happened to be in bed and needed a little something something from that drawer-- say, um, reading glasses-- and she leaned over the side of the bed to get them, she would surely fall on her head.

Did I want to be responsible for Arnebya’s goose egg? I thought about putting wooden feet on the bottom to raise the stands up a bit, but there was nowhere to anchor them. And that top “shelf?” Puhlease. Not enough room for a lamp! Forget about a box of tissues. Annoying.
I tried to decide whether the nightstands were as terrible as I thought, or whether I was just PMS’ing. It’s not like my furniture standards are all that high. Our nightstands, TV cabinet, side tables and numerous chairs came off of people’s trash piles. Choosy, I am not.

But maybe I put too much pressure on myself because I was shopping for a friend, not myself. I mean, when it comes to shabby chic, I am the shabby, Arnebya’s the chic. She wears high heels, she smells good, and her hair deserves its own Facebook page. She has standards. So I turned down the nightstands on her behalf, and promised to find her something much better and much less annoying.

Except now she has no nightstands at all.

I wonder if she’s mad at me. I mean, perhaps a nightstand in the hand is better than two in Arnebya’s um, you know. After 6 fruitless trips to various thrift stores, with no suitable tables in sight, I think I flew too close to the sun on this one. Sure I’ve had stellar thrifting success in my day. Yes, my chair collection is the envy of the dumpster diving set, but what right did I have to turn down Arnebya’s nightstands? What made me think I could find better? What if she hates my taste? I mean, in addition to our shoe incompatibility, she doesn’t like beans. Eep. I think I’m screwed.

So if you are local, and you have a heart:

If you see smallish (but not ridiculously small), vintage (but not fussy), nightstands in need of some TLC, please let me know!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wishing you a happy Thanksgiving. I am thankful for YOU!

I am over on Modern Loss today writing about our first Thanksgiving without Jack, which I was not able to write about until now. For those of you experiencing a similar first today, you are in my heart.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Red Dress

I was a few weeks into my freshman year when I got the call from a senior I didn’t know, inviting me to a semi-formal party. I told him I wanted to meet him first, so we met on campus and chatted a while, before agreeing he would pick me up the next Friday for the event.
I asked how he found my name and number, and he explained that he and his friends had picked dates out of the book of incoming freshman students. Not FACEBOOK, but a face book, a slim booklet that included each freshman’s head shot, hometown, and campus phone number. I had sent my high school senior portrait in over the summer to be included. Apparently, when a bunch of upperclassmen were combing through the pictures, my face caught a young man named Brian’s eye. On Friday I put on a red silk dress, another holdover from high school days, and went to the party.

Those first few weeks of college had been exhilarating, with the heady intensity of summer camp. There were so many people to meet in my co-ed dorm, classes, campus Christian groups, friends of friends from back home, and during sorority rush. I was seventeen years old, and in those early weeks I had kissed more boys (3) than I had in all of my years of high school combined (1). Going to a party with someone I had just met did not feel strange in any way. I felt flattered, and it seemed like just one more way of saying yes to the college experience.

Things would eventually slow down as some of the early friendships flamed out, and we settled into lasting relationships, some of which are still strong 27 years later. My kissing stats would diminish considerably, too, as I began dating a friend from another college.

But what happened on that date?

Well, I met Brian’s friends. We danced for a while, with me slipping around in my black suede pumps on the beer-covered linoleum floor. It was loud and hot in the party room. If he had asked if I wanted to go upstairs to his room, I would have said yes, welcoming a quiet place to hang out and talk. Yes, talk. Not that I didn’t find him attractive. He was at least 6’2”, blond, and strong—a college athlete. But he never asked, so when the party ended, he walked me home, and we kissed a bit under the buzz of a fluorescent light outside my dorm.

You may have read the Rolling Stone article last week about another freshman girl, in another red dress, at another Virginia college. Her date with an upperclassman ended much differently than mine did. It is a long, difficult read, but it is well worth your time.

It will likely disgust you, and make you think. The story has gained a lot of traction in the past few days and has resulted in UVA suspending all sorority and fraternity activity while the allegations of sex abuse on campus are investigated.

The article made me reflect on my college years and how grateful I am that with all of the parties I went to, no one treated me with anything other than respect. Some of my friends would have vastly different experiences to share. You could say that I made good decisions when it came to alcohol, hung out with the right crowd, and somehow let it be known what my standards were. Maybe those things came into play, maybe not, but they shouldn’t matter in whether someone is sexually assaulted or not.

