Viewing: birthday

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!

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!

Big Brunch at NDSM-Werf

For my birthday, all I really wanted was to be surrounded by people and things that I love. If you know me, you know what a few of those are: I love my daughter and husband, I love food, art, living in Amsterdam, food, and art… and I love brunch. So, what better way to kick off my birthday weekend than with brunch?

The birthday factor required extra oomph. It couldn’t be just any ho-hum brunch. It had to be Brunch with a capital B. Something Big. In a Big place. With Big things going on.

And the Big Brunch at the NDSM-Werf was it.

Welcome to the Big Brunch NDSM Amsterdam

As part of the 24H Noord festival, five cafes and restaurants operating out of the NDSM-Werf—, , IJkantine, Bbrood and Loetje—joined forces to cook up one Big Brunch… right on my birthday morning! It was a gift from the brunch gods, dropped right on my brunch-loving lap.

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Birthday giveaway + reader survey!

Tomorrow, October 26, is my birthday. Yay!

As he does every year, my amazing hubby has been dropping hints about his birthday plans for me. If they involve good food and time with the two loves of my life, I’ll be more than happy.

I don’t have any deep, philosophical musings about turning 32. I just want to enjoy what I cherish most: my home and my family. I could do that any day of the year, really, but tomorrow I will savor it, and be grateful for it, just that extra bit more.

What I do have is a birthday request.

I’ve been feeling the need to add a little zing to my blogging routine and freshen things up around here. I’m putting a lot of thought into the blog these days to make some new and exciting things happen… soon.

Now I’m going to go out on a limb and do something I’ve never done: get you involved. Yes, you, my readers! I’d love to know your thoughts on some blog-related matters, and well, just get to know you you a little bit better. I’ve been blogging for so long, I feel a bit embarrassed that I never had the courage to do this sooner.

So for my birthday, would you click here to answer a short reader survey? You’ll make me super happy!

Birthday giveaway

To say thanks and to make it fun (it is my birthday after all), I’m giving away a few goodies from some of my favorite neighborhood shops.

I will choose two readers at random, who will each win:

  • a cool Aztec print notebook from the whimsical design shop Rare Bird,
  • a 4R-sized recycled leather envelope from leather goods and accessories boutique Cellarrich (one reader will receive a deep purple version, not in photo)
  • a hand-set, letterpressed card from Typique, a wonderful traditional printer that’s had the same address on the Haarlemmerdijk since 1967 (a real Jordaan treasure!),
  • all enclosed in an I Love Tea canvas tote bag from Tea Bar.

Click here to take the reader survey and join the giveaway. Both survey and giveaway will be open until November 8, Friday.

I’m really looking forward to your answers. Thank you in advance!

Brooklyn leather camera satchel

The best gifts come from people who know you best. Don’t you agree?

Take my husband, for example. He knows I’m always carrying around a DSLR with at least one spare lens. He knows I have a terrible habit of using my nice, “grown-up lady” bags as camera bags, which is great for me but not for the bags. (I once horrified a friend by taking my DSLR with the clunky wide-angle lens out of a buttery soft Bottega Veneta handbag.) He knows that I’ve been in the market for a sturdy brown leather bag for a few months now. Most importantly, he knows that I pin pictures of all .

This is how he completely bowled me over with his birthday gift: the Brooklyn leather satchel from Ona.

I absolutely love the vintage style of this bag, as well as the chestnut leather that’s just begging to get all nicely worn and beat-up. The cross-body strap makes it easy to carry… and it looks great with everything! I can totally see this becoming my go-to travel bag.

Not only is this a good-looking satchel on the outside, but it’s also a camera bag on the inside. Removable inserts (attached with Velcro) allow it to store a DSLR and up to three lenses. Generous padding cushions the whole kit.

As if this wasn’t awesome enough, tucked into the padded interior was another birthday surprise… a Canon 60mm Macro lens!

I discovered this lens at The Hive Berlin, when Yvonne of Fraulein Klein (who takes beautiful photos) used it during her photography workshop. Like my 50mm lens, it’s a fixed-focus lens with shallow depth of field. However, it’s a lot sturdier, more light-sensitive, and easier to use for macro photography.

