Tuesday, February 28, 2017


Do you know what a "Golden" Birthday is? I didn't, until Jack and Margaret told me. It's the special birthday when your age and the day you were born match up. So my golden birthday would have been when I turned 6 on the 6th of October, way back in 1975.

Not that I would have known that.

Golden birthdays, half birthdays and the like were not celebrated in the 70's and 80's when I grew up. I was lucky to have my mom toss creamsicles to my friends and me on the front lawn after school on my birthday. That was our idea of whooping it up.

It was fun to consider that both of my kids' Golden Birthdays would take place when they were teenagers, because they were born on the 18th and 17th, respectively. I LOVE TEENAGERS, most likely because my mom loved teenagers, and getting a kick out of Jack and Margaret at that age is something I'd anticipated since the days they were born.

As the calendar turns from February to March, we are just a couple of weeks away from Jack's Golden Birthday. He would be turning 18 on March 18th. 18 feels significant. 18 feels heavy. It's also on a Saturday again, which Jack would have LOVED. He found birthdays on school days a drag.

Grievers approach birthdays differently, from making our loved one's favorite meals, baking special cakes, running in races, gathering with friends, or even hiding under the covers. I've done a variety of these since Jack died.  Last year was really hard. We are not sure what we will do this year, but I know 18 feels big, golden birthday or not.

Two weeks after that, we'll celebrate Andrew's 1st birthday. In the age of Pinterest, I wonder how his birthday will differ from the simple celebrations we had when Jack and Margaret were little. We'll see.


As my mother used to say, "Life is a very strange time."

I didn't know what that meant, but I figured I'd know it when I saw it. Now I see it. Life is a very strange time. Sometimes it's hard. Sometimes it's golden. Sometimes it's both at once.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Baby Browns

I posted more of these on Facebook, but I wanted to share the latest pics of Baby Andrew taken by his talented big sister! Hard to believe he'll be 11 months old this week.

Finally!!! Stitch Fix in Plus Sizes!

I've loved sharing about Stitch Fix over the years. You've been right here with me when I've found great dresses, fabulous outfits, favorite jeans, and even a few epic duds.

It's so fun to receive a box of clothes in the mail that I can look though, see what works for me, and easily return what doesn't. And, as long as I keep just ONE of the 5 items in the box, my styling fee is refunded! It has been a great way to refresh my wardrobe.

Many of you let me know, however, that you were disappointed that Stitch Fix did not have an option for curvy women. I gave your feedback to the company, and was thrilled to find out that Stitch Fix is launching styling for plus sized women...starting TODAY! Great brands, great looks, selected just for you.

If you are size XS-3X Now you can have your own personal stylist!

I can't wait to hear about your Fixes! My next one comes in April.


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Old Mom's Guide to New Baby Gear

When I first became a parent, we were in another century, actually another millennium. My son listened to cassettes in the car on a Fisher Price tape player! One of my first thoughts upon finding out I was pregnant in my 40’s, rather than my 20’s, after a few choice words of surprise, was that the baby gear must be a lot cooler now. 
It sure is!

To me, the most obvious change is that the fabrics and patterns for nurseries are more sophisticated than ever before and mirror the family’s personal clothing and decorating tastes. Nurseries now fit in seamlessly with the rest of the house and are more cool than cutesy. Think less Noah's Ark and more mid-century modern.

But what about the gear?

As Baby Andrew closes in on the one year mark, here are my top 5 favorites for the infant stage:

1. Boppy Lounger: We had Boppy nursing pillows back in the day, which we eventually rejected in favor of My Brest Friend for excellent breastfeeding support. This lounger, made by Boppy, serves a completely different purpose. It provides a soft place to place the baby during the day, and its silky soft cotton and supportive padding make a great little cocoon. It's also a great place to bottle feed if baby gets too squirmy in your arms.

2. Kinsa Thermometer: If you think your baby is feverish, it probably means you are already worried and stressed, so you need a thermometer that works! This one connects to your cell phone and provides a quick, accurate reading. It can be used under the arm, in the mouth, or rectally. My favorite part is that the app saves temperature readings and other symptoms on your phone, and it can be used to store data for the whole family. And as someone who once broke an old-fashioned glass thermometer in my baby’s room and had to safely dispose of the MERCURY, I’m glad to have technology on my side this time. Forehead thermometers like this one also look super easy.

3. Infant Swaddles: Can you say Night and Day? Tim and I used to argue about the best way to swaddle our babies using receiving blankets. No matter how hard we tried, a little arm or foot would come poking out and we'd have to start all over. What a difference it makes to have an easy to use swaddle with the strongest velcro in the world on it!  Mom and Dad can wrassle an infant into this thing in just a few seconds, and it stays tight all night. Labor and Delivery Nurses have special swaddling ninja skills, but SwaddleMe is for the rest of us.