Sexual assault is wrong.


The article reminded me of that long-forgotten date, my red dress, and an upperclassman who had picked my face out of a book.  The key difference between the two stories is that my date was not a rapist. He and his friends did not plan and collude how to brutalize me and then go about their college years with impunity.

As a mother, I wouldn’t be thrilled if my daughter went out with someone who picked her from a book  (website) because of her looks, and quite possibly because of her youth and vulnerability. I was only 16 years old when that picture Brian saw was taken. But my daughter and your daughter would have every right to do so and not be harmed! Of course I will try to instill in her the self-confidence I had, the idea spending time with me was worth it because of who I was, not what I could provide physically.  I will tell her to keep her phone on her, to never leave a drink unattended, to use the buddy system.

But I realize it was not my self-confidence or safety rituals that kept me safe. It was the young men I spent time with. And that seems to come down to luck more than anything. I barely knew these guys. They, too, were in fraternities. They, too, were often immature and sometimes ruled by mob mentality—abusing alcohol and at one point taking searing hot coat hangers and branding their skin with fraternity letters.

I don’t know how those young men were raised differently than the ones who rape.

Than the ones who look at women as worthless, but then go home to spend Thanksgiving break with their mothers and sisters.

Who are never held accountable for their brutality, but then go on to get married and have their own little boys and girls to raise. It feels hopeless.

There is so much darkness in these situations, and it can play out for generations.

So I am grateful for the Rolling Stone article, because it will shed light on sexual assault, get us talking, and hopefully send a message to rapists that what they are doing is not okay.

And I don’t think my daughter should have to be counted as LUCKY if she somehow manages to avoid this kind of evil.  It’s what she and every girl deserves.

UPDATE: If you have followed this story in the news, you now know that the article was completely discredited and that the victim in the story made up the assault. I am leaving this post up because the topic of college sexual assault is very real and so important, but I am disappointed that a sham of a story that should have been fact-checked could set victim's rights back on campuses. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Dream

The first winter after we lost Jack, my friend Courtney shared a dream with me. If you have read Rare Bird or followed this blog for a while, you remember how she and other friends experienced signs, visions, and dreams regarding Jack during those first few months. I was no longer surprised, so I just took it in.

I was disappointed that this dream didn't have to do with Jack, but with me.

In it, Courtney saw me walking beside a creek. Not THE creek in the woods behind our neighbors' house, but a different one, on a bright day. I had bare feet and I walked in about an inch of water that saturated the grass beside the creek. Then, I lay down face-first in the grass, getting wet all over. People walking with me tried to tell me to get up, saying that I didn't need to get myself wet, telling me I might become muddy. But I stayed on the ground, wet but not muddy, and continued to splash the crystal clear water. Before long, another woman whom Courtney knew, in pain and also grieving, traced my footsteps, following me.

Courtney and I both interpreted this dream to mean that I was letting myself feel my grief, and while that might have seemed too messy or uncomfortable for others who so wanted to spare me pain, it was something I was going to do anyway. And there were others, even people I didn't know, who came behind me, observing.

I didn't realize at that point that my grief journey would be a public one, first through this blog, and eventually a book. I didn't have any sort of mission to demystify grief, or to peel back the curtain as to what survival could look like. I just wanted to get through the holidays without giving up. I wanted to shake the cobwebs of shock and horror out of my head, and write from my heart. I wanted write about my fierce longing for Jack, a longing that grew out of great love.

I don't know if I will write about grief forever.

There are other things to be discussed, of course. Light topics such as fleece-lined tights (yay!) and the making and eating of scones. Heavier topics such as our failure to live better, as lights in the darkness, even when we know better.  

I never planned to lose Jack. I never planned to write about grief. In my first years of  blogging, when people asked me what kind of writer I was, I  would answer, "A Life Blogger" because I wasn't sure if my writing was more about my kids, decorating, my faith, or candy corn.

And even in writing so much about death, I guess that's what I still am. I write about LIFE. And I hope I can do justice to those dear ones who come after me, watching.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

What I've Been Up To, and A Shopping Re-Cap

Recently, I heard about an opportunity for bloggers to tour a thrift store, buy fabulous items, and then feature them on their blogs. This would be followed by a delicious lunch at one of my favorite restaurants. And the thrift store in question was not just any thrift store, but my home away from home for the past 9 years! Where I got my kitchen chairs, dining room set, and pretty much every other piece of furniture in my house except my mattress. Where I got the jeans and vest I'm wearing as I type! The blog outing was right up my alley, but I can't go because of a prior commitment that day.

