Happy birthday, Mom

The two most important women in my life were born one after the other. Yesterday we celebrated Tala; today I celebrate my mom.

Mom and me in labor

One year ago, this was me in labor at home. My mom was right there, cradling my head in her lap and stroking my hair, being a mom at the moment I was about to become one. It wasn’t all beautiful and black-and-white; in the hospital I shouted “Don’t touch me!” at her when she tried to rearrange my legs on the bed.

But she was there all throughout my labor, swallowed her many anxieties and opinions (of which Marlon got an earful while I was knocked out on general anesthesia), and trusted me to do things my way at this pivotal moment in my life. Though she said she often felt useless, I didn’t need her to do anything except just be there. And she was.

After Marlon, she was the second person who got to hold Tala even before I did. I wouldn’t have chosen any differently.

Mom holding Tala at birth

The last year has made me understand my mom in a profound way. I wrote her a letter last Christmas saying, in about nine handwritten pages, something to that effect. Here’s an excerpt from that letter:

As a (new) parent, I am quickly learning that all parents are just doing the best we can with what we are given. You did spectacularly well with the situation life gave you. I don’t know how you did it, but I am so thankful that you did.

Looking at everything you did for Ate and me all by yourself, I don’t know if I could ever do the same. If Marlon and I are able to give Tala even half of what you were able to give Ate and me, I will be so happy and proud.

You and I may do the day-to-day things differently, but when it comes the big picture, you are my inspiration. Everything you have done for me shapes the way I am raising my daughter.

Happy birthday, Mom! I hope to always make you proud. I love you.

Party prep for the weekend

Tomorrow is Tala’s first birthday, and all I can say is: I’m so glad I live in a culture where the approach to birthday parties is practical and laid-back.

It’s a good way for me to ease into the world of kiddie birthday parties. I have quite a few friends with babies Tala’s age, and recently my Facebook feed has been a parade of glittery fairy costumes, elaborate theme parties and fancy home-baked birthday cakes. It’s a bit intimidating, but I have to remind myself that motherhood is not a competition, and the most important person in this equation is literally incapable of judgment.

Mama might not have a fat bank account or know how to bake, but she has pretty handwriting and is great at finding things on the Internet. That should count for something, right?

Babies and bacon!

Our plans are simple: we’ve invited friends to a “Babies & Bacon” birthday brunch for Tala at a neighborhood cafe. The cafe is very typical Dutch, so the process of “educating” them on the elements of what would be considered an American-style brunch—with bacon and Bloody Marys—has been… interesting. I’ve had to yield my ambitious plans of fluffy pancake stacks to the reality of flat, crispy Dutch pancakes; however, I’ve been assured there will be Mimosas, so I guess you win some, you lose some.

I’m off to run a few last-minute birthday errands, but I’ll be back next week with some snaps from Tala’s first birthday party. Wish me luck, and think a happy thought for Tala on her first birthday!

Tala’s first year in hairdos

My baby turns one year old this week, and there’s a storm of emotions brewing in me. I’ll write about all that later, when it’s a little quieter inside.

For now? To mark her first birthday, as my mom did with me, I’m planning to take Tala for her first haircut. And that makes me just want to write silly things about her hair.

1 Baby Mohawk by Melody Rae

Photo by Melody Rae.

At our 30-week ultrasound, the echographist made a most unusual pronouncement: “She has hair!”

“No, really?” I asked. “How can you tell?”

“See that fuzzy line on her head?” I squinted at the screen; indeed, there it was. “That’s hair.”

From the moment it popped up onscreen in that 30th week, it was clear that Tala’s hair would be a major presence in her life. Strangers, mostly mothers of bald Dutch babies, would stop in the street and exclaim over it, carpet fluff and snot would become entangled in it, and her mama—that’s me!—would spend many hours wrestling with her in many attempts to create cuteness out of the chaos. I’ve joked that Tala’s hair needs its own Instagram account, because it often seems to have a life of its own.

My daughter’s long black hair makes her unique. Someday, I’m going to have to explain why other girls are golden-haired and she isn’t, and tell her that even if she’s outnumbered by blondes, dark hair is beautiful too.

For now? I’m just going to have fun with it. As this post shows, that’s exactly what I’ve done in the first year of her life.

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Spring has sprung!

Spring is finally here!

After three winters in Amsterdam, my tropical self can now truly relate to the joy that comes with the return of sunshine, warmth and blue skies. The change of seasons creates a shared, unspoken feeling of celebration in the air, unlike any I’ve experienced back in the tropics. In the sun, everyone is happy and life starts looking a hundred times better.

To celebrate, we headed to the Amsterdamse Bos (or woods), a sprawling park straddling the cities of Amsterdam and Amstelveen. We hardly ever go to the Bos because it’s further down south, so it felt like going out of town.

Amsterdamse Bos spring lake

Three times the size of Central Park in New York, the Bos covers 1,000 hectares and includes lakes, ponds, walking and cycling trails, picnic and camping areas, farms, restaurants and cafes, even a nudist area!

