If there is one sentence I can say to sum up how I truly feel about Anna Whiston-Donaldson’s Rare Bird: A Memoir of Loss and Love, it would be this:
This book is a gift.
And I will always feel like I cannot do this book justice in a review.
Just over three years ago, Anna was an ordinary mom with two children. Then one day, just over three years ago, Anna’s life was turned upside down when she lost her 12-year-old son, Jack, in a freak flash flood.
That summed up all I knew about Anna’s story before I read her book.
What I didn’t realize was how much I would be changed by reading Anna’s story, how much her journey through grief and pain and faith would comfort me. How it would make me a bigger believer in forces at work that are larger than all of us.
Rare Bird is not meant to be a sad book. There are moments that made me tear up, moments that made me sob, and moments that left me heartbroken as Anna and her family grapple with the fact that life must indeed go on after losing her son. But as one makes their way through the book, Anna’s journey is peppered with surprises, signs, and incredible wisdom. I came away in awe of the unshakable faith in God that Anna describes Jack having. I came away comforted by the closeness that Anna felt with God as she grieved.
“It’s about anger and profound sadness, but also about a flicker of hope that comes from the realization that in times of heartbreak, God is closer than our own skin. It’s about His being real and showing up in the pain.” — Anna Whiston-Donaldson, Rare Bird
Whether you’ve suffered a tragic loss or not, Anna’s words are relatable and her voice real. Because Rare Bird is not a story of a little boy dying. It is the journey of a family who endures one of the most difficult things imaginable and how they come together, fall apart, and live through this terrible time. Throughout the book, Anna is incredibly honest and transparent about her fears, her doubts, and even her faith, and how each of these plays a part in her tumultuous trek through grief.
But best of all, Rare Bird leaves the reader filled with hope in the knowledge that our loved ones are still with us long after they’ve gone.
Rare Bird is a gift.
You can find Rare Bird at the following retailers:
You can find Anna at her blog, An Inch of Gray.
I received an advanced reader copy of Rare Bird for review. All opinions are my own.
This project would work so many ways, I hate to call it something so terribly exciting and narrow as “diy bird plaque.” But, well, it’s a bird on a wooden plaque, so here we are.
I’ve been putting together a gallery wall for my dining room for ages. Only it’s been all in my head, so the majority of the pieces have been leaning against the intended wall. The kids kept tripping on them, one of them broke, and I kept having to vacuum around them.
Actually my husband had to vacuum around them because he does 96% of the vacuuming around here.
My goal was to start it with several pieces, mixing sizes and styles, and expand the gallery wall as I collected more. Basically, I wast willing to wait until I had a whole wall’s worth of pieces. But I hadn’t hung anything yet because I felt like I needed a few more things to make it doable. I finally bit the bullet one weekend and decided that I needed to get it started. That tends to happen when you have a news crew coming to your house and you realize that the gigantic red wall you’ve been staring at for 8 years looks kinda stark. (More on news crew later. It’s ridiculous in the most fun way what happens when people find your blog sometimes.)
ANYWAY. Along with the framed items, I wanted to mix in other types of hangings. I discovered a package of bird prints that I had gotten from IKEA a while back (um, last year) tucked away in my craft shelves in the garage. None of the frames I had on hand were a fit for either the prints OR the gallery wall, since I was dangerously close to having too many plain, black frames of similar sizes. But I did have some wooden plaques sitting around from another project that never really saw its way to fruition.
See, it kinda pays to hang onto stuff like a semi-hoarder, right?
I am going through a bird phase, and I love fun little bird prints. And then I just had the perfect idea for how to marry the prints and the plaques.
First step, I used some slightly old white craft paint to paint the plaque. Like, if paint came with an expiration date, this one would be well past its sell-by date. That’s the price I pay for being spontaneous. (Fun fact: I’m never spontaneous. Just woefully unprepared.)
Since I wanted the bird to blend into the plaque as much as possible, I needed the crispest white there was. It took a few coats, and because I’m lazy, I just let it glue itself to that paper I was using as a table cover. When it was dry I just tore the paper off. A wiser person might use an X-Acto knife.
