Three Kids and Three Weeks in Europe! // Part 1

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This month, my little family is on the trip of a lifetime: three weeks in Europe!

We’ve been looking for a way to use Elliott’s extra vacation time, and so in January we started looking at airline tickets. Elliott found a phenomenal deal to Europe on Norwegian Airlines. For less than $1100, he purchased roundtrip tickets between LA and Europe for our entire family! We jumped on the flights, and now, in early April, here we are in the U.K.

The days are flying by, and I want to record them in real time if I can. I share a few photos a day on Instagram, but I don’t want to post too much on there. Besides, there is so much more to record and remember!

IMG_1305 Right before we left, our dear friends came to stay in our house and take care of our pets. They have two kids that are close to Lena and Gil’s age, and the four children had so much fun together! We were sorry to leave!

IMG_1310 Forest helped with packing. I’m hoping to write a list of what we packed soon. We brought 4 carry-on suitcases and didn’t check any bags, except for free-to-check baby items: umbrella stroller, baby bed, and narrow car seats and booster seats for our European rental cars.

IMG_1311 And we’re off! We left on Tuesday, April 4, and we had to drive 2 hours to LA first. We parked our car in long-term parking and then took the shuttle to the airport. By the time we got through security, we felt like we’d already run a marathon! Packing, organizing the house, driving, and dealing with the airport had made for a very full day.

IMG_1315 We were super early to the airport, which I loved and Elliott begrudgingly accepted — hah! We have access to certain airport lounges thanks to one of our credit cards, so we headed there for a couple of hours before our flight.

IMG_1317 Lena had turned 6 the day before, so she was eager to break out some of her birthday presents!

IMG_1340 Time to head to our gate! The rolling suitcases took a little bit of figuring out…

IMG_1342 … but this makes it look like a breeze. For those who are interested, these are the suitcases we purchased after comparing tons of them. They fit the carry-on size requirements for all European airlines.

IMG_1345 On the flight, we were seated together, but I requested to move when I saw there was an empty seat in front of the bulkhead, which had the attachments for a baby bassinet. They let me move to that seat, and I was so thankful. However, Forest was really too big for the bassinet (he’s 30 inches long and weighs 20 lbs), and so he only slept comfortably in it for a few hours.

After that I had a terrible time getting him back to sleep; he just wouldn’t settle in the Ergo, the bassinet, or my arms. Finally we both fell asleep with me sitting down and him in the Ergo.

Elliott had a slightly better time with the older kids. Thanks to my move, they each had two seats to themselves! He also gave them melatonin, a natural sleep aid, which was new for us. I purchased this melatonin right before our flight, and our pediatrician friend recommended doses for them based on their age and size. It seemed to work well, as the kids slept off and on for about 7 hours. On a 9.5-hour flight, that is solid gold!

IMG_0017 And finally, many hours later, we landed at London’s Gatwick airport. The kids were still wearing their pajamas when we disembarked… oops!

IMG_1359 And here we are, ready to head out to our rental car. I didn’t plan it, but they are totally matching their suitcases.

IMG_0018 And now in the rental car! I did a lot of research and decided to get Diono car seats for Forest and Gil because they are so narrow and so safe. Thankfully, a mom I trusted in my neighborhood was selling two of them for $40 each, and so I purchased them for this trip and for Hawaii, and I plan to resell them or give them away afterwards. For Lena I purchased a Bubble Bum inflatable booster seat after hearing about it from more trusted pediatrician friends. It is also super narrow.

The Car Crash Detective’s “3 Across Guide” was helpful in determining which configurations of seats would probably fit into little rental cars. We rented a small Skoda Octavia station wagon, and all our luggage fit easily in the back. Now I am wondering why we have a minivan?!

At last, with everything and everyone securely in place, we left the airport. Unfortunately, by now it was 4pm and prime rush hour, so we spent the next 2 hours on the M25 highway around London, exhausted beyond belief, telling the kids “just a little bit longer!”

