Holidays / Life Abroad

Embracing the Gezellig

November 10, 2017

The dark season has started here in Amsterdam, and more days than not, it’s grey, cold, and very dim. The sun doesn’t come up until almost 8am and sets before 5pm now, and it won’t be long until it’s still middle-of-the-night dark at 8am with the light starting to disappear at three in the afternoon.

Getting used to the lack of daylight in winter (and abundance of it in the summer) was one of the biggest adjustments of living here. It’s easy to succumb to the winter blues when the sun is only visible for a couple hours each day, if at all. Rather than curse the darkness, though, I have decided to embrace the coziness of the season and celebrate the Dutch idea of “gezelligheid.” Gezelligheid is sort of the Dutch version of the Danish Hygge, which celebrates all things cozy, pleasant, and generally warm.

Here’s what I’m planning on doing this season to make our days as “gezellig” and enjoyable as possible:

  • Burning candles everyday. As soon as we get up and head downstairs, we turn on all the lights and light the candles on the dining table. If I forget, Prim always makes sure to remind me to “turn the candles on.”
  • Bundling up in warm clothes for our weekly trip to our favorite local bakery. We buy a big loaf of freshly-baked sourdough and often will pick up a little treat like a still-warm croissant or cheesy baguette to enjoy in the afternoon after naptime.
  • Dressing in soft, comfortable clothes when we’re just hanging at home during the day. We run the heat, but this old Dutch house is always a little drafty, so I make sure we’re all cozied up in thick socks and big, soft sweatshirts.
  • Relaxing my “No TV” policy a bit. So much time indoors inevitably results in a few days that call for A Charlie Brown Christmas or an episode of Puffin Rock while Lark naps.
  • Rather than taking a shower, I will take a bath on some nights, which is ideal for unwinding and warming up before bed. I light a few candles, throw in some bath salts, and will listen to one of my favorite podcasts while I remember that last year while I did this, my big, Lark-laden belly stuck up out of the water.
  • I’m making big batches of comfort foods these days — simmering homemade chicken stock for batches of risotto or minestrone, and planning on other favorites like beef stew and spaghetti with meatballs.
  • Big cups of hot coffee are making these cold, gray mornings bearable, especially when they’re of this delicious variety.
  • And of course the evenings leading up to the kids bedtime (which can sometimes feel endless) are much more relaxing with a glass of wine (or really — champagne, which is always my preference).
  • If our board games weren’t locked away in storage back in California I would totally force KC to have a Scrabble night.

How are you staying cozy this winter?

Motherhood / Primrose / Toddler

Motherhood Update: Prim at 2 1/2 years

November 9, 2017

Saying: Prim’s language continues to surprise us. She was an early talker, and the things she comes up with is fascinating. She understands the concept of “after” now (“I want to listen to Prim’s music after Mama’s music.”) and is grasping daytime vs. nighttime (“It’s getting dark. I can’t wait to see the moon!”)  Her speech is very clear for her age, but I love how she mispronounces words like oatmeal (OH-pa-meel) and sprinkler (sprink-lee-er). She also regularly asks, “What you doin’, Mama?” and yells “You ok, Mama?” across the room when she hears me drop something.

Prim’s Favorite Things: I picked up an 8oz BKR bottle when we were in Copenhagen, and it has proven to be a solid purchase. Prim loves that it’s more of a “grown-up” water bottle, and it fits well in the diaper bag and holds a full 8oz of water. It has a smaller footprint than the 9oz Lifefactory bottles (which we use with a sippy top everyday at home) so it’s perfect for using on the go. I love that the BKR is glass, since I try to avoid plastic with the kids, especially for eating/drinking apparatus. (There are some good metal water bottle options as well, but I personally think metal makes water taste weird, so I tend to avoid it just due to my own preference.)

Reading: Pumpkin Eye (a holdover from Halloween), The Friendly Beasts, The Night Before Christmas.

Latest trick: Prim loves helping me cook in the kitchen. As soon as she sees me heading to the kitchen, she will yell, “I want to help!” and race over to her step stool and pull it up to the counter. If I’m making dinner I will try to give her something to “cut” (she uses a kids butter knife), like a broccoli stem I’ll be discarding. Baking is much more of a “team activity,” and she will regularly help me scoop, dump, and stir. It does generally result in at least one ingredient getting messed up, but coming from a big Italian family with strong cooking roots, I’m thrilled that she’s taking an early interest in the culinary arts. (Our recent baking favorites include these pumpkin muffins and applesauce muffins.)

Favorite toys: Prim is very into “building towers” with her Legos and lining up her beloved Gruffalo blocks. She continues to be smitten with her “babies” and regularly puts them “down for a rest” or sets them up for tummy time.

