Sunday, December 27, 2015

Baby Gear Advice Needed

Worlds are colliding!

At the very same time I'm packing up the kitchen, dining room, and living room finding things to get rid of in anticipation of our upcoming remodel, I'm putting together a list of must-haves for when the baby comes. Somehow, in the next three months, all of this will come together, right?

We are turning our kitchen, formal living room, and tiny formal dining room into a more open, but not completely open, space. Gulp.

If you have advice for me regarding baby products, either lifesavers or duds, please let me know in the comments.


I got the following items from our yard sale site or from friends.

Changing table
Crib mattress
Bouncy seat
Bumbo seat
Inflatable bathtub insert
play mat
Peg Perego Primo Viaggio infant car seat (from a friend, no accidents)
Britax Advocate Convertible car seat (from a friend, no accidents)


Crib, here's the one I'd like to buy because the baby's room will be gray and yellow (Margaret has the decor under control :))
Breast pump and bottles
Nose Frida
Nail clippers
Infant bathtub or insert-- Is there a good one for washing baby in the sink or on the counter?
Fisher Price Rock and Play sleeper
Changing pad and cover
Crib sheets
Diaper trash can
Snap and Go Stroller
Boppy pillow
Extra car seat base


What am I missing? Please tell me about: sleep sacks, the DexBaby DayDreamer, swaddles, co-sleepers, The Happiest Baby on the Block DVD, baby wash, diaper creams, Moby wraps, Ergos, an infant car seat that swivels for getting in and out of the car...and anything else you can think of!

Is there one product you wish you had known about sooner?

Thanks for your insight!

(affiliate links included in this post)

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

The Winter of my Discontent?

Today is my 23 week prenatal appointment!

I'll let you know how it goes. As of now I'm still in my robe, trying to stay quiet in case Margaret is asleep, when in reality she is probably hunkered down in her room with her computer. She is the early bird, I'm the night owl, and the teenaged sleeping all day thing hasn't hit her yet.

Sleep continues to elude me.

My routine is to try to go to bed around midnight, but I'm restless and awake until at least 2, usually 4. During the time between 12 and 2 I get up about three to four times to go to the bathroom. I know I should be "storing up sleep" during this trimester, as if that even works, but instead I feel sleep deprived, draggy, and uncomfortable.  Two years of poor sleep before pregnancy haven't helped either. I'll ask the doc today if she has any advice, but really I just wanted to share some of what has been running through my head during those waking hours when all is not calm, all is not bright.

Of course I'm worried about whether I'll be able to mother a baby again. I saw a newborn baby last week. The tiny-ness! The vunerability! The gaping portal of need! In my head I know I can do it, and I'm trusting the process, but lack of sleep whispers doubt and doom into my head in the night.

Oh, and did I tell you we are going ahead with our kitchen renovation? The one that predates this pregnancy? When we found a great kitchen remodeler last spring, he said he couldn't start the project until January. "That sounds PERFECT!" I replied. "We have nothing going on early next year!"

It doesn't seem so perfect right now, because I am thinking that the third trimester, a house in chaos, and you, know, a possible blizzard or two might push me over the proverbial edge. I don't know. I figured if we waited until after the baby came, we would likely never get around to it, but I'm still apprehensive about the dust, the noise, the lack of a working kitchen for 8 weeks, and how to keep the dogs from being traumatized. I want the kitchen, I just don't want to have to GET THERE, you know, and I feel greedy and "things-y" for bringing this problem on myself in the first place.

Our family likes structure and order, and I think this will be a challenge for all of us, pets included, barreling right up against the biggest game changer of all-- the new baby! Is it too much? I think of all of the Christmas decorations to put away,  a kitchen to pack, furniture to store, and a baby room to figure out, and I wonder why I wanted to redo the kitchen in the first place, when right now I kind of want to torch it all. Then there's the expense. We chose to remodel the kitchen before I found out how much having a baby would cost under our insurance plan. The numbers are staggering. So the thoughts churn as I toss and turn, eventually waddling from bed to bed, couch to chair, hoping to find a comfortable place to sleep. I think the lack of sleep is what caused my shingles to flare up again last week.

Although I am not a morning person, and never have been, I do understand that things always seem brighter in the morning, or at least by mid-morning. Because now it is 10 am, and my be-robed self has a much better attitude than I did in the night. The dogs are snuggled together on a dog bed at my feet, Margaret gets to go to a cookie baking party later, and the temp is in the 50's in December!

And we are NOT going to think these crazy-warm temperatures portend a blizzard on kitchen cabinet delivery day in February, right?

Tuesday, December 15, 2015


Things are quiet around here. I mean really, really quiet. I haven't been inspired to write much, even though I think I have a novel noodling around in my head somewhere, and while January is pretty packed with speaking engagements, December isn't. The fact that I discovered 7 seasons of "The Good Wife" on Amazon Prime probably hasn't helped.

Advent is a time of waiting, as is pregnancy, and it hasn't escaped my notice that I'm experiencing both at the same time. During my first two pregnancies I was busy-busy. I think that helped keep me in great physical and emotional shape throughout, not just focused on what was happening on the inside. With Jack, I taught high school until just hours before he was born. Pregnant with Margaret, I had an active toddler to chase around, and with free childcare at church activities, I took part in pretty much every church exercise class, Bible Study, and committee I could sign up for. Busy.

