Archive | home sweet home

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

All the Happy Christmas Memories

becca-garber-christmas-2015-virginia-33

A belated Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, friends! Did you have a wonderful Christmas? I think 2014’s holiday season might have topped the charts for me. We spent two cozy, leisurely weeks in Virginia, first with my family and then with Elliott’s. All the people I love the most all in one place… eating, laughing, giving gifts, sleeping in, talking in pajamas all day long. Let’s do it all again tomorrow!

But since we can’t (le sigh), here are some of the best memories:

becca-garber-christmas-2015-virginia-2

Both children fell asleep on my lap on the flight from San Diego to Baltimore. I was so stressed out imagining how everything would go, but every single detail  (food on the plane, attitudes on the plane, entertainment on the plane, you catch my drift) went so much better than I’d anticipated. Maybe that’s what happens when you expect the absolute worst? Elliott rolls his eyes at my pessimism about travel with children, but at least I’m never disappointed!

becca-garber-christmas-2015-virginia-5

At my family’s house, Gil and Lena looooooved helping Grammie make peppermint bark, although they got a little sidetracked during the peppermint crushing stage.

IMG_christmas4

Gil and Lena truly believe that “smile for the camera!” means to open their mouth or bite their bottom lip, respectively. We’ll see how long this lasts.

becca-garber-christmas-2015-virginia-3

Christmas morning with my family! I gave the grandparents and great-grandparents a photo calendar again, the same simple gift I’ve been giving them for the past three years now.

Also Lena got footie pajamas, which is all she wanted for Christmas.

becca-garber-christmas-2015-virginia-4 Gil didn’t really care about his presents (he preferred the unwrapping process), but he did pause to admire the generous Amazon gift card that did not belong to him.

becca-garber-christmas-2015-virginia-6

The next day Em and I got a manicure and a pedicure (and an unsuccessful selfie), and my mom took Lena and Gil for a walk “in the wagon.”

becca-garber-christmas-2015-virginia-7

And then we drove all of three miles away to enjoy the Garber family Christmas! Elliott spent most of his childhood Christmases in this house, but this is actually the FIRST Christmas we’ve spent at the Garbers’ since we got married 5 years ago. We’ve been overseas for every one of them until now. This felt like a homecoming in the best of ways.

becca-garber-christmas-2015-virginia-8

This year we skipped big gifts and just exchanged stockings, which was a new tradition for me. I loved it! I had the best time picking out little treasures for Gil and Lena and then stuffing them with Elliott into the stockings I’d sewn by hand.

becca-garber-christmas-2015-virginia-10

The Garbers’ beautiful dog Mia got her own stocking and her own new toy! Lena, meanwhile, helped everyone unpack and examine their stockings bit by bit…

becca-garber-christmas-2015-virginia-11

Afterwards Uncle David told her a story (in her second pair of footie pajamas that she received for Christmas, so I guess she made that request loud and clear). I admired the beautiful contents of my stocking, all given to me by Jess, who knows me very well!

becca-garber-christmas-2015-virginia-12

Unfortunately, Jess was pretty sick the whole time we were there. Not sure if Lena’s little visits helped her recovery or not…

becca-garber-christmas-2015-virginia-13

On the last day of 2014, we visited the Botanic Garden with Elliott’s parents. I’ve always loved the Garden since we lived within walking distance of it on Capitol Hill as newlyweds. I even have memories of visiting the Garden alone with Lena when she was just a couple weeks old… and she slept through the whole thing snuggled into the Moby wrap on my chest.

IMG_christmasnewyear

The Garbers welcomed in the new year with stories, knitting, games, and “whoops, quick, let’s count down!” at midnight. My kind of party.

becca-garber-christmas-2015-virginia-14

We spent some time on Capitol Hill and around D.C., most of it without our kids, and these were gloriously refreshing times for me and Elliott. Some of our happiest memories together come from these few blocks around the Capitol, and we love coming back. The photos above are from Union Market (SO COOL) and a chilly morning eating pretzel bombs and sliders at the delicious Pretzel Bakery where Uncle Jonathan works.

becca-garber-christmas-2015-virginia-15

On our last day in D.C., Elliott and I spent the afternoon wandering through the Hirshorn Museum, relaxing at a cafe in Mt Pleasant, and then returning to the church we attended as newlyweds. So refreshing on so many levels.

becca-garber-christmas-2015-virginia-17

Two of my favorite things: family loving on my children… and a new knitting project in my lap! I knitted up a storm while I was home, finishing three pairs of gloves and this beautiful scarf (in deep red) for my sister Emily.

becca-garber-christmas-2015-virginia-16

And then… time to fly West again. We miss you, Virginia and D.C.! There’s no place like home.