You see, I have not been overly busy, but since Rare Book came, I've been spending time connecting with people about grief and the book. I have been speaking to book clubs and small groups and getting together with individuals who want to talk/process. Without the pressure of a deadline, my calendar has more breathing room than before, and a typical day while Margaret is at school often looks like this. Wed: Susan, Jennifer. Thursday: Panera--Joan. I have been taking things slowly, cherishing these opportunities to spend time with people face to face, hear stories, and connect. I have also been open to opportunities to speak to larger groups, and that's something I definitely want to pursue, but I have been cherishing these small pockets of connection all fall long.

On the morning of the thrift store outing, I will be speaking to a group of Presbyterian educators on "Ways the Church Can Better Support Families in Trauma." I am really looking forward to it, and I have a feeling I'll be listening as much as talking, drawing upon their expertise on a topic that is so important.  Perhaps it will lead to a blog post that can be a resource.

Since I couldn't go to the thrift store outing, I popped over there on Monday instead. I found a cute shirt and dress for myself and then I saw them...

Pink HUNTER rain boots!

Could it be? Margaret is very brand-aware, and I've been searching for used Hunter Boots on my forays for over two years. I picked one up and checked the size. Perfect! I quickly stashed them in my cart and covered them up with my other clothes. They were listed at 12.99, but with a discount coupon, they ended up being $9.00. I felt triumphant! Sure I threw in a couple of items I didn't need, and that served to jack up my total, but I had dropped off a big box of donations on my way into the store, so I was feeling a little giddy.

I decided to text Margaret a picture of the boots when I got home, because I knew she would be so excited. Lining them up on the kitchen counter, I could tell something was amiss. Why was one boot taller than the other? I picked up both boots and checked the sizes. Are you kidding me? They didn't match. Someone must have donated TWO pairs of pink boots, and they had become mismatched in the process. Nooooooooooooooooooooooooo!

My shopper's high quickly led to buyer's remorse. And it wasn't like I could re-sell them, unless I found a very specific buyer, with a size 2 and a size 3 foot. Perhaps not impossible, but well out of my realm and energy level.

Margaret's eyes lit up when she saw them! "No way! Thanks, Mom!" and then, "Wait. What's wrong?"

I told her about the size issue. She could not believe it either. But with some padding of one foot and some tandem-tugging and scrunching on the other, we managed to get her into them. And she wore them until bedtime. Victory!

Boy, those boots took me on a roller coaster ride on Monday, but ended with a happy and excited girl who just needs a rainy day so she can wear them before her foot grows too much. Whew.

Speaking of excited, an article I wrote for Woman's Day (Dec Issue) is out now! Please check it out when you are at the grocery store. I love how the article turned out. It is a heartfelt shout-out to all of the people (YOU!) who have lifted us up since our family's tragedy. You are our Unexpected Blessings.

Friday, November 7, 2014

A Little Thinking about Drinking

I grew up in a dry household.

While I was vaguely aware that some of my friends' parents drank, that was simply not part of our world. Occasionally, my mom and dad were invited to a neighbor's house for a cocktail, but they always politely declined.

When we entertained, it was for church groups or our neighborhood Christmas caroling party, with hot chocolate for the kids and tea and coffee for the grown-ups. There was no liquor cabinet to break into, and our holiday meals involved goblets filled with ice water. I never had the expeirnce that many of my friends did-- happily mixing drinks for their parents' friends at parties, and emptying the ashtrays the next day.

Mom's one foray to the dark side came when she decided to make a trifle for dessert one holiday dinner. I knew what was up, because nothing escaped my eagle eyes, and I saw her unpack some cooking sherry from a grocery bag. The alcohol-laced dessert did not go over well with my dad and his Methodist parents. Mom was pissed. This was the 70's, and she and Ann B. Davis were experimenting with soufflés and other exotic dishes to liven up their tuna casserole-heavy meal rotations, but her trifle never made it out of the gate.

