Sunday, August 28, 2016


I've kind of lost track of time, but it appears that Baby Andrew will be 5 months old in a week or so! You are WELL OVERDUE for some new pictures, so here you go!

Hard to believe I've spent nearly 5 months wearing a hole in this couch, or doing my circuit between kitchen and living room, to lull him to sleep in the front carrier. We are doing well. I must say I don't feel older or more tired than I did 17 years ago, but maybe I just felt pretty old and tired back then.

A lot of friends are on the cusp of becoming empty-nesters right now, as I thought I would be in three years, so I think the biggest adjustment has been getting used to the idea that next 18 however many years I have left will look different than what I'd imagined. You might think I'd already grasped that, having lost Jack, but a new baby is just another re-imagining or recalibration of my expectations.

Speaking of changes: Andrew starts daycare in about 2 weeks! Yeah, you can start praying now, because we chose the FARTHER AWAY ONE since they could do part-time, whereas the close one (2 minutes away) could only do full-time. For a car-hating baby and his mom, this could be interesting. Oh, and have I told you we live in the traffic capital of the universe so every trip takes twice as long as it should?

I am looking forward to getting back to work. Some immediate goals are:

  • hiring a speaker's agent 
  • speaking engagements
  • pitching and writing articles for magazines 
  • deciding what sort of book to write next

I admit that the first few days of childcare may look a little more like:

  • taking a nap
  • meeting up with a friend
  • scheduling some "alone time" with Tim 
These waning days of summer are usually difficult for me. 

They remind me of the last few days/weeks before Jack's accident. The first week of school is rough, too. This year the crapiversary of Jack's accident, September 8, falls on the 3rd day of school, which is also Back to School night, and Andrew's first day in childcare.  Gah.

Oh, have I mentioned this would be Jack's senior year? That feels like a lot.  

Surrender. Embrace. Live. Love.

Love you guys!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Groundhog Day

Do you ever feel like you are buying the same things over and over?

I've been doing some major culling around here, and am appalled at the volume of STUFF we have compared to the rest of the world. Having a teenage daughter and a new baby doesn't help, because both of those stages seem to be rather, um, acquisitive. Large plastic items litter the surfaces in my house, and my barely 5 ft tall girl has shown me just how expensive per square inch, little shorts can be.

I 'm proud of my reputation for being frugal. I order water at restaurants. My towels are the ones that went to college with me in 1987. Most of our furniture is from the thrift store. My Grandpa Harris would be happy, a bit more so if I could just up my twine game.

But there are some things I seem to buy again and again and again. Here are my top offenders:

1) Eyelash curlers:
I've been using eyelash curlers since 7th grade. They are made of metal, and should probably last a lifetime. Yet my teens, 20's and 30's are paved with discarded eyelash curlers. I'll buy one, carefully tuck away the extra rubber pads for safekeeping, and use it for a year or so. Then, it will start acting wonky, I won't be able to find the pads, and I'm off to buy a new one. It's only when we move, about every 5 years or so, that I find stashes of useless rubber crescents from the eyelash curlers of the past.

2) Door mats:
I buy too many of these because they hold so much promise. "Welcome to our house!" they say in their juicy summer colors, chevron patterns, or realistic fall leaves. They are like a mini-facelift for the home. A big monogrammed one makes me feel super-classy.  Until they get shmutzy, and moldy, and their message starts to say, "Stay away." I have yet to find a welcome mat that holds up to the weather, but as my many trips down the housewares aisle will attest, I won't give up trying. Oooh! Does that one have HYDRANGEAS on it?

3) Thermometers:
Nothing like been stressed about a sick child to make you go out and buy a new thermometer. "Where the hell is the thermometer? " we'll growl, stress levels rising. We even have a plastic basket in our linen closed that says THERMOMETERS on it, but at 2 in the morning, it's more like the failed thermometer graveyard. There's one that needs replacement batteries in a size I can never remember, and the Sponge Bob one that never seemed very accurate. I did find out from Tim recently that he thought when Sponge Bob played music, to indicate it was finished taking a temp, he thought "the happy music" meant you had no fever. So, I guess some of those mis-reads were human factor issues. Why do we keep the failed thermometers in the basket? I don't know. With the new baby we have a cool app-based thermometer that plugs into our cell phones! We'll see how that goes.

