Archive | April, 2014

using my iPhone well :: 5 changes for my kids & home


It arrived last week.

I opened the white box to reveal a sleek new iPhone, lying there before its new owner with a history yet unwritten. Within a few moments, the phone was programmed, and I set up my email and chose my favorite ringtone. I snapped a sturdy case onto it for safekeeping. I slipped it in my purse.

Welcome to my life, iPhone.

But I was a slightly different person than the distracted young woman who lost her iPhone three weeks before. Getting my iPhone stolen from under my nose both dismayed and provoked me. In the ensuing three weeks, I thought a lot about my phone use and tried to change a few habits.

I’ve slowly written this post over the past week, wanting to be honest as well as not too optimistic. I’ve tried to be vulnerable and thoughtful about all of it, and I’d love to know your thoughts. Here are a few things I realized while I had no iPhone, and therefore a few things I’d like to change:

1. I don’t need to carry my phone around the house.

Before I lost it, I would generally carry my iPhone from room to room with me, usually in my back pocket. In theory, this was so I could grab it if someone called or texted me. But my life in Sicily is not full of calls or texts. My friends and I just use email unless it’s urgent. Pretty much the only person who calls me is Elliott, and he rarely texts because he doesn’t have a smartphone. Because we live overseas, I can’t call or text my parents or siblings, so that cuts out a lot of fun everyday communication that I am really looking forward to when we move back to the States!

In summary, I didn’t carry my phone around in case someone called. I carried it around to a) take pictures and b) check various social media outlets.

After I lost my phone, I borrowed my friend’s very simple flip phone. Because there was nothing to do on it, I started to leave it in my purse all afternoon, or on my bedside table all morning. When someone (Elliott) called me, I could usually hear it and go retrieve it. (Usually. There were some missed calls.)

In the meantime, I felt surprisingly free. “Where’s my phone? In my room. I haven’t heard it, so no one’s called. Maybe I’ll check it in awhile.” I lost the itch to have it in the same room with me at all times.

When my new phone arrived, I had already diagnosed this change and wanted to keep it this way. So far, I’ve been successful. Case in point: while writing this, I realized that my phone was still in the backpack from our picnic hike today, meaning I haven’t looked at it in eight hours. That would never have happened before.

However, Elliott read over my shoulder when I was writing this and said, “But when I call you, I want you to answer. It’s good that you aren’t as attached! But we’re paying for a phone so that when people call you, you hear it and pick it up.” And he’s right.

So maybe the phone still does need to travel with me, or maybe I just need to live with a louder ringtone instead of the vibrate setting. I’m still figuring this one out.

2. Putting my baby to bed is not a time to look at my phone.

Gil currently nurses four times a day, always before he goes to sleep. Before I lost my phone, I would often bring it with me to read in the dark when no one could “see” me. But Gil often did turn around to see where the light was coming from, which then turned into a game of me hiding the phone every time he turned his head. In the end, I often felt more frustrated than relaxed. “Just let me finish writing this comment, Gil!”

After I lost my phone, I didn’t have anything to do while nursing Gil except… sit there. So I closed my eyes. I rocked quietly in the rocking chair. I let my mind wander. I rested.

By the time my new phone arrived, I had really learned to value those few minutes with Gil. So I decided not to even bring my phone into the room with me while putting Gil to bed. Now those minutes are quiet, peaceful times for both of us. Our breathing slows, our heart rates decrease, our minds rest. These minutes are also preparatory for both of us: Gil prepares to sleep and I prepare for everythingIneedtododuringnaptime. It’s a time to snuggle together. It’s a sweet time, a fleeting moment in the grand scheme of our lives.

So this change may not last long (because Gil is 14 months and I’ll be weaning him soon), but this is at least one change I’m making: no phone while putting my baby to sleep.

3. Instagram takes a lot more than it gives (at least for me).

I love the glimpses into people’s lives, the ordinary moments and life-defining shots all shared in a simple forum. I’ve reconnected with friends and even made some new ones thanks to Instagram.

But wow. I spent a lot of time on there. Over time, I watched myself begin to spend 10 minutes editing each picture, and then fret over how many likes it might garner. I started to follow people I didn’t know, including a lot of popular bloggers with pretty photos. The more people I followed, the more updates I had, so the more often I checked Instagram. Multiple times a day. Or every hour. Or sometimes – especially right after I’d uploaded a photo – multiple times an hour.

After I lost my iPhone, I missed the updates from my friends, and I would Google various feeds to check in on their photos. But that started to happen less and less. At the same time, I stopped worrying about taking the perfect photo, or thinking about other Insta celebs perfect photos (and food and houses and lives), or getting that nagging itch to check my feed again. These changes gave me more peace and more time.

