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2013: My Year in Books

When I was pregnant, my mommy friends told me to read as many books as I could before the baby came. Looking back at my year, I actually got to read quite a few! I love reading, so I’m glad I still managed to eke out some precious page time, even with the demands of a new baby.

Receiving a Kindle as a no-occasion present from Marlon enabled my reading habit to flourish. Instead of just staring into space—or lovingly into my baby’s eyes, as TV commercials would have you believe—during Tala’s numerous feedings, I held my Kindle in my free hand (one-handed activities rock!) and read while nursing.

Book reviews are not usually my thing, but looking back, I decided these books were worth sharing. So, in no particular order, here’s a one-time-big-time review of my year in books.

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Atlantis Books in Oia, Santorini

What’s with this year and awesome bookstores? First there was the Stedelijk Museum bookshop, where I scored a really cool alphabet book for Tala. Then there was our visit to Selexyz Dominicanen, a 12th century church-turned-bookstore in Maastricht. Good things must come in threes, because this is the third fantastic bookstore of the year: Atlantis Books in Oia, Santorini.

Atlantis Books Oia Santorini

I was first drawn in by the palm-sized, beautifully printed books displayed out front. They’re published by Paravion Press and are designed to be sent by mail. I’d be thrilled to receive one of these from Santorini… better than a postcard, indeed!

Atlantis Books Oia handmade books

Then I saw this and just had to laughed. For €5, which do you think would be a better companion: a cat or a book? I’d have a hard time choosing, although if it was our cranky black cat for rent, I’d probably advise someone to take a book.

Atlantis Books Oia rent-a-cat

It’s hard to resist something that makes you laugh out loud, and Atlantis Books did just that with this adorable display. How could I not step inside?

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Selexyz Dominicanen: Heaven for booklovers

There are so many churches in Europe that if you’ve been traveling for a while, you almost feel that when you’ve seen one church, you’ve seen them all. Well, the Dominicanenkerk in Maastricht is different.

Selexyz Dominicanen Maastricht exterior

That’s because this 13th century Gothic church has been deconsecrated and transformed into what is officially one of the world’s coolest bookstores. And I’m not exaggerating here.

Selexyz Dominicanen Maastricht4

I had seen this branch of the Dutch bookstore chain Selexyz on more than one list of the world’s coolest bookstores. I simply couldn’t miss the chance to see it for myself during our weekend visit to Maastricht.

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Stedelijk Museum bookshop & ABC3D

For me, no museum visit is complete without a stop at the bookshop. Amsterdam’s museums have terrific ones, and the ever business-savvy Dutch have cleverly ensured that at the major museums (the Van Gogh, Rijksmuseum and Stedelijk), visitors can access the bookshops without having to buy a ticket to the museum itself.

Our family trip to the Stedelijk ended, naturally, with a visit to the museum’s stunning shop.

Stedelijk Museum bookshop

Not only does it look like a really nice place to just sit and browse art books…

Stedelijk bookshop

but it also has a great little selection of design gifts and goodies. I had my “mommy glasses” on (the parental equivalent of beer goggles) and zeroed in immediately on the children’s section, which has design-y books in English, Dutch and—my personal favorite—children’s books that can be read in any language.

This is how I found Tala’s first alphabet: a pop-up book called ABC3D by Parisian graphic designer Marion Bataille.

Marion Bataille ABC3D

The holographic cover alone promises something different. This isn’t your ordinary alphabet!

Marion Bataille ABC3D holographic cover

I love pop-up books for the sense of fun and surprise they bring to reading, and ABC3D combines those elements with some seriously cool type design. I looked for our family’s initials and took a few shots to show you.

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Tala’s first flight, my first giveaway!

A baby’s life is full of firsts, and my daughter’s first flight was one that I was both nervous and excited about. Tala and I joined Marlon on a five-day business trip to Berlin last week. I was thrilled to finally put that hard-won passport and return visa to good use. But you know what? Nobody even looked at her passport! That’s flying within the Schengen states for you.