With such a huge space to explore, we felt a bit lost and decided to head straight for the one place we knew exactly how to find: Boerderij Meerzicht. It’s an charming, incredibly kid-friendly pancake restaurant with a petting zoo and playground.

Boerderij Meerzicht sunny terrace

By the way, spring isn’t all picnics, tulips and sunshine. It also means frequent battles for a table on packed, busy terraces like these. Totally a first world problem.

Tala at Boerderij Meerzicht Amsterdamse Bos

We found a place in the sun and noshed on some quintessentially Dutch nibbles—bread, butter, sausages and Gouda cheese with cumin—while waiting for our pancakes. Tala is beginning to really love bread!

Boerderij Meerzicht bread and cheese

Traditional Dutch pancakes are the specialty at Boerderij Meerzicht, and the ones here are the best I’ve had in Amsterdam.

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Date night: House of Bols cocktail workshop

Paris was our Valentine weekend treat, but on Valentine’s Day, Marlon and I changed it up a bit. After years of staying in and ignoring this most commercial of holidays, we actually went out for a Valentine-themed date night.

Oh, stop cringing, themed dates don’t have to be cheesy. In fact, they can be fun—as we discovered when we did a Valentine cocktail workshop at The House of Bols: Cocktail and Genever Experience.

Amsterdam House of Bols Genever

Home to the world’s oldest distilled spirit brand, The House of Bols has been distilling liqueurs in Amsterdam since 1575. Its signature product is jenever,  a blend of distilled malt wine and juniper berries that is Holland’s national liquor and the predecessor of modern-day gin. The house brand Bols Genever (hello, gorgeous bottle!) is one of the first-ever cocktail liqueurs and dates all the way back to 1820.

Our evening started with a tour of the House of Bols Museum, which has won the Dutch Design Award for Best Exhibition and Experience. From elegantly calligraphed labels to its gleaming copper distillery, this smallish, cozy museum offers a sensory experience of Bols’ history and heritage.

Amsterdam House of Bols Museum

My favorite part of the museum was the room where we got to “taste” each of Bols’ 38 flavored liqueurs… with our noses. *sniff sniff* Such an unusual and fun experience!

Amsterdam House of Bols cocktail bar

The “museum” part of the visit ends when the “cocktail” part of it begins: with a cocktail at the Mirror Bar, which is included in the price of admission. I wish Bols had a standalone cocktail bar outside the museum—their menu features some truly fabulous cocktails!

Amsterdam House of Bols typical Dutch height

I just had to snap this picture because it is the perfect example of what I have to deal with as a 5’1″/152cm Filipina living among the tallest people on the planet.

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Paris shopping: Merci & Bonton

Do you sometimes get the feeling that you’re the last person on earth to do something or go somewhere? I had that feeling for the longest time about Santorini—as if everyone I know had been there except for me (and Marlon).  More recently, I’ve felt that about watching Frozen. 

This is also the feeling I’ve had about the iconic, supercool Paris lifestyle store Merci. As I write this post, I’m picturing readers out there who will scan the title, sigh and close my blog. “Not another Merci post, yawn.” Forgive me, supercool people! After this post, I will join your jaded ranks. For now, allow me to be a wide-eyed first-timer.

On my last afternoon in Paris, I met Judith for lunch and a stroll around the Marais, but mostly to pop my Merci cherry.

Merci Paris typography suitcases

After lunch at the Merci Cinema Cafe, we elbowed past tour groups of worshipful, black-clad, carefully Eurodressed Japanese tourists—no belt bags and safari vests here—to explore three floors of supercoolness for every aspect of life. I tried to take pictures of everything (not supercool, I know) because it’s just that kind of store: it makes you believe that acquiring these artfully curated and displayed goods will make you a supercool version of yourself.

Merci Paris home section

The basement is stocked with smaller design items for the home and kitchen, and is also wire cage lamp heaven.

Merci Paris cage wire lamps

I had such a hard time finding our bedroom cage lamps online. Apparently they’ve been hiding en masse at Merci all this time.

Merci Paris lightbulbs

Call me weird, but if I had to move back home to the Philippines tomorrow, I would find a way to hoard light bulbs. Yes, light bulbs. If I never have to see another fluorescent bulb in my life, I will be fairly happy. Merci has a great selection.

Merci Paris valises star print

So, valises are apparently a thing. “They’re all the rage in Paris!” Which is the kind of thing your most annoying aunt would say.

Merci Paris valises Liberty

I loved browsing the living and dining furniture on the third floor… it just made me dream.

Merci Paris living room furniture

And it made me realize I can achieve this nonchalantly distressed, thousand-Euro effect by letting Rogue attack an armchair for a few years. “They do this in Paris,” I’ll tell visitors with a casual wave of my hand.

Merci Paris antique armchair

Post-Merci, we walked a few doors down to Bonton, a truly gorgeous (and yes, supercool) children’s store.

