Viewing: House & Spouse

This man

… has been a revelation to me in the past year as a husband, friend, lover, partner, and most of all, as a father. I knew he was going to be good, but I never knew he was going to be this good.

Marlon and Tala bath

This man has been hands-on literally from day one. He holds his daughter with as much loving tenderness today as he did when she was a few days old.

Marlon and Tala in Greece

This man is always happy to see her and eager to take her in his arms. He adores her, dotes on her, gives his weekends to her, and she knows it. He has to be told, sometimes, actually many times, to put her down and let her play and learn by herself.

Marlon and Tala

This man swoops to my rescue when the last grains of my energy and sanity have fallen through the hourglass. His strong arms have carried his daughter up and down endless flights of stairs in airports, train stations, museums, our home.

Marlon and Tala in Paris

This man takes his daughter to the market every Saturday to give me precious time for myself. He occasionally returns with a new discovery—wild mushrooms, carob syrup, a lobster, how to shuck oysters—that fills him with an infectious delight. This man truly loves to cook for his family, and always makes sure I have a matching fork and spoon (because he knows I care about weird things like that). Marlon and lobster

This man has seen me at my worst in every possible way, especially in the past year. Yet he is still here, my fan and friend, my confidante and champion. He makes me laugh, forgives me and believes in me. He always has a good answer for my stupid questions like “Does this make me look like a wrestler/pillowcase/hooker?” He loves me in a way I know I will never be loved by anyone else, ever.

Marlon and me in El Nido

This man is the reason my family lives this life, why it’s so much fun, why we have so much beer in the fridge, why Tala has beautiful eyes, why I am a wife and mother, and why I want to be a better one.

Family selfie

This man turns 33 today, and I can’t wait for him to get off that plane from London and come home to his girls who love him very, very much. Happy birthday, my Googly!

Our alternative Christmas tree

Are you feeling the Christmas spirit yet? I sure am! Last weekend, Marlon and I put on some Christmas carols and started putting up our Christmas decorations at home.

After moving here and discovering the beauty of decorating with fresh and natural materials, I’ve tossed out most, if not all, of our matchy-matchy plastic Christmas decorations from Asia—yes, including our fake Christmas tree. Since we don’t get to enjoy them for very long before our annual trip home, I’ve learned to keep our Christmas decorations simple, minimal and natural.

This year, having a baby poses a new decorating challenge. With Tala grabbing onto all our furniture and trying to pull herself up to a standing position, a big tree would just be too hazardous to have around. We needed an alternative tree that would be safely out of the baby’s way, but still colorful, cheery and Christmasy.

Christmas decoration with winter berries

There are tons of alternative Christmas tree ideas on Pinterest, but as the mother of an eight month-old baby, I don’t exactly have a lot of time for crafting these days. What I did have time for was a visit to the market, where I found these gorgeous bright red winter berries in abundant supply. An armful of these branches in a big glass jar make for a simple, easy and fuss-free alternative Christmas tree.

Traditional German wooden Christmas tree ornament

I didn’t want to overload our tree, so I chose to use just a few special Christmas ornaments. I took out only the ornaments we’ve collected from our visits to German Christmas markets (in Cologne, Aachen and Monschau), and kept the rest in their boxes until next year.

Christmas tree ornament gold star

Christmas tree ornament tin angel

Glass Christmas tree ornaments from Germany

To complete our little Christmas vignette, I dusted off our hand-carved miniature Nativity scene and placed it at the foot of our “tree.” With the candles lit plus some tea lights on the side, it becomes a cozy sight in the evenings.

Miniature wooden Nativity

I like how this simpler, more pared-down tree made me more choiceful, and reminded me that we really can be happy with less. I’m still hoping we get to put up a real Christmas tree someday, but until Tala’s a little more grown up, this berry-branch tree will be our chosen pop of Christmas cheer.

Have you started Christmas decorating yet? Are you doing anything differently this year?

What’s in the birthday box?

Who doesn’t love getting presents on their birthday? When I was a kid, it was all about quantity—the thrill of seeing a pile (the bigger the better) of gifts waiting to be opened, the sheer delight of ripping through present after present.

That’s changed a bit over the years. I’m happy to open just one present on my birthday, knowing it’s been selected with care by someone who knows me well. Being the person who knows me better than anyone, my husband always hits it out of the park.

Birthday gift sketches on kraft paper

This year, Marlon had me at hello. It was impossible not to cry upon the sight of these doodles on kraft paper, and I almost didn’t want to open the package. Our family, our journey, our story so far…

Marlon's sketches on kraft paper1


… our dreams, our future and all the stories to come.

Marlon's sketches on kraft paper2

Stories of which I am clearly, and happily, this family’s designated documentarian.

