A date with Mark Rothko

It was one of those unusual days where I woke up to a very still house:  Olivia was still sound asleep in her bed.  So I tip-toed to the kitchen, carefully closed the door behind me and gawked at my espresso machine to delivery my morning cup of joe as quietly as possible.  This is a luxury I don’t get to enjoy very often so I wanted go the distance and make certain that the atmosphere was just perfect.  Even if it was to last only for a few more minutes.  I prepared a bit of breakfast, turned on my playlist of David Brubeck Quartet and leisurely sipped my (still very warm!) cup of coffee while browsing through my phone for today’s itinerary (this is such a great app).  Then my heart just dropped.     An alert popped up to show that it was the closing day of Mark Rothko exhibition at Den Haag Gemeentemuseum!  I have been postponing the visit for few months now mainly because of the last calamity we had at the Escher museum.  And I wasn’t ready for the sequel.  But it was Mark Rothko.  One of my favorite artist whom I had the pleasure of seeing in New York and Hamburg!  There was no way I could miss the opportunity to see him in my new hometown!  So I convinced my very nervous husband—also visibly damaged from our last experience—and decided to give Olivia a chance to redeem herself. 

While driving to Den Haag Gemeentemuseum, we devised thousand different plans to make this visit as pleasant as possible for the both of us.  We can prolong Olivia’s nap time a bit and let her sleep in the stroller once we arrived at the museum.  That would surely give us at least one hour to enjoy Mark Rothko problem free!  But no, this was not to be.  Olivia was already dozing off in the backseat of the car and we didn’t have the heart to wake her up.  Then I politely offered my husband the opportunity to take Olivia for a stroll to a nearby park to have a daddy-daughter afternoon.  But no, he knew he was being hoodwinked.  At last, we simply took Olivia and went into the battlefield as a family.  And our experience?  Not too bad!  With the help of her favorite youtube shows streaming in her favorite toy (our iphones), she didn’t mind being ushered here and there in her stroller.  She did become fussy after an hour or so but we took that in as constructive criticism.   Olivia shall not be confined for more than an hour.  Well noted little one!  Next time, we will ask Oma/Opa1/Ome/Tante to babysit :)

When it rains, pay a visit to the library

It was raining the whole week and we were running out of things to do at home.  At one point, I tried to make a game out of folding the laundry but who was I trying to fool?  Olivia knew all too well that this was a tedious errand and something mommy was being too lazy to do on her own.  So when my two friends called to see if I wanted to join them to go to the DOK Delft Library, I immediately packed my bags and rushed out the door to join them.  I did forget to bring a lot of important things (Olivia's shoes for example) but it was okay.  It wasn't anything H&M or the local supermarket couldn't solve.  And thus the adventure in the library began for the three little restless monkeys.  

DOK Delft Library dedicated half of their 1st floor entirely to kids where they have their own reading and playing corners.  It was nice to see that kids could run around yelling and screaming without being reprimanded by "the librarian".  I remember all too well my mom shushing me the minute we entered the library in Williamsburg, Virginia and telling me to behave until we exit the premise or else, there wouldn't be any trip to Mcdonald's afterwards.  I find myself applauding the Dutch for their innovative ways and my visit to DOK Delft library was another one.  What a great way to fascinate and captivate the kids and get them interested in coming to the library with friends/family.  This place is now high on my "to do" list especially for rainy days!  


During dinner the other day, we were discussing the Myers-Briggs test and a friend of mine asked all of us if we wear one mask at work, another at social events and unmask when we return home.  This was such a fascinating question that I contemplated for a minute and realized that in a way, I do.  I don't disguise myself with different personalities (is that even possible?) but I do show much more of my disciplined and assertive side at work while I tend to be more relaxed during my non-working hours and try to hone my creative side that usually never sees the light of day during the weekdays.  But I am told this is normal.  Not everyone is lucky enough to bring home the bacon based their one true passion or hobbies.  So I keep my closeted created side happy by sneaking in still+portrait photography, random poetry writing sessions, drawing/coloring with my daughter and also making something with my hands.  Thus imagine my excitement when I came across this simple yet beautiful pencil holder from Werkhaus.  

