Every Good Boy (or girl) Does Fine

I am taking piano lessons for the first time in over fifteen years.  Sometimes the muscles in my fingers remember what to do, and other times I feel like a toddler learning to descend a flight of stairs.  I find myself compiling a list of excuses for missing my Wednesday lesson for no other reason than my stomach is churning the entire 24-hours prior, and my armpits are sweating.  I’m worried my teacher will think I should be farther along, will scoff at my fumbling through Bach and Tchaikovsky, or will look at me with pity before refusing to teach me. 

But today we talked about a recital.  A recital!  This terrifies me because 1. I’ve never played in a piano recital before, even as a child and 2.  My repertoire is limited.  As in I am one step above “Chopsticks”.  I have a recurring nightmare where I am on a stage and I have no idea what I am supposed to be performing.  What if this has become my reality?  Also, will the list of performers include fifteen eleven-year-olds and then me, a thirty-nine-year-old mommy turned wannabe concert pianist?  It’s just too much.  This has moved to the number one reason on my list of reasons to skip my lesson next week.   I have seven more days to drive myself crazy. –er.

What's the Big Idea?

I have grand ideas.  They start innocently small, miniscule even.  Then before you know it, the dining room has been transformed into a library and there are potatoes growing in my starter garden, and there are hundreds of fruit flies swarming around the kitchen.  As you can imagine, Tony both loves and hates this about me.

The library?  Amazing.  It is my favorite room, especially in the winter when the kids and I get cozied up in the big chair facing the fireplace.  The potatoes?  Coming along, and I can’t wait to harvest them in about a month!  The fruit flies?  They have invaded our lives, uninvited, and now I must find creative ways to defend my gardening/composting/green project to my husband.

It started in the library.  I was researching “how to start a backyard garden” which led to researching “composting” and then “rainwater catching systems”.  This all stemmed from my jump into the minimalist movement and a journey to simple living.  I wrangled the kids, hopped in the car and drove to the local hardware store on a mission.  We returned home with one large garbage can, one tiny garbage can, and just enough knowledge to get into trouble. 

“New kitchen rules!” I proclaimed.  “From now on, all table scraps will go into the small garbage can – banana peels, apple cores, coffee grounds.  No garbage!  That still goes in the regular garbage can.”

“Ok, Mom!”  The kids were excited to use the tiny little can with the flip-top lid.  It was a novelty.  Tony mumbled, “ok, Mom” under his breath as he rolled his eyes.  I knew he thought this was another one of my “projects”, but he was a good sport.  The kids helped me to drill holes into the large can and we strategically placed it in the backyard where it would get plenty of sunshine and air circulation.

After several weeks of taking the compost out to the large can, I stopped using the small can.  I got busy.  I was distracted.  I was lazy.  I told Tony not to use it until I lined it with a new trash bag (weeks later, and still no trash bag). 

Fast-forward to this past weekend, when fruit flies were pitching tents and building campfires in our fruit bowl, on our countertop tomatoes, and seemed to be all around us.  Nothing was over-ripe or rotten, so I was perplexed.  Where were they all coming from?!  When Tony came down the stairs Saturday morning, he found a deranged woman in the kitchen, Dyson in hand, frantically waving it in the air sucking up the enemy.

“I can’t live like this!  I don’t understand!  And I can’t..stop..itching!!”  I was losing it.

I left the room to gather myself and not five seconds later,

“Dammit, Nik!!”

Now there are different, “Dammit, Nik”s that I have come to differentiate between.  There is the one where my Italian husband is just cranky and looking to vent about something, there is another where the kids are annoying him and he wants me to just scoop them up and remove them, and then there is the one where I have actually done something that has resulted in total chaos and this is why I am no longer allowed to 1. Carry more than one credit card, 2. Sweep up popcorn kernels, 3. Use the garbage disposal and 4. Compost.

Apparently I forgot to mention the composting intermission to Sammy.

One little half-eaten apple sat in the small compost can and had been resting (ahem, rotting) there for weeks.  Probably Twenty-one days.  At least.

Project Compost FAIL.

It is now Monday, and while the swarming traffic has died down, and the little bowls of Fruit Fly Death that I laid out have been filling, the aftermath of this failure is fresh.  I am determined to get this composting thing right, but for now, we are steering clear of the produce aisle.  And I may or may not be researching some new ideas.