Sony RX100 II

As much as I love my DSLR and lenses, I’ve been dying for a point-and-shoot ever since Tala was born. As the pack mule for my and Tala’s stuff, I really feel the added bulk and weight of a DSLR and one or more lenses. Digging in my bag for the camera, not to mention changing lenses, seems to take forever, like Tala’s moving at warp speed and I’m underwater.

I wasn’t satisfied with my iPhone 4 camera, but needed something small, light, and fast. Having lived in the land of manual settings for the last three years, I couldn’t go back to just any old point-and-shoot.

Enter the Sony RX100 Mark II. I first heard about its predecessor, the Sony RX100, from The Diplomatic Wife, a conscientious shopper who did her research and found it a consistent favorite on lists of top digital compact cameras. Marlon took a big risk buying me a camera without any involvement or research from me, but he nailed it with this choice.


The Sony RX 100 MII gets raves on most reputable tech sites, such as Digital Photography Review and Gizmodo. What I’m loving about this camera: small size, big sensor. “How many megapixels?” is for noobs; it’s the people who ask about sensor size who know where it’s at. Simply put: the bigger the sensor, the more light and thus information a camera can capture, which translates into better images (for a more detailed, well-written explanation, check out this article).

This camera also has the all-important shallow depth of field (two words: blurry background) I just can’t live without, plus the option to shoot on manual, shutter speed priority and, my personal go-to mode, aperture priority.

Best of all, it slips into a coat pocket, making it discreet (for those times when I want to be a stealthy blogger ninja), convenient and easy to whip out for split-second flashes of brilliance/activity/cuteness. A great compact camera for me, more pictures and videos of Tala for everyone. Win-win for all!

Before and after: Nursery

It’s been a while since I blogged about the baby room, so I figured: why not do a nursery update? Quite a few things have changed since my last post about Tala’s room, and I’d love to show them to you.

The biggest change in the nursery has been the crib. From its previous incarnation as a bassinet…

Nursery before with Stokke bassinet

… our Stokke Sleepi had to be reconfigured into its crib form when Tala started sleeping in her room at three months. Have I said how much I love this bed and that it can grow with our baby?

Stokke Sleepi crib with mosquito net

Tala also outgrew her duyan, which now serves as a storage basket under the crib. And yes, that is a kulambo! The mosquito net became absolutely essential in the summer. Who knew that mosquitoes were part of the Amsterdam canal house dream? Though the weather has turned, we’ve kept the mosquito net up—because as Invader Stu has so perceptively pointed out, mosquitoes here don’t leave, they just put on an extra scarf.

More details and pictures after the jump!

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In the pantry: Glass jars & chalkboard paint

As I get older, I find myself becoming more and more like my mother and grandmother. Do you feel the same way? I’ve begun taking on some of their habits—even habits that used to annoy me!

One such habit is my grandmother’s penchant for saving and reusing discarded things. Every Christmas, Nanay would open her presents at an agonizingly slow pace, carefully peeling off tape, salvaging ribbons from the pile of wrapping on the floor, and neatly folding gift wrap to be reused the following year. It drove us all a little bonkers. We always told her to just rip off the paper and toss it—something, having lived through the scarcity of wartime, she was simply incapable of doing.

My grandmother also kept empty glass bottles and jars for purposes unknown. A few months before she died, I sat by her bedside one afternoon talking about the wedding with my mom and Marlon. She was 91, bedridden and feeding through a tube by this time.

She apologized for not having anything to give us as a wedding present—except four empty glass jars of Lily’s Peanut Butter (the kind with flowers painted on) that she’d asked her nurses to save. The nurses were embarrassed to bring out the glasses, but I barely held back my tears as I took them and thanked her. Even thinking about it now makes me cry!

Maybe Nanay was just ahead of her time. Today we call my grandmother’s habit by new, hip names: upcycling, repurposing. I now save bottles and jam jars, and use them to organize our kitchen pantry.

Our pantry is a huge drawer that’s about 1.2 meters wide and 30 cm deep (a little less than four feet wide and a foot deep). It can get messy, so I put loose things—like nuts, spices, and lentils—into recycled jars.

Kitchen pantry drawer

To make things easier to find, I labeled all the lids. Initially I used washi tape, but I scrapped that in favor of some leftover chalkboard paint from Tala’s nursery. Painting all the lids a single color helped unify the entire assortment.

Kitchen organization repurposed jars

I wrote the contents of each jar on the lid with a chalkboard marker…

Kitchen organization chalkboard jars
and the pantry drawer looks all the better for it!

Saving jars is an ongoing project, and not just because it helps me organize my kitchen. Each time I steam the label off a pasta sauce bottle or wash an empty jam jar, I think a little bit about my grandmother. I’m pretty sure she would have been pleased.

Nesting instincts

To end the week, I just wanted to share something that I’ve kept my eye on all week long. On Monday I found new inhabitants under the ceiling of our balcony, lodged in the trellis where our wisteria climbs. Looks like we’re about to become a two-family home!

