Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Thank YOU for Changing Lives for the Better

Exactly one year ago, as part of a team of World Vision bloggers, I headed to Armenia to experience cold weather poverty first-hand and see the work World Vision does to strengthen families and communities.

It was life changing for me, and a privilege to share the wonderful people I met with YOU!  

One year later, I thought I’d update you on how one family we met is doing. Why did I choose Aida and Vova’s family? Well, thanks to generous An Inch of Gray readers, ALL of their children were sponsored, setting them up for a better chance of long-term success and giving them another caring partner in their lives across the many miles. Thank you so much!

During a recent visit with a World Vision worker, Aida said: “I am so proud to have World Vision by my side. The support received from sponsors are always a good helping hand during hard times. I feel as if the sponsors were my children's godfathers, they are always on my mind,” she said with gratitude, holding her eighth new-born child, while the seven others ran around their tiny 2 room house.

World Vision sponsorship has helped Aida’s children with clothing, bedding, hygiene supplies and school supplies. It has shown the family that there are people across many miles who are pulling for their family, as well as local Armenian World Vision workers who are by their sides, doing life with them. World Vision gave the family 2 new sheep which help with wool and milk, and has provided Aida with parenting skills training in the community, knowing that supporting a mama is a good way to help her children.

As World Vision’s program becomes more established in the remote Amasia region (this was a fledging project when we visited), it is my hope that this family will become more stable financially, particularly because an individual development plan is in the works for them. I love how World Vision does not use a cookie-cutter approach to “fix” families, but looks at individuals. These kids have names, distinct personalities, differing needs, and dreams. 

But it’s not all good news.

Aida’s husband Vova (Vladimir) lost his job this winter. This is not a promising time to find a new job in an agrarian region, with snowbanks piled to the rooftops. It’s easy to imagine things growing increasingly stressful for this family of 10 as debts mount until Vova can get a new job.

It is not lost on me as I prepare for my own little surprise baby, scanning the internet reading up on the merits of $30 swaddling blankets and $70 bouncy seats, how different my little boy’s life will be than Aida’s children’s will. I fret about where we will put all of the “stuff” that accompanies such a tiny one, and wonder which car seat and baby monitor is the best. 

I think of my big, warm, remodeled house and remember having to stand away from the walls in Aida and Vova’s ramshackle rented one because the cold was coming through and the floor boards were warped and unstable for standing. My baby will have cribs and cradles, plenty of food and opportunities. 

The needs of the world’s children seem huge and overwhelming and tempt me to turn my eyes and ears away from the reality outside of our home, focusing on just my family. But if I don’t look outside, I would miss the beautiful brown eyes of Grigor, one of the sons who grabbed our hearts one year ago today. Or Mary, a tough cookie who could hold her own with her brothers.

Looking outside connects us to others, and reminds us that spring is around the corner. Winter is harsh, but there is always spring. And with spring comes hope— hope for my new baby, hope for the beautiful nation of Armenia, hope for a big family in a little ramshackle house who is not giving up. 

Will you hope and pray with me, for my little guy coming in a few weeks, and for the children whose names we know and those we don’t yet know, across our nation and the world?

And if you feel led, will you consider choosing one more child to love through World Vision Sponsorship?

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Womb

I had another OB appointment today and things are looking good! Sonogram in a week. It amazes me that even with my advanced maternal age, these appointments are quick five minute pee in a cup affairs. Everything just looks so...fine.

That's not to say that the pregnancy has been a walk in the park. You have been with me through morning sickness, 2 stomach bugs, shingles, heartburn from hell, a month-long chest cold, insomnia, hemorrhoids and a vein swelling that should be unmentionable, but have you ever known me NOT to mention something? But all of these ailments have had to do with me, not the baby, and I just can't believe it! I am so grateful, and I'm not taking any of it for granted.

As uncomfortable as I am at 32 weeks, I feel so much more secure with the baby inside rather than outside. He gets to roll and twist, hiccup and sleep, and do whatever he needs to do to keep growing.

Going from that loving, liquid, warm environment into the cold world must be a shock. Bright lights, loud noises, blood tests, vaccinations, learning how to eat, and perhaps even losing your foreskin, all within days of leaving the coziness of the womb? What could be more jarring than that?