It took me less than 5 minutes to put the pencil holder together and I love how it turned out.  Since I passed the DIY beginner's test, next obstacle will be this!  Can't wait :) 

Valentine's Day in Maastricht, The Netherlands

When we became parents for the first time back in 2013, it felt like we were on an endless emotional roller coaster ride.  We felt so much joy and unconditional love for our little one that we couldn’t believe how lucky we were to have her with us.  And shortly after, I would have a (minor) panic attack and insist on hovering over her crib at 2am to hear if she was still breathing.  Only to be followed by a monumental meltdown from the constant nights of interrupted sleep and the guilt of feeling bad for feeling crappy.  This went on for about a full year and a half until the bags under our eyes became rather permanent and our friends stopped expecting us to come out on Friday or Saturday nights.  When I thought all hopes were lost in the name of parenthood,  our friends threw us a lifeline and booked a baby-free weekend in Maastricht for us over Valentine’s day.   This was going to be our first date night in almost 2 years! 

Maastricht is a city located in the Southeast of The Netherlands and the birthplace of the European Union.  Famous for their hospitality and delectable Limburgse vlaai (dessert pie), the city is truly beloved not only by the Dutch but also by a lot of the surrounding neighbors like the Germans, Belgians and the French.  We stayed at the beautifully remodeled Zenden hotel nearby the Onze Lieve Vrouwekerk and walked hand in hand to uncover the distinct uniqueness of each districts that made up Maastricht.  My strawberry vlaai was every bit as tasty as it looked and proved to be a perfect companion to Coffeelovers’ aromatic Americano.  I fell in love with the baby store called De Heppie Store in the Wyck district and spent the rest of the afternoon picking out locally made jams and proseccos at Le Salonard.  I even put on my special  outfit later that evening for our Valentine’s Day dinner and took some photos which made us look like we were ready for the prom.  While Au Coins des Bons Enfant served our meals, we talked about how much we missed Olivia but also how nice it was to be out to focus on us for a change.  We have spent so much time trying to be a good mother and a father that we were forgetting how to be a loving wife and husband along the way.  I know I don’t say this enough but honey, I love you and thanks for a great Valentine’s day.    


[RECAP] An affair to remember in Prague, Czech Republic

My friend J and I always meet up beginning of every year.  This is impressive considering the fact that we are both mothers with immeasurably hectic schedules and also because we live 9327km apart.  That is approximately 7 hours of time difference which I must calculate every time I try to imagine the background of her text messages, 2 very mediocre in flight dining options to bear while being confined to my economy seat for 11 hours and thousands of exchanges before we can actually spend a long weekend together.  So when the D-Day comes, we drop husbands/babies/work/illness or whatever else we have going on in our lives and make sure we are ready to fully commit to each other.  In another words, this is our annual version of “an affair to remember” and while my husband still doesn’t fully comprehend the intricacies of how this “affair” works, he gives his blessings nonetheless and volunteers to take over the house chores and babysitting for the weekend.  And our destination for 2015?  Prague! 

This was my second time being here and the city was exactly like how I left it back in 2007.  Prague has grown as one of the hottest European destinations in the past decade so the immediate impression you get when you walk into the city center is how unrefined and unoriginally touristic the streets have become.  There were myriads of shops selling trinkets as well as Thai massage parlors calling you in for a quick fish foot spa which are conveniently located right next to “all you can eat” Chinese buffets that guarantees full bellies for only 9.99eur per person (drinks not included).  But if you manage to get away from them all and immerse yourself in the road less taken, then this city offers you a glimpse of her inner beauty which will leave a lasting impression.  My personal favorite (while waiting for J to arrive) was the David Cerni walk to find all of his hidden sculptures in the city, quick visit to Alphonse Mucha museum, discovering the city through the eyes of Franz Kafka at his exhibition and making a couple of selfies without a hint of shame on the Charles Bridge.  And with your significant other?  The list grows endless!  J and I went to La Degustation Boheme Bourgeoise for our 11 course dinner (right next to the open kitchen!) with juice pairings and ended the night on the bar counter of Hemingway Bar making bets with the bartender and sampling miracles that came in martini glasses.  Although I don’t recall anything after saying “Hey J, look at my red spots.  I think I am allergic to alcohol ha ha!” and passed out on the bed with my makeup still on, I managed to appreciate her company still when she took blackmailing photos of me sleeping at 7am in the morning (which eventually woke me up).  I guess having a good friend is like that.  You let go of all of your inhibitions and act like a couple of teenagers getting drunk for the first time.  On repeat.  Everywhere you go.  Which I don’t mind at all.  