No More Strings

Dear Sammy,

The changes you have made from three years to four years are mind-blowing.  Today you asked, “Mom?  Can you call Max Moms’s so I can go to his house to pyay?”  If you know me at all, this would normally make my insides twisty and my head go foggy until I inevitably would say, “sorry, Honey, Mommy doesn’t do play dates”.  It’s not that I don’t want you and your sister to have friends, I do.  But Home is my safe space, and leaving it to hold conversation with a stranger for two hours while you play with your new, sweet friend feels like climbing a slippery, icy mountain wearing tap shoes smothered in coconut oil.  But if you knew your three-year-old self, you would know that at the end of the year your teachers were concerned that you were not as verbal as they would have liked and suggested you might need extra help making friends.  I don’t know how they came to that conclusion at all seeing how playing with your pretend friend, Nolan, is a perfect example of imagination at its best, and isn’t parallel play normal for three anyway?  I kindly rejected their concerns and told them how well you spoke at home among people you actually liked and how you have plenty of friends, thank you very much.  I insisted that this was a personality trait and that you took after me.  I said this in the nicest way possible, of course, and I left out that part about how I would rather sit by myself in a room full of books than socialize with a room full of strangers any day of the year.  No one needs to know about my hermit tendencies, or my need to remove myself from the stimulation of a party just so that my ears will stop ringing and the carbonation in my brain will stop fizzing.

“I really want to play wif Max at his house.  Can you call his mom on this day?”

I don’t know Max or his mother, and I don’t know their phone number.  But I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to jump up and whisk you over to their house this very second.  The truth is, this is the first time you have asked to play with a real person who isn’t a family member or “Nolan” or Mario or Luigi.  You are forming relationships with real people and becoming a real boy!  I’m imagining an interaction with a sly fox and cat in the middle of a dirt road and I’m feeling anxious at the thought of all the decision-making you will encounter along this path.  But you are not made of wood and I don’t have a blue fairy in my back pocket, so let’s make a promise to one another.  I promise to never hold you back in this life, if you promise to never sprout donkey ears and grow into a full-fledged ass, okay? 



“Yes, Baby.  I will try to find out Max’s mommy’s phone number so we can get together to play.”

And just like that, we’re growing up.




Spring Fever

I am supposed to be writing a review on the latest book I read, but I have had a stretch of days off from work and most of my time has been spent learning and loving on my plants (and my children, of course, but mostly my plants).  I couldn't really tell you what the draw is to nurture houseplants, but I can tell you it is something I always admired in other people's homes when I would visit.  After purchasing several fake plants from Target, I finally forced myself to learn how to care for real ones.  There are no benefits to plastic plants, in fact, they have a negative impact on both the environment and my wallet, so why not improve my family's health AND help my house to become more green?  Anyway, I know I have been posting about plants probably in excess, but documenting my journey, whether through life or gardening, is a must.

My new addition to the African Violet spot is a beautiful pink.  I cut three leaves from this one to attempt to propagate new plants.  I will be posting their progress periodically (if it works!).

This friend was gifted to me by a patient a couple weeks ago.  I had to wrap it in a trash bag to protect it from the wind and snow on the roof of the parking garage, but it made it home safely, and now every one of its buds has bloomed beautifully. 

This is my English Ivy plant, which I may have photographed in an earlier post, but I am having a hard time finding a happy home for it, so I am attempting this table where it can receive more light.  I think it is growing, but I'm not sure.  Time will tell.

My succulents and cacti have found a new home in the office.  I am in the process of transitioning a chest of drawers into a planter, so stay tuned for that project.  In the meantime, my leaf cuttings and propagation projects live here with my new Peace Lily (to be introduced at a later date).  This room is also getting a makeover with a fresh new paint color and artwork, so maybe a house tour will be in the future for crazy people like me who enjoy looking at other people's homes (and plants, decor, furniture, artwork, etc.).

I'm looking forward to some outdoor gardening renovation!  Cleveland weather is unpredictable, but I'm hoping to make some improvements in the next couple weeks!  Happy Spring!

What Color Is Your Thumb?

We've been living in our home for about five years now, and I am just now starting to get a sense of how I want to live in it.  I don't know about you, but the way I start, is never the way it stays.  The walls breathe and the kitchen has a heartbeat.  The people that travel in and out of the front door change my perception of how I want to receive them, how I want them to feel when they leave.  Maybe to some, it's just a bit of paint here, or a sofa there, a painting on the upstairs hallway wall, a knick-knack on the end table.  But while I am slowly transitioning my life to hold less "stuff", the pieces that I choose to remain in my life hold even more meaning.  I carefully select which pictures to frame and which to send to the hard drive or "the cloud" (wherever that is).  I must decide between more space in the office for my husband to financially support us and the glider that I sat in to rock my babies while they nursed.  I am learning to emotionally detach myself from things so that our home can function for all of us as we grow and change, while still being intentional about what our home reflects about us.  In all of this growth and change and shift in perception, my need to create is constant.  So I decorate.  I decorate over and over and over until the items that I've chosen to keep look at home where I've placed them.  And it has taken almost five years for this to happen on the main floor of my home.  And, well, I make no promises as to how permanent "home" is...I have moved around twenty times in my thirty-eight years.

