Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Rare Bird: A Memoir of Loss and Love – A Review


When I met Anna, her blog was new to me.  I hadn’t heard about her or her experience.  I quickly learned that her life contained a tragedy, the most tragic thing that every parent dreads: she lost her son.

Three years ago, twelve-year-old Jack died in a flash flood that carried him away from this world and the embrace of his family.  I can’t imagine living life after that.  I considered that Anna was a member of that upper level of humans, with those who possess a genius IQ and supreme talent.  She was chosen to live this life for her strength and the ability to shine through the darkest of life’s challenges, to show average humans what it really means to endure.

She’s out of my league.  I can’t even bear to think of losing my children, yet here she is: doing great things through her life and work, and successfully surviving – no, accomplishing, thriving – after such a loss. 

I’ve never been good at sharing grief; when confronted with another person’s loss, my instinct is to stay away, offer sympathy from afar, allow privacy.  My own awkwardness and unease overshadowed many past attempts to comfort others in their loss.  Sitting with someone while they mourned – I told myself that this was not my place, my role.  Surely there is another more qualified.  I’m just in the way.

It took me a while to read Rare Bird.  I had volunteered to read it and provide support to Anna and write a review to give her book word of mouth before its release.  When it came, I hesitated.  I read the front and back covers, allowing myself only a few pages in on each end.   I read the foreword and the acknowledgments, but then I saw the picture of Jack, his big brown eyes smiling at me, and I closed the book and placed it on my nightstand.

I wasn’t ready for this.  By then I knew the story, had known Anna long enough, and read enough of her blog to know the details of Jack’s death.  I couldn’t bring myself to relive it with her, those early days of shock and grief.  I was comfortable keeping Anna’s story just out of my reach.  I wasn’t ready to know the reality of what happens to a person when their child dies.    



But one day I picked up the book, and read.

And I was changed.

This is not a superhero who wrote this book, who had this experience.  This is a mom, a wife, a daughter, sister, and friend, a fellow homeroom parent, the woman behind you in the grocery line hoping to get home before her kids get off the bus.  Anna is you and me.  And she has so much to offer with her story.

Namely, hope.  Hope that continues on long after the shock of tragedy softens into mourning and memory, and spiritual battles have been waged and won for now.  Hope in the knowledge that we are closer to our lost loved ones than we think.  Hope that our love comes back to us in signs and words and sounds and knowing that life moves forward with new and wonderful experiences.

Rare Bird also offers love.  And laughter.  And the meaning of family, and friendships, and being a good neighbor, friend, wife and parent.  But it also offers the opposite: tears, broken relationships, tested bonds, struggles with spiritual truths and anger, a loss that leaves a hole that cannot be filled.

Anna offers the whole of human experience in the pages of Rare Bird.  She scoots in close and shares her testimony, her confessions, her doubts, and her own failings and guilt.  She trusts us with the precious memories of her son and her family and all that she learned and continues to learn and you can’t help but take it all in. 

The lessons Anna writes are not only for those who have experienced a loss.  They are universal: how to show grace to your spouse.  How to forgive yourself.  How to open our hearts to people in our past.  How to talk openly with others.  How to love despite pain.


Anna expresses wonder over what happens when we share grief:  
“Friends who grieve with us have to face their own version of leaning into or dealing with the grief.  They run the risk of being overwhelmed by it, pulled into their own form of depression, fear, and bitterness.  They risk not being there for their own families as they show up for ours.  I wonder if those who have alongside us feel a burden for us, as if they simply don’t have a choice to ignore it or will it away.”



Anna admits that she is not an expert on grieving and loss.  She would say that she is not superhuman, that on some days she is not doing the best she can, and that she cannot understand why this happened to her son.  She is a woman of faith, and questions God and his ways while clinging tightly to his promises and the scriptures that Jack held dear.  She takes us through the details of those grim days immediately following Jack’s accident, and painfully  recalls her confusion and despair over how he was gone, yet she was still able to stand at his funeral and speak of him clearly, strengthened by the Holy Spirit and not wanting to leave until every single person in the church was changed.