4. Rock and Play: Total game changer! Before, we had wicker bassinets pulled up next to our beds. Nothing wakes a baby faster than his kicking the walls of a flimsy bassinet. A Rock in Play cradles infants in a comfortable inclined position, and the height is ideal to keep next to the bed so mom and dad can tend to the baby in the night. We had one upstairs and one downstairs. Another bonus is that it is lightweight and folds easily for travel. Due to concerns that the Rock and Play can cause babies to develop flat heads, I recommend putting a headrest in yours, such as this one from Boppy. Our baby learned to love sleep much faster than his older brother and sister did, and I credit the Rock and Play for this. We transitioned him out of his at six months, and I was sad to see it go.

5. Dohm Sound Machine:  This sound machine was a big improvement over the sound of a hair dryer or vacuum cleaner of the days of yore for trying to lull a baby to sleep. Savvy blog readers pointed me in its direction, and now I can't sleep without it! Another option is using a free white noise app on your iPhone.

I wouldn't say parenting a baby in my forties is easier than in my twenties, but some key products have helped. I could go on with my list, but these are my top 5 must-haves! Hoda Kotb, if you are reading this, I have some great hand me downs you can have for lovely Haley Joy!

Moms and Grandmas, what would you add to this list?

(affiliate links included for your convenience)

Brotherly Love

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

A Love of Reading

I go up and down the thrift shop aisles, familiar covers catching my eye. I've donated so many books to this store over the years, I wouldn't be surprised to see my name inside a few of them.

My little stack in the cart grows. Out of the whole pile, only one of the the titles is new to me.

Does it feel wasteful re-buying the same titles I've read and donated before?

Not at all, because something extraordinary is happening in my house. My daughter has found her love of reading again! Despite a 24-7 bombardment of social media, and days filled with school and sports, she still makes time to read books. I know too well that it's MUCH easier to scroll on my phone these days than open a book, so I'm even more impressed by her desire to read, especially after a few years of not reading much at all. That she wants to discuss what she's read, using words like symbol, narrator, and setting is almost too much for me to handle.

Love. Love. Love.

I had barely hoped this would happen, because she never showed interest in reading those books that meant a lot to me as a little girl: The Secret Garden, Gone With the Wind, Heidi, etc.

But now we are sharing grown-up books and it's delightful.

How did this happen, when it seems as if so much of schooling actually sucks the joy of learning out of kids?

One teacher.

Her 10th grade English teacher spends the beginning of every class sharing a book with her students. Five minutes is all it takes to give a brief synopsis of the book and share what makes it interesting. Students are free to take a turn doing the same, and Margaret's must-read list has grown.

Today she sent me a link of 3 more books to look out for.

So you bet these books are going home with me today. If out of these, she just reads one or two, I'll be happy. And maybe seeing her read more will get me off of Facebook for a while so I can do the same.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Giveaway Time: The Zipadee-Zip!

You know how much I love doing giveaways here at An Inch of Gray, and I'm super excited about this latest one!

When Andrew was born, we couldn't believe how much better sleep solutions were for babies than 15 years ago. We had user-friendly swaddles that he couldn't break out of, and he slept right next to our bed in a Rock and Play Sleeper. Total game-changers that meant more sleep for baby, Mom, and Dad!

As Andrew hit the 5 month mark, Tim and I got really nervous. We knew that it was just a matter of time before he would start to roll over in his sleep, and we'd have to discontinue the swaddles and the Rock and Play.

We were seriously stressed about how to move him to a crib, because we just didn't have the energy for an ugly, protracted transition.

I started researching on-line and found something called a Zipadee-Zip. You may remember when I mentioned it in an earlier post about how I love As Seen On TV products. Yes, Sleeping Baby, the company that makes the Zipadee-Zip was featured on one of my favorite shows, Shark Tank.

Here's the video from their episode!

Zipadee-Zip is a sleep sack that allows babies to roll onto their tummies and back again because their arms aren't constrained. It does, however, give them much more of a confined feeling than pj's  or other sleep sacks, and this resistance helps keep them asleep longer. It was invented specifically as a solution for the swaddle to no-swaddle transition. 

Tim and I are grateful that the Zipadee-Zip helped Andrew make the change to his crib. We were expecting him to FREAK OUT for at least a week, but he got used to his crib in just a couple of days. Almost 6 months later, he still wears the Zipadee-Zip every night and during his (infrequent) naps. They help him feel secure, signal that it's time to sleep, and help keep him warm since babies aren't allowed to have blankets in the crib. Another way I use the Zipadee-Zip is as a cover-up in the doctor's office or other public places where I don't want him to get too germy, and as an extra non-bulky layer in the car seat or stroller.

Here he is taking a snooze in his at the DMV while big sister got her learner's permit.

He has one with a seashell print, and a fleece one with foxes on it. So cute!

When Andrew no longer needs a Zippadee Zip, I plan on getting him The Flying Squirrel, fun pj's with a similar shape and feel that fit kids well into elementary school, but I'm not in a rush. A lot of parents keep using the Zipadee-Zip up until 2 years old or when transitioning out of the crib.