First time flying with baby

Having flown once with an infant doesn’t make me an expert, but I learned a lot from this trip. Here are some of the things Marlon and I did that really, really worked for us.

1) Ease into it. Our travel history is full of crazy transfers and photo finishes, but you don’t want baby’s first trip to be The Amazing Race. Flying time to Berlin was just one hour, no transfers, making it an easy first flight. We also chose a 12 noon departure for ample time to do our morning routines (for three now!) without rushing.

2) Plan your mode of baby transport around your itinerary. I didn’t have the time to plot out a day-to-day itinerary as I used to, but I had a general idea of what I wanted to do in Berlin. I brought the stroller because I wanted to go shopping and be able to put Tala down somewhere while fitting clothes; a (borrowed) car seat instead of the bassinet because we planned a weekend drive out of town; and the Ergobaby carrier as backup for situations where I might not be able to use the stroller.

Traveling with car seat, stroller and baby carrier

3) Factor in lots of time. We were at Schiphol a little over two hours in advance, and it helped us go through the airport at a relaxed pace. There will always be a need for feeding, changing and minor disasters.

4) Know that you can’t anticipate everything, so be ready to roll with the punches. Pre-baby, I would’ve put on my Google ninja suit and researched what to expect from the airline and airports. Now, I just don’t have the time. I only knew in advance that KLM allows strollers to be checked in free of charge. Beyond that, we had to improvise.

For example, we were allowed to take the stroller all the way through Schiphol and check it in right before boarding the plane. But at Berlin Tegel, we had to dismantle it, wrap both parts in huge plastic bags, and drop them off at a separate bulky baggage terminal prior to security. This is where factoring in lots of pre-departure time makes a huge difference.

5) Nurse at takeoff. The only hiccup was that on our flight home, we were made to take Tala out of her nice, secure baby carrier—where she was sleeping peacefully—and sit her on my lap, facing forward, with an infant extension belt around her waist.

Wow, that was awful. Not only did she wail miserably throughout takeoff and landing, but those flimsy belts don’t stay on (not even for a minute!), and are even banned in the US and Canada! Why the EU still enforces their use is truly beyond me.

It was definitely better on the flight out, when I had Tala on the boob. She had wriggled out of the belt, but at least she was quiet and calm. I’m definitely doing that again next time.

6) Document the flight! Doing all of the above should help make flying with a baby easier, but documenting the flight will make it special.

Tala and the Captain

Marlon and I made sure to deplane last so that we could take Tala’s picture with the pilot, who was super nice and friendly. But that’s not all!

We documented Tala’s first trip with a fun and cool souvenir that I want to share. So here comes my very first blog giveaway!

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A Feast of Ice & Fire

Do you love Game of Thrones? Marlon and I are huge fans! We’ve read all of the books in George R.R. Martin’s epic A Song of Ice & Fire series and we love the HBO show. So when we saw this at the American Book Center, we simply could. Not. Resist.

Chelsea Monroe-Cassel and Sariann Lehrer wrote A Feast of Ice & Fire: The Official Companion Cookbook after the fan response to Inn at the Crossroads, their food blog inspired by the quasi-medieval fantasy series. If you’ve waded through George R.R. Martin’s dense, rich fiction, you will have drooled over the vivid descriptions of sumptuous banquets at King’s Landing, fireside dinners in the frozen North, and more.

By delving into medieval, Roman and Elizabethan cooking, these two dedicated foodies and fangirls turned the meals of fictional Westeros into reality, giving culinary life to the favorite meals of favorite characters (Sam and his pork pies! Sansa and her lemon cakes!).

Recipes are listed by region (The Wall, North, South, King’s Landing, Dorne and Across the Narrow Sea), and are preceded by excerpts from the books in which they were first featured. What could be better than a delicious dish with a good story behind it?

Last Sunday, we had our friends Victor and Selen over for dinner. They’re foodies who also follow the Game of Thrones series on HBO, so it was a perfect opportunity to try a few recipes from our new cookbook! See if you can find the inspirations for some of these dishes in the upcoming season of “Game of Thrones” on the best satellite TV.

