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Living with Kids in Italy: My Guest Post on Design Mom!


Super exciting news today: our home is featured on Design Mom!!! I worked on the photos and interview for this guest post for weeks, and it was thrilling to finally see it in print!

My friend Courtney suggested I be a part of Design Mom’s Living With Kids series several months ago. I was intimidated — we are not super artistic and our home is not “design-y” — but I knew I wanted to take good pictures of our home before we moved. I emailed Gabrielle to see if she would consider me, and she immediately emailed back and said, “Let’s do this!” I did a happy dance.

But then the real work started! I had to take amazing photos of our home… but I have two little children, basic photography skills (I still can barely use the manual settings on my camera…), and a never-super-clean house. But Elliott was as excited about this as I was, so one Saturday morning he gallantly entertained the kids for hours the while I photographed our kitchen from every. possible. angle.

And then we looked at the photos and I took more photos.

And then we looked again and I took still more!


Eventually I moved on to the rest of the house, cleaning rooms during nap times and photographing them, or cleaning rooms with antsy children around my knees and begging them to stay near me so they wouldn’t get in the shot for “just another minute, and then we can play.”

It’s all worth it in the end because I love these photos. (And the 800 other ones on my laptop that didn’t make it into the guest post!) They capture so much of our home, life, and memories right now. I’ll treasure these forever.

Gabrielle also asked me some really insightful questions about how we ended up living overseas, my favorite parts about life abroad, and what it’s like to live in Sicily with kids. If you want to know more about how we’re raising our kids overseas, I think the interview is a great summary. (I know you’ve gotten a lot of parenting and living overseas talk here and here recently, though!)



Anyway, if you’ve ever wanted to see a bit more of our little yellow house in Sicily, check it out here. I hope you enjoy it!

19 :: in guest post, home sweet home, Sicily, Uncategorized

Fiumefreddo Beach, Sicily


In Sicily there are two kinds of beaches: rocky and sandy.  Generally we stick to the sandy beaches because they sound like more fun (right?), but we learned a few weeks ago that rocky beaches have some serious advantages too.  Especially when there is an ice-cold mountain stream bubbling out of the pebbles on one of them!  We joined our friends the Arthurs at Fiumefreddo for our last beach day together in Sicily.


So windy it destroyed the beach umbrella… typical Sicily.


The men and kids decided to “expand” the cold mountain stream by making new channels for it in the pebbles.


Italian lifeguards & a very cute bambina in her new sun shirt!


Buried alive!


My little man actually seems to be enjoying the beach again… and you know Lena loved every minute of it!


That green promontory in the background is beautiful Taormina.  For looks, Fiumefreddo takes the cake, although Cassibile is still our favorite.  More photos from Cassibile later this summer, I hope!

6 :: in friends, pretty places, Sicily, Uncategorized

house on the beach, kids in the water


Ever since we arrived in Sicily two years ago, Elliott has dreamed of one very specific thing:

“I want to go on vacation to the beach… somewhere where you can stay on the beach.  Not drive to the beach, not walk to the beach.  On the beach.”

We live on an island, so you wouldn’t think this is very hard to do.  However, we’ve looked extensively, and vacation rentals on the beach are not common here in Sicily, especially in the height of the summer season (late July through early September).

We wanted to go on one final vacation with our dear friends the Arthurs, who will be leaving in just two weeks.  (Gulp.)  Knowing that a house on the beach would be perfect for this vacation with six kids, Elliott took matters into his own hands and searched high and low.  He finally found a place that was actually on the beach (!)… but they would only rent it for a week at a time, not a long weekend.  Elliott, being Elliott, negotiated and bided his time, and pretty soon we had ourselves a vacation rental on the beach… and for a full 100 euro less than their weekend asking price, too.

(Elliott, I know you know this, but I love you.)


view of the beach from the stone steps up to our house

The house was just right for two families and lots of kids.  There were three bedrooms, two bathrooms, two kitchens (!), and two extra rooms that we used as bedrooms as well.  The house also included a lovely shaded patio connected to the huge blue-and-white tiled kitchen.  We ate all our meals on the patio and otherwise spent our days on the beach with multiple trips back for nap times, water, snacks, sunscreen, and missing children.

