Archive | Coronado

Why You Should Have Your Friends Over for Dinner

Our studio in D.C.

Our first home in D.C.

When my husband and I first got married, we lived in a 388 sq ft studio in Washington, D.C. That tiny apartment was like a bird’s nest; we were level with blooming magnolias in spring and could see the Capitol Dome out our window.

Despite having just enough room to turn around in, we made a regular habit of hosting friends for dinner. We were young and so happy, and so we opened our doors and borrowed chairs and sat on the bed and drank wine. Acquaintances turned into lifelong friends.

Looking back, those were our greatest hosting days so far in our marriage. I think part of it was innocence; we were too young to care about our Craigslist furniture and too-spicy curries. But I think the other part was time and energy – those were the days before we (and all our friends) had kids and early bedtimes. We had no one to entertain but other young couples and friends, and we had nothing but time.

When we moved to Coronado, we dreamed of having those days again. We have a deck and patio furniture and a grill, and the weather here is perfect 364 days of the year. The scene is set for entertaining. We have so much to offer now, compared to the tiny one-room studio in D.C.

And yet months have gone by, and my husband and I realized recently that we’ve hardly had any friends over to dinner. Traveling for work, bedtime with the kids, visiting extended family, and so on and so forth – all of these things have slowed our good intentions down.

Then we made some new friends in Coronado. We only hung out with them once before we received an invitation to have dinner in their home. It was a delicious meal in their simple two-bedroom apartment on Orange Ave. Our two kids and their two kids ran wild through the three rooms of the house. Our Moscow mules chilled in copper mugs on an IKEA table. Their simple, genuine hospitality warmed us through and through. Our friends continued this spontaneous, generous welcoming, giving freely of their time and food and home, never minding the kids or the space. They offered cheerfully, and we felt at home.

Since then, my husband and I have decided to try to have friends over to dinner three times a month. It’s a lot of work for many reasons, especially because, like us, most our friends have a couple kids under five. During our meal, we all spend just as much time seated as running after our children. Also I am still the kind of disorganized person who does a whole week’s cleaning in the hour before her guests arrive. So far I only have two good go-to recipes that accommodate for allergies and children and work well on the grill. We are not yet practiced hosts.

But I almost don’t want to be. Yes, I want to serve good food and strong wine and have forks and plates at everyone’s place. I want to clean the toilet before they arrive, do some tidying, and have the meal mostly ready. I want my guests to feel special, loved, welcomed.

But I don’t want them to ever feel like they are anywhere but in a home.

When I walk into a friend’s house and see her dust bunnies and dishes in the sink and pile of laundry waiting to be folded, I see a home. I feel connection, comfort, and even relief. She didn’t hide the mess before I came! She didn’t clean for me! Her kids don’t have any clean underwear either! Being welcomed into such a home is a sign of friendship these days. It’s a way of saying, “I am who I am, and I know you will see my real life and love me for it. I trust you.” I want to spend time in homes like that, to have friends like that, to fill my life with honesty like that.

I want our guests to feel that way, too. In some ways, I never want to get so good at hosting that I lose touch with that newlywed bride stirring a pot of made-up stew with her husband, taste testing from the wooden spoon, and then welcoming guests into a one-room home with no embarrassment and so much love.

So I’ll keep sending out dinner invitations. I can’t promise my guests an immaculate house, or quiet children. I can’t even promise them a wine glass, because I break them all and I drink my wine out of juice glasses now. I’m still working on finding good recipes to feed them.

But I do promise them a clean plate and a chair to sit in. I promise them a family and a home. I promise them a heart that wants them there.

Take this bread, this wine, this friendship, and stay awhile.

36 :: in Coronado, family, friends, goals, home sweet home, hospitality, marriage, San Diego, thoughts, visitors

Post-Deployment Family Fun Around San Diego

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Elliott came home from deployment on a Wednesday afternoon, and his amazing commander gave him a four-day weekend to enjoy time at home with his family. Thank you, ma’am!

We spent the weekend doing so many fun things: hiking on Thursday, hiking on Friday (so basically Elliott’s ideal life), biking all over downtown San Diego on Saturday, and then topping off the weekend with beers and friends at Balboa Park on Sunday evening.

Here are a few of my favorite photos from our first weekend back together as a family:

becca-garber-after-deployment-family-fun-san-diego-7 Our first adventure on Thursday was at Cuymaca Rancho State Park, which is about a 45-minute drive east of San Diego.* Elliott had flown over those hills on his plane flight home, and he saw that there was a little snow left since SD had so much rain the week before. We went to find that snow!

