Archive | Becoming a Stay-at-Home Mom Series

On Becca’s Bookshelf // September + October 2015 Edition


So funny story about this. I sat down to write a book post, decided to combine my September and October reads from forever ago, began to make the collage — and then just had a nagging feeling that I’d already done this. I checked my drafts, and sure enough I started this post way back in the fall but never finished it!

So here’s to finishing things. Happy Friday!

The fall felt busy, and my reading slowed down a little as I got caught in some larger, longer books, like Seabiscuit and God’s Hotel. (The same is true now, but I’m reading a 500-page tome, so I’ll blame it on that!) I mixed up the fall reading with some fun, light stuff, though — as always!


9780525426592_custom-771e68183dad310e9eff4577f588179e46f0421a-s300-c85AFTER YOU

Jojo Moyes

I was so excited about this follow-up to Moyes’ dazzling Me Before You (soon to be a movie!). But this novel was disappointing, especially after her last several novels, all vibrant bestsellers. It felt forced and too long, and I had a hard time caring about the characters, their troubles, and even their choices. Oh well, sequels must be so hard to write. 

3 stars



Barbara Reich

Best to get this book when you’re ready to march around your house and do what she says, as it is basically an embellished, very helpful list of how to organize each part of your home at a time. Not exactly inspirational or bedtime reading, though. I found it a little too specific and less inspirational, so I still prefer The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up over this one.

3 stars


41ER04S8koL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_WHY NOT ME?

Mindy Kaling

Silly and honest, light and fun. Her insights into Hollywood were more interesting to me now that I live close to L.A., and I read this book around the time Elliott and I spent a day there for a promotional dinner for his book. She describes a lot of her career track, which is fascinating, as well as many quirks and expectations of the film industry. Hard not to love Mindy! 

3 stars


514QzhdM+LL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_HANDS FREE MAMA

Rachel Macy Stafford

Not what I expected! Not as much practical advice, mostly stream-of-consciousness meditations on how much the author would have missed had she not stopped, put down her phone, and forgotten her to do list for a while. I would have liked it better if she’d incorporated more stories from other women, or had mentioned her husband more than twice, and had made the book about half as long. Still, lots of wisdom.

3 stars


51BgqdyrfGL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_PRETENDING TO DANCE

Diane Chamberlain

Touching story of adoption and healing after a childhood tragedy. Molly Arnette lives in San Diego and has a perfect life, but the story of why she ran away from her childhood home will come back to haunt her when she prepares to adopt her first child. The story was well-told, but the writing style and coming-of-age angle didn’t strike a deep chord with me.

3 stars



Victoria Sweet

I read this in anticipation of our trip to San Francisco, as it is the story of an SF “almshouse,” or long-term rehabilitation hospital for patients who have no other place to go. I loved the anecdotes of “slow medicine” (like slow food) that is gives people time to heal, even if it takes years. I’ve experienced some of that as a nurse, even in the ICU. For those with any interest in urban medicine, this is a beautiful and thoughtful memoir.

4 stars



Lauren Hillenbrand

Slow in parts, but still masterfully written by Lauren Hillenbrand, author of Unbroken. The writer plunges deep into the backgrounds of the famous little racehorse, his owner, his trainer, and his jockey, before unspooling their story of a few losses, many more victories, and some amazing comebacks. I read this book while Elliott and I were hiking in Yosemite for six days, and it will forever remind me of that time!

4 stars


51Ny5-y08NL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_THE RUMOR

Elin Hilderbrand

Easy reading and hard to put down, and the characters feel like people you know, even if they’re not the most admirable of folks. Readers be warned that this is your typical beach novel, and so the characters’ moral choices may not sit well with many readers. On the positive side, the book is set in Nantucket — always a lovely place to visit, if only through the pages of a breezy novel!

3 stars


What have you been reading lately that you’d recommend? I think I need something light that I can’t put down; I’ve been reading too many WWII novels lately. I just finished reading all the Molly (American Girl) books to Lena, and even those were WWII!

Have a wonderful weekend! xoxo

6 :: in Becoming a Stay-at-Home Mom Series, book reviews, On Becca’s Bookshelf

Raising Compassionate Kids :: A Taste of the Real World

raising-compassionate-kids “You guys live in paradise!” my dad exclaimed this evening after listening to me rehash my day. “You walked to the park in the morning, the beach in the evening, you’re going to the zoo tomorrow, and all in this perfect weather…!”

