Sunday, December 10, 2017

A Bumpy Ride?

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

These kids sure keep us humble.

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

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

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

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Calgon, Take me Away!

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 1, 2017

Toddler to Teen

I think I need an 8 year old.

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

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

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

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

Truly, an 8 year old would be perfect.

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Tree Time

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

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

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

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

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

Giving Tuesday 2017

Happy Giving Tuesday!

I know you are probably seeing a lot of opportunities to GIVE today, so I thought I'd share a personal story with you, and let you know where my family and I will give today.

Remember when I went on a World Vision trip to Armenia in 2015? What a beautiful country and an amazing opportunity for me to see how World Vision helps real families and real communities.

Several of you ended sponsoring some of the children I met on that trip! THANK YOU!

You may remember Ani and Vartan's family, who live in a box car-- one of many that became used as shelter following a devastating 1988 earthquake. My sister and I ended up sponsoring two of their children, Miriam and Vahan, so we've been able to keep up with their progress over the past two years. We love hearing from them!

In addition to providing the family tangible resources such as food packets and furniture, World Vision has helped Ani with parenting resources through a child development program called "Go Baby Go." Ani says, “Before, I didn’t know how to make simple toys and didn’t spend much time with the children. Now I’m busy with them most of the time and we go outside so they can play. I know that’s important for them.” World Vision gave them educational books, including fairy tales and books about animals that she reads with them in order to encourage this kind of engagement

One thing that struck me when I was in their home, was how isolated it seemed. Ani was even reluctant to send the kids to school because she did not want them to feel inferior because of their poverty and lack of resources. I love that she can feel more confident and far less alone in her mothering journey now with World Vision's support.

And, in recent photos of the family, we got see another special impact of Giving Tuesday. Last year Thirty-One gifts MATCHED donations  in the form of GOODS such as warm clothing and blankets. Imagine how fun it was for me to see photos of Ani, on the other side of the world, wearing a Thirty-One sweatshirt, her kids in new cozy sweaters!

©2017 World Vision/photo by Laura Reinhardt

                                                       ©2017 World Vision/photo by Laura Reinhardt

And we can do it again TODAY!

When you give to World Vision TODAY you are giving real, tangible support to families, not just in Armenia, but in nearly 100 countries all over the world. The climates and stories may be different, but the result is the same: help, support, connection, empowerment.

For the fourth consecutive year, World Vision and Thirty-One Gifts have partnered to double the impact made by donors’ Giving Tuesday gifts. Any gift given to World Vision today will be matched with a donation of product from Thirty-One Gifts up to $1,000,000, so any donation you make will have twice the impact for helping families in need around the world.

You can choose ANY item to donate through World Vision today, but if you want to make a direct donation to help keep children and families warm this winter, I recommend their Clothing for Children fund

Shine twice as bright for #GivingTuesday! Thirty-One Gifts will match any gift given to World Vision USA TODAY with a donation of product up to $1,000,000. Double the impact of your Giving Tuesday gift: give now and share! 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Shepherd's Treasure-- A GIVEAWAY!!!!

Jack and Margaret missed out on the whole Elf on a Shelf thing, because by the time the book came out, they were well past the Santa stage.

It was probably for the best.

I don't know if I ever told you, but we downplayed Santa in our home because my husband Tim was kind of traumatized as a kid when he found out the truth about the big guy in red. He felt betrayed and manipulated, and it caused some trust issues/faith issues that took a while to work out. As a result, he asked if we could have a "Santa-lite" home, and we did.

One result was we found ways to integrate more Advent rituals into our home instead.

Last year, with a little one in the house again, I came across something that I knew would be a fun  tradition to start with Andrew, and a GREAT FIT for our family.

It's called The Shepherd's Treasure and is the sweetest way to prepare our hearts and home for celebrating Jesus's birth. 

Each box comes with an adorable plush Shepherd and Baby Jesus, and a big, beautiful hardcover book.

