Archive | March, 2014

portraits of my children {11/52}



The 52 Project: a portrait of my children once a week & every week in 2014.

Lena: Both of these photos are from last week in Florence with my family. On Thursday we visited Pisa, and while we were walking to the Leaning Tower we spotted this balloon abandoned in a bush. Lena and Gil played with it the whole time we were there! (Also I was editing this photo and was going to straighten it, but then I realized that everything in the photo is tilted. That’s Pisa and little kids for you!)

Gil: Our last night in Florence, the kids rode the carousel in the Piazza della Republica. The carousel itself was magnificent, and I found out later that it is the ancient carousel of the Picci family and was built in the early 20th century. But of course none of that mattered to little Gil, who was thrilled to be up there with his Auntie Ema, twirling around and around!


Unfortunately, one bad thing happened in Florence: my iPhone was stolen. Ugh! We were enjoying the view from the Piazzale Michelangelo, and I stupidly set my camera bag down to take some photos. My iPhone was in my camera bag. When I realized my mistake, the bag was gone.

The thing that devastated me the most about losing that perfectly-good, planned-to-have-it-for-years phone, though, was the photos and videos that I lost with it. I take several photos (or dozens) a day on my phone, and I don’t keep up with downloading them onto my computer. Honestly, I hadn’t downloaded them for months. I sobbed afterwards to Elliott that I felt like I’d lost a part of Lena and Gil’s childhoods. I’m thankful that I’ve saved the best through Instagram and my blog and emails to family, but there are so many I’ll never get back.

Anyway, the phone is gone. I started to think I might prefer to just live with a flip phone for awhile — so much less distracting for me and my kids! But because we have a contract and are paying for data, it makes financial sense to get another smartphone. I’m hoping, though, that until my new one arrives, this break from an iPhone will make me more aware of my phone-checking habits and help me be more present with my children. It’s already been eye-opening for me. Maybe I’ll blog about it!

Do you have a smartphone? Do you wish you didn’t?

22 :: in 52 project, Italy, travel

Good morning from Florence!


Gil and Lena holding hands as their aunts (Jess and Emily) carry them through Florence!

It’s a beautiful morning here in Firenze (Florence), and my sleeping babies might actually let me finish this blog post! I thought I’d share a few photos from our first couple of days of vacation together. My parents, sister Emily, and sister-in-law Jess are here with Elliott, Lena, Gil, and me… a huge treat for all of us!

We’re totally in love with this city by now, and I just want to move to Florence. The beauty, the architecture, the history, the people, the bicycles, the river, the views, the countryside, the food… sign me up! I’ve been posting photos on Instagram, if you’d like to follow along for more frequent updates.

Here are a few photos of our apartment, which totally exceeded our expectations for location and beauty:




On Sunday morning, our first full day here, my mom and the kids and I were up hours before everyone else. We took a walk through the city in the early morning while the street sweepers were still at work:



View of the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge filled with jewelry shops) as seen from right outside our apartment.



Weird angle of some happy early-morning walkers!

Later we took a walking tour of Florence together, which was rather long (3.5 hours) for all of us, not to mention for our 2- and 1-year-old! The kids kept us laughing and entertained, though, even as the tour guide droned on… and on… and on…


This photo made me laugh. Basically this is how Elliott and I “listened” to the entire tour: with two kids jumping off of us.


We got to see the traditional Sunday morning parade through the old city. It reminded us of our Sicilian town’s medieval festival every August!



Old and young.




A tired tourist snuggles with her mama.


This happy guy wanted to do nothing but walk walk walk, this time with the assistance of “Auntie Ema.”


The famous Santa Maria delle Fiore, Florence’s main cathedral. I read a whole book about how the dome was built, so it was thrilling to see it in person!


Elliott and Lena talking together in the huge Duomo (cathedral) on his birthday. Happy 33rd, dear Elliott!


becca-garber-florence-with-kids-18 becca-garber-florence-with-kids-21

I love these last two photos: Lena jumping in the Palazzo Vecchio, and Lena and Gil with my dad in the Duomo. I’ve been reading books about the history and architecture of Florence in order to prepare me for our visit, and now to see my family in all these beautiful places is such a gift!

