Archive | July, 2013

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

a few hours in Chicago!


This past week I went to a family reunion in Michigan for Elliott’s family… which was a little intimidating without him but ultimately so much fun.  I have married into the most wonderful family!  They love me and our kids so well, and they all have so much fun together.  I’m already looking forward to the next reunion… 3 years from now!

The reunion was in Michigan, which is about a 10-hour drive from Virginia.  I’ve driven with baby Lena from Virginia to Michigan before and did not want to repeat that miserable ordeal, so I opted to fly.  My sister-in-law Jess and to-be brother-in-law Charlie (marrying Eden in September!) decided to fly along.  Thank you, Jess and Charlie, for making the trip so much more manageable… and fun!

After landing in Chicago, we had time to kill and all wanted to see downtown Chicago.  I’ve flown through the O’Hare airport so many times but had never seen the city itself.  So off we went in our rental car with the two babies, found street parking not far from Millennium Park, and took off to explore.


^ These two are so wonderful with their little niece and nephew.


^ Finally finally saw the Bean!


becca-garber-chicago-july-millenium-park-9 becca-garber-chicago-july-1 becca-garber-chicago-july-millenium-park-7   becca-garber-chicago-july-millenium-park-10 becca-garber-chicago-july-millenium-park-2

^ There were fountains in Millennium Park.  She was soaked and soooo happy.


becca-garber-chicago-july-millenium-park-8 becca-garber-chicago-july-millenium-park-5

^ We walked down to the Chicago Yacht Club and Lake Michigan.


^ Charlie is a rocking it as an uncle-to-be.



^ My new favorite photo of Lena.  Jess snapped it while waiting for the crosswalk signal in the middle of crazy-busy Michigan Ave.  Goes to show you never know what your eye and your camera can capture in the busiest moments.



^ Watching the L train rattle by.


^ Beautiful window display.


I’ve got a crush on you, beautiful Chicago.  Can’t wait to come back with Elliott to do some more exploring someday soon!

5 :: in family, travel

bits + pieces from Virginia


Lena, Gil, and I have been having so much fun here in Virginia with our extended family.  Visits to the farmers market, lunches with friends, mornings spent running through the sprinkler, and Mama getting to sleep in… mmhmm, life is good.  We have two more weeks here before we’re reunited with hard-working Elliott in Sicily.  Despite all the fun, we are very eager to be back together as a family again.

In the meantime, here are a few photos from our recent adventures.  The first photo is of my dear friend Abi, who was my college roommate, one of my bridesmaids, I was one of her bridesmaids… and then our babies were born 3 weeks apart!  Isn’t her daughter Lucie the sweetest?!  Those cheeks!  Those ankles!  Gil was nonchalant, but… I know he was just playin’ it cool.


Here those two are, “playing” like 5-month-olds do.


She’ll stay on the toilet forever if Gil is there to talk to &
matchy-matchy with “Auntie Ema.”


Blowing bubbles with Aunt Leslie.


A blurry picture of Gil’s first meal.  He ate about 3 tablespoons!  Hungry, much?  He’s wearing a bib that I wore as a baby.


Sipping cider at the farmers market.


Gil Garber.  Nuff said.


And finally, below is the poor creature that Lena spotted and identified as “Monster.”


5 :: in family, friends, home sweet home, life lately, Virginia

thoughts on excess :: waste

7 book review-waste

[I started this mini-series last week as I reviewed Jen Hatmaker’s new book.  If you’d like to see some ways I am going to try to limit my phone usage for the sake of my family, check out my post about media usage from last week!]

During this month of her project, Jen decided to cut down on her family’s waste in 7 different ways:

  • Gardening
  • Composting
  • Conserving energy and water
  • Recycling (everything, all of it)
  • Driving only one car
  • Shopping thrift and second-hand
  • Buying only local

Several of these are already a part of our life in Sicily.  We recycle almost everything.  We are very careful about conserving energy and water… thanks in part to the enormous cost of electricity in Europe.  About 90% of our kids’ clothes are second-hand; in fact I went to the thrift store earlier today.  We buy almost all of our fruits, vegetables, and eggs locally in Sicily.  And we only drive one car.

Well, actually… more about the car in a minute.

With regards to recycling, my habits have changed a lot since moving to Italy.  Thanks to our town’s strict recycling program, I separate my glass, plastic, paper, metal, organic/biodegradable, and mixed trash.  Two different types of trash go outside my door for pickup every day of the week except Sunday.  For instance, Wednesday is organic/biodegradable trash (it goes out 3 times a week), Thursday is mixed trash and paper, and Friday is glass and plastic.

The system works well.   In fact, I’ve gotten so used to it that it bothers me when trash isn’t separated.  I was at a cooking class recently and watched the instructor dump everything — vegetable peels, a cardboard box, eggshells — into a trash can.  I found myself wanting to jump up and at least get her a separate organic bin.  All that good compost-able waste going to… waste!

Despite these lifestyle habits, I know these good habits can be undone with a single decision.  For instance, Elliott and I have always been a one-car family.  Elliott bought our used Honda Civic in 2008 and it has seen us through dating, engagement, marriage, a deployment, and life in Italy.  And, perhaps most notably, it also survived the traumatic process of me learning how to drive a manual transmission!

However, the times… they are a’changin’.   Looking ahead to this final year in Sicily, we realized that because of friends moving away, Elliott would no longer have a way to carpool home on days that I have the car.  We decided that we had finally come to the point where owning a second car will be less wasteful than sticking with one car: less time wasted, less stress wasted, and maybe even less gas wasted thanks to no more schlepping Elliott back and forth to work if I want the car for the day.

After patiently waiting for the best deal he could find, Elliott finally bought a little Fiat last week.   We have joined the ranks of two-car families.  It feels… great, honestly, for our situation.

To some degree, I think, reducing waste will always be an individual project and a work in progress.  I wonder whether we’ll go back to having one car in the future?  What do you think?  Are you a one-car family?

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