This time is different. Tim and Margaret are gone all day. The doggies just follow me around and collapse into sleep wherever I park myself in the house. My body doesn't feel the same as it did 17 or 15 years ago. Things are swollen. Private things. Other things are sore. Exercise seems too monumental to attempt. Most of this has to do with age, but some of it likely has to do with the cocooning I've experienced in the 4 years since Jack died. While Tim and my sister channeled their grief into running, I channeled mine into sitting, writing, meeting with the bereaved, and drinking a lot of tea, as if conserving energy for something. Was it this? Rather than keeping me healthy, however, I found that the grief settled in my shoulders and other parts of my body, making me prone to aches, illness, and injury. Today, I'm trying to decide whether I'm having a flare-up of shingles or whether it's just the permanent nerve damage I got the last time I had them. Regardless, my body is saying, REST, Anna, and wait. So the dogs and Julianna Marguiles and I do just that.

I did all of my shopping online, and I've never been much of a baker, so I don't have reams of checklists to follow right now, unless I'm forgetting something, which is likely true. This makes me feel a bit off kilter with all of the busyness around me, as if it is one more way I don't fit in.

Advent is a time of expectation, a virgin's growing belly, and now this 46 year old non-virgin's as well. Sometimes it's a time of numbers and counting and waiting. Margaret counts down the days until she can open her presents. We anticipate our last Christmas with 3 members physically present: Anna, Tim, and Margaret, and are proud and a little shocked by the way we have handled the 4, soon to be 5  that we've faced since Sept 2011. Our 2 trees glisten with lights and hundreds of handmade ornaments of dough and beads that now bring us joy rather than pain. For the first time ever, we hang lights outside, a tribute to our dear friend Brian who died 1 week ago at the incredibly young age of 39, and who loved Advent and Christmas. Tim tracks his hours at work, trying to figure out how to be present with us during the holidays while still getting his job done. I watch the pounds pile up on the scale, and follow the size of the baby according to websites, going from a grape, to a tangerine, an avocado, and then a banana. Is he1 lb yet? Baby Donaldson just swims, and flips and dives,  oblivious to all of this, or perhaps somehow wiser than the rest of us put together.

And Jack? His wait is over. He is in the presence of holiness every minute of every day. And what is  a day to him? A millisecond? His work and mission are unfettered by billable hours and busyness, outward expectations, and binge-watching TV. Partisan politics and war and violence make no sense to him as his new lens is one of LOVE, only LOVE.

I don't know when my time with come, although I know I've already lived more years than Jack and Brian. There is much for us to do here, to try to make the world we are living in more loving, kinder, and more just.

But there is also much to anticipate, as Jack and Brian already know, and that it is worth longing for.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Pregnant again in your 40’s? 10 ways to tell if you had your last child A LONG-ASS TIME AGO:

1)You needed reading glasses to see the pee-stick results this time.

2)The terms Push Present, Baby-moon, and Gender Reveal are new to you.

3)The last time you wore maternity clothes, they were amorphous denim overalls and shirts built like tents; this time you wear clingy sweaters and leggings that accentuate your age baby bump.

4)You find yourself tossing around words like bouncy seat, diaper genie and stroller, but everyone else is talking about the Nose Frida, Moby Wrap and travel systems.

5) You thought swaddle was a verb, but somehow it appears to be a noun now, as in, "How many swaddles do we need?"

6)You realize how quickly the infant stage is going to go, so you plot ways to get this stuff out of the house before you even bring it in.

7) You repeat the mantra, “40 is the new 20” as you try to haul your burgeoning girth out of bed.

8) You ask Siri if Botox is safe while breast-feeding.

9) Newborns look a whole lot scarier to you than teenagers.

10) You wonder how you’ll do it all again, but you remind yourself that you did it before, and what’s a few more gray hairs, anyway?

Holly Lane Designs Winners!

Winner Winner/s Chicken Dinner/s!!!!
We have 3 winners for the big Holly Lane Designs Giveaway! 

However, it appears that I'm a big goofball and didn't ask for your email addresses for notification purposes this time. PLEASE HELP ME find you by PM'ing me if you are one of our winners. For those who didn't win, remember you can get 15% off now through Dec 20 by using the code Anna15 at Holly Lane Designs. It works! I used it yesterday!

Winner of the Nothing is Impossible Pendant: Susan Vondracek
Winner of $50 credit at HLD: Anonymous, 2:10 am, Dec 5, 2015. (You wrote of wanting a pendant with the Bible verse you used for your husband's memorial service)
Winner of $75 credit at HLD: CARLA (commented 11:42 am Dec 2, 2015)

Please email me at awhistondonaldson(at)gmail(dot)com or contact me through my Facebook page so I can make sure you get your prizes. 

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Holly Lane Giveaway for YOU! 3 winners, 3 prizes, and a Discount!

I'm so excited to share with you my Holly Lane Giveaway! 3 winners, 3 prizes!

One winner will receive a Nothing is Impossible Pendant created in memory of Jack and inspired his favorite verse, Luke 1:37, “For with God, nothing is impossible.”

Second winner will receive a $50 Holly Lane Gift Card– to buy what you please from

Third winner will receive a $75 Holly Lane Gift Card also buy what you please from

To enter sign up for the Holly Lane Newsletter
(If you're already on our list you can follow us on another social platform)

Be sure to leave me a comment on THIS POST so I'll know that you entered!

Plus, there's a special discount for Inch of Gray readers! Enjoy 15% off everything at with code, “Anna15” till December 20th.

I know I've shared about Tiffany and Holly Lane Designs before. 

In 2003, Tiffany, a homeschooling mom of five, started dabbling in fine silver clay in her home on Holly Lane. What started as an outlet for her creativity, soon led to a means to share the Gospel using her talents.

“It was because of lots of people sharing Christ with me that I became a Christian. Immediately after having that answer to prayer, I knew [my company] was going to be about witnessing...about creating pieces that could help people share their faith.” - Tiffany

Tiffany is passionate about creating items that reflect God through their quality and craftsmanship. She designs each piece in fine silver clay. After, the jewelry is cast in sterling silver and is hand assembled at the Holly Lane studio in central Virginia. Every piece is paired with a Story Card™, a printed note sharing the verse or sentiment that inspired it. From start to finish, all Holly Lane jewelry is made in the USA.