I’m grateful for this season of our lives: happy little children, living in Italy, a whole week with family. I’m also praying that the rest of the trip goes as well as the first part has… can anyone relate to that prayer?!

P.S. If you’ve been to Florence, I’d love to hear recommendations for favorite eateries, views, sights, and surrounding towns to visit!

15 :: in family, Florence, Italy, travel

Skiing on Mount Etna: Everything You Need to Know!

Note: Driving directions, contact numbers, and equipment rental info
are at the bottom of this post!


“We heard you can go skiing on Mt Etna,” I asked right after we moved to Sicily. “Have you ever gone?”

“No,” said my new friend, “never tried it. I’m not sure what it’s like up there… there isn’t that much snow!”

We moved on to other topics. But in the back of my mind I remember thinking, “I’m not going to say what she said! I’m going to ski that mountain!” It’s an active volcano, after all. How many people can say they’ve skied on the tallest active volcano in Europe?!

Skip ahead about… oh, three years. “Have you ever been skiing on Mt Etna?” some new friends asked us, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed about life in Sicily.

“No,” I said, flooded with regret. “We’ve always wanted to go, but we never have. It’s so hard to find an all-day babysitter, and I don’t even know if there’s enough snow!”

Our friends took it upon themselves to find out if there was enough snow. This is what they found:


On the right: that puff is smoke coming out of the active volcano!

So now I really wanted to go. We finally figured out an all-day babysitter: my mom! She gallantly agreed to care for our two children while we went back to our favorite B&B on the slopes of Mt Etna and enjoyed 24 hours to ourselves. Thank you, Mom!


After a leisurely breakfast in the quaint town of Nicolosi, we packed our bags and drove another 30 minutes to the “South Station,” or Etna Sud, where the cable car leaves for the ski slopes. (See the bottom of this post for more details.) We ran around a little bit looking for where to rent ski equipment. Just look for the log cabins!


We then bought ski passes inside the large funivia/cable car building. Since we arrived after 12:00pm, we bought the afternoon (pomeridiano) ski pass, and the guy gave us the residential discount. Thirteen euro (about $18 USD) each for ski passes? I’ll take it!


Kitted out and ready to board the cable car!


The view from the cable car was beautiful, and would have been spectacular without clouds. Unfortunately, there was less snow than we’d expected, and my hopes were dropping.


However, once the cable car stopped, we saw plenty of snow. Hooray!

We clicked our boots into our skis (one of my favorite sounds) and took off down the first hill. I felt a little wobbly because we haven’t skied since we went to France two years ago. But the conditions (icy, not powdery) felt familiar because we skied a lot when we lived in New England (and were falling in love!). Pretty soon we were right at home.


Say cheese!

After a few runs, we figured out that there were only three runs/pistes open. Three! So there wasn’t much exploring to be done. Our friends told us that there were about six runs open when they were there, so maybe it just depends on the amount of snow.


Suddenly the clouds came rolling in, and our visibility dropped to about 30 feet. We were a little nervous about making a wrong turn and careening down the volcano.


There’s Elliott in front of me on the ski lift about 30 feet away, and I could barely see past him. The ski lifts were another surprise: no chair lifts, just these single-person “button lifts.” They were fine, but unfortunately that meant our legs didn’t get much of a rest. I really love those breaks on chair lifts!


And then — as suddenly as it came — the clouds blew away! We could see again!


We tried to get a shot with the volcano behind us… you can kind of see it.


We took a break for an Italian-style lunch: a cappuccino and an aracino. I usually look forward to hot dogs for lunch at the ski lodge, but — would you believe it? — they didn’t have any. Something tells me I’ll now want an arancino every time I ski.

The ski slopes are open until 3:45pm, and we were ready to call it a day then, too. As we headed down the cable car, it really started snowing, and we were in for a surprise when we got back to our car. That little Civic hasn’t even seen snow in three years, and now he’s blanketed in it!


The snow kept coming down as we left Etna Sud and headed down the mountain. We spotted our first Sicilian snow plow…


… and got treated to breathtaking Narnia-like scenery along the way. How we wished we had the kids with us for this!




