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! http://bit.ly/2BsMJrU 

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 attached...to 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.