“It’s our hope at Holly Lane that our line of jewelry won’t just be pretty silver, you can get that anywhere. We want it to be a way to share your story of Christ in your life.”  -Tiffany 

My favorite pieces are of course the Nothing is Impossible pendant and the Forever His pendant which I had personalized with Jack's initials. Holly Lane Designs is my go-to for meaningful jewelry!

Find Holly Lane on the social media of your fancy 
Instagram: hollylanedesign

and online at

Monday, November 30, 2015

The Balm

Despite the general sense of calm I've had about this late-in-life pregnancy, I do still wonder about my ability to do it all over again. Not the pregnancy itself, but the parenting and the sacrifice, and of course, 2nd grade math. I don't want to phone it in with this little one, even though after more than 10 years of having kids in school full-time and plenty of very quiet time by myself at work and at home, it will be an adjustment. Am I ready for Hot Wheels and Thomas the Train?

Will I be able to adapt to having a little sidekick again?

And it's such a weird time to be having a baby, when I FINALLY feel I have found my true calling through writing and speaking engagements. Sharing stories and life with others, examining the ideas of loss, resilience, and radical trust are a sweet spot for me, and I've been hoping to do much more of this as Margaret grows more independent. I love speaking to churches, universities, and at conferences.  I feel there may well be another book or two in me. So, after years of NOT knowing what I wanted to do when I grew up, I now KNOW, and it feels right, but I wonder how it will play out with a tiny person to care for.

I haven't mentioned this inner conflict to many people, because I don't want to seem to be taking our baby miracle for granted. But I'm human, and I wonder. It seemed like it was time for me to blossom beyond the four walls of our house by connecting with others and their stories, but being pregnant  seems to steer me right back toward the protective walls of home.

My husband Tim, who is a man of few words, said the kindest thing to me last week. I know I have used this space in the past to share some of his foibles with you-- not full-on husband bashing I
hope--but  anecdotes here and there to illustrate our different takes on...just about everything. And as I told him years and years ago, if he wants to write about me and my annoying habits, he should feel free to start his own darn blog.

Anyway, out of the blue in the kitchen last week he said, "I think what you do is more important than what I do, because you are helping people every day. I want to find a way to help you after the baby comes so that you don't have to quit doing it."

I don't know what he meant, specifically, but I tear up thinking about it.

His job is the one that brings in the vast majority of our income, and it is something that he does well. For him to notice, really notice, that what I do somehow makes a difference made me feel seen and acknowledged. We don't talk much, but in 20+ years he has witnessed that my default mode is to put my desires on the back burner for the family, to push up my sleeves and let the years roll by without considering if something else might also beckon. Now that I've heard such a beckoning louder and more clearly than ever before, I do not want to ignore it, and his words emboldened me to consider that following the call might still be possible, even if the idea overwhelms me. Truly, those words were a balm.

This post is not about making money, or staying home versus working outside of it. It feels different than that. Instead, I think it's about yesterday's patterns not having to dictate tomorrow's. It's about rethinking roles and the way things have always been. Jack's death has taught us that almost everything is subject to change, but even with that unsought-after knowledge, I am still sometimes reluctant to see beyond how I am living right here, right now, and be open-hearted to other possibilities.

Monday, November 23, 2015

It's A Glamorous Life

I had my monthly OB appointment today, and the baby seems fine!

The appointment itself had some ups and downs. I was running late, and got a bit frazzled when faced with a crowded parking garage. By the time I made it to the office, I had to pee, which is great, because that's the very first thing you do at each prenatal check-up-- provide a urine sample.

I sat on the toilet, relieving myself and also feeling relieved to have made it reasonably on-time despite a 30 minute fight with traffic. I looked down at the Dixie cup in my hand. Empty. I had peed all right, but I'd forgotten to pee in the cup.

Now, I am a prolific urinator, pregnant or not. Ask anyone who has been on a car trip with me. Just thinking of a waterfall or a raindrop will make me have to go. So, I sat there visualizing Niagara Falls, the ocean, and a tall glass of water, to no avail. I soon realized I'd have to wait a while before providing a sample.

Back in Reception, I explained my failure to produce and asked if I could please have a glass of water. Not a problem, they said. You might think a pre-natal appointment would be extensive, giving me ample time to work up a good pee, but I wasn't so sure. Because rather than gathering 'round me oohing and ah-ing, treating me like the Advanced Maternal Age Walking Miracle that I find myself to be, the professionals act, well, as if they've seen this kind of thing before, and this isn't the first baby to come around the bend. Thus, early visits are a quick blood pressure and fetal heartbeat check, a smile, and a "See you in a month." This is a blessing, because it means things are going well, but it didn't provide much time for the water to work its way through my system.

No fear! I KNEW I could produce. My bladder was filling by the second.

So, I said good bye to the nurse and headed back into the bathroom. However, I hadn't counted on the time and skill  it would take for me to wrassle myself out of various pregnancy undergarments while clutching a Dixie cup.

First there were the maternity jeans that come up to my chest.
A squeezy support tube top around my middle.
And the piece de resistance-- something that resembles a chastity belt, but that I like to fondly call The Vulva Holster, a utilitarian maze of straps and velcro designed to try to keep one's lady parts from dragging the ground whilst one walks. Mothering often robs us of our dignity, so why not start in utero?

I was doing fine with the wrangling, but I clearly did not expect what happened next.

As a germaphobe, especially around medical offices, I carry a jumbo pump bottle of hand sanitizer in my purse, to be used obsessively throughout my visits. My purse, weighed down by the pump, as well as my fears, jumped from the hook high on the door. Down it came, clocking me on the head and scattering my wallet and all the other contents onto the RESTROOM FLOOR.