We finally arrived around dinner time to my friend Laura’s house in Gerrards Cross, a lovely neighborhood outside London. I’ll pick up our story again soon with the details of our first few days!

13 :: in family, travel

On Becca’s Bookshelf // 10 Favorite Books in 2016

collage-2017-01-231 I looooove to read a good book. This, I know, bemuses my husband, who appreciates my love for literature but envies my ability to dive into a novel and forget all else. My sense of responsibility to life fades when I have the hottest new title in hand! He gets it, though. We are a pair of readers who are doing our best to raise a whole family of bookworms.

This year I read 64 books, and you can see all of them here in my Goodreads account. I thought it would be fun to pick my 10 favorite books, the ones I still remember in my daily life (because let’s be honest… a lot of them I already barely remember reading…) and that had the biggest impact on me. They aren’t necessarily the best books I’ve ever read (although some of them are!), but they have been the most influential, thought-provoking, or just plain fun.

Let’s talk books…

*****

THE ONE IN A MILLION BOY by Monica WoodThis is the story of an 11-year-old boy and the 104-year-old woman he comes to help every Saturday morning, and the influence their lives and memories have on those around them. It reminded me of the current bestseller A Man Called Ove, a book I liked, but I didn’t love as much as this one. It took me a couple of chapters to get into One-in-a-Million Boy, but by then I was in love with the young boy with his records, the old lady with a touch of spice, the bewildered father finally growing up, and the grieving mother learning to live again. Deeper and sweeter and truer than I expected. Tears were shed. Highly recommend. — 5 stars

*****

THE WONDER by Emma Donoghue In rural Ireland, a lonely but meticulous nurse is hired to keep watch over a child who claims to be living on manna from heaven. It’s a mystery — can the nurse solve it? The author’s clean prose kept me engaged even when the story flagged a bit in the middle. Worth it for the ending! For some reason I keep thinking about this book, maybe because the plot was so unusual. — 4 stars

*****

MY BRILLIANT FRIEND by Elena FerranteThis Italian novel is intensely detailed and unlike anything I’ve ever read. Sometimes I felt bored, sometimes confused, sometimes awed. This book (and the two sequels in the trilogy) are mega-bestsellers, but while reading I wondered what the hype was all about. Was this just a soap opera about two poor Italian girls? But there is more here. There is truth in the portrayal of this dependent, jealous, undying friendship and the friends, family, and country that influences it. Time to find the second one in the series…. — 4 stars

*****

BABY CATCHER: CHRONICLES OF A MODERN MIDWIFE by Peggy VincentThis is a highly readable, endlessly entertaining account of a midwife who was practicing during the “wild west” of midwifery (1980s and ’90s) before a lot of our modern laws came into effect. Made me laugh out loud as well as cry. For those who love birth stories, or even just want to see inside the mind of your assistants, nurses, and doctors at childbirth, this is a wonderful read. — 5 stars

*****

THE DOLLHOUSE by Fiona DavisI recommend this book with caution, as it is certainly rated PG-13 in parts and many of you may not care for it. The book captured a slice of women’s history in the 1950s when women lived in a large hotel (nicknamed “The Dollhouse”) in Manhattan while pursuing acting, modeling, or secretarial careers. The story overlaps with a modern-day journalist who is writing about the hotel, and the entire book is all set in the old hotel itself. I could hardly put it down. — 3.5 stars

*****

FAITHFUL by Alice HoffmanA good story of loss, brokenness, and redemption. I recommend this one with caution as well as many of you might not connect with the main character. That said, the author realistically described someone who is suffering after a terrible tragedy for which she (wrongly) takes all the blame. After a slow, faltering journey, she finally matures out of the brokenness and into a strong, confident woman. (Also, as the wife of a veterinarian, I loved the veterinary angle. Animal rescuers will love this one.) — 3.5 stars