Pigeon's nest

The nest is growing day by day, thanks to the efforts of the hardworking Papa Pigeon. He flies off to collect twigs and places them just so, while Mama Pigeon sits at home contentedly. This reminds me so much of Marlon and myself in my last three months of pregnancy, that I may have gotten sniffly a few times.

Papa Pigeon

Not all building materials make the cut, as I discovered from this pile of discarded twigs on the balcony floor. Perhaps Papa has finer design sensibilities than the average pigeon, and thus is a little picky.

Discarded twigs

No eggs yet, but once they’re laid they will incubate for 17-19 days.

Pigeon nesting

Marlon is making barbaric noises about omelets, and I know pigeons are the vermin of the sky, but I’m just looking forward to seeing the baby birdies when they hatch! Won’t that be sweet?

What’s in the box?

I’ve been trying to fight it, but the takeover of our home by baby stuff has begun. Recently it became apparent that I needed somewhere to put Tala during the day that wasn’t the couch, floor or bassinet. Enter The Box.

Tala's box

The box, or playpen as it’s known elsewhere, seems to be a Dutch baby essential. After being offered several boxes, I finally gave in and took one sight unseen. Luckily, it fits in nicely with the warm wood and eclectic style of our living room. Sigh of relief.

Confession time: despite my resistance to baby stuff outside Tala’s room and ours, I actually had fun furnishing the box.

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Chalkboard drawings in the nursery

Marlon and I finally got to do the one thing we’d been itching to do since painting the chalkboard wall in Tala’s nursery: draw on it! It only took one rainy afternoon (lots of those in Amsterdam) to turn our blank “canvas” from this…

Nursery chalkboard wall-before

into this.

Nursery chalkboard wall-after

Want a closer look at the details?

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Free art prints for the nursery

The nursery project continues!

We received quite a few cards from friends when my baby was born (ah, what graciousness can be enabled by a postal system that actually works). I used to have them taped up to the wall next to her changing mat, and noticed that Tala really liked looking at them during diaper changers.

After reading that babies like faces, I decided to replace the cards with something a little more useful to her at this stage of development. The thought of real people’s faces pasted on my wall creeped me out, so I figured art and illustration was the way to go.

An online art project called Feed Your Soul helped me curate this mini art gallery of faces for Tala. This site features a free downloadable art print every month, from artists and illustrators invited to contribute by Jen Wallace of the blog Indie Fixx.

Free art prints for nursery

I first found this online art project after Googling Rinske Dekker, an illustrator and Etsy seller I discovered at Dutch Design Week. Rinske’s free art print from is on the right, next to the flower-crowned girl by Croatian illustrator Irena Sophia.

Irena Sophia and Rinske Dekker art print free download

I loved the fairytale quality of this illustration by Laura Minco

Laura Minco free art print

and the dreamy colors of this girl with her head in the clouds, by Laura Amiss. I don’t know why I gravitate more towards female figures… all our figurative paintings at home are of women, too.

Downloadable art print Laura Amiss

With some of my favorite cards from friends, plus our friendly felt unicorn, Tala’s little art gallery is complete. She loves looking at it, and she’s even started trying to touch some of the prints. It will be fun to update it every now and then with fresh finds.

Though the project ended in 2011, the Feed Your Soul page has lots more free downloadable art prints to choose from (not all of them are this girly). So you can download and print your own mini art gallery, too!

DIY mobile with paper ornaments

Tala’s nursery is a work in progress, and it’s finally starting to come together. When I have a bit of spare time and energy I work on little touches here and there. And I’m having fun!

I’ve been looking for ways to help Tala develop her visual acuity, so one of my recent projects was a DIY mobile to hang over her changing mat, for her to look at during nappy changes. After window shopping for baby mobiles online, I realized that many of them are made for adults to look at—that is, pretty from the side but not from below, which is the baby’s perspective.

Luckily, one of my baby shower gifts was a pack of pop-out paper ornaments by Dutch designer Jurianne Matter. Putting together a DIY mobile with these was super easy. I simply popped out the ornaments, folded them as per instructions on the package, and strung them with varying lengths of embroidery thread from a wooden embroidery hoop, which I then wrapped with washi tape.

Paper mobile for nursery

Not only are the ornaments cute, colorful (love the touches of neon!) and graphic, but they also fold out into 3D shapes, making them interesting to look at from the underside—not just for mommy, but for baby too.

Paper ornaments Jurianne Matter

The ornaments are still pretty thin and low-contrast for Tala at this stage, but she’s started looking at them more and more. I blow gently at the top of the mobile to get the circles moving and draw her interest. I love seeing her try to focus on the shapes, knowing that they are getting clearer as her vision develops.

Tala and mobile

I have a few other projects in the works, so more nursery details to come!