I will post test photos when I’ve gotten to play around with it a little more. This definitely completes my photography wish list and I think I’ll be very happy with my current set of lenses—all four of them!—for a long, long while.

Birthday staycation: Hotel Vondel

In the grand Paul-Plazo tradition of the birthday whisk, Marlon whisked me away to a top-secret location for my birthday weekend. Like all our previous birthday whisks, it was all a big secret until we pulled up in a taxi (he knows how to push my buttons, this husband) to the front door of the Hotel Vondel, right in the center of Amsterdam.

Like I said, Marlon knows how to push all my buttons. He knew very well that sleeping late in a cloud of white sheets, padding around in fluffy bathrobes and ordering in room service for our Top Chef Masters marathon would make me the happiest little birthday girl in Amsterdam. And he was right!

I loved our room on the top floor with its slanted roof and black shutters. It had a nice mix of coziness and luxury that was great for a weekend staycation.

The rest of the hotel was not bad either!

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Birthday dinner: Brasserie Witteveen

One of the places that I like to go to in the Pijp is Brasserie Witteveen. My friends with kids like it because unlike the typical Dutch cafe, Witteveen’s wide aisles have lots of room for strollers. I just think it’s a really good-looking place to meet someone for lunch or a drink, thanks to the combination of sleek design with cozy elements like the seamless, 16-meter leather Chesterfield couch.

Brasserie Witteveen

I’ve always been curious about the private dining area at the back of the restaurant. Since Friday was my birthday, I thought it was a good excuse to finally check it out for myself.

Witteveen private dining area

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Birthday girl

Today, I am the birthday girl! Yay!

To fit the occasion, I found these pictures of my 7th? 8th? birthday, which I spent in Calcutta (before it became Kolkata). Here I am with my mom, my Dadu (grandfather) and Minnie Mouse, from whom I was inseparable at the time. My Indian relatives threw me a party at my grandparents’ apartment, dressed me (and my sister) up in traditional salwar kameez, and showered me with gifts. It was a blast!

I’m not spending my birthday anywhere as exotic this year, but it will still be lots of fun. It’s a full day—today I have my first prenatal yoga class, followed by lunch with my pregnancy buddy (a good friend who is due just a week after me!), a haircut, and finally dinner with friends at one of my favorite brasseries in the city. Then, as is our tradition, Marlon whisks me away to a top-secret location for a weekend staycation. The only thing I know is that it will be in Amsterdam, since he can’t travel without his passport.

The first year of my 30s has been amazing—full of unexpected blessings and happy moments—and I have so much to celebrate. I hope wherever you are on this Friday night, you have reason to celebrate too!

Up, up and away

I knew Marlon and I were going to arrive in Goreme past midnight. I also knew that we would have to be picked up at the hotel before dawn. So I knew there was more than a slight chance that I would look back at my 30th birthday pictures and think that I looked like the biggest living eyebag that ever walked this earth. But I knew, more than anything, that I wanted this to be the first thing I did upon turning 30.

So I went for it. My first hot-air balloon flight! And because there are times when even pictures are not enough, I made a video so you could all come along for the ride.

I was stumped for a soundtrack until my wonderful friend Jeline sent me a link to “One Day Like This” by Elbow. It’s awesome to have friends who have great taste in music. Thanks Jeliney!

Oh, and I think it’s so cool that the date of my 30th birthday is printed right on my flight certificate.

Some notes on the flight after the jump:

I have a fear of heights. Observation decks? With glass floors? Hate ‘em. So I was a bit worried about how I would respond to this flight. But hot air balloons are now my favorite way to reach the skies. The takeoff is unbelievably gentle. It helps that you always feel something solid—the basket—under your feet. I didn’t even feel the balloon leaving the ground.

Speaking of heights, I had the misfortune to be riding with the loudest, most annoying woman in the world. She just wouldn’t. Stop. Talking. Everything, and I mean everything she saw triggered a barrage of verbal diarrhea.