*****

TRULY MADLY GUILTY by Liane MoriartyLike all the best of Moriarty’s books, this one is set in a regular Australian suburban neighborhood with very human parents and their very beloved children — and then tragedy strikes and all presuppositions and choices in life are reexamined. This was so very insightful about the human condition, the way we think, and our motives and fears and desires. I loved the clever way the author told the story and the thoughtful weaving together of threads to resolve it. Another reason why Liane Moriarty is one of my favorites! — 4 stars

*****

THE NIGHTINGALE by Kristin Hannah “Some stories don’t have happy endings. Even love stories. Maybe especially love stories.” Beautiful, gripping, real, and so very sad. It is the story of two adult daughters and their father in occupied France during WWII and how each of them fights and survives the war in their own unique way. A love story of family and marriage and country. Beautifully written. I read this soon after reading All the Light We Cannot See and, truthfully, I enjoyed this one more. — 5 stars

*****

ELIGIBLE by Curtis SittenfeldWhat a fun, creative book! The author kept me totally entertained the entire time with her clever modernization of the story of Pride and Prejudice, beginning in Cincinnati, Ohio, where the Bennett family is abuzz with the gossip that the most recent star of the hit TV romance show (called Eligible, but clearly The Bachelor) has just moved to Cincinnati for his job as a doctor at the local hospital. I laughed out loud at many of the author’s reinterpretations of the story. Very smart, almost believable, and completely enjoyable. — 3.5 stars

Note: The story deals with many aspects of sexuality with which some might be uncomfortable, and it is not for the prudish. If you are a P&P fan and don’t mind a bit of a racy novel, you’ll enjoy this one, but I do recommend with caution.

*****

WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR by Paul Kalanithi And I saved the best for last. This book was written by a young neurosurgeon who has just discovered he has a potentially terminal cancer diagnosis. He grapples with work and faith and love as he struggles to finish his training, to prepare for possible death, and to continue to live fully in the world for as long as he can. Magnificent, gut-wrenching, true. One of the best and most powerful books I’ve read in a long time. I’ll be recommending this to everyone.5 stars

*****

And there you have it! Have you read any of these? Any recommendations to share with all of us?

Right now I just finished re-reading The Happiness Project, started The Gilded Years last night, and hope to get my hands on The Mothers by Brit Bennett at the library. Have you read any of these?

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

What Classical Conversations Looks Like In Our Home

img_8283 My children starting school on a recent morning!

If you came into my house right now and asked Lena, “Hey Lena, can you tell me about the Hundred Years War?” she would sing:

“Yes! During the Hundred Years War, Joan of Arc and King Charles VII led the French to defeat England at the Battle of Orleans. In the late 1340s, fleas on rats carried the Plague, which killed one out of three Europeans.”

“Can you tell me about how animals react to environmental change?”

“In reaction to environmental change, animals will adapt, migrate, or hibernate.”

“What about skip counting by 2s?”

And she would sing a clever little ditty to the ABC tune that ends with, “Would you like to hear some more?”

And at that point you might or you might not like to hear some more, but she can go on for a long time!


All of this information comes from different things Lena has learned in Classical Conversations. In my last post, I discussed our kindergarten curriculum, and I mentioned that we joined Classical Conversations as well. Deciding to join was a big decision for us this year, and I think we’re still adjusting. There is a lot to get used to!

For those who are unfamiliar, Classical Conversations (CC) is a homeschooling support organization. Communities or campuses are everywhere, including overseas. Last year, as we were considering homeschooling,  I learned a lot of my friends were attending the weekly “schoolhouse” meeting and loving it. Since the closest CC community meets just four blocks from our house, and because we already knew half the group, it seemed a shame not to join! We have enjoyed it a lot, but it has also been challenging. (More about this at the end of my post.)

Every Tuesday we meet with the other homeschoolers at CC for three hours. Lena is in a class with other 5- and 6-year-olds, Gil is in a nursery/preschool room, and Forest hangs out with me — which is challenging because I am required to be with Lena the whole time and help in her class. This ain’t no drop-off program! Parents are involved in every aspect.

img_6310 Some of our CC Timeline Cards on display in our dining/school room.

