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Why You Should Have Your Friends Over for Dinner

Our studio in D.C.

Our first home in D.C.

When my husband and I first got married, we lived in a 388 sq ft studio in Washington, D.C. That tiny apartment was like a bird’s nest; we were level with blooming magnolias in spring and could see the Capitol Dome out our window.

Despite having just enough room to turn around in, we made a regular habit of hosting friends for dinner. We were young and so happy, and so we opened our doors and borrowed chairs and sat on the bed and drank wine. Acquaintances turned into lifelong friends.

Looking back, those were our greatest hosting days so far in our marriage. I think part of it was innocence; we were too young to care about our Craigslist furniture and too-spicy curries. But I think the other part was time and energy – those were the days before we (and all our friends) had kids and early bedtimes. We had no one to entertain but other young couples and friends, and we had nothing but time.

When we moved to Coronado, we dreamed of having those days again. We have a deck and patio furniture and a grill, and the weather here is perfect 364 days of the year. The scene is set for entertaining. We have so much to offer now, compared to the tiny one-room studio in D.C.

And yet months have gone by, and my husband and I realized recently that we’ve hardly had any friends over to dinner. Traveling for work, bedtime with the kids, visiting extended family, and so on and so forth – all of these things have slowed our good intentions down.

Then we made some new friends in Coronado. We only hung out with them once before we received an invitation to have dinner in their home. It was a delicious meal in their simple two-bedroom apartment on Orange Ave. Our two kids and their two kids ran wild through the three rooms of the house. Our Moscow mules chilled in copper mugs on an IKEA table. Their simple, genuine hospitality warmed us through and through. Our friends continued this spontaneous, generous welcoming, giving freely of their time and food and home, never minding the kids or the space. They offered cheerfully, and we felt at home.

Since then, my husband and I have decided to try to have friends over to dinner three times a month. It’s a lot of work for many reasons, especially because, like us, most our friends have a couple kids under five. During our meal, we all spend just as much time seated as running after our children. Also I am still the kind of disorganized person who does a whole week’s cleaning in the hour before her guests arrive. So far I only have two good go-to recipes that accommodate for allergies and children and work well on the grill. We are not yet practiced hosts.

But I almost don’t want to be. Yes, I want to serve good food and strong wine and have forks and plates at everyone’s place. I want to clean the toilet before they arrive, do some tidying, and have the meal mostly ready. I want my guests to feel special, loved, welcomed.

But I don’t want them to ever feel like they are anywhere but in a home.

When I walk into a friend’s house and see her dust bunnies and dishes in the sink and pile of laundry waiting to be folded, I see a home. I feel connection, comfort, and even relief. She didn’t hide the mess before I came! She didn’t clean for me! Her kids don’t have any clean underwear either! Being welcomed into such a home is a sign of friendship these days. It’s a way of saying, “I am who I am, and I know you will see my real life and love me for it. I trust you.” I want to spend time in homes like that, to have friends like that, to fill my life with honesty like that.

I want our guests to feel that way, too. In some ways, I never want to get so good at hosting that I lose touch with that newlywed bride stirring a pot of made-up stew with her husband, taste testing from the wooden spoon, and then welcoming guests into a one-room home with no embarrassment and so much love.

So I’ll keep sending out dinner invitations. I can’t promise my guests an immaculate house, or quiet children. I can’t even promise them a wine glass, because I break them all and I drink my wine out of juice glasses now. I’m still working on finding good recipes to feed them.

But I do promise them a clean plate and a chair to sit in. I promise them a family and a home. I promise them a heart that wants them there.

Take this bread, this wine, this friendship, and stay awhile.

36 :: in Coronado, family, friends, goals, home sweet home, hospitality, marriage, San Diego, thoughts, visitors

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

25 Ways to Save Up or Not Spend $100 a Day


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I just finished this delightful book that a blog reader recommended to me on Goodreads: Paris Letters by Janice MacLeod. Have you heard of it? It came out just last year, thus adding to the growing collection of Paris-themed memoirs out there for us Stateside-bound dreamers!

In the book, Janice describes her draining work as a copywriter in L.A. and her growing desperation to escape. Through regular journal writing, she finally decided to save up $100 a day for a year and then quit her job, travel the world, and figure out a new way to pay her bills and live her life.

You should read it to find out the details, but it all works out incredibly well for Janice. She meets a James Bond look-a-like in Paris, falls head over heels in love, figures out a thriving Etsy shop business selling hand-painted letters (check it out), and the rest — she writes — is history.

I found the whole story fun as well as inspiring, and the most inspiring part was how she made her dreams come true. She figured out how she could afford to quit her job for at least a year, and she calculated that would require saving about $100 a day for one year. At the back of the book, she wrote an exhaustive list of all the things she did to either save up or not spend $100 a day for a year. I loved the thriftiness and practicality of the list. I mean, who of us doesn’t want to quit our day job and have enough cushion to travel the world and paint/write/blog/create? (Or would you just like to end your year with $100 x 365 = $36,500 more dollars than you planned? Which is actually a great idea for all of us!)

Here are a few things Janice did, as recorded in her book:

1. Canceled my television service.

2. Sold my television. Saved money and time.

3. Used up my samples from Sephora.

4. Used up the creams that were just so-so before I repurchased my favorite.

5. Sold everything I didn’t use on a daily basis on Craigslist and eBay.

6. Invited friends out for hikes, coffees, or frozen yogurt rather than wait until they invited me to pricey dinners.

7. Used up my running shoes. I had enough with enough zip to get me through the year.

8. Drank all the tea in my house before buying more. Oh lordy, I had a lot of tea.

9. Ordered a small coffee instead of a latte. It would have been cheaper to make coffee at home, but less social.

10. Said no to dinners at restaurants.

11. Stayed home at night and painted instead.

12. Oatmeal.

13. Did my own nails with all the polish I already bought.

14. Accepted gifts from people. Strange, but the more I released, the more I received gifts, largely in the form of free meals and stationery.