A wonderful result of my parents' abstaining from alcohol was that I knew I would always encounter the same mom and dad, no matter what time of day or time of year or day of the week it was. Tired, busy, grumpy parents? Sure. But the same mom and dad, with the same judgment, and the same personalities. There was a lot of security in that.

Tim's parents drank in moderation, sharing an occasional bottle of wine with dinner or having a beer now and then.

When we got married and started a family, Tim and I never discussed our philosophy on drinking, but we didn't do a lot of drinking, either.

At first it was because we were broke.

Then it was because we had school work to do each evening.

After that came the cycle of pregnant, nursing, pregnant, nursing.

Tim kept a few beers in the fridge, but we never got into the habit of drinking. I was often alone with the kids, late into the night, and I wanted to be sober in case of an emergency.

Soon, much of our social life took place at church events, and our play dates were most often in public places like the park and the pool, where there was no alcohol..

Beach trips, camping, block parties, and the occasional "significant" birthday parties were an exception, where we'd stock up on beer and Mike's Hard Lemonades.

Looking back, I realize that if I had wanted to drink in front of the kids when they were little, they might not have noticed a thing, but it just rarely came up during our 30's.

Our social life since we hit our forties centers more around alcohol, and that just happens to coincide with our daughter's teen years. We have  a "beer fridge" in the basement, friends who enjoy fine wine and craft beers with us, and there are probably 50 beautiful wineries in close driving distance from our home.

Recently, we had friends over and a few of the dads drank too much. Margaret spoke up and said, "You can't drive home," which is exactly what we had told her to say to a friend who had been drinking. But several adults dismissed her, saying they were fine. This was telling her not to trust her own judgment.

She was taking it all in. That's what kids do.

Tim and I never made a conscious choice to drink or not to drink, but with our very occasional drinking, I think our kids got used to the same kind of consistency in our home that I had in mine growing up.

But I wonder what's next?

With all of the social drinking among our friends, are we teaching that any good moment, memory, or celebration requires alcohol? Christmases and celebrations of my youth may have been less raucous than at others' houses, but we still had a good time.

Don't get me wrong: there's not a ton of excessive drinking. My friends and I are old enough to know how much is too much, and we value our (elusive) sleep enough to know that a restless night and an ugly hangover just aren't worth it.

But it seems as if alcohol is everywhere, and we aren't talking about it very much.

We talk about NOT DOING DRUGS, but we seem far quieter on the way alcoholism can destroy families. It doesn't take much of a look at anyone's family tree to see that. We talk about medicine abuse, but not about how alcohol is a form of self-medicating.

I also wonder about the impact of saying things like, "Mommy really needs a drink," and "That's 'Mommy Juice'" or having "Mommy Play dates" with sippy cups for the kids and Solo cups for the moms.

And with social media, as we capture our social lives and share them farther and wider than ever before, is it starting to look like life is one big alcohol-fueled party?

What is that saying to our kids?

I don't have the answers; I just know they are watching.

They always do.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Not "Just" an Aunt

I'm off to see my sister, Liz, for an overnight visit.

Two years ago she moved much closer to us, but we still don't make the time to see each other as much as we would like. School and work and routine conspire against us. Many nights she'll be at home on her computer, and I'll be sitting on the couch watching tv 2 hours away, when we could be doing it "together."

When we are in the same room, we're the queens of parallel play.

Our interests rarely intersect, but it's nice to be near each other, no matter what's going on. She thinks running marathons and going to bed by nine is the way to go. I'm all about staying up late, sleeping in, and my running shoes are just to pair with my yoga pants when it grows too cold for flip-flops. Not that I even do yoga.

Oh, and did I tell you she's a yoga instructor?

She likes gadgets and technology, and is the sole reason there are any digital photos of my kids before 2006. She is also the queen of comfortable shoes and makes my sensible Aerosoles and LifeStrides look like Jimmy Choos.

She is also far more generous than I am. She'll find something she likes, a lot, and will buy one, then two, then....

L: "I got this great deal on puffy vests from Old Navy! I got one in this color and that color and I want to get one for you..."
A: "But I'm not sure I need another puffy vest..."
L: "Your puffy vest is on its way! Puffy vests for all the land!"

I'm more of a "I really like this shirt, and I hope I don't have to give it to someone off my back" kind of girl.

So we are quite different. But we are extremely close.

