Archive | December, 2013

a jaunt back through 2013


So I’ve never done a “year in review,” but Elliott suggested it and it sounded fun… and then suddenly I was having the greatest time going back through old links and remembering the whole year! This has been a wonderful year, despite missing my sister and those hard early days with Gil. I was uplifted and so thankful as I saw each account of God’s faithfulness and goodness to us.  I hope you enjoy this little spin back through 2013!


January was a huge month for our family! I started off 2013 by reviewing my 2012 goals and then audaciously posting a huge list of new ones. (Coming soon… those goals in review. Oy vey.) I also had a few honest posts about my final days as a mother of one and dealing with a complication at the end of my pregnancy, wrote a guest post for a large blog, and we took a healing hike to the orange groves on the first day of the year. And then… in five very quick hours… Gil arrived! Later, curled up next to my baby in bed at home, I shared his birth story at a military hospital and how we chose his name.

February was whirlwind of adjusting to our new baby. We savored days at home with him together (such a funny guy!), and then Elliott went back to work and I was flying solo with two kids at home. I took the double stroller out for the first time, and I also finally posted pictures of my final day at home with Lena.

March stretched us. A lot. Gil became increasingly hard to console, and we clung to our sanity and God’s grace as we got through those days. Reflecting this, I wrote about growing pains in this new life, a very messy trip to IKEA, and an attempted newborn photo shoot. I also shared 6 tips for sharing our bedroom with Gil, which continues to be one of my most popular posts. I did manage to break away from babies a little bit and enjoy life in Italy with a pasta recipe and a bruschetta recipe!


In April, the weather changed and Gil began to change too. We found moments of peace and perspective, and it helped that April is enchanted in Italy! We celebrated Lena’s second birthday with a party at the playground, and we welcomed lots of visitors: my family, Elliott’s parents, and even my grandparents!

I think we finally hit our stride with two kids by May. We had a major breakthrough with Gil’s sleeping habits, and I shared our secrets in a post about getting your baby to sleep in his own bed. Gil suddenly became impossibly cute. I challenged myself to savor these days. And we ate well with two new Italian dishes: eggplant cutlets and tiramisu!

In June we headed home to the States for a couple of weeks to see our family, which was the first time some of our siblings had met Gil. We managed to squeeze in another photo shoot of our now-five-month-old son, and I wrote one of my favorite book reviews yet about 5 ways to improve my parenting.


We were still in the States in July, so I added a couple of urban posts to this rather small-town blog: a whirlwind afternoon in Chicago and splish-splashy day in D.C.  I also read and reviewed several books including French Kids Eat Everything and a great memoir that addressed excess in media, waste, and spending.

August was a wonderful month, although sad because we said goodbye to our dear friends the Arthurs. I wrote a post about transition and friendships and resolved to love newcomers in Sicily as I had been loved when I arrived. We went wild blackberry picking and I shared a recipe for wild blackberry tarts… yum! I wrote about a few favorite products for the kitchen and the beach. At the end of the month we went to Crete!

Elliott’s sister got married in September, so we went back to the States for her beautiful wedding… and were treated to a 24-hour layover in Scotland on the way!  I also started a “new baby” series on my blog and addressed maternity clothes, newborn essentials, a postpartum survival guide, and my favorites for a 3-month-old.

While still in the States in early October, Lena got her first haircut and I finally donated my hair. I also wrote about my favorite book this year. Back in Sicily, craft fair season began and we went on a weekend getaway to a mountaintop castle and a seaside town.


October, November, and December were full of visitors, so we were busy! We went olive picking and wine tasting, and I also learned a new Italian pasta dish. On my 27th birthday I posted a photo series about our everyday lives in Sicily, and I know I’ll treasure those photos forever. On Thanksgiving we filled our table with friends.

December was a total whirlwind, and there are still photos I haven’t posted from a weekend getaway with Elliott and a trip to the mountains with my mom. I’ll post about these trips in January, I guess… better late than never! We did go on a beautiful hike, bought half a lamb for our Christmas dinner, and celebrated our last Christmas in lovely Sicily.

And now it is 3:49pm on December 31st, and there are just a few more hours left in 2013. The new year looms rather than beckons us at this point because we still haven’t decided whether to take the San Diego job or not. We are so torn. Either way, we’ll be leaving Sicily in July, and that will be one of those most bittersweet events of my life, I think. I’m thankful that I have such a strong testimony of God’s faithfulness to us as we wait for what the new year will bring.