At this point, the precious drops of liquid gold I'd worked so hard to produce over the last half hour did burst forth, not into the Dixie cup, but into the multitude of undergarments with which I struggled.


I wanted to seize my personal items from the floor, hoping that the faster I did it, the less germy they would become, but I was here to give a urine sample, and I wasn't leaving until I did. So I lunged back over the pot and managed to secure the remaining pee in the Dixie cup.


Since I couldn't celebrate this small triumph with a glass of wine or even a McDonald's iced tea because of the caffeine, I treated myself to some quick thrift store shopping, where I scored some new-to-me maternity clothes.

And I only had to stop to use the bathroom twice.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A Third

When the kids were around 5 and 3, and my baby fever was in overdrive, I asked Jack what he would think of having another sibling.

"Can a baby play with me?" he asked.
"Well, not for a good while," I said. "But eventually."
"Then, no." he said.

He changed his tune a few years later:

"Mom, when are you having another baby?" By that time, I felt as if the window had closed. "You and Margaret are at an easy age now, but babies are HARD."

"You're only 36," he said.

Then, "You're only 37. You know if you had had one when you were 36, the baby would already be one by now."


Margaret was less pushy about the baby thing, but after I told her about China's one child policy, she figured that adoption was the best way. She wouldn't just get another sibling, she would get a SISTER!

She wrote on a piece of paper in Sharpie, "ADOPT GIRL FROM CINA" and stuck it on the fridge. It was spelled wrong, but the meaning was clear. Jack added his 2 cents to the bottom in pencil, "no."

I'm not sure whether this meant Jack was anti-adoption, anti-CINA, or whether he was holding out hope for a brother, but the years just continued to add up and our indecision became a decision.

Same conversation every year.


Jack said, "Have another baby, you're only 41!" just two weeks before the accident. I told him about my old eggs, but he wasn't buying it.

So, I'm guessing he's pleased with how things are unfolding, even though he would be 17 years older than this baby. He won't be here to play with him, drive him places, and help his mom out. But I do think he will be watching over all of us. And Margaret won't get the sister she always wanted. But there will finally be three of them: Jack, Margaret, and, Baby Brother.

It's interesting to think of those conversations over the years. Was Jack's unrelenting pressure because he wanted another playmate, or was it because deep down the tug of the universe was letting him know he didn't want Margaret to be left alone? 

It's a mystery.

And I'm adding it to my list of questions for when I get to heaven.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015


I was in Target a few months ago, repeating the much-needed mantra, "You do not need new throw pillows. You do not need new throw pillows." I was there for groceries and toilet paper, but of course I had to check out the fall home decor section they were in the process of setting up.

As I pushed my cart past the cozy plaid blankets and metallic gourds, something caught my eye-- a throw pillow of course. It was off white with one word written on it in lovely gold script:


I didn't buy it, but I did notice what I was feeling as I read the word. A rush of gratitude for all that I'd been given in life. Gratitude for life itself. There was no asterisk in my thoughts, no bitter coda, and that, in itself seemed notable to me.

It was NOT:

Grateful, except for the part where my mom dies far too young.

Grateful, except for the loss of an amazing son whom the world needed, and I still NEED.

Grateful, except for big and small disappointments, disillusionments, slights and betrayals.

Grateful, except for a sense that I want to do more to follow God's call on my life, yet I feel lazy and stuck.

Just grateful.

This would have been unthinkable a few years ago.

I remember the horrible first Thanksgiving just a few tortured weeks after Jack's death. When I passed our striped Thankfulness Notebook around the table, I wondered what the hell I would put in it. My sister looked similarly lost. She finally settled on being thankful for modern transportation so that we could be together during hard times.

These years later, I don't want to put on a false smile and act as if everything is okay. I don't want to imply that I don't feel sad often and bitter sometimes. Jack is dead, I'm 46 and pregnant, pretty much everything irritates me on some level, my body and my heart hurt, and this is not the life I wanted.

But oh, the GRATITUDE!

It seeps in unbidden. It travels on memories of a brother and sister playing together in their own little world. Of friends who chose the hard path and kept showing up. Of a God who paints the leaves the most brilliant yellows and reds. Of a looking outward at others who may need an infusion of HOPE. Of new life growing inside of me. Of day lilies ready to be planted today to surprise us anew next summer.

I don't want anyone telling me to be grateful, and I'm guessing you don't either. But oh how wonderful it feels when gratitude comes!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Wonky Looking Blog

Hi Dears! I'm sorry my blog has these wonky looking error messages all over it. I have contacted the blog designer and I hope she'll have a remedy soon. I miss my sweet little bird designs, so I hope we can get them back! :)


Quick Trip and an Organizational Tip

We just got back from a quick trip to Orlando, Florida.

Despite some illness, we had a very good time, and it helped solidify for us that we aren't really an amusement park family. Tim does not do well with crowds, I wilt in the heat, and Margaret does not like thrill rides. We went to two excellent theme parks and used the "quit while we're ahead" philosophy to get maximum enjoyment with minimal angst. Instead of thinking about HOW MUCH MONEY WE SPENT on tickets and trying to suck the marrow out of life by staying from opening to closing, we just stayed as long as we were still having fun and more like nibbled on a little bit of marrow. We went on low-key rides and did a lot of people watching. Quitting while we were ahead gave us time to kick back in our hotel, watch a Shark Tank marathon, and read books.

We decided to share one suitcase since the airline now charges for each bag. We used a large LL Bean duffle with wheels. In order to not have an annoying mish mash of all of our clothes, I gave each of us packing envelopes/cubes that I discovered right before my trip to Armenia last winter.

