Monday, February 22, 2016

Traveling Circus


A few months ago, Mike was given the opportunity to travel to the Netherlands for business. The travel bug must have hit us hard (or the lack of sleep kicked in), because we ended up making a spontaneous decision for me to tag along with both children. It was either we all go, or stay home, and no matter how challenging the trip would be, I was desperate to break up the mundane routine. After our last trip overseas with #1, we figured it would be years before we would have the chance to travel internationally, so this was a huge unexpected blessing.

Some of you have asked how we survived traveling with the littles and honestly, Mike and I still don't know how we managed to get through. But with many prayers and by God's grace, we somehow did without losing anyone or killing each other. We are by no means pros when it comes to traveling with the littles, but I will share some things that worked (and didn't work) for us as we traveled across the pond. 
2 duffles stuffed with carseats, 2 luggages of stuff, 3 carry-ons and 2 extra cargo we should've left at home...kidding ^^

Pack 

Pack light. Okay, I know this is nearly impossible when you're packing for children, but try to eliminate as much as you can in order to make your life easier (sounds like an oxymoron). We packed the main essentials such as pain and cold meds for the littles (conversions and ingredients can be stressful), clothing, security blankie, anti-bac wipes, passports, credit cards with chips, extra cash, camera and VITAMINS. After dealing with illnesses on our last babymoon, we loaded up on vitamins especially for our germ-snatching toddler. I know everyone has their own opinions on this, but we swear by this immunity booster when taken daily (and prior to). Lighten up on your own load to make room for the littles. I literally brought one pair of shoes, the ones I wore on the plane (oh the sacrifice).  

Invest in a good, sturdy umbrella stroller with a recliner (for naps!), since most places overseas are not stroller/wheelchair friendly (especially in locations with old, historic buildings). On our last trip overseas with JJ, we bought a poorly constructed umbrella stroller with wheels that kept locking in on us early on. The cobblestones also probably didn't help. The hubs did some research this time and we really liked the UppaBaby G-Luxe. It's rather pricey for an umbrella stroller, but you can cash out on those cc points for Bed Bath Beyond gift cards AND use a coupon (order in-store ;) ). Being from sunny SoCal, we don't think much about the weather, but if you're traveling to a cold/rainy/windy location, invest in the rain shield. It was a lifesaver for our infant (and tot, too!) When boarding, keep your child in the stroller and gate check it when you enter the plane (without the child, of course).

If you are going to rent a car, try to bring your own carseats, as the safety laws are different in each country. You also don't know what kind of carseat you'll get (or what it's been through). If you have multiple children, this might be trickier. We took advice from parents on a travel forum, who suggested you place each carseat in a separate duffle bag, making it easier to carry and keeping it clean (and maybe stuffing in a diaper or two?). Genius. 

Pack an extra bag for the plane ride with spare clothing, diapers, wipes, meds, baby food (if applicable) and a mini backpack full of toys/activities (preferably new and inexpensive) and snacks for your toddler. We experienced a diaper blow-out with the baby and toilet accident with the toddler all on the way there (of course -__-). Ideally, just keep a diaper on your potty-training toddler and maybe double-diaper the baby.

One more thing: if you have a mobile toddler, an ID bracelet/dog-tag (and a leash while you're at it) will help ease the mind, especially when they don't know how to write or memorize any info. We really love the one here from Amazon, it's stainless steel with a cute locomotive engraved on the front side. They will also include engraving for you, all for less than twenty bucks. 


Fly

If you can afford it, business class would probably be the way to go (just make sure to pass out earplugs!). But if you're like us, being crammed in economy with screaming children could be enough to cause you to want to jump off the plane. For a small fee, you can pay for economy plus for just one passenger (the person who is booking the flight), and it gives you some extra leg room. Believe me when I say those extra few inches made a world of a difference when traveling for 12+ hours on a plane, especially if you're like my husband, who has Daddy Long Legs. Speaking of economy, if you plan on traveling often, sign up for an airline credit card that enables you to stock up on mileage (BONUS: some airline credit cards give you enough starting points to travel up to 2 roundtrips domestically, or nearly 1 roundtrip overseas). Just be sure to pay off all your credit cards. We are not advocates for cc debt!

If you have a small toddler, you can lay out blankets and pillows from the airline onto the floor and create a mini bed for them to sleep on. Have them bring their favorite blankie to snuggle up in, and try to follow their normal bedtime routine (brushing, story time). A bribe here and there wouldn't hurt either. In a perfect scenario, the toddler wouldn't be moving around in his sleep. Since we had the middle row, I had to use my foot to block his head most of the time, to prevent him from smacking into the food carts. The window row would have been most ideal, but they were unavailable to us at the time.

As for the baby, we put him in his brother's seat to sleep in, cushioned by more airline pillows. Some airlines provide you with a lovely, hanging bassinet. However, United Airlines has some of the saddest bassinets we've seen (if you can call a "duffle bag" a bassinet). We had to improvise, and in the end it worked out for the best. We also brought the Ergo carrier with us, to rock the baby to sleep while standing in place, or walking down the aisles. 