[RECAP] 2 weeks in China + Hong Kong

I normally have my very old, very heavy and very outdated Canon Rebel with me at all times to ensure that I don’t miss a single opportunity to document a Kodak moment.  But when I came back from my recent 10 days trip in China and Hong Kong, I was shocked to find only 20 photos or so saved in my memory stick.  This couldn’t be, right?  This is me we are talking about here!  Someone who takes 370 photos of complete random things around the house within 2 hours.  So how come I remember the neck pain of carrying this machinery around but don’t have the photos to prove it?  And the answer was simple.  After working the whole day, I spent whatever time I had left catching up with old friends and partying throughout the night.  While I didn’t get to keep a record of our epic nights (perhaps this is for the best), it was amazing to see everyone and made me reminisce my mid-20s spent in Hong Kong.  

My physical condition was completely destroyed after the 3rd night (does Lang Kwai Fong ever sleep?) and missed my family terribly but if you tell me to hop on the next flight to go to Hong Kong, I would do so in a heartbeat.  And I am so lucky to have friends who would wait for me on the other side with open arms.  

[RECAP] when 20 something year old visits two 30 something year olds

Jeroen and I have been living in The Netherlands for about 5 years now.  And during this time, we have had an average of 3.3 people visiting us per month and WE ABSOLUTELY LOVED IT.  We are not exactly what you would call social butterflies but we love hosting small gatherings and catching up with people from all corners of the world.  When we had Olivia 19 months ago, we really doubted whether we could welcome the people in the same way (bottles and bottles of wine, going out for dinners, weekend getaways, etc) and even worse, if they wanted to come and babysit.  But the same wonderful crowd of people came back to visit us with colossal amount of openness and understanding so much so that we didn’t feel guilty eating dinner with Olivia screaming in the background or even passing out on the sofa at 9:15pm embarrassingly snoring mid-sentence.  So when my relative (as he is practically family) wanted to come over during his winter break from school, we were thrilled!  We were going to take this rare chance and learn about all the cool things young people do these days (insert evil laugh here) and that is exactly what we did (insert caressing fake mustache here).  

One of the highlights of his stay was our trip to Kinderdijk on Christmas Day.  We arrived to almost an empty park and took a brief walk alongside the beautifully renovated windmills.  While Olivia ran ahead of us as usual, we interrogated my relative about what’s hip these days and gasped every now and then to hear things like iPads replacing good old fashioned text books and students actually arriving to lectures dressed up in the morning.  And that very night, he gave us our first selfie stick for Christmas and we must have pressed that tiny little button a million times (together with my in laws) to get the right “Christmas Family” photo.  I hope we didn’t scare/bore him off too much with our “parenthood” stories and actually falling asleep while promising him a proper New Years Eve party.  HS, if you are reading this, make sure to come back soon!  We can then tour the Med together in the summer minus the interrogations :) 

Entering 2015 with new hopes and dreams

I think I have to pause here and explain what has happened in my life over the past 3 months.  My winter hibernation wasn’t intentional.  It was just that so many things were happening in my life that I rarely had any time for myself.  Now that I am in the process of starting a new job, re-organizing my life to put the focus back on where it belongs and planning the weekends completely around Olivia, I’ve managed to quiet down all the noises of frustrations, guilt and stress down to a whisper.   I am a bit frightened to say this out loud but I am happy.  Very happy.  And I hope to ride this happy train as long as I can.  So the next few posts will be a recap of where I was, what I’ve done and how our small family managed to spend the free time together.  Enjoy & happy (very belated) new year! 

Noe + Zoe Berlin for Olivia

The winters are long and brutal here so Olivia has been wearing bulky sweaters and practical looking winter jackets for months now.  As adorable as I think she is (I am her mother, I can never be objective!), I missed seeing her in spring dresses that dance with every movement that she makes.  So I decided to begin the process of brightening up Olivia’s closet a bit earlier than planned with more cheerful outfits.  Round 1?  Neon pink stars and stripes by Noe + Zoe Berlin!

