Fall / Gluten-Free / Personal / Stay Healthy / Sweet / Vegan / Vegetarian

This Was Not the Plan

September 18, 2017

The past few days have been a little trying. I woke up on Friday morning in a bad mood. There wasn’t any real reason for it (well, the perpetual sleep deprivation might have something to do with it), but nevertheless, there it was. Later that morning I managed to lock myself and the girls out of the house after Prim’s dance class; and then naptime, the only time I get to myself during the day, fell apart royally.

Most days during the week I use naptime as my workout hour, so it’s not even like I’m sitting back watching TV and shoving cookies into my face (which is what I would really rather be doing). On Friday though, my 60-80 minute workout turned into a 3-hour ordeal, due to the fact that I was running up the stairs to deal with one or two screaming children every 10-15 minutes. I finally had to pull Lark out of the room and have her sleep in the guest room, which was frustrating since I just transitioned her into sleeping in the girls’ room during naptime. This of course did not deter Prim, who continued to scream and carry on until I finally pulled her out of the room, giving up on her taking a nap altogether. I ended up sticking her in front of Puffin Rock on the iPad so I could finish my workout, but since I really try to limit her screen time (when we’re not traveling) I felt like a complete failure.

On Saturday I got my hair cut for the first time in nine months. I had previously vowed never to have my hair cut in Europe, having been warned by numerous expats (and being a person with eyes who has seen Euro-hair). However, my hair was last cut in mid-December and our next trip back to the US is set for mid-March next year, so that means I would have had to go another six months without a cut. After seeing a friend’s cute cut, I decided to brave it and came to the salon armed with pictures of multiple mid-length hairstyles with long layers. What I got was… not exactly that. In fact, I was so unhappy with it I ended up chopping somewhere between four and six inches off by myself the next day. I now think it looks ok, so whatever. And it’s just hair. I’m actually not really someone who gets hung up on bad haircuts because my hair grows pretty fast, but I have to admit that the whole ordeal was fairly annoying.

This weekend we also had two nights where the girls were up for two hours in the middle of the night. Being up from 3-5am on two occasions in the same week is not my idea of fun. (This is also why I am in pajamas and no makeup in the photos above. No sleep = no effort to look presentable.)

Oh yeah, and my phone fell out of my pocket while I was riding my bike and the screen got smashed. (Like, suuuper smashed.)

So this morning I decided to reset. KC is working late tonight and will be in Dublin the rest of the week, so I am on my own with these two little ladies. This morning I made applesauce from the apples that were about to turn AND I laid down the law at naptime and managed to get two hours to myself as a result. Right now I’ve got applesauce muffins in the oven and the apartment smells amazingly fall-like as a result.

This week is going to be better. Let’s go, Monday. We got this.

Quick No-Sugar Applesauce

makes 3-4 cups

  • apples, peeled and diced (I used 5 Jonagold that were about to turn)
  • 2 thin slices of lemon or juice from half a lemon
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • small pinch of salt
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  1. Combine everything in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Cover, lower heat and let simmer for 20 minutes. If you like a thicker applesauce, remove cover and simmer up to another 10 minutes.
  2. Remove the lemon slices, then mash with a potato masher, fork, or run a hand blender through everything until the desired consistency is reached.
  3. Store in the fridge.

Baby / Lark / Motherhood

Motherhood Update: Lark at 7 months

September 16, 2017

Sleeping: I finally managed to get Prim’s nap to coincide with Lark’s second nap of that day AND managed to get them down together in the same room. They had actually been napping roughly at the same time most days, but I had Lark sleeping in the guest room because Prim takes a while to wind down for naptime, generally. (My rule for Prim right now is that she doesn’t have to sleep, but she does need to relax and be quiet.) Prim still falls asleep most days, so I actually get 1-2 hours of time by myself, which as any mom will tell you — feels like a freaking VACATION. Of course, because they’re in the same room and on the same nap schedule, the days when naptime falls apart, it’s reallllly falls apart. Motherhood sure does have a way of making sure you don’t pat yourself on the back too quickly!

The world’s largest high chair in Budapest.