The book shares the story of a young Shepherd looking for Baby Jesus, and is super encouraging and uplifting. It helps kids know just how special they are.

Each day in December, the Shepherd moves somewhere new in your home looking for the baby, culminating with his finding Jesus in the manger on Christmas morning.

The kids have fun searching for the Shepherd each day, and anticipation builds for Jesus's birthday.

Hiding places can be simple (ME!) or elaborate (Pinterest). There is even a calendar full of creative ideas available on the website if, unlike me, you want to take it up a notch.

You can also order (optional) Advent Cards with Bible verses on them that  provide ideas of things your family can do together each day to share God's love with someone else.

The Shepherd's Treasure is a sweet and meaningful tradition for a family wanting to find a way to focus on Jesus as the very best gift of all!

I contacted the creators of The Shepherd's Treasure and they have agreed to give one An Inch of Gray Reader The Shepherd's Treasure (book and plush figures). It comes in a great keepsake box so it is easy to store year to year. If you don't have little ones at home, considering entering anyway and giving The Shepherd's Treasure as a gift.

Entries in the Continental U.S. only, please.

Easy ways to enter using this entry form :
1)Visit The Shepherd's Treasure Facebook page (mandatory)
2)Leave an email address for (VERY RARE) emails from me such as info about my book or speaking engagements (optional)

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Always Rockin' It

I went to my 30th high school reunion Saturday night. It was hard to get motivated to put on fancy clothes when I'd spent Andrew's nap time snuggled in bed with a good book, but I rallied and had a wonderful time.

There were lots of hugs from old friends, and I even danced for maybe the second time this millennium, throwing my hands in the air and trying not to wonder if I looked like a doofus.

The next morning, I hopped in the shower. My showers have to be fast, because there's usually a pint-sized observer outside the glass door, either wailing or trying to climb in. I have the routine down:

1) Wash key areas.

2) Take the razor and do a swipe in each pit, 3 swipes for each leg, below the knee only.

3) Wash hair as needed, which considering I am a gym dropout, is not often.

When I got out of the shower and put on deodorant, I thought, "Good grief! Somehow dog hair must have gotten stuck on my deodorant.  WHY is there not a single dog-hair-free zone in this house?!"

I grabbed reading glasses from the counter for closer inspection. Dear Lord. That big tuft of hair was not from the deodorant. Or the dog. It was firmly my armpit.

I'm guessing that months and months of careless shaving left me with quite the overgrowth in one concentrated area.

Clearly, a single swipe of the razor was not enough.

BTW, I  thought you might like to see the SLEEVELESS dress I wore Saturday night. I will NOT zoom in. I will NOT zoom in. 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

So (NOT) Together

Hey, did you vote today?

I did.

It's big election year in Virginia, and people are coming out in droves despite the rain. I love the quiet orderliness of our polling place-- an elementary school gymnasium. People there may be on different sides of the political aisle, but there are just quiet hellos and hugs for neighbors you may not have seen in a while, and the chance to buy items to support the local high school's marching band. It's civil, and weighty, and dignified.

After I checked in, a polling volunteer said to me, "Be sure you put your ID away. You don't want to lose it." I nodded, because of course, that's what I was planning on doing next. When I didn't get my wallet out fast enough, however, she continued, in a sincere voice, "Yes, take your time. It's that important." After I'd tucked it away under her watchful gaze, I headed over to the table to vote, then exited the gym.

The whole process took 5 minutes, and as always, it felt like a privilege.

When I got in the car and secured my seat belt, I thought of how the woman, while unfailingly kind, didn't seem convinced I would take good care of my ID. I mean, after all, I'm pushing 50 and have never lost my driver's license. Sheesh. Perhaps there'd been a lot of lost ID's so far that morning.

I glanced over at my center console. On it sat my very favorite pair of earrings-- sparkly silver feathers from Pandora. I may not have showered today, but I was well-accessorized and even had make-up on, in case I ran into any long-lost friends on my one big outing for the day. On the drive over, however, I'd felt one earring fall off, the back disappearing somewhere in the car or down my shirt. I'd placed both earrings on the console while I went inside the school.