4) Throw pillows:
Never mind.  Throw pillows are life. You can never have too many. Kind of like buying a little bit of hope in the Target aisle.

5) Nail clippers:
I buy extra, even though I've never heard of clippers ever wearing out or being thrown away. I place them all around the house like the glasses of water in the movie M. Night Shyamalan's Signs, so that when Tim has an urgent nail clipping EMERGENCY, he doesn't freak out too much.

6)Fish Oil:
Yeah, I buy a lot of fish oil, knowing that it will lead to silky hair, a better brain, and God knows what else. Then I leave it in the cupboard until it expires, and do it all again. See also: Calcium Supplements.

I could go on. Shower Caddies, miracle eye creams, makeup brushes anyone?

So, I'm wondering if I'm the only one with wasteful habits in need of reformation!  What are you top offenders when it comes to re-buying?

Friday, August 5, 2016

Get 'er Done?

One thing about being home with a new baby is thinking about all of the things I'd like to be getting done, but that I'm thwarted from doing. I remember this well-- where the walls start closing in, and every one of them looks like it could use a new coat of paint. I know this stage won't last forever, but nothing highlights an inability to check something off a checklist than being inside the constant need cycle of an infant.

It's not as if I'm trying to do anything earth shattering. I just want to keep our house in decent shape, mail a few letters, and maybe poop alone.

Take Monday, for instance. After an epically scream-y day for Andrew, I was exhausted, but I had one goal: to rotate the area rug in our living room.

You see, last weekend, our dog Shadow peed on the one exposed spot where I play on the floor with Andrew. We cleaned it, but after 2 days in which the baby and I went to bed smelling like a mixture of Resolve, urine, wool, and despair, I couldn't take it any more.

I waited until Tim got home, and hoped that he, my visiting brother, and I could rotate the rug so that the stinky part was under the couch.

Then I saw Tim drag in after a long day at work, complaining of muscle or nerve pain in his rear. My brother limped in next, his long drive from WV having exacerbated his back and sciatic pain. I had thought of moving the couch myself during the day, while wearing the baby in a carrier, but my bum shoulders cried out in protest. We were falling apart. Once again, I realized this late-in-life parenting thing is no joke, and will probably require a whole lot of Advil and humility.

I decided to wait on the rug rotation. Instead we stood around talking about our ailments. I lent my brother my Tens machine, just like the ones used in physical therapy. And if letting your brother stick your personal sensor pads on his bare 50 year old ass isn't love, I don't know what is. His 5 year old step daughter kept trying to turn up the shock level. Too funny!

The rest of the week was much happier for Andrew, and Tim and I took care of the rug last night.

The to-do list is still long, but just look at this face:

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Playing Catch-up

I've been waiting to write until I had something deep to share. Call it sleep deprivation or cuteness overload, but I'm operating solely in the here and now these days-- diapers, feedings, and baby wearing-- and can barely string two thoughts together, let alone hope for depth and meaning. Some days feel like weeks.

So how about a baby update instead?

Andrew is changing everyday! He has folds and folds of adorable baby-pudge that cry out for kisses and raspberries. He coos and has started to laugh, but you really have to earn a giggle. We do a lot of reading and singing, and his open-mouthed smile is precious. He sleeps right next to our bed in a Rock and Play, which is basically a motorized hammock of love. We quake at the thought of trying to transition him into his own room and a crib. Somehow I don't think he'll be thrilled at the proposition. 

Andrew still doesn't like to nap during the day at all (much like Margaret and Jack) so I wear him around in a baby carrier as he sleeps. Putting him in it is like a sleeping pill. My old knee is starting to protest, because he likes me to stay on the move while he's sleeping, but a rested baby and a sore knee seem preferable to a cranky baby and a cranky mom. You might say we are wrapped around his tiny little finger. Car travel and stroller rides are still not his cup of tea, so we drove through the night both to and from Connecticut last week so that he would sleep. That worked like a charm.