Anyway, the point to all of this is that something has been missing in all of my room re-do's. Houseplants.  If any of you read my blog years ago, you will remember that I had a pet fern.  His name was Fern.  And he died.  I have not had a house plant since.  So for a few weeks now I have been researching the most resilient houseplants for people who are prone to killing houseplants. I have studied the perfect light, soil, watering conditions, diseases, troubleshooting, YOU NAME IT! 

Please.  Help me to be successful.  Give me your tips, your advice, your warnings (your prayers)...things could get ugly.

But for now...they are beautiful...

Growing Pains

Dear Antonia,

This has been your first year riding the school bus.  Every morning, we talk about the day ahead as we watch out of the living room window for the bus to round the corner of the next street over.  We open the front door as quietly as possible so we don’t wake your brother, although, he usually is making his way down the stairs with his blankie as we turn the knob.  As we cross the street and walk several houses down, we hold hands and hug against the cold morning air.  These precious minutes are ours.  No matter how many times I have to nag you to “get dressed” or “put on your shoes”, or “hurry up!” –once we are out into the day, the morning chaos vanishes as we take in the scenes of our quiet street before the sun presses the start button on Today.

On this particular morning, you look up at me with your big, 6-and-a-half-year-old eyes and ask, “Mom?  Do you think I can wait for the bus by myself?”  I am not shocked by this question.  You have been testing your independence frequently in the last few weeks.  Just yesterday you managed to wear makeup and shoes with heels to church while I was at work; even though you knew these things are reserved for playing at home.  You ride the fence between wanting to be a little girl and wanting to be a grown up.  I am comforted by the fact that the grown-up moments are much fewer.  But they are increasing, quickly.  I am not shocked by your request, but I'm not ready for it either.

“Well, maybe that would be okay, but I have to look to see if I am able to watch you from the window.  If I can’t see you, I will have to walk to the end of the drive, but as long as I can see you, I am ok with you crossing the street and standing at the stop by yourself.”

You are silent for a moment, and then, “I don’t know, let me think about it. “ (Little Girl Moment)

We see the bus on the next street and open the door to walk outside.

“What do you want to do, Miss?”

As we near the end of the driveway, you turn and wrap your gangly arms around my waist in a hug.  “I can do it.  I love you, Mom!”

I tell you I love you and remind you to look both ways before crossing the street.  I watch your confident stride as you make your way to the bus stop.  We are facing each other now, on opposite ends of Sawmill Bend.  I can’t help but wave and smile.  You wave back.  I hear the bus travelling toward us and I feel a rush of something in my chest.  This is when we usually get one more hug and kiss in before you board that yellow school bus, before I hear Miss Barb bellow, “Good Morning, Nia!  How are you today?!”  I wave one more time, hoping you can see me before the bus separates our view of one another.  You see me, and wave back.  I can see your little feet underneath the bus, climbing the steps.  You did it (Grown-Up Moment).  Tears are sliding down my face, and I realize I did it too.




My faith had never been tested more than this day last year.  He told me he was dead before I even arrived in the emergency room and held his cold hand, so in the moments that followed, I'm not sure why I questioned God's kingdom so much.  What if I never saw him again?  What if when you die, you just die?  What. If.  But from the moments before when he sat next to me in the car like a comforting hug to the many moments after that can not be explained through logic and reason, I know that he sees us, he tries to tell us things, and most importantly, he is happy where he is.

Years ago I gave him a poem that I had written as a Christmas gift - partly because I was poor, but partly because I have always been able to express myself better on paper than in person.  I wanted him to know how much I loved him, and "I love you" just doesn't cover a lifetime.  It has been a year now that I have searched and searched for this poem.  I contacted his ex, I searched my hard drive, every USB drive I found stashed in a drawer I would pop into the computer and hold my breath while waiting for it to magically appear on my screen.  I was desperate to find it.  I needed to remember what I wrote to him.  I needed to know that he knew what he meant to me and having that poem would assure me that he did.  My brain knows that my brother was aware of my love for him, but in my irrational grief I wanted to be 100% sure that there was a moment in his life that he was certain that his sister loved him.  And I could find comfort in that.  Except I couldn't.  Because it was gone.

