Family Fun / Life Abroad / Travel

Our Trip to Berlin

December 7, 2017

We just returned from a quick trip to Berlin to visit the Christmas markets, and tomorrow we’re off to Zagreb, Croatia for more! I figured I would try to sit down and write a quick post about our trip before we dive head-first into our next trip and slide directly into Christmas in the days following.

Berlin was the first home exchange we arranged after we joined the site. A nice family contacted us about swapping, and knowing how wonderful Germany is at Christmastime, I jumped at the chance to set up an exchange for December.

It was cold in Berlin, so the kids were forced to be all bundled up for our exploring. Lark was unsure of the number of layers we were requiring her to wear.   We visited the remains of the Berlin wall (yes, America, let’s all take a moment to remember how great that wall was, shall we?)  We visited many a brauhaus and the girls tried (and loved!) Bavarian sausage. (The numerous pretzels and fries we consumed were also a hit, go figure.) There were a couple points where we had both kids sleeping — one in the carrier and one in the stroller — which always feels like the biggest win and most relaxing part of vacation. That last photo above included two sleeping children and hot chocolate with Baileys so… WIN/WIN/WIN.  A couple of the Christmas markets had little rides which Prim got to partake in. It was a big moment for her and probably the beginning of her begging to ride every sad, lonely plastic horse stationed outside a supermarket. (Hooray.)  Prim insisted on riding on the front of the stroller at multiple points during the trip so she could “talk to Larky.” It keeps Lark happy and we get a few minutes of freedom from having to tell Prim to keep walking, so the fact that it may ultimately result in our travel stroller collapsing is a relatively minor concern.   We walked all over Berlin, even though it was really cold (it even snowed while we were there!) I thought we might not walk as much during these winter trips due to the weather, but we managed to clock in over 6 miles one day and over 9 miles another, and between 4 and 5 miles on both of our travel days, so clearly the cold isn’t hindering our exploring much.
Trying to take a decent photo with a 2 year old… it’s a challenge, guys. Just nursing a baby on a German train, like usual.  Germany, your delicious beers and carbs are proof that I was meant to be German. I can’t wait to return someday soon!

Fall / Gratefulness / Holidays

Giving Thanks

November 30, 2017

I realize that I’m way behind on posting about Thanksgiving, but we had family visiting us in Amsterdam last week, so I didn’t get around to writing anything around the actual holiday. And honestly, I’ve had all sorts of ideas for blog posts lately and around zero motivation to sit down and get the words out, so… that’s where we are.

December is always a whirlwind, isn’t it? Not to mention that we’re headed to Berlin, Zagreb (Croatia) and Rome this month, and my family is all coming to Amsterdam for Christmas, so our schedule is pretty packed. But I do think it will be a nice, crazy few weeks before we jump into the monotony of January/February and KC’s busy season at work. But hey! We have a February birthday to celebrate this year, so that’s certainly something to look forward to.

Getting back to the point of this post, I always like to reflect on the things I’m really thankful for at the start of the holiday season. This year I’m so thankful for:

  • This amazing little family of mine. Our house is loud, silly, and seems to always have crumbs on the floor (even though I’m ALWAYS sweeping), but I wouldn’t have it any other way. (Well, maybe I would get rid of the crumbs.)
  • This adventure we’re having living in Europe. I filled out a preschool application for Prim recently and had to share a little bit about our family, Prim’s personality, and also explain our situation — not currently living in California, but returning to the Bay Area mid-next year. After counting up all the trips we’ve taken and those that we’ve planned and already bought tickets for, I realized that Prim will have visited at least 12 countries by the time we move back, which is sort of crazy given that she will be newly 3 when we come back to California. (And really it will probably be more than 12, since we’re looking at booking trips to at least two more countries while we’re here.)
  • How sweet these sisters are with each other. Prim and Lark have been completely smitten with each other since day one, and I feel so lucky that they get the chance to have the amazing sister relationship I have with my own sister.
  • Moving back to California next year. While I do have mixed feelings about moving back to the Bay Area (and the US in general), I am really excited to embark on a new chapter which will finally give us some permanence (and hopefully a place to live near my sister!)
  • Our home exchanges. Without having stumbled onto this site and taking the plunge and joining, we wouldn’t be traveling nearly as much as we are. The site has been such a great resource for us and our current situation, and I feel so lucky that we get to take advantage of every inch of Europe while we’re over here. And I’m especially thankful that we get to bring these little ladies with us on these adventures. Even though they won’t remember these trips, the memories KC and I are making during these early years with them are just amazing.