Now, still wondering why the poll lady didn't think I could take good care of my personal property, I backed out of the parking space to let a waiting car pull in.

Clink. Clink.

Both earrings flew off the console into the depths of the car. An hour of searching turned up just one earring, a Littlest Pet Shop dog, a tube of hydrocortisone cream and two gummy bears caked in dog hair.

I think I need to go back and tell the polling lady she had every right to be concerned.

Monday, October 23, 2017

With Sympathy

A great deal has been said about President Trump's handling, or mis-handling, of a phone call to express his condolences to Myeshia Johnson after the death of her husband La David T. Johnson as he served our country in Niger.

Mrs. Johnson and several others who heard the call were offended by Trump's saying, "He knew what he signed up for, but when it happens it hurts anyway." 

While Trump has denied saying it, I believe he said it but that it likely conveyed something he never intended-- that somehow it's not as bad to lose a loved one if he/she entered the situation willingly, such as through service to our country.

By denying his words, and then trying to cast doubt on the perception of "the wife" and "that congresswoman" he comes off as cruel and self-centered, and he breaks one of the first rules of offering sympathy which is don't make it about yourself.

And trust me, bereaved people remember quite accurately the tone deaf and hurtful words people say, despite how hard we might try to forget. 

Often the greatest harm comes from the words "AT LEAST" tacked onto expressions of sympathy.

At least you can have more children.
At least he is no longer on drugs.
At least you were married for 26 years.
At least she's in a better place.
At least he knew what he signed up for.

At leasts do not help the griever one iota, but people use them because they are trying to mitigate the magnitude of the loss, trying to make sense out of something that doesn't make sense and that cannot be fixed.

Grievers find no solace in at leasts. They are living the waking nightmare of trying to imagine a future without the one they love. They do not want their loss explained away or diminished.

A lot of discussion about what Trump said focuses on the phrase, "He knew what he signed up for" and fails to mention that he followed it with, "but when it happens it hurts anyway." That's not accurate, and that's probably what makes Trump so angry, angry enough to lash out at a grieving family, even as he says he is a champion of our soldiers and veterans. He did, in fact, acknowledge the Johnsons' pain, but we can see here how starting out with his own version of "at least" hurt more than it helped.

You may hear cries, even from the White House, that that Johnson family and their local congresswoman (and friend) are attempting to politicize his death. When your loved one's body is broken into pieces, when your child doesn't come home, you don't give a damn about politics. But you hurt, deeply, and you want to call out what you see as bad behavior or disrespect toward your loved one. At such a raw, tumultuous time it makes a whole lot more sense for a griever to be hurt and angry, than for someone to be angry at a griever. 

A good leader or a good friend can look outside of the discomfort he or she feels, can admit to not having the right words, and can show up without defensiveness or self-justification, even if it means taking the brunt of someone's hurt and pain. Caring, heartfelt words and presence are a balm, regardless of who gives them.

Of course it's not easy. 

Before my son died in a freak accident, I'm sure I said unhelpful and perhaps even hurtful things to grievers. I likely still do, but I'm getting better. People tell me they are so afraid of saying the wrong thing, they don't say anything at all. But because grief is incredibly disorienting and isolating, I encourage people to pick up the phone, make the call, or write the card anyway, even if it feels risky.

The more basic the better:

I am so sorry for your loss.
This really hurts.
(Loved one's name) will never be forgotten.
Words fail me.
I care about you and (loved one's name).

Yes, you might stumble or fumble. We all do. Be GRATEFUL if you are able to find out if your words have caused harm, for then you can address it. President Trump quickly discovered his words did more harm than good. In humility, he could have said, "I am sorry I caused you more pain. My words didn't reflect what I was trying to convey."

Or perhaps: "Words fail me, but that doesn't diminish how sorry I am for your great loss."

