The mourning attire

*written 2/20/16*

My great-aunt passed away on Valentine’s Day.

I went to the back of my closet and pull out some dresses. I decided on one grey for the wake, one black for the funeral.

I don’t feel old, but I feel older. I understand and appreciate the rituals to mourn the dead.

I moved through the day, half there, half not. Dressed the kids, made them breakfast, played Luke’s new board game, read. Prayed.

Life moves in cycles and patterns through generations. Death does too.

My aunt was the second youngest of five and the only sister of my grandfather and his brothers.

We haven’t buried a Gambino in over ten years.

I put the three year old down for a nap; if they’re all coming to the wake, the little one ought to be rested.

I read articles about what mourning means and ettiquette for wakes with my 8 year old.  I explained what would be there, how the room would be set up, who would be there, and explained that aunt Nancy’s body would be there but that her soul was already with the Lord. That there was nothing to fear in death. She understood.

I never knew my great grandparents or great great aunts and uncles like my children have. I never had to say goodbye.

The first wake I ever went to was when I was a junior in high school, when my grandfather’s brother Angelo passed away.

It’s time to go. I help the older ones get changed into their nicer clothes and wake the little one. We go over expectations, practice handshakes, practice words to be spoken.

I put on my dress. It’s awful. I change three times and am finally ready to go.

It’s a blur of people and family and sadness and laughter. There isn’t enough time or space. There hasn’t been enough time together. There’s never enough time. There’s a sadness for the slow passing of a generation, a sadness because my aunt was the glue, the last matriarch of the Gambinos.

My great aunt, like her brothers, exuded love. When you were in her presence and her husband’s you just felt unconditionally loved. There’s not a lot of people like that. Fierce loyalty to family was a hallmark of their generation. They loved one another not only in word but in deed.

We say our goodbyes and come home. Sleep. Wake. Get dressed for the funeral. The kids stay home with a sweet friend of mine.

We settle in next to my mom and her brother and sister. I don’t often see them cry. Its seems like you cry for the immediate loss, and then your old losses and the losses that you know will still come. I don’t envy them, to see the generation above them slowly disappear.

The eulogy is beautiful and eloquent. The procession begins to leave. I’ve never seen my great uncle look so broken. I’ve never known a widower in our family.

We drive to the cemetery, say the final prayers, place  roses on her coffin.

As the sun begins to set on this generation it feels like a loss of the way things used to be. Our lives today are so hurried, so fragmented, so devoid of the deep and meaningful relationships that were the hallmark of my aunt’s generation.

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Those moments

There are moments where I feel I most certainly do not deserve them.

 When they are sleeping and I brush their hair away from their faces to give them a kiss, breathing in the sweet smell of childhood. My heart bursts. I do not deserve such beauty.

When they skip together ahead of me as we walk to the store, making up a game counting cracks in the pavement as they go along. My heart bursts. I do not deserve such joy.

When I’m a mess and trying so hard to get things together and get them where we need to go and be on time for once and I’m losing it all over the place and those eyes look at me so exasperated and flustered. My heart breaks over my sin, over the pain my hurry has caused. I certainly do not deserve them. They deserve better.

When she lay on her bed at night and tells me the details of a book she’s read over and over and is reading again, explaining every little detail about the backstory and the family tree of Oliver from Oliver Twist. My heart bursts. How could I possibly deserve to witness such passion for literature from an eight year old?

When he begs me to help build a new robot and refuses to let me give up despite the wires repeatedly not wrapping around the coils correctly, and he gathers random kitchen utensils as tools to aid in our quest. My heart bursts. I do not deserve to mother this child. I am most certainly ill equipped.

When she presents me with a bouquet of dandelions, chest puffed up with pride from plucking them all by herself, smile wide, eyes big and blue. My heart bursts. I do not deserve such kindness.

There are moments when I just cannot believe I could be afforded the joy and privilege to be their mom.

I count every moment as grace. Grateful beyond measure for grace I do not deserve.


