Waiting. With love,

The weeks that lead up to Christmas are always interesting. If you work, it’s likely your office will be winding down. People will complain of “vacation mode”, and burnout. People will be irritable, and impatient, or else distant, and disconnected. Regardless of whether you’re in a Christian context or not, year end does bring a wistful desire for rest. It’s ironic because, for Christians, this time is meant to herald the birth of our Savior. And even if you might not be [Christian], year-end still heralds new beginnings and new life. So why do we get so bogged down in the negatives before this great thing takes place?

If you think I’m going to get preachy with you right off the bat. Don’t worry. I hear you. In fact, I am you. I am the person who is irate, negative, and impatient. In the last few weeks, I’ve been having the blues more and more often. Tired from full-time work and full-time motherhood, and suffering something like “Imposter Syndrome”* from listening too keenly to my own doubts and insecurities. I’ve been allowing myself to feel overwhelmed and ineffective over the amount of work still waiting to be accomplished even whilst feeling that “vacation mode” creeping in.

However, thanks to the Psalms, support from my loving husband, family, and friends, and the refreshing presence of my 11-month-old son, I have recently been reminded of 2 helpful truths to cling to this season. More important than “vacation mode,” stronger than burnout, better than the holiday parties and food (haha) waiting at the end of this leg of the race…here are these truths:

  1. There is love and discipline in the waiting. Advent is a season of waiting, and it is good to be present in that waiting. Not to be so focused on the stresses of yesterday, or how far away tomorrow feels, but instead dwell more on the blessing of the moment, and the value in the waiting. That this moment will lead to the next, and there there is no other moment just like it. Last year, during a similarly challenging moment right before Christmas, I penned a blog entry called Wacht op jou vader (wait for your father). Here’s an excerpt:
    • As I opened up my Bible app to get further caught up on my daily devotions, I stumbled upon a Countdown to Christmas devotional series. It’s called Waiting Here for You (an Advent Devotional by Louis Giglio with roots in this book), and somehow stood out to me on the homepage (likely because of its title, which reminds me of one of my favorite Martin Smith songs). It must really have been a direct blessing from God, because upon opening up the first page of content, I was immediately confronted by this:

      …While God rarely comes at our appointed time, He always comes at the right time. All of us are waiting on something, often wondering if God has forgotten us. In your waiting, let the birth of Christ encourage you. Just because God hasn’t come through (as far as you can see), it doesn’t mean He has abandoned you. To Him a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a day. This very minute He’s working for His glory and for your good…

  2. Preparation is as much about action as it is about rest. Often, our stress during this season comes from “prep stress”: wrapping up work, to wrapping up presents, from planning holiday parties and travels, to planning for work/budgets/resolutions in the coming year. We get lost in the action of preparation, but we forget to rest. And how could we possibly have the energy for a good time without rest? Potential Energy is energy possessed by an object at rest but in position to move (like a ball at the top of a slope, poised to roll down, and up and into the sky). For us to have enough strength to make the most of holiday festivities, we can’t burn ourselves out in the preparation. We need to take time to rest as well. To take stock of our position, to relax and store up energy for the festivities. This should hold true especially for Christians, who not only are preparing for a party, but are preparing for the birth of the Messiah! Would you not want to slow your mind, and focus on the delicious anticipation that leads up to meeting your Savior?

So, yes, perhaps due to situations beyond our control we are busy, and tired, maybe even burnt out. But the reality that in no time at all there will be a massive celebration of life and thanksgiving should be a reminder to rejoice, count blessings, take stock even today. To be disciplined about sleeping well, eating healthily, and being kind to ourselves even if it just means taking 5 minute breaks between meetings to pray/meditate/recenter, or 20 minutes before bed to disconnect from technology and read a book. This is our opportunity to wait in joyful anticipation, instead of overwhelmed impatience. To rest and store up energy, instead of waste our strength on bitterness/impatience/negativity. While everyday is a special day, this season always serves as a reminder to look back at the year and count blessings, rejoice in the moment, share the good, process the bad, reach out, open our homes, and prepare our hearts. Though we are called to these not just during Advent, but during all seasons of our lives, let’s take the opportunities brought about by the holidays and Christ’s coming, to be kind, truthful, loving, grateful, and patient. 2016 was a tough one for a lot of people, but together let’s end it on a high note. And with that, I leave you this verse:

patience

 

*Note: Imposter Syndrome is “a concept describing high-achieving individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud’.”