Well I’m off to pack for Berlin. I hope you have some fun weekend plans!

Baby / Motherhood

Our Philosophy On Food

November 17, 2017

I’ve gotten a few questions now about how we approach food with the kids (you guys seem to be especially interested since I mentioned that they eat curry — so funny), so I thought I would write a post about my overall philosophy on food and how we are implementing those values with the kids. I am not an expert by any means, and this is just what works for our family.

When I was pregnant with Prim, one of the many topics KC and I discussed related to parenting was about food. I grew up in a big Italian family where everyone cooked and pickiness was not tolerated. I want our children to be good and adventurous eaters, so my goal from day one was to do everything in my power to expose them to a variety of foods and flavors to help foster an openness to different kinds of tastes, textures and cuisines.

I started both Prim and Lark on solids at 6 months. To date, neither has ever had any pre-made baby food (no jars or pouches or anything). This is certainly not necessary, but I didn’t think it was a big deal to make their food and I wanted to know exactly what was going in their bodies, so I opted to make their meals myself right from the start. Early on, I would often spend part of a Sunday making 3-4 purees or soft finger foods and freezing them in small portions to be defrosted throughout the week. Both Lark and Prim started with pureed food, but I introduced finger foods very early on (within the first month of starting solids) as well so that they could practice their dexterity. As soon as I could move the kids off purees (meaning that they could feed themselves relatively well on their own and could eat what KC and I were having for dinner), I did. I haven’t read Baby Led Weaning, but understand the basic principles, so I follow a sort of modified version of that.

  • More often than not, the kids eat what we eat for dinner and there are no alternatives. They often have more options than we do (KC and I will have just curry and rice for dinner while the kids will have curry with rice, fruit, and half of a homemade muffin or something). I am not a short-order cook and I certainly do not want to make two or more dinners every night, so there is no “mac and cheese” for the kid who doesn’t want to eat what I’ve cooked.
  • I make sure to serve at least one thing that I know the kids like if I am introducing a new dish. (i.e.: fruit, plain yogurt, etc.)
  • I do not dumb-down food for the kids, but will make spicy food a little milder for them. The curry and chili I make are SPICY, so I will add plain Greek yogurt, rice, avocado, etc. until I feel that the spice is at an ok level for them. I do not make the food non-spicy, just less spicy.

When Prim was really little, I made this soup, intending for it to serve as dinner for all three of us at the time. When it was done cooking, I realized that the brand-new cayenne pepper I had purchased was really spicy. I had this idea that kids hate spicy food and so considered feeding Prim something else, but I had just spent all this time making the soup for dinner and didn’t really have a good alternative for her. I opted to cut the soup with some Greek yogurt and goat cheese, but realized that even after adding those it still had a good kick. I decided to feed it to her, assuming that she would hate it, and lo and behold — she LOVED it. She could not get enough of the soup. I was totally floored, but realized that it actually made a lot of sense. Spicy food is delicious (in my opinion), but I think many parents don’t introduce spicy foods to their kids simply because they assume that kids don’t like or can’t handle spice. In other countries this is totally not the case (India, for example), and children in those countries grow up tolerating heat and loving spicy foods. Since then, both my kids have been exposed to spicy foods and tolerate it quite well for their respective ages. As I mentioned yesterday, if Prim asks to try something spicy, we tell her it’s spicy but still allow her to try it if she wants to.

  • They don’t have to finish anything, but they do need to try everything. 

I should also note that one of the kids “not liking” something does not mean that I will never serve it again. I assume that if they don’t like something at this age it’s most likely because they are either unfamiliar with it or just having a picky day. I believe that you have to try something many times to form a solid opinion about it, so I will just continue to introduce the food next time I feel like cooking whatever it is. I also believe in introducing foods in different ways (for example, broccoli: it’s good roasted with garlic, steamed with lemon, and even mashed with potato).

  • I will usually serve their dinner in courses, beginning with the vegetable, then main dish, followed by fruit/other side (applesauce, yogurt), then dessert if we’re having it (which we usually don’t).
  • We don’t tolerate negative words about the food like, “Ew, gross, disgusting” etc. Right now if Prim doesn’t want to eat something, we either ignore it, or if we have to address it, say, “You’ll like this when you’re older.”
  • We don’t pester the kids about eating or their food. We serve them the food, sit down to eat as a family, and let them eat. We try not to intervene at all while they are eating so they can try things in their own time.

