Archive | November, 2013

Veterans Day… Italian style!


So I have to admit that I am kind of confused about the festivals and holidays for Italian saints.  There are so many of them, and I can’t keep them straight!  Today, for instance, is the festival of Saint Martin, who is the patron saint of new wine and also the patron saint of the Italian army.  And this is one of four saint-related holidays this month alone!

Anyway, we’ve been enjoying a lot of things related to San Martino’s sainthood lately.  Yesterday we went out to lunch at an agriturismo (restaurant on an organic vineyard and olive grove) and drank deeply of their wonderful new wine.

Today Elliott was asked by his base commander to represent the U.S. military at a mass in honor of San Martino.  It was held in a chapel next to the huge Cathedral of Saint Agatha in downtown Catania, and there were several hundred members of the Italian army in attendance.   The archbishop of Catania led the mass!


The kids and I stood in the back for about half of the ceremony.  We did our best to stay quiet for the entire thing, and we did okay… until it became absolutely necessary for us to leave.  My children had reached the limits of their endurance.  Sadly, just as we were leaving, the little nun (who is on her knees in the photo above) came up to me and lashed out in rapid Italian, chastising me firmly because my bambini needed to be in absolute silence for the mass.  I stuttered and blushed, forgot all my Italian, and finally just turned and ran!

Anyway, the day improved after that low point.  After the ceremony we took pictures with some of the veterans, and one of the military gentlemen put his incredible feathered hat on my head.  Can you believe that thing?!  I can’t imagine taking myself very seriously if this was part of my uniform!


Elliott also got a photo with the commander of the Italian army in Sicily (!), and we got a family photo in front of the Cathedral of Saint Agatha in the main piazza of Catania.  Doesn’t Elliott look handsome in his dress blues?


I remember the slightly panicked feeling I got when I first heard that Elliott — then a dashing young veterinary student that I was developing an enormous crush on — told me he was in the U.S. Army.  I already liked this guy… so if I married him, what would it mean for our lives?  I couldn’t imagine being a military wife.  It seemed so foreign, a totally different way to live my life: all macho and Army and going all over the world to live on military bases.

But as the years have passed, and as Elliott and I have faced the challenges of being a military family together, I can only say that I love this life.  We have made serious sacrifices for the U.S. Army, such as living apart for 12 months of the first 15 months of our marriage.  We have also reaped enormous rewards, like living in Italy for three years and enjoying wonderful healthcare benefits. No matter what the future holds, I will always be grateful that Elliott chose to begin his career in a place where honor and service come first.

I know it isn’t always easy for Elliott to get up each day and go to work.  I know sometimes the honor and greater good of his work get lost in the monotony or the politics.  But he does it, and he does it faithfully and uncomplainingly, skillfully and thoughtfully, compassionately and diligently.  I know the Army doesn’t even know how lucky they are to have him!  I am so thankful and so proud of him today.  Happy Veterans Day, my veteran!

6 :: in Army, husband, Italy, military life

My Favorites for a 3-Month-Old


There is some kind of baby boom going on among my friends right now… woohoo!  For many of you mothers- and fathers-to-be, Elliott and I have hoped and prayed for these babies from the sidelines for awhile, and it gives us enormous joy to hear that there are little mini versions of yourselves on the way.  You are richly blessed, and we can’t wait to “meet” these babies this winter and spring!

With that in mind, I wanted to get back to my neglected New Baby Series.  I was hungry for advice when I was pregnant, and I know everyone likes to have suggestions about what works and what doesn’t.  Here are links to my advice about maternity clothes, postpartum survival, and newborn essentials.

When you hit the 3-month mark, your baby will be finally taking on a routine (if he or she hasn’t already) and will also be more active and eager to engage.  The 2.5-month mark was an enormous turning point for us with Gil, as he finally started smiling (such a relief to see that he could actually be happy about something), and soon thereafter he began to eek out a few heart-melting baby chuckles.  Bring on the good times!

1. Nursing cover — Around this stage, at least with Gil, I felt like I emerged from hibernation.  I was really back on my feet and  had errands to run, friends to see, events to attend… and a baby to nurse.  This beautiful nursing cover was a lifesaver, and I love the gorgeous print.  I’ve tried a couple of nursing covers, and Bebe Au Lait is my favorite brand because of the terrycloth inside the corners… perfect for absorbing little messes!

2. Play mat — If you’re on the go, this mat is perfect because it will zip right up into itself and has handles for easy carrying.  Because of our move to Sicily, we were constantly traveling with Lena during this stage, and we brought this play mat with us everywhere.  I can’t recommend these types of play gyms; parents I know got so frustrated with the poles bending all the wrong ways after awhile.

3.  Baby lotion — Infant massage was part of the transformation in Gil’s life.  I loved these quiet moments with my baby before bed, moments that have come and gone now that he is a wriggly, roly-poly 9-month-old.  Watch this DVD if you can, stock up on completely pure products for your baby (like this one; we like their shampoo), and enjoy this peaceful stage!

4. Sleep sacks — Around 3 months, most babies will be busting out of even the snuggest swaddle or blanket, and — after some tears — will be ready to transition to sleeping with his or her arms free.  I always put my babies in a wearable blanket (“sleep sack”) to give them an extra layer over their clothing or just their diaper.  A word of warning if you want to go with this lovely brand: Aden by Aden + Anais and the original Aden + Anais are not the same thing.  Aden by Aden + Anais is the cheaper, knock-off version, and their zippers don’t work well.  Register for or buy the real thing… or go with Halo, which has never let me down.