15. Got a cheaper phone plan.

16. Searched my medicine cabinet before I went to the pharmacy. What I needed was usually there.

17. Stopped falling for coupons. You know what’s cheaper? Not buying at all.

18. Took care of unfinished business instead of ignoring it and going shopping instead.

19. Spent all my coins. The bigger your coin jar, the bigger your coin collection.

20. Cashed in all my free coffees from loyalty cards.

21. Listened to all the music I already had in my collection. There was so much I didn’t know I already had.

22. Convinced my family to not get each other big Christmas gifts. Instead we got each other a small stocking stuffer. It was delightful, and no one missed the lack of presents.

23. Used up all the half-filled journals I already had around my house.

24. Popcorn popped on the stove.

25. Welcomed overnight guests into my home. Strange, but they basically fed me half the time out of gratitude for the free place to stay, and I was delighted to see them.

Have you done some of these things already? I try to do some of them, but I need to work on others, like using up all my coins (such a good idea) and taking care of unfinished business before starting something new. Actually, Janice’s section on finishing her “unfinished business” was amazingly inspiring. She finished all the paintings she had started, did her taxes in March instead of on April 14, sent all her half-finished letters, and used her expensive health insurance to get her annual physical, dental exam, and eye exam. Her goal was “finish my unfinished business by the end of the calendar year,” and that got her cracking on projects that might otherwise have sat around her house for years.

I love this idea. I have a thousand items of unfinished business all over my house. Especially after my sister died, I thought about trying to tie up loose ends now so there wouldn’t be a lot of unfinished things if I died suddenly… but time has gone by and there is plenty I could finish. Like organizing our files before tax season, tidying the garage (again! I already did it once after this post!), finding the mysteriously missing car registration sticker, clearing out and selling all the clothes the kids have outgrown, and so on and so forth.

Which is your favorite suggestion on this list? If you haven’t already, are you going to read Paris Letters now? ;)

P.S. Check back tomorrow for a lovely letter and an exciting bit of news from Janice MacLeod herself! I just got an email from her and decided it deserved a post of its own. I’ll share it on Friday morning!

31 :: in book reviews, On Becca’s Bookshelf, thoughts

The Prayer I Pray for My Children Every Day


When Elliott and I were newlyweds, we attended an Anglican church in Washington, D.C. Many of the traditions of that church were a mystery to me, and they still are. (I can tell you about my church roots some other time.)

But during that year and a half, I came to deeply appreciate the Anglican church liturgy.

At first it seemed funny to repeat the same prayers every week – the same one for confession, the same one for communion, the same creed sandwiched between the two – but eventually I came to savor those prayers. It’s hard to describe, but I felt like my soul sank into them. Like into a soft bed or a couch.

During most of the service, my brain was humming: lifting up and soaring during the hymns and songs, focusing and thinking during the sermon, flitting from people watching to worship to people watching and back again.

But during the liturgical repetitions — during those prayers — my mouth and my heart and my brain all connected as I said those same familiar words again, forming them like pearls in my mouth, pondering and polishing them like rosary beads. Each week every word made more sense, and then became more precious, and then became the song of my heart. By comparison, I’ve felt this way about some popular songs that I’ve heard over and over on the radio until they worked their way into my brain and became my song and defined a certain period of my life. You know what I mean?

Anyway, back to the prayer I pray for my children, not the liturgy in general. Here is the prayer we learned in that church:

Almighty God, heavenly Father,
you have blessed our congregation with the joy and care of children.
Give us courage, patience, and wisdom
as we bring them up in the faith
that they might never know a day apart from you,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

I love those words:

  • Blessed our congregation – Raising these children is corporate work, ie. it takes a village to raise a child
  • The joy and care of children – A blessing and a responsibility
  • Courage, patience, and wisdom – What a powerful trifecta. How many thousands of times a day do I need courage, or find myself horribly lacking in patience, or grapple for wisdom?
  • As we bring them up in the faith – This hearkens back to a commitment that began with the congregation’s and parents’ pledge to the children at their baptism, that they would teach them about their faith and how it applies to their life and work.
  • That they might never know a day apart from you – The cry of my heart! Elliott and I were both born into homes where Jesus was loved and followed by “clay-footed” but faithful parents. Over the years we came to make that faith our own, and we are grateful that God has held us in his hand throughout our journeys. I hope and pray that our children have this same testimony.
  • Through Jesus Christ our Lord — all things are possible through him!

I remember the first Sunday after we found out we were pregnant with Lena. I was so lonely and sad, because Elliott had just deployed for a year and Lena was totally unexpected and I was overwhelmed and so discouraged. And there I was, standing alone in church, our first child being knit together inside me, praying aloud with the congregation this beautiful, rich, deep, true prayer, and I was praying it for our own child, and I just cried and cried. There was such longing in those tears for so many things.

After repeating it a hundred times over a hundred Sundays, I memorized this prayer. I began to pray it at home whenever I prayed for our children. In Italy, with our old church far away, we prayed. And now we pray in California, years after we began, longing together for courage and patience and wisdom to bring our children up in the faith, longing that they might never know a day apart from Jesus.


There are so many ways to pray for those we love. I remember my mom said she prayed for me and my future husband every day of my life. Well, I’ve already failed at that for my own kids… but I guess doing starts with trying! (And I can imagine it feels more relevant as they get older.)

Do you have any prayers that you particularly love and repeat often, whether about children or not?

19 :: in 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!
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