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portraits of my children {17|52 + 18|52}


The 52 Project: A portrait of my children once a week + every week in 2014.

OK, time to play catch up! I came home from Paris totally photoed-out, and so for all of Week 17 of the photo project, I didn’t want to take a single picture. I did get a couple of iPhone photos, though…

Lena (below): We spent a quiet week at home after Paris. During that time, Lena rediscovered her blocks and built this amazing tower while I was somewhere else in the house. When she called me to see her masterpiece, I was completely impressed. She’s never constructed anything so elaborate before. Her smile tells you she knows it, too!

Gil: My sweet “Aunt” Leslie has an heirloom children’s clothing business, and she made these beautiful color-coordinated outfits for the kids when Gil was born. Last Sunday we took them to church all gussied up in their finery. Despite looking like they stepped out of the 19th century, I think both of them were a lot more comfortable than they are in some of their more fashionable 21st century duds!


This past Wednesday, Elliott’s brother Jonathan and his wife Erika joined us for five days. Elliott took time off work to spend with them, and we spent every day exploring Sicily and introducing them to our favorite towns, sights, and foods. The kids loved having them here, and we were all so sad to see them leave this morning.

(And there I go second-guessing our decision to not move back to D.C. to be near family for the millionth time…!)

Anyway, we spent one day with J+E in the beautiful town of Taormina, which has already been featured on this blog about 10 times. As usual, we ate our way through Taormina, capping it all off with the delicious granita (Italian ice made with fresh fruit) at Bam Bar. Lena’s face says it all once again…

And I’ll leave you to enjoy Gil’s series of portraits with his Aunt Erika below. He’s figuring the important things out in life first, I guess!






4 :: in 52 project, Rosebasket, Taormina, visitors

Our Beach Vacation in Sicily {San Vito Lo Capo}


For two years now, everyone has been telling us that the beaches on the western coast of Sicily (three hours from us on the eastern coast) were beautiful, but WOW!!! We were dazzled by the grandeur, the colors (so many shades of blue!), and the landscape.

Added bonus? Elliott’s parents were with us for their annual spring visit!


Reunited! Lena was literally squealing with glee as she ran to hug them.


I think my mother-in-law and I made “Mom and Wife of the Year” status on the morning we baked cinnamon rolls. Note to self: make ’em often!


Early morning artwork with our breakfast.


Our beautiful-but-rustic apartment was a 15-minute drive from the stunning Zingaro Nature Reserve.



Pointing out fishing boats on our hike down to that perfect, perfect little beach.

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Feeding Grampa some pebbles. By the way, I have learned to vote for pebble beaches over sandy beaches. Pebbles stay on the beach, but sand seems to follow us everywhere for days.



More early morning projects.


Grampa and his two baby birds.


Hiking to the beach on our second day in Zingaro.

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She’s got the beach babe pose all figured out.


One night we drove into the town of San Vito Lo Capo for dinner and took a walk along the huge beach there. It was breezy, chilly, and totally empty, ie. the polar opposite of summer.

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The day we left San Vito, we had a looooooong drive ahead of us and no real schedule, so we stopped a couple of times to picnic and explore. Perhaps we’ve finally figured out how to roadtrip with toddlers?!

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Stretching our legs in the town of Castellammare, where I just learned many famous American Mafia leaders were born. Western Sicily has historically had a much stronger Mafia presence than our part of eastern Sicily. (No complaints here.)


About an hour later, we dropped off Grampa and Marmee at the Palermo airport and said, “See you in Paris!” Then we drove across Sicily, unpacked, packed again, and flew to France two days later. A whirlwind, but I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

I can’t think of two more different cities than Paris and San Vito Lo Capo, though! Photos of Paris coming soon.

5 :: in beach, family, San Vito Lo Capo, Sicily, travel, visitors

if you visit us in Sicily, you can do this too!


My wonderful mom spent two weeks with us in Sicily in late February before my whole family met up in Florence (more photos coming soon!). Here are some photos of our travels around Sicily with my mom, both for posterity… and to encourage any last-minute visitors to come if they’d like!

Would you like to visit us and Sicily? We move back to the States at the end of July. Free beds, good food, and friendly tour guides are available until then!


I’ve taken my mom to Taormina before, but I love it so much, so we decided to go back for a day trip. This is il postino, ie. Taormina’s postman.



Early morning package delivery through the pedestrian-only streets.





Sampling some goodies at our favorite cannoli shop.




Gil — who is learning the meaning of “wait!” — pushed his way around his sister and took them both down the slide together.