Next I cut out the bird, getting as close to the edges of the illustration as I was comfortable. Because the fun lines of the outer edges of the bird needed to stay intact, I didn’t cut right along the lines.
I played with composition a bit with the bird to find exactly the right spot. The most pleasing compositions are slightly off-center, but depending on the image, sometimes smack dab in the center works too. I really wanted my bird friend to look like he was about to hop right off the plaque. Not to high, not too low, not too centered. I’m happy with where he landed.
I used Mod Podge to adhere the image to the plaque. After a few minutes (because I am impatient), I then covered the entire plaque with a layer of Mod Podge. It dries completely clear. Since the only brush I could find that was large enough to give me god coverage was an old oil painting brush of mine (coarse bristles) there are a few brushstrokes showing in my piece. A softer brush or even a foam brush will give a smoother finish. But like I said – impatient.
After the Mod Podge dried, I had to attach a doohickey on the back for hanging, like so.
I adhered it with Liquid Nails because I don’t mess around.
And here it is, in its home on the not-quite-completed-but-at-least-I-got-started gallery wall.
You like the ring of beads hanging from my chandelier and that white spot that indicates a missing chunk of red wall? Me too.
I love the various sizes and styles of the pieces. Some of them are thrifted, and some came from other places in my home. The center piece is a Banksy print that my husband gave me for my birthday last year, and I love it to pieces. I am NOT in love with the Caffe Latte piece. I actually bought that with the intention of painting over the caffe latte. But that’s another spontaneous project for another spontaneous day.
Another view of the wall behind our dining room table. What’s funny is that I finally arranged a desk in my bedroom that gives me CLEAR WORKING SPACE PARAMETERS. I guess I missed sitting on this crappy bench in the middle of the chaotic house. But seeing as Zoe was next to me making snowflakes, I think the company was worth it.
What projects are you working on?
First grade started off kind of lacking in some fanfare. Rachel and Claire pretty much knew the drill, so there were no indignant cries of “We have to go back TOMORROW???” or crying each night because the day was too long.
We have, however, already started the ritualistic Refusing to Get Out of Bed. And a few Battles of the Breakfast.
I try to get as much information out of them as I can, but it’s tough. Instead of “How was your day,” I ask specific questions about P.E. or art class or recess. Who did you sit next to at lunch? What did you do in music class? Why in heaven’s name do you never eat your grapes?
The problem is, they kind of like to make stuff up.
In Rachel’s class last week, they played Marco Polo, which also happens to be one of her favorite games. And Claire (who’s class is across the hall) was there. And another girl from Claire’s class. And Claire’s best friend (who is in an entirely different class). All convening in Rachel’s classroom to play Marco Polo. A standard part of the first grade curriculum, I’m sure. I chalked it up to excitement about the day and let it slide.
On the walk home one day, Claire described in great detail how she went on a field trip that morning. Just her and her teacher. To a farm. I asked her if she was thinking about how she went to the pumpkin patch the year before, but no, she assured me, she and her teacher rode a bus to a farm. Just the two of them.
“So…just you and Mrs. C?”
“Yeah. Oh, and Serenity.”
On this delusional field trip, they held baby chicks and even got to bring one back, and they named her Coconut, and now I’m kind of suspecting that this story MIGHT contain a few embellishments. Like all of the embellishments. I’m also kinda jealous that I didn’t get to go to the farm.
So I said, “Coconut’s a really great name, but are you sure you really went to a farm today?”
I love that my girls have imaginations. Some might even use the term “overactive.” But all good things must come to an end, and since flat out calling your 6-year-old a liar is frowned upon, I decided it was time to bring her back to reality by asking her if this really happened, or if she was making it up. Basically, I threatened that if I asked her teacher, would their stories gel?
And she was all, “Oh, you’re right Mama. I was just kidding.”
Earlier in the week I had asked Rachel if she remembered the names of the kids she sat next to, visualizing her desk near the backpacks, where it was on the first day of school.
“No. I don’t sit there anymore,” she told me.
“Yeah. I – I moved.” She stutters and looks all shifty-eyed, and I’m not sure if I believe her.
“Oh, why? Where to?”
“I sit over by Isabella [her bestie] now. Mrs. H moved me. Because she wanted me and Isabella to be together.”