Have you ever noticed how much people like to bug kids while they eat? “Eat more! Take a bite! Try it! Isn’t it good?” It makes me a little crazy.

  • Dessert is not a nightly thing and it is not contingent upon whether you finished your plate at dinner. 

Dessert is a rarity around here, to be honest, and if we do have something special after dinner, it’s usually a homemade sugar-free muffin. My kids are little, so I really try to limit their intake of added sugar. Often if we have real treats, it will be when we’re traveling or on a random trip to the ice cream shop on the weekend.

  • The kids eat on a schedule. Breakfast at 8am, Lunch at 11am, snack after naptime, Dinner at 5:30pm.

Having a schedule helps eliminate the all-day snackfest that tends to ruin mealtimes. Having consistency with the schedule also helps the kids understand that we will eat at specific times, making their day more predictable overall. That said, we obviously leave room for deviation sometimes on the weekends and when we travel.

Following the above does not mean that my kids are perfect eaters by any means. Prim is in the process of asserting her independence with us, which extends to meal times as well. This approach is helpful in that it doesn’t assume that picky phases won’t occur, but provides an approach that can remain consistent throughout those phases. If you’re looking for a good kid-food book, I read and really liked French Kids Eat Everything.

Baby / Lark / Motherhood

Motherhood Update: Lark at 9 months

November 16, 2017

^^ even cute with a cold ^^ 

Sleeping: Lark is still sleeping through the night most nights. She just got her first tooth and the second is due to come through any day now, plus she unfortunately got my cold, so there have been some nights that are far from perfect lately, but that’s kind of par for the course at this age.

Eating: Lark is currently loving Winter Minestrone (the amount she ate is sort of insane, given her size) and is also very into Thai green curry. I introduced Prim to spicy food really early and have done the same thing with Lark. I cut the spice in the curry with some plain Greek yogurt, but it’s definitely still got a kick and the kids eat it and love it. My philosophy is that the kids should be introduced to and eat pretty much what we eat, so long as it’s not prohibited or dangerous, we just try to dial back the heat a bit if we’re eating something really spicy. That said, if Prim asks to try something we know is spicy (for example, bitterballen is served with a spicy mustard here), we let her — we just tell her it’s spicy beforehand and make sure we have something close by to offset the spice after.

Saying: Lark is on the verge of saying her first words. She babbles nonstop and might actually be saying “all done” (which she already signs) and “Dada,” but I’m not totally sure enough yet to really call either her first word.

Latest trick: Lark is very quick with her army crawling these days and is getting up on all fours and rocking back and forth. She hasn’t mastered full-on crawling yet, but she’s so fast at creeping around on her belly that I wonder if she will actually crawl at all before she starts pulling up and cruising.

Sweetest things: Lark is still obsessed with her “Lamby” (evidenced by the photos in this post). She now holds onto it when we take her out of her crib and she sleeps with her face right on top of it at night. It is so sweet to sneak a peek at her while she’s sleeping and seeing that little stuffed lamb head peeking out from underneath her cheek.

Favorite thing about this age: Lark has so much personality now. She squeals, laughs, smiles and screeches. KC has been traveling a lot for work lately, and when he gets home from one of his trips and she sees him for the first time — well, basically her reaction just makes my heart explode and I’m like, “Let’s have another baby RIGHT NOW.”

Life Abroad / Personal

A Decision Has Been Made

November 14, 2017

We’ve got news, guys. After many months and countless conversations (some more contentious than others…) we have decided what we will be doing next year after KC’s Dutch contract ends. This was not an easy decision, and I can’t tell you just how close things came to working out another way.

Ultimately, we have made the decision to return to the US next year after we finish up our time in the Netherlands. It was down to the wire on whether we would be spending more time in Europe (we were thisclose to doing a year in Dublin after this), but we finally came to the conclusion that we will be returning to the Bay Area.

There is a lot we are looking forward to moving back — being close to family, especially (this was the biggest motivator in our decision to move back). There is also a lot we are going to have to adjust to again when we transition back to the states. (Driving, UGH.) There is still a large part of me that wants to stay in Europe indefinitely. Honestly, if we weren’t close with our families or if they were more spread out geographically, we probably would have stayed.

Right now we’re focusing on enjoying our last seven-ish months in Europe and slowly working through the logistics of moving back to the states. But consider this your final warning — we have a limited amount of time left here (and 7 more trips already booked…) so if you want to come and visit us, your window is closing soon!