This are game changers!

Not only do they compress your clothes take up less space, and keep your everything wrinkle free, they help keep you organized so that you can find your things easily throughout your trip. I used one big envelope for my clothes, and two small cubes for pajamas/underclothes, and shoes. I bought a few on Amazon and found a few more at our thrift store. The brand I like is Eagle Creek, but there are a lot of other options out there. At home, unpacking was easier, too, because we each took our own cubes out to deal with.

Now we are back in Virginia, not a palm tree in sight, busting out the flannels and trying to get used to it getting dark at 5 o'clock again.

And after a trip, sometimes it feels like home is the happiest place on earth.

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Sonogram

I have a new article featured on BonBon Break about our first sonogram appointment and making room for love. You'll find it here.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

No One is Replaceable. That includes YOU!

Thank you for all of your well wishes and support. I am so grateful to have you with me in good times and bad.

Here is an article I wrote for The Washington Post I thought you might like. No one is replaceable. Including YOU:

Monday, October 26, 2015

Baby Gender Reveal! It's a...

Last week was pretty terrible, but it got a whole LOT better toward the end. My morning sickness had abated, so I felt energy I hadn't had since summer. I wanted to get things done! I wanted to enjoy the fall weather! 

On Tuesday, a friend and I went for a walk, and I felt a sharp pain in my back. Kind of like 4 1/2 years ago when I reached into the fridge for a jug of milk and felt a pop. Yep, my back "went out" and since I'm pregnant, there wasn't much to do about it except ice it, use a heating pad, and be in pain. By Friday, I could barely move. Thoughts like, "How will I ever take care of a baby? I can't lift anything with my torn shoulder, and now I can't even walk!" flooded me with insecurity and doubt.

Saturday I woke up feeling better and we decided to go ahead with a gender reveal party with our Bible study group and their kids. Tim and Margaret did EVERYTHING for the party while I rested my back and read. 

At around noon these guys showed up with the most gorgeous cake they had made from scratch! Inside, the cake color would indicate whether we are having a girl or a boy. Dawn and her family (including baker extraordinaire, daughter Ellie) had known the gender for A WEEK but did a great job of not giving it away. Well, Jack's friend on the left did say a little something as they were leaving that made Margaret and me wonder...

Margaret and a friend did the decorating, and had a little chalkboard set up for people to vote BOY or GIRL. They also made necklaces to wear, indicating people's guesses.When our Bible study groups got there, in the late afternoon, we were, gulp, ready to find out!

Here we are about to cut into the cake. Wait, where did Tim go? He was out in the driveway waiting for the pizza guy.

After we found Tim, it was cake cutting time! Some people wondered if Tim and I had peeked at the contents of the envelope and knew the gender already. Nope. We wanted to be surprised.

If you would like to see a one minute video clip of the cake cutting, head to the An Inch of Gray Facebook page. I tried to put it here, but it wouldn't let me.

Oh, if you are going to go watch the video, don't read any further until you have done it. I don't want to ruin the surprise.


Ok? Good.

Here, are the photos right after we found out:

IT'S A BOY! Sooooo exciting!

I kept apologizing to Margaret that we didn't get her a sister with whom she could wear matching preppy dresses or show how to do makeup, but she handled it beautifully!

My back held out, and it was a wonderful experience to share with a few of the friends who have walked with us so closely through the good and bad, including my sister, her 2 precious kids, and others you will recognize from Rare Bird like Cindy, Jenn, and the young pastor.

Everyone was gone by 6:30 pm, and Tim, Margaret, and I set out to eat the huge bowl of homemade guacamole we forgot to put out for the party.

p.s. The cake was DELICIOUS!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Stitch Fix Review-- Maternity Edition!

I almost panicked when I saw that I had another Stitch Fix shipment on the way in October. I was afraid they would send me a bunch of cute clothes I couldn't wear.

Fortunately, I was able to send a quick message saying that I'm pregnant and already up 12-15 lbs. A few days later, my fix came. Stitch Fix now has maternity clothes! I am still waiting for them to start carrying plus sizes so that everyone can take part in the fun of getting cute clothes in the mail selected by a personal stylist, and have given them feedback with that request.

Here are the 5 items that were in my fix:

Blake Poncho Pullover Sweater ($68) and Porter Maternity Leggings ($58): 

The poncho is soft and hangs very nicely. It covers my rear even when I'm wearing leggings. Not sure how to wear a coat with a poncho in the winter. Is that even possible? Do I even care? Verdict: Keep.

The leggings were made out of very thick, stretchy material that provided great coverage and control. I could tell they were very high quality. The drawback was they were size small, and I could have used medium. They felt tight around my knees and I figured that meant they wouldn't work for me for very long. I think this price is reasonable for something that could be worn every single day, and I really wish they fit. Verdict: Return

p.s.  I have since ordered two pairs of legging from Motherhood maternity, but they were thin, almost like tights or hose rather than leggings. Now, I'm out $30 and still don't think I have something that's going to work. If you know of good maternity leggings, please let me know.

Santomasso Tie Neck Maternity Blouse ($68): 

I felt a bit funny at first in this one b/c it was so roomy. However, I hope to be filling it out soon. It is the perfect color for me and has cute elastic cuffs. This blouse is super comfortable and has nice gathers in the back. Also, it's long enough to wear with leggings. I think the price is really steep for a blouse, especially considering I buy most of my clothes at a thrift store. However, I am considering this fix to be my pregnancy splurge and hope to borrow other maternity clothes from my much-younger friends! Verdict: Keep.

Alfonso Off-Shoulder Maternity Top ($48)

Super soft, lightweight material and nice length. However, it was already way too tight. I'm not that far along, so I can still wear regular clothes. Once I get a tad bigger, this top will be too tight across the front, as it already is across the rear. Also, since I'll be pregnant in the winter, I want clothes that will be warmer than this (written by a woman currently under a blanket and wearing knee socks).