And now I’d love to hear from you, my friends! What are you most looking forward to in 2014? Or most afraid of?

17 :: in memories, thoughts

our last Christmas in Sicily


Christmas Eve

Honestly, it gives me some joy to say “our last” here because we love and miss our family so much!  You know how wonderful it is to be with all your loved ones for the holidays. We sent heaps of emails and spent hours video chatting with our family on Christmas Day, but it still isn’t the same as sitting around the dinner table or going to the candlelight service or enjoying Christmas morning together.

Therefore, in answer to my family’s requests that they see as much of our Christmas as I can, I took photos all day long!  I know they’re going to love seeing them here. Elliott and I knew our children were getting gifts from their grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, and uncles, so we chose to keep things very simple and just gave them each a Sicilian Christmas ornament. We also spent our Christmas cooking, reading by the fire, and going on a wonderful hike into the valley below our house.

Here are a few photos from our Christmas!


Elliott has been tending fires in our fireplace almost every day that he’s home this winter. He often banks the fire at night and coaxes the still-warm coals to life in the morning. I totally love this about him.


Gil’s up and the fire’s lit, so Lena is choosing the first present to open!


Love how Gil is admiring Lena’s new-found destructive tendencies here. “Get it, sista.”


Reading the letters on the package before opening it up.


New books from Marmee and Grampa! My favorite is Extra Yarn, a beautifully illustrated picture book about a girl who knits and knits… so you know the knitter in me just loves it!


Speaking of knitting, this was my favorite present: a set of interchangeable knitting needles that I’ve been dreaming about for a year. Elliott and the kids, meanwhile, enjoy his new bath pillow. This man and his baths!


Thank you, GG and Great-Grampie!


The members of the nativity quake in their sandals once again


Lena’s new lacing cards from Auntie Eden and Uncle Charlie were an immediate hit. I love to see her being crafty…


… so we’ll work on technique later!


He melts my heart about 492 times a day.


OK, 493 times a day!


While Gil napped, Lena and I made cinnamon rolls. I used Elliott’s mom’s recipe at his request, and thankfully they turned out fairly similar to the Christmas morning breakfast he grew up loving. As of 3pm on Dec 26th, all 25 rolls have been eaten, so I guess he liked them!


Taking a break to read some of our new books by the fireplace. While they read, I was enjoying this cookbook… just as delicious as it looks.


When Gil woke up from his morning nap, we took a walk into town, where we found our town’s nativity scene. Maybe it was made by local school children? The sign says, “Christ is born for us. Come, let us adore.”


We hiked down into the valley and came across our farmer friend’s dogs. They’re all so sweet… and there are so many of them…


Picnic lunch.


Our children and our Sicilian town on Christmas Day.


We returned home to video chat with family (which was unfortunately right after the kids’ naps and they cried the whole time… sigh) and open a few more more presents. Gil eats wrapping paper as Lena plays her current favorite game while wearing my new Weekender bag like a “packpack”: “So… I’m gonna go to fool [school]. I gotta catch da bus. Oh no… da pigeon is driving da bus!!!”


She completely fell in love with this learning game from Auntie Em while I made our Christmas dinner.


And our Christmas dinner was the infamous lamb, of course. Elliott declared it “a triumph, my dear”… whew! I had a harder time eating the lamb that I’d expected. There were not very many steps in between seeing that lamb hanging in the butcher shop and eating it myself!

We burned slim beeswax candles that we bought three Christmases ago in Jerusalem; we met there for our first married Christmas when Elliott was on a yearlong solo assignment in Egypt. So much to be thankful for this Christmas, including the fact that we are together, even if our extended family is far away.

After the kids were in bed, Elliott and I spent awhile reading the story of Jesus’ birth from Luke and praying by the fire. I have been thinking a great deal this Advent season about how Jesus became poor, humbling himself to a fragile human embryo, a messy birth process, a cold and rustic world. For us these days, Christmas is all about comfort — family, gifts, food, firelight — but there was very little comfort that first Christmas. I am so grateful for the sacrifice Jesus made so that we have both immediate and eternal comfort to enjoy.

What are you most grateful for this Christmas?

14 :: in family, hiking, holidays, home sweet home, Sicily

say hello to our Christmas dinner!


There it is… half a lamb! When I walked into the local butcher this afternoon, I had only intended to pick up our favorite sausage for an egg and sausage casserole. The lamb looked too unforgettable to pass up, though… so why not?! There’s enough for two meals, so I’ll choose half of the pieces and roast them with root vegetables. Should be tasty, and I know my back-to-the-land husband will love it. Here’s a picture of the butcher hacking the lamb up for me:


He chopped the head and ear off first and laid them on the butcher paper, but I shook my head. I had no plans for those pieces, and I’d rather not look at them in my kitchen. Don’t tell Elliott; he probably would have wanted to make a lamb’s head soup or fry the brains! The butcher did give me the whole liver, so maybe Elliott will be content with that….

What are your plans for Christmas this year? Are they interwoven with family tradition, or are you far from family this year? We’re still establishing our traditions, by which I mean that we have plans for how Christmas will be one day (real tree, Christmas stockings, spending the holidays with family) and our make-do plans in the meantime. Here’s our make-do tree and its tin foil star:


My children are posing outside the butcher shop with the omnipresent Sicilian Christmas decoration: a stuffed Santa climbing walls or railings to deliver presents. A version of this Santa seems to be hanging off every balcony in town.

We’re hosting a small Christmas Eve brunch tomorrow morning for other friends who are far from family, just like we did last year. We also have high hopes of attending the Christmas cantata at church if our little ones can make it through the 6:30-7:30pm service without meltdowns!

Our Christmas morning will be more special this year because I feel like Lena anticipates it and is excited about it for the first time. We’ve been telling and retelling the Christmas story a lot in this house, and Elliott’s been reading the story from The Jesus Storybook Bible to her about every other night for weeks. I have thought about making a birthday cake for Jesus to really emphasize the celebration of the day, but we’ve had enough sweets in this house… so maybe I’ll just stick a candle in one of our Christmas morning cinnamon rolls instead! She would love that.

I’d love to hear about your plans for Christmas, especially if you have any special ways to commemorate the day with little ones. What are your favorite memories from your childhood?

11 :: in holidays, home sweet home, Sicily

one day I’ll be a good blogger again


Wow, when did this blog turn into nothing but a travelogue?  I have all kinds of aspirations to be a writer and share my thoughts here, but in the busyness of everyday life, sometimes the easiest blog post to throw together is a bunch of pictures from our most recent adventure.  Of course, they can be fun, and I do know I’ll be grateful for them in the future when I want to look back and remember our life in Italy.

But my favorite posts — for myself in the future and for honesty’s sake with my readers — are the ones where I really write and think and process and share life with you all.  The ones that are filled with pictures from our home: playful mornings with my children, a butter-smudged baking project with Lena, an iconic snapshot of Gil as he grows and changes every day.  (He’s almost 11 months old.  11 months!!!  How is this happening so fast?)

I know that this world is made a richer place by sharing, and I want to share with you.  To share what I’m learning as a mom, to share what’s working for me in this whole parenting thing, to share what is beautiful or hard in our marriage, to share a recent favorite from my kitchen, to share a recent book that I just couldn’t put down.

So I’ll start now!

The children are napping, a blessed time of day that will hopefully last at least another 30 minutes.  We had a good morning with breakfast together, a short playtime on the living room rug, and then Gil’s nap from 9-11:30. (He’s been sleeping so much lately! Growth spurt? Deprived of sleep? Either way I’m grateful.) Lena and I took a shower and then she put lotion on my face and brushed my hair and blow-dried it for me. I felt like I was in a salon; it was amazing!  She asks, “Can I make you fancy, Mama?” all the time these days. I was impressed today, as this is the first time she’s actually had the skill and attention span to perform these tasks without putting either of us in mortal danger. I have high hopes for training her to also give me a pedicure and draw a bath.

We painted pictures together until Gil woke up, then ate a quick lunch and drove to base to see Elliott, send a package (be on the lookout, Abi and Lucie!), and hunt for books in the library. We found a whole stack of wonderful winter picture books for Lena. (But they are all about snow, and I realized that she doesn’t know what snow is! I think we need to take a trip up to the now-icy slopes of Mt Etna sometime soon.) I wanted to get a Christmas movie to watch with Elliott, but they only had Four Christmases.  I’ve never seen it.  Is it any good?