During those three hours, Lena and the eight other kids in her class are taught by a fellow mom, called a tutor. Lena learns the new “grammar” for the week (one item from history, math, English, science, Latin, and geography, and seven new points on the timeline), participates in an art project and a science experiment, does a 3-minute presentation on an assigned topic that she has prepared, and spends 30 minutes reviewing information she learned previously in the year.

It’s like drinking from a fire hose. A fire hose that never turns off!

That said, I have found a lot to appreciate about CC. I love that she is learning history and geography, that she is learning alongside other kids (they have so much fun!), that I am not her only teacher, and that she already is learning good public speaking skills.


And now — how do we “do” Classical Conversations in our home? I think there are about four main ways:

  • Displaying the “memory work” for the week
  • Review games and questions
  • Timeline cards with the song
  • Dry-erase maps
  • Songs from CC Connected and the CC cds

img_8558 Displaying the “memory work” for the week: This is a pretty basic thing that I think every CC mom does, but I am actually not very faithful at doing this! I am learning.

If it’s a good week, on Monday morning I will print (or write/make, but that doesn’t happen as easily) the history, geography, math, science, and English facts for the week and display them in our dining/school room alongside the seven timeline cards for the week. (CC moms, I mostly find these on CC Connected under “File Sharing” and by searching for “Tri-Fold” downloads for the week we’re on.)

A lot of moms have tri-fold or bulletin boards that they tape everything to, but in our current house I don’t have a good space to display one, so I just use painter’s tape to attach things to the wall.

img_6318 becca-garber-classical-conversations-homeschool-review-book-jpg Review games and questions: This little photo album of the weekly CC information has been so helpful for me. I made it at the beginning of the year by using downloads I found on the CC Connected file sharing. (CC moms, I searched for username “barledge” and “4×6 Flipbook,” printed all the files as photos at Walgreens, and put them in a 48-photo album I found on Amazon.)

Lena and I use this review book when we knit together on the couch, or when we play Candyland. If Lena lands on a red square in Candyland, she has to answer a science question because the science questions are red in the review book. If I land on a blue square, I answer an English question, and so on.

If Gil wants to play… well, we don’t get very far in our review!

fullsizerender-3 Timeline cards with the song: Each week we learn seven new points on the timeline, which starts with “Age of Ancient Empires” and ends with current events. Each point on the timeline has a laminated card (see above), and I keep all of them in 5.5 x 8.5 binders with page protectors.

There is also a timeline song that we use to memorize all the points on the timeline. We even learn hand motions for each point! (Well, we try… those are hard for five-year-olds.) The video above includes the entire song if you’d like to hear it. Lena and I sing the song as we flip through the timeline cards, stopping to ask questions about different ones.

fullsizerender-2 Dry-erase maps: Another thing we do is use these laminated maps to review geography. I’ll ask her to find Portugal or the Aral Sea or the Scandinavian Peninsula, and Lena will check each location with a dry erase marker. We also occasionally use our globe instead, which I purchased with charter school money.

Songs from CC Connected and the CC cds: CC has put a lot of the material children need to learn to song, such as the timeline song above. This is so helpful with memorization! The kids and I listen to songs I’ve downloaded from the CC Connected file sharing. Today they were singing about pints, quarts, liquids, and plasma with me in the kitchen as we made cookies.

We also listen to the CC cds when we drive in the car. We spend very little time in our car, though — maybe 30 minutes total every week — so this isn’t a great way for us to memorize and learn material. This is the “disadvantage” of living in a walkable community!


One question you might be asking is, “Does Lena get it? Is all this memorization worth it?”

I think the answer is NO, she doesn’t get it, but YES, she is learning, and by the end of the year she will have grown exponentially in her knowledge of history and geography. (The English, some of the science, and a lot of the math facts will be over her head for a while yet.)

If we stick with CC, Lena will learn almost all new information each year for three years. (The timeline and some of the other information stays the same every year.) Each year, the tutor in her class will introduce the material at her level and expect more of her, as will I at home. After three years, she’ll repeat all three years. This way she’ll get this information twice over the course of six years from Kindergarten-Fifth Grade. It takes some of the pressure off of this year for sure.