Addressing it does NOT mean denying you said what you did, or trying to justify yourself. What is perceived and received by the griever is what is most important here, if your intent is truly to provide sympathy and succor.

A dear friend drifted away after my son died. When I expressed that I felt she wasn't there for me, she pointed out she had sent me texts that I'd left unanswered. I'm sure she could have pulled them up on her phone as proof.

At a time of great loss, is it more important to dig in to try to win an argument, or to come alongside someone who is hurting? 

What can we all learn from this? 

Making condolence calls from the White House, or from your house, while necessary, is likely not anyone's favorite thing to do. You may feel tongue-tied and vulnerable. Any step feels like a potential mis-step. Do it anyway. You are on holy ground. When you mess up, as we all do, apologize for how it was perceived and felt by the grievers, not by you. Use the deceased person's name, again and again. Our greatest fear is that our loved one will be forgotten. Acknowledge pain with NO qualifications, no excuses, no buts or at leasts. 

Yes, words often fail. 
No, we can't fix anything. 
But we show up anyway, and we try to offer comfort.

And to the President: keep making those calls. It's what you signed up for, even though it hurts.

p.s. Current events led me to write this post about expressing sympathy, and I welcome your thoughts about it here. However, I will delete comments that are hurtful or disrespectful. Thank you!

Friday, October 20, 2017


Things feel tough right now. Not cosmic-level tough, just frazzle-making, quick-tempered, cranky tough. Tim is busy at work, Margaret is surviving the hell that is JUNIOR YEAR, and I'm deep into toddler-land with a sick and stuffed-up Andrew. My 12 hours a week of freedom while he's at Mother's Day Out have yet to exceed 8 and it's nearly November. Tim and I have done some really fun things lately, but not as a couple or as a family.

We are all tired.

Tim and Margaret work late into each night after putting in full days. I follow Andrew around, yet I'm not always fully engaged. We rely on our phones, computers, and tv too much, which cuts down on productivity and eliminates family time. "Communication" is by text, if at all. Because we are tired, we become less generous and grace-filled. In fact, we are grace-emptied. We start to think, "But what about MY NEEDS?" When we hit smallish bumps in the road, we catastrophize about the future, telling ourselves, "It will ALWAYS be this tough."

A few mornings ago, we were deep in the morning rush. It was clear Margaret would be late for school as she tried to finish up an assignment. Tim, her driver, felt angry and manipulated. I felt resentful of getting up before the sun with a toddler. In the midst of all of this, knocks started coming on the door.

Poor communication meant I had no idea Tim had hired landscapers to do some work for us that morning. The dogs barked, Andrew cried, Tim sighed, I groaned. More knocks came. Oh, yeah, our cleaning lady and her sister were here for our twice monthly cleaning.

Knock Knock.

Are those the garage door people? Darn. I'd assumed everyone would be out of the house before they got here. Even in the chaos of that moment, I realized how fortunate we are to have a house, and to be able to have help to keep it running smoothly.

But nothing felt smooth.

It's one thing to have a rough morning family-wise; it's another to do it with 7 extra people as witnesses to your disfunction. Tim and Margaret eventually huffed and puffed out of the house, I parked Andrew in front of Little Einsteins (again), and I got to discuss garage door motors in my pj's.

I know better days are ahead-- they always are-- but boy would it be nice to feel well-rested, more connected, and optimistic here at Team Donaldson. I've found what sometimes helps us is getting OUT of the house together for something low-key such as lunch at a Mexican restaurant or a mandatory walk on a local trail. If we can't get out, then eating a meal together or watching a show we all like helps.

What about you? How do you knit things together when it feels like you are unraveling?

Friday, October 13, 2017

Bard's Alley Event Tonight!

I'll be signing books and speaking at Bard's Alley bookstore in Vienna, VA at 7 pm tonight. If you are local and can join me, I'd love to meet you!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Tim's Newest Love Interest

My last two Stitch Fix boxes have been huge hits; each time I kept 3 out of the 5 items sent to me.

