Archive | memories

Sad Days :: Loss, Grieving, & Saying Goodbye


“I’m so sad,” I said softly, my fingers fiddling with the hem of my skirt.

Elliott didn’t say anything, just listened. There was a long silence while I gathered my thoughts.

“I love this house.” I took a deep breath. “I am so sad to leave it.”

Tears welled up.

“I have so many happy memories in this house. And I will miss this town. And the weekly market. And walks to get gelato down the street….”

We both knew these things already. I’d said them before. But as we sat there on Sunday afternoon, we knew there were also a million other things weighing us down, making these simple physical goodbyes that much harder to bear.

There was the argument right before we walked into church. It was over who would put on Lena’s shoes, of all things. She can put them on herself. But it soured our whole Sunday morning.

There is our car. We’ve tried for a month, lowered the price by $1500, and it’s not selling. It’s small and scratched up, perfect for Sicily, but we’ve probably outgrown it as a family. I say “probably” because it might be coming with us to California.

There is my U.S. driver’s license. I can’t find it anywhere. I need to request a new one, but that’s hard to do when you don’t even know the number of your old one.

There is a whole bedroom set that just won’t sell either. It’s a beautiful antique! Why isn’t it selling?

There is the final moving out of our belongings this coming Tuesday, and then a goodbye party on Wednesday, and then CLEANING THE HOUSE LIKE CRAZY on Thursday. So much to do, so many boxes to tick.

And then handing over the keys on Friday. No more beautiful house on a cliff by a castle. Oh, I shall miss this house!

And then maybe a weekend at the beach. We’d been planning a special goodbye to Sicily: going back to this beach before our flight out on Tuesday morning, July 15. But now that weekend might be spent very close to base and far from the beach, if we can’t sell our car. We’ve joked about standing at the base gate and waving signs. “Amazing Honda Civic for sale! Come test drive now! Turn left, turn left!”

But then there is a deeper sadness. A dull ache, always there, that becomes a sharp pain on July 7 every year.

Two years ago today, my little sister Julia was killed in a car accident. It was, as best we can determine, a total mistake—a split-second glance at the radio, or a deer darting into the trees in front of her—that led to hasty overcorrecting, and overcorrecting again, and hitting a tree in the median. And then another tree. And then she never came home.

The comfort is that we believe she is home with Jesus, and we eagerly look forward to the day when we are all reunited there. Oh what a rejoicing that will be! There is much to be thankful for in this life.

But in the meantime, I look at my children, and I miss Booie so much. She knew Gil was coming, but she never met him. Booie, her friend Renee told me later, hoped Gil would be a boy, and I know she would have gone nuts over him, just like she did over Lena. Except Booie and Gil have the same hair — curly, thick, blond, stops people on the street — and she would have loved sharing that with him.

Lena talks about Booie frequently, sometimes asking acutely painful questions.

“She died?”


“Where is she now?”

And I answer them until I can’t bear it anymore and quietly change the subject. I am glad she knows about her Aunt Booie, though, and can recognize her in pictures. I will encourage that the rest of my life.

I miss Booie for my children’s sake, and I miss her for my family’s sake. We’ve always been such a family: four kids, two parents, a six-pack of adventure and support and laughter. We also functioned as a unit, needing each one of the kids to contribute their dose of crazy, or serious, or silly, to balance out the whole. Without Booie, our family will always walk with a limp, always have a glaring amputation, always gather somewhat sadly, knowing a piece of the whole will be missing the rest of our lives.

And I miss her for my sake. She was almost six years younger than me, and so for most of our growing up years we were sisters, but too far apart in age to be besties. That was reserved for Emily and Booie, just 18 months apart.

Then I went to college, and Boston, and married Elliott, and I was gone most of that time. We did have one very sweet period together: Lena was born, Elliott was still deployed, and I moved in with my parents for three months with a newborn. Booie was there, finishing up her senior year of high school and working at Starbucks. For awhile, we were under the same roof again, sharing the same meals, and I have a dozen pictures of her holding Lena every chance she got.

