Archive | Lena

Happy 4th Birthday, Lovely Lena!!!

becca-garber-lena-fourth-birthday-3 Every year on my children’s birthdays, I try to take photos throughout the whole day and then post them here. I love looking back on each birthday to see how they have changed and grown! Here is Lena’s first birthday, first party, second birthday, second party, and third birthday (and no party because her mama grew up too, hardy har), as well as Gil’s first and second birthdays.

This year Elliott’s parents were visiting but went home the day before Lena’s actual birthday, so we celebrated before they left with a special meal and a couple of presents. Her grandparents bought her the doll stroller she’s been asking about; I’ve heard her say, “For my birthday I want a balloon and a doll stroller” for the past four months or so.

We made Lena close her eyes while I brought the stroller out, covered in a blanket. Lena opened her eyes and saw the gift, but then she totally turned the tables on us and told us to close our eyes while she now did the unveiling. We complied…

becca-garber-lena-fourth-birthday-1 … and I just love the next picture. Her grandparent’s faces (especially in comparison with Gil’s deadpan) makes me laugh every time.

becca-garber-lena-fourth-birthday-2 Lena and Gil, needless to say, both love the stroller. Thank you, Grampa and Marmee!

becca-garber-lena-fourth-birthday-18 The stroller itself, for those who are wondering, is an antique, but I bought it off my neighborhood yard sale (on behalf of Lena’s grandparents) and so all that I know is that it was made between the 1920s and 1950s. It needed a little TLC when we got it, including new screws for the handlebars and some bedding to make her doll comfortable. My mom and mother-in-law both contributed to the little mattress and quilt inside the stroller. I love what a collaborative effort this gift was!

On Lena’s actual birthday, Gil woke up early, and he was excited to go into Lena’s bedroom when she woke up to sing “Happy Birthday” with us. Unfortunately this is the last thing she wanted to hear right as she opened her eyes. ;)

becca-garber-lena-fourth-birthday-4 We made cinnamon rolls for breakfast, her favorite. Always a group project around here, especially where dough and frosting are concerned.

becca-garber-lena-fourth-birthday-5 She posed with her presents, which she opened slowly, one by one, throughout the day. Please admire my wrapping job, which included the very last of all the wrapping paper I have left over from my wedding and baby showers! Do you think that means I can finally, in good conscience, buy some of this gorgeous paper?!

becca-garber-lena-fourth-birthday-17 Friends and family were so generous, as always. Here Lena is studying a card and wearing a beautiful handmade dress from my dear friend Nicole (who attended Lena’s 1st birthday party in Sicily with her family!) and is jumping in pink knee-high socks from her Auntie Jess.

becca-garber-lena-fourth-birthday-14 The “most played with” gift award goes to this toy. I can’t even believe how much time we all (including friends who visit) spend building and creating with it. Thanks to everyone who recommended them on this post! You were so right.

becca-garber-lena-fourth-birthday-16 Elliott came home for lunch and we took the kids to the carousel at the zoo, continuing the tradition from Gil’s birthday. Carousels are so hard to capture even in multiple photos, but trust me when I say that this one is a gem.

becca-garber-lena-fourth-birthday-6 I tried and tried but got no good pictures of the birthday girl on her horse. I stopped trying when Lena reached excitedly for my hand and held onto it tightly the rest of the ride.

becca-garber-lena-fourth-birthday-7 At home, our quiet, everyday routine prevailed after all the excitement. Lena and I snuggled together to read before her “nap”/rest time, just like we always do, and today she picked Paddington.

becca-garber-lena-fourth-birthday-8 After naps, the kids opened a gift from her great-grandparents while Lena wore her birthday gift from her Auntie Em.

becca-garber-lena-fourth-birthday-9 It was kinetic sand!!! Love this stuff.

becca-garber-lena-fourth-birthday-11 The kiddos continued to help in the kitchen, this time to make Lena’s birthday cake. She has been asking for “a strawberry cake” for a year, after having a raspberry cake last year. I finally decided to use this pavlova recipe (thank you, Amanda!) and top the meringue with fresh cream and strawberries. Unfortunately Gil grabbed the salt shaker when I wasn’t looking and did some serious damage to the flavor, but… life goes on!

becca-garber-lena-fourth-birthday-10 At the end of the day, I needed groceries and Lena still needed the balloon that I promised her for a birthday gift six months ago, so we went to the commissary… just me and her. What a treat to be alone, just the two of us! We both kept looking at each other like, “Where’s Gil?”

becca-garber-lena-fourth-birthday-12 At home, I made a meal that Lena loves: roast chicken with root vegetables, green beans (under the foil, and with lots of butter!), and fresh fruit. My dad was in town and joined us for the meal, which made it even more special.

And then this little lady finally let us sing “Happy Birthday” to her!

becca-garber-lena-fourth-birthday-13 Like most, this day was not without its mishaps (like the too-salty pavlova and the Fiasco of the Frozen Balloon, may it now forever be forgotten), but it was also full of thankfulness for one very precious little girl.

To end on a more thoughtful note, I want to say what great joy Lena gives me with her heart and her faith. We clash daily over wills (more often than me and Gil) and frustrate each other all day long; she’s not perfect and I’m definitely not either. Even still, despite all our mistakes, she is loving and generous and thoughtful and kind, and she is truly an amazing and tender big sister. She will run to Gil when he cries, like when he wakes up in the morning, and she is inclusive and compassionate and joyful with him. I’m amazed by her memory of things that happened two years ago (“That’s what we did in Sicily… I’m not sure if you remember, but I do”) and of formative moments that we would never have known made such an impression (“Mama, do you remember when I went to the Pumpkin Playground with Grampa and Marmee?” two and a half years ago). She’s silly and strong and curious and bright and hopeful.