Sweetest things: Prim is so sweet and considerate with Lark. She is very good at including Lark in her play, handing her toys (“Here you go, Lark!”) and looking out for her (“Larky needs some water!”) Two-and-a-half is certainly not without its challenges (Prim has discovered the concept of asking for “something else” and has made it her current mantra), but with her newfound language skills she is also readily asking us to be involved in whatever she’s doing (“You want to build a tower with me, Mama?” “You want some tea, Daddy?” “Here, you want to hold little baby, Larky?”) Hearing her sweet, inclusive requests is definitely one of the high points of this age.

Favorite thing about this age: Prim has started making up little songs and singing about what she’s doing. I know that she gets this from me (I am totally guilty of making up silly songs and singing about anything and everything). Hearing what her little mind comes up with is so hilarious and adorable.

Motherhood / Personal / Stay Fit

Getting My Strength (and Body) Back

November 8, 2017

^^ Ancient Bar Method socks and hella-old Lulus still going strong ^^

I’m going to be honest here — I did not want to write this post. In fact, I actually wrote a draft of this a few weeks ago and didn’t end up hitting “publish.” The whole “post-baby body” discussion is tricky and very personal. After having two babies less than two years apart and failing to really get back into a workout rhythm between the two, I decided to get serious about regaining my pre-baby strength. Yes, part of this is about vanity — I do “want my body back” (I have been pregnant or breastfeeding now for over 3 years straight, sooo… yeah. I would like to reclaim at least some small part of myself — though I think this is bigger discussion which deserves its own post on another day); but more than that, I want to feel strong and healthy and keep my back in shape.

Those of you who know me or who have been reading the blog for a bit, already know that I have a bad back. I had surgery 14 years ago but have continued to live with severe restrictions and occasional bouts of awful pain.

After having Prim I never really got back into a good workout rhythm. I had a new baby and went back to work and then moved across the world to Amsterdam and promptly got pregnant again… All of which are reasonable excuses for not exercising — but overall it wasn’t a good thing for my back or health. After having Lark I started to realize how much strength I had really lost. I could feel my lack of core stability every time I lifted the girls, and started to feel the familiar ache of constant pain beginning in my lower back. Having been through 9 months of excruciating pain prior to my surgery 14 years ago, I now live in constant fear of it returning. Any twinge makes my heart stop; any bout of pain sets me into a minor panic.

I finally decided that I needed to commit to myself to get my body and core back in shape. Yes, it is partially to (hopefully) rid myself of the last ten pounds of baby weight which are clinging to me like I’m a life boat on the Titanic, but it is mostly so I can live my life without pain. (And let me tell you — avoidance of chronic pain is an amazing motivator.)

After hearing rave reviews from my sister about this website specializing in diastasis-safe, post-pregnancy workouts, I decided to sign up for the Birth to Fit Mum 12-week program. Even though I didn’t have diastasis recti, my abs were still severely compromised by my two back-to-back pregnancies, so a lot of regular ab work was too intense for me.

In case you’re curious, or maybe a postpartum mama yourself looking for exercises to do at home, I thought I would write out my current routine and link to the exercises. I try to do all of this four times a week, and sometimes add a fifth day where I do a shorter Bar Method workout (usually 45 minutes). Bar Method Online has a lot of different options — targeted and full-body workouts in 20, 30, 45, and 60 minute sessions with prenatal, beginner, mixed, and accelerated level options.

I start with 60 minutes of accelerated or mixed-level Bar Method and then go through some variation of the following exercises three times afterwards (it takes about 20 minutes):

I finish with the Bar Method final stretch sequence.

Some of the above exercises change every 3 weeks, as they are part of the Birth to Fit Mum 12 week program, which works through four progressive strength sequences across the 12 weeks. I specifically added the curl up, bird dog, and planks due to my bad back. These are the “Big 3” exercises for back pain, recommended by Stuart McGill, a renowned spine surgeon.

After completing the 12 week Birth to Fit Mum program and adding Bar Method for the last 7 weeks, my back pain has disappeared and my core is so much stronger. While I am (yes, vainly) waiting for the last few pounds to disappear, I’m trying to be patient and remember that the way I feel is good enough reason to continue to work out right now and that the last of the weight will come off eventually. I mean, honestly, 12 weeks ago I was struggling to get through a 30-second plank on my knees; now I can power through a 2-minute plank on my toes, no problem.

If you are a mama or mama-to-be who is looking for safe pregnancy or postnatal workout options — especially ones you can do at home, Bar Method Online and these pregnancy/postnatal workouts are awesome. The Pregnancy Exercise website has specific programs for during pregnancy, post-birth (the Birth to Fit Mum program I started with), and beyond. I have now moved on to the Super Fit Mum program, which despite its hokey name, is quite a good workout for strength-building.

If you have any questions about either of the programs I’m using (which are not sponsored in any way, by the way!) feel free to leave me a comment or send me a message.