“Uh huhhhhh……” I’m starting to lose confidence in her story. Who else do you sit next to? What part of the classroom is it in? The Marco Polo and the farm have made me cynical and suspicious.
So the next morning I walked her to her class as usual, because you can’t make me drop them at front the door yet, teachers. Please, just give me this.
I peeked into her room, and sure enough, her desk was in a completely different spot, practically back to back with her best friend.
So the moral of the story is that I have absolutely zero ability to tell when my kids are telling the truth or not, so they had better take advantage of this before I figure things out. Kids, this is your chance to stay out past curfew and spend time at some less-than-first-grade-approved locations. Just tell Mom and Dad you’re at the bouncy house at the mall.
And yesterday when Rachel pulled one of those “crazy straws” out of her backpack and said that a monster named Bloober gave it to her? I was like, “Okay! Whatever.”
Every single summer I see people (via my Facebook feed) going outside and enjoying the sunshine. Cookouts, picnics, trips to the park…it’s all very idyllic and such.
Yeah, we don’t really do that here in Texas. Our summers are spent mostly indoors, unless there’s water involved. The kids haven’t wanted to go out and play on the trampoline (too hot), blow bubbles (too many mosquitoes), or go for a walk (“I’LL MELT, MOMMY.”) Part of me wants to tell them to buck up, because this is where we live, and unbearable heat from May – October is kind of a thing here. But the other part of me really likes air conditioning.
A few weeks ago I received a backpack filled with toys on behalf of imagine toys and KaBOOM!’s Go Out and Play Collection. What I loved about it was that the toys were totally old school – no newfangled contraptions or fancy versions of classic toys. With a frisbee, two jump ropes, and two packages of sidewalk chalk, these WERE the classic toys. And I was thrilled to see how the girls immediately took everything outside and started playing.
I love throwing things with Christian. Or at him. Take that how you will. As soon as we started reintroducing ourselves to the art of the frisbee, Zoe and Rachel were begging to play too. Have you ever taught a 4 or 6-year-old to throw a frisbee? No? You practically have to be an engineer, or an Eagle Scout or something. Or maybe just better at explaining things than I am. But Zoe picked it up immediately (girl’s got an ARM), and Rachel stuck with it until she got the hang of it, which made me super proud, because my big girls don’t exactly have the “determination” app installed.
Meanwhile, Claire took to the sidewalk chalk and some bubbles that we always keep handy outside and cheered us on while we tossed the frisbee around.
In the heat.
And the humidity.
With no chance of a breeze.
And it was awesome.
Since then, Zoe’s asked just about every day to go out and throw the frisbee. We’ve taken the sidewalk chalk to a whole new level on the trampoline. And we’ve attempted the jump ropes, but I think I’m going to have to hire that one out. Anyone willing to come teach my kids to swing and jump over a piece of rope?
It’ll cool off here in the coming weeks, and I’m really excited to get my girls back outside to play. Nothing makes me happier than seeing them spend hours in the backyard, losing themselves in their imaginations.
More about KaBOOM!: KaBOOM! is the national non-profit dedicated to giving kids the childhood they deserve by bringing play to those who need it most. They’ve partnered with imagine toys to bring you the Go Out and Play Collection, which aims to get families outside and give kids the balance of active play that they need to thrive. Since 1996, KaBOOM! has has mapped over 100,000 places to play, built more than 2,400 playgrounds, and successfully advocated for play policies in hundreds of cities across the country. A percentage of each purchase from the Go Out and Play Collection goes back to KaBOOM! For more information, visit KaBOOM.org.
I received a KaBOOM essentials kit for review. All opinions and complaints about the Texas heat are my own.
Obligatory first day of school photos in front of the door! First day of first grade.
Claire had her heart set on her long skirt and tank top. Rachel originally picked out a skirt, but chickened out and opted for shorts and her new Rainbow Dash tee. I wasn’t surprised.
Awkward smiles! Notice the Ninja Turtle tats that I was strictly forbidden from scrubbing off in the previous night’s bath.
Some pre-walk fussing of the drawstring shorts and “Look at mah roly poly!”
Oh me? In the picture? Well okay then. Sorry about my hair, everyone. IT’S EARLY.