22 :: in DC, family, holidays, home sweet home, life lately

A Hike at Torrey Pines + Contentment & Wealth

becca-garber-torrey-pines-10
This week we’ve had the huge privilege of my mom and brother visiting! We had so much fun with them, and the kids especially were over the moon.

They left at 5:30 this morning, though, and I couldn’t get back to sleep, so here I am sharing some of the best photos of their visit over a hot cup of coffee.

(P.S. It’s R A I N I N G which never happens in San Diego which therefore equals extra cozy!)

collagebecca-garber-torrey-pines-1
Yesterday we went to Torrey Pines State Nature Reserve, a beautiful park on the wild California coast. Even though it was blustery and about to start raining, the scenery took our breaths away. I remarked that it reminded me of our honeymoon down Highway 101, and then Gil said — for the first time ever — “Honey… moo!”

becca-garber-torrey-pines-5

On another note… I had a conversation with someone recently about contentment vs. striving for more. My friend said — aptly, I thought — that if you’ve got a Honda and you’re content and happy with your Honda, what does that mean about hoping to own a Lexus one day? Does that mean you never want anything more than your Honda? You have a Honda and that’s all you’ll ever want? Or are you falsely thankful… like you’re just pretending to be thankful for your Honda when you’d really like a Lexus?

becca-garber-torrey-pines-9

It’s a tricky question. We do want to be thankful for all God has given, but we also know He wants us to work hard and that wealth is a gift from God. There is nothing wrong with any kind of car, it’s just how we view and use these things that matters. How do we remain thankful today while working hard for tomorrow?

becca-garber-torrey-pines-6

One thing that has helped me and Elliott, I think, is to set life goals and discuss what our priorities are. Elliott has read various books (like this one by Dave Ramsey) and then sat me down to discuss where we want to be in five, 10, and 20 years. What are our goals as a family? What will we regret never doing in this life?

For us, our goals involve traveling and living overseas, being close to family, writing books, having a home that is welcoming to visitors, and one day having some kind of farm of our own. Our ultimate, overarching goal is to glorify and enjoy God, even if that messes up all our other plans. I’ve shared a longer and more specific list of our life and family priorities here.
becca-garber-torrey-pines-2

As I talked to my friend, I realized that these life goals help Elliott and me to have tunnel vision in some ways. In GOOD ways! Because we know what we want in life, it makes a lot of other decisions about what we DON’T want very easy.

For instance, our car. We needed to buy a car when we moved to California. We wanted and knew we would be getting a lot of guests, and we wanted to drive them around without always needing a rental car. So we decided to get a gently used minivan, and we chose the safest one on the market.

However, once we chose that particular minivan, we had a host of other decisions to make. Did we want a DVD player? Leather seats? A back-up camera? A built-in GPS? And on and on!

We went back and reviewed our goals. We wanted a minivan for the extra space, not for the other luxuries. We don’t want our kids to watch TV in the car. We don’t want a fancy car at this stage in our lives. It didn’t match up with our life goals and priorities. So we chose the basic minivan. And we really, really like it!

Another example is our house, which you can read more about here.

becca-garber-torrey-pines-3
Tunnel vision is a good thing sometimes. It helps you block out the extra noise, the flashing lights, the bling, the fun distractions that keep you from your ultimate goals and dreams. These dreams help you to budget and to plan ahead.

But they also help you to enjoy what is happening RIGHT NOW. I can sit with my visiting family in our house and praise God because of His goodness in giving us these things for which we’ve hoped and dreamed. I can thank God for the children He’s given us. I can thank God for the travel we’ve already been able to enjoy. Of course I hope for more of ALL of these things ;), but setting manageable goals for our hopes and dreams gives enormous, my-cup-overflows contentment right this very moment!

becca-garber-torrey-pines-7
Of course we are not perfect and get distracted all the time by all kinds of things: pretty things on blogs, authors who make millions, friends who are traveling overseas while we’re “stuck here,” and so on.