So I don’t know. Clearly Instagram had a strong hold on me, and perhaps my story is unique. One blogger I know said that Facebook was always getting her down (so she got off Facebook), but Instagram always built her up. Maybe that’s true for a lot of people, but for me Instagram offers more comparisons and time drains instead of encouragement.

After I got my new phone, I tried to establish new habits. Now I only check Instagram about three times a day instead of 10 or 30 times. I stopped following the blogger celebrities that were filling up my feed. (This also means fewer updates in my feed, and fewer updates means I don’t feel the need to check for updates as often.) I’m also trying to never check Instagram around my kids. We’ll see if these changes last, hah! Wish me luck!

4. Taking care of your email in blocks of time saves you time.

With no smartphone, I used my laptop to check my email. And my laptop — unlike my phone — couldn’t travel all around the house with me. Thus, instead of checking my phone every hour (or multiple times an hour), I could only check my laptop when I had a few free minutes in my room by myself: before the kids were up in the morning, during nap time, and in the evening after they’re in bed.

As my time on my email became more limited, I found that I could be more productive when I focused on one thing – “now I have a quiet hour, and I am going to respond to as many emails as I can.” This is so much more productive than trying to email a friend in the corner of the kitchen in the few seconds before Lena came back to find me!

Responding to email only at certain times of day is a time-management tip I’ve heard about, but I’m still figuring it out. Is it realistic to say I am only going to respond to my email at 7am, 2pm, and 8pm? Probably not. But I have found that focusing on my email responses in blocks of time instead of scattered minutes has made me calmer throughout the day. I’m still thinking about this one. I’d love to hear if you have made this work for you.

5. I don’t need to photograph or video every hour of my children’s lives.

Like I mentioned before, I wept when my phone was stolen because there were several months of photos and videos inside that phone. I felt like I lost part of my children’s childhoods. There were iconic moments and memories that will fade away now.

For the first week after I lost my phone, I would mentally reach for it all. the. time. Surprisingly, that was not because I wanted to check my email or look things up on Google. I wanted it so I could take a picture. I saw Gil’s conundrum, Lena’s silly dance, or a beautiful corner of our Italian neighborhood, and my knee-jerk reaction was to reach for my phone and capture the moment.

But after a week or so, the urge faded. I picked up my DSLR a little more and played around with some manual settings. Mostly I just got used to enjoying the moments instead of freeze-framing them.

After I got my new phone, I started using the camera again slowly. I’ve been trying to be more judicious about the photos I take. To delete extra photos as I go.  To think more about what I’m trying to capture. To not take a photo and instead just to enjoy the moment. To look at my children and laugh with them and enjoy that moment with my own two eyes and not necessarily from behind an iPhone.

The result, I think, will be fewer photos and probably just as good photos. Maybe better photos, if I’m being more thoughtful. The result might also be children who don’t feel like every moment of their lives is being filmed and recorded.

And these are all good things, I think.


What are your thoughts about all this? If you have a smartphone, do you try to regulate your usage? If you have kids, how do you use your phone around them?

I feel like I’m beginning to set battle lines for a personal war I’ll be fighting all my life. What are your strategies so you use your phone efficiently… and not the other way around?

18 :: in Becoming a Stay-at-Home Mom Series, motherhood, thoughts

Lena turns three!


Well, never has a day been so anticipated in our house, I don’t think. Lena has been talking and singing and dreaming about this day for weeks and months. I was a little worried there might be a crash of disappointment when the actual day came and went, but thankfully (unlike Gil’s birthday) I don’t think there were any tears all day. Hooray for that!


Gil and Lena woke up at exactly the same time that morning, so Elliott grabbed Gil and we walked into Lena’s room together singing “Happy Birthday.” She was thrilled when she saw her presents and cards piled on our bookshelf in our room, and she chose “the big pink one” to open first. That one was from us, and I’d filled it with fresh craft supplies: a new notebook (since her old one went everywhere with us and is totally full of stickers and drawings), crayons, markers, stickers, and her first pair of scissors.


For breakfast, she requested oatmeal with “yots and yots of brown sugar” and fresh-squeezed blood orange juice.


Gil fell head over heels in love with books about two weeks ago, and now he’ll sit in his bed or the kitchen for 10 minutes at a time, studying each page and pointing out animals. I frequently discover him cleaning off the kids’ bookshelf, too, and then sitting down happily in the middle of a pile of board books.


After breakfast, we waved goodbye to Daddy like we do almost every morning…


… played on the living room rug for awhile…


… and then Lena ate her much anticipated birthday treat: a pink yogurt with M&Ms. She spotted it for the first time back in November at the grocery store, and I answered her request with the vague, “Maybe for your birthday.” I thought she’d forget, but of course she didn’t forget. For the past six months, she’s looked for it on every grocery trip and reminded me weekly, “That’s the yogurt I’m going to get for my birthday!”

