08/52 + A Visit to the San Diego Zoo with Grampa!

becca-garber-san-diego-zoo-grampa-2 One of the best parts of having grandparents with work all over the U.S. is that they can sometimes add San Diego to their itinerary! Elliott’s dad has taken every speaking engagement in San Diego that he can, and we were treated to a visit from him last week.

He’s a gentle, kind soul that his grandkids adore, and I can never forget my first impression of him about seven years ago: “He looks like Santa Claus! If I marry this man [Elliott] and we have kids, I would love them to have a grandfather who looks like Santa Claus.”

Some dreams really do come true!

becca-garber-san-diego-zoo-grampa-3.jpg We took Grampa to the San Diego Zoo one morning, a place he hasn’t visited since he was a boy. His strongest memory was of the giant tortoises, and so we visited them first. The kids and I have been ALL OVER this zoo, I thought, but hadn’t seen these fellows yet. What else is hiding in that huge zoo?!

Image-1 My favorite photo from the day… :)

becca-garber-san-diego-zoo-grampa-4.jpg I’m including this one of Lena because I don’t think she stuck her tongue out to be rude, just to be funny for the camera, and it shows a lot of things that are true about her lately. She’s a little performer. The other photo is equally descriptive: she loooooves the zoo workers who dress up like animals. Gil is not so sure…

becca-garber-san-diego-zoo-grampa-1 This man loves his snacks. He is supremely content with a bag of snacks in hand, walking around the playground or sitting in the stroller, and watching the world go by.

becca-garber-san-diego-zoo-grampa-5.jpg We are having a minor obsession with koalas these days, and the play structure inside the koala area isn’t bad either. Exhibit B right here.

And, just for fun, here are a couple other photos of the kids from the week:

becca-garber-lena-portrait-08-15 Lena: Enjoying a quiet snack of yogurt after waking up from her nap to find Grampa in the house. Still flushed from sleep and the shy excitement of discovering our visitor! He had just taken a photo of our cat, Siena, and was showing it to the kids on his phone.

becca-garber-gil-portrait-08-15 Gil: We had a rainy weekend in San Diego, a rare treat around here. I am totally spoiled, though, because I am not used to be cooped up indoors with the kids anymore! The kids enjoyed a lot of jammies that day.


And that’s the weekend update from around here! What did you do this past weekend?

10 :: in 52 project, San Diego, visitors

Gift Ideas for a Girl Who’s Turning 4!!!

Recently Updated260-003 It is not a good sign that I spent twenty minutes making that graphic and then just now realized that it said “…for a girl who’s turning THREE” in big bold letters. I should be in bed!

But this post is fun, and I’d like to send it out into the cosmic void (name that movie), so here goes!

Lena turns F-O-U-R on April 3 and, like usual, I don’t think Elliott and I will be getting her much. Last year we bought her some craft supplies and the year before that I don’t think we got her anything. She has plenty of stuff! But that doesn’t stop me from coming up with things she’d like, of course.

Or things I would like for her. I know you know how that goes…

The first thing is a doll stroller, which Lena has asked for specifically. I actually do have one tucked away that I bought months ago and “hid” in the garage (she saw it) when I found a good deal, but then someone advertised this gorgeous thing for sale and I started to have second thoughts! Isn’t it darling?! Which one do you think she would enjoy more??

The second gift idea is Magna-Tiles, which I’ve had on my wishlist for the kids for awhile. Everyone raves about these nifty little magnetic building pieces, and the kids have enjoyed them at our friends’ houses. I recently heard, though, that Magformers might be a better investment because they have stronger magnets and the kids’ structures will hold together better. Do you have a recommendation?

One item on the list must be BOOKS. I preordered Heidi for my sister’s birthday last year and have been dreaming about getting them for Lena (and me, duh) ever since. For someone who loves Rifle Paper Co. and classic literature, these pretty volumes are a match made in heaven.

I’ve heard such good things about these magnetic toys, and I feel like Lena would love them. She spends hours making designs with these beads, but she’s often stumped about what pattern or shape to make next. Problem solved with this clever toy.

