Archive | thoughts

On Waking Up Before My Children

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For as long as I can remember, Elliott and I have gotten up in the morning with our kids. A little voice calling, “Maaaama!” is the signal that our day has begun. One of us stumbles out of bed, bleary-eyed, and brings that baby back to bed with us, and then the three (and eventually four) of us wake up together.

It sounds deliciously relaxed and cozy to start the day this way, but most of the time it’s really not. It’s whines of “I want breakfast now” and more fussing than seems fair and a general sense that the day has gotten away from you before you were ready for it to begin.

So this week… I started waking up before my kids. Ok, it’s Tuesday, so we’ll see if it lasts! But I knew this week I needed a little extra time to get my bearings in the morning. Elliott’s out of town, my dad is staying with us, and thus I’m facing a week of solo parenting. In order to parent and serve with grace and patience, I’ll need to know my limits and guard them carefully.

Thus far, by the time nap time finally comes every day, it’s all I can do not to dump the kids into their cribs and race for the couch with a good book and a tall glass of ice water (it’s been so hot here and we don’t have A/C). My soul craves that time alone without little voices, little messes, little tummies, little needs.

But I’ve felt extra strength and peace in the morning thanks to waking up an hour or so (or less…) before them. I make a pot of coffee and sit at the table and take a tentative sip. I’m sure many of you know how spectacularly delicious that predawn, freshly-brewed cup of coffee tastes. It’s indescribably fortifying.

And then I’ve been turning to the Bible, reading a few chapters according to the plan that Elliott and I do together. A great sense of peace comes not only from God’s Word itself but also from knowing that I have “tithed” this time, that I have set my priorities in order, that I have responded in gratefulness to the Father for all the good gifts He’s given me.

And then I pray, set the Bible aside, and dive for a few minutes into my latest library book, gathering my last pieces of reserve around me like a blanket to help me stay warm, stay strong, stay gracious for whatever the day might hold.

And then…


And so it begins again.

What about you? Do you wake up before you absolutely have to? Generally Elliott and I stay up too late (eleven-thirty, twelve…) to make it feasible to get up early. What gets you out of bed in the morning? Or maybe I should be asking, “What gets to you to bed early enough at night?” Because I’ve got to do something about that next!

22 :: in Becoming a Stay-at-Home Mom Series, motherhood, thoughts

Arrividerci, Sicilia

It’s 11:56pm. Almost tomorrow, almost July 15, which is the day we leave Sicily. Bright and early with the sunrise!

But Elliott says we’re going to bed and I’m not writing a post, and he’s right. It’s been a long day — especially for him, with a million work-related details to tie up — and it will be a really, reeeeaaaalllllyyy long day tomorrow.

Pray for us if you will! We’re leaving at 7am, flying to Rome, then to Detroit, and then to D.C.

Wait, Detroit???

I know. Seriously! We have to fly Delta because it’s the airline in partnership with the military, and they don’t fly from Rome to D.C. And the Detroit flight is 10.5 hours long!!! I am already pulling my hair out.

For this trip, we got Lena a pair of kid’s headphones. She is ecstatic, and I think she’s finally old enough to concentrate on movies long enough to make it worth it, so let’s hope they do their job. Oh, and that the Delta plane has nice TVs in the seat backs with lots of kid-friendly movie options. Please, Lord, that would be great!

For Gil, I have about 15 baggies filled with pretzels. He’s obsessed, and he loves nothing more in life right now than wandering around (the kitchen, the grocery store, the pool deck, the playground) observing everyone and munching on one after another from his own little bag. Not one at a time from his mama, but in his own bag. So hopefully 15 of them will get us through an entire day of cramped airplanes.

Plus naps. For them and their parents!

Oh, and I think I forgot to mention that Siena — our beautiful cat — is also flying with us. In the cabin, no less, and at our feet. I have also failed to mention that she consistently vomits after a 10-minute car ride, so it would not be an exaggeration to say that I am about as worried about this fur-baby’s well-being as I am about my two human children. So prayers for Siena too, please! 

That’s all. This isn’t really about Sicily, but you’ve heard a lot about Sicily lately. For about two years, since one of my very good friends left one June morning, I have been imagining that moment when I sit down in my seat on the first plane and look out the window and watch Sicily disappear below me. What will it be like? Will I cry? Probably not, I’m not good at crying at appropriate times. Probably I’ll just be a little sad, and a little happy, and a lot grateful.

These three years have been wonderful. Thank you, Sicily, and thank you, God.

May it not be too long before we see the smoke drifting from Mt Etna again on a winter’s morning!

10 :: in Sicily, thoughts

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

our romantic night away in Paris


It was 8:30 pm. I shut the bedroom door behind my sleepy children, wishing them a quick trip to dreamland.