I wish we had more time than that. I wish we had time to be adult sisters together. I wish she could have met Gil. I wish I could have seen her fall in love and get married. I wish we could be three crazy old sisters dancing at Lena’s wedding one day. I wish, I wish, I wish.

I miss you, Booie, today and every day. I love you so.


“Who’s that?” Lena asked when she saw this photo just now.

“Who’s that?” I repeated, knowing that she knows.

“Lena,” she said softly, “and Booie.”

“That’s right, Lena.”

“But Booie died,” she continued softly. Then a pause. “But she’s alive now.”

That’s right, little one. Praise God.

34 :: in grief, Julia, memories, thoughts

My Biggest Regret of Our Move (So Far)


I know. I know! We haven’t even left our house yet and I’m already having moving regrets? How many more mistakes will I make?

Well, probably a lot, knowing me. I already have several, such as packing the nutmeg and all our paper plates and plastic silverware.

But my biggest regret came in like a wrecking ball. About five days before the moving company came, I spent one morning transplanting all my flowers from my Sicilian blue ceramic pots into smaller plastic pots. I washed all the ceramic pots to get them ready for the move, already anticipating how pretty they will look full of flowers on the steps of our new deck.

Then I looked at my flowers and suddenly worried that they wouldn’t last in the smaller pots for very long. They needed larger homes with fresh soil ASAP. So I took photos of all of them with my phone, posted them on our local “Craigslist” board, and said I’d give priority to the person that would take “all of them for $45!”


Within five minutes, they were all sold.

“Can I pick them up tonight?” the buyer asked.

My breath caught in my throat as I realized what I had done.

First of all, I had sold them for far too little, obviously. They were worth at least twice that. Dummy.

But secondly, and more importantly, I had just sold a gigantic piece of what made this house our home.

I definitely have a black thumb, but somehow I had managed to keep quite a few of these plants alive, and bit by bit — with gifts from friends and purchases from the plant man at the market — I had built up quite a garden. I filled our front entrance with forgiving succulents, brilliant bougainvillea, and a geraniums that were coming into their own in the perfect weather. On the back deck I had several plants that I had cultivated for years, slapping little hands away from their bright flowers and watering and feeding and adding fresh soil season after season.

And some had been gifts, like the beautiful houseplant my mom got for me right after Gil was born, the one she transplanted and positioned herself. And the succulents from my friend Becca, who left them in my care last year before their own move back to the States.


I shouldn’t have sold all those. I should have given some away, putting them in the hands of friends as parting gifts to say thank you, to leave a piece of myself growing and living and basking in the sun in Sicily.

But I didn’t. I helped the buyer carry all my beloved plants up to his car that evening, and I even ran after his car with one last plant (my mom’s, incidentally) that I had forgotten.

“I kept it inside until the last minute so the leaves wouldn’t break on the ground,” I said, breathless, as I handed it to him. The plant was beautiful: a Golden Pothos with long vines, a leafy waterfall. My heart broke just a tiny bit as I waved goodbye. “Good luck! I hope you enjoy them.”

Because I surely did. And I think, in the way that plants do, they enjoyed us too, and their short, sweet season in our little yellow house.


12 :: in home sweet home, memories, military life, thoughts

a jaunt back through 2013


So I’ve never done a “year in review,” but Elliott suggested it and it sounded fun… and then suddenly I was having the greatest time going back through old links and remembering the whole year! This has been a wonderful year, despite missing my sister and those hard early days with Gil. I was uplifted and so thankful as I saw each account of God’s faithfulness and goodness to us.  I hope you enjoy this little spin back through 2013!


January was a huge month for our family! I started off 2013 by reviewing my 2012 goals and then audaciously posting a huge list of new ones. (Coming soon… those goals in review. Oy vey.) I also had a few honest posts about my final days as a mother of one and dealing with a complication at the end of my pregnancy, wrote a guest post for a large blog, and we took a healing hike to the orange groves on the first day of the year. And then… in five very quick hours… Gil arrived! Later, curled up next to my baby in bed at home, I shared his birth story at a military hospital and how we chose his name.