Eating: Lark started solids at 6 months, and so far is a totally different eater than Prim was at this age. Prim was pretty interested in eating right off the bat and loved just about anything I gave her. Lark is proving to be a bit more discerning in her tastes and so far is not very fond of being spoonfed. She prefers to feed herself, which, while somewhat convenient, is not really super effective at this age. I started Prim on finger foods pretty early on to build her dexterity, but also spoonfed her for most meals as well. Brainstorming foods that I can turn into finger foods for Lark that are easy for a 6/7 month old to grab and eat without choking herself is a bit tricky, but we’re muddling through together. And as for her pickiness, I am approaching her meals the same way I approach Prim’s — she eats what we eat (to the extent possible) and there are no alternatives.

Lifesavers: It’s gotten pretty chilly in Amsterdam over the past couple of weeks (summer is officially over here, I’m afraid) and nights in particular get cold upstairs. The Puckababy sleep sack has been a lifesaver in this old, Dutch house (because no matter how much we crank the heat, the bedrooms seem to perpetually stay at 65 degrees or lower). We purchased this one for Prim last winter, which Lark will start using once she grows out of the newborn size. I love that it’s good for year-round use, even in the crazy climate of Amsterdam.

Latest trick: Lark has entered the phase where she’s on the move, but has very little control over where she’s going. She often ends up stuck underneath the couch and alerts us to her predicament by screaming like she’s falling into a sinkhole.

Sweetest things: Lark is readily babbling and seems to be trying to keep up with the speech of her very chatty older sister. She’s making more and more sounds these days, and I’ll often find Prim laying on a blanket with her with the two of them babbling back and forth. Prim is already trying to involve Lark into her imaginative play and Lark readily joins in to the extent she can, happily squealing and babbling. I love that these two chatterboxes are already entertaining each other.

Just having a little Lion King moment at one of the churches we visited on vacation.

Favorite thing about this age: Lark is learning how to get herself back to sleep more and more each week. Now on the random nights when Prim has trouble winding down and going to sleep and we have to re-enter the room, she will often open her eyes to peer at us dealing with her big sister and then just roll over and go back to sleep. That milestone is all the praise hands emojis, guys.

Budget-Friendly Weekend Fun / Family Fun / Life Abroad / Travel

How We Travel on a Budget

September 11, 2017

As you know, we have been traveling a lot recently, trying to take advantage of our current living situation by visiting many of the countries that are within arm’s reach of the Netherlands. I wanted to take a minute to explain how we do this on a budget.

While it may look like we’re rolling in dough over here, galavanting all over Europe, we actually took a pretty big pay cut to come to the Netherlands. I gave up my job when we moved and KC’s salary was adjusted to reflect Amsterdam’s lower cost of living, so we are definitely not in a position to be throwing money around on lavish vacations.KC and I had talked extensively about traveling while we were abroad and trying to really maximize our time while overseas. Unfortunately, when we started planning out trips for this year and working out the total cost, we were running into a huge hurdle: our “holidays” were killing us financially. KC and I are by no means financially reckless, so we opted to cut down the number of trips we were going to take.

Even reducing our vacation days though, I was realizing just how expensive these trips were going to be. Not only that, but traveling with two little ones meant we couldn’t book a cheap hotel room or studio — we had to book something with at least one bedroom (and ideally two). Furthermore, packing a major city into just a few days wasn’t really an option, as the kids can realistically only be subjected to so much sightseeing in one day, so we were going to have to take longer trips — spending more time in each city.

After stressing out over this and wondering whether we should just abandon most of our travel plans, I came across the website homeexchange.com. I poked around on the site and thought it might be a good option for us, but the site only allows you to actually contact other members by becoming a member yourself. I hemmed and hawed over it and finally brought it up to KC. I reasoned that the yearly fee of €130 would be worth if even if we only managed to get one night out of the membership, so we decided to bite the bullet and join.

I set up our profile one night and went to bed (as the setup took my entire evening — it was time-consuming!) By the next day I already had multiple requests for exchanges.That €130 membership fee has been some of the very best money we’ve spent this year. Not only have we booked three trips via exchanges for this year, we are in the process of potentially booking another five before we return to the states next year.