My latest box garnered me buttery soft navy dress pants, a flowy cranberry cardigan, and a gray wool pullover with cool braided sleeves. Once again, I really felt like my stylist had a handle on what I was looking for. So why am I not showing you pictures of MY latest haul? Well, someone else has taken my spot as the Stitch Fix husband Tim.

Remember how I got him a fix for Valentine's Day? Since then, he has kept 10 out of 10 pieces sent to him! He even kept SHOES. I mean, leave it to a man to update his entire closet without having to expend an ounce of energy. He informed us that his next Fix is on its way and he is practically giddy.

Margaret and I are just glad we helped him fill out his style profile because we love everything he has gotten. Last time he asked for work clothes, and this time wanted casual staples. Everything is trimmer and more on-trend than what he is used to wearing. Not sure if I should want my husband looking even younger and cooler than he does, but oh well.

If you think you or your significant other would like having your own personal stylist hand select clothes for you, then check out Stitch Fix. There is a $20 styling fee, but when you purchase even one article of clothing, the fee is applied to the cost of it. And if you are like Tim, and keep every single item, there is a 25% discount on everything. 

If you do end up with something you don't like, it's a breeze to pop it in the prepaid mailer (provided) and stick it in your mailbox for pickup. I am still laughing about the fluffy pirate-looking shirt my friend got sent. Not sure how that happened, but at least it was entertaining for us and easy to return for her!

As always, I get a small commission if you sign up though my links. 

Happy Fixing!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Pre-School Progress

As I mentioned before, Andrew started a wonderful Mother's Day Out program at a Very Excellent Preschool this fall.

His adjustment has been super smooth, and he lunges at his backpack (his "bye-bye" bag) every morning in the hopes that it's a preschool day. It would be enough to give me a complex about my mothering if I weren't so darn happy that he's having a blast.

The school is quite the haul all the way across town, but there aren't many local part-time options for the under-2 set. In my previous pre-school experiences, even though I knew this was a Very Excellent Preschool with the best playground around, I never even considered it.

Why? Because it's a co-op.

I'm sure there are those of you out there who just LOVE co-oping in your child's school. It's a wonderful way to get a pulse on what goes on there, to keep tuition costs down, and to show your family's commitment to the school.

Good for you.

I am not one of those people. Sure, I spent a lot of time in Jack and Margaret's elementary school, but that was not out of the goodness of my heart-- it was to meet a yearly requirement. In fact, one day,  after four years of having kids yell out to me to hand deliver ranch dressing for them to pour all over their carrots pizza, I actually bought my way out of my Pizza Lunch duties for the remainder of my tenure. Sure, I was the first to volunteer as a field trip chaperone, or to go on the Girl Scout camping trips, because I really did enjoy being around my kids and their classmates but I guess I'm just stubborn in that I want to volunteer, not co-op. Sure, it's largely semantics, but somewhere inside me is that little pill who would hiss at her parents: "I'm doing it 'cuz I want to, not because you told me to!"

I thought this time would be different.

No, not because with Andrew I've amended my wicked ways and want to work in the classroom, but because my friend, whom we'll call Jane Ann (because that is her name) -- convinced me that the Very Excellent Preschool no longer had a co-op requirement for Andrew's age group.

This is what happens when all of your friends are pushing 45. Preschool Intel gets a little fuzzy, and before you know it you are in the Kangaroo Room wiping noses and doling out snacks on your 48th birthday. Yep. Friday, my birthday, is my first day on the schedule.

If you are reading this and your child is at the Very Excellent Preschool, please know that I'll be on the top of my game, ready to cuddle and encourage, but that "I'm doing it 'cuz I want to, not because you told me to!" Plus, what better way to feel hopeful and optimistic for the year ahead than spending it with little ones?

The rest of you, please raise a glass of iced tea to me on my birthday, and hope these old knees hold out!