We were exhausted. That whole day we had walked, biked, and waited in interminable lines around Versailles, wrangling tiny children the entire time. My eyes met Elliott’s and we laughed wearily. Not exactly a great — or an early — start to a romantic getaway in Paris.

About 15 minutes later, we’d hastily packed a bag, and Elliott had made a reservation at a French restaurant near our hotel. “Their earliest opening was at 10pm, so I guess we’ll have time to make it!” After hugging Elliott’s parents goodnight, we stepped out into the darkening streets, hand-in-hand, willing ourselves to find new energy for this much-anticipated evening.


By the time we stepped off the Metro and looked up at our beautiful hotel, I was finding a new spring in my step. We walked into the magnificent lobby, catching our breath at the marble table covered with a hundred orchid plants.

The receptionist at the desk welcomed us graciously, but I felt like she could see right through my grubby street clothes and knew I didn’t belong there. I have two sleeping babies two miles away, and I bought my jeans on clearance at H&M. She seemed as delighted to see us as the next guest, though, and I relaxed. After thanking us for using our free hotel stay at their hotel (smooth one, Elliott), she informed us she’d upgraded our room. Sweet!

Upstairs, we walked into a gorgeous gold-and-red room with soft jazz playing on the TV. A table was laid with chocolate dipped strawberries, and a bottle of champagne sat chilling in a silver bucket.

“What’s all this?!” I asked in astonishment as I picked up the card. “‘Welcome, Mr. and Mrs. Garber, and thank you for celebrating your anniversary with us.’ But our anniversary was in January!”

“Oh,” Elliott said sheepishly, “they asked me if we were celebrating anything when I made the reservation, so I said our marriage. I mean… we’re always celebrating it, right?”

He popped the champagne cork and poured a glass for his smitten-all-over-again wife.


After a few glasses of bubbly and a bit of sprucing, we stepped out into the Parisian night to find our restaurant. We’d decided to eat a real French meal, since our room was free and we have been eating mostly croissants since arriving in Paris. The little restaurant was tiny and cozy. Polite staff slipped about silently on the thick carpet, and the only English I heard came from a cheery Scotsman regaling his table with stories.

It was the first Michelin-starred restaurant we’d ever eaten in, and it was also the most expensive meal we’d ever shared; Elliott still won’t tell me how much it cost. I felt wildly out of place again, since I was wearing a dress from Liz Lange Maternity. I know, I know! I’m not pregnant and haven’t been for a year and a half, but it happened to be in my closet and was black and had probably the deepest neckline of anything I own, which is kind of what I was going for on a romantic evening out with my husband, so… if the dress fits…!

The meal was like nothing we’d ever experienced before. For their tasting menu, they brought one tiny dish after another, each exquisitely presented, vibrantly flavorful, and paired with a select wine. There was foie gras soup drizzled with lime, melting Parmesan cheese sandwiched between paper-thin crackers, a quail’s egg with mango cream in place of the yolk, and ravioli made from thin strips of pineapple.

Slowly the restaurant cleared out, and at 1 am there was only one other group — a quiet table of French friends — still in the restaurant. We noticed them settle their bill, but then they stayed at their table, chatting and sipping wine until they saw we were finished. When we stood to go, they also rose and got their coats. I was touched by what I can only assume was a gesture of kindness. Since they were having a good time, they didn’t want us to be awkwardly left alone in the restaurant or to rush through our dessert. I hope I remember to do that sometime for a young couple out on the date of their lives.


We woke on Easter Sunday morning, and I opened the curtains onto a perfect Parisian scene. We waffled between meeting our family at church for the Easter service or lingering at the hotel for a few more hours, eating a leisurely French breakfast at the cafe downstairs, and slowly exploring the neighborhood. We chose the former, which was very responsible of us, and our children’s radiant faces when they saw us made our hearts melt.

In retrospect, though, I wish we’d stayed for those few more hours. What we were enjoying was more than a romantic getaway in Paris; it was time with our very best friend. Friendship. Genuine, sweet friendship with the one person we love most in the world, the one we chose over all others and who chose us back!

While parenting small children, it’s easy to get lost in the rhythms and routines of everyday life, filled with blessings and bills and boo-boos. What we had for those few hours in Paris was uninterrupted time to just be us, Elliott and Becca, the young couple who fell in love in Boston, who skied on the weekends together, who sought out obscure ethnic restaurants, who got married in a snowstorm. We’re still those young people deep inside, plus the complexity and depth and beauty and humility of being parents of two children. When those little children grow up and move away, we want to still be best friends holding hands.

Remembering this — with champagne and strawberries if possible! — will help us keep reaching for each other in love and friendship as the years go by.

Do you agree? I’d love to hear stories of your getaways — romantic or disastrous or otherwise!


See our other two getaways here and here!

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11 :: in husband, Paris, thoughts

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