I’m sure all the anticipation made it taste much better than it actually did.


She asked last week for a raspberry cake, so I went to great lengths to find a recipe and even tried  [unsuccessfully] to track down fresh raspberries (which I’ve never seen for sale in Sicily). At some point during her birthday morning, Lena said, “Mama, next year I would like a strawberry cake.”

Now why couldn’t you have asked for that this year, baby girl, when we have strawberries coming out of our ears?!


Around 9:30 we put Gil down for a nap and opened another of her presents. This one was a beautiful balancing game from her grandparents. The goal is to put as many of the wooden pieces onto the pirate ship as you can before it tips over. We’ve really enjoyed it so far, and I think it will be a lot of fun as the kids grow up and have friends over, too. I recommend it!

We mixed up Lena’s raspberry cake while Gil slept, but it was super messy and I didn’t get any pics.


Gil is up (I don’t think he slept), and we opened this wonderful gift: a doctor kit. It was a huge hit with both the kids, and her poor doll has had surgery every day since last Thursday.

Now let’s just all take a moment and enjoy how cute this is:

becca-garber-lena-3rd-birthday-4 Future Dr. Garber, following in his veterinarian father’s footsteps? I hope so!


After lunch, we took a walk to the playground in our town. Along the way we stopped at “Nonno’s store,” the little shop where we buy our wine, pasta, Nutella, and other sundry items. Nonno (“grandfather” in Italian) always gives Lena a piece of chocolate when she comes, and she usually shares it with Gil.


After deciding for about two months that he preferred to crawl, Gil decided that day to start walking on his own. His flailing arms made me laugh so hard as he toddled from place to place!


And picking his feet up so high! Lena, meanwhile, continues to be our little acrobat/monkey.


Back at home, the kids napped for a couple of hours while I baked Lena’s cake for that night and cupcakes for her party the next day. When she got up, she watched birthday videos from her family. They were a huge hit last year, too!

We mixed up frosting together, and both kids were thrilled to lick a beater.


As I was grabbing my camera, I asked Lena to help me spread the frosting on the cake. She obliged by slapping her hand into it and obediently spreading it around!


Despite that delicious mishap, the cake turned out fine. A hungry little boy followed me around as I attempted a photo shoot. My favorite part was that the pureed raspberries in the batter turned the cake a pretty pink color.

Elliott arrived home around then, and we ate dinner (stay-in-bed stew and biscuits) and then opened the final presents. There was much glee!

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And then — at last — the cake!


The next day we had a small party at a playground in Maranai, the U.S. military housing compound where some of our friends live. Lena and Gil shared a swing, and Gil toddled everywhere with his arms in the air…


… and Lena’s friend Matthew gave her a bottle of bubbles, which were the best thing about the party!


Little Lena, your dancing, jumping, and singing are joys in our lives, and we love to bake, hike, build block towers, and read books with you. You are just beginning to sound out words in books, and you’ve started to tell long, imaginative stories that leave us laughing with amazement at your imagination. You are such a cheerful big sister to your adoring little brother, who is literally grumpy if you are not around to make his world spin.

You’re snuggling me now after you nap as I type this, and I love the weight of your body on my chest and the scent of your hair next to my face. You have been one of the greatest gifts of my life, and I love you more than you’ll ever know. Happy birthday, Lena!

10 :: in a picture an hour, family, Lena

portraits of my children {14/52} + enchanted April



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

Lena: She turned three last week! We celebrated quietly at home on April 3rd, and then the next day we had a little party at a playground nearby. She had requested a raspberry cake, so together we pureed raspberries, dyed the cake pink with them, whipped up frosting, topped it with more raspberries, and finally stuck the candles in and sang “Happy Birthday”!

(Unfortunately, as with Gil’s birthday cake, I’m pretty much the only one eating the leftovers. I know this will not be a problem in another couple of years, but for now… anyone want some cake?)

Gil: On Lena’s birthday, the kids and I took a walk to the playground in our town, where I captured this shot of Gil right by some Italian graffiti that says, “I love you.” He refused to make eye contact despite all my antics to get him to look at me and grin.


Elliott had a four-day weekend, and it’s been so restful for all of us. (That’s unusual when I spend more time inside with two little kids, but this time it’s true!) Today we packed a picnic lunch and headed down into the valley to enjoy our enchanted April in Italy.



Lena said she was hot and wanted to take off her shirt (“like Daddy does”). It’s amazing how quickly she transformed from a cute little girl at a picnic into a total babe of the woods.


See what I mean? Viewer discretion advised: “On guard!”


And finally… I’m completely smitten with this little guy. Gil Garber, I’m so lucky to be the woman you love most!

What did you do this weekend?

