Tuesday, September 27, 2016

We are Less Without Her

Two weeks ago yesterday, my mom died. One week ago yesterday, I read the following words at her funeral. I have so much more that I want to say about her, and I'm sure I will in time, but for today, here's a glimpse at the amazing woman that she was.

Thank you all so much for being here this morning. My family and I are completely overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and sympathy that has surrounded us all this past week.  My mom would be overwhelmed too.  As I preparing for today, there were two things that I knew would be really difficult…the first was getting up to speak after hearing my favorite hymn, On Eagles Wings, and the second (which won’t come as a shock to anyone here who knows me), would be limiting my remarks to five minutes. It takes me longer than that to say hello.  But I promised I would, so here goes.

Our mom, Dot Gavel, was an amazing woman. I know this, and my family knows this. But what this past week has shown all of us, is that you all knew it too.
My mom was one of the smartest people I’ve ever known. I know that she regretted never going to college, and having a chance to pursue a “career”. I have no doubt that she would have excelled at whatever she choose to do. One of her dear friends said this week, that Dot was a woman ahead of her time. Born in another era, she felt she might have run a large business. I always pictured her in medicine, maybe as a doctor or a nurse. But Dot didn’t follow that path, and instead leaves behind a legacy that I would argue means even more.
When I was 8 years old, Dot started caring for children in our home, following in the footsteps of her dear friend, Kay. This quickly grew into mom’s vocation, and Dot’s Tots was born. For the next 30 years, my mom helped to raise dozens of children, some from the age of 6 or 8 weeks old until the day they started preschool. Lots more stayed even longer, and would come home to Dot’s off the school bus in the afternoon. Our home, 14 Prouty Road,  even became an official Fox Hill Elementary bus stop! These children and their families became like our extended family. So many families became lifelong friends. There has been a lot of talk this week about Dot’s fabulous lunches, like macaroni and cheese with hot dogs, or a “nice grilled cheese sandwich”, but it’s the comments like this one that I received that sum up the lasting impact my mom had on so many families.
“She was always so smart and generous, so kind, so hilariously funny. She gave such great advice and always knew when to set you straight or pull you in for a hug. I was always impressed by her deep understanding and empathy for people and her seemingly boundless capacity for love.”
I agree with all of that, and wish I could take credit for those beautiful words,
And while Dot was able to be there for all of these families for all of these years, she was also able to be home for us, ready to listen and share our day when we came home from school or work.
So now to the harder part of my story…what my mom meant to OUR family.  
We have a long running joke in our family that “it’s all about the food.” This stems from my mom’s love of food and her need, over the years,  to hear all of the details of the meal we had at  a restaurant or the food at a wedding that I catered, or the brunch someone was planning. But in recent years, we’ve all come to realize that the food has just been the backdrop of our lives.  It was really about the open door policy at our house – friends always welcome, day or night, always room for one more at the table or at the party. Dot showed her overwhelming love for her family and friends by feeding us, whether it was her famous fudge, or a pie at Thanksgiving, Saturday lunches out at Jimmy’s on the Mall, or 5 pounds of Grammie’s famous chicken wings at a cookout.  My mom taught me all about making my home a welcoming place, a place where people wanted to be, and she did it by example.  She also taught me that people are not the mistakes they make. She could dish out the best silent treatment in the world (which was terrifying) if she was upset with you, but when it was over, it was over. Because you could talk to her and ask her advice, without fear of judgement even when she didn’t agree with you, many of our friends even sought out her counsel when they couldn’t talk to their own parents.
Because time is running short, I want you to know that she also taught us to always have a dime for a phone call, that bra straps shouldn’t stick out of clothing (boy do I wish she could have taught this to everyone!), that you should always be on time, and that there was nothing we could ever do that would make her stop loving us. I hope that last one is a lesson that I have clearly passed on to my own kids - (that and the bra strap thing).
Perhaps the most important thing Dot taught us all was about living with grace and courage and strength. My mom faced more than her fair share of adversity in her life. She had to bury her child, my brother Donny, something that is inconceivable to me.  She battled and survived lung cancer, and she lost my dad so quickly nearly 8 years ago, and yet she managed to go on and forge a life for herself. The last few years have been so hard for her. She struggled with nearly constant health issues and slowly lost a lot of the independence that was so central to the woman that she was. Yet through it all, her main concern remained how we all were, what was happening with her kids and her grand and great grandchildren, and making sure that we were all ok.
But I can’t end on this sad note, because my mom would hate that. She’d never want anyone to feel bad. Instead, she would be much more concerned about what we were serving later on at lunch…because after all, it is all about the food.