It makes me think of the early days after losing Jack. The world seemed unfamiliar and foreign, bearing no resemblance to anything I'd known before. The sun was too bright. Noises too loud. Everything hurt. I couldn't understand what people were saying. The vocabulary of grief might as well have been in another language: police, dead, morgue, burial, memorial.

All I wanted to do was go back to the way things had been before. If there had been a swaddling blanket big enough for me, I would have wanted someone to wrap me so tightly I couldn't thrash about and repeatedly be startled into each new realization of loss and pain. I would have liked to have slept forever.

I know I can't protect this baby boy from hardship: danger, disasters, illness, bullies, addiction, disappointment, heartbreak, and death. He needs the chance to experience life. And cutting myself off after losing Jack could have numbed the pain, perhaps, but would  have kept me from learning to trust the life I've been given, and navigate a new way to live it.

It's not a life free from pain, certainly, but one of pain and much joy intermingled.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Hints for Living Through a Kitchen Renovation

Getting Closer!

Pick a great contractor. Word of mouth is the best. My friend Michele said her kitchen renovation experience was "DELIGHTFUL!" What? Believe me, that got my attention and helped me narrow down many excellent choices and eventually pick her contractor. He works with 2-3 guys he has known for over 30 years, so I always know who is in my house at a given time. When I found out months after we first met that I was pregnant, he made sure he could devote his resources to getting the job done on a faster timeline than originally planned.

Set up an auxiliary kitchen. Ours is in my office, 3 steps down from the main level of our house. I purged duplicate items, then packed away things I didn't think we would need and moved them to the basement. I kept out basic spices, dishes, mugs, and small appliances: blender for smoothies, microwave, rice cooker, panini maker/griddle, coffee and teapot, and toaster. The only thing we needed to buy was a stand alone burner. We got this one off of Amazon because it was cheap, and it has worked great. We used an old armoire as a pantry to keep the food away from the dogs. A dresser would also work well for this. A folding table also comes in handy for prep-work, and a bookshelf is great for storage.

We are a cloth napkin family, but I decided that for these 8 weeks it would be fine to use paper towels as well as some disposable cups, bowls, plates, and utensils. This was a godsend to me because I have been sick for most of the renovation, and getting a new Solo cup every few days has made me feel a lot less germy. Tim uses the same Solo cup every day, because he is either far more virtuous than I am, or he doesn't understand the concept of disposable. Side-note: I miss having a dishwasher. My husband hasn't commented on it yet, but I have left more than a few things in the laundry room sink "to soak" hoping that he'll break down and wash them before I do. It usually works. Do you have a water source you can use during  your renovation? We have a small laundry sink close by. Otherwise, you may be doing your dishes in the bathroom sink or the bathtub.

Plan some meals in advance. It's winter, and we are a soup family, so I made double batches of  White Chicken Chili, Bean and Bacon soup, Turkey Chili, crock pot potato soup, and Lentil soup to freeze in advance. Tim grills year round, so he marinated pork chops, chicken breasts, and flank steak and froze them in Ziplock bags. He could have frozen the meat, thawed it, and marinated it the night before grilling, and I could have cooked most of the soups in the crock pot during the renovation, but it was SO MUCH EASIER doing all of this in advance, as opposed to having meat juices sloshing around the office auxiliary kitchen. Also, side dishes are a thing of the past for right now. Tim will whip up a lovely salad when he cooks, but if I say I'm serving Lentils, well, you're going to get just that. Lentils.

Make a list of food options. In the best of circumstances, it's easy to get in a food rut, and it's even more so in the chaos of renovation. I made a list of ideas and put them on the fridge, along with an inventory of the food we froze in advance. Some ideas are: black beans and rice, breakfast for dinner, paninis, beer can chicken on the grill, pasta, cous cous, and stir-fry. One of the items is, of course, ORDER PIZZA.

Speaking of pizza, we have had great luck buying small pre-made pizza crusts, topping them, and grilling them outside. Yum!

Dogs. I was pretty worried about how the dogs would do during the renovation. Except for the one morning when they were exposed to varnish fumes and I had to get them out of here, they have done great. I'm sure it's annoying to the workers to have them nosing around everything, but it has gone well. We use baby gates to try to keep them with me at all times, and I put Charlie in his crate if I have to leave the house.