In case you’re curious, the exchanges are all free — you just pay the membership fee up front to gain access to to the messaging system which allows you to contact the other members on the site. We set up exchanges with other people like us — usually families with young children. It’s great because they already often have a toddler bed for Prim and/or a crib for Lark, plus lots of toys to keep the girls occupied.This post isn’t sponsored or anything, I just thought I would post about our experience because Home Exchange has been such a great options for us. I also think it’s important to be somewhat candid about our life on the blog, and while we are certainly having amazing adventures traveling Europe during this once-in-a-lifetime experience, it’s not because we’re making Bay Area tech salaries over here and have money to burn.

The service has also been especially awesome for us as all of the exchanges we have booked have been based on requests from other people (we’ve been members for 4 months and have gotten a whopping 84 requests for exchanges so far!) We are lucky in that we get a TON of requests on the site, so we have a lot of options; and it has taken so much of the stress of deciding where to travel off our (really MY) plate.

If you have any questions about our home exchanges feel free to leave a comment or message me — I’m happy to talk more about our experience with the site and discuss more of the specifics if you’re interested!

Motherhood / Primrose / Toddler

Motherhood Update: Prim at 28 months

September 10, 2017

Prim on vacation: going and going and going until she literally just passes out on KC in 3 minutes flat.

Saying: Prim is figuring out space and time words now, so there’s a lot of descriptive sentences happening — like “Prim read the Gruffalo book over there next to the shelf!” and “Prim have raisin toast and Rice Krispies for breakfast yesterday.”

Prim’s Favorite Things: My parents got Prim a Finding Dory backpack as a gift during their last visit to Amsterdam, which she loves. She packs up all her special things when we travel and brings it onto the plane. (It’s usually full of Gruffalo blocks, a wooden bracelet and necklace, and her babies.)

Reading: The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry and the Big Hungry BearPierre: A Cautionary Tale in Five Chapters and a PrologueA Sick Day for Amos McGeeTree; and The Gruffalo.

Latest trick: Prim is fully potty trained now, including naps and nighttime. We do still put her in a diaper at night, but she really doesn’t need it (a little insurance never hurt anyone though!)

Favorite toys: Prim is very into riding her “tiger bike,” which is a wooden ride-on toy I scored on an Amsterdam resale site for a whopping 2 euros (it’s actually this one without the cushion). That thing even managed to survive a tumble down the stairs (don’t ask), so it’s pretty dang sturdy!

Sweetest things: Prim continues to be infatuated with Lark and is still so excited to be sharing a room with her. Pretty much every night when we head upstairs to begin the bedtime routine, she will excitedly tell us “Larky sleep in your room!” (your room = Prim’s room). We have also streamlined the bedtime routine so that Prim and Lark take a bath together before bed. This not only helps us time-wise, it has also taken away some of the bedtime resistance we’ve been getting from Prim. She will hop into the bathroom, yelling “Prim take a bath with Larky!” And while getting Prim to settle in bed after stories and songs used to take ages, I have learned that she will quiet down much more willingly if I tell her she needs to be quiet in bed while Lark nurses. I honestly don’t know what I did to get this amazingly sweet relationship between these girls, but man, it is one of my most favorite things about being a mama.

Favorite thing about this age: Prim’s speech is very advanced for her age, but even so, she’s clearly still struggling to keep her mouth up with the pace of her brain. She’s started babbling again, interspersing many of the words she knows with gibberish. She often launches into these diatribes when KC gets home from work or while we’re all sitting down at dinner, as though she wants to be included in all the grown up conversation and fill everybody in on how her day went.

Family Fun / Life Abroad / Travel

Our Trip to Budapest

September 4, 2017

We returned from Budapest last Tuesday evening and I feel like I’m just starting to get back in the swing of things here in Amsterdam. As much as I love traveling, sometimes I feel like I need a vacation after my vacation — one that only involves sleeping and binge-watching TV (remember the days before kids when this was a possibility?? What a dream.)

