Archive | May, 2014

Five Books to Read This Summer


I think if I could travel the world, have a dog, and read books for the rest of my life,
I would be completely happy.

— my sister, last week —

This past week I dove into the most wonderful group of novels, one after another, barely coming up for air between them, tearing through them hours on end, waking up early and going to sleep late to read and read and read. Afterwards I laughingly said I’d gone on a “book binge,” my first in a long time. I’d forgotten what that felt like.

So if you’re looking for some yummy reads, look no further! Here are five books I haven’t been able to put down:

I’ve talked about this one before because — oh! — I loved it so much. I laughed, cried, and left feeling like I’d made a new friend. It’s a warm, tender, open-armed memoir of the author’s life and kitchen table. It’s a manifesto for pouring wine, breaking bread, and making room for friends around your table and in your heart. Woven between the author’s favorite recipes are beautiful, honest stories from her own life. I made her lentil soup for dinner tonight!


This was a Book Club choice, and I was ambivalent… until I realized that it is based on a true story. And then I was blown away. It’s a sweeping Southern drama, telling the story of Sarah Grimke, born into Charleston belle privilege, and Handful, the slave she was gifted on her twelfth birthday. Sarah goes on to become one of the first female abolitionists, and her story is painful, riveting, and inspiring. Read it to be taught as well as to enjoy.

becca-garber-recommended-summer-reading-1 copy

It’s a short, easy read, but the fact that it is also based on extensive historical research makes it powerful and memorable. The book follows the story of Vivian, an orphan in NYC who is put on the infamous “orphan train” heading West to families in need of shop labor or farm hands. Some of the orphans’ stories are devastatingly sad, and Vivian’s takes sickening turns. But the ending is sweet and redemptive, and I loved the modern-day orphan story woven back and forth through the historical narrative. Read it!


This was one of the books from my book binge. I inhaled the 450-page novel in about 48 hours, scrambling to think of things for Lena and Gil to do by themselves so that I could just keep reading! The story begins in the 1960s when teenage Laurel, up in the tree house on her family’s property, witnesses her mother open the door to a strange man and then kill him in cold blood. Unable to forget the murder years later, Laurel goes on a quest to uncover her mother’s past, taking her deep into WWII London during the Blitz.

(Note: I also read The Forgotten Garden by the same author that week, and it was good too.)


What a treat. Reads like chick lit, but the author is smarter and keener, and she knows how to deal with deep heart issues while keeping the tone light and fun. The main character, Alice, hits her head and wakes up thinking that she is newlywed, pregnant, and completely happy… none of which are true because it’s actually 10 years later and she has three children, an estranged husband, and a lot of water under the bridge with her sister and friends. Will losing her memory let her to redeem her family, friends, and life? Or is it too late?

(Note: I also read the author’s newer book, The Husband’s Secret, and loved it almost as much. Highly recommend this one too!)

And here are a few more honorable mentions that I’ve loved over the past few years:

  1. A Severe Mercy — a true love story & the book Elliott and I read when we were falling in love
  2. Where’d You Go, Bernadette? — light, fun, mother-daughter story
  3. Unbroken — riveting WWII memoir (I think I was the last of my friends to read this)
  4. The Glass Castle — family, heartbreak, memoir
  5. The Light Between Oceans — infertility, love, & Australia
  6. The Handmaid’s Tale — distopia with a “Biblical” twist
  7. The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love — FAVORITE!!!
  8. Bringing Up Bébé — American vs. French parenting, ie. my kind of brain candy
  9. NutureShock: New Thinking About Children — game-changer for parents
  10. 84, Charing Cross Road — handwritten letters, books, love
  11. Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster — EDGE OF MY SEAT
  12. My Life in France — Julia Child, FOOD, France

Do you have any recommendations for me? Happy reading!

14 :: in book reviews, goals, good reads

portraits of my children {20|52 and 21|52}

becca-garber-lena-portrait-20:52 becca-garber-gil-portrait-20:52 becca-garber-lena-portrait-21:52 becca-garber-gil-portrait-21:52

The 52 Project: A portrait of my children once a week + every week in 2014.
See the whole project here.