5 :: in 52 project, family, hiking, Sicily

our final days in Florence

See more of our Florence trip here and here and our day trips to Siena here and Pisa here.


Oh, this city! What a wonderful time we all had soaking in the beauty, history, and glory of Florence. I knew I’d love it — everyone told me it would be my favorite Italian city so far — but it was made so much more wonderful that I got to share it with my parents, sister, and sister-in-law. Thank you again for coming, family!


After we got back from Pisa, I put the kids down for their naps, and then my mom and I headed out to see a few more sights in Florence. We slipped into the magnificent Baptistry (above), admired the facade of the Duomo again (below), and saw the famous bronze Baptistry doors in the museum.

I studied all these things with my mom when our classical homeschooling curriculum included Architecture in 8th Grade, so it felt like we came full circle!



That evening Jess, Elliott, and I took the kids up to the Piazzale Michelangelo to watch the sun set over Florence. It was only a 10-minute walk from our apartment, so we had visited frequently during that week. This time I wish I hadn’t come, though, because my phone got stolen… probably right as Jess took the photo below. Sigh.


The next day I still felt pretty down in the dumps, so Jess and Elliott suggested we go on a walk and find some lunch. (My sister was working on her thesis… we missed you, Em!) We headed up into the hills behind our apartment, hiking quickly out of the noise and bustle of the city and into peaceful, spacious neighborhoods that felt more like quintessential Tuscany.




Eventually we stopped at a restaurant that Jess had found, and we discovered an outdoor terrace with views of the valley behind the Boboli Gardens. Birdsong filled the air, and daffodils bloomed nearby.

We ordered a hot seafood appetizer and a whole baked fish, sipped house wine, and dipped fresh bread in olive oil and vinegar. It was glorious.



After a little more wandering around the hills, we headed home to meet up with our family for our evening plans: to ride the carousel!




“Which horse do you want to ride, Lena?”



Practicing her queen’s wave.


After their ride, Lena was unwrapping a piece of candy that the man in the carousel ticket box had given her. Gil saw what she was doing and planted himself patiently next to her, hand on her sleeve, waiting for his half of the treat.


My boys!


Looking for artwork to take home.


We wandered slowly back to our apartment, savoring our last walk through Florence together. We stopped to listen to street musicians, shop for scarves and leather purses, and get one last glimpse of famous Florentine art and architecture.

becca-garber-firenze-kids-3 becca-garber-firenze-kids-22

And that was Florence! That night Elliott, Em, and I walked Jess to the train station, and the next morning the rest of us began our own journeys home. Thank you for coming, family! So many memories to last a lifetime.

2 :: in family, Florence, Italy, travel

a day in Pisa, Italy


Pisa was such a fun day trip! Really the only thing to see in Pisa is… the Leaning Tower of Pisa. So that makes the day trip pretty short and sweet. We took a 1.5-hour train ride from Florence and spent about 3 hours walking around the town and enjoying the “Field of Miracles” where the Leaning Tower is located.


As soon as we walked out of the train station, we saw a gathering of tents where various Italian specialties were being sold. My mom went ga-ga over an entire booth dedicated to licorice. Meanwhile, check out that pig’s head with an apple in his mouth in the photo above! Everything was so tantalizing that we returned for lunch later that day.




And there’s the Leaning Tower of Pisa!


Obligatory touristy shot and Lena with her beloved balloon that we found in a bush.


Like I said, Lena really loved that balloon.

becca-garber-family-pisa-italy-9 becca-garber-family-pisa-italy-3

Gil made friends with the Leaning Man of Pisa (maybe?), and Em and I bought new “Ray Ban” shades for 5 euro each on the street. (So if you see me wearing them, don’t be too impressed.)


On the train ride home, there was some excitement: our train went through a tunnel and our train car went pitch black for about 5 seconds. As soon as the train was out of the tunnel, my dad jumped up, flung open the train car’s door, and went running down the length of the train. What?!

But he’d seen immediately that my mom’s purse had disappeared while the train was in the tunnel! He stopped a man along the way and we later found my mom’s purse near where the man had been standing. We assume the man dropped it as soon as my dad jumped up. Quick thinking from everyone!

Sadly, this didn’t prevent me from making a stupid error later that evening… and my phone and camera bag were stolen from right under my nose when I set my bag down to take some pictures. Such a loss! We made it through 2.5 years in Italy (infamous for pick-pocketers) without anything being stolen, and then that happened.

Incidentally, my new phone (you can read why I got a new one here) arrived yesterday. I have been doing a lot of thinking during my three-week break from my phone, and I have some ideas about how I’d like to use my phone better in the future. I’m working on a blog post about it… coming soon!

What’s the worst thing you ever had stolen from you?

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2 :: in family, Florence, Italy, travel

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