Rare Bird taught me that heaven is closer than we think, that the reality of life is death, and that we owe it to ourselves and others to reach out and share ourselves as much as we can.   We are to love with abandon, and admit when we are fragile and scared, and give ourselves and others space to move and to grow.

I am still in awe of Anna and what she has lived through and what she continues to live through every day.  But she is not out of my league.  She is firmly within it, receiving the love and light that this life has to offer each of us, even through the darkness.

*******

Rare Bird: A Memoir of Loss and Love is available on Amazon.


Monday, September 15, 2014

Keep Track Of Your Stuff


**Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post for Kidecals.  I was compensated for this post with a set of custom labels.  All opinions are my own.**

So.  The people in my family, particularly the kids - they lose stuff.

And I mean they lose stuff as in “MOM WHERE DID YOU PUT MY WATER BOTTLE/ PHONE/HEADPHONES/RETAINER/IMPORTANT SCHOOL PAPER/WALLET/KEYS?

Okay.  Those last two items are things my husband loses, and he doesn’t call me Mom.  That would be weird, and is strictly forbidden.

The worst part of them losing stuff is that they blame me.  I don’t put those things anywhere.

My kids misplace so much stuff all over their world.  I really appreciate that each spring before school ends, hallway-length tables are set up at the schools with all the items that children leave there, allowing families to sift through and claim their belongings.

Problem is, I often don’t even know that my kids have lost anything in the first place.  They don't tell me, because they know I’d yell at them if I knew.

Well, maybe not yell, but you know what I mean.  Yeah – I mean yell. 

So I don’t even know what I’m looking for.  Let’s not talk about the fact that they have so much stuff that they can afford to leave it behind and we don’t miss it.  That’s another, more serious issue.  But each year I sift through the stuff and can’t recall if my kid had a shirt like that at the beginning of the year or not. Maybe he did.  But then again – let’s just leave it on the table.  It’s probably not ours.

The point is, their lost stuff would be easier to claim if it just had their names on it.  Which as their mother I guess it is my responsibility, but scrawling your name on your backpack with a Sharpie really isn’t that difficult now, is it?

No, it isn’t.

However, Sharpie wears off, despite its claim of permanence, and it’s hard to keep it looking nice and crisp and new and – most importantly – legible.

So, you know, if your son or daughter repeatedly leaves their lunchbag on the bus, and he or she has written his or her name in Sharpie and now it looks like a whiskey-fueled home tattoo, into the school hallway pile it goes, gone until next May.

And you’re yelling again.

So I was excited to try out Kidecals, which offers fully customizable, highly durable, and waterproof labels for your belongings that you can stick on your stuff to show the world that you mean business about wanting it back when you carelessly leave it somewhere.

Because that hoodie isn’t going to drive itself home when it’s been abandoned in the cafeteria.

The kids and I sat down one afternoon and scrolled through the hundreds of designs that Kidecals offers, and picked one that we would all be pumped to stick on our stuff, placed our order, and waited for them to arrive.





And when they did, we had a blast sticking those suckers on everything that might be left behind.

Like their backpacks.



And hoodies.




And water bottles.




And pencil pouches and binders.



And gym bags.




I even stuck one on my son’s golf bag, our travel mugs, and even one of our bookshelves at home, just because.

I may have gotten carried away with the labels.

Some of the labels have seen the inside of our washer and dryer and the dishwasher several times already, and all are as intact as the day they were stuck. 

This stuff ain’t never getting lost, people.

I decided against including a phone number or any other identifying information on our labels, because let’s face it, I don’t panic if we lose a water bottle or two.  But if one of my kids leaves something at school or on the bus, any one of their classmates could easily see whose it is and return it when they see my kid next. 

If I could get them to keep track of their stuff, it would be a good day.  Until then, I'm glad I have the Kidecals.

*******

Kidecals doesn’t just make labels for identifying purposes.  They also have food allergy alert labels, labels to dress up your computer keyboard, address labels, labels for teachers, for organization, for gifts, and just plain old cute stickers to stick up any old place.  They even make custom, personalized decals, if that’s your thing.  If you have a need, Kidecals has a label for it.  


Best part: Shipping is FREE on all orders.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Remembering



This day sneaks up on me every year.  Yesterday I sat in my office updating my calendar and there it was.