Lena: Three years old is a challenging age for me as a parent. (Am I alone in feeling that way??) Lena is a super-interactive child, and she’s never been very good at entertaining herself for more than a few minutes at a time. These past couple of weeks I tried to encourage that more by setting her up with some craft projects (requiring first my initiative and creativity… two things that don’t come easily to me!), painting, puzzles, and a bucket of soapy water in the shower stall more times than I can remember. But then she turns around and surprises me with independence in other ways, like insisting on dressing herself and putting on her shoes (she’s getting really good!), brushing her teeth, and putting together this puzzle a couple of times a day all by herself. I know she’s finished it again when I hear her gleeful giggle and turn around to see her sparkling eyes and mile-wide smile, waiting like only a three-year-old can for her mama’s praise.

Gil: He’s always been more content to amuse himself than Lena is, although at 16 months he takes my full attention on playgrounds and walks to keep him from breaking his neck! This week he started saying “cracker,” and “diaper,” “Siena,” “Lena,” and even “poo-poo” (oh joy) have become regular parts of his vocabulary. Over Memorial Day weekend we went to the Aeolian Islands, and we snapped this photo of him enjoying a very local meal: Caprese salad, fried sardines, an apricot, and bread dipped in olive oil.  He stuffed his face and wanted more and more. But then who wouldn’t with a makeshift high chair made out of pillows and that view of the beach behind you?!


In other news, our Memorial Day “beach vacation” unfortunately involved a lot of rain, but the sun finally came out at the end. Elliott and I did a lot of book writing and book reading (respectively), and the kids napped and played in between excursions to the rocky beach. What were you up to for Memorial Day?

12 :: in 52 project

our romantic night away in Paris


It was 8:30 pm. I shut the bedroom door behind my sleepy children, wishing them a quick trip to dreamland.

We were exhausted. That whole day we had walked, biked, and waited in interminable lines around Versailles, wrangling tiny children the entire time. My eyes met Elliott’s and we laughed wearily. Not exactly a great — or an early — start to a romantic getaway in Paris.

About 15 minutes later, we’d hastily packed a bag, and Elliott had made a reservation at a French restaurant near our hotel. “Their earliest opening was at 10pm, so I guess we’ll have time to make it!” After hugging Elliott’s parents goodnight, we stepped out into the darkening streets, hand-in-hand, willing ourselves to find new energy for this much-anticipated evening.


By the time we stepped off the Metro and looked up at our beautiful hotel, I was finding a new spring in my step. We walked into the magnificent lobby, catching our breath at the marble table covered with a hundred orchid plants.

The receptionist at the desk welcomed us graciously, but I felt like she could see right through my grubby street clothes and knew I didn’t belong there. I have two sleeping babies two miles away, and I bought my jeans on clearance at H&M. She seemed as delighted to see us as the next guest, though, and I relaxed. After thanking us for using our free hotel stay at their hotel (smooth one, Elliott), she informed us she’d upgraded our room. Sweet!

Upstairs, we walked into a gorgeous gold-and-red room with soft jazz playing on the TV. A table was laid with chocolate dipped strawberries, and a bottle of champagne sat chilling in a silver bucket.

“What’s all this?!” I asked in astonishment as I picked up the card. “‘Welcome, Mr. and Mrs. Garber, and thank you for celebrating your anniversary with us.’ But our anniversary was in January!”

“Oh,” Elliott said sheepishly, “they asked me if we were celebrating anything when I made the reservation, so I said our marriage. I mean… we’re always celebrating it, right?”

He popped the champagne cork and poured a glass for his smitten-all-over-again wife.


After a few glasses of bubbly and a bit of sprucing, we stepped out into the Parisian night to find our restaurant. We’d decided to eat a real French meal, since our room was free and we have been eating mostly croissants since arriving in Paris. The little restaurant was tiny and cozy. Polite staff slipped about silently on the thick carpet, and the only English I heard came from a cheery Scotsman regaling his table with stories.

