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For kid-friendly tour of Catania, take a choo-choo train!


Last Friday we finally got to check one very fun cultural activity off our to-do list: ride the tour train in Catania! The miniature train is always driving around the center of “the big city,” and we see it parked by St. Agatha’s Cathedral when we bring visitors to see Catania or go to the market. Lena’s been asking to ride it for months! After I learned kids ride for free (and adults pay 5 euro), the trip takes only 45 minutes, and it leaves every hour on the hour… well, it just seemed too good to pass up.

We invited my friend Sarah and her two adorable sidekicks — Matthew and Aubrey — to come with us, and off we went!


Three very excited kids. Well, Gil was kind of clueless… except that he really wanted to eat Matthew’s train ticket.


Lena: “Why helloooo, Matthew….” Just kidding, I have no idea what was going on here, but it was so hilarious that I had to include it.


And we’re off!


Two very small and very intense train riders.


Matthew with his toy train, and the Teatro Massimo (opera house) where Elliott and I went to a concert for our beautiful anniversary date.


Through the narrow city streets!


Family portrait…


Because Sarah and I had chosen not to snack on Cheerios during the entire train ride, we were in need of fortification afterwards. (Wrangling four children while bumping down cobblestones and carrying on a disjointed conversation must — I am quite certain — burn about 500 calories per hour.)  A cappuccino and arancino set this mama to rights.


Unfortunately, our children only took a few bites before dashing across the piazza to dangle precariously in the fountain. So much for a relaxing meal!

After Sarah gathered her troops and headed back to base for an appointment, my children and I had time to kill, so we decided to get a gelato and enjoy it by the fountain. Lena chose lemon gelato, which was a gorgeous shade of green, like the new green lemons of the winter. She and I loved it, but Gil’s expressions made me laugh out loud. Obviously it was good enough for another taste, though… and another and another!


11 :: in friends, motherhood, travel

Making Room on Thanksgiving


The first time we saw our future home in Sicily, we fell completely in love with the gigantic farmhouse table and benches in the dining room.  The landlords told us that the table came with the house, and I immediately began to dream of filling the table with friends and family.  I love to put people around that table!

We’ve made some new friends recently, and I thought they might be feeling far from family for their first big holiday in Sicily.  We sent out an email, arranged a potluck, and all converged in our home on Thanksgiving.  Alyssa brought spinach and artichoke dip, an apple pie, salted caramel brownies, and hot rolls; Laura made her mom’s famous broccoli and sweet potato casseroles; and Brigitta brought cider and mulling spices, two pumpkin pies, and the Charlie Brown Christmas DVD for Lena to borrow!  I took care of the turkey, cranberry sauce, gravy, and mashed potatoes, and also made a new favorite for us: pear and ginger bruschetta with goat cheese. Everyone contributed wine.  And we feasted!


One thing I love about hosting is the chance to bring out all the dishes that otherwise only see occasional use in our house, like our beautiful glass wine decanter and the Polish pottery my mom gave us as a wedding gift.  I also lit four colorful Shabbat candles that Elliott and I bought in Israel; we visited there during Elliott’s yearlong assignment in Egypt soon after we got married.  It felt extravagant and joyful to burn four of them at once in a candelabra in the middle of our Thanksgiving feast.


Before the meal, between dinner and dessert, and after we were too stuffed to eat one more bite, we gathered around our fireplace with glasses of wine or mugs of mulled cider.  Gil and Lena played relatively happily around us, and we carried on adult conversation over their little blond heads.  I felt relaxed as a hostess because of the many hands there that were so eager to help with everything: serving, clearing, packing up leftovers, playing with children, and even washing the dishes.  (Thank you, Laura, for spearheading that… I wanted to kiss your feet later when I realized how tired I was and how much you’d helped me!)

The highlight of the evening came when everyone was talking in the kitchen, and suddenly someone said, “Oh wow… Etna’s erupting!”  We all looked out the window and were treated to the best eruption so far this fall.  (In the photo below, you can just see the glow of the eruption above the clouds.)  She erupted for hours, and we were treated to a spectacular view out of our kitchen window.  Quite a fun dollop of whipped cream on the proverbial pumpkin pie!


Thank you, friends, for braving the tiny Italian streets to share Thanksgiving with us.  We’re so thankful for these growing friendships with you!  Can’t wait for many games of Settlers of Catan and hikes up Etna in the future.

As we head into the holidays, I want to continue to “make room” in our home, lives, and hearts for others, to be attuned to their needs just as much as my own.  I read this quote again from one of my favorite books, and I hope that such simplicity of focus and love is evident in my heart throughout this Christmas season:

[S]implification is not just about taking things away.
It is about making room, creating space in your life, your intentions, and your heart.


For those of you who might be interested, here’s the recipe for the pear and ginger bruschetta.  It was a hit, and I’ll be making it again soon!

Pear-Ginger-Goat Cheese Bruschetta

adapted from Style Me Pretty’s Thanksgiving 2012 Guide


  • 1 long French baguette
  • 4 large pears
  • 2 tsp freshly grated ginger
  • 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup chopped raisins
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 10 oz goat cheese
  • Parsley


  1. Preheat the oven to 350* F (180* C).  Slice the baguette in 1/2″-thick slices.  Toast in the oven for 10 minutes, 5 minutes per side, or until crisp and slightly brown around the edges.  Remove and place on a wire rack to cool.
  2. Core and peel the pears and then cut them into a 1/2″ dice.
  3. Put the pears, ginger, vinegar, brown sugar, raisins, and salt into a medium non-stick pan.  Cook for 25-30 min, stirring occasionally.  Stir frequently in the last 10 minutes as the sugar caramelizes and the mixture begins to darken and thicken.
  4. Spread a tsp of goat cheese on each slice of baguette.  Spoon the pear chutney on top of each slice.  Top with a parsley garnish if desired.
11 :: in friends, holidays, hospitality, in my kitchen, Mt Etna

a visit to Durham!


A few weeks ago, while we were still in the States visiting family and friends, I decided to roadtrip four hours south to see some of our best friends in the world.  After I kissed Elliott goodbye and sent him back to Sicily, I packed my kids in the car and headed to Durham, North Carolina.  It felt crazy to do this all by myself at the time, especially as I’d spent the entire day in the car driving to the air terminal and then the entire afternoon and evening at the airport waiting to see if Elliott could get out on a military flight.  My kids were amazing, though… by which I mean they slept almost the entire way.  Like I mentioned here, my new life strategy is to roadtrip at night!


The Arthurs, our wonderful friends from Sicily, moved to Durham in August, and we were eager to see their new life, catch up after their big move, and let our kids play together.  And let me tell you… those kids were ecstatic to see each other again!

As an extra bonus, my friend Becca is uniquely able to move into a place and discover all the best spots there.  Durham was no exception.  I got a grand tour with Foster’s Market, the Duke Gardens, the Duke University campus (where Josh is in school), and the Q Shack BBQ.  Readers, thank you for all your suggestions in this post, btw… thanks to you all, I have more reasons to go back and visit!


We ate lunch at Foster’s Market our first day there.  I loved the food and the environment.  The kids ate grilled cheese, mac ‘n’ cheese, and potato chips… lunch from a dream for a child.



This was half my lunch… and the other half was a delicious Greek grilled cheese sandwich with tons of fresh veggies.


I love our little Gil Garber.


The mamas let the kiddos play outside while we shared a ginormous slice of coconut cake layered with lemon curd.


Four-year-old Caleb took our picture!  Sometimes I look at photos like this and am amazed that this is me… a mom with two little kids, hanging out with another mom and her kids.  I still feel like I’m a kid play-acting at being an adult most days!  When will I feel like a legit grown-up?  Ever?


Caleb, Lucas, and Lena… so happy to be reunited!


Another afternoon we took a picnic to Duke Gardens, which are absolutely magnificent and too large for me to enjoy on one visit.  They reminded me a lot of the Botanical Gardens in Singapore, where my siblings and I spent hours upon hours as children.  Becca also visited those Botanical Gardens when she was young… while I lived there, but we didn’t know each other then.


Kids in a giant magnolia.  Lena ate one of the bright red magnolia seeds, leading me to call Poison Control for the first time in my life.   No worries, though; they are non-toxic.  Whew. becca-garber-durham-duke-gardens

Bright purple prickly pears and a very cute little Eden.


My beautiful friend.  In the springtime, the gazebo behind Becca is covered in purple wisteria blossoms.


Goodbye, sweet Arthurs!  Thank you so much for hosting us and loving us.  We can’t wait to see you again soon!

6 :: in friends, travel

hello from North Carolina!


Guess where we are?!  Visiting these goofballs in their new digs!

Lena, Gil, and I had kind of a crazy Tuesday.  Elliott’s leave/vacation was over after two wonderful weeks here in the U.S., and it was time for him to get on a flight back home to Sicily.  We drove to Norfolk early in the morning with Elliott to see if he could get on a military flight.  After hours of waiting, he got one of the last available seats on the plane!  We were sad to see him go, but grateful that he was getting back for free instead of having to buy a last minute ticket or drive up and down the East Coast looking for another military flight home.  Whew!

We finally hugged him goodbye around 8pm, and I put my two exhausted children into the car.  And then we hit the road for North Carolina!  Three-and-a-half hours later, we pulled into the Arthurs’ driveway in Durham… after a whole day on the road and approximately 7 hours in the car with two children two years old and younger.  I was very glad to get a big hug from my friend Becca… and then go to bed!

It’s so good to see these wonderful friends after so many happy memories in Sicily.  We’ve been catching up over spilled cereal and battery-operated trains, as two moms do.  I love their new house (with all their familiar dishes, toys, couch, etc.), and it’s so fun to see them in their new life.

Any recommendations of fun things to do in the area?  I am really looking forward to my first taste of Carolina BBQ!

8 :: in friends, military life, travel

our last mom-outing to Taormina


Oh Taormina! Your picturesque streets, dazzling vistas, and romantic aura charm everyone who visits you. I’ve been hooked since my first visit over two years ago, which was also my very first “mom and kids outing” with my best friend Becca Arthur. We have visited this beautiful town together so many times, but this was our last trip together, as the Arthurs were moving to the States in just two days.  So bittersweet!


Lunch from Da Cristina, our favorite pizzeria in Taormina.  We learned about it in this wonderful NY Times article!


Lucas shares some pizza.  Caleb participates vicariously in the bite from the background.


Making friends with little Italian boys by the town fountain.


Our motley crew outside a Versace store
& peekaboo, Lena and Caleb!


Fascinated by the little mechanical toys in the piazza
& admiring the view from the cliffs of Taormina.


My pretty Lena… with a frown.


Mandatory stop for the best granite (Italian ice) in Taormina!  Lena got strawberry and lemon, and I got peach and lemon, both made with fresh fruit.  Gil got a taste but wasn’t so sure…


Rebecca enjoying granita and brioche for the last time in Taormina with her Lucas, Baby Eden, and Caleb.


Last adventure of the day: walking up to the Greek amphitheater!  This was the first time I had visited, even though it’s a huge attraction in Taormina.  Lena and Lucas wait for us to buy tickets so they can go in the gate.


The Arthur kids have visited many times and had fun showing Lena all the fun places to climb.


We loved exploring the old amphitheater and admiring the gorgeous view from the top.  The theater was all set up for summer concerts and operas, which are a big attraction all summer long.


Everyone was pretty tuckered out by this point… including Gil!

becca-garber-taormina-kids-16 becca-garber-taormina-kids

Last pit stop: popsicles.  They were so so good, but…


… very, very messy!


At the end of that day, with two moms and six kids, we were all ready for a nap!

But leaving Taormina for the last time together was sad. Becca taught me so much about getting out and experiencing the culture of Italy. She embraced her stay-at-home mom status in a totally unique way: she would find another fearless mom, pack multiple children into a minivan, and set off on an all-day adventure around Sicily. She would savor architecture, food, gelato, and beautiful views while navigating rapid Italian, tiny roads, tricky parking, vague directions, and often a very confused GPS. She would roll her eyes and laugh at the chaos of life with so many little children, then pile them into her stroller and strap them onto her back and set off around the next corner. She loved Italy, and Italy loved her back.

Perhaps the parallels between her cultural adventures and the way she lived her everyday life are pretty obvious.  In so many ways, she is the mom and woman I aspire to be: warm, generous, self-deprecating, humble, and full of laughter… while also a fabulous cook (including of local specialties), creative mom, come-as-you/we-are hostess, and loyal friend.  In some ways, Becca was my first “mom” friend, someone I bonded with not just because we had a lot in common and loved being together, but someone whose kids loved my kids and who shared mothering — in all its crushing losses and thrilling joys — with me in everyday life.

I miss you, Becca!  Can’t wait for some adventures together soon in North Carolina!

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8 :: in friends, motherhood, Sicily, Taormina, travel

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