Budapest was amazing and actually reminded me a lot of my beloved Oakland in many ways. I think it’s one of those cities that I could live in and would just grow to love more and more as time passed.  We spent eight days in Budapest and headed out to explore as soon as we arrived. Wandering around a new city is one of my favorite things to do while on vacation. Seeing the architecture and little cafes tucked into hidden alleyways — it’s the best.  When we were in Madrid we started off our trip by returning to the apartment in the middle of the day with the intention of letting the kids nap. After two days in a row of them refusing to nap while back at the house though, we just decided to start staying out during the day. Lark still naps well on the go, and Prim (our go-go-go party girl that she is) will literally be at 100% and then crash in the stroller or on KC over the course of a matter of minutes when she finally runs out of steam. She usually conks out for about 30 minutes and then is ready and raring to go again. (Luckily she is a good sleeper at night!)  Prim finds the fun pretty much wherever we are. I love that about her. We spent our week in Budapest wandering all over the city (I was oohing and aahing over the architecture, of course).  I mean, come on. Don’t you want to just wander those streets forever? Totally. As I mentioned in my Madrid post earlier, we did have an afternoon where we were tired and the kids were falling apart. KC was losing his patience and I was frustrated and the kids were coming apart at the seams and I had one of those moments where I wanted to just be back in Amsterdam and not dealing with “ALL THIS SH**” as my not-so-cool and composed brain puts it. But luckily within 20 minutes or so both kids fell asleep (on each of us, of course) so we wandered into one of the Ruin Bars and each had a very cold and very large beer.

It’s amazing what 20 minutes and a cold beer will do for your sanity. I was dying to see the inside of the amazing Parliament building, but when KC and I looked at tickets we realized that you had to take a 50-minute tour of the building in order to see it (there were no self-guided options). While this is something I would be all over if we were traveling without kids, with Prim and Lark in tow we determined that we were better off saving our money (and probably our sanity) and avoiding that. While we do stretch the kids on vacation, upending their schedules and forcing them into long days exploring and being patient in restaurants, we also recognize that these little ones have limits and it’s best if we accept the fact that we’re not always going to be able to do everything we want to do while traveling with them. We did see the Shoes on the Danube memorial during a rare moment when both kids happened to be sleeping. I was wearing Lark and KC had Prim on his back in the carrier, and even though it was around 90 degrees, we braved the direct sun so we could see the monument.

I have seen Holocaust memorials before and been to concentration camps, and I’m still always struck by how emotional seeing these things are. We walked down the row of shoes and I immediately saw a pair of child’s shoes among the others. All I could think of was how someone — a child’s mother or father, most likely — had to bend down and remove their child’s shoes knowing that they were both going to die. Even writing this out now is heartbreaking. There are no words to describe that kind of devastation. The current political climate in the US especially necessitates that we remember these horrific acts. This all happened within the modern era. Now is the time to brush up on your history, people.  Prim is becoming quite the savvy little traveler, and sometimes I look at her and I swear that she’s two going on sixteen. In her two short years she’s been to more places than I had been when I finished college, which is pretty crazy to think about.  And I have breastfed this little peanut in so many unusual and interesting places — including the Museo Nacional and Templo de Debod in Madrid, Parc de la Cuitadella in Barcelona, just outside Matyas Templom and at the baths in Budapest, and in line (literally shoulder to shoulder with a bunch of strangers) at the Frankfurt airport while waiting to be rebooked because our flight back to SF was canceled — ugh.

She will never know (or probably care) that she was nursed all over Europe, but these are some memories I’ll definitely hold tightly to. She’s truly my international baby.  We rode the cog-wheel train and children’s railway, and Prim’s push-puppy came along for the ride. We found that dog at a toy store in Budapest and Prim insisted on pushing it all over the city — literally everywhere. That poor puppy is so worn just from his few days of seeing the city, but man does Prim love that thing. And it was a great way to keep her moving when she wasn’t in the stroller.  We had a couple of really hot days in Budapest, so on one of them we headed to Margaret Island and ended up at the Palatinus Baths. Prim had a blast running through the kiddie pools and going down the little slides. I swear this girl has no fear — clearly I need to get her into swimming lessons ASAP, given how much she loves the water. You were so dreamy, Budapest! I hope we get to come back again someday soon.