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Book review: The Baby Name Wizard

I loved reading all the comments on yesterday’s post! Still on the name trail, have you ever read a baby name book… not just for a baby, but also for fun? I read one recently and I really enjoyed it.

Baby name books and I go way back. I bought one at age nine because I hated my name and wanted to change it. Later, I found the baby name book my mom read while pregnant with me. In the entire boys’ section, she had highlighted only one name. Just one. And it was… Eugene. Really, Mom? Eugene? Can you imagine me as a Eugene?

Now THIS is a Eugene. Photo by Daniel Boud.

With so many baby name resources online, buying a baby name book feels a little old-fashioned. Well, I guess I’m old-fashioned.

For one, I love lists. One of my favorite things about being a writer is reading and generating lists of words. In my old job, I would sometimes get the chance to propose a name for a TV channel. I’d spend hours with my nose to the monitor, poring over Scrabble lists of three- to five-letter words. Then I’d spew long lists of options.

I also love books. I love the feel of pages and paper. When you spend as much time looking at lists as I do, a physical book is much easier on the eyes. Besides have you seen some of the baby name websites out there? They are complete eyesores! White text on black background is so 1999.

This is why I found myself purchasing The Baby Name Wizard by Laura Wattenberg.

What I loved about this book:

A modern approach to choosing baby names. Most baby name books are dictionary-type lists that focus on origin and meaning. The Baby Name Wizard asserts that today, what a child’s name means is less important than how it fits into its society and environment, or what the author calls “social meaning.” From experience, I find that to be true. Growing up with a highly unusual name was difficult at times, but I think it was good for my self-identity.

The Baby Name Wizard shows trends, which are important if you want to buck them; today’s unique and clever may be tomorrow’s Moe and Larry. If a name shows a recent uptick in popularity, it moves down on my list.

Style families. This is a section that lists baby names by theme, rather than by letter. Some examples: Androgynous, Biblical, Short and Sweet, Shakespearean, and my personal favorite, Macho Swagger (with names like Duke, Hunter and Colt). This was my favorite section, and made the book both fun and easy to read; I could giggle over Surfer 60s’ or go straight to Biblical.

Style families got me thinking about coming up with “style families” of our own, to reflect something we both love and give us new places to look for that elusive boy’s name. Fantasy Fiction, perhaps? What style families would you suggest?

Sibling names. For every listed name, The Baby Name Wizard recommends other names with a similar style and feel. This is useful if you’re stuck at “I like it, but…” Plus, I was pleasantly surprised to see that our lead girl’s name was a “sibling” of two other names we’re considering for boys.

Names that actually sound nice. I appreciate the author’s use of the ugly filter. There are too many ugly names out there and I don’t want to see any more of them. That way, I’m less likely to choose one in a moment of weakness!

There wasn’t much I didn’t like about the book, except… graphs. Lots of them, showing how each name has trended in popularity over time. But I say that only because anything math-related makes me see fuzzy red lightning bolts. I suppose the graphs are useful if you’re set on giving your baby an uncommon name. Like I am. Uh-oh, maybe I should take another look at those graphs.

Parents-to-be who want hundreds of thousands of options (including awkward filler names like Adalfura, which no sane parent would name their baby anyway) had best look elsewhere. But for a modern approach to baby-naming in a book that’s easy to browse and fun to read, the Baby Name Wizard is worth a look.

Inside Design Amsterdam: Kids on Roof

It should probably come as no surprise that my absolute favorite find from Inside Design Amsterdam was a kids’ brand. Yep, those hormones are kicking in all right. It was love at first sight for me and Kids on Roof, a Dutch company that makes colorful toys with a modern, architectural but still very playful feel.

I wanted to buy everything! A flock of swallows to hang over a crib, a playfully modern cardboard city to build and populate

a white cardboard house to decorate, a little tent for the back yard…

… and a rocket ship to reach for the stars.

Can you tell that I am already so excited for this baby? Little Mango has yet to grow proper toenails and bones, and here I am already dreaming of all the colors we’ll paint, the stories we’ll make up, the places we’ll go, the nights I will sing him to sleep under the stars.

Since Little Mango has a long, long way to go before he can start his astronaut training or camp in the back yard, I was able to resist my hormonal impulses to ransack Kids on Roof’s room at Inside Design Amsterdam. I also let out a little steam by buying this irresistible People of the World coloring book.

I love how the simple line art allows kids to create their own features, clothing, and details instead of just coloring them in. How fun is that?

I will just have to hang on to this until Little Mango’s fingers are ready to grasp crayons and start drawing. Let’s hope I can resist the urge to break out the crayons and beat her to it!

Hunter Gatherer: Old books

Of the many blogs I discovered while doing the Blogging Your Way e-course a few months back, Carousel is one of the few that I follow religiously. The woman at the helm of Carousel is Chi Feasey, a London-based fashion designer with a great eye and a bold, fabulous personal style. Chi first got me hooked by blogging about her brave decision to wear just Six Items or Less for an entire month. Her 30-day fashion diary is filled with fun and creative outfits, and had me virtually applauding by the time of its grand finale. 
One of my favorite features on Chi’s blog is her “Hunter Gatherer” series, where she posts a collection of photographs revolving around a certain theme. From a skateboarder’s haunt to folds of fabric, each series is intriguing and inspiring, with lots of details to get lost in. 

Inspired by and as a shout out to Carousel, I’ve decided to put together a little “Hunter Gatherer” collection of my own from my visit to Van Dijk en Ko. They had a large-ish selection of second-hand books, with many dating back to the 1900s. 

I love books and I love paper. Make them decades, even a hundred years old and you’ll have me in a puddle on the floor. 

Most of the volumes that caught my eye were published between 1900 and 1930. It was a time when every printed book was precious and expensive, a work of art. This beautiful book on Dutch paintings, for example, has a stunning trifecta of binding, endpaper and bookplate. 

Old endpapers with a hand-drawn feel. The last really eye-catching endpaper I saw was in a hardbound copy of Harry Potter, but of course it was missing the character of a paper like this.
How they did branding in the old days: the bookseller’s label in each book. Even the tiniest stamp had room for two fonts and a couple of flourishes.

Another art book with an amazing embossed hardcover.

And a tiny book of prayers that fits into a palm or pocket.

I love books with surprises, like a letter or postcard tucked into its pages. Jumping ahead a few decades,  I found this personalized astrology chart in an art book from the 1960s.

This “Electric Cookbook”, which taught Dutch housewives of the 1960s to cook with that newfangled contraption known as an electric stove, held a sheaf of handwritten recipes. Check out that cursive.

This recipe lists currants, raisins, brown sugar and apple juice as its main ingredients. Sounds yummy.

Books and paper can be so lovely. This is why I’ll probably never get a Kindle!

This is my first Blog of the Month feature. Every month, I promise to send a shout out to one of the bloggers on my blogroll, in the form of an “As Seen On…” type of post. Let me know if you like the idea… and the post, of course!

MangoJuiced: A review of "Decorate"

Holly Becker’s blog Decor8 is one of the most successful interior design blogs in the blogosphere today, and one of my regular sources of inspiration. After five years of creative, pretty and inspiring posts, Holly (with co-author Joanna Copestick) launched her book, simply titled Decorate, last year.

Reading my copy of Decorate—signed by the author!—inspired me to shake up our own living room with a midwinter reshuffle, which will be the subject of my next post. In the meantime, check out my review of Decorate in this week’s post on MangoJuiced. Take a peek into this book’s colorful pages, inspiring images and sound advice, by clicking on through right here.

MangoJuiced is a webzine for anything and everything that interests women—from fashion and family, to pop culture and beauty, to travel and lifestyle. Follow MangoJuiced on Twitter and Facebook… and don’t forget to check back in for a new post from me every week!