We laughed, knowing he’d barely hit the highlights. Raising kids in Coronado is a dream come true.

But Coronado is just a steppingstone for us in the long road of life. Much as I want to live life here to the fullest, I also want Lena and Gil to know that there is a world beyond Coronado. It is an incredible world, with diverse and fascinating people, and it is valuable and beautiful.

I want them to know that every day of their lives, even before they can understand what they are learning, so that their natural instinct is to respond with compassion, responsibility, and love.

So recently I began to look for ways to do that. I had two constraining criteria, though. Lena and Gil are almost four and barely two years old, so I needed something that would be age-appropriate for them. I also wanted to be able to walk.

Believe it or not, finding something wasn’t hard. As many of you know, I’m a nurse (currently on a hiatus to raise babies and write), and I have spent a lot of time in nursing homes. Most assisted living facilities have regular activities and volunteer opportunities.

In January of this year, I did a Google search for “assisted living Coronado,” and only one result popped up. I pressed “call” under the listing for the Coronado Retirement Village to ask if they had an activities director. Within seconds I heard the bright and cheery voice of Ally, activities director extraordinaire.

Five minutes later, I had a date and a time to join the residents for a Thursday morning crock-pot cooking class.

The first morning we showed up, I was nervous. Would Lena and Gil behave? What would we do? Would residents be mostly bed-bound, or walking around the facility, or lucid? I really had no idea.

Also, even though we had walked to almost every corner of Coronado, we had not walked to the corner that included the assisted living facility, and we were on unfamiliar ground.

But I shouldn’t have worried.

The facility is beautiful, sparkling clean with big windows overlooking Tidelands Park and the bay. That first day, Ally greeted us and took us upstairs to the two community rooms filled with books, a vintage bingo set, a couple of TVs, and plenty of comfortable seating. We passed quiet private rooms where staff members were fanning clean sheets over beds.

Clearly, we had stepped into a bustling little community, less like a hospital than a well-run apartment building.

IMG_7280 We have continued to visit the CRV every Thursday morning this spring, and this past week we made chocolate chip pancakes with the residents. I watched as two-year-old Gil carefully carried a paper plate with a pancake to each resident, and then held it still while three-year-old Lena poured a dollop of syrup onto each pancake. They waited patiently to serve everyone, and then they sat down to eat a pancake of their own. Later, they delivered cups of water, and then returned to gather up the trash.

Next Ally got out various games in the community room. As I watched Lena and Gil blow bubbles and various residents pop them, I realized that I had brought my children to just the right place. The residents were delighted with my children – most of them forget and are newly delighted each week. They also enjoy playing the same games and eating the same snacks that my preschool-age children do.

For about an hour each week, bringing preschoolers and assisted living residents together is a wonderful playtime for both of them.

becca-garber-assisted-living-coronado.jpg As the weeks have gone by, Lena, Gil, and I have learned names, personalities, and life stories. The kids know what a walker is for, and a wheelchair, and that some people just doze off in the middle of a game. During our visits, the kids know that they are in second place and that their job is to be friendly and helpful. They hear the same questions repeated every time we visit, sometimes multiple times per visit from the same person, and they are learning to respond clearly and politely, saying, “My name is Lena. This is Gil. He is a boy, and I am a girl.” They are learning to call the residents “our friends.”

For us, our local assisted living facility has been a gentle way to teach our kids that not everyone looks and talks and acts just like they do. I love seeing my children look at this part of the world with compassion instead of confusion or fear. The genuinely kind staff and residents are a joy to count among our friends in Coronado, too.

I’d love to know — as you think back on your childhood, what formed your mindset about “normal” and “comfort zone”? What did your parents or teachers do well (or not so well) to help you think compassionately about the world?

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

28 Things I’ve Learned in 28 Years


Once upon a time, way back in November, I had a birthday. I turned 28, but I was sick that day, and so not much happened besides staying in bed and reading an entire book. (Thank you again, Elliott!) I had planned, though, to post a list of “28 things I’ve learned in 28 years” that day, as inspired by my friend and blogger Mary.

Months later, and now it’s January. However, it’s sort of nice to edit and add to this list at the beginning of a brand new year. Lessons learned, wisdom gleaned, and advice taken to heart are all a part of growing older, and they are inspiration to take some of them even more to heart in 2015.