A few days ago my mom texted me.

"Look what I got."

It seems that when his previous landlords were going through the house after he had moved out - they found some of his things, and kept them for him.  They ran into my younger brother about a month ago and found out that Josh had passed away...and then returned with a box of stuff that contained the poem. 

I can't help but feel that this time, the poem is meant for me, from him.

Love, Kol
Whispering Stories
of another wold,
in giggles.
Climbing trees to the top
of ambition,
spirits falling
when the sun set.
Adolescence brings
yet never breaks
the branch.
You would be my choice,
had I been
given one.
When rain skips
like rocks
over your smile,
find shelter
in my laughter.
Someday the stump will remain;
count the winding rings -
and remember.

Thank you, Saint Nicholas

It doesn't even matter that I set my alarm on my phone to move the creepy thing every night.  It doesn't matter that I spent an obscene amount of time browsing "elf on the shelf ideas" on Pinterest (after 351 hours, our elf doesn't do any of the things on Pinterest).  Sidenote:  Who are you people?  Who has time to do these elaborate scenes of snowball fights and toothpaste wars and oh my gosh, how do you leave it set up all day without touching the elf?!  But also, I love your creativity so I'm less mad at you and more wishing your kids didn't have to tell my kid about it.

Why am I such an elf-hater (insert Republican bigot jokes here)?  If I didn't want to participate, why did I buy the elf?  Well, it's funny you should bring that up because I didn't buy the elf.  Thank you, Grandma!  And let me clarify that I don't hate him.  I actually love creating magic for my children and doing fun things to make this time of year special.  It's just that remember how my brain is broken?  Case in point:

  Translation:   "Dear Saint Nicholas, my elf tied himself up on December second for three days.  Please come help him."

Translation: "Dear Saint Nicholas, my elf tied himself up on December second for three days.  Please come help him."

Yes, he spent at least three days (Nia swears it was four) like this:

I set the alarm, I reminded myself continuously on the way home from work, talking to myself for the whole twenty-five minute drive, "Don't forget about the elf.  Where should we put him tonight?  Don't forget about the elf. Don't forget about the elf!"  I would get home, start talking to Tony, the alarm would, "DING!" (oh yeah!  the elf!), I would keep talking, make a cup of tea, sit on the couch and...three (four) days later.

So last night we put out our slippers for St. Nicholas.  We spent some time yesterday discussing how he is a protector of children and the Church and how we recognize him today so that is why he comes to visit...and how he comes on Christmas because he celebrates Jesus' birth with all of us.  Naturally, Nia saw an opportunity for intervention and decided to enlist his help with the elf. 

This magic doesn't last very long.  So if we have to learn about St. Nicholas in conjunction with saving a stuffed toy with a painted on serial-killer grin from the tangled web of snowflake lights - so be it.  Tony says they will hate us one day for all the deception.  I'm thinking they will love us for letting them be little for as long as possible.

Oh, and Saint Nicholas did not disappoint:

 St. Nicholas hand-painted, wooden peg doll by  Holy Peoples .  My friend, Kathy, has done an amazing job making these dolls.  I will post another blog after Christmas showing more of them!

St. Nicholas hand-painted, wooden peg doll by Holy Peoples.  My friend, Kathy, has done an amazing job making these dolls.  I will post another blog after Christmas showing more of them!

Obviously, I need help.  Feel free to leave SIMPLE solutions for the elf in the comments below!


Dear Sammy,

I forgot to drive you to school yesterday.  Not only did I forget to drive you, but It didn't even occur to me that school was in session and that you should be there.  When I heard the phone buzzing on the kitchen table, I immediately remembered that you were standing in front of me playing Super Mario Brothers...on a Tuesday...at 9:30am...and what is it that we do on Tuesdays at 9am?  I just can't put my...finger...on..it. Shit.


"Hi, is this Mrs. Gammalo?"

"Yes, is this St. Mary's?"

"Yes.  I'm just calling..."

"I'm sorry, Sammy won't be in school today.  I forgot about school today."

"Oh, so he isn't sick?"

"No.  His mom is just a tired nurse.  He will be back on Monday, thanks for calling!"

Mom of the year (how do I keep winning this award?!)!