Dariah Maternity Abstract Faux Wrap Dress ($108)

Super soft, drape-y material. Perfect length for me and it covers my arms, too. I love this dress, and although the print is sort of busy, I like it a lot. This dress is pretty pricey, but I justified it by promising myself I'd wear it to all of my speaking engagements and to church. If you see me at a dressy event and I'm not wearing this dress, please chastise me. Verdict: Keep.

So, I'm keeping 3 items and returning 2. I consider that a great fix! If you would like to try Stitch Fix for yourself, feel free to click on my link below:

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Empowering the Rural Women of Armenia

I am on the World Vision blog today sharing more about the women I met in Armenia. Please visit the blog or read all about it here. Thanks!

Empowering the rural women of Armenia | World Vision Blog
Margarita walking back from school with her son Tigran in Amasia, Armenia. (Photo: 2015 Matthew Paul Turner)
According to the UN, empowering women living in rural areas is essential in the fight against extreme poverty.
As a girl growing up in the suburbs, my encounters with rural life took place on my aunt and uncle’s farm in West Virginia. I was struck by the abundance around me. Acre upon acre of land, ringed by tree-covered mountains, rows of corn that seemed to stretch for miles, and a big kitchen table piled high with food and encircled by family.
When I grew up, I loved taking my kids back there. Once, my son Jack asked where “Aunt Betty’s peacock” was, because he had seen one at a farm park I’d taken him to and assumed that all farms had a peacock strutting about. There was no peacock on this working farm, but there was no shortage of livestock, either. Getting far away from the city and the suburbs meant fresher air, beautiful scenery, and bearing witness to long hours of intense yet rewarding work for the family on the farm.
Did you know that the UN celebrates the International Day of Rural Women today? 
I didn’t either.
My view of who a rural woman is has shifted over the past eight months since my trip to Armenia with World Vision.
My memories from my aunt and uncle’s farm were in stark contrast to my experience in Armenia. The Armenian villages we visited were so remote, that “isolated”—rather than rural—is how I would describe them. And the landscape, striking in beauty with majestic mountains all around, had ground that stayed frozen 7-8 months every year, making farming difficult. I saw so much struggle, from the daily quest for dried animal dung to be used for heating—since firewood was so scarce—to women who seemed trapped without a support network in a cycle of bearing baby after baby yet without the means to care for them properly. My eyes saw lack rather than abundance.
Empowering the rural women of Armenia | World Vision Blog
The view of Amasia from Aida's house, including the outhouse on the right. (Photo: 2015 Matthew Paul Turner)

Children went to bed hungry, and some were sent to state-run institutions so that they could receive what their parents couldn’t provide. Medical bills or a bad batch of fruit could send a family teetering over the edge.
I remember meeting Aida, who lived with her husband and seven children in a small, remote village in the Amasia region. My teammates and I laughed as we pitched this way and that, trying to navigate our way through the deep snow. We passed a communal outhouse with a tin roof and made our way into a tiny rented home with sagging floors. I soon learned that only the eldest child had winter boots. It made our laughing trek up the hill, bundled in parkas and warm boots, seem a lot less funny, to think of this family isolated and housebound for months at a time.
It was easy to feel hopeless, especially when I contrasted my life as a woman and mother to some of the women like Aida I met in Armenia. I tried to imagine having to choose between keeping my family intact and sending my children away so they could eat. To not getting my kids vaccinated because I didn't have warm enough clothes to wrap them up and make the snowy trek to a doctor.
Empowering the rural women of Armenia | World Vision Blog
Aida and her husband with 2-year-old Grigor. (Photo: 2015 Laura Reinhardt/World Vision)

But not all was bleak.
As a result of our visit, each of Aida’s children gained World Vision sponsors, and Aida will benefit from development programs that World Vision will soon implement in her community. When we were able to meet families who had been part of World Vision’s established economic development programs, I could see how empowering rural women would raise the raise the standard of Aida’s family, other families, and entire communities. One mother I met had been given a knitting machine and was able to sell sweaters to earn money for her family. Other women were trained in growing, harvesting, and packaging local produce that could survive despite the unforgiving weather, and had gained experience marketing their products to high-end gift shops.
Empowering the rural women of Armenia | World Vision Blog
Haykanush working at her knitting machine. (Photo: 2015 Laura Reinhardt/World Vision)

I also got to see firsthand how giving families the gift of livestock, something our family has done for years through the World Vision Christmas catalog, helps real people gain an economic foothold.
I met a lot of women in rural Armenia: caring, determined, hard-working women who wanted to better themselves and their families. It was inspiring to see the joy that came along with opportunities that might seem small to you and me, but that provide hope and empowerment to those who need it.
“There is no tool for development that is more effective than the empowerment of women.” –Kofi Annan, former secretary-general of the UN.

World Vision's child sponsorship program works at the family and community level as well to empower people to break the cycle of poverty together. Join us and sponsor a child in Armenia today!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Big News, OR, Just Call Me Halle

PSA: Please swallow that sip of coffee and make sure you are sitting down before reading this post.



So, our family's big news is that I have unexpectedly found myself EXPECTING A BABY!

I'll just wait and let that sink in a bit. If you need to process a while and come back later, that's cool.


Since we can't all sit down over a mug of decaffeinated tea, I've tried to anticipate some of the questions you might be having so I can share the whole scoop with you.

OMG! OMG! Anna, is this really true?
Yep. I wasn't so sure myself, but I have the sonogram to prove it.

How far along are you?
13 weeks.