It was the first Michelin-starred restaurant we’d ever eaten in, and it was also the most expensive meal we’d ever shared; Elliott still won’t tell me how much it cost. I felt wildly out of place again, since I was wearing a dress from Liz Lange Maternity. I know, I know! I’m not pregnant and haven’t been for a year and a half, but it happened to be in my closet and was black and had probably the deepest neckline of anything I own, which is kind of what I was going for on a romantic evening out with my husband, so… if the dress fits…!

The meal was like nothing we’d ever experienced before. For their tasting menu, they brought one tiny dish after another, each exquisitely presented, vibrantly flavorful, and paired with a select wine. There was foie gras soup drizzled with lime, melting Parmesan cheese sandwiched between paper-thin crackers, a quail’s egg with mango cream in place of the yolk, and ravioli made from thin strips of pineapple.

Slowly the restaurant cleared out, and at 1 am there was only one other group — a quiet table of French friends — still in the restaurant. We noticed them settle their bill, but then they stayed at their table, chatting and sipping wine until they saw we were finished. When we stood to go, they also rose and got their coats. I was touched by what I can only assume was a gesture of kindness. Since they were having a good time, they didn’t want us to be awkwardly left alone in the restaurant or to rush through our dessert. I hope I remember to do that sometime for a young couple out on the date of their lives.


We woke on Easter Sunday morning, and I opened the curtains onto a perfect Parisian scene. We waffled between meeting our family at church for the Easter service or lingering at the hotel for a few more hours, eating a leisurely French breakfast at the cafe downstairs, and slowly exploring the neighborhood. We chose the former, which was very responsible of us, and our children’s radiant faces when they saw us made our hearts melt.

In retrospect, though, I wish we’d stayed for those few more hours. What we were enjoying was more than a romantic getaway in Paris; it was time with our very best friend. Friendship. Genuine, sweet friendship with the one person we love most in the world, the one we chose over all others and who chose us back!

While parenting small children, it’s easy to get lost in the rhythms and routines of everyday life, filled with blessings and bills and boo-boos. What we had for those few hours in Paris was uninterrupted time to just be us, Elliott and Becca, the young couple who fell in love in Boston, who skied on the weekends together, who sought out obscure ethnic restaurants, who got married in a snowstorm. We’re still those young people deep inside, plus the complexity and depth and beauty and humility of being parents of two children. When those little children grow up and move away, we want to still be best friends holding hands.

Remembering this — with champagne and strawberries if possible! — will help us keep reaching for each other in love and friendship as the years go by.

Do you agree? I’d love to hear stories of your getaways — romantic or disastrous or otherwise!


See our other two getaways here and here!

11 :: in husband, Paris, thoughts

Living with Kids in Italy: My Guest Post on Design Mom!


Super exciting news today: our home is featured on Design Mom!!! I worked on the photos and interview for this guest post for weeks, and it was thrilling to finally see it in print!

My friend Courtney suggested I be a part of Design Mom’s Living With Kids series several months ago. I was intimidated — we are not super artistic and our home is not “design-y” — but I knew I wanted to take good pictures of our home before we moved. I emailed Gabrielle to see if she would consider me, and she immediately emailed back and said, “Let’s do this!” I did a happy dance.

But then the real work started! I had to take amazing photos of our home… but I have two little children, basic photography skills (I still can barely use the manual settings on my camera…), and a never-super-clean house. But Elliott was as excited about this as I was, so one Saturday morning he gallantly entertained the kids for hours the while I photographed our kitchen from every. possible. angle.

And then we looked at the photos and I took more photos.

And then we looked again and I took still more!


Eventually I moved on to the rest of the house, cleaning rooms during nap times and photographing them, or cleaning rooms with antsy children around my knees and begging them to stay near me so they wouldn’t get in the shot for “just another minute, and then we can play.”

It’s all worth it in the end because I love these photos. (And the 800 other ones on my laptop that didn’t make it into the guest post!) They capture so much of our home, life, and memories right now. I’ll treasure these forever.

Gabrielle also asked me some really insightful questions about how we ended up living overseas, my favorite parts about life abroad, and what it’s like to live in Sicily with kids. If you want to know more about how we’re raising our kids overseas, I think the interview is a great summary. (I know you’ve gotten a lot of parenting and living overseas talk here and here recently, though!)