Is all this memorization worth it? I think so, at least to some degree. She will not remember everything she learns this year, but it’s ok. There are no tests. She might remember it in three years when she repeats all this information, but in the meantime she is exercising her memory muscles, learning so much about the world and her place in it, and gets a sense of pride and accomplishment from working hard and learning the information. These skills are worth a very great deal.

Do I love CC? Will we stick with this for all of elementary school, or all of our homeschooling years? I have nooooooo idea. I do think one of the greatest gifts of CC is community. It is hugely encouraging to hang out with other families each week, to eat a picnic lunch at the park together after class (every week because this is Southern California and the weather is always gorgeous!), and to talk and be inspired and be refreshed every Tuesday.

However, if I were presented with another homeschooling co-op with awesome classes and friendships, I am not so sure I’d do CC. I think this is because I am more excited about the community than about CC itself. I like the approach CC takes a lot, but I was also homeschooled K-12 myself and then went to a public university and had an incredible experience with like-minded believers there, so I know there are many, many ways to do homeschooling and do education in general.

I think our bottom line is: we’ll just take each year at a time, evaluating thoughtfully how each of our kids are doing, how we are doing, and what educational approach would fit our family and our kids best. We’ll stay humble, we’ll stay flexible, we’ll all keep learning together.


What do you think? Would you ever do CC? Why or why not?

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18 :: in homeschool, Lena

Our Homeschool Kindergarten Curriculum

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A lot of you have asked, and here it is! A complete write-up of Lena’s homeschool curriculum choices, including some information about Classical Conversations. I wish I had found a blog post out there like this when I was looking at curriculum, so I’m excited to summarize this for those who are a year or two behind me.

First of all, this year our goal was to ease into formal education and to have a lot of fun along the way. Children learn best at this age through listening to stories, playing, and living life in a loving, structured environment. So we don’t necessarily do school every weekday (although we do try), and we don’t spend more than about two hours total on school each day (including reading aloud). It’s just kindergarten! In California, it’s not even required.

Knowing myself, though, I wanted some accountability. I am much more likely to look at a free morning and say, “Yay! Let’s go to the zoo!” rather than sit down with schoolbooks and science experiments. So we signed up to be a part of two programs to enhance our homeschooling experience.

img_6422 The first was to sign up with a homeschool charter school. These, I think, are unique to California. By signing up for FREE, you are given at least $500 per semester to spend on educational materials and classes, you are assigned a California state-certified teacher who will meet up with you monthly to check on your work and give you guidance, and you can sign up for optional weekly enrichment classes, field trips, and activities. There are multiple charter schools in southern California; Julian, Dehesa, The Learning Choice, and Inspire are some.

We signed up for Inspire Charter School, and I have been very happy with this choice. With Inspire we received $1600 in the fall and $1000 in the spring to spend on curriculum and classes — with the only stipulation that they not be affiliated with religion in any way. (Hence our secular kindergarten curriculum. The texts themselves do not mention God or faith, but of course our worldview and beliefs influence our approach and teaching.) With this money we have purchased almost all the materials listed below, and Lena has taken Monart classes, piano lessons, and gymnastics lessons so far.

Our teacher meets us once a month at our local library, and she always goes over the “I Can” statements that address what California kindergartners are learning each quarter. I can write numbers 1 to 10. I can recognize food as a source of energy. I can retell a story. This way I can also teach Lena these things and make sure she’s not behind in or missing any area. We are always ahead of what the state expects, but it’s helpful to have anyway.

The other thing we signed up for is Classical Conversations, a homeschooling support community that is distinctly Christian. I’ll write more about this another day, but for now we are very happy with and grateful for this support, inspiration, and group of friends.

Last but not least: I read reviews of all curriculum on Cathy Duffy Reviews, a website that I highly recommend for all homeschool curriculum.