Would you like to stay there yourself?  Here’s the listing if you’re interested!  (That company also owns several other beach-front villas in that same area.)  For Sigonella folks, it’s about a 2-hour drive south of base, located on the southeastern tip of Sicily near Pozzallo.  The beach is called Granelli Beach.  The natural curve of the land forms a large cove that keeps the water shallow for about 200 feet and the waves small… perfect for a vacation with kids.

But anyway, enough details.  Here are some more pictures of our long weekend with friends!


Eden (2 months) and Gil (6 months) chilling on the patio.


The morning/afternoon sunscreen routine.  Frequently overheard conversation between Josh and Rebecca: “I will do anything rather than put sunscreen on the kids.  Anything.  What can I do for you besides that?”



Air mattress as a raft?  This was a sort of brilliant move on Josh’s part.  So brilliant that I saw other people doing the same thing later that afternoon with their own air mattress.


Lena loves Baby Eden and wants to hold her, admire her, and play with her all the time.


For all lovers of Gilbert Blythe… does this photo remind anyone of this?
(Hint: “Anne, I’m sohwry.“)


Elise and Eden


Inspiring read for the weekend.  Highly, highly recommend this book.


A downer of the weekend: this poor guy was almost never happy for very long on the beach.  Our guess is that it was the bright sun; his blue eyes just couldn’t handle it.  We borrowed some baby sunglasses from the Arthurs but that only helped for a little while.  Oh well… he did enjoy swimming naked like the other Sicilian babies.  Can’t blame him!


These two… seriously.  Gil literally lights up when he sees Lena.  And vice versa.  I love how they love each other.


This calm, quiet water — knee deep for about 200 feet — was just perfect with kids.  Refreshing in the mornings and warm as bathwater in the afternoons, with gentle waves and no pollution whatsoever, it might be the overall best beach I’ve ever seen in Sicily.

becca-garber-granelli-beach-sicily-10 Recently Updated215

Lucas and Lena are the cutest little 2-year-olds together.  They get each other laughing so hard… mostly Lena laughing at whatever Lucas comes up with next.


Ciao ciao, Granelli Beach!  Hope to see you again soon!

13 :: in friends, holiday, Italy, Sicily, travel, Uncategorized, weekend

thoughts on excess :: spending

7 book review

This is the final installment of my 3-part book review to evaluate media usage, waste, and spending in my own life.  See Part I : Media and Part II : Waste for the full series!


How many places do you use your credit card?  Jen Hatmaker looked at her family’s bills from a recent month and saw that they had used their credit card in 66 different locations, not counting repeat purchases.

Here on vacation in Virginia today, I was in the car watching strip malls go by out my window.  Chick-Fil-A… Michaels… a grocery store… Starbucks… CVS… a cute plant nursery having a sale on all their plants… a thrift store… Barnes & Noble… Target… one after another these glitzy names appeared on signs, lulling me in to browse, eat, enjoy, and spend.

Suddenly using my credit card in 66 different places in a month didn’t seem that hard to do!

For the month of cutting down spending, Jen decided that her family would only shop in 7 different stores (including gas, groceries, online bills, and for any medical emergencies.)  This chapter was a lot of fun to read, especially as her friends got creative with bringing her food or taking her out for meals.  In lieu of Starbucks and Chipotle, Jen also began to invite people into her own home for coffee dates, meetings over lunch, and family get-togethers.  She said she loved the impact on her friendships and her humility as she opened her home and let her friends see her mess, her real life, and shared what she had with them.

I loved this chapter for two reasons.  The first was that it inspired me to just say no to spending, a habit that Elliott and I have tried to cultivate together.  He’s better at this than me… surprise!  I do enjoy shopping; I love to find a good deal; I love new, pretty things. I have also found that reading magazines like Martha Stewart Living with home decorating suggestions or perusing blogs like Cup of Jo with beautifully curated gift lists only make it harder to say “no” sometimes.

But still, in real life, both Elliott and I do try to spend only after careful consideration.  I repair the holes in his socks before he buys new ones, our children wear almost entirely thrift and second-hand, and my designer jeans are hand-me-downs from my sister-in-law’s roommate.  (Wow, lots of hyphens in that sentence.)  Also, outside of routine purchases, we try to discuss any spending together before we lay down our cash.

The other reason I loved this chapter is because it made me grateful that I live overseas.  Life is simpler in semi-rural Sicily, far away from the cornucopia of retail in the States.  There just aren’t as many places to spend your money.