I met with a lovely writer this week to talk about writing and grief, and she and I talked about our losing Jack, and her losing her beloved nephew. As she began to share about her grief, she made sure to preface it with, "Please know I am not trying to compare losing my nephew to losing my child," but she went on to describe their years of closeness and the gaping hole his death left in her life.

Her preface was kind and sensitive, but in this case totally unnecessary; I have never doubted for one second how devastated my own sister is over the loss of Jack, and how his death changed everything.

She was there when he took his first breath.

She spent a few years as "Auntie Yiz" when Jack couldn't pronounce his "L's" and eventually just became "Auntie."  She was generous with my kids, staying up to date on their interests and getting a kick out of their personalities, even across the miles.

Sure, we regret times we did not make the effort to travel to see each other as often as we could have. We regret how we judged each other's parenting, both of us in the trenches with little ones at the same time, bringing the same childhood background but different personalities to our mothering as we do to everything else.

I know that when we lost Jack, Liz lost BIG.

Aunts (and uncles and best friends and neighbors) are sometimes thrust into caregiving roles at the very moment their own worlds have suddenly fallen apart. I think of Liz driving 5 hours through the darkness to get to us as soon as she heard Jack was missing. Of serving as a gate-keeper in dealing with the press and the outpouring of love, grief, and support that was coming our way while her brain was fractured and her heart broken. Of trying to support us the best way she could, while worrying about her own children and how they would survive their cousin's tragic death.

She wrote a speech about what she had learned from Jack, which captured his essence, to be read at his funeral. She had to try to put her own grief aside almost immediately, in the effort to HELP and to PROTECT us. What a burden those first hours, days, and weeks were to her. She was in triage mode, as we all were.

And those of us who grieve know that after those busy times, come quieter times, when you must figure out how to go on. She had to learn how to keep mothering in the face of loss, even when looking at her son, Jack's best friend, was so painful. How to encourage us to still get together, even though Jack's absence made those first visits horrific.

How to deal with the anger and bitterness.

How to try to make peace with God.

Liz did her grief work while she ran and ran and ran, logging in an unbelievable number of miles that first year.

I did my grief work while writing, showing up at this computer day after day.

Yes, her grief is different than mine, but an Auntie's loss is real.

The death of a child, the death of anyone, extends beyond just one household. Yes, you can eventually turn your focus back to the ones in your care, under your roof, or on your insurance plan, but the eyes with which you gaze on them see with a different perspective than before. Your heart is not the same either. There has been a shift. You know the fragility of life. You feel the absence that one person can leave. You realize that the present you are looking at could have and should have been different.

Grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles  and neighbors suffer. They need love and support for themselves, even as they are trying to give it to the parents and siblings of those who have died. They need time to reassess in the wake of a tragedy, to find ways to cope, to plumb the depths of their despair, to examine their beliefs to try to make sense of what feels senseless.

They may not get as much grace and latitude as those "closer" to the death do, but they need it just as much. They still cry in their beds at night.

And are more than "just" anyone.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Mudroom Reveal!

Okay, let's talk mudrooms. Again.

I have always wanted a mudroom but none of the four houses Tim and I have lived in have been able to accommodate one.

This one doesn't either, unless you think outside the house box.

We realized we had some extra storage space one side of the garage, so we hung hooks there, stored a dresser for me to rehab (eventually), and used a beloved old church pew that belonged to my mom as a place to put backpacks.

It worked well for us, but after a year I had visions of something more, something drool-worthy that would make our lives more organized and would increase the value of the house when it's time to sell by blinding the buyers to the fact that there is no coat closet inside.

Here's the before:

Fine and functional, right?

Here's the after:

I wish I had used a decent camera instead of my phone, but trust me.


And the workmanship is outstanding.

Maybe I'll post better pics with better lighting tomorrow, if I think you'll indulge me more mudroom pics without unsubscribing entirely.

And speaking of more pics, how about one of these narrow shelves by the door that hold sunscreen, ball caps, compact umbrellas, and the dog leash? Two of those baskets are empty, just waiting to hold something!

Or these four lockers, with storage for shoes below, and hats/gloves above? The very top shelves are too high for stuff we use every day, so I put some of Jack and Margaret's artwork up there for the time being.
This is an open area on the far right. I love how I drew an example of a board and batten look, and the contractor did it exactly how I wanted it. This will be for overflow, shopping bags, etc. We used black iron hooks above and two bee hooks below that the kids used to hang their coats on when they were preschoolers.