Life Abroad / Motherhood / Travel

Our Trip to Copenhagen

October 23, 2017

As I mentioned in the last post, KC has been traveling for work a bunch lately. Normally he’s gone for 4-5 nights and then returns for the weekend, but since he had back-to-back work weeks in Dublin, he opted to just stay through this past weekend, which meant I was facing 13 solo bedtime routines with the girls while he was gone (because really, isn’t that always the most exhausting part of the day?) and was really not looking forward to two straight weeks of solo-parenting.

I happened to get a home exchange request for part of the period when KC would be gone, and I was lamenting that it seemed like an awesome opportunity and was bummed that we couldn’t take advantage of it. KC immediately chimed in, “Well you could just go,” which, while true, is a bit tricky with both kids and just one me (just navigating the airport with both kids and all the stuff we have to bring on our trips would be near-impossible for just one person). I thought about it for awhile and then thought I would see if another stay-at-home mama friend would want to join along with her 2 year old. We spend a lot of time together already (Prim and her little one are best buds these days) and I know she’s generally down for an adventure, so I thought it might be a good option. She jumped at the chance to get out of town and we set our plans, buying our tickets less than two weeks before our departure date.

We were in Copenhagen for 5 days, and wandered through the city with our three girls, all under the age of 2 1/2. We weathered flight delays coming and going (both times while on the plane) and somehow managed to navigate two airports and an entire city without losing any luggage, children, or our minds.

^^ Don’t mind the caution tape in that picture. I’m sure everything is fine. #goodparenting  And really, looking back on the trip, I have to say how proud I am of these little ones of ours. They are seriously veteran travelers now and go with the flow better than I could ever expect a baby and two toddlers to. Being stuck in a plane seat or stroller, or confined to a restaurant chair is not easy for wiggly two year olds and a newly-mobile 8 month old, but these ladies weathered the challenges like pros.  We did opt to have some slow days so that the kids could nap and sought out activities where they could run around and stretch their little legs. And, honestly, we didn’t see nearly as much as I would hope to see of Copenhagen on our trip (I mean, this is where Mikeller is from — so many more beers to drink! So many awesome restaurants to try!) but we still did a lot and I’m so glad we made the trip.  And yes, of course the kids had their moments where they were just over it, but luckily those were few and far between. (And honestly, sometimes those moments make for the most memorable photos after the fact.) ^^ This wasn’t actually a meltdown, just a point where Prim decided she simply couldn’t carry on and laid down on the ground. Sometimes, as a two year old, this is the only way to assert yourself.  Copenhagen, you were so charming. I can’t wait to visit you again someday!

Baby / Lark / Motherhood

Motherhood Update: Lark at 8 months

October 21, 2017

Lark hit 8 months on the 16th, but we were traveling in Copenhagen at the time so this update is a little late. Here’s a picture of her tearing into some pizza during our trip.

Sleeping: Lark is now sleeping through the night for 12 hour stretches pretty consistently. I would say she slept through the night about 75-80% of last month, which is so amazing. Prim didn’t sleep through the night like this until she was 11 months, so I’m super pumped about this development. I’m sure we will have random nights where travel or teething get in the way, but just the fact that she’s managing to sleep this long so much earlier than Prim did is a freaking godsend.

Eating: Lark is now diving into eating solids with gusto. She was pretty lukewarm about the whole experience when we started, but she’s now eating about as much as Prim did at this age (ahem, which was A LOT). She still prefers to feed herself, but will allow me to spoonfeed her occasionally, especially if it’s yogurt (both she and Prim from the beginning have been head-over-heels for plain yogurt).

Lifesavers: We recently purchased a new baby carrier, which so far has been awesome. We have had the Beco Gemini for awhile now, but one of the snaps keeps popping, which was driving me CRAZY. We have also randomly been toting Prim around in the carrier when we’re on vacation and she’s ready to pass out and take a nap, and the Gemini’s narrower seat isn’t ideal for carrying a 28lb toddler. I happened to connect with a woman here in Amsterdam who was selling some carriers for wholesale (she had started a babywearing website that she was shutting down) so we were able to purchase the organic version of the Beco Soleil for a steal. So far the carrier has been awesome — it’s not as bulky as the Gemini and has a much wider seat; plus I’m totally into the detachable pocket, which makes accessing necessities like my wallet and keys way easier while babywearing.

Latest trick: Lark is fulling creeping her way around the floor now and can control where she goes. This is especially fun since her favorite things at the moment are the antique fireplace, DVD player, printer, and Prim’s potty.

Sweetest things: Lark is now waving, which is so so sweet. KC has been traveling a lot for work lately, and when we facetime him she gets so excited to see his face and will start waving and babbling (KC is convinced she’s saying “Dada,” but it’s completely wishful thinking on his part.)

Favorite thing about this age: Lark has reached the separation anxiety/stranger danger phase, and while I don’t love either of those milestones, it’s really sweet to see how attached she is to her “people” and will calm down immediately when one of us picks her up.