The Tea Collection is one of my favorites for their globally-inspired, ethically-sourced children’s clothes. They always have the most beautiful patterns and prints that remind me of places I love around the world! I shop for deals on eBay or during their bi-annual (I think?) 50% off sales, so I already have a beautiful Tea summer dress tucked away for Lena that I bought before Christmas.

And last but not least, something for the budding artist. I enjoyed these as a child and have wanted to get Lena and Gil a set of their own. I’m a sucker for classic toys that have stood the test of time and bring back the warm fuzzies, aren’t you?

Anyway, that’s a hodge podge of ideas. What toys have the four-year-olds in your life enjoyed? I’m all eyes!

20 :: in Lena, wishlist

Catching Up on the 52 Project!

becca-garber-52-project-02:2015-gil Last year I took a photo of each of my children each week as part of “The 52 Project.” I only made it half the year and it was sometimes a rather last-minute deal, but it was fun and worth it because look at Gil’s hair! And this is one of my favorite photos ever of Lena.

So I’m late this year, but I think I want to do it again. (Now maybe by March or so I’ll write down my goals for 2015… and do whatever else people usually do on January 1!)

Here are Weeks 1 through 7. I’ll follow up with Week 8 in a few days, hopefully after I get out my “real camera” and have some fun!

Week 1

becca-garber-52-project-01:2015-lena Lena: Lena: She’s climbing anything and everything these days, and her brother isn’t far behind. This photo is from a quick trip the three of us took one morning to the San Diego Zoo, where Gil learned how to say “koala.”

becca-garber-52-project-01:2015-gil Gil: Enjoying the last vestiges of Christmas with his Grampa. We spent most of the first week of the year in Virginia with our families. I miss those candy cane-striped pajamas already!

Week 2

becca-garber-52-project-03:2015-lena Lena: We spent part of Week 2 and 3 up the California coast in Santa Barbara county, where Elliott’s friends have a ranch. I loved watching Lena slip right into ranch life. Look at the way she cocks her little hip as she watches her dad from the back of the flatbed truck! She rides on hay bales back there like a natural, too.

becca-garber-52-project-03:2015-gil Gil: He rode his first horse at the ranch that weekend! BAREBACK! When we were there in September, Gil wouldn’t let us put him on Bliss, but this time he took right to her.

Week 3

becca-garber-52-project-04:2015-lena Lena: So content and such a good traveler! She’s always been flexible and fascinated by new places, even when she was two months old and I flew with her to visit Elliott on an Army assignment in Israel. This weekend was no exception… except when we were in the car driving to and from Santa Barbara. That time was not so great…

becca-garber-52-project-04:2015-gil Gil: We found a real tractor. He got to sit on it. Bliss x2!

Week 4

becca-garber-52-project-05:2015-lena Lena: We started reading Little House in the Big Woods before bed, and I was amazed by how much I remembered from my own childhood! My mom read it aloud to me when I was about five, and in retrospect I think Lena was too young. We’ll read it again in a couple years when she’s ready for the rest of the series, too. We just finished Charlotte’s Web together last week, which was equally sweet and memorable for the two of us.

becca-garber-52-project-05:2015-gil Gil: This little guy turned two on January 25! He couldn’t wait to get out of the bath that night to keep playing with all his new toys, and this ended up being my favorite photo from the day.

Week 5

becca-garber-52-project-06:2015-lena Lena: She’s always coming up with new and hilarious games to play with Gil these days; this time it was finding pillowcases in the linen closet and announcing, “We’re ghosts!” I’ve waited a L O N G time for them to finally start playing together independently, and I feel like it’s finally, really happening.

becca-garber-52-project-06:2015-gil Gil: Our church celebrated “Scottish Heritage Sunday,” which I’ve never heard of before, but we loved! So much plaid and so many kilts, even miniature ones on a couple adorable little boys! Maybe Gil needs one next year??