Here's one of Jack's Yankees hats that I wear at every opportunity.

Who doesn't love a bin? I was going to buy baskets or galvanized tubs for the shoes, but they were pretty expensive. When I found exactly seven of these green rubber bins on clearance at Target for 4.18 each, I knew what to do!
Shadow has a bin, of course.
The "junk drawer" of the garage: Stuff I can't figure out what to do with right now, but don't want to decide to get rid of yet.
 My favorite, the DONATE bin. Already overflowing. Easy to scoop up and take to the thrift shop.
And what about soccer?

 Another high shelf gets this sign from our old kitchen, plus my grandma's corn pitcher.

I spray painted baskets that I already had around the house.

These two don't quite match because I got them new at Michaels.

One reason I don't need to fill all my new shelves with ugly stuff like weed killer and paint cans is that we already had three HUGE cabinets with sliding doors in the front of the garage.

One is for gardening supplies, one for sports equipment, and one for coolers, vases, trays, small appliances, and party supplies.

Here's a closer look at them. Because they offer closed storage, I don't worry too much about keeping them organized. Does a shop vac count as "party supplies?"

Those big cupboards gave me the freedom to keep the new built-ins wide open.

I'm in LOVE.

To be honest, I must confess that in the dead of winter I will be keeping my coat inside the toasty house.

So what do YOU think?

Helping Someone Else-- That's Not Scary!

Sure feels like fall with the leaves turning, the chill in the air at Margaret's soccer games, and the terrifying traipse through the woods we took this weekend at a "haunted forest." Nothing like paying  to have strangers grab your ankles and chase after you with chainsaws. Still, it felt good to wear flannel, a puffy vest, and warm my buns by a blazing bonfire.

When I was thinking about how much money we spent this weekend, hoping to get scared, I started adding it up, plus the other "fall touches" around our house-- a wreath on the door, pumpkins real and fake, ample amounts of burlap decor, and candy for me this coming weekend,  and I wondered, "what am I doing RIGHT NOW to help someone else?" We have plans in the works for Christmas, with Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes, but what about NOW?

So, I headed over to Scary Mommy's page to see how her Thanksgiving Project fundraiser was going. So far 775 families will receive gift cards so that they can cook a holiday meal. I take the turkey, potatoes, and pie for granted at our house, but these families do not.

Reading the testimonials I was moved, once again, to support this wonderful cause, and make a difference for one family this Thanksgiving. When I checked back this morning, I saw that 690 families are on the waitlist and that number is climbing! These families are afraid, too, but it is a different kind of  fear than what I felt as I stumbled through the dark woods on Saturday night:

I know that things are tight for some of us this fall, and that there are many options when it comes to how we spend our money, but for those who are able to spare what would equal a few tickets to a haunted house, or dinner and a movie out, would you consider providing a Thanksgiving meal to a family in need? The Thanksgiving Project is a 501(c) charity.


Monday, October 20, 2014

Itching to Talk to You

So much and yet so little to write on a Monday.

I could update you on my shoulders...(torn labrum is feeling MUCH better, thank you, and my husband and I are back to sharing the same bed!)

Or on how it feels to have the book "out there" for real people to read (not weird at all)

Or how I coped with our town's high school homecoming festivities without Jack (left town, had a great time, tried not to look at FB. Peeked anyway, gah!)

Or what it's like to have a kid whose math homework is now way too hard for me to help with (humbling)

Or that Tim and I almost jetted off to Paris for his work, but instead stayed home and got hooked on the True Detective DVD's he got me for my birthday (saved money, scary, good)

Or whether you think I should start signing every text with a simple new embellishment. (To Tim: "Please buy dog food. XOXO, NYT Best Selling Author" To my sister: "Period through jeans again. XOXO, NYT Best Selling Author" Is that too much? It's not, right?)

Oh I just don't know. Monday is making me feel all over the place, so let's just go with this morning's events-- a visit to the dermatologist followed by a wait at the pharmacy that was, I'm certain, long enough for me to pick up every single germ that lurked in the back of Rite Aid. And far too long for my bladder to hold its 3 cups of tea, but heck if I was going to use a bathroom in a PHARMACY, so I held it during a drive home laced with an, "I think I can, I think I can!" pep talk for myself.