5. Toys! — It’s play time… at last.  Your little one will be reaching out to touch, feel, grasp, and mouth everything before you know it.  In a refreshing purge, I donated all plastic and stuffed infant toys and kept to just a few bright wooden toys for Gil.  Generally wooden toys are quieter, cleaner, and more pleasing to the eye.  My favorites were several toys from Haba, a Montessori-inspired wooden rattle, and — how can you resist? — Sophie, who is made of natural rubber.

6. Bath seat — Elliott and I both love this hammock-like bath seat.  It folds up flat (!) and dries quickly, and thus we have taken it with us all over the world, sticking it into the bottoms of endless duffel bags.  We’ve bathed both of our kids in it until we were sure they could sit up themselves, and it’s none the worse for wear after two children.  Highly recommended.

7. Towel and washcloth — Totally unnecessary, because babies can dry off just fine in your regular bath towels.  But cute… !  We have these matching sets for Lena and Gil, and they are adorable when they’re both wrapped up side-by-side with the hoods on.  Both the towel and washcloth seem enormous beside a newborn, but after a few months you will be grateful for the extra material.

8. Baby Bjorn — After our babies outgrew the snuggly Moby wrap at 3 or 4 months of age, we put them in this carrier.  With the option for your increasingly-curious baby to face forward, and the great back support for you, the “Active carrier” version of the Bjorn is an easy favorite.  We enjoyed it with both our kids until they were about 9 months old, at which point they could fit comfortably into our Ergo carrier.

And there you have it… a few things that got us through those early months!  I didn’t even talk about cloth diapers here, but I’ll have more info about them in another post about the 6-month stage soon.  Any suggestions or questions?  I know other mamas-to-be would love to hear what has worked for some seasoned mothers out there!


Discouraged by cost?  Remember my advice to beg, borrow, and steal maternity clothes and baby gear!  On this list, we registered for some things, got others used or as hand-me-downs still in the box, and then waited to be gifted the rest by kind family and friends.  The only thing we bought on this list is the baby lotion!  Even though it’s hard — and my husband will tell you that it’s really hard for me to do this — we stick to a pretty strict “just say no” policy about baby gear and toys, and our patience has been rewarded over time.  It’s worth it for a clutter-free home with only the things you and your baby really need!

5 :: in motherhood, new baby series

a visit to Cefalu


Hello again!  Hope you all had a wonderful weekend.  We laid low at home, enjoying time together as a family and doing lots of reading.  I inhaled this novel over the weekend, which is masterfully written and partially set in Italy.  We also visited the beautiful Casa delle Farfalle (Butterfly House) on Sunday afternoon as a family, eating a picnic outside first and then admiring butterflies in the greenhouse afterwards.

Picking up where I left off last time… a few weekends ago, after our wonderful lunch in a castle, we had an evening and a full day left of our family getaway.  We drove into the pretty coastal town of Cefalu in northern Sicily and found our apartment, which we’d rented through AirBnB.  We love renting apartments and skipping hotels mostly because we feel like we have a much more authentic local experience and because they are usually more affordable and practical with little kids.  We rented this great apartment just across the street from the beach.  Center of town, three bedrooms, balconies over looking the ocean, a full kitchen… and all for less than any decent hotel room I could find.

Other than Sunday lunch, I packed all the food we’d need for the weekend in a cooler, and that also streamlined our travel with little kids.  There are really few things more stressful in life than a delicious dinner in a great restaurant that you can’t enjoy because it’s past your poor kids’ bedtime, especially if the only person to blame for that stressful situation is you!


On Sunday evening and early Monday morning, we explored the beach near our house.  I loved the old city wall filled with apartments along the water.


This cutie is 9 months old now and loves to go on walks.  He starts hyperventilating with excitement if he sees the Baby Bjorn.  If you set him down in order to put on the baby carrier, he will inevitably believe he isn’t going on a walk after all and will burst into a heartbroken storm of tears.


After adventuring on the beach and a break for Gil’s morning nap, we vacated our apartment and headed out on a walk up La Rocca, the steep cliff towering above the city.  The walk was immediately beautiful, and we felt miles away from the beach as we ascended into pungent pine forest.


View from partway up La Rocca.


Gil is in his element, Lena is taking a welcome break.  I was a total dummy and only packed one baby carrier, so Lena had to walk up the whole way.  She let us know this was not her idea of a good time…


… so this happened towards the end, and this is definitely her idea of a good time.


Break for lunch after the ascent.  We were surrounded by ruins from ancient Greek and Roman times.  (P.S. I married the best-looking guy!)


Looking up the coast of northern Sicily towards Palermo.


The view straight down the cliff was of the main cathedral (which we visited right after our hike) and the stunning blue of the Tyrrhenian Sea.


I spent awhile helping Lena walk along a rock wall as Elliott (and Gil) took pictures of the view.  Lena’s wearing Saltwater Sandals, the one pair of shoes that I bought to last her all summer long for every event (weddings, beaches, hikes, play dates, and Sunday services).  Because they are white, waterproof, sturdy, and made of beautiful leather, they were the perfect choice!


The view through an old window in the ancient ruins.

becca-garber-cefalu-sicily-17 Family!


A pretty kitty we found at the end of our hike.  We wanted to take her home!

becca-garber-cefalu-sicily-16Vespas and a cute boy in a straw hat.


It’s a little hard to see in this picture, but three kids were sitting on three different balconies talking and helping each other with their homework!


Walking through Cefalu after our hike.


We found the cathedral with La Rocca looming behind it.


Cathedral and a cute girl in a straw hat.


And pistachio and chocolate gelato.  Not a bad end to a lovely trip!

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6 :: in family, Italy, Sicily, travel

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