Thank you for loving my mom along with us. We are less without her.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Fighting Through Afraid

Hi. It's been almost thirteen months since I last wrote, but it's time. It's past time.

I felt like I was finding my voice by late 2014. I had written some posts I really liked, and received some feedback from friends and strangers that gave me the courage to keep going. I felt like I was finally going to start writing about the stuff that really mattered, but then I froze. I was afraid. When it came right down to it, a lot of the "stuff that really mattered" that was happening to our family, wasn't truly my story to tell. And once I stopped, it just felt impossible to start again. Fear simply took over.
So, while I don't really believe in New Year's resolutions, I am a firm believer if fresh starts. So this is mine.

Late 2014 and most of 2015 brought us a lot of personal and family challenges, but also a lot of happiness. In addition to the hard stuff, we had an engagement, a wedding, and a baby (three different family members), a new furry addition to our family, a study abroad experience, and probably most notable to my five, a new home. We're not exactly sure how it happened, but our happily ever after snuck (sneaked if we're being proper) up on us and we bought an historic old home that has finally brought us back to New England. For now it's for summer-time and whenever else we can make it work, but it will be our forever home in 5 or 6 years.

While I share those stories over the next few weeks and months, I will also try my hardest to be brave enough to share my stories about bullying, leaving adult friendships, helping people you love through depression and anxiety, readjusting expectations for your children, the heart-breaking journey of watching a parent age, and finding my place in this world.  I'm not sure I'll figure out the last one any time soon.

In the meantime, 2016 will bring our extended family a 25th wedding anniversary (ours), a new baby boy, a college graduation, a youngest child's 16th birthday, a 50th birthday (mine) and a wedding, plus all of the stuff that we can't even imagine yet!

Whatever else the year may bring, it certainly won't be boring. Here's to a new beginning. I can't say I'm not afraid, because I am. But I'm going to push through it.

Saturday, December 6, 2014


Many years ago (but just yesterday in my mind), I was a young mom living a fairy tale, expat life in Denmark. I had three little ones, 6, 4 and 9 months and it was Christmastime. Christmas was my favorite time of year in Denmark.

 It was beautiful.

 It was simple.

 It was magical.

Classic amusement park Tivoli Gardens puts on a festive market in Copenhagen.

 And I couldn't leave it at that...I had to complicate it.

M was traveling a lot in the month of December that year. The details are fuzzy now, but I remember being faced with a lot of empty days and nights with just the kids. And just for the record, I use the word "days" lightly, because the sun was rising as I rounded the last corner to take Katie and Cole to school in the morning and it was pitch black as far as you could see out my kitchen window by the time we were having our afternoon snack. Winter days in Denmark are very short.

So I hatched a "great" Christmas plan. Armed with my well-loved, past Christmas issues of Family Fun and Parents magazine (the current issues wouldn't reach me in Denmark until around February), I decided that the kids and I would make a new Christmas craft every day for the month of December. Good grief!

I'm sure you're starting to get a picture of how this unfolded. We started strong. Beautiful little glass jars covered in glued on squares of tissue paper so they glowed like stain glass when filled with a lit votive. Beautiful, right? We still have them. But I was quickly in over my head. By what I like to think was day seven or eight (but could have been day three or four), I lost steam (and I think my will to live). What had started as a fun project to engage my children in the joys of the season, became a herculean task that felt like a weight around my neck as I scoured the aisles of the local hobby shop for just the right supplies (made extra fun by my inability to speak Danish). This hare-brained plan of mine almost sucked the joy out of Christmas for me that year.  And that would have been awful.

My lovies that Christmas

I'd love to tell you that this one example provided the epiphany I needed to simplify Christmas and my life in general, but that was definitely not the case. Fourteen Christmases later, however, I think I'm finally starting to get it. Sometimes less really is more. Moms, and moms of little ones in particular, put so much pressure on themselves to be perfect, or Pinterest-perfect, as I like to call it. We run ourselves ragged trying to complete tasks that we think make Christmas. So here's my advice this holiday season...


