Archive | October, 2013

Sunday lunch in a castle {Caccamo, Sicily}

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In our family, I am the one who is usually eager to travel and explore, whereas Elliott is grateful for weekends to stay home and rest.  I’m home all week, so when the weekend comes, I’m like, “Get me outta here!”  But I know how much Elliott loves quiet time with his family; he will spend whole Saturdays building block towers and having dance parties with Lena and Gil.  Therefore the greatness of his sacrifice was not lost on me when he offered to take a Monday off and let us travel somewhere over the weekend.  I might have done a happy dance.

After a little research, we chose to go to Cefalu (cheff-a-LOO) on the northern coast of Sicily.  On our way there, we decided to detour to the mountain town of Caccamo (KAH-kah-moo).  Our guide book raved about the lunch served in a restaurant below a castle, and we know Sunday lunch is a tradition in Sicily.  We made it to Caccamo in time to explore the castle before stuffing ourselves on a huge four-course meal.

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View of Caccamo as we walked up to the castle.

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There was a mountain bike race ending right at the foot of the castle, right outside the restaurant.  Mountain bikers were everywhere, including the castle, and one of them was kind enough to take our picture.

Also… ahem.  Lena was fascinated with this ancient toilet.

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Lake, valley, mountains… so much of the scenery reminded us of California.
Also, I love my cute family!

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Hand-painted floor tiles.

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Inside the Great Hall of the castle.  On the other side of the room was a huge fireplace and windows overlooking the mountains and valleys.

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You catch a glimpse of the ocean to the left.  What a setting!

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And now… time to eat!  I loved the brickwork and the decor.  All the baskets are very distinctly Sicilian and are woven by hand from strips of olive wood.

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Gil is eating so much now, and we are hoping he’ll fatten up!  He’s still hanging out around the 10th percentile for weight.  He ate a lot of our delicious meal, which included the traditional four courses: appetizer plates, two kinds of pasta, meat and salad, and cannoli and espresso for dessert.  Definitely more food than we could possibly hold!  There is nothing like a traditional Sicilian meal, eaten slowly over 3 hours and washed down with vino della casa.

Of course, everything was about 5 times more stressful for us than any of our neighbors because of our tired little kids, but Lena and Gil did pretty well, and we were grateful we came.  Around 4pm we buckled them back into the car, and they were asleep before we left Caccamo!

Up next… photos of our beautiful weekend in Cefalu.

5 :: in family, Sicily, travel

my second craft fair

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I’m sitting on the couch during nap time, listening to a man chopping wood outside and cows mooing in the valley.  For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been frantically sewing or knitting during every afternoon nap time, preparing for a big two-day festival and a chance to sell my handmade crafts.  After all that work, it feels especially sweet to just sit here quietly!

I thought you might enjoy a few photos of the things I made.  If you see anything that you’d like to buy, send me an email.  I love to do custom orders, and I have a few weeks before the next craft fair rolls around…!

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Here I am with my table before the second night of AutumnFest on base.

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And here is the whole booth that I shared with my sweet friend Anna.  You might remember her from my last craft fair where we shared a table together.  At that time I was pregnant and due on January 30th… and now [get this] she is pregnant and due on January 30th!  Lots of baby talk around our booth.

Below are a few photos of the things I made:

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The event was a lot of fun, especially because I had Anna to talk to, and because several sweet friends stopped by and bought gifts for their children, friends, and babies!  I do want to be honest, though: I didn’t sell nearly as much as I anticipated.  My only craft fair experience before this was at a holiday fair, where people came specifically to buy gifts.  This fair, meanwhile, was part of a larger autumn festival, and I could tell most people were just looking out of curiosity or admiration.  Anna and I encouraged each other that at least we had gotten back into “the black” again by selling enough to make up for all that we spent on yarn, fabric, and buttons.  With that attitude, we could just relax and enjoy ourselves.  And we did!  In fact I think my favorite time of the whole fair was late Saturday night when Anna, our friend Shannon, and I just sat and talked for a couple of hours, greeting customers and completing sales as they came, but otherwise just enjoying the evening and deepening friendships.

All right, now time to get cracking on a bunch of custom orders.  The nip of fall in the air here makes me want to click away with my knitting needles all day long!

21 :: in arts and crafts

Sicilian market mornings

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It’s been quiet around here this week because I am preparing for a big craft fair this weekend.  My sewing machine and I have become fast friends again!  We’re churning out little dresses for girls and dolls, candy corn-shaped trick o’ treat bags, saucy stuffed penguins.  I’ve also been knitting, and I have a row of darling little baby shoes and a stack of fingerless gloves, among other things.  It gives me such joy to see these things take shape in my own hands and to share my love of yarn, fabric, and form with others.

I thought about taking a picture of the mess around my sewing machine, but that end of the kitchen table is just too chaotic.  So you get a picture of my market haul instead. My love for autumnal produce was renewed this morning as I stocked up on broccoli, beans, and persimmons, as well as the last of the basil and tomatoes of the summer.  Twelve euro for all this goodness!  That’s $16.49 USD at the current exchange rate.  Now we just have to eat it all!

I went to the Italian grocery store afterwards and bought a plastic container filled with squishy, fresh mozzarella balls floating in whey.  With the tomatoes and basil, mini Caprese salad will be on the menu tonight!

Speaking of tonight’s menu, I just put Lena down for a nap, and she said:

Lena: Maybe when Gil and I wake up, we can go to da playgroun’!
Me: Hmm… I don’t think so.  We’re going to stay home and cook a duck for dinner.
[slow smile spreads across her face in anticipation of her favorite meal]
Lena: Duck say, “Quack quack!  Don’t eat me!”

Well now, let’s hope not…

4 :: in life lately, Sicily

October in Taormina with friends

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Are you my friend?  Do you want to visit Italy?  Then please do.  We have only nine months left here and your time is running out!  Now’s your chance!  Free place to stay!  Free food!  Personal tour guides!  Cute children!  Buy a plane ticket!!!

Our friends Lewis and Bekah just visited, and it was SO fun.  Here they are:

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Like I mentioned before, we had a blast during their visit, and I am so grateful that there are people like Lewis and Bekah in our lives.  They are forever friends.  It doesn’t matter if we live across the country or across the world or in the next neighborhood: we’ll all work hard to make sure this friendship endures and deepens with time.  And I mean… look how fun they are!  What’s not to love?

becca-garber-taormina-mcneels-october-17 One day during their visit we took them to beautiful Taormina, a city just an hour north of us.  I introduced everyone to Da Cristina, which makes the best arancini (traditional Sicilian rice balls) that I’ve had in Sicily.  Lena is chomping into my eggplant and cheese arancino on the right.

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His curls just keep on growing… and curling!  And getting blonder!

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Vehicles like these are usually used by farmers or street sweepers in Sicily.  I loved the upcycled version!

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These magnificent creations — called pasta reale — are made out of marzipan and shaped like fruit.

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This would have been a cute family photo if Lena hadn’t deliberately closed her eyes and looked away…

becca-garber-taormina-mcneels-october-15 On the right, an amiable (and pregnant!) Bekah gave me a break to go running with Lena.  “Let’s run, Mama!” is her new thing.

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becca-garber-taormina-mcneels-october-18 My family in the beautiful Villa Comunale park, one of our favorite stops in Taormina.

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These two tried their first granite (Italian ice) at Bam Bar!

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I could make a whole blog post with at least 30 pictures of Lena eating granite at Bam Bar.  It’s the best that we’ve ever tasted, and we’ve tasted a lot.

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If you visit us, we’ll take you to Taormina!  Pretty promise, pretty please.

9 :: in pretty places, Sicily, Taormina, visitors

how I finally donated my hair

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Instagram photo I snapped in the salon before the Big Cut

Except for an unfortunate time in college when I cut it waaaay too short, I have pretty much always had long hair.  My whole life whenever I mention that I’m going to get a haircut, people ask, “Oh!  Are you going to donate it?”

And I always said no.  Always no, and always for a logical, pretty unselfish reason.  I just wanted a trim, or it wasn’t long enough, or I didn’t want cut it all off to meet the minimum donation length.

But one day I hoped I would say yes!  Yes, I am going to donate it.  Yes, I donated my hair!  Something that could be useless — my hair in a trash can — is going to be something beautiful and useful, something that will meet a great need for someone else.

Back in the spring I was getting so. sick. of my long hair, especially with my newborn and toddler constantly stuck to me.  I mentioned on this photo on Facebook that I wanted to cut it, and a lot of people cautioned me about my plan to donate it to Locks of Love.  In the end I decided I needed to do more research.

In the process I learned about this article, which exposed Locks of Love’s apparent wastefulness with its donations.  Also, Locks of Love often donates its wigs to children with alopecia, not cancer.  If possible, I wanted my hair to go to someone with cancer because I lost a dear childhood friend to that disease, and I remember her own hair loss and her own wig.  I also did research into which organizations accepted hair and were reportedly honest and reliable.  Over and over one name kept popping up: Pantene Beautiful Lengths.  Even the American Cancer Society (which does not provide wigs) recommended this organization.

Also, as a bonus, Pantene Beautiful Lengths had a shorter minimum length requirement (8 inches); Locks of Love and Wigs for Kids required 10 inches of hair.  As I still wanted my hair to be touching my shoulders after it was cut, I wanted to stick to 8 inches.  My hair, which has some layering, varied from 8 to 10 inches in length, and with Pantene it seemed like most of it could be put to good use.

I felt ready.  One afternoon while we were still in the States, I got the blessing of my husband (“It’s ok as long as you’re donating it… but I really love your long hair!”) and asked my mom to watch my two children, and then I drove down the road to the same salon where Lena had just gotten her first haircut.  I put my hair into two pigtails (in order to maximize the length), tied hair ties around each one, let the stylist move in for the kill, and… chop chop!  The deed was done!

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It was weird looking at my hair detached from my body.  I slipped it into a zippered bag as directed and took it to the post office right away.

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I thought it would be cool to hear when my hair made it to Pantene, and so I followed their instructions and wrote my name, mailing address, and email on the bag.

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And there it goes!  I donated my hair for a great cause, and I hope with all my heart that it makes it to someone who really needs it someday soon.  In fact, just this morning I read this amazing article by a cancer survivor that made me even more thankful that I had donated specifically for a wig for a cancer patient.  Maybe I’ll grow my hair out and donate again!

becca-garber-hair-donation-pantene-5 Finally, here are two things that made the experience even more fun: an M&M McFlurry (one of my many guilty pleasures… drooling just thinking of it now…) and having the same French braid hairstyle as my little girl!

Have you ever donated your hair?  Would you like to one day?

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