And now, our curriculum choices!

With Inspire, we were required to teach four subjects: Math, Language Arts, Science, and History. Here is what I chose for each one:

MATH

img_6326 img_6327 img_8543 For Math I chose Math-U-See after comparing it to many programs including Saxon, Life of Fred, and Singapore Math.

Math-U-See is a complete program that includes a fun and simple workbook as well as manipulatives (those snap-together blocks pictured above), a teacher’s manual, and even a songbook and CD. Truthfully, I have barely used anything except the workbook, which is very straightforward. Lena really likes it, too.

I bought both the Kindergarten (Primer) and First Grade (Alpha) programs together, and I anticipate that we’ll start the First Grade one before the end of the year. For First Grade I’d also like to try Christian Light Education Mathematics which looks engaging and interesting with a lot of shorter workbooks. The program is written by Mennonites, so the word problems are all about farm chores with cute, simple illustrations.

LANGUAGE ARTS

img_6307 fullsizerender For Language Arts we needed to cover reading and handwriting.

For handwriting, we are using Handwriting Without Tears, and I really like it. We bought a kindergarten workbook for Lena and a preschooler’s workbook for Gil, and they finished them in a few months. I just ordered the First Grade workbook for Lena for more printing practice. She’ll do a cursive workbook in a couple more years.

I also bought handwriting practice paper, a whiteboard to use like an old-fashioned slate, Dixon Ticonderoga pencils (the best!), and a Staedtler pencil sharpener.

For reading, we have only been using Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. This book is taking us quiiiiiite a while. Our experience definitely not been ‘just 100 days and your kid is reading,’ as I think we’ve been plugging through it for about a year and a half now and we are on Lesson 75 (of 100, obvi). I like the commonsense way that new sounds and words are introduced, and how each lesson reviews and then builds upon previous lessons.

For beginning readers, we’ve used the Bob Books, which are fun and quick reads. I’ve been loving books by Margaret Hillert from the library, too, which are simple, colorful, and repetitive. They were published in the 1970s and our library has about 50 of them. We also have a collection of Dick and Jane stories, which is what my dad used when he was learning to read. Gil loves them just as much as his grandfather did 50 years ago!

SCIENCE

img_6315 I didn’t want to go overboard on science because there is a lot to cover in the Classical Conversations curriculum. So I bought just one science kit and one book. The Magic School Bus is about the level of a kindergartner, and it’s colorful and fun.

I have also purchased a few other kits: Glow-and-Grow Terrarium, Crystal Growing Kit, and Mind-Blowing Science Kit. We actually gave these to the kids for Christmas gifts! (Nerds.) I also bought this fun book of science experiments. Mostly I just want to make science fun and cool and accessible — for all of us.

As a busy mom, science kits are great. Everything I need + instructions arrive in one box, and voilà… science! I’ve also looked into signing up for a monthly craft/science subscription like Kiwi Crate or Little Passports, but I haven’t bitten the bullet yet.

HISTORY

fullsizerender-1 I heard a lot of good things about The Story of the World history curriculum, which includes a read-aloud history book, an activity manual with all kinds of coloring pages and craft ideas, and a CD on which Jim Weiss (our favorite book narrator) reads the history book out loud. There are four volumes: Ancient Times, The Middle Ages, Early Modern Times, and The Modern Age. For our first year with a kindergartner, one volume (just The Middle Ages) has been enough. I like the curriculum enough to want to invest in all four volumes, though, which potentially will last us through middle school because the activity manual includes assignments for kids of all ages, from coloring pages for Lena to writing assignments for older children.

This is not a Christian curriculum, so the charter school is fine with us using it. However, it is told from a classical education worldview and is very sympathetic to Christianity. In addition, the author is a well-known Christian homeschool educator.

Of course, as anyone who does Classical Conversations knows, there is a LOT of history to learn for that program alone! But there is so much to say about Classical Conversations that I will save it for another day.