Take a deep breath and really think about what matters this year. Make a list of things that MUST happen before Christmas at your house.  But here's the catch -- just put five things on that list.

 Yes, I know this is tricky. But you can handle five.  Twenty-five gets a little unwieldy. Try to let one of the five be something that's just for you, really.  I have friends who pass up every holiday invitation they receive because they are too busy, or life is too crazy to squeeze in a bit of simple joy for themselves. This makes me sad. You deserve it...you really do.

So here are some thoughts...

Say "yes" to that invitation to the cookie exchange if it means spending an hour or two with people you care about that you never get to see. Buy the cookies (gasp!) if that's the only way you can go. Your friends want you, not your cookies. Okay, let's be honest, one or two of your friends really want your fancy cookies, but most of them just want you.

Don't send Christmas cards. Don't get me wrong, Christmas cards are one of my very favorite things about Christmas (and definitely one on my five musts), but if things are so crazy in your life that sending cards has become just another chore, than give yourself a break. Take a year off.  No one will cross you off their Christmas card list for missing one year. The world will not end. I promise.

Meet a friend for coffee. It's just an hour. The laundry, or shopping or wrapping, will still be there when you get back.

Cheat a little. Slice and bake Christmas cookies, or better yet, the break apart kind, are just as fun for little hands to decorate. The sprinkles and the icing stick just as well to these as they would to that homemade dough, and you can use the time you save to have a cup of tea and read that beautiful Christmas issue of your favorite magazine that just arrived.

Cheat a little more. Christmas crafts are just as special made from construction paper and crayons as they are from modge podge, or fancy lace, glitter or other supplies (note to my much younger self). And who doesn't love crayons?

Decorate less. I know that you have forty-five carolers that need to be arranged in cute little vignettes around the house (oh wait, that's me), but maybe this year, they could send a small delegation to represent the rest.

I had friends in a few nights ago to assemble Christmas/Finals care packages for our college kids. It was way too early in December for my house to be fully decorated (I was just taking down the very few fall decorations that were out), so I went in the attic, grabbed what was within arm's reach, and did what I called "Five Minute Christmas". A few simple decorations spread out around the house to hint that Christmas was indeed coming. Guess what?  It was perfect. Lots of laughs and stories and good cheer with good friends.

It was beautiful.

It was simple.

It was magical.

Make your list of five, and try to stick to it. Give yourself a break.


May your days be merry and bright!


Thursday, November 13, 2014

It Really is All About the Food

My sister and I have had this running joke for years. In our house growing up, one of the first questions my mom would ask if we had been out was "what did you have to eat", or "how was the food?" In high school, I worked on the weekends waitressing for a large catering company. When I'd get home from working a wedding or event, my mom would want every detail of the menu. We could spend an hour talking about the scallops wrapped in bacon or the spinach triangles make from phyllo dough. My catering friends would even send me home with the leftovers for her.
 Family cookouts were a huge deal in our house, as were holidays, and even Saturday lunches out. All those menus to plan. It seemed to have far less to do with who would be there, and far more to do with what we would eat.  So...over time, the running joke prevailed.  When there were gatherings that included my mom (and this still continues to this day), it really was all about the food.

But here's the thing -- she was right.

My boy was home from college this weekend (can you hear the glee in my voice?). Days before his arrival, the questions began via text message.

Me: Food ideas please!!! Dinner Saturday night? Crepes on Sunday?

Cole: I would love a simple pasta and chicken dinner.

Me: Like carbonara or fettuccine alfredo? Or pasta with red sauce?

Cole: Oooooo carbonara would be clutch.

Clutch, apparently, is a good thing.

The next day, as I'm getting ready to make the three plus hour drive to pick him up, I inform him that I'm bringing banana muffins for his ride home. He loves banana muffins.

So the weekend unfolded with an amazing dinner of spaghetti carbonara with pancetta and peas (thank you, Mike) and was capped off with crepes on Sunday morning, one of our favorite traditions.

 Joe, Cole's good friend, even came to join us. He knew exactly when the last time was that he had joined us for crepes, and could recount the times he missed  for various reasons.