But when we come home, sit around our dinner table together, and bow our heads to pray, there is a prevailing sense of contentment. Contentment because we are living the life we want to live right now, not tomorrow or when we have a million dollars or when we retire. We have chosen these things in life AND we have been richly blessed.

And then we snuggle up together against the cold of the world and thank God for His goodness!

becca-garber-torrey-pines-8

9 :: in family, home sweet home, hospitality, thoughts

Confessions of a Third Culture Kid + A Book Giveaway

Update on 11.4.2014: The winner of the book giveaway, according to Random.org, is #10: Karen. Congratulations, Karen! I’ll email you to get your address. Thank you for all your wonderful, insightful, and beautiful comments, everyone!

——–

becca-garber-guest-post-egypt

On the L: With my siblings and dad at the pyramids circa 1996. I’m the one with the unfortunate bangs on the far left.
On the R: Back at the pyramids with Elliott and Lena (!) in 2010.

A recent Monday morning. Six women sat around a table, plates filled with food, ready to talk.

“Let’s get to know each other a little better by sharing about the cities we’ve lived in,” my new core group leader suggested, shifting the baby in her arms as she surveyed our small group. “Might but a fun way to tell our life stories. I’ll start…”

In my seat next to her, I tensed inwardly. I felt my otherness, my weirdness, slipping back over me. I had dressed like the others, talked like the others; I fit in, they thought. I looked the part. I looked like a nice, average American girl, just like everyone else in the group.

But that’s just part of my story. It’s only the last eight years of my life story, actually. The eight years that involve living in America, going to an American school, marrying a semi-American boy, and having two cute and semi-American children.

The 19 years before the last eight were what had me sweating.

I didn’t grow up in the States. I was born in Egypt and lived in Australia, Singapore, Pakistan, Singapore again, India, and Brazil all before I started college. It was a different life, a life studded with foods and holidays and cultures and languages that I can taste on my tongue, see in my memory, and long for without warning.

As I waited for my turn to share my life story last week, I remembered a book I was reading at home called Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging. The author, blogger Marilyn Gardner, is a friend of mine, and recently I had agreed to read and review her book. However, I had no idea how relevant the book would be to me. Marilyn also grew up overseas; she spent her childhood in Pakistan and her adulthood between Egypt, Pakistan, and the States. (Sound like someone you know?!)

becca-garber-auc-graduation-egypt

With my dad when he graduated from the American University of Cairo in 1987.

In her book, Marilyn writes with poignant understanding about third culture kids: children who spent most of their childhoods outside their passport country. Her observations and anecdotes flooded me with memories, sometimes bringing me to tears, sometimes leaving me running to Elliott, saying, “Listen to this! I have felt this way and it’s so true!”

Here’s one of my favorite quotes (which perfectly captured how I felt that Monday as I prepared — again — to share my “third culture kid” childhood):

As a child raised between worlds… I was neither of one world nor the other; I occupied a culture between…. In this other world called the United States, the blue passport bearing my picture and various stamps told me, told the world, that I belonged. That I was a citizen. But I never felt like I belonged in this other world. At any given time I was less or more comfortable, but I always felt like a bit of a fake. I didn’t know how to buy clothes. I didn’t know how to dress for winter. I didn’t know the idioms, the slang that was so important at that age. I had no clue about pop culture. I was trying to fake it, trying to fit, but at heart an imposter.

I got it. I knew how the author felt. Especially in college, fresh from a childhood overseas, I struggled daily just to fit in. I worked so hard. What did the other students wear? What did they do in their free time? Where did they live? What did I need to do to fit in? I transformed my wardrobe, made friends, joined organizations, moved out of my far-away dorm into the center of student life. Packed my life full just to fit in, to lose my otherness, to stop feeling so awkward, so left out. So lonely.

I just wanted to belong.

becca-garber-first-smile-egypt

My first smile on a bus in Cairo. I have a  feeling I will look exactly like this when I am 92 years old, plus wrinkles and including chub.

I’ve spent the last few years synthesizing my childhood and my future, trying to blend them into a cohesive whole. Elliott — my multifaceted, amazing husband and best friend — has enabled me to do this. To embrace our American-ness and combine it with a life overseas.