EXTRAS

img_6314 I invested in a few art materials, but we haven’t used these too much. Lena got a lot of art education from her Monart class, and she gets a weekly art lesson at Classical Conversations as well. She has, however, really enjoyed these colored pencils! We’ll use the other two books in the photo more in future years, I think.

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puf11-puffin-complete-front-1200 Last but not least, we read a lot together. I used charter school money to buy this pretty set of books and this rainbow-colored collection of Puffin Children’s Classics, too. Lots of reading ahead of us! Right now I am reading Wind in the Willows aloud to Lena from this gorgeously-illustrated volume we bought at a used book sale years ago, anticipating days just like these.


And there you have it! What do you think? Do any of these books look familiar to you? Any recommendations for other things I should consider for First Grade?

I’m not sure yet if we’ll be homeschoolers forever, but for now… this is our life, it is challenging, but it has also been wonderful so far. I love our slower pace of life in which our whole family works and learns together. Are you homeschooling? Have you found the same thing?

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15 :: in homeschool, Lena

Hello 2017!

Merry Christmas from Lena (5), Gil (3), and Forest (7 months)! This photo was on the front of our Christmas card this year. Our Christmas card photo this year: Lena (5), Gil (3), and Forest (7 months).

Hello, old blog. I think of you often, mostly because putting words and photos into this space is a way to record both the images and the emotions of this stage of life, marriage, and motherhood. I miss doing this, and reading my readers’ stories too, and sharing in this small community online.

And so, at least for the month of January, one of my goals is to write four blog posts. I am already over a week into this month and haven’t been able to write until now, so we’ll see if this happens!

I thought a fun thing to do would be to capture the last few weeks in a bunch of photos. A lot of my favorite photos are on Instagram, but here are some that didn’t make the cut for whatever reason, yet still tell our story.

becca-garber-hello-2017-1 In December right before Christmas, we went on a five-day vacation to Cambria on the central California coast with my mom, dad, sister Emily, brother Eric, and his girlfriend Rebecca. We stayed in a gorgeous Airbnb on Stepladder Ranch, and we spent hours hiking in the lush green hills around the ranch.

img_7685 Sunrise through the lavender outside our bedroom window.

becca-garber-hello-2017-2 We went on a tour of Stepladder Creamery, a goat dairy on the ranch. It was so green; all the shades of green and red and blue were like technicolor. The cheese was great too!

becca-garber-hello-2017-3 Forest was everyone’s favorite to snuggle.

img_7736 Sunset at Elephant Seal Beach, where we saw male elephant seals fighting and tiny newborn baby seals nursing. Elliott and I haven’t been back here since our honeymoon almost seven years ago, so it was crazy to stand there watching the same amazing sight… but with our three children.

becca-garber-hello-2017-4 Mornings at the ranch house.

becca-garber-hello-2017-5 My mom bought fun spa items for us girls to enjoy while we were there, and Lena had so much fun pampering all of us. I want to repeat this experience! Turns out she gives a facial (the five-year-old version) just as well as she climbs trees.

becca-garber-hello-2017-6 Frolicking in the hills!

img_7755 We visited Hearst Castle while we were staying just a few miles away, and it was opulent and magnificent. This is the indoor pool. Can you imagine hanging out here with movie stars in the 1930s and ’40s?

becca-garber-hello-2017-7 The long drive home. I hate LA traffic.

img_7783 Christmas Eve breakfast! Elliott’s favorite cinnamon rolls were a must.

becca-garber-hello-2017-8 My little family ready to head out to the Christmas Eve service at church, and our Christmas Day dinner the next day.

img_7814 The whole crew enjoying Christmas morning breakfast. We are so glad you all came!

img_7865 My three precious children on Christmas morning. Forest’s first! My heart was so full of thankfulness that day.