*Side note: It is so weird to say something is “east” of your home when you’ve always lived on the East Coast and anything east is the Atlantic Ocean. I feel like I’m driving on the wrong side of the road or something every time I say, “It’s west of San Diego… oh no wait… I mean east, definitely east!”

becca-garber-after-deployment-family-fun-san-diego-3.jpg I love Gil’s face in that first photo! He can’t get over the crazy snow! He hasn’t seen snow since Mt Etna, our backyard volcano in Sicily. He got used to it pretty quickly, though, and Lena and Elliott went right for the snowball fights…

becca-garber-after-deployment-family-fun-san-diego-4.jpg … and building a tiny snowman. And Lena was so sweet to help her brother in the snow!

becca-garber-after-deployment-family-fun-san-diego-6 The most exciting part of the day was coming around a corner and seeing a fire truck. Gil was beside himself with joy… a FIRE TRUCK.

And then we noticed all the people working around the fire truck to clear the fire road were wearing orange jumpsuits with “PRISONER” on the back in large black letters. Yiiiiikes. We walked right past them several times as they were working on the road and we were hiking. I wasn’t too nervous, though, because I doubted prisoners with recent or horrific crimes would be allowed to work so freely, and because mostly I felt sad for them as we hiked past, free and whole and happy.

(And I’ve plugged it before and I’ll plug it again, but Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison totally changed my view about the American criminal justice system. It’s not at all like the TV show, and it is really, really worth a read.)

becca-garber-after-deployment-family-fun-san-diego-3 And then Lena and I made snow angels for the first time, “just like Laura did in Little House in the Big Woods!”

And then that evening we went to the beach for sunset just to say we went to the snow and the beach in the same day! Hurray for living in gorgeous California.

becca-garber-after-deployment-family-fun-san-diego-16 We met up at the beach with some of our best friends in Coronado, and it was so good to see Elliott back with our group and our kiddos. I’ve missed that!

becca-garber-after-deployment-family-fun-san-diego-8 The next morning we went with those same friends to eat brunch at The Cottage, a delicious breakfast spot in La Jolla. Afterwards we took our friends hiking at Torrey Pines State Reserve, which you already know from here and here that I love so much!

becca-garber-after-deployment-family-fun-san-diego-1.jpg becca-garber-after-deployment-family-fun-san-diego-9 Our friends Adam and Jackson… and blue blue blue sky.

becca-garber-after-deployment-family-fun-san-diego-13 The colors of the California coast.

becca-garber-after-deployment-family-fun-san-diego-14 The whole group! We have loved sharing life with this dear family in Coronado, and we’re so sad that they moved just this week back to Oklahoma. Stacy has been an incredible friend to me — authentic and kind and spontaneous and generous and real. We have loved girls’ nights and last-minute dinners and sunsets at the beach and so, so, so many hours together at the park and library and Bible study. Aren’t good friends such a gift in this life?!

becca-garber-after-deployment-family-fun-san-diego-12 The three I love the most in this world.

becca-garber-after-deployment-family-fun-san-diego-11 Watching a helo, as I’ve learned to call them here.

becca-garber-after-deployment-family-fun-san-diego-10 Jackson and Lena — two happy little friends!

becca-garber-after-deployment-family-fun-san-diego-15 Gil’s hat… I can’t even.

collagebecca-garber-after-deployment-family-fun-san-diego-2 … and pouting, just for good measure.

The next day we biked through Coronado to the ferry, and then we rode the ferry across the bay to downtown San Diego. It only takes about 10 minutes, but it’s so much fun! Once on the other side, we spent the day at a splash park/awesome playground, the New Central Library, and Seaport Village, a quaint (but touristy) seaside shopping area. If you’re wanting to visit San Diego, these are all wonderful places to go with kids!

becca-garber-splash-park-san-diego-1.jpg becca-garber-splash-park-san-diego And finally, on Sunday we went here, an amazing outdoor restaurant in Balboa Park. I didn’t take a single picture, but it’s one of our favorite places to hang out with our kids and friends. I don’t know of many places where you can drink fine beers and let your kids play in the grass… of a sculpture garden, no less! Highly recommended if that’s your jam. ;)

——–

Time apart from your husband — and doing every social activity by yourself — will make you SO grateful to have your husband back and home and with you! Friendships are more fun when you can share them with whole families and your whole family, don’t you think?