10 Lessons for 11 Months of Motherhood

motherhood-is-messy

Motherhood is messy

  • Sometimes the answers to your questions and your worries come easy, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes you’ll cry over spilled milk, sometimes you won’t. Sometimes your plans go smoothly, sometimes they can’t. Sometimes the house will be in complete disarray, sometimes it will be at least relatively clean. Sometimes your baby won’t get food all over the floor/walls/tables/mirror/clothes on your back, sometimes your best shirt will bear banana scars for the rest of its life. The bottom line is, parenting is never as predictable as one might plan for, hope for, dream for. It gets messy. But that’s okay. There is order, reason, laughter, and love in that chaos. Embrace it.

wonderland

Your body is a wonderland

  • Your body will never be exactly the same as it was pre-baby. Your hips will stay larger, you’ll have discolored skin in areas for some time, your breasts will be both bigger and flatter at the same time (depending on the day and how far along you are in the breast-feeding journey), and you may have even acquired new scars. But wear them with pride. Your body is a wonderland. It has carried a tiny human successfully for 40 weeks, and in some cases even squeezed said human out, or else bears scars of having brought that little beautiful creature into the world in one wondrous piece. Your body has accomplished much in very little time, and no matter what you think the mirror is saying, remind yourself that every stretch mark, every scar, every discoloration is a badge of honor earned from participating in the miracle of creation. By all means, work toward your fitness goals, be concsious, and be aware. But in all things, never sacrifice your health, your confidence, and your faith in yourself. Because carrying, and birthing a human is no small feat, and your body deserves to be loved, respected, and well-regarded for this and more.

it-takes-a-village

It takes a village

  • Especially as both a full-time corporate professional and full-time mom, I’ve found this old adage particularly true. I could not accomplish anything without my team of supporters, especially our nanny Asih, our pembantu Iroh, our parents (aka Super-Grandparents: Oma, Opa, Nonna, and “Lolo Jones”), our church group, and of course my partner-in-all (best-friend, husband extraordinaire): Jay. From 8am to 6pm Mondays to Fridays, Iroh and Asih help us keep our house clean, our son well-cared for, and our sanity in check. All hours outside of that + weekends, public holidays, public holi-months (like Lebaran), family trips, and more are all ours to keep each other in check. And we love it that way. Sure, while I’m at work I may be thinking often of our little one and how he is at home (thanks, technology, for CCTVs you can access remotely, and free messaging apps, and WiFi), but at least I know when I’m stuck in a meeting, he’s safe and well. And at the same time, at least we have our precious “us time” too. In a perfect world, I’d be 100% present at home more and for longer, but being honest, as far as life situations go, we’ve got it pretty great.

You need to be a good partner too

  • There will be moments you expect much out of the “village” helping you raise your child. Especially if you have a partner/husband/wife who delivers support to the highest quality. In those moments, never forget to be grateful, and never forget to be a good partner too. It’s easy for us to withdraw, to be selfish, to count what we do against what those around us do, but this sort of behavior only makes us more unhappy. To maintain not only harmony, but satisfaction, in marriage and in co-parenthood, one must count every blessing and not every chore, and step up to the plate in every way that we wish our partner would step up to the plate too.

 

ps139

Faith does wonders

  • There will be moments as a new mom when you wonder, am I cut out for this? Why was I given this challenge when it turns out I’m such a horrid excuse for a parent? Sometimes you’ll just want to rest, cry, decompress all by yourself. Especially as a mom, you’ll feel rushes of hormones from time to time and you will maybe even wonder, what is wrong with me? It’s okay. These moments do pass. What I’ve found has helped me is keeping faith, knowing that God has gifted us these experiences because he knows we are the exact right parent for this job, and we need only to keep choosing what we know best to do, and keep leaning into Him for rest, and restoration.

rest-adventure

Rest and adventure are still of utmost importance! Do both and do them well.

  • A lot of people seem to stop going out, having fun, traveling when they have kids. To this I say: don’t. KEEP DOING WHAT YOU LOVE DOING. Take rests when you can, and don’t stop adventuring. Of course, be reasonable and mature (don’t take your 2 month old skydiving. Wait until they’re 6 months old. Just kidding), but don’t deprive yourselves of what “drives you” and “refreshes you” just because you have a baby now. Honestly, you should allow yourselves even more leeway to rest and enjoy life now that you have a family. For us, we no longer go scuba diving like we used to, but we still take our baby to the beach with us, in planes with us, on long haul flights to see his ailing great grandfather and the European side of the family, on shorter flights to surprise his grandmother and great-grandparents in the Philippines. We staycation on weekends, nanny stays late once a fortnight so we can movie date, and comes in on Saturdays every 2 months or so for us to have a few hours of alone time. We still make an effort to try new things and go new places – even if it just means trying a new restaurant. These things together help us keep a “freshness” to life that people can easily lose sight of in the first year. I know we are also uniquely privileged to have wonderful help we trust to care well for our little one, but even if it means just calling in your mother-in-law for the day to help out so you can catch some Z’s, see a new movie, or take a krav maga class, do it if it’s something you know you need to do to rest, refresh, and persevere. Do it to be a better you which helps you be a better mom. 