9/11.

It's no holiday.  There's nothing to prepare for, nothing special to do except remember the events of that day.  I try not to dwell on it, and my thoughts drift to the people I know whose birthdays are today.

But I still can't bring myself to write about any other topic here than the one that is on my mind and on the mind of millions of others.

So for today I will remember, like I have every year for the past thirteen.

*******

Last year I wrote about what I was doing on September 11, 2001.  
Join me in remembering.



Monday, September 8, 2014

When All Else Fails, Apply Lipstick

The other day, right before my children came home from school, I caught my reflection in the mirror. 

Crow’s feet.  Laugh lines.  A hint of jowls.  Wispy hairline.  Downturned mouth.  Divots between the eyebrows.  When did my arms get so… paunchy?

I studied myself for a few moments and looked away, despairing, disappointed.  My kids are too young to have a mother who looks like this.  I have only myself to blame; I don’t take care of myself as well as I could, opting for the couch more often than moving around.  I started sitting more just when it was starting to get harder to stand up.

In addition, I’ve become more lenient with my eating and drinking habits.  Second glass of wine?  Don’t mind if I do every night.  Do we have ice cream?

When did my reflection become difficult to bear?  In my younger years, hours were spent holding my own gaze in the mirror.  Expressions: I had a thousand, and I practiced them all on myself, tearing myself away only when I was satisfied at the resulting effect of a slight eyebrow arch, a wry half-smile.

Now I only gaze into the mirror to investigate stray eyebrows, examine rogue pimples and oh look, another gray hair.  The selfie – what a joke.  It’s unforgiving, unwanted, unnecessary.




Worse: I struggle to keep my weight from fluctuating.  Merely glancing at cookies seems to cause my waist to expand.   I need a full-throttle fitness regimen to keep me in my jeans, two-and-a-half hours a day at the gym.  The just wait until you’re older comments that well-meaning relatives threw my way when I was a kid as I’d inhale a quarter of the Thanksgiving gravy ring in my ear. 

My metabolism didn’t even say goodbye.

I feel old.  

It wasn’t that long ago that a friend and I were chatting about how annoying it is when people age and they announce how too old they are for the activities of life anymore, as if age naturally precedes intolerance for all things previously enjoyed.  I’m too old for roller coasters.  I’m too old for screaming babies.  I’m too old for loud concerts, crowds at the mall, staying up too late, eating nachos at midnight, watching cartoons and wearing short shorts.

That was over five years ago.

I was still in my thirties then.  Mid-thirties.

I can still rock out at a concert, stay up late, listen to screaming babies, ride roller coasters, brave the mall crowds, wear short shorts, and the other day my husband changed the channel because he thought I wasn’t watching Steven Universe.  That show is so weird.

I will not eat nachos at night, nor do I particularly want to.  Roller coasters are fun, though they give me a headache.  I’m only half old.

But the reflection doesn’t lie.  And there’s nothing to do about it.  Two-and-a-half daily hours at the gym might help my metabolism, but it can’t keep jowls from forming.

I want to look younger and feel better, to hold my gaze just a little longer.  Don't we all?  But time doesn’t travel backwards, and I don’t have a lot of money, so my options are limited.

I ran to my purse, grabbed my makeup bag, and put on some lipstick.  Instantly I felt better.  Turns out all I needed was a little color.

What has my life come to, that I apply lipstick in the middle of the day, right before my middle schoolers come home, to make myself feel better?  Likely they wouldn’t notice if I had teeth on my chin or ears for eyes. 

Which, in a few years, might be an improvement.


*******

Thursday, September 4, 2014

You Can Tell By My Necklace

This is a review for UncommonGoods.com.  I was offered compensation in the form of an item from their website in exchange for this post.  All opinions are my own.

***

Just when things are comfortable, the world tips over and a new perspective floats to the top, something new to get used to.

A few years ago I decided to explore this truth.  My job had been over for years, I was at home, the kids were in school, and I needed an outlet.  So I started a blog.  

I blogged to practice expressing myself, to tell stories, to crack myself up.  I quickly found that websites offered publication, so I submitted a post.  It got picked up.  And then, another.