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Summer Schedule Sanity

I don’t like to over schedule the summer, but I do schedule a couple things for the kids. We love town swim lessons at the local pool, library visits, and the imagination station for crafts.

This year I signed up my oldest for a couple extra activities and she completely panicked. The thought of something on her summer agenda was overwhelming to her, especially since she misunderstood her teacher’s instructions on how long to practice math everyday. The thought of all three of my children at home all day long with no scheduled interruptions where they won’t be asking me what to do made ME completely panic too.

The teacher said ten minutes of math iXL a day; Savannah thought she said ten HOURS a day. Plus of course, she needed to practice reading and writing everyday.

How could she possibly complete her school work and participate in a sports camp?

Once I talked her off that ledge I tried to come up with a few visual things that would help her understand that she has LOTS of free play time and LOTS of opportunity to choose what to fill it with.


I repurposed my Silhouette Advent Calendar frame and cut up some Project Life cards to make our Summer Fun board. We listed all the fun things we hope to do and put them all on cards. I even included the days and hours the activity was open for ease of reference. Savannah was happy to see all of these ideas on the board.


I took a couple empty jars and put some washi tape on them to make Media Ticket Jars for each child. I cut up more project life cards (such a versatile product!) to make the tickets and put them all in a little basket by their chore pack hooks.


Only problem is Savannah is now binge working on her workbook to bank up media tickets. I may have to rethink some of this, but hey, at least she is doing schoolwork without any prompting!


The local library has a summer reading contest where you get entries based on the number of books you review. A brief two to four sentence review was all that was required. I have a journal for Savannah and Luke to write their reviews in and then I submit them on the library website. I’d prefer them to write out their reviews as opposed to typing because they are still developing their handwriting skills and learning to communicate via the written word. To throw in “learn to type” too didn’t seem like a great use of time! One book review equals one media ticket too. I’m grateful our kids enjoy reading.

I still need to hang up a book log for easy record keeping somewhere.


I keep our schedules on my phone and on our wall calendar. It’s two months at a time and is dry erase and each person has a designated color. Yes, it’s double work, but Savannah and Luke are old enough to be able to read the calendar and they enjoy having a little knowledge and control over our commitments. It also helps them understand why I may say “no” to an activity when they see we have a prior commitment. The only thing that bugs me about this set up is when, for example, July is on the left of June, but I don’t feel like moving the boards! I have a couple frames underneath that we use for lists, memory verses and my favorite, the #1000 gifts board- a place to write things we are thankful to God for- things big and small.

All that said, I am not very good at scheduling time with friends. Or date nights, because we have yet to put babysitting as a budget line item and freebies are pretty rare for us. I am typically a last minute person with our free time, and it doesn’t always work out to get together with friends, unless they are spontaneous people with an open schedule that day. Maybe I should work on those this summer!


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An awkward white response to Charleston

I sit here like I think a lot of white people do, horrified, but still afraid to say much of anything. My words are awkward, my knowledge limited, my worldview tainted, well, white.

What happened in Charleston was horrible. Terror. Racism. Evil. Committed by a person who had some sinister and horrible beliefs that were unfounded and were wrong. There aren’t enough words to describe how wrong it was, to walk into a black church and tell the congregants they were needed to be killed because they were black? How could this young man, in this day and age, believe the lie that black is subservient to white?

It was wrong. I hate that it happened.

Yet I am blown away by the responses of the victims family members when they faced the killer in court.

“We forgive you.”
“We have no room for hate so we must forgive.”
“Take this opportunity to repent.”
“We pray for your soul.”

It pains me to know that people who exemplified Christ in life and in death were murdered. What kind of faith do these families have that their response is one of love? I, too, am a follower of Jesus, but I do not think I would have had my wits about me to forgive my kin’s killer publicly so soon. Eventually that would be my goal- to forgive- but I know me, and I know to would take me a while to get there.

I read the Beatitudes this morning… and I paused at verse 3- “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.”