Feeling happy and energized already.  Definitely feeling the benefits of retail therapy! :) 

Happy [belated] Sinterklaas Post

December 5th is a very special holiday in The Netherlands.  It is the day where Sinterklaas (which sounds very similar to Santa Claus) comes on a boat from Spain with his little helpers to distribute toys to the kids who have been nice all year long.  And to prepare for this special day, families place some carrots and sugar cubes in their children's shoes and place them in front of the door to welcome+thank Sinterklaas' horse.  Oh and on the day itself, the local harbors are crowded with families who cheer for Sinterklaas and zwarte Piets and fill their tummies with pepernoten and kruidnoten.  Last year, Olivia was only 5 months old so our van Beek family gathered only to give each other presents but this year, we happily accepted N&D's invitation to celebrate Sinterklaas at their house.  

Olivia, along with the other kids, crawled around and ate all of the kruidnoten on the floor and danced with two zwarte piets (sinterklaas' helpers) who came by to give (many many) gifts to the kids.  I know this particular holiday received a lot of heat in the press recently for racism but when you see your daughter dancing hand in hand with zarte piets and having the time of her life, you forget the background of it all and just enjoy what Sinterklaas has to offer.  All in all, two thumbs up for this lovely holiday.  Looking forward to the next one already! :) 

Family brunch at NRC

You know winter is officially here when you wake up in the morning with ice cold feet.  And all you can think about is that warm cup of soup (erwtensoep is my current favorite) and grabbing the "too ugly to wear outside but it is so fuzzy and comfortable to wear indoors" fleece from the bottom drawer.  But this particular day, we decided to venture out and face the music.  It gets cold.  And it gets cold all the time here in The Netherlands.  And as long as we live here, nothing will change that.  So we put Olivia in her puffy red jacket and went to NRC for a nice brunch with Oma, Opa and Pang.  

Although we witnessed Olivia having a runny nose and dreaded how we will both suffer from sleepless nights with her being sick, the day turned out to be much better than expected.  One thing I learned that day was to stop complaining about the weather and to make the right (and the fun) plans around it!  So what are you doing over the weekend?  I think I will make it an active one...outdoors! :) 

ps.  Could this be the first sign of me finally integrating into the Dutch culture?  About time! 

Happy 1st Birthday M!

When I first arrived in The Netherlands 4 years ago, our weekends were filled with city trips and catching up with friends over gorgeously prepared meals at trendy restaurants.  Oh how the times have changed!  If I look at my calendar now (side note, I love Sunrise app!), they’re mostly filled with shopping trips for baby necessities (diapers, food, furniture, etc), attending other kid’s birthday parties and plans to visit local farms and children’s museums for Olivia.  We often take the Sunday mornings “off” to enjoy family breakfast time in our PJs but for the rest, we are as busy as bees! A couple of weekends ago, we went to M&M’s house to celebrate their daughter’s first birthday and I was startled at the scene of kids running around wild in their living room.  It shouldn't have been a big surprise since we have been surrounded by kids for some time now but to see their living room (where we often had gatherings and dinners while we were all without kids) completely changed just threw me off guard.  Everything was just so warm, so family oriented and so filled with love!  And when I saw my little girl running past me to chase after other kids, I felt this second wave of motherhood and just smiled at how we have all grown and really entered this moment of adulthood.  

I love the new me, the new us.  And I don’t want it to ever change :)

12 hours in Hamburg, Germany

I kissed my sleeping husband and daughter goodbye and hopped onto an early morning flight to see my friends in Hamburg.   For the coming 12 hours, I wanted to surround myself with non-mommy activities like having lunch at a cozy/hip place (which would normally be too small for any family to enter with a stroller) or spontaneously grab a cup of coffee at an outdoors cafe and simply catch up with a friend until night crawls upon you ever so slowly.  Well, I have done all of that and more but every now and then, I lingered at the sight of kids running wild and wished Olivia could magically appear and run into my arms.  It is a strange feeling.  And as much as I wanted to re-live my single days here in Hamburg, it was really not easy to accomplish.  

All of my talks circled back to Olivia (her first words, temper problem of late, favorite food, etc) and I even dragged my friends into several baby stores to check what German people were buying for their children.  No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get out of this auto-pilot-mommy-mode and ended the evening drinking this wonderful drink called Hugo (prosecco/champagne with elderflower syrup) and asking for advise on how to raise my daughter better in a foreign country.  While I enjoyed waking up late and leisurely having breakfast with Maleficent playing in the background, I think I need to give myself more time to "learn" how to balance myself as a mother and also as just me.  I am glad I have understanding friends whom I know will patiently wait for the improved Aura to return to their lives :)