For example: eating out.  It’s harder to do in Sicily than in Virginia.  In our little town in Sicily, there are no fast food joints (unless you count pastries and gelato, which we sometimes do).  Very few places offer take-out.  Coffee is rarely served “to go”; Italians drink their espressos standing up at the coffee bar.  In our town, only one kind of ethnic food is available.  (Italian, in case you couldn’t guess.)  I find that shopping in another language and with different brands is a deterrent to my spending as well.

Contrast this to visiting the States, where I couldn’t wait to buy and eat Pizza Hut, Chick-Fil-A, Take It Away, and sushi!

Jen found that people offered these reasons when they wanted to spend their money:

  • It’s no big deal.
  • I can afford this.
  • I’ve worked hard for my money, so I can spend it how I want.
  • I want this, back off.
  • I deserve this.
  • Other people spend way more.
  • I still have money in the bank.
  • What’s the big deal?

Do any of these reasons sound familiar to you as you admire at a pair of shoes on sale or consider treating yourself to a milkshake?  (Note: I did both these things in the past few days!  And gave in to both of them, too!  I’m a work in progress here.)

As I look back over my life, I am amazed by how much money has come and gone through my fingers.  From my weekly allowance as a child to my nurse’s salary to our shared income now, a lot of money has been given to me and spent by me.

Where has that money gone?  So much of it has been frittered away rather than thoughtfully stewarded and budgeted towards real needs… both of my own and of others.  After reading this chapter of the book, I am more motivated to keep a careful account of our money, to say “no” to unnecessary or vain spending, to budget for things of quality and beauty that will last, to reevaluate our giving and tithing, and to:

Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin,
yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

Luke 12:27


What about you?  Does your family make a habit of saying “no” to spending, or would you like to make this a habit in your life?  Do you live overseas?  Does this make spending less money easier or harder for you?

13 :: in book reviews, Uncategorized

we have a castle in our front yard

becca-garber-motta-sicily-castle-8 When people in my little Sicilian town ask me where I live, I love my answer: “Io vivo vicino al castello.”  I live near the castle.

They raise their eyebrows and smile appreciatively.  Not many Americans would ever choose my neighborhood, which was originally built in the Middle Ages and boasts narrow cobblestone streets barely wide enough to fit our Honda Civic.

“You live near the castle?” they repeat, smiling.  “The Campinole neighborhood?”

I nod, thinking of the green-and-gold neighborhood pride.  “And I love it,” I reply sincerely. becca-garber-motta-sicily-castle-3

And I do.  Living in our neighborhood isn’t always easy.  Our car has lost a lot of paint as we have learned how to drive and park on streets meant for horses and ox carts.  We’ve shivered through the winters in a house without any heating system.  We often feel out of place and isolated in a neighborhood that is entirely Sicilian (and mostly elderly).  Many evenings our dinnertime conversation is almost drown out by drumbeats outside our front door as the neighborhood’s musicians practice for the annual Medieval festival.

But for all its quirks, this neighborhood is impossible not to love.  The faded buildings and cobblestone streets are so quintessentially Italy.  The old women with their shawls smile from the windows, the old men pause to greet Lena (“ciao, bella!”) on their walks to the piazza.  There is a closeness, a real spirit of the neighborhood, which comes from its endless preparation and hosting of the Medieval festival every summer.  All year round the youths practice their baton twirling, their dances, their drum routines, their flag throwing.  For a week every August the whole island of Sicily knows about Motta Sant’Anastasia, and the best performances of all happen just outside our house in the piazza in front of the castle.


Last week Lena, Gil, and I went on a walk on a windy afternoon and ended up inside the castle itself.  I only visit the castle every 6 months or so, even though I look at it every single day outside my front door.  In the photo on the left above, our house is the yellow one, and the photo was taken from the castle’s window.


The castle was built in Motta when the Normans invaded Sicily, and the costumes and artifacts inside the castle are from that time period.  I love watching the informational video with our visitors because it reminds me of the generations that have lived on the edge of the cliff for centuries before my little American family took up residence here.  In the castle there’s even a dungeon (above right) with a true story of a rightful duke who was thrown into it!


Stairs (and stairs and stairs) lead up two more levels to the top of the castle, where there are beautiful views of Etna over the valley (above right).


And finally, more mannequins in Medieval garb and more beautiful views from windows.  What an amazing privilege to live in such a place, where we have gelato in the piazza, a volcano across the valley, and a castle right outside our front door!

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11 :: in home sweet home, Italy, Sicily, Uncategorized

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