Week 6

becca-garber-52-project-07:2015-lena Lena: Valentine’s Day! We were in the park when Lena’s little friend Caleb got out of his preschool Valentine’s Day party, and he sweetly sat down and shared his entire bag of candy (!) with his brother and his friends. Lena now wants to go to school. (Of course.)

becca-garber-52-project-07:2015-gil Gil: I learned that our library loans out free passes to the New Children’s Museum downtown, so I took the kids one day. I’d heard so much about the museum for so long, and it did not disappoint! A table of KAPLA blocks, a whole tractor to paint, an entire balcony for blowing bubbles, a gigantic soft squishy playground, a whole room full of books and tent-making supplies, and even a bouncy house… felt like heaven to everyone involved. San Diego wins.

Week 7

becca-garber-52-project-08:2015-lena Lena: She continues to be my effortless fashionista. (Either that or the topknot is the easiest and cutest hairstyle ever!) We’ve been going to the beach a lot lately, taking advantage of the milder temperatures and sun during the winter. It’s 75-80 degrees most days, so we should live it up while we can! (Did I mention that San Diego wins?)

becca-garber-52-project-2015-gil Gil: Our local MOMS Club took a trip to the Coronado fire station, which was kind of stressful with 91 children (just kidding) but also totally fascinating and very “small town.” The kids watched a real fireman slide down a real fire pole and Gil has wanted to “see pole” (see the picture) every day ever since. Here it is, just for fun:

becca-garber-coronado-fire-station ——–

And now a question for you: how do you enjoy and look at your pictures? All mine are on my computer! Do you print out individual photos and put them in albums? Or do you print photo books through a certain service? I am starting to worry that Lena will lose her memories of Sicily if we don’t reinforce them with photos, but I don’t have a single photo book — or photo! — printed. Help! Where to start?

16 :: in 52 project, memories, San Diego

For Everyone Stuck in the Snow :: Stay-in-Bed Stew and Biscuits Recipes

becca-garber-stay-in-bed-stew-biscuits I love all the snowy pictures in my Instagram feed this week, especially after a giant snowstorm hit the East Coast yesterday! So many bundled up children, so many snowmen, frosted trees, covered driveways, well-loved shovels, and ready-to-go sleds. I am almost jealous. ;)

I’ve been meaning to share these two recipes because they’re just too good to keep to myself. Elliott’s mom made this stew throughout his childhood, and we’d barely been married a month before I was learning the recipe myself. It’s the ultimate comfort food in our house on a cold day!

Also, as a mom and a minimalist cook, I love that the soup is a one-pot, throw-it-all-in-and-forget-about-it dish, and the biscuits are easy and fun to make with my kiddos. I have a picture to prove the biscuit-making part:

becca-garber-making-biscuits They both come running and line up like this as soon as I say the word “biscuits.” May you have as many happy memories with stay-in-bed stew and biscuits as we’ve had already!


Stay-in-Bed Stew


  • 2 lbs stew beef
  • 2 cups peas (frozen or canned is fine)
  • 2 cups sliced carrots
  • 2 chopped onions
  • 2-3 large potatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 tsp salt (I often use beef bouillon instead)
  • Pepper to taste
  • 1 large can (not the traditional size) tomato soup
  • 1/2 soup can filled with red wine (you can also use white wine or clear fruit juice works well too)
  • 1-2 bay leaves


  • Mix all ingredients in dutch oven.  Add water or beef broth to desired consistency. Cover.  Bake at 275-300 degrees in oven for around 5 hours or until meat is tender.
  • OR mix all the ingredients in a large pot. Cover. Simmer on the stove for 3-4 hours.

Serves 6-8, and there are usually leftovers!


Homemade Whole Wheat Biscuits


  • 1.5 cups whole wheat flour
  •  1.5 cups white flour
  • 6 tsp. baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1-2 tbsp sugar (optional)
  • 3/4 cup shortening (I use butter)
  • 1 cup milk (I substitute Silk soymilk for the lactose intolerant, and it works perfectly)


  • Blend dry ingredients.
  • Cut in shortening/butter, preferably lightly and with a pastry cutter.
  • Add milk and mix till doughy and just blended.
  • Roll out with a little flour and cut out biscuits. You can use a water glass, but I love these biscuit cutters.
  • Bake on a greased baking sheet at 350F/180C for 10-15 min or until lightly browned and firm on top.