So I'm telling you all this, not so you can rest assured that no Iafollas went hungry last weekend, but to explain why it really is all about the food. In our house, and I'm guessing in so many of yours, the food is so entwined in all of the good feelings and all of the memories, and absolutely in all of the best stories. I feel like we are our best selves when gathered around a table. Feeding our family and friends is just another way to show them how very much they are loved (I talked a lot about this BACK HERE ). And in a house filled with girls who love to talk and share, and boys who would rather not (husband included), the table is a wonderful place to find common ground.

It was a great weekend. Far too short, and not enough time with my boy (I reluctantly shared him with his friends), but filled with lots of hugs and great talks and just being.

And on his way out the door, Mike put a still warm loaf of homemade pumpkin bread in Cole's hands to take back to school. Because in case you were wondering, it really is all about the food.

This is our well-loved recipe. We use a whole stick of butter and regular muffin pans. They are delicious with chocolate chips or blueberries too. 


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

I am a Terrible Parent

I'm a terrible parent. It's true. The evidence is everywhere.

  It's all I've been reading about these past few weeks. My Facebook feed is filled with stories and statistics about how my over-parented offspring barely stand a chance in life. All of my well meaning help, advice, support and love has evidently crippled them and left them unable to make choices and fend for themselves in the real world.  At the first sign of rejection or adversity, they are apt to curl up in a ball and stay that way until I come to their rescue. They have been over-indulged by my helicoptery (yes, I made up that word) parenting style, and now they are doomed.

Up until a few days ago, I was actually buying this. It's been a rough few weeks, for so many different reasons, and I let this sort of stuff get to me and make things worse. Lots of self-recrimination, self-doubt and wishes to turn back time and do things differently. Well, I've given this a great deal of thought and  here's what I say now...BALONEY!!!

I can't for the life of me understand why so many people spend so much time looking for ways to put everyone else down or make them feel inept, misguided or broken, or at the very least failures at the one thing they thought they had done well. After reading all of this new "research", I am so very grateful that I am not the parent of little ones anymore, because I think I would be paralyzed with fear at the thought of doing everything so completely wrong. At least I had the good fortune of getting my kids to 20, 18 and 14 before realizing how badly I bungled everything.

Many moons ago

I am a good parent. Great on some days, significantly sub-par on others, but on balance, I am good. Are there things I wish I had done differently? Yes, tons of them. Here are a few...
  • I should have taught them to do laundry sooner (definitely sooner than the day or week before they left for college. Oops.)
  • I should have bought them fewer things
  • I should have given them more chores
  • I should have stayed off of Parent Portal and not micromanaged their schoolwork (I wish Parent Portal was never invented)
  • I should have given them much better money management skills
  • I should have given them a much stronger foundation in a church. I never had it, so I did my best, but I really wish I had done more. I'm still trying.
  • I should have held out longer on things like cell phones, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter
  • I should have said "no" a lot more when "yes" didn't feel completely right
  • I should have worried far less if they liked me or not (but that goes for everyone in my whole life, so this is a skill I'm still trying to master)
But there are many, many things I did that were right (for me), and that I would do all over again, and that I will continue to do, regardless of the naysayers. 

  • I told my kids I loved them a lot, OK, a crazy amount. Sometimes several times in the same phone conversation. I will continue to do this. They will always know how very much they are loved.
  • I raised children with excellent table manners. I think it's really important and will get you far in life. We used to play "the queen is coming to dinner" game while practicing when they were little. 
  • I taught my kids to always be polite to their elders. To this day there have been very few reports to the contrary
  • I taught my children to look people in the eye and to shake hands
  • I taught my children to always have an opinion
  • I taught them to love food and great big family meals. It's where the best stories are told.
  • I taught them to love travel and adventure
  • I taught them to love books
  • I taught them to hold doors
  • I apologized when I was wrong
  • I taught them that no topics were off-limits. I did this by talking to them about EVERYTHING, even the embarrassing and really awkward stuff, and I did it often. I did a lot of this talking in moving cars. They can't escape.
  • I taught them that if they have a choice that will make someone feel good or someone feel bad, that should be the easiest choice they make. It starts with sharing a toy or a seat at a lunch table, but carries on to so many bigger choices in life.
  • I taught them to love animals and babies
  • I showed them that service to others matters and told them that they have so much to give
  • I listened
  • I praised them...a lot. I refuse to put this in the negative column.
  • I took them lots of grown up places and trusted that they knew how to behave. Kids can't be expected to behave in restaurants, museums, hotels, etc. if you never give them the chance.
  • I told them they were smart, and beautiful and kind, because they are.
  • I asked too many questions, but as a result, I got a lot more information than most moms
  • I taught my kids to be confident public speakers, a life skill that will never be wasted
  • and I told them I loved them some more