SERIOUSLY. The cuteness. It burns.
Claire went right in and was all, “MY PURPLE SCISSORS!” Easy to please, this one.
Rachel was a little shy and shrunk away from her teacher, but couldn’t resist giving Zoe a huge goodbye choke-hug. Her bestie is in her class, so that helps.
Sad Zoe is sad that she can’t go to school yet. She demanded that we snuggle on the couch and watch Frozen at 8:30 am, and I was like “SOLD.”
Happy first week of school!
It’s the last day before school starts here in Austin. I’m feeling….sad. But excited. Anxious. But ready.
A few nights ago Claire plainly told me she was a little nervous about school.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because I’ll miss you,” she answered. She still complains that school is too long of a day. I could do without the 7:45 start time myself.
I’ll miss them too. We’ve done our best to make the most of the last week of summer. I vowed to do something fun every day, but I can’t keep up that charade. So we did plenty of fun, at the park and the pool (which had already instituted shortened hours thanks to a football practice induced lifeguard shortage). We went spent an entire day at SeaWorld Aquatica, because someone (not me) thought it closed at 8, but it really closed at 6, so then we rushed over to see the penguins before the park closed. We made banana muffins. We played outside. We snuggled.
When I was at physical therapy last week, my therapist asked if I was excited about school starting.
“Eh. Kinda. Not really.”
“I think you’re the only person who’s answered that way,” he said.
I can’t explain it. I surprise myself even with my hesitance. I mean, I’m ready. Ready for some alone time. Ready to grocery shop during the weekday daylight hours again. Ready to not hear a snack request every 10 minutes Ready to be able to clean my house without someone right behind me, undoing all of my work. But I’ll miss them terribly.
My friend Brandie* emailed me the other day about some photos. Not just any photos. Photos I had her take of my preshus family like back in November…2012. Photos that I was supposed to choose 10 favorites so she could give me the hi-res, no watermarked versions so I could print and frame them and hang them in my spotless and beautiful home, and let’s face it, they’re pretty much going to sit on a hard drive somewhere until we dig them up someday, blow the dust off, and say, “Hey! Remember when we used to use hard drives? HAHAHAHAHA! I wonder what’s on this damn thing anyway?” Because I’m sure by then we’ll all be storing photos in tiny chips in our brains, only they aren’t photos at all, but really snapshots taken with our eyes, because it’s the future and stuff. SCIENCE.
*This is the same Brandie whose ad is on my sidebar that I should take down soon because she’s going back to teaching when her own twin girls start kindergarten this fall, so calling her for a photo sesh might be frowned upon after a long day of dealing with 6-year-olds. TL;DR: She’s wrapping up the business.
So the deal was, I was supposed to choose 10 photos, out of like 893. NBD. Only it’s TOTALLY A BIG DEAL, because how can I turn down that sweet photo? And that one? Aw…..that one? Oh yes. I look hot there (read: mildly not like a spaz). Definitely that one. So that’s 37 photos? Oh, and the extras are $10 each? OH HI, NEVER MIND.
I have this little problem where my frugality – yes, that’s what we’ll call it – often gets in the way of my senses. I’m limited to 10 photos before I have to pay extra, and I keep that 10 photo limit dead set in my brain. I will not pay extra. Not because I don’t love the photos. Not because I don’t have $20 or $30 or $50 to spend on some priceless memories. It’s simply my stupid brain saying “10 photos. TEN. No more, no less.”
So I listed the 30 or so photos that I liked most, made a mental note to sit down with Christian that evening to narrow then down, and then, I don’t know, someone decided to spread pepper all over the floor to practice their soft-shoe dance routine, and I promptly forgot about the whole thing.
The next day I came across the scrap of paper with the photos’ corresponding numbers on them, made a mental note to go over them with Chrsitian that evening, set it aside, and promptly forgot about the whole thing again.
In fact, for days and weeks I shuffled that little piece of paper around, each time making the same mental note. I’d only remember it when Christian wasn’t home or when I was in the shower, or when I was fighting crowds of imbeciles at Costco. I mean, what is up with that place and all the people who don’t know that general traffic rules still apply in the aisles of a warehouse store? Slower traffic keep right, don’t stop in the middle of the lane, and — well okay, just go ahead and push your way through, lady. A 5 lb bag of Brownie Brittle waits for no man.