Out of all of these bits and pieces of learning, though, I do see the outline of a girl/woman who is unique and distinct, who has learned some of what works for her and what doesn’t, who has learned what she wants to give her whole life to and what she loves most of all.

I know we’re all like that, a beautiful mosaic combining our grandparents’ wisdom and our parents’ support and our spouse’s love and our children’s lives and our God’s mercy. What little bits of life have you learned? I’d love to learn from you!

So anyway… without further ado, here are 28 things I’ve learned in 28 years.

1. Take time to read. (You knew I’d say this!) It’s life-sustaining to make others’ stories part of our own.

2. If possible, let your children grow up with animals, including with animals that have babies. Raising dozens of birds and rabbits, having a dog and cat, and being around horses were all rich gifts to my childhood. These animals helped me see the world and even myself as part of a natural cycle of birth, life, and death in a way that is healthy, messy, and realistic.

3. When you and your friends’ husbands are out of town, have a friend and her kids over for dinner. Make something simple, pour a little wine, and let the kids play. At the end of the night you’ll both definitely be tired, but you’ll also be refreshed.

4. Keep an eye out for cute used clothes for your friends’ babies. There is something profoundly sweet about getting a little consignment or hand-me-down outfit in the mail that says, “I think your child is beautiful, too!”

5. Learn what matters to your husband — really good curry, toys put away at night, your natural hair when you skip the blow dryer — and make it matter to you too.

6. A spoon of Nutella straight out of the jar is the perfect afternoon pick-me-up.

7. Find your favorite crowd-pleasing, affordable wine and keep a good stash.

8. After three years in Italy of washing dishes by hand, I found the perfect dish soap. It smells incredible and leaves my dishes as well as my hands clean and happy. I buy it in bulk on Amazon.

9. When your husband tells you something, listen the first time. Often men don’t talk too much, and they feel respected and loved when you listen and remember.

10. If you don’t have a TV, you don’t miss much.

11. Try to only bring things into your home that your whole family will love: toys, food, books, furniture, cleaning products, etc. It keeps it simple.

12. On a hot summer afternoon, a can of sparkling flavored water can taste so, so good!

13. Make annual goals, not resolutions. You have the whole year to work on them, and they give you a way to track your progress.

14. “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy and wealthy and wise.” Or at least makes him or her a better parent!

15. Take care of your computer. Let it sleep and restart it regularly. Do the updates it tells you to do. Back it up onto an external hard drive or something similar. Keep it clean and tidy inside and out. You’ll both be so much happier.

16. I’ve tried many, many tools and products to keep my floor clean and the only thing that has worked is just cleaning it more often.

17. Go to the library with a list of good children’s books, like Scholastic’s 100 Greatest Books for Kids or Sonlight’s Read-Aloud book lists. Let your kids grab some things off the shelves, but try to choose a few of the classics each visit, too. There’s a reason they’ve stood the test of time. A few books might even make you cry!

18. (This one is tongue in cheek and with a twinkle in my eye, not meant to offend anyone.) After two babies, my opinion is that cloth diapers weren’t worth it for us due to the cost of electricity and water required to get them clean. Also no one should have to have that much contact with anyone’s poop! (And I’m a nurse!)

19. If someone you know dies, please please please say something to his or her family. Send a card, send an email, send a Facebook message, say something in person. Even if you only work up your courage years later, it doesn’t matter. That acknowledgment and that love means more than you can ever possibly imagine.

20. Try to always keep at least a quarter tank of gas in your car.

21. Buy a pretty notepad, stick it on your fridge, and keep a running grocery list all week. Better yet, make a grocery list and meal plan at the same time!

22. They make alarm clocks that turn green at the time you want your child to get up. They are wonderful.

23. Set up automatic monthly withdrawals from your bank or credit card to support your missionary friends or ministries you love. You’ll probably never miss the extra $50, but your choice to give and live with less will change the world.

24. Hospitality is an art, but it’s also a way of life. Make it your way of life right now and worry about the art later. There are lonely friends and family out there who would love a meal at your table.

25. Make your prayers more about praising God for what he’s already done and less about asking for things. Practice this by choosing one verse and making your whole prayer about adoring, confessing, thanking, and asking God all from the context of that one verse.