Anyway, if you’ve ever wanted to see a bit more of our little yellow house in Sicily, check it out here. I hope you enjoy it!

19 :: in guest post, home sweet home, Sicily, Uncategorized

Unplugging and Restarting Your Parenting Overseas (or Right Where You Are!)


When I told my dad we were moving to a foreign country, he said: “I think this is so good. You guys are young. You can go away and establish yourselves as a family, work out your priorities, without a lot of family nearby and outside influences. This is a great, great opportunity for you, and I am so happy for you.”

I’ve thought about that a thousand times since we moved to Sicily three years ago. My parents raised my siblings and me overseas, so he spoke from a depth of experience. He knew that anyone who lives overseas has a choice. You will be isolated, you will be lonely, you will be overwhelmed, you will be foreign.


You can use the isolation for your benefit. You can take advantage of the distance from the influences that affect your peers. You can reevaluate your priorities, establish new habits, build a foundation for your family. You can train the crew of your little ship so that when the world’s fancies sway this way and that, you can still hold steady to your goals.

For us, Sicily was where our parenting started. Lena was just three months old when our plane landed in Italy. Also, I quit my job when we left the States, and I couldn’t immediately find work here. (You can read about that difficult transition here.)

After I accepted my new status as a full-time mom instead of a full-time nurse, I sat down and thought about the kind of mom I wanted to be, especially as a stay-at-home mom. This move gave us a chance to establish ourselves as parents and as a family and to decide what our priorities would be.

These were the priorities we have established here:

We want to read.

A lot. We love to read, thanks to parents who raised us on a steady diet of great literature. My husband and I read an average of 50 books a year on our own, and we read at least four books a day to each of our kids.

One trick to reading a lot is to surround yourself (and your kids) with good books. There are [piles of] books all over our home, and I recently calculated that we have about 100 board books and 150 picture books. Plenty to keep both the readers and the listeners interested in the stories!

(Note to moms trying to build their home libraries: try library book sales. I’ve filled boxes with children’s books at library sales in the States and then shipped them back to us overseas with the super-cheap, super-slow Media Mail option.)

We want to cook our own clean, healthy food.

We live in a small town in rural Sicily, and we have to drive at least 30 minutes to get good ethnic (ie. not Italian) food. We enjoy going out to a restaurant once a month or so – usually for incredible wood-fired pizza in our town – but it’s stressful with little kids. So… in Sicily, if we want to eat, we kind of have to cook.

And cook we do! Thanks to dearth of restaurants and a cornucopia of produce, I’ve finally gotten the crash course in basic home cooking that I so desperately needed… oh, when I went to college. I do our dry-goods shopping at the U.S. grocery store on base, and then we try to purchase most of the perishable items — fruits, vegetables, cheese, seafood — at the market or in town. Sicily makes this easy.

I’ve watched my friend Rachel beautifully transform the food culture in her home since moving here. Here’s what she said about living and cooking in Sicily:

“Not having the fast food option has helped me to learn to embrace cooking.  I’ve always enjoyed it, but having such easy (and cheap) access to incredible fresh ingredients has motivated me to search out ways to cook them. On top of that, I’ve loved having my kids in the kitchen with me!  … Mussels and artichokes are their favorites these days. (Isn’t that crazy?! We can’t believe it, either!) We love knowing that we’re laying a foundation of healthy eating for them!

We don’t want TV to be a big deal in our home.

By that I mean that we want to spend more time doing other things, and we don’t want our kids sitting in front of screens. For now, our family does not own a TV. Our kids don’t expect movies or computer time; we just fill our days with other activities. We don’t think this is a permanent choice (both Elliott and I grew up with — and loved — family movie nights), but it’s right for us during this season.

I’d like to blog more about this soon, but in the meantime, Amanda wrote an amazing blog post about living without a TV during their three years in Japan. I highly recommend it!

We don’t want to spend a lot of time on our computers or phones in front of our kids.