On the way home I bought a crate of blood oranges for 5 euro. These will be our first blood oranges of the season, and I can’t wait to eat them! They are my favorite fruit in the world.

Yesterday I hosted a simple hot cocoa and cookies party for some friends, and it was so much fun. They brought their kids (if they had some) and we sipped hot cocoa as the children played. I told people to come as they were, in pajamas if they’d like (which gave me the excuse to wear my yoga pants the entire time). It was definitely a sugary and casual way to enjoy the season.

Finally, a general life update: two days ago Elliott was offered his dream military job supporting a special operations unit in San Diego. He’s been wavering as to whether he wants to stay in the Army or not, and he needs to make his decision by early January. We were thrilled that this job offer came now, as it gives us a couple of weeks to think and pray before moving forward. There are so many factors to consider, and the job sounds amazing… but so does civilian life. If you think of us, please pray for wisdom and humility in our decision-making.

Also, if you happen to know any military wives with husbands in a similar job to what Elliott might have, will you send them my way? As much as I can, I would love to know what we will be getting into if we take this job!

And now back to the present day, I’m planning to make this for dinner, but sadly I don’t have any apricot jam. Do you think I could substitute raspberry jam?  Might be interesting…

… and I hear a little voice calling, “Maaaama, I’m awaaaaake!” Hope you all have a wonderful rest of the week!

12 :: in military life, naptime diaries, thoughts

Christmas in Caltigirone {Sicilian ceramics and nativities}


A couple of weeks ago, as Thanksgiving had just given way to the Christmas season, my friend Anna organized a girls’ trip to Caltigirone, home of Sicilian ceramics.  The last time I visited was almost two years ago, and I was excited for another chance to browse through endless tiny shops filled with blue and yellow pottery, wander up and down the tiled stairs at the heart of the mountain town, and spend a morning with my friends without all of our little kids!

(On that note: a big thank you to Elliott and Greg for taking on all the children after Anna and I had spent the rest of the weekend selling at craft fairs!)


Anna had more plans than just ceramics shopping, though.  She invited us all to experience the Sicilian tradition of presepe, or nativities.  Every year many Sicilian towns set up nativities of all shapes, sizes, and designs in empty garages, cavernous back rooms, and tiny doorways off little side streets.  We bought a pass to see 5 different presepi, which we presented before stepping behind heavy velvet curtains to see each scene.


This presepe was totally life-sized and set up in a cave-like room.  The figures all moved, the cow lowed, the donkey brayed, and a soft God-like voice overhead recited the Christmas story in Italian.


A scene from a massive and incredibly detailed presepe that stretched on and on for at least 100 feet!


On the left a 5-inch-high shepherd reads Scripture surrounded by tiny sheep; on the right Cinderella, Snow White, and the Seven Dwarfs make their way towards a Disney-free stable off to the side.


This one was wild.  Smurfs, Tweety Bird, Mickey Mouse, and the Simpson family gathered around a miniscule little nativity scene inside one of Super Mario’s mushrooms!


My favorite presepe was made entirely of pasta.  Even the “hay” on the ground is crushed green pasta!


… and the “inn” to the side of the nativity scene is built out of crostini, tiny crisp toasts that Italians often eat for breakfast.  So clever!


There was even a miniature Caltigirone scene inside one presepe, complete with the famous tiled steps of the town and a tiny Padre Pio (well-loved Italian priest) blessing tourists and townspeople alike.


Our presepi touring finished, we wandered through rainy Caltigirone, dipping into ceramics shops as they caught our fancy.  Even in the bleak winter weather, Caltigirone is a beautiful town.


The famous tiled steps of Caltigirone.  The buildings on either side are filled with ceramics shops, a delicious restaurant, and people’s homes.


Ceramics!  I especially liked this pattern.  It looks very much like Polish pottery, which is my first love.


A Christmas tree-shaped candle-holder and a beautiful artist at work.

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Scenes in Caltigirone.


The canisters above demonstrate some of the larger brushstrokes used in a lot of Sicilian ceramics.  Not as much my style, but very typical of the region and beautifully bright in their hand-painted colors and designs.

becca-garber-caltigirone-ceramics-sicily-1 becca-garber-caltigirone-ceramics-sicily-17

And finally, a pocket-sized Fiat cinquecento or scooter to take home with you!

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8 :: in holidays, Sicily, travel

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