Live beyond your fears

  • As a new parent, you’ll encounter many “new fears” that you’d never personally considered before. This is also normal, and it’s okay to move beyond them. A lot of these fears are there for a reason (parental instinct telling you to double check the lock at night, or read the label on your household cleaning detergents twice to make sure if your kids get at it, it won’t cause certain death), and it’s good to acknowledge them. But don’t let them get the best of you. Which leads me to my next point:

control

Complete control is an illusion

  • As I’ve said above, fears are good to acknowledge. But there’s no reason we should live by and within our fears. Many fears stem from a desire to control every situation (you want to control your baby’s chances of hitting his head when he falls), but the reality is that complete control is an illusion. You can never know exactly what might happen at every given moment, and you can only do your best to be well-equipped to deal with things as they come. So do baby proof your house (within reason), but don’t kill yourself if your baby slips and gets a bruise on his shin because you can’t foam pad your entire tiled living room. Deal with things as they come, and don’t fret too much over things you can’t control (which, you’ll quickly discover, is actually a lot of things: from the way other moms think of your parenting style, to your baby bumping his head a little while turning in his crib in his sleep).

Live sustainably

  • After having a child, I’ve learned even more deeply the importance of this Earth to our children and future generations. If we want to leave behind not just a world to live in but a better one (or at least a healthy one) at that, we need to start living more sustainably. What might that entail? Here are some tips I’ve got for you:
    • First: Be responsible consumers by consuming lessI know that’s near impossible with another new person in the house. But the reality is: your baby doesn’t need the same size wardrobe as you. Your baby could wear the same outfits everyday and it wouldn’t matter. Plus, your baby will outgrow everything so quickly there’s no point in having so much of one size of anything. It’s a tough thing for many moms to resist, but try not to buy every cute outfit or pair of shoes on the shelf. Stick to the basic necessities and a few luxuries here and there and you’re already doing yourself a favor by churning out less waste (from the amount of water used to wash clothes, to the amount of garbage you throw out at year end when you want to get rid of old outfits and don’t think they’re good enough to hand down or give to charity)
    • Second: Be conscious consumers by knowing what you buy, where you buy it from, and what processes its undergone to land in your hands. That is to say: are you fond of purchasing fast fashion that you’re only going to wear once and is manufactured by a brand you know has questionable business ethics? Don’t do it. Are you at the grocery and tempted to buy a bottle of Nutella but you check the label and it lists palm oil and you’re like, ugh what nowDon’t buy it.
    • Third: Support local, grassroots industries, and things that will last. Instead of buying for trends, buy things to last. Instead of buying processed and pre-packaged, buy organic, farm-to-table, or at least pesticide free. Read the labels at the grocery, ask your local sales support questions about the origins of produce, and do what you can to support the small businesses (from artisans to farmers) in your area.

slow-down

And finally: slow down

  • If there’s one thing I’ve really taken to heart lately, it’s that time really does move so, so quickly. The moments may feel like they last forever, especially the rough ones, but the days really do fly by. You’ll be surprised how badly you want them to slow down as you watch that amazing bundle of joy go from tater tot to toddler in no time. Take time to enjoy your little one as much as you can, as often as you can, and never forget to count those blessings as you go along.

Salt & Light: A Reflection on Current Events

Before I begin this post, I want to assert that I’m speaking not as a historian, or political expert. I speak as a citizen of the world – just like you, whoever you may be, whatever you may believe. I am a Filipina – born, bred, raised; and a Christian. I work for an American company, am a member of a community of both expats and locals, married to a Dutchman, and mother to a Eurasian dual citizen.

These things together, and the privilege of having a voice, have brought me to write this piece: a reflection on this bizarre day and age, and hopefully a little light at the end of a long day.

Our present paradox.

2016 has seemingly seen it all: Brexit, Duterte, Trump, Syria, Black Lives Matter, the epidemics of Cognitive Dissonance and Fake News. Social media and increasing mobile connectivity have granted many unfettered access to information, and each other, such that conventional borders can no longer contain conversation, ideology, discourse. However, this access has also brought with it polemic, controversy, misinformation, and a dangerous brand of populism driven by terror, suspicion, distrust and fear. In some ways, you understand. This generation has seen prices rise, stocks fall, debt increase, and quality of education decline. It can be (in places) difficult to accept there has been progress at all. Especially as people are inundated with imagery that constatly reminds them of the brokenness we face in this world. In other ways, though, you wonder, and mourn.

The irony is that there are two truths to this: first, that the difficulties people face are real, but second, that while the world does have far to go, it has come so far already. That is our present paradox.

For example:

Compared with 1993, the peak of U.S. gun homicides, the firearm homicide rate was 49% lower in 2010, and there were fewer deaths, even though the nation’s population grew. The victimization rate for other violent crimes with a firearm—assaults, robberies and sex crimes—was 75% lower in 2011 than in 1993. Violent non-fatal crime victimization overall (with or without a firearm) also is down markedly (72%) over two decades.

…Despite [that], most Americans are unaware that gun crime is lower today than it was two decades ago…Today 56% of Americans believe gun crime is higher [vs 1995]…only 12% think it is lower.

(Pew Social Trends, 2015)

In Britain, crime dropped 8% between 2014 and 2015, and that year it was the lowest it had been recorded since the Office for National Statistics began their reports in 1981 (Source: ons.gov.uk). And while the Philippines has reported increased crime rates in the last few years, its Human Development Index has grown 20% in my lifetime – showing slow but sure movement deeper into “medium development” accounting for growing gender equality, higher wages, longer life expectancy, lower maternal and infant mortality, and more (Source: UNDP HDI Report 2015).

Despite this progress, people are still distrustful, scared, and impatient. And politicians have risen to the occasion to stir up frustrations and run on fear – oft driven by false claims. In Trump’s immigration speech in September, for instance, he stated Hillary would bring in 620,000 refugees from Syria over a short period of time (riding on the fear of loss of opportunity, and misdirection of taxpayer funds). However, Clinton has only called for an additional 55,000 refugees from Syria (bringing the number to 155,000 total). Trump lied. And that’s just the tip of the Trump-berg.

In the Philippines, meanwhile, our current president has proven to be equally divisive. His misogynistic comments cannot be escaped, some of his staunchest supporters are popular (vicious) trolls, his cabinet constantly reframes and reshapes his statements, the press often demonize him, and his values are inconsistent. Recently, the crime rate was reported to have dropped, but how can they report only 1,700 crimes vs 3,000+ in the same period last year, when there have already been 4,000 deaths in the drug war? I have tried to be objective, wishing for his success because his is ours, after all. I celebrate his wins (billions in investments from China, a “mega-rehab” facility, a working emergency hotline…), and question him respectfully. Yet amidst the effort to lend the benefit of the doubt, stand the fundamentalists, the misinformation, the heart-wrenching vitriol, the disappointments.

In just the last 24 hours: my countrymen have taken to the streets to protest the burial of our most notorious corrupt dictator in the Heroes’ Cemetery (Libingan Ng Mga Bayani), Trump has begun his Victory Party, and given his Victory Speech, and even Toblerone has changed their UK bars in the face of hiking production costs. Analysts are saying the Philippines and South Korea will suffer the brunt of tariffs America will likely put on goods from Asia. Climate change advocates fears are realized as Trump-Climate-Change-Denier wins. Those #WithHer mourn the rise of an evidently racist, misogynist President in the “Free World.” Meanwhile, Filipinos celebrate the country’s newfound relationship with China; Trump supporters believe someone will “finally” #MakeAmericaGreatAgain; and so on.

When the world feels this divided. What can we do to make it better?

Be the salt and light.

Now comes the crux of my post. In a world seemingly filled with uncertainty, where it has become ever more possible that the fears many held could now be realized, I have been repeating this line in my head, over and over again:

BE THE SALT AND LIGHT.

Salt and light were used by Jesus as metaphors on his Sermon on the Mount. He says: You are the salt of the earth. (Matthew 5:13) and You are the light of the world. (Matthew 5:14)

Salt is a preservative, and a flavor enhancer. A popular interpretation is that by comparing us to salt, we’re reminded to hold fast to the goodness in this world (preserve the good, don’t let it “expire”), and to add value in this world (to enhance what is). I’d like to add too that salt holds water. When something holds water, idiomatically speaking, it is sound and valid. Be of sound mind, and valid argument, and good heart.

Second, light is the truth-and-hope-bringer. It is used to describe clarity, promise, possibility. Light at the end of the tunnel. Shedding lightLet us be the light that does not go out. Let us bring contrast to the darkness. We are lights in this worldand we should not hide our light. We must share it so it brings brightness to everyone in the room.  

The truth is, we cannot know for sure what comes next. When we look into Duterte’s plans, for example, there’s a lot you can get behind. And with Trump, well his 100 Day Plan isn’t all doom and gloom. We can’t know what their intentions are for certain. All we have to control, are our actions and our perspectives. Let us bring hope, instead of doom, joy instead of despair. If/when our leaders fail us, let us step up and support one another. Let us work together for our collective good.

Today, we take a moment to mourn the flaws in our systems. The brokenness of our world. But tomorrow we fight. We stand against the misogynists in office, the racists on the street. We set real examples for our sons, our daughters, and we love each other. Yes, we have to live with our choices, but with courage, and humility, we can make better ones as we go along. We pray for success. We suspend pride. We lift up our situation. We keep moving forward.

It may seem abstract, but there are concrete things we can do for each other that have nothing to do with the people in office. We can stand up for the girl on the bus who’s been groped, we can listen with objectivity and kindness, we can volunteer, we can protect, we can donate, we can share, we can love. We can be our best selves. That is still within our control. Let’s be the salt and light.

And with that I leave you with a poem I wrote this evening on the way home:

Though perhaps a war was lost today
We can all still win the prize
The future’s not yet known
So let not this bitter fright
Bring forth a darkest night
Be the salt and light.

Come hurricane or drought
Back decades we have run
The world in constant flux
A new era has begun
Still, despite uncertain plight
Be the salt and light.

This world is not our own
There is much we can’t control
But what we have we hold
Tonight perhaps we cry
But tomorrow we must fight
Be the salt and light.

Of what I do believe
This much I see is true
We must with grace become
The world we want renewed
I trust not others’ might
We must ourselves burn bright
And be the salt and light.

Be the salt and light.

Lucas’ 10 Best Books! (2nd Edition of Our Baby-Approved List of Lit for Little Ones)

Almost 6 months ago, in May, I did my first Edition of Lucas’ 10 Best Books, so here’s an update as he’s gotten older and his tastes have changed (ever so slightly). While his favorite reads might have changed a little, his love for books has not. We still read to him multiple times a day (and his nanny does as well throughout), and when we miss reading time, he’s a crankier little lad. As such, here’s our latest Best Books for Kids list that we’re currently loving as a family:

fox-in-socks

Fox In Socks: Dr Seuss’ Book of Tongue Tanglers
By Dr Seuss

What we (Jay and I) love about it: It’s an abridged version of classic. It’s small, it’s portable, it’s a board book (so it’s sturdy). We also love that it’s full of twisty words and phrases that’s great for learning fluency, tone, and rhythm.

What Lucas loves about it: Words! Rhymes! Tongue Tanglers! Silliness!!! (He loves it particularly as entertainment while eating, and if you read it in funny accents or as-fast-as-you-can [or both together], it cracks him up.)

bright-and-early-about-me

Bright & Early Board Books About Me!
(Mostly, but not all, by Dr Seuss)

What we (Jay and I) love about it: So this one’s a bit of a cheat, but it does come as a box set? I know it’s technically 4 books, but we do only read him 1 or 2 at a time (we like to cycle our books on a weekly basis so he doesn’t get bored). In any case, these books are particularly fun because they rhyme, and are about something relatable. For example, as his teeth come in, the Tooth Book is a great one to read (funny, with visuals, and trivia and jokes here and there). The Eye Book and Nose Book are also lots of fun because you can use them to illustrate how these body parts work. Lastly, the Foot Book is great for teaching opposites.

What Lucas loves about it: Rhythm & rhyme, learning time!

goodnight-goodnight-construct

Goodnight Goodnight Consturction Site
By Sherri Duskey Rinker

What we (Jay and I) love about it: This one’s a bit long, and we’ve had it for a while but it’s only in the last 6 weeks or so that it’s really started to grow on Lucas. We like it because it’s a nice little tale about hard work, good rest, and industry – and it’s a bedtime story too so you can do all your “yawns” and “sighs” and “time-to-sleeps” while reading it, putting in a tone of “okay it’s time to wind down and relax now.”

What Lucas loves about it: I think he actually enjoys the story now and the sound effects that are built into it. Despite being on the long side, the visuals are appealing, and it’s got a nice, calming rhythm to it that I think really suits early morning or before-bed reading times.

bezig-beertje

Bezig Beertje
By Benji Davies

What we (Jay and I) love about it: It’s the same old Bizzy Bear but in DUTCH! We love that we can now read variations of his favorite books to him in his other language. It’s perfect for introducing new Dutch words, and it’s still got that same old Bizzy Bear charm (the double board, the pull-out scenes, the interactive sliding pages, and more).

What Lucas loves about it: Well, he loves this one just as much as he loves his usual Bizzy Bear collection.

hungry-catterpillar

The Very Hungry Catterpillar
By Eric Carle

What we (Jay and I) love about it: This one’s a classic: a simple story, beautifully told, with gorgeous art. I especially love the ending, that whole “growing and becoming”. There are lessons to be had about eating healthy, I suppose, as well as, “becoming something new”, but in general it’s just a lovely little short story with very pretty visuals, number skills factored in, and a nice little primer on flora and fauna.

What Lucas loves about it: I think the colors and patterns in the collage style artwork, as well as the way that the double board book is configured (so that the number of fruits overlay just so as you proceed through the story). It doesn’t rhyme, but it also still has a nice rhythm to it and is a simple, quick read.

my-first-book-of-learning

My First Book of Learning
By Joanna Bicknell

What we (Alex and Jay) love about it: This book is great. It has multiple tabs for firsts: shapes, animal sounds, colors, numbers, words, opposites, and the alphabet. It’s a great starting point to build vocab and comprehension, and its vibrant colors are eye-catching and stimulating. I also love that a lot of it is flexible and we can actually teach him some of the tabs in both English and Dutch (first words, and alphabet excluded).

What Lucas loves about it: I think he mostly loves it for the colors and because I sing “A you’re adorable, B you’re so beautiful” when I’m pointing at the different letters on the Alphabet tab. BUT I do also think he enjoys hearing the animal noises, and I look forward to the day we can use it as actual learning material to study the different concepts it presents.

luister-voertuigen 

Luister! Voertuigen
Author Unknown

What we (Alex and Jay) love about it: This is a lovely short Dutch story about a blue train that needs some help, and gets by with a little help from some friends. I personally love it cause it’s a great way for me to practice fluency and a fun Dutch read for Lucas in general.

What Lucas loves about it: Bright colors! Transportation! Buttons that you press while playing that make the sounds of their respective type of transport!

first-stories-jungle-book

First Stories: Jungle Book

What we (Alex and Jay) love about it: This little double boarded book is like the Bizzy Bear version of abridged classics. The First Stories series does a great job condensing classic stories into palatable shorts for babies. At the moment, most of the series covers the princess stories, but there is this one, and Jack and the Beanstalk as well. (I’d like to see a more equal representation of all types of characters come to the series soon.)

What Lucas loves about it: Lucas has loved this book for months, honestly, and I don’t see it changing any time soon. He loves the interactive pages (the push, pull, swing of different elements). He loves the animals. He loves the adventure. And he loves that we sing Bare Necessities at the end while swinging Mowgli and Baloo back and forth in a dance on the last page. Haha. Oh and all the books in this series rhyme too. So that’s a plus.

kijk-eens-wat-ik-kan

Kijk eens wat ik kan!
By Nannie Kuiper & Dagmar Stam

What we (Alex and Jay) love about it: This is another cute Dutch children’s story that’s great for my fluency, and a nice thing to read to Lucas in his other language. It’s a cute story about a mischievous baby boy, and comes to us at the perfect time when Barend (the key character) is into many of the things Lucas is into too (opening and closing doors, making a general mess, and so on).

What Lucas loves about it: At the moment, Jay and I actually enjoy this book more than Lucas does. It runs a bit long for his tastes. However, when he is in the mood, you can get him to sit through it and enjoy it just fine. It rhymes, and it’s a light one, and I foresee him enjoying it more and more as he gets older.

noahs-ark-soft-book

Noah’s Ark Soft Book
(I bought this from a handmade goods store at a bazaar in the Philippines…
but you can also buy it via eBay)

What we (Alex and Jay) love about it: We love this interactive soft storybook that’s perfect for leaving on the high chair during dinner to keep Lucas preoccupied (especially when we have guests and want to avoid flying plastic or wooden toys – at least this one’s soft, made of cloth, and all the pieces are anchored to the pages by ribbon). It also doubles as a lovely Bible bedtime story any time.

What Lucas loves about it: Animals! Soft stuff! Eat-able/chewable!

So that’s our list! A cheat because if you really count the Bright and Early set it’s more like 13 books long but ANYWAY. As you do. In the meantime, do tell me what books your kids love! 🙂 Let me know/leave some suggestions in the comments below.

Disclaimer: Thank you to all the publishers for the cover photos of these books.

5 Working Mama Essentials

I haven’t done a Mommy List in a while so I thought I might throw one in now! 6+ months into my working mama journey, here are the 5 things I’ve found most useful (you may see a repeat or two from a previous post, but that just goes to show how great they are).

#1: A stylish diaper bag

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Amazon Listing

I don’t have my own photo of this bag as yet (at least not one I particularly like enough to share, but I do own this SOHO diaper bag. It’s great – comes with several little places to store bottles, nipples, teethers, etc, but also doubles as a great work bag. It fits my laptop, my notebooks, and my bottle cooler bag and pumping equipment without sacrificing a stylish, professional look.

#2: A handy (hand) pump!

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I’ve written about the Medela Harmony once before, and I just have to reiterate that since starting work again, this thing has been one of my best friends. It’s easy to carry around, it takes such little space and is dead silent and lightweight making it perfectly convenient for any situation – from pumping in taxis (with a cover of course) on the way to work, to pumping in private in the Mother’s Room, to even taking video calls/conference calls mid-pump. It suits any pumping need for working moms who could use the comfort, space-efficiency, and discreetness.

#3: Reliable cooling bags.

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People don’t talk about this enough, but a reliable cooling bag is everything. On long work days, or while traveling, it is absolutely essential that you are able to bring your milk around with you and keep it fresh. For long days out where I know I won’t have access to a fridge, I bring the Medela. It fits up to 4 bottles, and is incredibly effective. Keeps the milk cold for 8+ hours (as long as the bag itself isn’t exposed to sweltering heat). For shorter days when I know I have access to a fridge, I use the Dr. Browns bag. It’s easier to carry thanks to its long strap, and takes less space even though it fits the same number of bottles. The only downside is it only keeps things truly cold for 4-6 hours (depending on external weather conditions as well). That’s why it’s perfect for when I’m going on a movie date with my husband (knowing I’ll only be out a few hours, and want something that straps nicely onto my shoulder), or am headed into a full day at the office (knowing I’ll have access to a fridge and freezer and it’ll only be used during transit times).

#4: Yoga With Adrienne

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This is my most recent love: the Yoga With Adrienne YouTube channel. On particularly busy days, popping on a 30 minute session from her many videos is a great way to get a good stretch in, recenter yourself, and find quiet and calm. It’s also a good way to get your circulation going and to reduce stress levels. Try her channel out! I particularly like her because she isn’t too New-agey-meditatey type. She doesn’t chant along with you or anything like that. Her approach to yoga is very practical, she’s very relatable in her commentary, and I love that she is very clear at communicating the steps for each pose and each flow (incredibly important when you’re doing yoga from a video instead of in person — yoga is highly dependent on correct posture and position, so the clearer an instructor is, the better).

#5: A good Life Group!

One of my “rocks” in this entire “working mom” transition has been having a good Life Group (Bible Study Group/Church Community/whatever you want to call it) behind me of like-minded, and similarly-“situated” individuals. By that I mean: people in the same phase in life. My life group meets every Thursday, and while it’s not strictly a couples’ group, it is predominantly composed of married couples. The group prays and eats dinner together, sometimes sings a few songs or watches a video together, and then is divided into groups based on whatever material we are covering. Sometimes it’s girls-only, others it’s mixed. What this does is it provides me with a space to decompress, unwind, refocus on God and others, think about what really matters, and ask for sound advice from people who’ve been in similar situations as me. This in particular has been a real blessing and something I know I can always count on. I would suggest that all new working mamas find themselves a support group as well – not just in your team (though support within your team at work is also important), but outside of work too!

 

Family Hotel Review: Sudamala Suites & Villas, Sanur (Bali)

Last May, we went to Bali for our first family holiday, and we stayed at Sudamala Suites in Sanur for the first two nights. Here’s my review of our time there.

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Pretty courtyard in the middle of all the villas. Lush and serene.

 

Rating Summary: 4 (out of a possible 5) Full breakdown below: 

  • Cleanliness3/5: Though generally clean, there were faded yellowish stains on our sheets and the pool seemed to need a bit of scrub down and a water change (it didn’t make any of us sick, though, so there’s that! Even baby swam in it with no adverse effects)
  • Service5/5: Service was mostly good and prompt, and I noticed they employed some hard-of-hearing youths (which I really liked/appreciated).
  • Room 4/5: I liked the room a lot, in general. It had a really sweet, Balinese feel to it. However, I hated the door. It was very nice to look at, but was a chore to open and close as it was a traditional Balinese wooden double door (very narrow double panels, and you had to pull/push it hard when opening/closing it, and hold it tight in place when locking/unlocking).
  • Comfort 4/5: Overall, comfortable. Air-conditioning was just right, bed was just right, room had plenty of space. My main gripe was that, while it’s nice to have an al fresco bathroom (very Bali/tropical paradise), there was no way to stave off the mosquitos. Would have liked some citronella candles maybe.
  • Safety/Security5/5: No qualms there. It was really nice and tucked away in what felt like a very private area of Sanur.
  • Common Areas/Facilities4/5: The common areas were nice albeit limited – particularly in terms of lounging/seating space. I particularly liked the little garden in the middle (like a courtyard) but wish there were more facilities available for laying out/picnicking.
  • Dining4/5: Big portions, great value (breakfast was included in our room price and you could pick from a wide array of choices on an a la minute menu). The only issue we had was when we ordered room service dinner: the seafood (one of my favorites: mahi-mahi) was over-salted and overcooked. Very sad. Otherwise, it was mostly good. I especially liked their croissants! Fresh, flakey, delicious. 
  • Location 5/5: We like it in Sanur, so this location worked for us. There’s no direct beach access, but that’s okay. Then you get to walk around more. Sanur itself is a great little “long-term stay”/”expat” type of area with a lot of homegrown brands and restaurants, mama/papa’s shops, and long-term expats who moved to Bali decades ago and made a life there. There’s more of a relaxed, seaside town feel to it than other areas of Bali, which makes it ideal for families.
  • Overall Family/Baby-Friendliness3/5: Access wise, this is not a good place to stay. If you have babies or family members in wheelchairs, there is only one ramp access area (via the back/side which loops around the property). So when we used our stroller we had to carry it over the steps. Thankfully they gave us a 1st floor room so we didn’t have to take the stairs up to our villa or anything like that – or that would have been a true inconvenience.

Generally speaking, we were happy with our stay. If you would like to read more about our Bali-day (family holiday), you can refer to my previous post here. And if you are interested in staying at Sudamala yourselves, scroll down for more details.

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We had a semi-al fresco bathroom which had a “tropical luxury” feel to it

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Being in Bali, we wanted to stuff as much seafood into ourselves as we could. Above is our mahi-mahi room service dinner: with sides of fries (for Jay), potato gratin (for me), “love boat potatoes” (bacon, cheese, and baked potato), and salad.
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Hearty healthy breakfast! These croissants are delicious.

 

For those who’d like to stay at Sudamala or make inquiries, here are their contact details:

Address: Jl. Sudamala No. 20, Sanur, Denpasar, Bali
Website: http://www.sudamalaresorts.com/bali/
Contact no.: (0361) 288555

3 Easy Family Days Out (Nederland Zomer Edition)

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#1 Zuiderzee Museum
Enkhuizen, Nederland (Google Maps)

Zuiderzee Museum is an interactive, reconstructed town set up to help people experience what it was like around the Zuiderzee before the 1930’s when the Afsluitdijk changed the entire area and the sea became IJsselmeer (now a man-made lake).

Amongst the attractions at the Zuiderzee Museum are: spaces memorializing historical floods, authentic buildings (sweet shops, an apothecary, a cheese shop, and more), a couple of eateries, a genuine fish smoking hut (where you can get genuine smoked herring – done the traditional way).

What we love about it: Love the interactive, “real town,” outdoor museum feel; the educational component; and even the old style River Choir that sings every afternoon

Prices range from € 10.00 (children 4-12 years) to € 16.00 (adults). Children below 4 get in for free.

You can visit their website to learn more about opening hours and schedules for the festive season here.

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Dutch apple tart. Lekker!

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Gerookte Harring

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#2 Madurodam
Den Haag, Nederland

The Madurodam is a small “theme park” made up of miniature models of all of key attractions across the Netherlands. Everything (besides the tulips pictured above, that is) is adorably tiny and expertly curated with each exhibit/build including either an interactive element or a short write up/audio description to listen to.

What we love about it: It’s very child-friendly (with lots of other tots running everywhere, and several interactive exhibits for play [such as one where children can learn how a lock (for canals) works; and another where kids can learn how heavy cheese wheels are]. There is also one actual playground on the premises (which is Nijntje branded), and Scheveningen (beach)* is only a 10 minute tram ride away. It’s great for a day out with the family – especially in the summer.

Children under 3 get in free, and prices thereafter are €16.50. Visit their website for more details.

*A quick note on Scheveningen: It’s a fun beach with a large boardwalk and plenty of good places to eat.

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Mini Rijksmuseum
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The walk from the tram stop to the beach (Scheveningen)

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#3 Giethoorn
Overijssel, Nederland

Every year, our family holds a special Familie Dag (reunion) in a different location. My husband’s aunts do most of the coordination, and every year they pick somewhere new and interesting. This past year, it was in Giethoorn – an idyllic (mostly) car-free village in Northeastern Holland. Gorgeous cottages line the banks of quaint canals, and most people get around by boat. It’s situated within a national park, and the land and properties are well-cared for. Homes are properly preserved, and the town itself offers a lot by way of activities (both “modern” and “historical”). There’s an old geological museum, an indoor museum on the history of farming and farm homes, and even a genuine knijpertjes “stand” where a few adorable senior citizens sit dressed in historical garb and make these wafer-thin waffle-like “biscuits” the old fashioned way (with ladles and cast iron presses).

What we love about it: It’s quaint, child-friendly, with many restaurants and activities for both kids and adults. It’s also good for a day out, or more – we noticed you can rent boats and homes for days at a time. While we were there, we also saw they were setting up for a blues concert and had a floating stage built in the middle of the water, which was really special!

Learn more about it on their tourism site.

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Giethoorn Gemeentehuis (sort of like their “Town Hall/Governor’s House”)
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A cool little floating restaurant at Giethoorn
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The super cool stage for the on-water blues concert (Giethoorn again)
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Legit knijpertjes 
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My favorite shot of Giethoorn from the day.
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Proper Dutch lunch

If this blog post interested you, you may also enjoy:

  1. 3 Fun Castles for the Family in the Netherlands
  2. 4 Family Friendly Spots in 36 Hours: Amsterdam Edition