It was then I realized how low expectations can be for internet content.

Nevertheless, I was hooked.  Along the way, while pondering exactly why I wasn’t rich and famous yet, I discovered other blogs.  And bloggers.  Just like me.

Millions of them.  I scrolled through countless blogs, inhaling ones about traveling, design, and household tips.  I scanned blogs written in different languages.  I read blogs that reviewed products.  I lingered on family and parenting blogs.  I marveled that people published pictures of their children on the internet.

I found that bloggers not only blog, but they also read and comment and spread general cheer around their corner of weburbia.  I claimed my spot and it continues to change and grow and offer up new perspectives.   

Over the last four years, while reading and commenting and cheer-spreading through my blog, I’ve come to know one thing:  not all writers are bloggers, but all bloggers are writers.

At least the ones I read are.

And so am I.

***

When UncommonGoods contacted me to review one of their products on my blog, I said yes yes YES!  I’ve shopped their site in the past, and quietly coveted several of their products, especially those from their personalized art and jewelry collections.  I jumped at the chance to get my hands on something. 

UncommonGoods is a cool company.  Based in Brooklyn, New York, their mission is to support artists and designers; further, their unique gifts are “created in harmony with the environment and without harm to animals or people.”  If you’re looking for something that is thoughtfully and meaningfully made, this is your source.

If you love personalized gifts like I do, visit this page to see what they offer.  And I swooned when I saw some of the items for kids and babies, like fortune cookie booties.  Fortune cookie booties!  I'm in love. Click here here to check them out.  I'll wait.

Half of what UncommonGoods sells is made by hand, and one-third of their entire collection incorporates recycled and/or upcycled materials.  Most items are made in the USA.

They’re do-gooders in other ways, too.  With every purchase you make, they donate $1 to the non-profit organization of your choice.  They also support several non-profits including RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization, and Reach Out And Read, where doctors and nurses promote early literacy, language skills, and school readiness to young children and their families in our country.  

It took me forever to decide what to try, but I finally decided on an item from their personalized jewelry collection: the typewriter key necklace.  You can find it here, along with other items in this collection.

Typewriter Key necklace from UncommonGoods.com

Made from a vintage typewriter key, the charm is encased in sterling silver and hangs from a sterling silver chain.  It’s casual enough to wear every day, but provides just the right amount of sparkle when you want to look fancy.  Best of all, it’s solid and well-made.

The necklace came in such great packaging.  Like a present within a present within a present. 
Within a present.

And it’s a great conversation starter with just about anyone – the older crowd will appreciate the opportunity to reminisce about their dad’s old typewriter, and the younger crowd will get a lesson in ancient technology.  I just love it and will likely wear it every day, because it’s pretty, and because it reminds me of my current perspective - as not only a blogger, but a writer, too.


I'm a writer, people.
*******

Monday, September 1, 2014

So I’m An Idiot

OMG you guys, the worst thing happened on my blog the other day.



I posted a blog post (one in three weeks, I win at life, did you read it?), and while I was there I realized that many of the pictures on my blog were missing.

So I panicked.  Just a little.  The pics were gone from the blog for sure, but I have them on my computer, and they are able to be restored one at a time, wow what a pain, but still – they’re not gone forever. 

But where did they go?

Instantly my mind went one place: hackers.  Invisible sinister agents of the internet, responsible for sanity-destroying internet shutdowns, stolen identities, lost data, and any manner of cloud-specific warfare, like stealing my photos right from under my fingertips.

Email!  Twitter!  Facebook!   Heaven help me, my accounts are out there unprotected!

I was a victim, y’all.  So instantly I began the required procedure of steps that all victims of web-related crimes are advised to do.

I posted a question to the Google gods in the labyrinthine help forums, deleted my browser history, changed my passwords, closed the browser, counted to thirty, opened it up again, and crossed my fingers that all would be right in the world.  Those are the steps.

It did not work.  My pictures were still gone.

I posed the question to a group of bloggers, and my Superfriend Laura of Mommy Miracles responded right away.  She is a cyber hero, able to pinpoint solutions to web crises in an instant.  After she posed a few queries about my blog, which I had to decipher were really in English, she finally asked, “Would you have deleted your photos from Google?”