P.S. Doesn't he look miserable???? :)

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Longer than a Blink, Yet Faster than We Think

Andrew and I wander the yard holding plastic bags. He points out dog poop when he sees it, which is not as often as I do. I scoop it into a bag and carry it until we find more. When a bag is full, I tie it, and Andrew proudly deposits it by the garage door. Our task is made more difficult by the brown oak leaves all over the ground. This is Andrew's first time recognizing the change of seasons, and he says "Uh-oh" every time a leaf falls.

I hope we won't discover any poop the hard way today.

His help is a bit nerve-wracking, but I try to embrace it, realizing that it's good for him, and that someday getting him to help won't be this easy. I think back to when little Margaret thought it was fun to scrub toilets, and Jack made our bed with hospital corners each morning. These days, I slip out of the sheets, damp from night sweats, and leave the bed unmade to air out. Margaret hasn't cleaned a toilet in a decade. I leave the extra bags in the garage and wonder if I've prepared her at all for adulthood. Those preschool days seem like yesterday.

We enter the house,and I expect the aroma from the crock pot to delight me. Instead, the house smells terrible. Another dinner fail? Certainly not worth cutting celery at 7 am, I think.

From the adjoining room I hear "Uh-oh" and enter quickly enough to see Andrew pointing at dog diarrhea sprayed and pooled on our carved wool rug, trailing off onto the cover of Andrew's favorite book. He knows we've been on poop patrol, but this is no job for a baby. I scoop him by the waist to deposit him in his little chair and say, "Stay," as I would to one of the dogs. Just as I'm trying to figure out which dog is afflicted, Shadow starts vomiting. Another "Uh oh" and pointing from Andrew. I tell him I'm not quite sure how to approach this mess, but if he stays in his chair, he can watch Little Einsteins while I figure it out.

What I see is neither a solid nor a liquid. I dive in, and do the best that I can, grateful for rubber gloves.

The fact is not lost on me that in a fit of optimism and/or stupidity I'd ordered a WHITE SHAG rug for my office just the night before. Something about a quiet house at 11pm made me think that the world of HGTV or Pinterest could me mine. Even as I pressed ORDER, I knew it was likely a mistake, but I did it anyway. Did I  hope that making my beloved office cozier and more chic would jump start my writing again? That bare feet on a soft rug would somehow garner me the time and creativity to put words to paper? I hadn't been in that room for weeks, except to set up a laundry drying rack in the corner. Now I realize I'll have to close the door at all times, to keep the dogs, their hair, and their funk out, and I wonder if I'll spend time in there at all, the beautiful room that birthed Rare Bird.

I know Tim will be annoyed when he hears about the diarrhea and vomit. He'll toss the dogs outside, as if they will be able to equate evening exile with early afternoon grossness. With a sweep of his arms, he'll say maybe we shouldn't have rugs in the house at all. That rugs are disgusting. I'll agree, and hope that that exact moment is not when the delivery truck pulls up with my new shag.

I've never been one to get too riled up about messes, or when things break. My mom used to say, "Everything has a life," and I've interpreted that as nothing lasts forever, and that it's okay. It applies to the material as well as the those things we cannot touch. Who knows if the new rug will outlast the our dear dogs, or vice versa? I do know these days of traipsing around the yard with Andrew will not last forever. Stopping to look at ants, pointing at airplanes, waiting for the mail man and school bus to arrive are distinctly toddler occupations. In the not too distant future, I'll have more time to write, to sit in my office, to think. When I look ahead, it may seem far off, but I know that the warp-speed of life I've experienced up until now will not change.

After all, I wouldn't have believed another fall had come so soon, if today I had not felt the leaves crunch under my feet.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Whew and Woah

So how did Andrew's first 4 HOUR stint at Mother's Day Out go yesterday?

He cried...when it was time to come home.


I had to pry two little trucks out of his hands because he wanted to keep playing.

A happy morning for him was a WIN, made even more awesome by the fact that he fell asleep on our long drive home and TRANSFERRED to his crib for a nap.