I wrote more about my decisions to limit my iPhone usage here. (Elliott doesn’t own a smartphone right now, so it’s a lot easier for him!)

I loved my friend Sarah’s comment on that blog post because it shows how Sicily has helped her unplug and restart her parenting as well:

“Since moving to Sicily it has been very freeing to be in a different time zone where social media is not buzzing in the phone…. I have found that also I get frustrated with my kids if I’m distracted by my phone because they’re not allowing me to “focus.” I have noticed that and have now made a point to only check FB and email in the mornings, nap time, and the evenings…. It allows me to be a mother and wife who is present.”

Amen to that! I only wish it were more true of me.

We want to explore alternative employment.

I sell handmade crafts, do copy editing work for my dad’s organization, and blog… and earn a few dollars a month. ;) It’s ok; earning money is not my primary focus right now. I’m enjoying this chance to explore other fields besides nursing during these years so that I have a better idea of my skills and interests (and so I keep developing both of those!) whenever I re-enter the workforce.

Elliott has also enjoyed “building a platform” that might lead to another career down the road. He established a website and podcast while he was here called “The Uncommon Veterinarian.” He also is almost finished with his first novel, a monumental feat of dedication.

We want to stay connected to family back home.

We Skype with family on weekend afternoons, and my blog is a big way to stay connected to our family and invite them into our lives. We also love it when they visit us here!

We want to open our home to visitors.

We love having family and friends come to stay, and we’ve tried to make that a priority in our lives by always having an available guest room, a pretty open schedule, and a welcome invitation to anyone who would like to come.

This year we’ve had week-long visitors every month since October, and we try to open our home regularly for dinners, play dates, and game nights, too. It’s all a part of our life-goal of making room… hence the name of this blog!

We want to spend time outdoors.

That’s why we chose a house that had a whole green valley for a backyard. Except in the summertime, we take the kids on a hike about every week. Often Elliott will take the kids for a walk as soon as he gets home from work and while I’m cooking dinner. They meander down to the piazza and come back with fresh bread and wine to accompany our meal, or sometimes they walk farther to a farm near our house.


For those of us in Sicily – or living anywhere overseas – this is a rare opportunity. Living overseas is an adventure, and there are definitely extra challenges with the distance from family and smaller community and resources. But don’t forget that the community is (usually) ready-made and eager to welcome you; resources are often plentiful and free; and you live in a beautiful-in-its-own-way, once-in-a-lifetime location.

Of course, unplugging and restarting your parenting — or your life! — is important to do wherever you are whenever you need to do it, whether you’re in Bahrain or Boston, Iceland or Indianapolis, Venezuela or Vancouver. Certainly there are more resources and more diversity when you’re in a major Western metropolis. I want our family’s priorities and goals to be something we constantly remember, re-evaluate, and re-prioritize no matter where we live.

Now it’s your turn! Before you had a family of your own, how did you picture your family? How did you envision yourselves spending weekends, evenings, and holidays? What did you think your priorities would be?

If you’re single, how did you picture yourself at this age? Are your priorities in the right place?

And now: what baby steps could you take to help yourself get there? Here are some suggestions (most of which I could really apply to my life!):

  • Waking up 15 minutes earlier to pack a healthy lunch for yourself, or to get a shower in before the kids are up. (I didn’t do that this morning and wish I had….)
  • Going home next weekend to spend time with your parents.
  • Finally making a budget and sticking to it.
  • Reading one book this month that you’ve always wanted to read. Maybe a short classic like My Antonia, or a beautiful memoir like The Dirty Life, or a great piece of new fiction like What Alice Forgot.
  • Making a meal plan this week (just four meals, and use the leftovers for other meals) and shopping for the ingredients.
  • Setting a goal of something to do with your kids today, like reading one book to each of them, or building a blanket fort instead of letting them watch TV, or making homemade play dough in fun colors.

OK, enough talking. What do you think of all this? How can you unplug and restart your parenting right where you are? You guys inspire me! I can’t wait to hear what you have to say!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
25 :: in Becoming a Stay-at-Home Mom Series, family, Italy, military life, motherhood, Sicily, thoughts

Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes