Archive | hiking

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

Confetti (and Crushing Disappointment) at Carnevale in Acireale


Well, we got a spoonful of Italy and a spoonful of misery on this excursion. Lesson of the trip: make lunch reservations on a Sunday afternoon in Italy!


But let’s start at the beginning. As Lent approaches, ’tis the season of carnevale in Italy, and the most beautiful carnival in Sicily takes place just about 30 minutes away from us. We decided to go see the fantastical floats and throw some confetti this past weekend in Acireale (pronounced “ah-chee-ray-ALL-ay).

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The floats were amazing. Historically, artists craft them from papier-mâché and make some into caricatures of political figures or financial crises, thus bringing the spirit of carnival to even the most serious issues.

Lena completely freaked out and started screaming at the first float she saw, leading me to believe that our excursion might be over before it even began! Thankfully some parental encouragement changed her opinion of the technicolor characters coming towards her, and pretty soon she was just as awed and delighted as we’d hoped.

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We walked into the main piazza of Acireale, where a blanket of confetti covered the cobblestones. Elliott unbuckled the kids from the stroller and set them right down in the middle of it, and they had the time of their lives!





Lena quickly got into confetti-throwing wars with other kids. Guess we missed the memo about putting our kids in costumes!

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Finally we packed up and started walking down towards a little fishing village that I had read about in our guidebook. The tiny town of Santa Maria la Scala, the guidebook said, boasted several quaint trattorias that served a delicious seafood lunch. We could pretty much live on seafood, and the hike down to the town sounded simple and beautiful, so off we went.


The hike down was beautiful! But it was a bit longer — and a little harder with a heavy double stroller — than we expected. When we arrived, we started looking for a restaurant along the town’s meandering main street.


Unfortunately, every single restaurant was completely packed. Whenever I caught the eye of a harried waiter, he would ask me if I had a reservation or tell us we’d have to wait 30 minutes. When we looped back after inquiring at every restaurant we could find, the still more frazzled maitre d’s now informed us that it was too late. The restaurants had sold their food, it was now two o’clock, and they were closing.

We sat on a park bench in stunned silence. No food? It was two in the afternoon. We were starving. That hill back up to Acireale was enormous, and it would take us almost an hour of sweat and whining children to reach the top again. Sadly, we unpacked the snacks I’d brought — a meager lunch indeed — and then turned our stroller wheels back to the cobblestone pathway up the cliff.

Elliott heroically pushed that stroller all the way back to our car.

What an end to the day! I did manage to smile about it with Elliott a few days later — “will you ever trust me to plan an excursion again?!” — but I think it will take awhile before we can really laugh about it. So much for excessive eating and bacchanal drinking for our carnevale! More like an early taste of Lent! Thank you to my family for being such troopers, and I promise I’ll make a reservation next time… even for lunch in a tiny seaside village.

13 :: in hiking, Sicily, travel

our last Christmas in Sicily


Christmas Eve

Honestly, it gives me some joy to say “our last” here because we love and miss our family so much!  You know how wonderful it is to be with all your loved ones for the holidays. We sent heaps of emails and spent hours video chatting with our family on Christmas Day, but it still isn’t the same as sitting around the dinner table or going to the candlelight service or enjoying Christmas morning together.

Therefore, in answer to my family’s requests that they see as much of our Christmas as I can, I took photos all day long!  I know they’re going to love seeing them here. Elliott and I knew our children were getting gifts from their grandparents, great-grandparents, aunts, and uncles, so we chose to keep things very simple and just gave them each a Sicilian Christmas ornament. We also spent our Christmas cooking, reading by the fire, and going on a wonderful hike into the valley below our house.

Here are a few photos from our Christmas!


Elliott has been tending fires in our fireplace almost every day that he’s home this winter. He often banks the fire at night and coaxes the still-warm coals to life in the morning. I totally love this about him.


Gil’s up and the fire’s lit, so Lena is choosing the first present to open!


Love how Gil is admiring Lena’s new-found destructive tendencies here. “Get it, sista.”


Reading the letters on the package before opening it up.


New books from Marmee and Grampa! My favorite is Extra Yarn, a beautifully illustrated picture book about a girl who knits and knits… so you know the knitter in me just loves it!


Speaking of knitting, this was my favorite present: a set of interchangeable knitting needles that I’ve been dreaming about for a year. Elliott and the kids, meanwhile, enjoy his new bath pillow. This man and his baths!


Thank you, GG and Great-Grampie!


The members of the nativity quake in their sandals once again


Lena’s new lacing cards from Auntie Eden and Uncle Charlie were an immediate hit. I love to see her being crafty…


… so we’ll work on technique later!


He melts my heart about 492 times a day.


OK, 493 times a day!


While Gil napped, Lena and I made cinnamon rolls. I used Elliott’s mom’s recipe at his request, and thankfully they turned out fairly similar to the Christmas morning breakfast he grew up loving. As of 3pm on Dec 26th, all 25 rolls have been eaten, so I guess he liked them!


Taking a break to read some of our new books by the fireplace. While they read, I was enjoying this cookbook… just as delicious as it looks.


When Gil woke up from his morning nap, we took a walk into town, where we found our town’s nativity scene. Maybe it was made by local school children? The sign says, “Christ is born for us. Come, let us adore.”


We hiked down into the valley and came across our farmer friend’s dogs. They’re all so sweet… and there are so many of them…


Picnic lunch.


Our children and our Sicilian town on Christmas Day.


We returned home to video chat with family (which was unfortunately right after the kids’ naps and they cried the whole time… sigh) and open a few more more presents. Gil eats wrapping paper as Lena plays her current favorite game while wearing my new Weekender bag like a “packpack”: “So… I’m gonna go to fool [school]. I gotta catch da bus. Oh no… da pigeon is driving da bus!!!”


She completely fell in love with this learning game from Auntie Em while I made our Christmas dinner.


And our Christmas dinner was the infamous lamb, of course. Elliott declared it “a triumph, my dear”… whew! I had a harder time eating the lamb that I’d expected. There were not very many steps in between seeing that lamb hanging in the butcher shop and eating it myself!

We burned slim beeswax candles that we bought three Christmases ago in Jerusalem; we met there for our first married Christmas when Elliott was on a yearlong solo assignment in Egypt. So much to be thankful for this Christmas, including the fact that we are together, even if our extended family is far away.

After the kids were in bed, Elliott and I spent awhile reading the story of Jesus’ birth from Luke and praying by the fire. I have been thinking a great deal this Advent season about how Jesus became poor, humbling himself to a fragile human embryo, a messy birth process, a cold and rustic world. For us these days, Christmas is all about comfort — family, gifts, food, firelight — but there was very little comfort that first Christmas. I am so grateful for the sacrifice Jesus made so that we have both immediate and eternal comfort to enjoy.

What are you most grateful for this Christmas?

14 :: in family, hiking, holidays, home sweet home, Sicily

thankful & content


Elliott took these photos from our balcony.  Oh Sicily.  Doesn’t this view just give your soul peace?


The houses in the valley right below ours are sometimes pretty to look at — that is, they contribute to that feeling of peace — and sometimes their dogs just bark too much and we would rather live anywhere else.  Or the wood chopper hammers away right below us and we wish we’d known about these things before we moved in.


But most of the time we draw a deep breath and thank God for a view like this.  What kind of view will we be looking at next winter?  We have no idea.  I do hope there’s snow in it, though!


A couple of Sunday afternoons ago, we took a family hike down into the valley below our house.  We followed the stream (or sewer drainage, for either term would be correct) through the lowest part of the valley until we reached a farmer’s orange groves.


That little yellow house on the very far right corner of the cliff is our house!  It looks so tiny and unimportant from down in the valley.  But think of all the memories we’ve made in it!  Christmases, birthdays, holidays, visitors, bringing Gil home from the hospital, bringing Siena home to live with us, fights and time-outs and tears and kisses.  I love that little yellow house.


And I love this beautiful baby.  There’s just nothing so cute to me as his beautiful blond curls, which grow thicker and longer and crazier by the day!  Even when I tuck them under a hat to keep his ears warm, a few curls escape, and he looks more cherubic than ever.


The sun was setting behind the ridge, silhouetting a few of the apartment buildings in our town.


We made it to the orange grove!  I am pretty strict about us not picking oranges from the trees because that seems like blatant stealing… even though I know the farmer would probably pick us a basketful for free if he saw us there.  (Such is the generosity of every farmer we’ve ever met here!)  As we’ve never met this farmer, we find fallen oranges in the lush green grass under the trees and then eat and eat and eat until we’ve had our fill.

Before I moved to Sicily, I could take or leave oranges.  They were great, but not my fave.  Now, though, because of the memories laced with the sweetness, fresh oranges are one of my most favorite things in the world.


On the way home, a group of horsemen rode down the hills, across the ridge, and right past us.  We watched them, mesmerized. Elliott and I have both ridden a lot in our lives — Elliott mostly when he worked on a ranch in California, me mostly in India and Pakistan as a teenager — and we were gripped with the memories: the tug of leather reins in our hands, the rock of our hips in the saddle, the communicative touch of our heels into our horse’s side, even the automatic shift in our center of gravity to respond to excited rearing.  I felt it all again in a moment, in a heady rush that left me breathless.

I was struck by another more sobering emotion, too. Now a horse’s back looks far more dangerous than it ever did before.  Now — when I look at the little faces of my children looking up at me — my head feels so much more fragile, the saddle so much farther from the ground.  I realized with a touch of sadness that I’ll never ride again like I used to, with the joyful abandon of a girl madly in love with horses, heedless of her own safety.  In high school my instructor would say, “Do you want to jump?” and I’d say, “How high?”

But today, well… at least for today, I am content to keep two feet on the ground and two arms around the ones I love.  Maybe later Elliott and I will teach Lena and Gil how to ride, or we’ll have a pony of our own*, or we’ll watch Lena jump the jumps that I once jumped.

But that Sunday afternoon, I was content.  Content to watch.  Content to eat a fallen orange.  Content to walk home to our little yellow house on the cliff, tuck my babies into bed, kiss the one I love.  So very thankful and so very content.

*And I’ve already chosen a name: Mary Poppins!

Are there things you once did that you’ll never do again?

5 :: in family, hiking, home sweet home, thoughts

a summer hike on a volcano {Mt Etna}


A couple of weeks ago, we invited our friends the Arthurs to go on a hike on Mt Etna with us.  I’ve mentioned this active local volcano before; we often see her erupting out our kitchen window!  We love hiking on her slopes because the air is so much cooler and the flowers are so beautiful in the spring, summer, and fall.  In the winter this part of the trail would be covered in snow.

(Also, before I go any farther, my apologies for all the pictures… I just couldn’t resist!  I had over 200 to begin with, so you really are just getting the best of the best.  Hope you all enjoy this hike with me all over again through the images!)


Ladybugs and nose picking… when it comes to two-year-olds, they go together so well!


The coarse volcanic ash can fill up shoes quickly… and lead to gorgeous vegetation like these flowers, whose perfume filled the air.

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Showing Miss Becca a ladybug that she found.

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Pine cones are one thing you can’t find very easily in Sicily.  Tantrums, unfortunately, are easy to find everywhere.

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Lena was pleased as punch that the Arthurs had some goldfish to share with her.

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Elliott’s sister Jess took a photo like the one on the left when we hiked this trail with her last summer.  I was pregnant with Gil then, and now he’s a 6-month-old baby!


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Men dislodging and chucking lava.  Aphids on a branch.


Sweet baby Eden.

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One of the very few pictures we have together!


They were building mini Mt Etnas.

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Finally at the end of our hike!  To the right is the huge valley where the lava flows during eruptions.  The peak of Mt Etna herself is hidden in the clouds to the right.

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New family photo!


Looking down towards the Plain of Catania and the sea… mostly lost in the haze.


And a cheesy farewell to Mt Etna on the right… :-)

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12 :: in friends, hiking, Mt Etna

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