DIY Halloween costume: Toddler Cleopatra

As a girl who went trick-or-treating every year while I was growing up, I really miss Halloween. That’s because Halloween is a non-event in the Netherlands. Though it’s gaining popularity, especially in cities like Amsterdam with large international communities, Halloween events are few and hard to find.

If you’re lucky enough to find a Halloween party, people rarely go all out to dress up. Remember my Angry Birds maternity Halloween costume? I wore that to an expat Halloween party where, like, four people wore something vaguely resembling a costume. Pfff.

When our babysitting coop announced a Halloween meetup, I decided to just go for it and make Tala a DIY Halloween costume. And why stop at there when Mama and Papa could wear matching costumes too?

So, here’s a family Halloween costume idea that reflects the true power relationships in our family: Cleopatra and her slaves.

Cleopatra costume toddler and family

Because, truth is, in a household with a toddler, the toddler rules!

The idea started with Tala’s hair. I racked my brain for a fictional character with black hair and blunt bangs, who could come with a couple of matching characters. Then it hit me: Cleopatra.

Halloween costume inspiration Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra

I must’ve spent hours poring over pictures of Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra. With 65 costume changes throughout this ruinously expensive 60s film, there was a lot of inspiration! Eventually I said, “Well, eff the first look, what mother on earth has time for that?!” and decided that Tala’s Cleopatra DIY Halloween costume would be inspired by elements from the second and third looks pictured here.

Here’s how it turned out.

Cleopatra DIY costume toddler

Gotta tip my hat to DIY bloggers here, because taking step-by-step pictures and a final, decent picture for a DIY blog post is hard. Believe me, I tried—and failed miserably.

Halloween costume Cleopatra toddler DIY

What I can do, however, is just give you a quick run-down of what I used and how I did it. Oh, and show you more pictures of Toddler Cleopatra, of course!

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Birthday # 33

Last weekend I turned the ripe old age of 33. Yay!

I’m not the type to throw a big birthday party. I did when I turned 21, and I had a smallish dinner out with friends when we first moved to Amsterdam. But nothing makes me happier than to curl up in a cozy, quiet little bubble of love with Marlon and Tala. Over the years, Marlon has become such an expert at making me feel cherished that I hardly feel the need to seek birthday adoration from other people.

I woke up to the smell of freshly brewed coffee and the sight of this beautiful chocolate ganache cake from Patisserie Holtkamp. Holtkamp is known for the best cakes in Amsterdam, and supplies their desserts to some of my favorite cafes. Tip: call ahead to order a birthday cake, because the ones in the bakery go fast!

Patisserie Holtkamp Amsterdam chocolate cake

Yes, we breakfasted on chocolate cake. And yes, Tala had some too.

Tala and chocolate cake

Then it was time to address the elephant in the room, which you might have seen on Instagram.

Giant birthday present for my 33rd

Few things can awaken your inner child like seeing a giant birthday present sitting in your living room. If you want to make someone feel younger, not older, on their birthday, this is definitely how you should do it. So let’s unwrap it, shall we?

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Cooking class in Tuscany: Lessons from an Italian kitchen

To end our Tuscan trip, I had planned a special treat for Marlon: a one-day cooking class in Tuscany, in a real Italian kitchen.

Cooking lesson in Tuscany

It’s no secret that in our home, Marlon rules the kitchen and I am mostly useless merely his lowly assistant. I knew he would love learning the secrets of a real Italian kitchen hands-on, from a real Italian mama. I may be bad at cooking, but I’m great at finding things online! So, after searching for a one-day class that would fit our schedule and budget, I found Max&Me: Tuscany Cooking, run by Eugenia and Massimo from their home in Sesto Fiorentino near Florence.

The plan was for me to babysit Tala in Eugenia’s lush herb garden—which by the way contains the happiest, healthiest rosemary I’ve ever seen in someone’s home—and keep her entertained…

Cooking class in Tuscany Tala in the herb garden

not to mention happily fed with the occasional snack of prosciutto…

Tala eating prosciutto

while Eugenia and Marlon worked on our four-course lunch.

Cooking lesson in Tuscany near Florence

And, boy, did Marlon work. “I’m a little scared of her,” he whispered to me before I took Tala out for a walk. Well, if there’s anyone who can intimidate a big man like this, it’s an Italian mama who is the queen of her kitchen! You should have seen his face when she told him that the onions he’d been furiously dicing just weren’t diced finely enough.