Picture Time: I realize that those of you who don't follow along on Facebook or Instagram might need some new baby pictures, so I aim to take care of that today! Please note: Margaret is thrilled with her baby brother, and is in lots of photos with him, but she is also a teenager who values her privacy, so that is why I don't post many of her.

More photos to come soon, as he hits the 4 MONTH MARK this week!

I also want to share the exciting news that an article I wrote, called Loss. Trust. Love. is featured in the Summer 2016 issue of Ladies Home Journal!

This is a dream come true for me. The issue is full of amazing articles, and I'm so proud to be part of it. Thank you to Dorie Howell Photography for photographing Andrew and me for the article.

Pick a copy up if you have the chance! I found mine at Food Lion, but friends have purchased them at Barnes and Noble, Costco, Wegmans, and other retailers.

As we slip into August (Jack always called it "The Sunday of Summer") I am contemplating my next steps career-wise and am finally ready to look for a speaker's agent to help me manage speaking engagements. If that's an area in which you have expertise, I would very much appreciate your advice.

That's all for now!  I hope whether you want your days to go slowly or to speed the heck up, you are doing well, Friend.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Express Yourself

I couldn't decide whether to go on our family's annual camping trip this year. The thought of tent camping with a three month old baby seemed overwhelming, sticky, and scary. I mean, this is NOT glamping. We have no running water and our bathrooms are latrines. If Andrew became uncomfortable and inconsolable, I wasn't sure what I'd do.

Up until 3 days before, I planned to have Tim and Margaret go while Andrew and I stayed home. But, as I may have told you, Andrew can be a real fuss-pot, so I started weighing whether I wanted to be alone 24/7 with a fuss-pot, or roughing it with that fuss-pot where I'd have family support.

I made reservations at the closest motel to the campground so Andrew and I could stay there at night. If you've ever slept in a hot tent, you know it's sauna-like, but in a bad way. When I found out the weekend was supposed to be VERY HOT, the idea of a cool room was the only option, I figured.

So off we went on Friday, heading 3 hours away into the mountains, at which point I picked up my motel key. The additional 50 minutes on the world's windiest road to the campsite made me reconsider the feasibility of going back and forth to the motel. Andrew does not like the car, and I didn't want to put him through that.

Here's a towel from the motel gift shop:

I hoped the trip would be good enough for a few stories, but not EPIC enough to make it to dish towel status.

For reasons that are too boring to discuss, I should let you know that I've been pumping milk for Andrew since he was 4 weeks old, instead of nursing him. He showed a strong early preference for the bottle, so I just rolled with it. Or, as I like to say, twice the work for none of the fun. I was overwhelmed thinking of pumping and storing breast milk at a rustic camp site, but I was determined to make it work. We had bottles, coolers, and ice packs. But as I was pumping milk in the car, on the world's windiest road, we started to smell something burning. The portable pump, plugged into the car charger, shorted out.


Thankfully, I brought formula as a back-up, so I knew the baby would be fine, but I was now in an isolated spot with quickly filling boobs and a broken breast pump.

We set up camp and I tried to interest Andrew in nursing. He acted as if I were trying to feed him a Twinkie covered with dog poo. Uh-oh!

The hours passed, and my window of opportunity to drive back to the motel closed as darkness set in. Tim borrowed an air mattress for us, we unzipped his sleeping bag to make a blanket, and I wadded up a t-shirt to use as a pillow. I hadn't packed those things for me as I thought I'd be sleeping in a motel. Soon we settled Andrew into his Rock and Play.

My big fear was that he would cry all night, keeping everyone else awake. I dreaded not being able to console him if the new surroundings threw him off. Instead, he had the audacity to sleep through the night.

While this might seem like a good thing, to someone who pumps 4-5 times every day, it was troubling. I tried to sleep, but it was like having throbbing balloons full of hot rocks attached to me. By two in the morning, I was desperate. No pump. A sleeping baby who would not wake up to nurse. A husband snoring blissfully next to me. I had no choice but to start expressing milk by hand. For the next hour or so, I milked myself like a cow, soaking an entire beach towel. Good times.

