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 darling...my 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.

Whew!

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

Redemption

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.

Ouch.

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.
video


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

Monday, August 21, 2017

2000

2000.

That's how many words I've written then deleted about the disgusting rally in Charlottesville, about the state of our country, about the level of division I see that feels almost cosmic in nature.

Cosmic, because how else could people see the same things so very differently? How could people tack the words "BUT" onto verifiable first-hand accounts of white supremacists with flaming torches shouting disgusting, hurtful words about African Americans and Jews? Honest to God NAZIS on US soil? How can we say, “We will never forget?” yet dismiss the significance of this kind of behavior? 

I know I have friends, family members and readers who believed they were making a moral stand by voting the current administration into office. I loved you. I love you now.

Some of you voted on one issue and felt that the ends would justify the means. Maybe you didn't feel like you had a choice to make. Maybe you believed one person couldn't do that much damage.

Maybe today feels like a time to dig in, again, especially when that is the example we see from the highest levels: name-call, accept no blame, call righteous anger "Hate" and dissension "Fake News!”

Or maybe it feels like time to reflect and reverse course. 

 What’s going on in our country feels evil and cosmic, while on the other hand earth-bound and base. 

Even though my words seem small, and they have been slow to come, the day of another cosmic event, the eclipse, seemed an appropriate time to pledge that I will not let myself get lulled into thinking any of this is okay: racism, sexual assault, hate speech, exclusion, and lying. I will speak out against it when I see it being condoned and encouraged by our leaders, and when I see it in my own sphere of influence. I will stay engaged and alert, even when it feels like my head is spinning. I will look to my own role in any of this, even if what I find is painful or ugly. I will listen to the stories and experiences of those who are hurt and in danger, rather than trying to come up with something to say myself, in order to make myself look or feel better. 

That’s all I’ve got today. 

With LOVE to each of you,
Micah 6:8


  

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Junk Drawer

When I designed our new kitchen, I included 2 junk drawers. The contractor pointed out that an extra drawer would encourage extra junk. I agreed, but that's what I wanted.

Junk drawers are a jumble of scissors, small tissue packs, bobby pins, matches, and sticks of gum. Batteries, a measuring tape, ear buds,  phone chargers, and random keys. Patches for river rafts and air mattresses, a tiny screwdriver for eyeglass repairs. Andrew's pacifier clip, and multiple lipsticks.

They are also the landing spot for things that serve no practical purpose, but have no other place to go.

In our home, those include a small plastic eagle we bought on a coal train ride in West Virginia. A  key chain with Margaret's and my photo on it. A tiny Magic 8 ball. Jack's kindergarten ID. A Darth Vader pen. Assorted novelty erasers. A headless Lego guy. Tim's first Blackberry that Margaret used to play to with, pretending she was a spy.

I straighten the junk drawer every now and then when it gets out of control. This gives me a chance to sift, sort, and remember. If these little things were packed away in a box, I'd likely never see them again, and I appreciate being able to touch them and move them about.

I know they will always be there because it is proven that no one ever cleans a junk drawer except for Mom. Sure, Tim will sigh and claim there are NO MORE NAIL CLIPPERS when he is looking right at them; he'll shuffle some stuff around, but he's not going to toss anything.

I like order as much as the next person, but I also love the little family museum I root through every day.

Now were did those scissors go?

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Novagratz Tufted Sofa Verdict

My Novagratz Tufted Sofa from Walmart came and I've been meaning to give you an update. Here's what it looks like in the ad:

I'd seen this sofa around the internet, especially in the emerald green, and I was intrigued. It looked so pretty and feminine. I needed a new sofa like a hole in the head, but I justified this purchase because this sofa is also a futon, and we don't have a guest room. I thought it would be nice to turn my office into a guest room when the need arose, especially because I'm not getting a lot of work done in there anyway. 

Delivery was free and fast (2 days)!

It came in a flat box, with the components (legs, arms) tucked in a zippered compartment underneath the upholstered seat.  It was Ikea-level assembly that involved minimal cursing on Tim's and my part.

I selected the dark gray:


I like that the tufts do not have buttons, because in my experience, those pop off.

The reviews said the couch itself is firm rather than cushy, and I agree. It is not a "sink into" couch by any means. The fabric is very pretty but does NOT look as durable as what I'm used to. For instance, our microfiber living room couch is third-hand, given to me by a friend, who got it from a friend, and it has had numerous spills on it, plus many napping dogs. My basement couch (yes, I have a couch problem) has a nice tweedy/chenille-type fabric that has lasted us 17 yrs without issue. The fabric on the Walmart couch, however, is a non-stretchy velour that resembles velvet. It feels pretty thin and looks like it will not be very forgiving for spills, snags, or dog toenails.

Reviews also pointed out its small scale. It definitely as a lower profile than my other couches. Think futon.

Here's what it looks like in my office:




Pardon the lack of a rug.

My sister spent the night last night and tested out the futon. She is our most frequent house guest, so is the best person to judge the new set-up. She got up extra early with Andrew today (is she a saint, or what?) and gave me her verdict when I dragged myself downstairs. She says it was indeed firm, but that she slept well. There is a bit of a gully where the two pieces come together, but she was not bothered by it. She emphasizes it is a futon for ONE person only, not two. Twin sheets fit on it.

Here it is opened flat, a simple process that took a few seconds:

And made up with twin-sized Laura Ashley sheets, circa 1985:


Does it really solve my guest room problem? No, not if we have more than one guest at a time.

Did I need it? Not really.

Other complications: It didn't look good with my existing rug, so now I'm on the market for a new one.

Am I glad I bought it? Yes!


Grade for Novagratz couch/futon:

B or B+

Would I recommend: Yes.

p.s. This is not a sponsored post.