But then, because of leaving the garage door open for our garage-mahal builders, the door to the house was locked but I had no key. I was locked out with a full bladder and a yard not wooded enough to provide an acceptable level of privacy, should I have to go outdoors.

A plan emerged.

Tim was getting a physical back in town, where I'd just come from; perhaps I could head him off at the pass and get a key from him before he headed to work. And instead of just waiting for me in the doctor's office parking garage, he suggested Starbucks. So we had a 10:30 a.m. date, which is pretty spiffy for a Monday morning.

Yes, my part of the date consisted saying, "Hey!" and running to the bathroom, but moments later it  seemed pretty date-like as he slid a house key across table with a smile. Had this been Mad Men, not my suburban life, and had I not just come from a dermatologist who diagnosed me with an itchy, creepy skin virus  over my entire body, well, this story could have ended differently.

Instead, Tim headed to work and I to the gas station.

But you should have seen how hot he looked as we parted ways and he whispered,  "Try Shell. We might have gas points there."

After a few more errands and an ill-fated search for red lentils at the store, I'm back home, Shadow at my feet, trying to ease my way into this week.

I hope your week is filled with love, laughter, and non-rashy days.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Book Review!

I love hearing how Rare Bird affects people!

For example, here's a lovely review of the book up on Mamalode today.

Perhaps you would be willing to rate/review Rare Bird on Amazon or Goodreads to help readers decide whether they should take a chance on it.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Hour

I just turned 45. I feel so young, but am also aware that my wonderful Mom only lived to be one year older than I am now. It has me thinking about purpose and how to use the time that I have here. It also reminded me of this post:

Tomorrow and Tomorrow:

In the dark theater, made darker by the wood paneling and Elizabethan flourishes, I prayed. Hard. I didn’t care about anyone seeing me, eyes closed, hands clenched tightly, lips moving quickly and noiselessly. What mom wouldn't understand my praying right now?
Jack’s class was about to take the stage at the Folger Shakespeare Library to perform an abridged version on Macbeth. Jack, who had just turned twelve, was playing Macbeth. It was almost more than my nerves could take.  “Please don’t let him forget his lines. Help him not to be frozen like a deer in the headlights and then run weeping from the stage. Help him!”
When Jack confided the night before during snuggle time that he was afraid of getting up on that stage, I dished out my regular fare. “Your nervousness just means you care about how it goes. That’s adrenaline. It will help you focus and do well. That’s always how it works with me,” said the woman who had never, ever graced a stage unless you counted delivering one line as Tiny Tim in a church basement production of A Christmas Carol “God Bless Us Everyone.” Indeed.
“God, please bless Jack. Now!”

The spotlights turned on. Jack hit every line and nailed his entrances and exits. He even had to go with a change of plans when time was short and change from one shirt to another on stage versus offstage.
Acting was Jack’s sweet spot.
Even though in conversation he spoke so quickly he was sometimes hard to understand, in acting he enunciated clearly. When I’d pick him up from school or a sporting event I’d find my mother heart asking, “How did it go?" but really meaning, "Was it a disaster?” but when I’d pick him up from theater camps, it was like picking up a mini rock star. “Hey Jack’s mom! Jack rocks!” counselors would yell across the parking lot.

We didn’t record the whole play, but Tim did turn on his phone to capture this famous soliloquy:

“To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,

To the last syllable of recorded time;

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

The way to dusty death. Out, out brief candle!

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,

And then is heard no more. It is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.”

Act 5, scene 5, 19-28

It guess it was Shakespeare’s version of our 1980’s mantra, “Life’s a bitch and then you die.” It’s tough to watch any movies with Jack in them, but even more so as he delivers such a depressing indictment of our short, meaningless lives, only 3 months before his accident.

I have the hope of heaven, and like many bereaved moms, I operate with one foot here and one foot there. Death holds no sting or fear for me at all anymore.
But what about now? But what about the in between time, when I'm charged with continuing on, with living? Did Macbeth get it all wrong? Is there meaning in this life? Is there vitality and spirituality and significance right here? Right now?
I believe there is. Our lives may be short, but they are not meaningless. I don't  know what I plan on doing with the rest of my days, but I know I don't want to just strut and fret my hour on the stage. And I'm guessing watching reality tv and eating ice cream, which are my current past-times, are not quite the meaning and significance I'm thinking of...
What about you?
What are you doing with your awesome, hard, significant hour?

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Garage "Mudroom" Part 1

I have never had a garage in my life until this past year.