The truth is, things like this have been happening a lot lately.  We eat tortilla chips for dinner and string cheese for breakfast because I haven't had time to shop for real food.  After I tuck you and your sister in to bed for the night I write papers and create presentations for school and eat chocolate with my tea until three o'clock in the morning before waking up at six to get your sister on the bus.  And then I go to one of my jobs in the afternoon and come home at midnight to start the whole process over again.  This is how a brain stops working.  This is why when I look at our Christmas tree standing tall and lovely in the corner of the living room, I get just a little bit sad.  There are patches of broken lights that upon first glance aren't that noticeable.  But upon closer inspection you can see the blank spots.  Whole sections of Christmas JOY are MISSING!  I'm not telling you all of this because I'm looking for sympathy.  I only want you to know that I love you so much that I am willing to lose my mind for you (I'm kidding - sort of).  

The real reason I am telling you this is because I want you and Nia to know that I can be better than this.  And so I will be.  It's all about limits, and it's easy to get wrapped up in goals, responsibilities, jobs and money, and for me, it has been about planning for the future.  I have been trying to do all of this while really being present in the "now" moments of your childhood.  And while I know I haven't taken one second for granted, I am not present enough.  What's enough?  Well, forgetting to take your child to school is not enough.  Driving to the wrong job because you haven't slept is not enough.  Popcorn for lunch is not enough.

As you grow, remember that we all have limits.  And when you feel like you are reaching yours, don't ever be afraid to do something about it.  It's not defeat, it's strength.  Finding the strength to slow down and live a purposeful life is exhilarating.  You can still reach every one of your goals if you set your mind to it, but maybe not try to reach them all in the same hour.  Define your priorities and let them guide you.  I have four.  God, your daddy, Nia and you.  Everything else will fall into place.

Now...let's go find something to make for lunch.  How does mustard sound to you?  No?  hmm.


Brick by Brick

Dear Nia & Sam,

You know what I'm going to say so I am tempted to not even continue.  I'm late.  Very late.  Should I go on with the excuses and let the begging for forgiveness commence?  Neither one of you have letters from me on your last birthdays, but you did turn three and six.  I swear, I saw it happen with my own eyes.  Sammy, you are going to be turning four in a couple months and I am thanking God for two things:

1.  You finally stopped pooping in your underwear

2.  I see your Ujak in your sweet face often

He passed away ten days before your third birthday, and while my heart held so much love for you and I had so many feelings I wanted to document for you, his death crippled me for some time - and still does - in a lot of ways.  But the most important thing for you to know is that the reason it is so difficult for me to process is because of the love I have for him.  It's a love that you and your sister will have forever.  I am so overjoyed for you both that you get to receive such a blessing.  Don't ever take it for granted.  I see so much of us in the two of you.  God blesses me with this moment after moment. 

You are best friends, and Nia, I know he tries your patience at times, but he is the first one to remind you how much he loves you when you are sad.  He is the first one to run to you when you get home from school, and sometimes he even makes you laugh harder than Daddy.  Now THAT is something! Sammy, I can't wait to see what this year brings, but then again, I can.  I can wait.  Because I feel like I have been in a fog this past year, and I want to soak in every single second of this next one.

My Antonia, when did you get to be such a little lady?  When did you learn to read chapters and dance the actual steps, and know them by name - in French?!  You are such a sensitive soul and I absolutely love your heart.  You woke up yesterday morning with fangs, and I tried my best to keep my distance lest you drain me of life.  And then, out of nowhere in the early afternoon, you turned to me and said, "Mama?  I was mean when I woke up and I hurt Sammy's feelings.  Do I have to say I'm sorry, or can I just feel it?"  After I choked down my tears I said, "Oh honey, I am so glad you are feeling better.  I bet Sammy would love to hear that you are sorry so that he can forgive you."  You didn't say anything right away, to me or your brother.  This is where the pieces of me have collected inside of you. 

You had to feel, and you had to think about how you made him feel, and then you had to feel badly about it.  You had to feel so sorry in your heart, repeatedly, and then come to the slow realization that if you didn't get it out it would consume you.  I know this process well.  People think it is stubbornness, and maybe it is, I don't know.  But maybe it's that the feelings are unbelievably strong and they reverberate painfully in your brain and they're so loud you can't speak over the silence right away.  You can't make sense.  It's not until later that your words come into focus and you realize there isn't anything that could possibly stop you from making it better.  And that's when I heard you from the other room. 



"I'm sorry I was rude to you."


"Do you forgive me?"

"Wanna pyay Mario Brudders?"

And all was right with the world.

You both should know something in reference to yourselves and the place we call home:

This little house was built brick by brick.  It crumbles in places where the seams are weak and it wears with time.  But God makes firm, this house, from the foundation up.  It will continue to be a work in progress.  A beautiful mess.  A constant renovation.  And if you let the light in (and maybe a friend or two), it won't be dark for long.