“Ohmygodlook, a Ford Everest. I want a Ford Everest, honey I really want one of those. Beth tells me they give great mileage. Ohmygod, a cat. So cute. There are so many cats here. It’s unbelievable. Do you know why there are so many cats here? Ohmygoodlook, the balloons! There are the balloons, honey! Do you see the balloons? They look so scary! Ohmygodwait. Is that fire? Are they on fire? ARE THEY ON FIRE?!?! I don’t want to be inside the one that looks like it’s on fire!” Lady, there is a reason they are called hot air balloons. What do you think creates the hot air?

It got so uncomfortably loud in the van (“Small space! Loud sounds!” is what we used to tell our playgroup toddlers) that even her boyfriend/husband tried to shut her up tactfully by saying, “Wow. I didn’t know you were so talkative in the morning.” She retorted: “I’m only like this when I’m scared.” It was like this all the way until we got into the air.

All 16 of us in the balloon were the most unfortunate recipients of a blow-by-blow commentary on how nervous she was at any given moment. To the pilot: “So, you do know what you’re doing right? Have you been doing this long? I just want to be sure.” Pilot’s semi-sarcastic reply, delivered with a smile: “Oh yes. About two whole weeks.

While up in the clouds: “Down! Let’s go down. Down is good. Down is a great idea.” Lady, I don’t know about you, but I didn’t pay €150 for “down.” We all paid for up.

Here’s the clincher. The pilot attempts to reassure her with a few facts about flying. Her response: “Oh no, I know all about flying. I fly Cessnas. Back home in Arizona I fly planes all the time.” WHUUUT? Then why the heck would you be nervous about—oh, never mind! I’m 30 now, I can’t afford to create any more wrinkles.

For a blissful, soaring hour and a half, this hot air balloon ride made me feel like I was in heaven. Too bad I had to share it with the traveler from hell!

A (birthday) gift that keeps on giving

My wonderful husband has once again proved that he knows me so well. How? By getting me a birthday gift that I absolutely love.
Want to know what Marlon’s gift was? I’ll give you three clues. These three pictures all have something to do with it.

Any guesses? See if you’re right after the jump!

Nope, Marlon’s birthday gift was not an evil eye pendant, a paisley shawl or a juicer. What those three photos have in common is that they were taken with my awesome new toy… a Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II lens!

The 50mm f/1.8 II lens is a fixed focus lens, also known as a prime lens. Fixed focus means exactly what it says on the tin: you can’t change the focus, i.e. zoom in or out. That’s not what this lens is about. What it is about, is a low f-stop number (1.8), which translates to a larger aperture and shallower depth of field.

To put it in four simple words: blurry background, sharp subject. Those four words make all the difference in a portrait or detail (macro) shot.

Prime lenses are also also sharper than variable focus (or zoom) lenses, making that contrast between blurry background and sharp subject even better. 
Take this photo, for example. I was caught not by the woman, but by the gooeyness of the sweets she was serving up. The sharpness of this prime lens plus its shallow depth of field are great for blurring her (and the other servers) into the background and highlighting the sticky, shiny drips of syrup.

I do have to get used to carrying more than one lens, and quickly switching lenses on the go. But that’s part of the package and I’m happy to do it. Though I love my current wide-angle lens to bits, achieving shallow depth of field was definitely one of its weaknesses. 
Now that I have this new lens, a whole new world has opened up to me. Surprisingly, it’s not shooting photos of food… but of people.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m terribly shy about shooting photos of people. I always felt as if taking out my camera with its big-ass wide-angle lens was like switching on a glaring red neon sign and activating a loud warning siren. ALERT! ALERT! YOU ARE BEING PHOTOGRAPHED!
This new lens enables me to be more discreet. For one thing, it’s a lot smaller, so it’s much less obtrusive. The fixed 50mm focus length allows me to stand a comfortable distance away from my subject and still get a good shot… without getting in someone’s face.

As you can probably tell, I’m loving my birthday gift. And you can see from these photos, Turkey was the perfect place to take my new baby for our first ride.

Interested in learning more about fixed focus/prime lenses? Here’s a helpful article on zoom vs. prime lenses. Happy reading!