Bonton Paris entrance

I told you valises are a thing!

Bonton Paris spring valises

I immediately fell in love with the gorgeous colors, natural fabrics and classic yet unfussy aesthetic. But with price tags ranging from €44 for a pair of cotton bloomers to over €90 for a baby cardigan, this newly blossomed love is destined to remain a long-distance affair. Thank goodness for the bazar (read: small and cheap, but still cute and fun things) in the basement.

Bonton Paris children's clothes spring

I wish I’d known in advance that Bonton also has a coiffeur. I would’ve booked an appointment for Tala and totally become that hateful mother who can’t shut up about her daughter’s first haircut in Paris.

Bonton Paris children's coiffeur

We capped our window-shop-walk with macarons at Pierre Herme, which has officially dethroned Laduree as my favorite Paris macaron. I mean, just look at them!

Pierre Herme macarons Paris

With unusual flavor combinations such as green tea and bourbon, white truffle and hazelnut, and pistachio, cinnamon and cherry, they taste even better than they look.

Macarons Pierre Herme Paris

 

I enjoyed my window-shop-walk around the Marais, and now feel a thousand times cooler… I hope you do too!

Paris museums: Modern art at Centre Georges Pompidou

Once you’ve ticked the obligatory tourist boxes, Paris really begins to open up. Though it’s within walking distance of the Louvre and the Musee D’Orsay, the Centre Georges Pompidou seems to get only a fraction of the crowds that besiege its neighboring museum heavyweights.

None of those for me this time around. I decided to dedicate an entire afternoon to the Centre Pompidou’s high-tech urban architecture and vast collection of modern and contemporary art.

Paris Centre Georges Pompidou

The most striking thing about the building, obviously, is the glass-encased escalator that snakes up and across the facade. Architects Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers designed the building so that all facilities for public movement and technical equipment would be funneled (their word was “centrifuged”) outside, leaving the inside floors completely free and usable.

Paris Centre Georges Pompidou with stroller

Because I had Tala with me in a stroller, I didn’t get to ride the famous escalators. Boo. But that’s okay. What wasn’t okay was wrestling with the effects of a nasty oyster, leaving me in a less than ideal mindset to, ehem, digest all that modern and contemporary (and, let’s face it, hard to understand) art.

So there I was with a baby, dashing to the bathroom every half hour, soaked in a cold sweat and feeling pukey. But never underestimate the power of art to penetrate even the worst of oyster-induced agonies. Here are few of my favorite works from the museum’s collection, and—I’ll save the best for last—the most spectacularly unmissable thing about the Centre Pompidou.

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Paris with a baby: Walk everywhere!

After visiting Paris several times, I’ve settled into a pace and style of travel that allows me to truly savor the delights of this enchanting city. Fortunately, it also happens to be a great way to experience Paris with a baby—maybe even the best way, but I might be biased here.

My entire “Paris with a baby” philosophy can be summed up in these words: Don’t plan too much. Walk everywhere. Let yourself be surprised.

Paris walking baby along the Seine River

By far, the best day we had in Paris as a family was an entire Sunday with only two things on our agenda: brunch with friends and a picture at Trocadero. A stroller is not something any parent wants to be folding, unfolding and schlepping around the Escher-esque labyrinth of stairs that is the Paris metro. So, to fill in the rest of our day, we simply walked everywhere.

Paris taking baby for a walk

We allowed ourselves a generous two hours to wander from our hotel in the 2nd arrondissement to brunch in the 17th, then another two hours to stroll home along the banks of the Seine from Trocadero. And it was simply perfect: relaxed and refreshing, with flashes of the Paris that exists beyond the tourist snapshots and postcard views.

Want to see just how much we enjoyed Paris on foot in just one day? Take a look.

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Paris eats: Le Dome Cafe’s seafood platter

More than romance and lights, Paris to me means fantastic restaurants and superb food. After living in a city with rather limited dining out options, I salivated over the idea of being able to waltz into practically any cafe or brasserie and feast on more than just the regular complement of sandwiches and soups.

We decided to splurge on our first evening out in Paris with dinner at Le Dome Cafe in Montparnasse.

Le Dome Cafe Paris Montparnasse

Le Dome Cafe is the quintessential Paris brasserie at its turn-of-the-century, glamorous best.

Le Dome Cafe Paris Montparnasse outside seating

All sumptuous reds and gleaming brass, Le Dome is a throwback to turn-of-the-century Paris, where leading intellectuals, artists and authors of the day would gather here for food and conversation. 

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Paris eats: Du Pain et des Idées

It isn’t every day I can savor breakfast from one of the best bakeries in Paris—if not the best. So, one crisp and sunny morning, I trekked across Paris on foot, baby and husband in tow, to worship at baker Christophe Vasseur’s temple of bread and ideas…

Du Pain et des Idees Paris boulangerie

the aptly named Du Pain et des Idées.

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