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The fountain in the park and granite at Bam Bar = two of our favorite things.


On another day, we took my mom to “the big city” (Catania) for some market shopping, lunch, and a ride on the tour train! The fish market was amazing, as usual.


And the tour train was a huge hit for all, once again.


We were visiting during Carnevale, so there was confetti everywhere!


And we spent plenty of time wandering the streets of our little town of Motta, too. Thank you for coming, Mama! I don’t think I washed a dish while you were here, and the kids were in heaven with all the books, tea parties, block towers, and love from their Grammie. Our home was so much more peaceful and harmonious with you here. We’re so grateful for you!

And now it’s your turn, my friends, if you’d like to visit! I write this as my friend Sarah softly strums a guitar nearby; she’s on the last day of her weeklong visit. We’d love to practice what we preach by making room to welcome you, too! Wanna come?

4 :: in hospitality, Sicily, Taormina, visitors

October in Taormina with friends


Are you my friend?  Do you want to visit Italy?  Then please do.  We have only nine months left here and your time is running out!  Now’s your chance!  Free place to stay!  Free food!  Personal tour guides!  Cute children!  Buy a plane ticket!!!

Our friends Lewis and Bekah just visited, and it was SO fun.  Here they are:


Like I mentioned before, we had a blast during their visit, and I am so grateful that there are people like Lewis and Bekah in our lives.  They are forever friends.  It doesn’t matter if we live across the country or across the world or in the next neighborhood: we’ll all work hard to make sure this friendship endures and deepens with time.  And I mean… look how fun they are!  What’s not to love?

becca-garber-taormina-mcneels-october-17 One day during their visit we took them to beautiful Taormina, a city just an hour north of us.  I introduced everyone to Da Cristina, which makes the best arancini (traditional Sicilian rice balls) that I’ve had in Sicily.  Lena is chomping into my eggplant and cheese arancino on the right.


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His curls just keep on growing… and curling!  And getting blonder!


Vehicles like these are usually used by farmers or street sweepers in Sicily.  I loved the upcycled version!


These magnificent creations — called pasta reale — are made out of marzipan and shaped like fruit.


This would have been a cute family photo if Lena hadn’t deliberately closed her eyes and looked away…

becca-garber-taormina-mcneels-october-15 On the right, an amiable (and pregnant!) Bekah gave me a break to go running with Lena.  “Let’s run, Mama!” is her new thing.


becca-garber-taormina-mcneels-october-18 My family in the beautiful Villa Comunale park, one of our favorite stops in Taormina.


These two tried their first granite (Italian ice) at Bam Bar!


I could make a whole blog post with at least 30 pictures of Lena eating granite at Bam Bar.  It’s the best that we’ve ever tasted, and we’ve tasted a lot.


If you visit us, we’ll take you to Taormina!  Pretty promise, pretty please.

9 :: in pretty places, Sicily, Taormina, visitors

blogger & military wife meet-up in Catania

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A few weeks ago I got a wonderful email from a fellow military wife and mom named Stephanie.  She said she was coming to Sicily for just a couple weeks while her husband was working here on base.  She had found my blog and saw that I have the same strolleras she does, and so she wondered if I would recommend bringing it with her for her trip.

Pretty soon we were sending emails back and forth and then planning to meet up while she was here.  Today I drove into Catania, walked into the main piazza (pictured above), and waited with Lena and Gil and my stroller… and looked for the other mom with with two kids and the same stroller!  We spotted each other right away and started wheeling towards each other.  The first thing she said was, “Oh, I wish we’d gotten red instead of black!” in reference to our strollers.  You just never know what you might bond over, right?

We had a great time today taking our kids to a playground, fending off a sketchy guy who wanted to know where we lived (hah), discussing fun things to do in Catania, and eating local Sicilian fair at a cafe in the main piazza.  I was totally inspired by her sense of adventure and the fun things she’s discovered in Catania.  Wish you lived here, Stephanie!

I didn’t get any pictures of all of us, but I did snap this one of my kids sharing a seat.  Time to get two seats in the stroller instead of one… baby Gil is ready to move out of his car seat and into the big leagues!

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P.S.  If you’re new here, thinking of visiting Sicily, or have questions about moving here, I would love to help you and meet up with you just like I did with Stephanie.  My husband also hosted a vet student that he met through his blog while the kids and I were in the States.  These connections are so much fun and make the world a smaller place!  Last night I updated by About Me section on the blog, so you can check that out to get to know us better or send me an email anytime.  I love to hear from you!

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2 :: in friends, Sicily, visitors

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