You can use it with just a diaper or a onesie underneath, but since it's winter, we put it over Andrew's pj's. Doesn't he look so happy to have just woken up?

Sleeping Baby has offered to give a free Zipadee-Zip to one of my readers. If you do not have a child or grandchild in the infant to toddler range, please share this giveaway with those people in your lives who do!

I want as many people as possible to hear about this product that helped me so much!

Entries limited to the Continental U.S.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thank you, Sleeping Baby, for sponsoring this giveaway!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

What's the Word?

Yesterday I hired a babysitter, Nadia, so I could write run errands.

At the last minute, a workman I've been trying to connect with came over, so I had to stick around. Our twice a month cleaning lady, Marie, was also there. So, for an hour or so, we had a full house, and Nadia and Marie had a chance to chat.

Later, Nadia said to me, "Marie says Andrew looks just like your other boy did. She says he was very clever, and Andrew is clever too. See? We don't know how God works. You are lucky. Lucky!"

The word lucky struck me as a little off, but something could have been lost in the translation. There were several languages in play as Marie and Nadia, two women of faith from distant parts of the world, admired and talked about the baby.

With my story, I don't know if anyone would call me "lucky."

Besides, lucky sounds so random.

Christians tend to use the word BLESSED instead. Blessed is a way to say, "I don't think this is random, but it also doesn't come just from my own hard work or striving." When Christians say they are blessed, to describe a new house, car, job, and, yes, even their children, it's a way of expressing deep gratitude...but it can also be problematic. This article sums that up pretty well.

It makes me think of when people say, "There but for the grace of God go I," in describing terrible things that happen to children. I get that this sentiment is a way to connect, to say, "Hey, what happened to you could have happened to anyone!" But it can also make a person feel as if she's somehow outside of God's grace when terrible things do happen.

And of course that's not true.

Words can be confusing.

In speaking to groups, I sometimes unpack my troubled relationship with the verse: "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."


I didn't feel blessed to not have my mom at my wedding.

I didn't feel blessed to have Margaret lose her very best friend in a stupid creek.

And I didn't feel blessed last week when Jack's precious classmates generously gave up a Sunday afternoon to meet Andrew and spend time with us. Instead, I felt stricken and depressed, missing spending day after day with these kids whom I have loved since they were 6 years old, and hurting so much that they are about to go to off to college and more new adventures without Jack.

In Jesus's upside down view of the world, however, grievers ARE blessed.

Why? Not because they are free from pain, or they receive some sort of material or physical reward for the hell they've been through, but because they will receive comfort, often in the form of love from others, and always in a spiritual way from God himself, who never leaves us alone in our pain.

Time after time I have been comforted in my grief. I now know this verse is true.

And I think every baby is a blessing, an undeserved gift for which to be grateful. But I don't know why some people who desperately want children are not able to have them. Is it random? Is it luck?

Back to the babysitter's words. Am I lucky to have a baby in the house when I'm 47? Andrew's surprise appearance certainly defied great odds.

Am I blessed? Yes, if being blessed is really another way of framing the word GRATEFUL. And does it ease some of the pain of losing Jack that Andrew, with the exception of his eyes being almond-shaped to Jack's round, looks just like his big brother? Does buying little boy clothes again, wiping a baby boy tush, and getting Jack's wooden trains out of storage feel somehow redemptive and healing?  It sure does. That's what the baby sitter was getting at.



I'll go with comforted.

For I do still mourn, and I am comforted. God can do that, and I believe Andrew is one way He's doing it in my life.

Friday, February 3, 2017

What I've Been Reading: Disaster Falls: A Family Story

The book I've been wanting to tell you about has been released! Disaster Falls: A Family Story chronicles a family's loss of their 8 year old son in a rafting accident. I love how the title doesn’t just represent the name of the accident site, but also that disaster has befallen this small family, and they must figure out a way to make it through. 

There are many parallels to my own family, but I believe this book is an excellent read for ANYONE, regardless of life experience. We will all face loss, whether the shocking, out of order death of a child, or the more expected death of parents, grandparents, and eventually spouses. Told from the father's point of view, with a chronology that takes you back and forth in the family's history, Disaster Falls does an excellent job of showing how each member in a family grieves differently. It also covers the death of the author's father, with whom he had a contentious and complicated relationship. 

There were so many a-ha moments for me in this book, not the least of which is when Gerson details, without judgment, the different ways in which people did/did not reach out to comfort him, and the various ways he and his wife tried to find their footing. The author is a historian, and I love the way he brings the history of the river and waterfall into the story. While my book, Rare Bird, captures the anguish and messy rawness of early grief, Gerson’s book is more restrained in a way that reminds me of Paul Kalinithi’s When Breath Becomes Air.  It is poignant and eloquent, and never goes for shock value. Disaster Falls is not just another sad story, but a beautifully written LIFE story, as a father uses his memories, journals, and experience as a historian and researcher to grapple with his son’s death.

(affiliate links included for your convenience)