Fumes. This was my biggest concern. Okay, fumes and dust, especially since I'm pregnant and work at home! I'm trusting that everything is okay, but I also bought an air purifier that I run 24/7 which seems to help. One thing I would recommend that I have not done, is run a wet mop over the floors every few days, because we are dragging the dust around the house and into our beds, etc. Contractors will seal off part of the house with plastic, but some dust will manage to get through. Ideally, you would be able to get your family out of the house during the smelliest times such as painting and floor refinishing. Even cabinets off-gas fumes when they come out of their boxes. A week away at Grandma's is a good idea.

Let it Go. Learn to live with the chaos for a while, even if it means your table has a shoe, dirty dishes, the newspaper, a Biology book, and a random pair of ski gloves on it. I think it's kind of like decorating for Christmas. It's super messy getting out all the decorations-- all those boxes and tubs. You live that way for a while, before making everything "just so" for the season. Then, when you take it all down in January, it is a huge relief and you feel like you have more room to breathe. I see a "January" on my horizon. When you are in the chaotic stage, hang in there! I'm hoping to have a few weeks of breathing room between the renovation and filling the house full of large plastic baby items.

Prepare to lose your mind over one thing. For me it was the counter tops. For you it might be the drawer pulls or a light fixture. You will likely fixate on some aspect of the renovation as if it is the most important thing in the world. Try not to beat yourself up for totally losing your perspective over this first world problem. Just power through. I took weeks deciding on a counter top before turning the decision over to my husband! On the flip side, I chose cabinets, drawer pulls, and fixtures in under five minutes each. You will have your one thing, so don't be surprised.

No Turning Back. There will be times in your renovation, as you write the big checks and let the workmen see you in your junky bathrobe and mouth guard for the 22nd time, that you will wonder why you are doing this. You will berate yourself for being so picky and selfish that you didn't want to live with your old kitchen any longer. You will convince yourself that you will never recoup the cost of the renovation, and that this one bad decision will put you on the streets. But when you are in the middle of it, tell yourself, "There's no turning back." Your contractor has set aside time for your job. His workers are counting on this employment. Besides, your cabinets and appliances are gone and there's a gaping hole in your floor. So, suck it up, and forge ahead.

Unless, that is, you want to be eating off PB&J off of paper plates for the foreseeable future.

You've got this!

Looking forward to showing you AFTER photos very soon!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Acknowledgment and the Possibility of Hope

If you haven't had a chance to read it yet, here is my post on the On Coming Alive project: Acknowledgment and the Possibility of Hope. .

And for a Thursday bonus, enjoy this pic of Margaret trying out the baby sling on Charlie. Do you think Charlie will be jealous when Baby Donaldson arrives?

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Kitchen Renovation Update

While I would NOT recommend doing a major kitchen renovation during pregnancy, things are going surprisingly well, despite a blizzard and an ice storm. Thought I'd update you with a bunch of pictures to help you visualize where we are as of this week.

Mainly, we are living in my Office/Kitchen, which may explain why I have a writing deadline looming, but all I can seem to do is eat Costco Trail Mix all day long. We use an electric burner from Amazon, a panini maker, and a microwave we found on a yard sale site. My bookshelves are now a hodge bodge of books, olive oil, and snacks. Here's Tim chopping an avocado on his knees. Better on the back, I guess.

We do our dishes in the laundry sink one room over, and the fridge is in the family room.

No one seems to mind this set up. It has given us more time together, but I do miss the dishwasher. Each time I come down with another bug, I wonder if it's because our dishwashing isn't up to par.


We live in a traditional split level, with a kitchen, dining area, and living room on the main floor. We also have a teeny tiny foyer that flows into the living room. Our goal was to open up the walls between the kitchen and living room, and widen the opening between the kitchen and the dining room. We did keep half walls and columns to delineate the rooms. This was a hard decision to make, because I was sorely tempted to have it one open space, but money came into play, as did my desire to not have all my kitchen crap in the living room. We'll see how that goes. For the past two houses, the living room and dining room have stayed "nice" but no one used them. We also didn't have a baby or toddler. This will be a more casual plan, likely more messy, but hopefully more fun!

Here's a BEFORE view from the living room into the kitchen. A dark corner with my awesome antique "Swan Table" in it. Those two walls got cut down to half walls, with a soffit above containing a very important beam:


Here's the same view now with shallow shaker cabinets for school supplies on the left and a breakfast bar/homework area to the right:

Here's the same view, but from inside the kitchen. I liked the layout before, but a few of the cabinets were falling apart. 