February was whirlwind of adjusting to our new baby. We savored days at home with him together (such a funny guy!), and then Elliott went back to work and I was flying solo with two kids at home. I took the double stroller out for the first time, and I also finally posted pictures of my final day at home with Lena.

March stretched us. A lot. Gil became increasingly hard to console, and we clung to our sanity and God’s grace as we got through those days. Reflecting this, I wrote about growing pains in this new life, a very messy trip to IKEA, and an attempted newborn photo shoot. I also shared 6 tips for sharing our bedroom with Gil, which continues to be one of my most popular posts. I did manage to break away from babies a little bit and enjoy life in Italy with a pasta recipe and a bruschetta recipe!


In April, the weather changed and Gil began to change too. We found moments of peace and perspective, and it helped that April is enchanted in Italy! We celebrated Lena’s second birthday with a party at the playground, and we welcomed lots of visitors: my family, Elliott’s parents, and even my grandparents!

I think we finally hit our stride with two kids by May. We had a major breakthrough with Gil’s sleeping habits, and I shared our secrets in a post about getting your baby to sleep in his own bed. Gil suddenly became impossibly cute. I challenged myself to savor these days. And we ate well with two new Italian dishes: eggplant cutlets and tiramisu!

In June we headed home to the States for a couple of weeks to see our family, which was the first time some of our siblings had met Gil. We managed to squeeze in another photo shoot of our now-five-month-old son, and I wrote one of my favorite book reviews yet about 5 ways to improve my parenting.


We were still in the States in July, so I added a couple of urban posts to this rather small-town blog: a whirlwind afternoon in Chicago and splish-splashy day in D.C.  I also read and reviewed several books including French Kids Eat Everything and a great memoir that addressed excess in media, waste, and spending.

August was a wonderful month, although sad because we said goodbye to our dear friends the Arthurs. I wrote a post about transition and friendships and resolved to love newcomers in Sicily as I had been loved when I arrived. We went wild blackberry picking and I shared a recipe for wild blackberry tarts… yum! I wrote about a few favorite products for the kitchen and the beach. At the end of the month we went to Crete!

Elliott’s sister got married in September, so we went back to the States for her beautiful wedding… and were treated to a 24-hour layover in Scotland on the way!  I also started a “new baby” series on my blog and addressed maternity clothes, newborn essentials, a postpartum survival guide, and my favorites for a 3-month-old.

While still in the States in early October, Lena got her first haircut and I finally donated my hair. I also wrote about my favorite book this year. Back in Sicily, craft fair season began and we went on a weekend getaway to a mountaintop castle and a seaside town.


October, November, and December were full of visitors, so we were busy! We went olive picking and wine tasting, and I also learned a new Italian pasta dish. On my 27th birthday I posted a photo series about our everyday lives in Sicily, and I know I’ll treasure those photos forever. On Thanksgiving we filled our table with friends.

December was a total whirlwind, and there are still photos I haven’t posted from a weekend getaway with Elliott and a trip to the mountains with my mom. I’ll post about these trips in January, I guess… better late than never! We did go on a beautiful hike, bought half a lamb for our Christmas dinner, and celebrated our last Christmas in lovely Sicily.

And now it is 3:49pm on December 31st, and there are just a few more hours left in 2013. The new year looms rather than beckons us at this point because we still haven’t decided whether to take the San Diego job or not. We are so torn. Either way, we’ll be leaving Sicily in July, and that will be one of those most bittersweet events of my life, I think. I’m thankful that I have such a strong testimony of God’s faithfulness to us as we wait for what the new year will bring.

And now I’d love to hear from you, my friends! What are you most looking forward to in 2014? Or most afraid of?

17 :: in memories, thoughts

loving Boston


After Elliott and I heard the news of the explosions at the Boston Marathon yesterday, we joined everyone in horror, grief, and prayer.  Boston holds a special place in our hearts.  In 2008, we met, made memories, and fell in love in that beautiful city.  With this tragedy, ours was the grief and horror that comes when you know and love a place, when you have cousins running the marathon (so glad you’re safe, Allie and Meghan!), when you can picture so exactly what a place looked like before bombs ripped through it.