    Makes 12-13 biscuits

12 :: in eat this, hospitality, recipes

On Becca’s Bookshelf // January Edition

Recently Updated259-001 January was a wonderful, wonderful month. I am so thankful for January. It started off at home in Virginia with family, and then we came back to Coronado and really plunged into life here in a new way. I felt like a lot of friendships bloomed in January, and we celebrated Gil’s birthday and our 5th anniversary, and I made some new friends through this and this, and I did a couple cool things on the blog, and Coronado felt like home. Elliott’s schedule was also fairly light, and so we were together a lot as a family, which was especially sweet.

Why am I saying all this? Isn’t this post about books? Is it almost 10pm at night? Am I tired? Is there a glass of wine beside me?


So anyway, January came with some good reads. Well, ok, really just one, but all five were sweet and satisfying at the same time. Also… all fiction! (I’m remedying that in February by reading a massive tome on Hurricane Katrina and getting a seeeerious non-fiction fix.)

Here’s what went down in the reading department in January:

  • Delicious! by Ruth Riechl After Garlic & Sapphires, I became a fan of Ruth Riechl, the former New York Times food critic. Delicious! is her work of fiction and seemed promising, even if I felt very confused by the first chapter… twice. (I couldn’t get into it, returned it to the library, checked it out again a month later, was still confused, pressed forward, eventually finished it.) The story revolves around the closure of a cooking magazine in NYC, and I enjoyed the emphasis on food and writing. There’s an Anne Shirley-ish heroine, a bit of romance, eccentric friendships, hidden libraries, and delicious cheese shops. However, too many aspects of the story felt unbelievable or saccharine. Overall, sweet and relaxing, but maybe too much so? — 3 stars 
  • The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion I loved The Rosie Project, a hilarious first-person account of a socially awkward genetics professor on a quest for true love. The Rosie Effect is its sequel, and I put it on hold the instant it became available at our library. But oh… the disappointment of a reader’s unrequited love. The book was scattered, painfully awkward, and much too long. Better to have left The Rosie Project without a sequel. 2 stars
  • The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin – I heard that this book was good for book lovers, so I picked it up at the library without knowing its premise. The story moves from believable to fantastical and back again, but it’s fun. A.J. Fikry is grumpy bookseller in a small, fictitious town off the coast of Cape Cod, but his dreary life changes abruptly one night when he finds an abandoned baby in his bookstore. Thus begins a journey of hope and restoration that is laced with good book references and nicely intertwined plot development. It’s well-crafted and ultimately satisfying. — 3.5 stars
  • Silver Bay by Jojo Moyes — Another Jojo book! (See my review of one of her previous novels here.) This is another of her earlier works, written before she exploded onto the international book scene with Me Before You and One Plus One. Just like The Ship of Brides, I found this book was too long, but this one is better crafted. The characters are easy to love, and the setting of a fading whale-watching town Australia has nostalgic appeal. The main character, Mike Dormer, is a flashy London developer who is commissioned to set up a beach resort in Silver Bay, but when he actually comes to know the inhabitants of the small town — and especially the salt-crusted Silver Bay Hotel — he begins to realize his work will destroy something fragile and precious in more ways than one. — 3 stars
  • Gilead by Marilynne Robinson — I’ve been meaning and wanting and trying to read this book for years now. Finally I ran out of books to read over Christmas and found this one in my parents’ house. It took me the whole month to read it — slowly, in spoonfuls, savoring and digesting — and I am so glad I stuck with it. People told me, “Nothing happens,” and they were right in some ways, but I found myself more fascinated with the innerworkings of minister John Ames’ struggle to forgive and to say goodbye than I expected. I also found out that Home and Lila, her more recent works, are written from the perspectives of the other two main characters in this story. What a fascinating idea! Have any of you read this or her others? — 4 stars

Of all these books, I’m most interested in what you all thought of Gilead. Have you read it? Do you want to? Did you ever try and set it aside, bored or disillusioned? Or was it the most perfect thing you’ve ever read? Spill the beans, por favor!

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16 :: in book reviews, On Becca’s Bookshelf

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