I have watched each one struggle through hard times, from middle school mean girls (and yes, they are the worst), to bigger disappointments, and even through some really big things that I wished I could have protected them from forever. I helped in any way I could, even if that help could only be crying right along with them sometimes. I refuse to believe that praising them less and letting them fail more would have really made them more ready for the lives they are trying to live now (but the money management skills would have helped). And even if all of these articles are right and I am wrong, my kids knew (and always know), that they are never alone, no matter how far away they are.

So while they were clearly over-indulged (and still are to this day), over praised and definitely "over-parented", I think my kids are amazing, good, kind people, and I have every confidence that (with a few stumbles, I'm sure) they will forge their own paths into their own happy adult lives. They are not perfect. I am not perfect. We are, however, pretty perfect together.  And in case you didn't know...I love them.

I know my use (and non-use) of periods in my bullet points will make some of you crazy. I should fix it, but I'm just so grateful to publish this post after so much time has past, that I'm going to let that go.


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Hanging in There

My last post was two days before Cole's graduation, almost a whole month ago now.

 He left for college ten days after graduation, and I have to be honest, my heart broke a little ( OK, actually a lot). He was so ready and so happy that it was hard not to be happy for him, but I do not like him being gone one bit. I miss him terribly. Which is kind of funny, actually, because he really wasn't home all that much before he left. He managed to cram a whole lot of fun into those ten days. But his head was on his pillow at night, right where I like it. Well, except for the night he and his pals slept on an island in the Delaware...but that's a story for a different day.

We keep in touch primarily via short, witty texts, but I have had a few phone calls, two of which lasted more than 45 minutes each!  When I shared that with my good friend and neighbor, she informed me that she didn't think her teenage son had spoken to her for 45 minutes straight since he'd been in high school. I guess I should count my blessings and be glad that I raised another talker. The best part of my last conversation with Cole was when I told him I was trying to give him space and not call or text too often.  His response..."Mom, I don't need that much space." Glee! That's what I felt right then!

So this is what's been happening since he left...

Katie was in Secret Garden. A wonderful show with beautiful, haunting music. I never get tired of seeing her onstage.

Abbey spent a week at Singing Camp with some good friends and I got to enjoy her awesome concert last Thursday.

I cut off all of my hair. I decided to give the Claire Underwood look (from House of Cards) a try for the summer. It so easy. I love it.

My family completely indulged me and took me to fireworks for July 4th. I am sucker for really good fireworks and it had a been a few years since I'd seen any.

The hardest thing I've had to do since Cole left, is leave for vacation without him. We had planned this year's vacation for July instead of August so that we could all be together because Katie and Cole both left for college at the end of the summer. A three week getaway.  We weren't banking on summer session when these plans were made last October. That's what I get for always trying to outsmart fate by planning things to a T.

 But here I am, in my favorite place on earth. The place were I feel the most complete, the most at peace, and the most like my very best self. I hope you like it too, because odds are, every post for the next three weeks will feature this sweet little corner of the world. 
 The view from my bedroom deck

 Navy ships in the harbor

 Sailing School

I'd love to hear about your place. Where would you be if you could be anywhere?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Summer Breakfast

It's another busy day here...Abbey's 8th grade awards ceremony is this morning, her talent show is this afternoon, and Cole's graduation is tomorrow. Lots of last minute things to do.

 I'm savoring a few minutes before it all starts by reading the blogs that I love and that brighten my day.

I'm also eating my favorite summer breakfast...
  English Muffins with Ricotta, White Peaches and Sea Salt

(Excuse the not so great iPhone picture)

I use the Thomas' Honey Wheat English Muffins which have a bit of sweetness. Don't be thrown off by the sea salt. It actually helps to bring out the sweetness in the peaches. Trust me. This one is a keeper.

 This was originally a bruschetta recipe (which is also amazing) with toasted baguettes, but I decided it would make a delicous breakfast -- and I was right. So good.

Enjoy your day!