Bird doo, snow, and icy windshields, were all just a part of life. When we were looking for a new (30+ years old) house a little over a year ago, I wasn't too concerned about having a garage, but boy am I enjoying it!

I love the privacy, I love the extra storage space, and pushing the button is fun, too.

A nice aspect of our garage is that there are 3 large storage closets in front of where we park our cars. They have sliding doors and deep wooden shelves. We use one for garden supplies, one for sports equipment, and one for party supplies such as vases, platters, ice buckets and tubs. There is a ton of storage!

An area of the garage I want to improve is the right side that leads directly into our kitchen eating area. I told myself I would not buy another home with a kitchen all on its own in the front of the house, and certainly not one where you walked directly into the eating area, but here we are.

And even though there are only three of us here now, we still seem to pile a lot of stuff on the floor right inside the kitchen door. This house also does not have a coat closet, which is kind of strange, but that's because they removed the closet a long time ago to add a desk area in the kitchen during a  remodel.

We have a few hooks right inside the kitchen door for coats, and we TRY to use the garage for the rest. Shoes are a crap shoot.

I was going through my blog and found a post from 2009 where I presented some of my small-space solutions for houses without mudrooms. Looking back at that post now is poignant, and I saw a cute pic of Jack that I'd forgotten about.

Here's how that wall in our garage looks now. I love my old church pew from my house growing up:

It functions pretty well for us, but I got a wild hair a few weeks ago. If I did not have a house with a mudroom, why not outfit this area like a pseudo-mudroom, with built-ins and everything?

I think it will add value to the house and look oh so pretty. Here's some inspiration from Pinterest. Those big windows could pose a problem, but we'll see.

The work crew is getting here in 5 minutes, so I'll report back later. I'm so excited!

Friday, October 3, 2014

I am

I am a loathsome and despicable creature. Embarrassing. Annoying. My voice grates. My butt sags. My pores are large enough to park a bus in. My breathing is far too shallow. My sighs too deep. My scent must be odious or cloying if I even have one. Oh yes, my breath. Not good. Not good at all.

My words are ill-timed and poorly chosen. They show no understanding of the ways of the world. I should be locked away somewhere so my too loud laughter won’t infringe on the well-being of others. It would be best if I were to be brought out only at mealtimes (and could you just drop it at the cage door and back away slowly, no eye contact or conversation please?)

I am moderately useful at times of low grade fevers, existential crises, and the middle of the night. Perhaps it would be best for us all if I could be launched, set sail on an ice floe for the next, say, 4-8 years.

I want to argue that I am not who you think I am. I am likable. Kind. Strong. I was a really good friend this week. Brave, even. Sometimes I make people laugh. I am becoming an expert at sitting next to someone, holding a hand, saying nothing. When I do speak, there are life experiences I could share. And I remember what it was like to be young. The world may have changed, but I remember the thoughts, the feelings, the needs.

I want to say, let’s not play this game. It’s such a cliché. Could we just jump ahead to the part where you see the good in me and the filter of time will show that these, while never destined to be the good old days, were the days when I helped make you feel stable, and safe? When I dragged my paltry self out of bed each day and kept showing up? 

I know you have affection to give, climbing on your father’s lap, a mash-up of estrogen and testosterone fitting together tightly-- so different than the magnetic poles of like and like that invite the two of us close, close, closer then push us apart. You say, “You are getting even better looking, Dad! Those gray hairs look so cute on you!”

I peek at you when you sleep. You don’t have my eyes, or my nose, but you do have my spunk and spark. And the quick responses come from me, too. You and I have the power to be witty and charming, but our quick minds can be dangerous when we choose the cutting retort. And beware if we are tired or hungry. I can tell these are my legacy to you, but you would rather have picked them up from a used urinal cake in a bus station bathroom than from my DNA. Because you are your own person. You are not me. This life is yours and you need to live it for yourself. ‘Tis true.

So my inward pep-talk about my own worth stays inside. Spoken aloud it smacks of desperation, and I’ve seen enough of life to assure myself that while challenging, our situation is far from a desperate one. So I keep it to myself, repeating occasionally:  I am Okay. I am Kind.
I am...

I am...

I am...

…the mother of a teenage girl.

I am strong and worthy. So are you, my beautiful, amazing daughter. I love you, I’m not going anywhere, and I know we can ride this thing out.