26. Our children are watching us. I started running sporadically in the morning and now Lena loves running and putting on her sneakers and “exhersizing.” I am still amazed that such a little, positive choice on my behalf can quite possibly have a significant, positive impact on her whole life.

27. Learn what genre of books you like and don’t be ashamed about it. Just dive in and read. Good books lead to more good books, and some reading leads to lots of reading. You just have to find your own delightfully slippery slope.

28. Speak gently. Be kind. So incredibly difficult, and yet so supremely important.
What about you? What are some snippets of wisdom or lessons you’ve learned in your years of life? We’d all love to hear them!
27 :: in Becoming a Stay-at-Home Mom Series, motherhood, thoughts

From Nap Time to Quiet Time (+ Lena’s New Room!)

Lena is officially A L M O S T done napping here, if you know what I mean. Sometimes she’ll surprise us and sleep for two or three hours. But most of the time I tuck her in at 1pm and hear a little voice calling about 15 minutes later:

“Maaaaa-ma. I can’t sleeee-eep!”

For the first few months we lived in this house, Lena slept in her crib in the “kids’ room,” and Gil slept in a playpen in the bathroom. Then one day we bought Lena a little wooden toddler bed, and I realized I could tuck it right beside the guest bed, and a new plan was born.

The guest bed is covered with a rotating assortment of books and puzzles for Lena to enjoy. I’ve discovered her curled up there, asleep, at the end of rest time, so it’s a handy second bed, I guess!

She also has a basket full of dress up clothes (all donated from my incredibly generous 10-year-old cousin Ashley), and she has her very own desk.

The desk belongs to our landlords, so I want to be very careful with it. I covered it with heavy-duty parcel paper before giving Lena a pile of craft activities. Here are a few of the things Lena has on her desk:

Here is Lena’s little bed, which I bought for $25 from someone in our neighborhood, but which was originally from IKEA. I still search Craigslist for this bed, though, which I would love to get for her one day! All the bedding is from IKEA as well, and I love it. The sturdy duvet makes bed-making a breeze, and the cover can easily be washed.

Over on her desk, Lena has this clock which turns green at 7:00 am so that she knows it’s time to get up. We love this thing.

Our sweet little neighbor gave Lena her doll bed, and Lena loves that thing more than I could ever have anticipated. She lovingly puts her baby to bed with songs and prayers, tucking her in so she’ll be warm, and then gets her up later to feed her and carry her around. Such a good little mama!

We don’t have rest time down to a perfect system yet, and there are definitely some improvements I’d like to make. One is to purchase a timer so that Lena can know herself when her rest time is over. Sometimes the end of the 45 minutes turns into a game of whack-a-mole.

I’d also like to extend the rest time into an hour or an hour and a half. Currently it varies, depending on how long Lena tries quietly to sleep. Right now I want to try for a nap as long as they are still happening a couple of times a week, but I know those days are limited. How long do your kids “rest” in the afternoons?

I’ve been looking for a small CD player so that Lena can listen to books on tape or quiet music CDs; I know she’d love that.

And one last thing: I’d like to become more efficient with this rest time myself! Once upon a time she slept for two hours twice a day, and now… just an hour a day?! I don’t have enough time in the day to get everything done!

And now rest time is over and this little lady is sitting by my side, so the computer needs to go away. If you’re a mom, how do you handle rest time for your kids? I’m all ears!


The Tara Montgomery Jewelry giveaway ends tomorrow! Visit this post to enter and win!

13 :: in Becoming a Stay-at-Home Mom Series, Lena, motherhood

“Let’s bake cookies right now!” + Other Musings About Procrastination


A sweet photo taken right before the moment Lena decided Gil was too heavy for her.



Dear friends,

Good morning! It’s a chilly one here in Coronado, where the ocean turns the sun-warmed air into low-hanging fog and penetrating damp at night. Our window-filled house absorbs the cold, so I have taken to cuddling up in sweatshirts and these tried-and-true slippers while I sip my morning coffee.

How have you been doing lately? Feeling goal-oriented and focused, or frustrated and not so sure? I’m in the second camp, I think, with a general sense that there isn’t enough time or quiet in the day to get anything extra accomplished.