After I heard the news, I looked back through old photos from my life in Boston.  I thought I’d share some of them with you today.  Such a different life Elliott and I lived then!  He was a fourth year veterinary student at Tufts; I lived in Cambridge with 2 wonderful girls and worked as a medical ICU nurse at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in Boston.  Here’s just a glimpse…


One of my favorites from our dating days, taken with the self-timer on Elliott’s camera when we went hiking on a frozen lake near his home in Westborough.


Christmastime in our apartment with my roomies, Sarah and Kate.

2013-04-162 Above left: Our reflection in the glass of the Charles/MGH station while waiting for the T.

Above right: Many, many Sundays after church Elliott and I took long walks along the river to Harvard, warming our hands on big cups of coffee along the way.


Sunrise over the Charles River, taken from an empty room on my unit at MGH.


Lunch at work… always outside from April to September! All iPhone Photos through 221

Above left: shopping for mugs at a Beacon Hill craft fair with my friend Becca.  (I seem to always have friends named Becca.)  I bought a mug that day that I use every single morning to this day.

Above right: Off on an adventure with my sister!  Visiting one of the Trustee’s Reservations: Appleton Farms Grass Rides.


Em with the calves at Appleton Farms.


Hmm…!  Feelin’ goofy in Providence, RI, on a day trip with my roomies.


Sooo windy at another one of the Trustee’s Reservations, World’s End. All iPhone Photos through 2211

Above left: When Elliott left MA to go to the Basic Officer Leadership Course and “go Army” on me, we sent a journal back and forth in which we wrote letters to each other and pasted little souvenirs (pictures, leaves, flowers, maps) from MA and TX.

Above right: The helipad at MGH.

I love you, Boston!  We’re praying for all those mourning loved ones, recovering from injuries, and affected by this tragedy.

4 :: in grief, memories

life in an Italian villa {Part 2 of 2}

For so many reasons, this week away with my family (read Part 1 here) was peaceful, joyful, and in every way the perfect Sicilian vacation.  In others, it was somber and tainted with grief.  As many of you know, my youngest sister, Julia, died in a car accident this summer.  This was our first real family vacation without her and we felt her absence at every turn.  Although we have every confidence that Booie (our nickname for her) is in Heaven experiencing fullness of joy and rest, and although we have so much to be thankful for, we will be missing her the rest of our lives.  I would be leaving the biggest thing out if I tried to write about this week and didn’t mention the thing that was most on our minds.

We continue to ask for your prayers as the weeks and months go by.  We’d especially appreciate them tomorrow, March 23, which would have been Julia’s 20th birthday.

Here are some more photos from this week. Thank you, family, for coming so far and living life with us… newborn and all!
becca-garber-villa-sisters-beach becca-garber-villa-love-beach We took another walk on the beach mid-week and snapped some of these photos. Below are a couple of attempts at a family portrait… easier said than done!

becca-garber-villa-family-portrait-fail becca-garber-villa-family-portrait becca-garber-villa-dad becca-garber-villa-reading Above, we enjoy some reading outside as a family. Below, some photos from our last lunch together as a family, which we ate at a little restaurant built into the seawall in the tiny town of Brucoli.

becca-garber-villa-brucoli becca-garber-villa-steamed-octopus   becca-garber-villa-steamed-octopus-2 Em wasn’t so sure about the steamed octopus, but Lena enjoyed it. Her attempt to say “octopus” sounded more like “apple-de-guts.”

becca-garber-villa-eating-octopus becca-garber-villa-family-restaurant becca-garber-villa-grandpa-sitting becca-garber-villa-aunt-baby I love this photo of Emily and Gil! Below, a photo of how we spent many evenings: watching Downton Abbey (some of us for the first time, others of us for the second or third…).


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8 :: in family, grief, holiday, Julia, memories, Sicily

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