Marilyn’s book, though, brought back wave upon wave of memories. I remembered afresh the delight of living in another culture, of assimilating new and old, of learning to navigate a foreign land with ease and awareness. I remembered how my heart sings as I stride through international terminals, as I hand over my passport, as I find my seat on a plane, as I feel the dip and the lift as the plane climbs into the air. I remembered the deep pain of leaving a country behind forever, of re-entering the States, of reverse culture shock, and of feeling achingly far from home. Marilyn’s words, memories, and stories brought it all back.

Some passages in her book felt like I could have written them myself:

The day my passport expired and I realized there was no upcoming reason to renew it, I felt as if I had been robbed of my identity.

My passport was my grown-up teddy bear. [When it expired], I made up my mind that no matter what, I would not let my passport expire again. While I knew that my identity was far more than a document that had expired, the symbol represented too much of my life — people I loved, places I had been and pivotal events that shaped who I had become — to let go.

I am an invisible immigrant….. I can adapt a chocolate chip cookie recipe to taste good without brown sugar or chocolate chips. I can decode idioms in Arabic or Urdu. I am completely comfortable in crowded bazaars or navigating any major airport in the world. I can make an orange-cranberry salad without the cranberries…. And I understand the importance of identifying friends with commissary privileges and make sure they are invited to dinner so that next time I see them there will be cranberries for my orange-cranberry salad.

(All throughout my childhood I loved being friends with kids who had commissary privileges and could buy cranberry sauce and Blue Bunny ice cream and chocolate chips. And then in Italy I became the friend with commissary privileges… and it was glorious.)

Third culture kid envy… It is what I feel when my feet are trapped on the ground for too long while I watch others travel. It is what I feel when I hear others, sometimes worthy and sometimes not, talk about Pakistan or Egypt, my beloved places. It is what I taste when I hear that someone is going on a long trip, leaving from the international terminal just minutes from my house. It reaches crisis stage when I find out someone is moving overseas. And I so long and need to overcome this syndrome, but there are times when I think that it is impossible.

(Yes, it’s true. I’m not proud, but such envy has consumed me, especially since we moved back to the States this summer.)

What happens when the third culture kid becomes an adult and settles in their passport country? For a time everything seems backwards and contrary. Few of us had the dreams of owning our own homes, or becoming “successful” as defined by middle-class America. Our parents had lived counter-culture and had passed that on to us. Nothing really prepared us for a life in suburbs or small towns of the Western hemisphere.

Perhaps our unspoken fear is that if we learn to sing songs of joy in this new place, this new land, then we will forget the old, we will lose our identity, all that we know, all that is familiar. As one person put it: “I wanted to preserve my identity, to hold dear the soil in which my roots are settled, to Never Forget Who I Am. After all — my identity has come at such a high cost.

This past Monday, when my turn came to share my life story, I chose to start it in a new way. I chose not to blush, smooth over my strangeness, downplay the different childhood that I’d had. I chose to own it, to share it, to explain it and hold it out and offer it without reservation.

Take me or leave me, here I am.

“I’m a third culture kid,” I said. “I spent most of my life overseas until I started college, and I got back overseas as soon as I could after that. Living overseas is a huge part of my identity, and I want to live as much of my life outside of the U.S. as I can. My story starts in Egypt when my dad was in graduate school…”

May it not be too long (oh please, Lord, don’t let it be too long) before I’m standing in the international terminal of another airport, passport in hand, ready to fly away into the Great, Beautiful World once again.

——–

image via

Would you like to win a copy of Marilyn’s beautiful book? For the third culture kids who read this blog (I know there are many of you!) or for the parents out there who long to raise kids overseas, this book is for you! Marilyn has an autographed copy just waiting to send to you.

Entering to win is easy. Just leave a comment in this post and tell me why you’d like to read this book!

Giveaway closes next Monday, November 3. Happy reading!

P.S. If you haven’t seen this crazy-but-true list yet, it’s guaranteed to put a few smiles and eye rolls on your third culture kid-lovin’ face.

70 :: in Army, book reviews, giveaway, home sweet home, memories, thoughts, travel

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.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
17 :: in Coronado, family, home sweet home, thoughts

Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes