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Seven months!

My baby turns seven months old today!

Tala 7 Months

Sorry for the crappy lighting… this dismal gray fall light is not the best for photos!

This month, Tala started going to a gastouder twice a week. A gastouder (the direct translation is guest parent, but loosely it means a childminder) runs a mini-daycare in their home, with a maximum of three or four children. When I was learning about childcare options in Holland, I wasn’t ready to put Tala in daycare with its bigger groups of up to nine kids and more institutional system.

Then I discovered the gastouder option, which seemed like a good middle ground. The idea of fewer kids and a cozier setting in a home environment was really appealing to me; the Dutch ideal of coziness has really sunk in after nearly three years of living here!

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Six months!

Tala turned six months old yesterday. Half a year feels like a big deal!

Tala 6 Months

This picture doesn’t seem so different from her at four months, does it? Physically, she’s mostly the same except she’s longer now, and of course, has longer hair. I think most of the milk I produce goes directly to that hair.

Windblown

Windblown in Greece

I don’t know many six month-old babies whose growth milestones involve hair. This month, Tala wore her first ponytail…

My first ponytail

…and her first pigtails. Tying baby hair is harder than you think—I clapped and hopped around like a giddy schoolgirl after successfully managing the tiniest, most adorable pair of pigtails ever.

My first pigtails

At the rate her hair is growing, I’d better start learning how to braid!

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Alicante: At the beach with baby

Our weekend escape to Alicante marked Tala’s first swim in a real ocean. Marlon and I truly love the beach, so this is one pleasure we were thrilled to introduce to our baby girl. At four months, babies don’t need much for a day at the beach—just a swim nappy, swimsuit (lots of moms swear by SPF suits, but all I had was an ordinary one), sun protection (SPF 50 and a hat), a towel, and a shaded place to rest. So it was really easy.

At first, Tala was wary and had her mehhh face on, probably because we were cautious and tentative going into the water.

Tala and Daddy swim
We waded out until the water was chest-deep. Waves pick up speed closer to shore, so further out there’s less of the rocking and splashing that could upset a baby. We made sure to watch her closely for signs of distress, and when she started going a little blank we knew it was time to cuddle her all the way back to shore. Still, no tears, so yay.

Alicante beach with baby

The next time we went back in, Marlon and I decided to act super perky and excited going into the water. Our strategy worked! She definitely took to the water much better, and we were rewarded for our efforts with adorable baby laughs.

Happy baby in the ocean

In the beginning, Marlon and I really missed being able to swim and cool off in the ocean together, since one of us always had to stay and watch Tala. But when the three of us headed into the water together, things just clicked. Being with Tala in the ocean was one of those perfect moments when life exactly matches the picture you’ve always had in your head. And, baby or no baby, you know that doesn’t happen often.

Baby feet in the sand

Back on land, we burrito-wrapped Tala in her fluffy white towel (which she loves) and dressed her in her little Vespa-printed jumpsuit. We stood her up and let her dig her little toes into the sand, and watched as she charmed a herd of bikini-wearing, leathery-skinned Spanish grandmothers into ecstatic bursts of “Que bonita! Que guapa!

Tala and Mommy in Alicante

Then we just spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing, napping and letting her people-watch from the safety of Mommy and Daddy’s embrace.

All together, not bad for a first dip in the ocean! I would love to bring her to the beach again. But closer to home, and the frigid North Sea? Hmmm, let me think about that.

Alicante: Playa Postiguet

“Didn’t you know you’re not allowed to act spontaneously anymore?”

This is an actual, um, thing we were told when Marlon and I let it drop that we had booked, on impulse, a flight to Alicante, on Spain’s Costa Blanca. Apparently, new parents of nearly four-month-old babies don’t just book flights three days before departure and run away to the beach for the weekend. It’s simply not done.

Well, we did it. It was the cheapest flight we could get to somewhere with a beach, hot weather, real sunshine (not the wishy-washy, nambly-pambly thing that passes for sun here in Holland) and great food. It was just for three nights (“seems like a lot of trouble with the baby for just three days,” Marlon was told at the office). But it was fantastic!

I’ve been spoiled by the horrific building codes of the Philippines, where accommodations are built right on the beach—you can practically tumble out of your door half-asleep in the morning and land on the sand. So we chose our hotel, the Hospes Amerigo, because of its proximity to Alicante’s biggest sandy beach, Playa Postiguet.

Alicante Playa Postiguet

Every morning for three days, we joined the exodus of beachlovers down the tiled promenade of Explanada de Espana, toward the beach. I loved (and envied) the casual ease of it, locals walking around town with folding beach chairs tucked nonchalantly under their arms like purses.

Alicante heading to the beach

Arriving early is key to getting a good spot. Since this is Spain, early is relative: at 9 or 10am, there’s nobody at the beach but pensionados and families with little kids, and most of the beach chairs are still empty.

Alicante Playa Postiguet beach umbrellas

Where is everyone else? All the singles and young people are still asleep after crawling home at 6am. Like I said, this is Spain.

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Four months!

Tala is four months old today, and it’s been a big month.

Tala 4 Months

She outgrew her bassinet, so after returning from Berlin we had to assemble the next stage of the Stokke Sleepi crib. Since there isn’t any space in our bedroom for the crib, we had to move her into the nursery.

Confession: every time we discussed moving her out of our bedroom, I cried. I don’t know why! Tears would just well up and I couldn’t stop them. “She’ll just be in the next room,” Marlon said, trying to reassure me. “I know, but… but…” I blubbered irrationally. It was the kind of moment that makes you wonder “What has happened to me? Why am I like this?” Oh yeah, I became a mother.

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And the winner is…

To celebrate Tala’s first flight, I announced that I’d be giving away a Simply for Flying flight logbook for kids. It took me a while, but I finally picked a winner at random…

Simply for Flying giveaway winner

Congratulations, Marinela Diaz! I’ll be in touch with you soon to arrange shipping.

Thanks to everyone who joined my little giveaway. I’ve never done them before, but it was something I wanted to begin doing. I hope to be able to continue sharing things that I personally love, use and enjoy.

Thanks, too for sharing your childhood travel stories. I loved reading all of them. Your stories me realize that I’ve never written down any of my memories of traveling as a child. So, it’s on my blog to-do list now: to share one of my childhood travel memories on the blog. I just need to find the right pictures… not easy because all of my kiddie pictures are in Manila with my mom. But I’ll get on it soon!

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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Hello from Berlin

Wow. After what seemed like weeks of preparation and ages at Schiphol airport, we took Tala on board her first flight yesterday.

Where are we going?

And now we are in Berlin! I almost can’t believe we pulled it off.

Berlin, baby!

I will blog more at length, maybe next week when we get back to Amsterdam, about traveling with a three-month old baby—sort of a post-mortem of what worked and what didn’t. Plus, I’m excited to share how we documented this milestone in Tala’s life with a super cool and really fun souvenir… one that’s it’s inspired me to host my first ever giveaway on this blog!

But for now, it’s time to enjoy summer, coffee, shopping, brunching, heck maybe even a few cocktails, in one of my favorite European cities. Hello, Berlin… it’s great to be back!

Queen’s Day 101

April 30 is Queen’s Day in the Netherlands, the biggest holiday of the year. This year’s Queen’s Day was extra special: it’s the last one in this generation, as Queen Beatrix abdicated in favor of her son Willem-Alexander, who was crowned King in Amsterdam yesterday.

Starting next year, Queen’s Day becomes King’s Day, and will move from the 30th to the 26th of April. Though the dates might change, the festivities never will. If you ever find yourself in Amsterdam on Queen’s—er, King’s Day, here’s how to celebrate it like a local.

1) Score a bargain.

Love pawing through strangers’ rubbish? You’ll love Queen’s Day. Amsterdam becomes one big flea market, with residents cleaning out attics and staking out places on the pavement days in advance. Find the biggest square or most central thoroughfare in your neighborhood—for us, it was Haarlemmerdijk, which was mobbed—and pack a shopping bag.

Queen's Day Haarlemmerdijk

Most of the sellers are little kids, so be warned: they will use the cute factor to their advantage. But don’t be afraid to haggle! Even if you don’t score any deals, walking around and exploring the city-wide flea market is the best way to soak up the party atmosphere.

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A walk in Westerpark

After three weeks of being bound to hospital and house, Tala and I took our first walk in the park this weekend. It was chaos getting mommy and baby dressed and ready to go (do daddies ever have this problem?), but what a feeling when we finally made it out the front door!

Out the front door!

Being from a land where babies go out in cotton tops and diapers, I need to get used to dressing Tala for cold weather. Tying on her little knit hat made me terrified that I would accidentally choke her. The fact that she hates being dressed up (a child of mine that hates clothes? This cannot be!) didn’t make it easier. But once she was bundled up in her bassinet, she was totally fine and slept, as the saying goes, like a baby.

Tala in the Bugaboo

It was a sunny spring weekend and I was glad to finally be out and about. This is how long I’ve been away from the Philippines, a notoriously walking-averse nation: I now fantasize about and enjoy going on walks.

Westerpark Amsterdam

We are so lucky to live close to Westerpark, one of Amsterdam’s biggest city parks. Within the park is the Westergasfabriek, a former gasworks that dates back to 1885. After it closed in 1967, the beautiful brick buildings in the complex were given over to creative workspaces, festivals and events.

Westergasfabriek

Westergasfabriek brick building

There’s always something going on here, and I love that energy.

Westergasfabriek queue

Getting ready for Westerpark Sunday market

Westerpark is also dotted with public art, which made our walk even more fun.

Westerpark sculpture 2

Westerpark sculpture

And look! Regular, non-pregnancy clothes! Although I did wear this dress from Bleach Catastrophe during my last trimester. I still need to edit my closet and see what outfits are both nursing-friendly and more forgiving to my post-partum silhouette.

Amsterdam mom with Bugaboo Cameleon denim

I was so excited to be out in the sun with Marlon and Tala that I ended up pushing myself a little more than I should. By the time we got back home, I could hardly walk, and I was in serious pain for the rest of the evening. It’s easy to forget what happened to me, and I constantly have to remind myself to be more patient with myself and my body. But I’m so glad I had this sunny Saturday at the park with my family. Here’s to many more to come!