I forgot how much these little things feel like such big things when you are in the thick of it.

Way to go, Miracle Baby!

In other news, we ordered a homecoming dress for Margaret online and it came with only a few days to spare. It is more revealing that she'd anticipated. To give you an idea:

So, I may be learning to sew between now and Saturday.

p.s. I promise I did not buy Margaret a dress like J. Lo's (above)

Thursday, September 7, 2017


I am often asked what it's like to have another little boy, when my first boy went to heaven. It's different than I expected, and much, much better.

I remember meeting with a lovely bereaved mom while I was pregnant with Andrew. Her two young daughters died tragically. She had a sweet toddler boy at home, and was hoping and praying that she and her husband would someday be able to have another girl as well. I didn't really understand what she meant when she talked about wanting to use the girls' bikes in the garage, and their hair ditties up in the bathroom again. That sounded painful to me.

And wasn't the joy of a new baby, regardless of gender, what was important?

I didn't get it.

In fact, I secretly wondered if the little boy I was carrying, who might, gulp, look a lot like his big brother, would hurt my heart more than a baby girl would. Just accepting that I had an unplanned pregnancy at this age and would be starting the whole parenting journey over again was MIGHTY SCARY-- did we really need to it be more difficult in another way too?

I get what that mama was saying now.

I experience it daily, and the closest word I can come up with is REDEMPTION.

For more than four years, I couldn't walk by the boys' section of Target without aching. It didn't matter if my eyes landed on a toddler outfit, or something for a teen-- my heart seized with pain as I missed Jack at every stage, even the ones he never got to.

Now, I hold up little boy shorts and ponder whether they will fit around Andrew's prodigious belly. I shudder to think of going into the toy aisle again, not because Jack died, but because it's mind-numbingly boring, yet I know I'll go there with Andrew. I see super hero paraphernalia on an end-cap and wonder if I'll need to learn the good guys' and the bad guys' names for the very first time.

Andrew shifts me to today. To next week. To the future.  He doesn't take away or diminish the past, but he somehow redeems much of it. I can think about Jack's love of baseball now, and try to guess whether Andrew will play, or whether soccer will be his game. Each stage Andrew is in takes me back to Jack and Margaret and the happy memories of their childhoods. Instead of tears, there is the remembrance of their own quirky cuteness, the chaos, and their snuggly love. It was a sacred time, even though I didn't know it then.

There is also a joy that comes from experiencing life through a toddler's eyes. Margaret and I've noticed we get excited about the little things-- a butterfly, a turtle, a fire truck, a helicopter-- when  we wouldn't have paid attention to them just a year ago. He has brought wonder back into our lives.

My delight in Andrew is not because he's a boy, or because he looks a bit like Jack, but his being a boy has been somehow healing.

I remember a sad scene in the movie Finding Neverland, with Johnny Depp playing J.M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan. Depp's character says the one time his mother ever truly looked at him with delight, was when he walked into a room dressed in his dead brother's clothes.


Andrew may wear a few of Jack's things that I had saved for grand kids, or play with Jack's toys, but Andrew is Andrew, and we see him, love him and delight in him. Ok, not so much in the middle of the night, but you know what I mean.

Somehow Andrew helps us look at the past and remember it with joy not sadness, and he helps us look ahead at the possibilities that await us in this weird, exhausting, wonderful life. If he has also taken the sting out of Legos, toy cars, boy clothes, and Target, I am grateful for that.

And I know any joy, gratitude and hope that we have makes my first boy happy too.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Ikea Toddler Table Re-Do

I saw this red Ikea table and chair set in someone's trash the other day and nabbed it. There were 4 chairs, but I just took 2.

 The red didn't match my house, so I saw what paint I had on hand: gray chalk paint and  green spray paint.  I tried a much prettier shade of green first, but the can jammed and I switched. It was nap time, and I knew my painting window was not going to last forever.