We got rid of ALL of the upper cabinets (GULP!) and made a straight corner instead of going on the diagonal. That's Margaret standing on a stool, showing you our beams, I suppose.

Also, inside the kitchen, the narrow doorway between kitchen and dining area got widened a bit.


It may look dark in the pictures, but it feels brighter already. Sadly, those gorgeous french doors need to be replaced with sliders, because otherwise there is no room for a dining table there. We took about 24 inches from the dining room and added it to the kitchen, and that's about how much space it takes for the french doors to open inward. This change is $$$, but needs to happen. A smarter fix would have been to replace the doors with a window, giving us more wall and floor space in in the dining area, and moving the doors to the deck into the living room, but that was cost prohibitive. Sooo, I'll be looking for a small-ish table and also considering NOT moving my china cabinet back into this area.

Because we got rid of all the upper cabinets, we needed space for, um, FOOD. So, we turned my little desk area (crap pile) and the doggie feeding area into a pantry. 



It will involve NOT stockpiling as much food, but it should work fine. Haven't asked the dogs how they feel about this yet.

On another note, we went with inset doors. Our old doors/drawers were frameless, which means our new ones look more like furniture, but have a lot less storage. The jury is still out on this decision.

OK, here's the other side of the kitchen, where you walk in from the garage. Not much not to love here. Those drawers ROCKED!


We are keeping the same stove and fridge and instead of a microwave, installing a vent hood. Our yard sale microwave will go on the other side of the fridge, more toward the dining area. I also tried to center the stove a little more by moving it over a tad.

Here's where the microwave and  the coffee maker will go, in this narrow cabinet that borrows space from the dining room. In theory, they will be behind closed doors, but we'll see if we actually keep them closed. I doubt it, even though it was my idea.

Speaking of the dining area, I ordered a light fixture from one of those daily deal sites. But, I couldn't find my tape measure anywhere and ordered one that is HUGE for such a small space. 

I like it a lot, but I'm afraid it will look weird. So, we are thinking of swapping it with our foyer light. 



Even though the foyer is only about 4x4, I think it can handle a larger light because of the high ceilings, and I also think bringing some black into an all-white kitchen is not a bad thing. As for other lighting, we are not having pendants over the breakfast bar because we felt like the columns and the soffit already cut off the space enough, without anything else hanging down.

Okay, for those of you who like the nitty gritty: 

We are using these pulls from because they are cheap, good looking, and we need a lot of them. They are only about $2.50 each:

And this faucet from cheap, good looking.

For paint, we are going with Moonshine by Benjamin Moore. I'm afraid it will be too much of a COOL gray, and I'm more of a WARM person, but we will see. Grays are tough, yo! I wanted to make sure there would be enough contrast between that and the warm greige we have on the lower level of the house. I would have done the whole house in the greige, but it was painted before we moved in and we don't know what it's called.

As for countertops, I can't really talk about it yet because I am still a little freaked about them, but I will give you a little info here. We (Tim) chose Quartz countertops called Calacutta Grey by Quartzmasters. We said goodbye to the natural yet finicky stone we'd been eyeing since Christmas and ponied up the extra money for this low maintenance solution. It costs double our countertop allowance. It gets installed this Friday, and I'll let you know late next week what we think of it.  

Here's what it looks like standing upright. It may or may not look like my varicose veins.

So there's the update. Let's get this bad boy finished up so we can move on to a NURSERY!

Love and Hugs.

Monday, February 15, 2016

On Coming Alive Project!

Today is a special day!

72 people who have endured great loss, yet are finding beauty in the ashes, have come together to share with YOU today!

Please join me over at #oncomingalive to read these stories. No quick fixes. No platitudes. Just real people sharing real stories of gratitude, grace, and putting one foot in front of the other! You may even see a familiar face.

We have snow coming down, and with a cup of hot tea by my side, I know what I'll be doing today.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

No Pictures Yet

I've heard that in any kitchen renovation, there is one thing that stymies you and makes you crazy.

For one friend, it was pendant lights. Another lost it over a faucet. For me, it was the counter tops. I know, you would think that with my life experience I would get a grip and not obsess about something as unimportant as counter tops. Plus, I had the happiest childhood in the world with white plastic counter tops that showed every Kool-Aid spill and often had words that bled off the daily Washington Post stuck to them.