Above all, she speaks matter-of-factually and often about God, his death, his resurrection, and her sure place in heaven. She anticipates seeing Aunt Booie there one day. She prays aloud before meals with a childlike sweetness, and I do believe — and I do not say this lightly — that she loves and knows Jesus. This gives her mother’s heart the greatest joy of all.

I love you, my precious Lena. You are such a gift to us!

12 :: in Lena, motherhood

Gift Ideas for a Girl Who’s Turning 4!!!

Recently Updated260-003 It is not a good sign that I spent twenty minutes making that graphic and then just now realized that it said “…for a girl who’s turning THREE” in big bold letters. I should be in bed!

But this post is fun, and I’d like to send it out into the cosmic void (name that movie), so here goes!

Lena turns F-O-U-R on April 3 and, like usual, I don’t think Elliott and I will be getting her much. Last year we bought her some craft supplies and the year before that I don’t think we got her anything. She has plenty of stuff! But that doesn’t stop me from coming up with things she’d like, of course.

Or things I would like for her. I know you know how that goes…

The first thing is a doll stroller, which Lena has asked for specifically. I actually do have one tucked away that I bought months ago and “hid” in the garage (she saw it) when I found a good deal, but then someone advertised this gorgeous thing for sale and I started to have second thoughts! Isn’t it darling?! Which one do you think she would enjoy more??

The second gift idea is Magna-Tiles, which I’ve had on my wishlist for the kids for awhile. Everyone raves about these nifty little magnetic building pieces, and the kids have enjoyed them at our friends’ houses. I recently heard, though, that Magformers might be a better investment because they have stronger magnets and the kids’ structures will hold together better. Do you have a recommendation?

One item on the list must be BOOKS. I preordered Heidi for my sister’s birthday last year and have been dreaming about getting them for Lena (and me, duh) ever since. For someone who loves Rifle Paper Co. and classic literature, these pretty volumes are a match made in heaven.

I’ve heard such good things about these magnetic toys, and I feel like Lena would love them. She spends hours making designs with these beads, but she’s often stumped about what pattern or shape to make next. Problem solved with this clever toy.

The Tea Collection is one of my favorites for their globally-inspired, ethically-sourced children’s clothes. They always have the most beautiful patterns and prints that remind me of places I love around the world! I shop for deals on eBay or during their bi-annual (I think?) 50% off sales, so I already have a beautiful Tea summer dress tucked away for Lena that I bought before Christmas.

And last but not least, something for the budding artist. I enjoyed these as a child and have wanted to get Lena and Gil a set of their own. I’m a sucker for classic toys that have stood the test of time and bring back the warm fuzzies, aren’t you?

Anyway, that’s a hodge podge of ideas. What toys have the four-year-olds in your life enjoyed? I’m all eyes!

24 :: in gift guide, Lena, wishlist

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

Pros and Cons of Saltwater Sandals


A reader and friend, Bethany, wrote me an email awhile ago and asked what I thought of Saltwater sandals. She noticed Lena wearing them on my blog, and she wanted another mom’s opinion before she ordered them for her girls.

Well, I wish I had asked someone, too, before I bought three pairs last year to get the right size! In case you’re considering them for your kids, here are a few pros and cons from our family:

Cons of Saltwater Sandals

  • Lena can’t get them on by herself because of the old-school buckle. It only takes me a few extra seconds, but sometimes she’s already chosen other shoes that she can get on by herself.
  • The sizes run large. Order a size smaller than your child’s other shoes.
  • They don’t have a great grip. The soles of the shoes are hard and smooth. It doesn’t seem to bother her now that’s she’s used to it, though.
  • Lena has had to break them in, so expect a blister or two at the beginning. Putting them on your child during her bath will help them soften up and mold to her foot.
  • We got the sandals in white, and they do look a little dingy after awhile. If I could do it again, I might get gold or champagne or something, just to be a little more fun and hide the scuffs.
  • They’re pricey, at least if you buy them during the summer.

Pros of Saltwater Sandals

  • She can’t get them off by herself. Do you know how nice that is?!
  • They are the only shoes she needs all summer (except for a pair of sneakers, I guess). Last summer, she wore them to weddings, church, the beach (they’re waterproof), and for everyday errands. They’re leather, they’re cute, they’re comfortable.
  • Did I mention they’re waterproof?! The specially-treated leather means they don’t get soggy or dry hard.
  • If you buy them in the off-season, they cost about 50% less than during the summer.
  • They pretty much go with everything and make any outfit look good if you get a neutral color. And if you get a bright color (like my friend Emily with her daughter’s lime green Saltwaters), they add a sparkle to even the simplest outfit.
  • They are the most durable kids’ shoes I’ve ever met. They still look new (except for the slightly dingy look on the white shoes) at the end of the summer. Lena still fits into the ones she wore last summer, so she’s wearing them again. They could last through a couple more children and summers, too!

In the end, I would recommend them. I’ll get them again! They are cute shoes, and hold up well, and go with everything. What’s not to love?

P.S. These are the “new” kids’ shoes I have my eye on for Gil. Equally pricey, unfortunately, but stinkin’ cute and waterproof. Have you tried them?

10 :: in gift guide, Lena, links I love, wishlist

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!

becca-garber-lena-3rd-birthday-8 becca-garber-lena-3rd-birthday-9

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!

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

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