But that’s precisely the great thing about doing a cooking class like this. While Eugenia has generously made her recipes available on her blog, there’s no substitute for hands-on learning. How a ball of pasta dough feels in your hands when it’s just right; how long to let the flavor of a ragu develop (or even what “fully developed” flavor is); what the freshest, top-quality ingredients really taste like; the little hacks and tricks picked up over a lifetime of cooking—these are things you just can’t pick up from a Youtube video or blog post.

I like to think Marlon absorbed some of Eugenia’s personal standards and stories that day. All of it just inspired him to cook even more. Some of the techniques he learned have found their way into the other things he makes at home, even dishes like Indian curry or Filipino kaldereta.

Oh, and our onions are really, really finely diced now. They’re practically invisible.

But enough about that. You want to see the food, right?

Cooking lesson in Tuscany roast pork with guanciale and potatoes

Let’s begin. Buon appetito!

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Life outside the semicircle

I moved abroad seven years ago, after Marlon and I were married. In those seven years, I’ve missed many things from abundant sunshine and ripe mangoes, to good restaurants and sharing wardrobes with my mom and sister. But the biggest hole in my heart was the one I made when I left the Ateneo Chamber Singers.

With ACS in Riga

Before the competition in Riga

Since I left, my ACS family—because that’s what it is, really, a family—has changed. Many of my closest friends have moved overseas and moved on to other things, replaced by many people I don’t know very well. Still, I jumped at the chance to be reunited with them in Vienna and Riga. Sitting in the audience, face to face with what I had given up to pursue this life, I felt quite confronted—by loss, reality, I don’t know what to call it. It’s more than nostalgia, and more than I could ever recreate by joining another choir or making new friends.

Ateneo Chamber Singers at the World Choir Games Riga 2014

Sitting in the audience at the World Choir Games

I wondered why I was sitting outside the semicircle, listening to beauty instead of creating it. I wondered why I wasn’t singing anymore. I wondered: what is my song? What am I an instrument of? Listening to my friends’ voices soaring, I wondered if I had maybe, somehow, over the years, lost the part of me that could soar. (There are very few experiences that allow one to soar. So if you find one, seize it.)

ACS wins Musica Sacra at the World Choir Games

Victory!

Yes, it was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster— a contemplative, almost spiritual experience. The sound of ACS singing tends to do that to people. After all that wondering (and quite a few tears), the answers came. There were no words, only pictures—images of everything I love about living here.

ACS in Riga

I’ve been away from home a long time. I don’t hide from the sun anymore.

Life requires different things of us at different times. Once it demanded me to let my voice soar in packed churches and concert halls, together with the voices of friends I knew so well that I literally knew when they would breathe. Now life asks me to hush and sing softly to my baby in the silence of her room, for an audience of one.

Seeing what I’ve been missing out on was confronting for me. But confronting the result of my choices made me realize that that’s what being an adult is all about. We live with the choices we make; we make the most of them; and we make a life we love out of them.

With Tala and Marlon at the World Choir Games

Keeping Tala quiet (and occupied) during the competition

So this is what my life as a choir groupie was like. It inspired me to return to my “real” life—to Marlon, Tala, Amsterdam, Europe—with a renewed commitment to what I’ve chosen, and a deeper determination to make it truly worth what I’ve given up.

Related reading: For an insider’s perspective, check out this blog post by ACS alto Trina Belamide.

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Happy Father’s Day!

Fathers Day 2014

Happy Father’s Day to all the amazing dads out there!

Marlon is in Stockholm for a speaking engagement, and we started missing him even before he left (yes, that’s possible). He hasn’t had to be away for more than five or six days for work, but it’s still difficult when he’s away. Even when it’s easy, it’s just… not as fun. I don’t know how the families whose dads travel frequently or are based abroad do it.

I’m lucky to have had a mom who was both mother and father to me, but this time of year I’m also filled with a nostalgia for something I never really had. It seems everyone is changing their Facebook profile photos to show fathers walking them down the aisle or playing the doting grandfather; in my photos, Dad is eternally young, and I’m still a chubby, curly-haired baby.

I guess by now you’ve seen Dove’s sniffle-inducing Father’s Day ad? It doesn’t have to be Father’s Day to make me grateful for Tala to have a chance at all of that. And isn’t that all parents want for their children—to give them something they never had?

Okay, enough sentimental jibber-jabber. I hope you’re showing the dads in your life how special they are today. Time to think up something fun for the dad in our life when he gets back from Stockholm!

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