Are not the poor in spirit those who were humbled, marginalized, oppressed? They turned to the Lord for their strength. Could the families in Charleston’s immediate response of obedience- to forgive and to pray for their enemy, the one who took the life of their family member- could that response be possible if they were not a part of the black community? A community who’s history of being oppressed, or being marginalized, but of having great hope in the Lord gave them opportunity to practice forgiveness and grace over and over and over in everyday life. Is this learned behavior passed down from generation to generation to let go and let God? Do white people, as a whole, even white Christians, practice forgiveness and grace a fraction as much as these humble and heartbroken families in Charleston?

I don’t like to talk about race or racism because I am painfully aware of how ignorant I am in how racism plays out in everyday life across our country, or even my own town. I confess that I just assume since I am not racist and that I teach my children that we are all of equal value regardless of skin color, nationality, ethnicity, etc., that the whole situation is not my problem. I guess I was wrong. This is a problem we all have to own.

I don’t have a lot of friends, yes I have a couple hundred on Facebook, but seriously, there are only a couple who are really my close friends that I actually see in real life or communicate with beyond “likes” and “shares.” They are white. I have a long distance friend who moved away who’s husband is black and they have two children, and I have a dear old friend from my nannying days who is black who also lives hundreds of miles away. My kids go to school in a suburb where there are many nationalities, and there are one or two kids in their classes that are black. I had a few friends from my track team in high school that are black too, but in my high school life seemed rather segregated. It was weird, I would approach a friend on the “black wall” in the quad, and I felt like I was getting the evil eye from everyone else there, I thought they were thinking “Whats this white girl doing over here?” Maybe I was wrong, maybe they weren’t thinking that at all.

I’m sheltered. I get it. I know very little about what it means to be black, or African American, heck I don’t even know what these friends’ preferences are in discussing their race. I don’t discuss their race. They are just friends to me, I don’t think about their race or their children’s race or if they get pulled over more often, thus my inaccurate belief that this isn’t my problem. I try to contact them when crazy stuff like this happens, like Freddie Gray, like Michael Brown, because I don’t WANT to be ignorant, I want to hear from someone who knows.

Despite my awkwardness in asking about the elephant in the room, I always think that it’s better to say something with a heart of love than to remain silent. I don’t want to read the news and the pundits and the bloggers, I want to hear from real flesh and blood people that I know and love. Firsthand accounts are always so much more powerful and an actual conversation so much more productive in creating understanding.

I hope we all have the courage and grace to have these kinds of conversations with other races in our communities. We can’t keep pretending this isn’t our problem.


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The new garden

We had a good sized raised garden at our old house- 10′ x 12′- that we loved, but since moving two years ago, we hadn’t had time to put one in.

2015/06/img_3440.jpgFor Mother’s Day, I asked Keith if we could put a new garden in- and he said yes! We built raised bed boxes from pine fencing boards, modifying a plan from Ana White’s website. We decided to make 4′ x 6′ boxes as opposed to a big giant square like we had at our old house to make it easier to access the middle of the gardens.


I actually assembled two of the three! This girl knows how to use a drill. A saw, not so much. Keith did all the cuts. I’d like to keep all my fingers, thankyouverymuch. We do all of our projects after the kids are in bed, so in usual fashion it took us forever to finish- three weeks from purchasing material to completion, although we did have puke-pocalypse in the middle so we basically lost a week of our lives…. Anyways, we had a night time installation. #parenthood

We did not remove the grass before adding dirt- we covered it with several layers of newspaper to smother it. Much less work, just as effective, and considerably cheaper than using weed matting.


I am a garden nerd, so I sketched out a diagram of where we would plant everything that the kids and I had picked out. I purchased zucchini, celery, tomatoes, lettuce, eggplant, cauliflower, brussell sprouts, and broccoli plants. We planted peas, green and purple beans, radishes, rainbow carrots, danver carrots, summer squash, spinach, swiss chard, and mesclun mix from seed.