But obsess I did.

I made multiple trips to the granite place. I scoured message boards, online conversations, Pinterest, and Houzz. I drove Tim and Margaret crazy. Around Christmas, Tim and I found something we both loved and the angels sang. Until I over-researched and discovered that  the material might not wear well. Then I contemplated going with a man-made and more expensive material, but could not see a large slab in person.

I even considered driving to a warehouse in New Jersey to see it. Yep, my pregnant self was sick and uncomfortable, but I wanted to see those counter tops! On Monday,  I found a place that had them closer, about an hour away in MD, and I rushed to get there and back before my big sonogram.

When I saw the material, I was like, "Meh. No love here." No angels sang. I liked the tiny sample better than the slabs. But after promising our contractor months ago that I was the most decisive and easiest to work with customer he'd ever meet, I needed to make a decision that day or risk throwing off the whole schedule.

I avoided his eager texts.

Then, at 11 o'clock at night, I did the unthinkable. I told Tim we had 2 choices: Luxurious and high maintenance or Meh and low maintenance, and I wanted HIM to decide. Lest you think I gave him this honor because he is a known for style, let me remind you that he brought only a rusty metal New England Patriots trash can and a pair of maroon parachute pants into our marriage. No, I let him choose because I was desperate. I even let him pick the paint color for the kitchen, living room, DR, and hallway.

Margaret, who would like to be an interior designer, preferred the one he didn't choose, but I knew I would have fewer resentment and blaming opportunities with her.

Hold me.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016


For those of you who don't follow along on Facebook, I wanted to make sure you didn't miss the latest picture of our cutie that I posted yesterday. 30 weeks and doing great! Please keep praying for him, and for me. I am still struggling to get more than a few hours of sleep at night.

Monday, February 1, 2016

You Never Know

Last night I had the chance to deliver a 1 minute speech at a Hub Dot event. If you haven't heard of Hub Dot, check this out. It was so inspiring! I loved the chance to connect with a bunch of awesome women. My brief message: Wisdom/Insight out of pain comes at such a high price. If you have a changed perspective, direction, greater faith, or a new mission that has come out of pain, don't waste it. Share it with someone who may need to know what you know now.

So, as I entered the event I saw a woman who looked and sounded familiar. After I pried a little, I found out she was someone I had last seen when I was 18 years old, the summer my mother died of a brain aneurysm at age 46. I waitressed at the restaurant where she had formerly worked, trying to keep my mind off of our sad and empty-feeling house until I could escape back to college. I was skeptical that this could be the same Lisa, because apparently she'd found the fountain of youth.

Well, when I introduced myself, she remembered me immediately and told me that she had spoken at the last Hub Dot event about changing the direction of your life, and how important mentors are in the process. She said that as she told her story to the crowd, she got emotional speaking of a mentor who had helped her shift gears into a very successful floral business that lasted over 20 years.

That mentor was my mother!

Mom had gotten to know Lisa as our frequent waitress at the restaurant we went to at least twice a week throughout my high school years when Mom decided that she'd cooked enough dinners to last a lifetime. In the last year or so of her life, Mom helped Lisa see new possibilities for her future.

I was amazed that after almost 28 years gone, my mother was still impacting people, and that her legacy was as fresh to Lisa today as it was when she was a young waitress all those years ago.

I know that my greatest fear as a bereaved mother is that Jack will be forgotten, especially because he had such a short time here and a very limited sphere. But talking to Lisa last night made me realize we NEVER know whom we are influencing, and in what way.

It seemed to dovetail so nicely with the theme of the evening which was about helping others through our own experiences. That can be through writing books, raising money, starting non-profits, and being advocates, but it can also take the form of quiet conversations in the booth of a local diner, helping someone dream bigger, and walking beside them while they do.

"Oh, Anna," Lisa said, "You have to meet my daughter!"
She called a gorgeous young woman over.
"Her middle name is Margaret, named after your mom."

P.S. If you are local to the Northern Virginia area, I'd LOVE IT if you could join me on Sunday, Feb 7 at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Herndon. I'll be speaking about Embracing the Mystery of God in Difficult Times. The event is FREE, includes a yummy lunch, AND you'll still be home for the Super Bowl! 12:30-2 pm, with an optional time just for women afterward to reflect and connect from 2-3:30. Hope to see you there! If you are on Facebook, here's a link to the event.