There’s still more settling in to do in our home: I’d love to hang pictures, buy plants, and organize the piles of Rubbermaid containers and junk in the garage. I’d love to run regularly and wake up early like I talked about in this post (instead of once every three weeks…). I’d like to start some dedicated preschool time again with Lena again instead of running around so much. I’d like to get a haircut (haven’t gotten one since I donated my hair last year!). I’d like… I’d love… I wish…

The other day I started thinking about this long list, and I got so discouraged. Am I just a procrastinator? Am I all talk and no action? I am a stay-at-home mom, my only job is my home and family, I have no excuse for not getting it all done. I’ll never have more time in the day than I have now!

I was beating myself up the other day when I remembered two conversations with two people, one of them who I know very well and one of whom I have just met.

The first person is my grandmother, who is amazing. She is and has always been stylish, beautiful, a fantastic cook, and a cornerstone family member. She wakes up at 5am to walk on her treadmill each day. She never fails to send cards or packages for birthdays, all holidays, and just because.

Long ago, when I was about nine or ten, we were visiting my grandparents for a week in St. Louis, just like we did every summer. “What would you like to do while you’re here this week, Becca?” she asked me.

“Hmm,” I said, “I definitely want to bake chocolate chip cookies and go to the Science Museum… and– ”

“Well, let’s bake cookies right now!” she suggested.

I looked at her, astonished. I meant sometime, but she was saying now? I had just arrived! We had ages to make chocolate chip cookies! A whole week!

But even then, at age nine, I realized my grandmother’s wisdom. We had time right now to start doing what we wanted to do. A quiet afternoon, all the ingredients, and a goal. If we put it off to another day, who knew if it would really happen? This way we would be able to eat chocolate chip cookies all week long!

I never forgot her initiative, her energy, her make-it-happen wisdom that afternoon. I realized all these things also formed the core of the woman I admired, the woman who always sends everyone in her family a birthday gift (and it gets there a week early). The woman who sewed me a whole wardrobe of gorgeous dress-up gowns that I wore to threads. The woman who knitted the blankets my children sleep under every night. The woman who taught me to knit! The woman who makes it happen, stitched with love, every day for a whole clan of people who adore her.

At the same time, though, I know that there are only 24 hours in the day, and I can’t get everything done right away, right now, especially with small and precious children in my care. That cliche about letting the dishes go because your children need you? Most of the time it’s not even a choice. They need you right now.

The second conversation, one I had more recently, encouraged me about that:

Elliott and I took the kids to the playground on Sunday afternoon, and I noticed a small child I recognized from church. He’s African American and his dad is white, so they’re not hard to remember. Pretty soon his dad, Elliott and I were talking, and he told us a little more of his story. He and his wife have three daughters — all in middle school now — and they have just recently begun fostering children with the goal of adoption.

My heart swelled with excitement and longing just talking to him. In recent years I’ve become more interesting in fostering and adopting. However, with our transitional military life and our own young children and our relatively young marriage (five years this January!), it seems like too much right now.

Sometimes I get frustrated, watching the days go by and wondering if we shouldn’t be doing more, serving more, giving back more, accomplishing more. I talk about fostering, or taking my kids to a nursing home regularly, or doing preschool with Lena (where has that goal gone lately??), or running or journaling or waking up early or whatever the new thing is this week.

But what my friend at the playground helped me to realize is this:

There is a time for everything, and a season for everything under heaven.

Their season is now. They can foster now. They can adopt now. They are ready, and they have taken on this challenge. Not when their kids were three and one. But now. During our conversation, his three preteen girls were watching his foster son, and so this father gave us all his attention and chatted away. Elliott and I, meanwhile, talked with the parental head swivel (“where is Lena… where is Gil… back to conversation… where is Lena… where is Gil…”) and excused ourselves more than once to rescue or dust off our children.

We left shortly afterwards and headed home to a lunch, storytime, and putting them to bed for naps. We collapsed onto the couch afterwards, tired, heads ringing, glad for peace and books and time alone together. I had planned to ask Elliott to organize the garage with me then, but it totally slipped my mind. I wouldn’t have wanted to then anyway. I had a precious hour to rest with my husband on a Sunday afternoon, and that is exactly what my body craved and needed right then. I needed rest. It was the season for rest. And the garage could wait.

Sometimes it is good to jump right up and bake chocolate chip cookies with your child. Sometimes it is good to sit still by yourself. Sometimes — meaning sometime soon — it will be right to organize the garage. It is the season for organizing the garage.

But right now… I hear a little voice calling, “Mama!”

And so it is the season for that.

You know?



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