1 :: in 52 project, Coronado, deployment, hiking, San Diego

Raising Compassionate Kids :: A Taste of the Real World

raising-compassionate-kids “You guys live in paradise!” my dad exclaimed this evening after listening to me rehash my day. “You walked to the park in the morning, the beach in the evening, you’re going to the zoo tomorrow, and all in this perfect weather…!”

We laughed, knowing he’d barely hit the highlights. Raising kids in Coronado is a dream come true.

But Coronado is just a steppingstone for us in the long road of life. Much as I want to live life here to the fullest, I also want Lena and Gil to know that there is a world beyond Coronado. It is an incredible world, with diverse and fascinating people, and it is valuable and beautiful.

I want them to know that every day of their lives, even before they can understand what they are learning, so that their natural instinct is to respond with compassion, responsibility, and love.

So recently I began to look for ways to do that. I had two constraining criteria, though. Lena and Gil are almost four and barely two years old, so I needed something that would be age-appropriate for them. I also wanted to be able to walk.

Believe it or not, finding something wasn’t hard. As many of you know, I’m a nurse (currently on a hiatus to raise babies and write), and I have spent a lot of time in nursing homes. Most assisted living facilities have regular activities and volunteer opportunities.

In January of this year, I did a Google search for “assisted living Coronado,” and only one result popped up. I pressed “call” under the listing for the Coronado Retirement Village to ask if they had an activities director. Within seconds I heard the bright and cheery voice of Ally, activities director extraordinaire.

Five minutes later, I had a date and a time to join the residents for a Thursday morning crock-pot cooking class.

The first morning we showed up, I was nervous. Would Lena and Gil behave? What would we do? Would residents be mostly bed-bound, or walking around the facility, or lucid? I really had no idea.

Also, even though we had walked to almost every corner of Coronado, we had not walked to the corner that included the assisted living facility, and we were on unfamiliar ground.

But I shouldn’t have worried.

The facility is beautiful, sparkling clean with big windows overlooking Tidelands Park and the bay. That first day, Ally greeted us and took us upstairs to the two community rooms filled with books, a vintage bingo set, a couple of TVs, and plenty of comfortable seating. We passed quiet private rooms where staff members were fanning clean sheets over beds.

Clearly, we had stepped into a bustling little community, less like a hospital than a well-run apartment building.

IMG_7280 We have continued to visit the CRV every Thursday morning this spring, and this past week we made chocolate chip pancakes with the residents. I watched as two-year-old Gil carefully carried a paper plate with a pancake to each resident, and then held it still while three-year-old Lena poured a dollop of syrup onto each pancake. They waited patiently to serve everyone, and then they sat down to eat a pancake of their own. Later, they delivered cups of water, and then returned to gather up the trash.

Next Ally got out various games in the community room. As I watched Lena and Gil blow bubbles and various residents pop them, I realized that I had brought my children to just the right place. The residents were delighted with my children – most of them forget and are newly delighted each week. They also enjoy playing the same games and eating the same snacks that my preschool-age children do.

For about an hour each week, bringing preschoolers and assisted living residents together is a wonderful playtime for both of them.

becca-garber-assisted-living-coronado.jpg As the weeks have gone by, Lena, Gil, and I have learned names, personalities, and life stories. The kids know what a walker is for, and a wheelchair, and that some people just doze off in the middle of a game. During our visits, the kids know that they are in second place and that their job is to be friendly and helpful. They hear the same questions repeated every time we visit, sometimes multiple times per visit from the same person, and they are learning to respond clearly and politely, saying, “My name is Lena. This is Gil. He is a boy, and I am a girl.” They are learning to call the residents “our friends.”

For us, our local assisted living facility has been a gentle way to teach our kids that not everyone looks and talks and acts just like they do. I love seeing my children look at this part of the world with compassion instead of confusion or fear. The genuinely kind staff and residents are a joy to count among our friends in Coronado, too.

I’d love to know — as you think back on your childhood, what formed your mindset about “normal” and “comfort zone”? What did your parents or teachers do well (or not so well) to help you think compassionately about the world?

14 :: in Becoming a Stay-at-Home Mom Series, Coronado, motherhood, thoughts

Because I Have Two Hours to Write!

Beautiful matching outfits handmade by my "Aunt" Leslie of Rosebasket.

Beautiful matching outfits handmade by my “Aunt” Leslie of Rosebasket.
If you click on this image, it will take you to her handmade clothing website!

For the past four weeks my sister-in-law Jess has been visiting, and I’ve got to say, having someone visit you who loves to cook, care for children, and can slip seamlessly into your life is an amazing gift. This morning — juuuust as the kids and I were finishing an epic showdown that involved a lotlotlot of toothpaste — Jess said,

“Hey Becca, is there anything you’d like to do this morning? I can watch the kids.”

And within 10 minutes I had slipped out the back door and started speed-walking towards the library. Two hours to myself to write and think! I could scarcely believe it.

I even snapped ridiculous selfies on the way and sent them to Elliott, saying, “I’m on my way to the library to write! This is amazing!”

So let’s just take a moment to celebrate Jess and the awesomeness of having her with us for a whole month:

jess

Cooking AND baking are part of her daily routine, which means I’ve made about three dinners in the last month. Which is amazing. Stay and cook for us forever, Jess?

And anyway, here I am, in the library, writing to you. I thought I’d use this time for a few fun updates…

It’s only Wednesday, but in our household one big party starts today when Uncle David gets off the plane. This is Jess’s last week with us and so David (Elliott and Jess’s brother) and Emily (my sister) have decided to fly out and join us for a few days.

Em just got her ticket yesterday after a few days of deliberation, and Lena and I freaked out with happiness at the zoo, right in front of the lions, and took this photo for her:

becca-garber-updates-coronado-october-2
I think you couldn’t have happier smiles!

Speaking of the zoo, it was so much fun. I invited my new friend, Heather, and her two boys (who are exactly Lena and Gil’s ages) to come with us, and we wrangled children and tried to get a few words in edgewise and overall had a great time, I think. ;)

Last week, Heather and I also left all four of our kids with Jess (thank you, Jess!!!) so that we could slip away for a pedicure and quiet conversation in a little cafe. I’m thrilled to see friendships forming here in Coronado as our lives slowly take on shape:

becca-garber-updates-coronado-october-7

L: All four kids looking — if not smiling — at the camera is a major success!
R: Pumpkin spice latte date with a new, good friend.

On a more serious note… it’s happening. “Making room” is happening. We chose to live in Coronado and get this bigger house so we could fill it up to bursting with friends and family, and I rejoice every time I see someone take me up on it. Some friend or family member buy a plane ticket and send me their itinerary, some sweet neighbor show up on the doorstep with something yummy, some new friend bring their kids over and watch the house get wonderfully messy and laugh with me. Praise God. We have so far to go (what church will we go to? how will we offer our home to our church?), but these past few months have affirmed God’s blessing on our choice of neighborhood and home — even so, so far from family in D.C. — and my heart rejoices.

OK, back to fun updates. This past weekend, Jess took care of our kids while Elliott and I went on a 36-hour getaway to L.A.! (Remember my aspirations in this post? They’re happening!)

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L: You’re supposed to be able to see the Hollywood sign behind us…
R: Our favorite movie star.

I’ve always wanted to see Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Rodeo Drive, and… maybe a few movie stars, too. Well, we saw all those things (probably including a couple stars because I realized we don’t watch enough TV to know who most people are), and — best of all — we had some time alone together. We went on long walks, lingered over delicious brunches, stayed at a bookstore as long as we wanted, slept in on Sunday morning, and overall celebrated being best friends and being married. It was just lovely. Thank you for taking me, Elliott!

becca-garber-updates-coronado-october-9

L: Just another $1.4 million car on the street!
R: All afternoon in a bookstore = our love language

becca-garber-updates-coronado-october-10

L: Reading in bed as long as we liked!
R: Beverly Hills Farmers Market for breakfast and bluegrass.

What else? My parents also visited recently, and one night they took us out to dinner and then to the Lamb’s Players Theatre in Coronado to see Les Miserables. Such an amazing production! If you’re local, the tickets are half off (and almost gone) on Halloween night. Jess, David, Emily, and I are going this Friday thanks to that deal.

My “little” cousins visited from L.A. while my parents were here. They are so good with Lena and Gil. I’m like… how did you guys learn to be so great with little kids? I was not like you when I was 12!

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Once upon a time Tyler and Ashley were my ring bearer and flower girl, and now look at them!

My mom also brought the kids this amazing play quilt that she made for Gil. All the animals fit into the pockets of the train cars, and the sun, moon, kite, and an airplane are removable with velcro. It even has little miniature dolls that look like Lena and Gil! Can you believe it? What an heirloom!

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And I just saw the kids and Jess across the library looking for me, so my time’s up! It was wonderful. Thanks for reading.

What are YOU looking forward to this week?

xoxo,

Becca

15 :: in Coronado, family, life lately, motherhood, San Diego

When Your Neighbors Can Hear Every Word

  pumpkins

Image via

I’m not used to living so close to people.

Our first evening in our house in Coronado, we stopped still and listened in amazement. We were eating dinner on the deck, and we could hear the children on the other side of the fence, just 10 feet away from our dinner table, chattering with each other as they jumped on their trampoline. We could see them through the gaps in the bamboo fence. Just 10 feet away! We could watch their parents come out to break up an argument between them. We could hear the words exchanged, hear the inflections of frustration and exhaustion in their voices, see glimpses of their clothes and their gestures and their moving lips.

We turned back to our meal, trying to ignore the lives being lived just a few feet away, as we fed our children blueberries and turkey.

That night, Elliott and I put our kids to sleep and then leaned back on our own pillows to read before bed. It was 8 o’clock, quiet. And then — again! — we heard voices, different neighbors this time: a husband and wife, preparing to eat dinner in their garden.

“Wait! I told you to leave the salmon on the grill for a few more minutes!”

“But it’s done.”

“No, it’s not, look at this. Not flaking! It needs more time.”

I felt my own stomach muscles clench reflexively as the argument escalated. But then…

“Oh, you’re right, honey, I see you’re right. I’ll put it back on.”

I relaxed, impressed with this woman, this new neighbor of mine who knows out to pick her battles. Shyly, I peeked out the window. I could see a middle-aged couple in their quiet garden, he in a woven robe, living out their lives, completely unaware that I could hear every word and observe every action. I closed the shutters. There is a fine line between hearing words unintentionally and watching actions intentionally, and I wanted to respect their privacy.

We did not live close to our neighbors in Sicily. Our house was located on the end of a dead-end street, and the buildings around us were all garages. We lived right below a castle with a large courtyard, so we heard plenty of activity, but we had no windows facing the town or other people. All our windows faced outward towards the countryside: deep valleys, sprawling vistas, and people living hundreds of feet below us, half a mile away.

We liked it. As a mom, I became used it without even trying. The baby is screaming? No one will hear him but my own family. I’m disciplining Lena? No one will hear our interaction, meted out as I see fit. It’s a hot day? No one will see our entire family clad only in underwear.

But immediately our life in California is different. If we can hear them, they can hear us. This is partly because it is HOT here, and none of us have air conditioning, and so we’re all living with every single window open as wide as it can go. And all of us eating outside. And playing outside. And living outside, a few feet from individual decks and backyards, escaping the heat together and practically landing in each other’s laps.

This happened a couple of weeks ago:

“Is it someone’s birthday today?” my neighbor asked when we ran into her on the sidewalk.

“No, not today,” I said, somewhat confused.

“Oh, I thought I heard you singing ‘Happy Birthday’ earlier.”

“We did! I forgot. It’s my sister’s birthday today, and so the kids and I recorded a video of us singing for her.”

And all the while I’m thinking, OMG she heard that?! She can heard everything! She can hear every time I put the kids in time out! She can hear every time Gil has a temper tantrum! She can heard the kids arguing, me intervening, and every conversation we have about poop and pee. All. Day. Long.

Yes, she can hear everything. They can all hear the scattered, louder parts of our everyday lives.

Is there a way to turn this around, to make it something good?

Is there a way to redeem the crowding, to share something other than “Happy Birthday”?

Yes. I’ve been thinking about it for a month now, and I think yes.

What about hearing Lena’s little voice singing, “Jesus Loves Me”?

What about hearing Elliott and I disagree graciously over the grill, like our neighbors did?

What about hearing us talk to our children about obeying God and His Word, instead of disciplining them just because we’re embarrassed or annoyed?

What about hearing us get mad, get frustrated, raise our voices at our kids (we all do, it’s inevitable)… and then ask them for forgiveness?

“I was wrong, Lena, and I’m sorry. I should not have been so angry. Will you forgive me?”

Over the past month, this has slowly become my goal. To let my neighbors hear a life lived out with grace. With frustration, yes. With toddler tears, yes. With lots of “Happy Birthday,” yes. With plenty of failings, plenty of mess, plenty of reality. But also with grace shown to each other, pulled from a source greater than ourselves, filling us up, spilling over, flowing out, shared with others.

Through the windows, across the deck, over the fence, into their homes.

Or over a glass of wine in our backyard. Because I’d like to share that with our neighbors, too.

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17 :: in Coronado, family, home sweet home, thoughts

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