2015/06/img_3631.jpgThis is the garden right after we planted everything. Looking a little lonely and sparse.2015/06/img_3750.jpg




After some great sunny and hot days, this is what it looked like after a week!


Today marks almost three weeks, and look how everything has sprouted! I even have a teeny cauliflower!2015/06/img_3768-0.jpgWe are looking forward to the rest of the growing season! I always find it amazing how you can plant a little seed and with the right conditions, it will grow and produce fruit to feed your family.


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Magic Tree House Reading Chart

My daughter’s school had a cute “No TV Tuesdays” reading campaign last month. Several teachers volunteered to call random students on Tuesday evenings to see if they could catch them reading!

After dinner we usually spread out around the house finishing different activities before bedtime but for No TV Tuesday we just hung out together in the family room reading. The campaign really kick started independent reading with our kids.

I wanted to encourage Savannah and Luke to keep reading and somehow praise their efforts without it turning into a bribe so I decided to make a book chart on the door in the kitchen. They have come to enjoy the Magic Tree House Books quite a bit and I was having trouble keeping track of which books they had read, and which ones I needed to get for them from the library. Having a central chart has been helpful to me in that regard!



I used some brown wrapping paper from Dollar Tree for the background and card stock for the leaves of the tree. I wrapped a small box in the same wrapping paper to make the tree house and drew lines on it to make it look (sort of) like the tree house in the book. The ladder is made of Popsicle sticks and washi tape.

I wrote the names of the first 28 books on different pieces of card stock; they’re supposed to look like stacks of books, not sure if I hit the mark with that part or not. I make a little mark next to each book when they have finished reading it. Savannah also started making mini-books and gluing them to the tree.

It’s not Pinterest worthy, but my kids like it and they have a visual goal for reading through this series! Plus it only took me less than a half hour to make. Yay for quick crafts.

How do you encourage and reward reading at your house?

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Forcing Spring Indoors

It’s hitting the forties this week! Very exciting! One of the things I like to do in March to make it feel more spring-like is to find some forsythia branches and force them to flower indoors.

You know forsythia- that shrub that blooms bright yellow as the first signs of spring?

forsythia in bloom

It looks like this in late winter:


They look like most other shrubs and bushes at this time of year, mostly dead, but they have a slightly yellow-green hue on the new growth. Snap off some branches, or if you’re fancy and can find your pruning shears, use those. I grabbed some from the edge of a parking lot (I asked first!) and used my kitchen shears.


Take those branches, stick them in some water and the warmth from your home and the indirect sunlight will cause those little buds to flower anywhere from one to three weeks. I’m hoping for an Easter bloom! The flowers last a week or two, and then they turn into little green leaves.2015/03/img_3076.jpg


If you don’t have anywhere to be a secret-ninja-garden-pruner like me, you can head down to Maureen’s Wholesale Florist in downtown Buffalo. They have some forsythia branches in stock but most local florists that I have contacted will not have branches until April. Maureen’s also anticipates having cherry and dogwood branches later in the spring. I’ve never tried those, but I think I may this year!

If you have forsythia in your yard, give this a try! It’s not hard to do, just keep water in the vase and you’ll have signs of spring inside as we await the great thaw. Give me a shout if you have some too- I’ll come and prune your shrub for free 🙂 The more you trim, the more it’ll grow back!

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A practice run

I saw this great “post yoga” wrap at a boutique that I loved.

I didn’t love the $142 price tag.

I figured I could make it myself. So I did.

Except I made a mistake with my fabric choice and I have to make it all over again.




For a practice run I think it looks great! I used a favorite cardigan from Loft as a starting point and made adjustments from there to create my initial muslin piece. I wanted it to be long, drapey, no hood, and I am still undecided on pockets and edge finishing. I was so nervous to cut the sweatshirt fabric, but as I was pinning and cutting, something felt awry. Turns out I failed to buy STRETCH sweatshirt fabric. Which is kind of important when you are making a garment that you want to stretch . I couldn’t get my arms in the sleeves!