img_7871 Between travel to St Louis, Virginia, and Cambria in December, Forest’s sleep schedule was a total wreck and he was so exhausted by the time Christmas was over. We moved him up to his own bedroom (and out of our closet!) right after my family departed. We also moved him out of the little Arm’s Reach co-sleeper bed he’d slept in his whole life, and now he is in a real “big boy” crib. He’s already sleeping so much better. Not sleeping through the night, though I think he could. I know… babies and parents and sleep… the endless drama…

img_7872 Elliott’s parents got into town for a week-long visit the same day my family left, and we spent a quiet day at home before going to the San Diego Holiday Bowl parade the next day. The kids loved all the balloon floats and bands!

becca-garber-hello-2017-9 We celebrated a second Christmas with Elliott’s parents, this time just stockings. The kids especially enjoyed the packs of gum I put in there, and the little balloon pump and long tube balloons that we made into shapes. So entertaining!

img_7899 We visited Torrey Pines State Reserve one day, and a cockatoo walked right up with his owner and made himself at home! He untied our shoe laces, ate our carrots, and then meandered on his happy way.

img_7920 Elliott’s sister gave the kids cloth bags and fabric paint for Christmas, and they had so much fun decorating them. I love this messy, realistic scene that is reminiscent of many many mornings in our home.

becca-garber-hello-2017-10 At the recommendation of multiple friends, I got my first Erin Condren planner this year. Already I love having a paper planner so much. I feel like I have a clear grasp of what this week holds, and what I need to get done, like send birthday cards, schedule babysitters, accomplish monthly goals… things that often got pushed to the last minute or just forgotten. When my family relies on me to be organized as well as provide for them in myriad ways, I don’t want to waste my time being disorganized, last-minute, or forgetful. This is my realization and aspiration, anyway. More about goals in an upcoming post!

becca-garber-hello-2017-11 My baby’s first time in the shopping cart seat, and one of my favorite parts of the day: bathing Forest, wrapping him up in his hooded towel, dressing him in cozy pajamas, snuggling up to nurse him, and then laying his sleepy body down in his crib. I love having a baby so so so much, even with the challenges.

img_8003 I’ve been selling and giving away a lot of things this month (spring cleaning!), and I loved this photo of a hand bell set I was ready to part with. Sadly, my kids were always more interested in ringing them loudly enough to wake up the neighbors than playing “Jingle Bells.”

becca-garber-hello-2017-12 Photos of me and my best friend before a hot date to an Italian restaurant!

img_8127 For my job at a local paper, I reviewed Buona Forchetta, a popular Italian restaurant in San Diego, and then interviewed the owner. Everyone loved the article, and I loved the entire experience from start to finish! Here’s the article if you’d like to read it.

becca-garber-hello-2017-13 Our beloved baby. On the left, he was eating some crackers (love Mum-Mums!) at the library, and on the right he was hanging out with me, Elliott, and our dog on a date while Elliott’s parents took the older two kids to La Jolla Cove.

becca-garber-hello-2017-14 More of my baby. I might be obsessed a little. Also he loves his bath each night so much!

img_8139 Photo of Bluewater Boathouse (another restaurant I review each quarter for the newspaper) and Glorietta Bay at sunrise, taken on a run with friends. We live in such a breathtakingly beautiful place!

becca-garber-hello-2017-15 Lena showed Forest how to set up her new gears toy, and Gil snapped this random photo of me one night when I was giving Forest a bath.

img_8165 Last week we rode the ferry from Coronado to downtown San Diego (I love this photo from the ride) to get Lena a new passport and apply for Forest’s first. We’d like to do some international travel this spring, but we’re still not sure where.

becca-garber-hello-2017-16 Playing on the amazing playground after our passport appointments. Forest is such a serious swinger, and Lena is such a daredevil one!

img_8185 And finally, here is a photo of my precious Gil, because I don’t take enough of this sweet, goofy boy. He wasn’t feeling great here (the kids have been suffering from stomach bugs this past week), but he came along so cheerfully on this expedition on the ferry and smiled so sweetly here.

And that’s all for now! A busy season, but one I don’t ever want to forget. If only that were possible… at least for all the best memories!

xo

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9 :: in Coronado, family, Forest, Gil, holidays, home sweet home, Lena, life lately, San Diego

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