I did no such thing, my proud mind retorted.  Who would be so stupid?  I AM A VICTIM OF INTERNET CRIME AND I NEED A LAWYER.  Preferably one who looks like Harvey from Suits.  Meow.


***

But wait.  I remembered spending several hours the week before making room on my phone, deleting all but the most flattering pictures of my loved ones, especially me.  WHY ARE THEY ON HERE TWICE?  I raged.  Delete here too, under this rainbow icon thingy.

“I think I did,” I tapped meekly in response to her question.

A response back from the Google help dungeons confirmed Wizard Laura’s analysis, that I had deleted my own photos from the blog through a back door that I didn’t even know existed.

Ahem.  I took my photos back from the host who graciously manages my blog, and trashed them.  It was as if I made some cookies, brought half to a party, allowed everyone to look at them, threw them away at the party, and then went home and ate the other half myself.  

Yeah.  Just like that.

What a knucklehead.  In my own defense, I’m no tech whiz.  Nor should I allowed to touch anything electronic, really.  Really, I should do blog posts via dictation.  Would anyone like that job?  I can’t pay you, but I can be fun to be around.  When I’m not being cranky about being around people, that is.

In the near future, you can find me spending my free time praising Laura’s genius, taking my position in the lower ranks of internet-savvy citizens, and reposting all those missing photos to old blog posts, simultaneously cursing my internet ineptitude and laughing at my prior attempts at wit and whimsy.  Old blog posts are hilarious.

Silver linings, people.



*******

*Update: Twenty-four hours after writing this post I discovered that my photos were languishing in Trash, and with the help of my dear husband ("Just click 'restore,' dummy") I was able to get 'em back on here.  But oh, so many duplicates.  So. Many. Someone help me to find order to this chaos.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Before and After: Gun Show Edition

Do you remember when I quit the gym in March?

I can’t believe you don’t remember.  It was a pretty big day here.

Anyway.

I quit the gym for one very good reason: I wasn’t going to the gym anymore.  After four years of regular yoga and weightlifting classes three times a week, I sort of just stopped going.  I blamed the brutally cold temperatures of winter, the many snow-covered days that kept me inside, even my own busyness.

It was a sham.  I just got bored and lazy.

So I quit.

Do you know happens when a person quits the gym and does not much other exercise?  I mean, I do exercise.  I walk every day.  But still.  DO YOU KNOW WHAT HAPPENS?

You know what happens.  Flab and Sag come to visit indefinitely.  They are not good houseguests.

So when I read on the internet* (yay, internet!) about little things you could do each day to keep in shape, like do push-ups every day for 100 days, I thought, now, I can do THAT.

So I did.

I did push-ups every day.  I started doing them on my knees like I was taught in gym class (Why are girls taught this?  WHY?), and then when I felt like I could spend a good portion of the day doing knee push-ups, I graduated to doing push-ups on my toes.  It felt really good, even though I could only do a few half push-ups that way.

But I kept it up.

For like three weeks.

Then I got bored and lazy, so I quit.

Well, I didn’t really quit.  But I definitely didn’t do it every day.  A hundred days, people.  It’s a lot of days in a row, and I was just getting started.  I did push-ups every other day, then twice a week, then, well, when I think about it I’ll drop and give you twenty er… ten or so.  I did push-ups a few times this week.  It takes like less than thirty seconds.  I question the usefulness of this type of exercise.

But at least I remembered to take a picture of my arms the first day I started this nonsense, so I could see the difference a hundred days makes, even if my hundred days turned out to be 20 days and the odd day here and there.  So I took a picture today, to compare:


Not bad.  Not bad at all.  Not great, but not bad.  Maybe I'll keep it up.  Or not.

*Thanks to Alexandra from Good Day, Regular People, who inspired me to try this 100 days of push-ups challenge.  Even though I'm a total quitter.  Evidently this 100 days thing is a total thing.  Here's the video that got me going.  Try it!

*******

This post inspired by:

Mama’s Losin’ It

Prompt #3: Show us a before and after.