Unexpectedly? Don't you and Tim know where babies come from by this point?
Well, yeah. We decided to stop using protection when Jack died on the off chance I could get pregnant at age 41 or 42. When nothing happened, we figured that was it. Nada. Over. Four years later, we got quite a surprise. Our chances of conceiving were less than 1%, and that's if we were trying. We were not trying. 

Didn't we all just wish you a happy 46th birthday last week? Won't that make you 64 or 65 when this baby graduates from high school?

So, how did you discover you were pregnant?
My breasts started hurting and my period was late. Doctor Google told me it was likely peri-menopause. After a couple of weeks, I went to the dollar store and bought two pregnancy tests. Those lines showed up within seconds, and I just started to laugh! BTW, if you are 46 you will need READING GLASSES to read the instructions on a pregnancy test.

What did Tim and Margaret say?
Tim was like, "Oh really? Cool!" which made me think that he would have been just fine had we jumped on the third baby wagon a decade or so ago. Margaret was concerned when she noticed I'd been to the doctor twice in a row. She was afraid I had cancer, so I was pleased to tell her that I had something growing inside me, but it wasn't what she thought. She is thrilled!

Is this a miracle? It seems like a miracle!
Kind of feels like that to me, too, as long as miracles can be joyous and scary and tiring at the same time. Tim might claim it is also a result of immaculate conception due to a dearth of bedroom activity. Believe what you wish. I also know that many people would like positive pregnancy news in their own lives, and I want to acknowledge what they are going through, even as I share my news with you. 

Does this mean you are replacing Jack, everything in your life is going to be perfect, and you are going to stop mourning your boy?
Aww, c'mon. I know none of you would ask me that. 

But aren't you one of those moms who enjoys her kids most when they are well past the baby and toddler years?
Definitely. I really dig 9 year olds. That's why I'm going to need some support. Baby whisperers/cuddlers welcome!

What about the baby pool? Target tantrums? Car seats? The uh-oh game? Nasal aspirators? Tiny nail clippers? The croup? Do you mean you are really going to do all of that again?

Are you aware that BEFORE you got pregnant this time you weighed what you weighed when you were SIX MONTHS pregnant with Margaret and that it's a lot harder to get your body back at 46 than it was when you are 29 or 31?
Thanks for the reminder.

Don't you think it's a little weird that your own mom DIED at age 46, but you are bringing new life into the world at age 46?
Completely weird, symbolic, and interesting. I keep smiling and asking myself, "What is our creative, loving God up to with this?"

So, will you be able to know if the baby will be healthy? What about you? Aren't there lots of extra risks for both you and the baby because of your age?
There are lots of possibilities. Here is some excellent info about that

How are you feeling?
After 12 weeks of nausea, I'm feeling much better! I am super hungry and feel best while in the act of eating, so I eat a lot. I am not sleeping well because of my damaged shoulders, but otherwise am doing well. I feel a great sense of peace and am hoping to continue what has been a season of radical trust for me.

Are you going to keep writing? Public speaking? Hanging out on Facebook?
Absolutely! When I became a mom almost 17 yrs ago, I would have LOVED the community found on the internet and through sharing our messy stories. Speaking to groups is my passion, and I hope to do more of it than ever. I also am guessing this adventure will provide a whole lot of blog fodder.

Cool. Does that mean we can vote on baby names, like we did for the title of your book?
Ha! Ha! I'm not sure about that. But when we find out the gender, I'll be sure to let you know so you can start making lists. 

Okay, Anna, one last question:

Does this mean Halle Berry was TELLING THE TRUTH that she just somehow got pregnant at 46?
I guess so! Do you think she'd ever come over for a playdate?

It takes a village friends, and I could not be more grateful for mine here at An Inch of Gray. THANK YOU for being on this journey with me and thanks in advance for your prayers!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Happy Birthday to Me and A Gift for YOU!

In honor of my birthday, my friend Christy Casimiro has generously offered to give away an amazing makeup collection to one of my readers! I am absolutely IN LOVE with Younique makeup. The fiber mascara takes my lashes from nonexistent to va-va-voom.

You can win the Cloud Nine Collection which retails for $145!

To enter the contest, all you have to do is visit Christy's website and choose which eyeshadow pigment name sounds most like ME.

Angelic? Sassy? Confident?

Don't worry, there is no wrong answer!

Then head to my Facebook Page to leave your answer. That will count as your entry.

Good luck!

Monday, October 5, 2015


I turn 46 tomorrow.

46 is not a banner-year birthday marked by surprise parties, substantial jewelry pieces, or trips to Cancun. Mine will kick-off while I'm working at the snack bar at the high school. Oh, it does tip the scale to my being closer to 50 than 40, so there's that.

It may be be kind of a "blah" birthday, but 46 is significant to me.

It's the age my mother was when she died. Back then, in all of my 18 year old wisdom, I convinced myself that she had led a full life. Hadn't she had a chance to get married, have kids, start her own business, and nurture deep friendships? I used that reasoning to console myself that she wasn't missing out. As I got older, it became clear to me just how young 46 really was. I still feel almost as young inside as I did right out of college even though I'm tired a lot and the mirror sometimes shows me a face I don't recognize.

When I gave birth Jack and Margaret, I found myself thinking, "So, if I die at 46, will they remember me? I could calculate that they would would be turning 15 and 17 this year, so I decided, "Of course they would!"

Oh, you didn't know that when your mom or dad dies young you live your life imagining and even assuming that you will too? Statistically, it's not probable at all, but still we do it.

My brother hit 46 a few years ago. I wasn't sure whether, as a man, he would have identified as closely with the possibility of an early death for himself at age 46. He did. My sister lived through it last year, and in a way it seemed as if her training herself as an elite athlete, running toward health and strength, was also her running from the specter of death bearing down on her. She and I both celebrated in March when she made it out of that year and became 47, opening up the possibility of living abundantly years and likely even decades longer than our mother did.