Every once in a while, Brandie would text me about the photos she was waiting for me to choose. “Oh, sorry!” I would reply. “Been crazy busy!” which is basically the flake’s version of “I forgot!” or “I shouldn’t be trusted to watch your children because I might lose one!” Or something.
Then I started asking for the photos one by one. I needed one for Christmas cards. Then another for an article I was writing. Christian started bugging me about getting some printed and framed so we might have some reminders of the joyful evening we spent threatening our children to smile, dammit! Unfortunately by this time, my little scrap of paper with all the numbers was long gone, likely suffering the fate of being converted into a drawing of Hello Kitty or Ninja Turtles, with a coffee splatter embellishment or two. So I kinda forgot about it…again.
And then that fateful email from Brandie the other day. The reminder that she was wrapping up her photography business and wanted to get these photos to me. And would she like for her to choose the remaining photos?
To which I replied, “Yes, PLEASE. Sorry! It’s just been CRAZY BUSY around here!”
We’re almost there. My kids start school very soon, and even though I’m exhausted by summer, I’m really sad that they’re going back. I’ll miss them. So this week I’m pulling out all the stops to make sure we have a great last few days. There are outings and trips to the pool, but some days you just have to chill at home because you’re out of ideas and your kitchen floor hasn’t seen a mop since….let’s not talk about it.
So if we haven’t had outings to do, we’ve been digging deep for some fun activities that we can do outdoors when it’s cool enough, or indoors when it’s blazing hot outside.
Experiments in Catapulting
If you have a board in your garage and a rock in your yard, you have an instant catapult. We experimented with matchbox cars, pieces of chalk, small stuffed animals, and even dirt. I tried to warn them that the dirt would probably just fly into their eyes, but you know. Live and learn.
Car painting (with water)
This is the absolute easiest activity, and my kid will do it for MINUTES. Like enough minutes for me to feel like it’s a success. Give each kid a cup and a small paintbrush, and let them “paint” your car. Or your house. Or the ground. Whatever they want. It works best on dark colored cars, where they can see the change. Even better if your car is caked with dirt like mine.
Trampoline chalk drawings
My kids are so damn sick of sidewalk chalk. So when we actually had a morning cool enough to jump on the trampoline, I tossed some chalk at them and showed them that “Hey! You can DRAW on here!” Minds. Blown. Like it never occurred to them. Not really sure why, since they seem to think that every other surface in and around this house is suitable for drawing, but whatever.
This was especially cool because the trampoline was wet from hosing off all the pesky bird poop. Cleanliness and such.
Toilet paper roll painting
My kids get tired of regular painting on blank paper. This project only takes an empty toilet paper roll, some paint, and some paper. My kids go through a roll of toilet paper approximately every 2-3 hours, so no problem there. Just dip the end of the toilet paper roll in paint, and press onto the paper for a fun, colorful project.
My friend Angela from Jumping With my Fingers Crossed did a really fun project making a sun catcher from plastic beads. I have a shitton of beads, and this might actually be a good way to keep them from getting scattered all over my carpet.
If you don’t want to melt your own, you can get little plastic sun catchers and glass paint from the craft store for super cheap. This kept my girls busy longer than a regular painting activity, and it’s challenging to keep the paint inside the designated areas. And when we ran out of sun catchers, I may have handed them a white ceramic mug to keep them busy for a little while longer.
Don’t buy the overpriced kit that looks like a good deal, but in actuality only has 2 sun catchers in it and a few little vials of paint. Rip. Off.
I really wanted to find things that were free, that you could find around the house, but when Claire sat at the table for up to 2 hours yesterday, crafting the most excellent and colorful cat, I had to throw these Perler beads (affiliate link) in there. If your kids are done with the painting and the coloring and the playing outside, this might actually be worth spending a little money on. You can also find them at your local craft store. Someone gave me a set last year, and it’s been sitting in the top of my closet, waiting for the day I was brave enough to bust it out. (And it’s seriously therapeutic for adults who may need a little down time too.)
We’re almost there, moms and dads. How are you surviving these last few days of summer?