It looks like I won’t be wrapping up warm in this wrap anytime this week. However, now that I have effectively made two practice pieces, one, my muslin draft and now this one made from non stretch fabric, once I get the right fabric in my hands it should be a snap to complete the project.

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A finished pair of socks

How long does it take to knit a pair of socks? Mmmm anywhere between a couple weeks and several years, especially if you are a serial project starter like me. 2015/03/img_3042.jpg This pair? They took about two and a half months from cast on to blocking. I don’t knit everyday, but I knit a ton on vacation over Christmas (helloooo that’s what vacations are for!) and then continued here and there since January. You know. In the waiting room at the doctors office. In the preschool pick up line. In the car when Keith was driving. I love these! The shell pattern, the color, the length, everything. They are the perfect amount of woolly warmth and the airy pattern means you won’t sweat to death. Important, considering I finished these in the month of March and would still like to wear them despite the warm weather. Oh, wait, no warm weather here yet. 2015/03/img_3041.jpg I was a bit nervous as I finished knitting these up that they would be too small.2015/03/img_3029.jpg Thankfully after a good soak and blocking on my DIY sock blockers they were the perfect size.2015/03/img_3040.jpg 2015/03/img_3038.jpg 2015/03/img_3039.jpg Time to put my feet up! For about twenty seconds until parenthood calls. Child’s First Sock in Shell Pattern from “Knitting Vintage Socks” by Nancy Bush. Ravelry Link.


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Why I read and watch things three years late

A little while back on an evening where bedtime for our kids crept well past nine, we actually sat down on the couch and watched tv, you know, instead of flurrying around getting ready for the next day’s events and promptly passing out. Keith surfed the channels and stopped at msnbc, which was airing a documentary on trafficked teens in Detroit.

I was amazed. I had heard and read a little about trafficking and modern day slavery in the US, but I’ve never seen a whole show about it. Captivating. Heartbreaking. Unbelievable. I couldn’t wrap my head around what was happening to these girls.

Naturally, I tweeted about it, to which my smart Alec and ridiculously well aware, read, written and published little brother responds… @danamarie262 Sis… That aired originally three years ago.


We had a little playful twitter banter on how the only current events I know of are who has used the potty properly that day and that was that.

It’s true. I live in a bubble. I don’t watch the news hardly ever because I have three small children with me every second of the day. The things on the news are hardly appropriate for children to watch. Bombings, scandals, beheadings, all sorts of things that are horrific for me, let alone our seven, five and two year old. So the tv stays off.

The books I read early on in parenting were those that would help me to SURVIVE sleepless nights, and decidedly not go-change-the-world books.

The books I read now are about three to seven years past publication date. Sorta current, right? UnChristian, The Next Christians, Interrupted, Love Does, to name my most recent reads that do not fall into the parenting category. Because let’s face it, I’m a mom and that’s my biggest job- to make sure I am not screwing up my kids, to teach them that God loves them even though their mom might have screwed up (ok, ok I probably will fail them somehow, using the word “might” is too optimistic) and, if possible, set up these little ones for some sort of success in life. Thus, parenting books will likely always have a solid place on my nightstand.

I suppose it is fair to say I am isolated from many world events. I just don’t have the time to keep up with everything. I try my best, I read when I can, I read opposing viewpoints when possible… But let’s face it- I have hardly any time to myself! It’s impossible to be amazing at everything all the time, so I just settle into mediocrity at a bunch of things.

I think what I struggle with lately is this notion of productivity above all else. There’s this call to arms to find your passion, your calling, go, be, do, lots of things! But guess what? I have three children and no free daycare and I kinda like being around my kids all the time anyways. The only thing I’m going and being and doing is being a wife and mom. And volunteer for my kids school. And volunteer in the church nursery. And a bunch of other things that will never put my name in print.

So I plug along. And read. Three years late. But I’m still reading. Still thinking. Still asking questions. Still struggling for answers.

I suppose that’s the best I can do.

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