I have complicated feelings about my own journey.

Outliving my son Jack, who died at only 12, has been excruciating. But because children are supposed to outlive their parents, maybe I shouldn't feel as conflicted as I do about aging past my own mom.  It just makes me sad. I hope to be able to experience grandchildren someday, something she missed out on, and continue to grow as a woman personally, spiritually, and professionally. And although my longing is to be in heaven with Jack, I have important reasons to keep living and growing here on earth for as long as I'm able, as did she.

It's weird.

Weirdest of all, my 46th year is shaping up to be one of significant change for me, the likes of which I could not have anticipated. I will have to learn to adapt and grow in ways that my mom didn't have to, or didn't get to, depending on how you look at it.

Because 46 was far too young to die.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Should is Such a Loud Word

Please join me in reading Noelle's story today, as she shares another piece of her life with us. And if you haven't yet, be sure to check out her new book, One Slender Thread, currently available on Amazon


I've had a few days recently when I have needed to verbally remind myself to breathe. "Just breathe!," I implore myself, as I find my stomach in knots and my chest painfully tight. I am far harsher with the kids than I want to be, far too short with my husband and unrelentingly judgemental with myself. In my stress, all I can think of is writing a to-do list in the hopes of easing some of my anxiety, in the hopes that all those rows of checked boxes will magically calm my heart. "If I can just get X,Y and Z finished, then I'll feel better," is my age-old reasoning. So I grab a pen and start my list: 

1) Cleanup (straighten, vacuum, laundry) - 20 min
2) ...

And then I am interrupted by another sibling squabble, and then the need to prepare lunch, and then a child needing help going potty and then...and then the list just sits untouched for the next few hours as life rushes on. I zip through our usual naptime routine, distracted, discouraged, desperate to get back to my list. When bodies are still and blankets are tucked, I all but sprint down the stairs and race toward that scrap of paper. I read number one, and think,"What was I thinking?!" Without even adding a number two, I realize I'll need to switch into my superwoman cape in order to accomplish all that cleaning within the time-limit I have allotted for myself. 

I realize I have failed before I have even starting. I drop my head, slump my shoulders and heave a deep sigh. 

This sigh turns out to be magical, because it causes me to pause just long enough to remember a section of a book I have recently read. In it, author Brené Brown talks about moments just like this, moments when every instinct inside us - pressured by a culture built on performance and parenting built on shaming - says to push harder. Brown describes her "dig deeper button," and how for years she would find herself in a low and depleted state, a place that actually was calling for to her to rest and to reevaluate, but instead she would push her "dig deeper button" and keep going, keep checking, keep plowing through her days. 

I don't know about you, but I have always had my own "dig deep button" within arm's-length. I have always felt compelled to check off every box, no matter the cost, no matter how tired or depleted I may be. I have always defined success much more by "tasks accomplished" than by the state of my own heart and mind.

Later in the book, Brown talks about the midlife crisis all her digging deeper led her to, and how eventually she learned to slow down. My momentary sigh of desperation gave me just enough space to see that I was in a "dig deeper" moment - that all the shoulds of life were telling me to plow through my to-do list and rest later, to ignore my fatigue and just keep going. But I saw that I had a choice. Instead of plowing through and disregarding my soul's squeaks for a break, for once, I could stop and listen. 

I wiped most of the lunch mess from off the floor, then headed to the bathroom where I took the hottest shower I could stand. I let the steam cleanse away my stress for all twenty minutes that I "should have been" cleaning. I realized, for that twenty minutes of clarity anyways, that should's are all too often self-induced prisons and that souls need much more breathing room than any should can offer. 

I made myself a nice cup of coffee and then sat on the couch trying to relax. I stared at the greasy little fingerprints all over our front window and the crumbs scattered all over our living room carpet - and then I willed myself to stay right on that couch, to keep right on relaxing. But relaxing is hard work for a doer and a pleaser. At first, almost every time, it feels like pure torture to me. It is so unnatural, so against my "dig deeper" instinct, that every few minutes my mind would wander back to all the cleaning and the to do's and I would think: I should be vacuuming, I should be prepping dinner, I should...

Should has controlled my life for a long time. 

Growing up, I saw authenticity and emotional wholeness laid at the foot of upholding duties; I saw creativity and questioning traded out for following rules; I saw true connection given up to attend meetings. I learned that Me is last on the list. Should sounded a lot like must.

I carried all these lessons into Christianity and soon became the girl who volunteered for everything. I began to find worthiness in service and in sacrifice. I didn't know how to say No and never really needed to: I thrived on being able to do it all. The doer and people-pleaser in me found a hundred new rules to follow and many more people to please. 

At first, I loved living up to all the shoulds. I loved the attention and the sense of belonging. But all the shoulds left me increasingly conflicted and hopeless. I stayed busy, plowed through the fatigue and questions, and had lots of good days in between, but there was often a lingering sense of, Who am I? It never crossed my mind that I may need to rest or to stop and breathe once in a while. Doing what I should trumped everything.   

It took years of life and loss, of reading and soul-searching to even be able to distinguish between the endless shoulds and the voice of my true self. And although it is true that when we know better, we do better, it is also true that old habits die hard. For me, it remains a regular battle to choose rest, to prioritize play or to listen to my own soul. But now, finally, I know I can. Now I know that life isn't meant to be a game of shoulds. Now I know that living up to others' expectations is an empty road. Now I know that sitting still on the couch, just staring at greasy finger-prints and listening to the sound of my own breathing, may be the most "productive" thing I do all day. And that feels like growth. 


For more from Noelle, checkout these recent posts:

To Lecture or To Love