Not my best painting job ever. I just noticed one of the chairs needs another coat. But that's the nice thing about free-- It FREES you up to do a half-way job and not feel guilty about it.  I think Andrew likes it!

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Toddlers are Weird and Fabulous

From the Toddler Files:

Andrew woke up from a nap and was pretty attached to his Lovey and Pacifier. He wanted a snack, but didn't want to relinquish either. In the absence of pockets, he found his head to be a great place to store Lovey:

This continued outside as he played with the dogs and explored the yard.

I can't even deal with the cuteness.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Friend Level Platinum

I was talking to a young person recently who had experienced the death of his mother. He mentioned that he thought some friends were just around because they felt sorry for him, and that it felt weird. When I asked what he meant, he said they hadn't really been friends before his mom died, maybe just a grunt in the hallway now and then, but now these teens reached out to him, commented on his social media, and wanted to get together.

His feelings make sense to me.

Teens crave authenticity, and if anything has a whiff of disingenuousness, they will sniff it right out. No one wants a pity friend, because it feels out of balance. We want to be liked for who we are, not for what we've been through.

But here's what I said to this teen, since I'm a bit farther down the road, grief-wise, than he is, and I've got 30 years on him of seeing the complexity of life.

I told him I, too, had people reach out to me after Jack died, and my friends list is vastly different now than it was before Sept 8, 2011. Many people came into my life, and yes, it was a direct result of what happened to our family. However, those friendships are not based on pity now. A one-sided relationship is not sustainable in the long-run, but a friendship with someone who has already PROVEN a willingness to reach out despite awkwardness, is a treasure. Empathy and generosity are amazing qualities in a friend. How great is it to know up front that a person has those?

I also told him many people exited my life, never in an overt or hostile way, but because things became so complicated after Jack died. How impossible would it have been for us to hang out with baseball parents immediately after the accident? What about families from youth group, when we no longer had a middle schooler? Friendships shifted. We changed churches, jobs, schools, and neighborhoods. We had no energy, and some relationships faded away.

I believe many friendships are for a particular season in life, whether it's due to having babies close in age, working on a project together, being in the same school, or even in the aftermath of a tragedy.

I told the young man that if his loss led to his being placed on people's hearts, and they reached out of their comfort zones to express sympathy or be a friend, that's never a bad thing. There is a level of intimacy that comes from experiencing hardship together, while it could take years to get there with friends who don't know what you've been through. Some of the new friendships will stick and grow, while he will remember others just as a warm light in this dark season of grief.

Both are okay.

I've learned so much from the people who rushed toward me, rather than away from me in 2011, and I'm still learning today.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Summer 2017

Summer is winding down. 

School starts for Margaret on Monday, and Andrew will go to Mother's Day Out (yay!) in mid-September. For those who aren't following An Inch of Gray on Facebook, and who may feel a little neglected in the Miracle Baby Photo Department, here are a few to catch you up. We didn't have a very active summer. I'm really not sure what we did except chase Andrew around, eat a lot of ice cream, and watch Netflix, but we did make it to Connecticut for a week to see cousins and grandparents, and to WV for our annual camping weekend. Another highlight was Margaret's getting her braces off just in time for back to school.

Family time in CT. Andrew was in the front yard when a BEAR lumbered by!

This year we included Jack in the group cousin picture. I wonder how tall he would be.

 After a loooong break, the grandparents had to buy baby equipment again.
 Happy 4th!

Camping trip. Too young to tube on the river, so he tubed on the grass!
 My big brother made sure I had ample fried food, as usual. Andrew slept well in a tent for the second year in a row. Bonus: Our new tent took about 2 minutes to set up!
 Big hike up the mountain! Tim carried Andrew on his back. Whew! I stayed back and read a book.

 My dear aunt and siblings
Braces off! 
Back-to-school and off-to-college pictures are filling my social media feeds right now. Thank you for praying for me and for others who are missing someone special in the photos this year.

Love and Hugs, Anna