The snow turned into rain right as we entered the outskirts of Nicolosi. Such a beautiful, peaceful end to our little getaway! We drove home to the open arms and snuggles of two little children who were very, very glad to see their mama and daddy. Thank you again, Mom!

And now…


All You Need to Know About Skiing on Mt Etna

  • We had decided to ski at “Etna Sud,” or the southern side of Etna, which is open this year for skiing. (The North Side/Etna Nord is usually also open for skiing, but it’s closed this year because of a lot of lava flow down that side of the volcano. Too warm for snow, I guess?)
  • Call ahead to make sure that the mountain is open for skiing. The official website is Etna Sci, but we couldn’t find any info on ski conditions or hours or rentals on that website or their Facebook page. Neither are updated very frequently. So I called the cell phone number of a ski instructor who was listed on that website, and he told me it was open and that I could ski from 9am to 4pm.
  • You can also call the cable car offices at Etna Sud to see if the mountain is open. Their website is Funivia Etna and their phone number is listed at the bottom of the page.
  • To get to Etna Sud, type “Refugio Sapienza” into Google Maps and follow those directions. That will bring you right to the South Station, where you can park (and donate a couple of euro to the parking lot attendant) and start your adventure.
  • We rented skis, poles, boots, and helmets at Etna Sud before getting on the cable car. (You can also rent snowboarding equipment.) We were very happy with the quality and the selection, and the price was reasonable: 20 euros each. We left one ID and paid by credit card (or cash) when we returned our equipment. There are two rental shops that are side-by-side and separated from the rest of the buildings. They both look like log cabins and are marked by large “noleggio” (rental) signs.
  • The ski pass is the same as your cable car ticket. You’ll choose which ski pass you want (half day or full day, child or adult, local resident or visitor, etc.) and pay a maximum of 29 euro. (See the photo of the prices in my post.) The pass is electronic, so you’ll attach it to your ski jacket with an elastic cord that they give you, and you will slide that ski pass into ticket readers to get onto the cable car and to ride each ski lift.
  • After you buy your ticket/ski pass, you board the cable car. The ride to the refugio/ski lodge takes about 15 minutes, and it’s really beautiful! Enjoy it, because the same cable car ticket costs about 70 euro in the summer to go hiking on Mt Etna.
  • Once you arrive in the refugio, you can use the bathroom and get a snack at the bar/cafe, or head right out to the slopes. That is the only refugio.
  • In terms of difficulty, all the slopes are pretty easy Blue-level slopes. Again, there were only three, and they were all very wide, so there is plenty of room to learn. We saw some snowboarders who had gone off-piste to practice some jumps, so you could always blaze your own trails, too….
  • If you are military, you can sometimes rent ski/snowboarding equipment or go on organized ski trips through ITT on base at Sigonella Naval Air Station. Call ITT at 095-56-4777 or 095-56-4396 for information.

I hope that helps! As always, feel free to contact me if you have any questions. Have fun skiing on Mt Etna!

14 :: in Mt Etna, Sicily, skiing

portraits of my children {9/52}



The 52 Project: a portrait of my children once a week & every week in 2014.

Lena: My mom is visiting for two weeks and we are so blessed to have her here. (I feel like saying “lucky” or “thrilled” or “relieved” doesn’t quite encapsulate how wonderful it is to have her in our home every day for this long!!!) She has been a quiet, steady presence since the moment she got here, helping me in every way that she can imagine, playing with the kids from sun up to sun down, and being the friend and confidant I love so much. This past week the kids and I took her back to beautiful Taormina, one of my favorite places in Sicily. Lena — who is her Grammie’s shadow — asked for a piggyback ride towards the end of the day, and they looked so happy walking through the picturesque streets!

Gil: I took this picture while we were in Taormina, too, in an attempt to capture some of those curls that we all love. We have recently ordered detangling spray and special shampoo in order to get control of this wildness, since we still can’t bear to cut it. I always wanted a baby with blond ringlets, and I think I got my wish!


Also, I’m writing this while sipping a hazelnut latte in the library… by myself. Bliss! My military ID expired (whoopsies), so my mom sent me to base to get it renewed and told me to stay awhile and relax. Ahhh… I feel so refreshed!

Did you get any alone time this weekend? I think I need more of it! Preferably with coffee in hand.

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