The next two days, Andrew was more receptive to the boob, and he proceeded to help his mom out by nursing a bit to take the edge off.

Being outdoors all day kept him relatively fuss-free. Yes, it was hot, but we stayed in the shade and appreciated the strong breeze. The best part was having plenty of  people to entertain him. The last day was actually cool enough for long sleeves!

Hi! I'm Andrew, and I slept all night in this tent!
 Even jumping in the air can't make Tim and Margaret as tall as our nephew, Jack's BFF!
 Black clothes don't show wet stains. Yay!
 Camping isn't complete without camp dogs.

We ate copious amounts of deep fried food, from chimichangas to funnel cake and fried oreos, told stories around the campfire, and watched some awesome wiffle ball. We even made Andrew his own little bathtub/swimming pool to keep him cool.

As Jack's BFF cousin and his girlfriend were packing up to leave, a huge bird swooped low over the campsite and kept making higher and higher circles until their car pulled out of sight. Hard times, good times, holy times.

I  still can't believe we took a baby camping. I mean, I haven't even been brave enough to take him to Target yet!

Next year should be even more interesting as he'll be toddling around.

Hold me.

Thursday, July 7, 2016


Last fall I spoke at a college campus about writing memoir and about what the verse, "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted," means to me. Recently, a student who bought Rare Bird during that visit reached out to me. He had started reading the book over summer vacation. As he sat on a beautiful perch above the Hudson River, he read the part about how blue jays have been a sign to my family that we are not alone in our brokenness, and that there is more to life than what we experience here on earth. Blue Jays, our son's interest in birds, and the assurance that our "rare bird" is more than okay in heaven, led to the title of my book. The young man shared that at the moment he read that part, a blue jay swooped down in front of him, reminding him that he is not alone in his struggles either. Had he not just read that passage, he may not have paid much attention to the bird at all. Part of my story became his story.

I know my story of child loss isn't pretty-- one takes a chance by stepping into it, as that young man did. As you, my dear friends, do when you visit me here.

It is scary and ugly, but I'm glad to share it as a way to link me to you, human to human. And in this case, it somehow gave encouragement to someone I've never met.

Sharing stories can inspire, encourage, elicit understanding, incite action, or even make us feel ill.

We can shut down and say we don't want to hear about the hard stuff any more-- the ugly stuff in our neighborhoods, our country, and our world. We can cover our ears and think, "Nope. Only that which applies to MY FAMILY and MY STORY is important." We can be in denial and refuse to acknowledge pain, racism, and  injustice if it doesn't touch us personally.

It's a luxury to be able to live that way, complacently putting our trust in the walls that separate our experience from others, but I don't think that's how we are supposed to exist. Your pain should be my pain, your story, my story.

One aspect of the verse, "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit" is that sometimes WE are the way that closeness and help comes, from being called to seek justice and mercy and step into each other's lives, in letting God use us in love. We do the absolute opposite when we choose to ignore, refuse to acknowledge reality, and run away from each other's stories. We can be lulled into thinking we aren't part of the problem, even as our silence makes us complicit.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Beautiful Jewelry Giveaway!

A special piece of jewelry is one way to celebrate a loved one's memory or commemorate an important milestone. For instance, I wear a necklace almost every day that has Jack's favorite Bible verse on it.

Recently I came across the lovely Christine of No Way Out Jewelry, and she generously offered to have a giveaway here at An Inch of Gray.

Here are a few of my favorite pieces:

 I would love to have this necklace made with Jack's signature on it and a cross.

Isn't it neat how this necklace has a private message of hope tucked inside?

Aren't these bracelets great? Love.

Christine also has family tree items, baby items that feature the actual footprint of your baby, and more.

If you are looking for a special piece of jewelry for yourself or to give to a friend, No Way Out Jewelry has over 200 options!

In order to enter the giveaway, please visit Christine's etsy shop and see what she has to offer. Then, leave a comment here on this post letting me know what you would choose if you won! Also, please visit Christine's No Way Out Facebook Page. A "like" is not required, but is GREATLY appreciated.

(Contest starts at 12:01 am, June 29)

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