Stay

We love AirBnB, but this time around, we decided to make things easier by booking hotels and B&Bs, since we were moving from place to place. Mike had found a quaint and economically priced little boutique hotel for our stay in Amsterdam. Once our cab dropped us off and we unloaded all the luggage and littles, climbed up all the steps into the tiny hotel lobby with all our luggage and littles, to our dismay, we found out (after they had kindly served us tea and coffee, and JJ nearly knocked over a teacup), that the reservation was for the following week (face palm). And they were completely booked for the week. Now imagine the look of my fatigued, jet-lag face after traveling 24 hours total with two little ones... and the agony and regret Mike must have felt. I figured it was best to keep my mouth shut. Next time, BOTH of us will be double/triple checking the dates. Thankfully, the hotel concierge was completely gracious, and offered to help us search for another hotel with availability. We ended up finding one (less darling, but pricier) that was closer to the main sites, which worked out just fine. 

In regards to time change and all that jazz....we've read online that you should start adjusting your children a couple weeks in advanced, changing their hour for bedtime each day. I'm sure it worked out beautifully for those parents, but to us, all that scheduling sounded horrid. We are firm believers of shocking their poor little systems by allowing them to sleep whenever they want on the plane (which is usually very minimal for bedtime hours), and keeping them awake (by stuffing their faces with food) as long as possible during the day. Allow them to nap when needed, as it also gives you some time off to enjoy your new environment in peace. In the evening, they are usually so exhausted from air travel, that they pass out in their beds. But just when you think you're in the clear, be prepared to wake up more often in the middle of the night, as they may wail and cry from the adjustment. This may go on for a day or two, but usually by the third day they will have adjusted. 

We usually don't bring a baby bed (pack n' play) with us when we travel overseas, since we have limited space, but most hotels will accommodate you with an infant bed if you call and ask ahead of time. Sadly, our 6-month old at the time refused to sleep in the hotel baby beds, so we ended up co-sleeping with him. The bright side was that our toddler was still small enough to fit in the baby beds : ). 


Eat

We usually plan out the places we want to try ahead of time, especially ones that require advanced reservations. That way, we don't have to wait in lines while the littles grow impatient and meltdowns begin. It is always a good idea to let the maitre d' know you have children, so they can prepare (or send you to the back of the restaurant, heh) a convenient space with highchairs for them. Most places we've visited have been very friendly and welcoming towards children, but it isn't always the case. If you know your meal will take longer than an hour, bring the goodie bag full of treats + toys to entertain, and if you brought an iPad or iPhone (hey, no shame there), save it as a last resort (we all get desperate). As for the infant, there's not much you can do when they wail...and they usually will at the most inopportune times. That is when you can "gracefully" exit the restaurant and return when they have calmed down. At the same time, sometimes it's easier just to stumble into the first restaurant you see the locals dining at, and you could be in for a pleasant surprise. When in Rome.

Shameless selfies with my six-month old, still fresh before the jet-lag
Toddler on the floor, baby in the seat, and two parents unaware of what's in store...

With that said...here are some of the "happier" moments whilst in Amsterdam --
Waiting for a new cab after our hotel mix-up ^^
Hyper jetlag 
Waiting for Pancakes!
Met some mums (one feeding the bebe inside the bike trailer, very typical Dutch!) while I was walking with Lucas in the carrier - it is a heartwarming feeling when you realize how small the world becomes once you're a parent.
Parenthood is a universally shared experience.
Typical JJ with a mischievous smile and a mouth full of cream
Sadly, some of the only tulips we saw in Amsterdam during the Autumn season
Dutch apple pie at Winkel's-- we had to order to-go because the seating was inside a tiny little bar several steps up.
Stroop waffles with a sweet syrup filling, a Dutch favorite!
Being a Mama sometimes has me feeling like this...
The infamous Red Light District -- We went when the littles were asleep for obvious reasons. Even if it's legal over there, it is still a sad and disturbing sight to see. My initial romantic thoughts of Amsterdam changed drastically after encountering this side of town. 
Jacketz Oud - Gigantic spuds stuffed with all sorts of goodness, making it a delicious, inexpensive meal.
We made the mistake of visiting the Van Gogh Museum in the evening, and ate a plate of Dutch pancakes for dinner -- Thirty minutes in, I was ready to pass out onto the floor from the jet-lag. 
1 down, 2 to go!
Took a stroll in the beautiful Vondelpark, the Central Park of Amsterdam.
No matter how hard my OCD kicks in every time he stomps in a puddle, I have learned to resist and hold back (most of the time at least). 
- Goede Nacht! -

Friday, January 29, 2016

Finding Forgiveness

It has been over a year since my Grandma passed, and her story still stands out to me today. As a little girl, I will never forget her long, perfectly manicured nails (which she did herself) that were constantly in shades of red, mauve and pearlescent pink. Since I wasn't allowed to wear nail polish at the time, I always begged her to let me "borrow" her nail polish, and she would never say "no." Walks to the local 7-Eleven for ice-cream with her and my siblings were a weekly tradition. 

My Grandma was always a very private person, only sharing tidbits of her personal life with us. Even though she lived with us, she sometimes came off rather cold and distant. However, we knew she loved us deep down inside, as my Grandma just had a different way of showing it. 

Her story is a tragic one during a time of political unrest in China. My Grandfather was the headmaster of the school at which my Grandma taught, and they had recently conceived their second child (my father), when my Grandfather was turned in by a relative to the authorities and killed. As a result, she was a widow most of her life, raising my father and his sister nearly all on her own. 

My Grandma hardly spoke of my Grandfather, even though decades had passed. There were no photos left behind to recollect his memory, as I am assuming it was too difficult for her to reminisce. They say that even when someone passes away, you continue to make new discoveries about them. It wasn't until after my Grandma's passing, that I began to understand more of who and why she was the way she was. She spent most of her life as a social worker, specializing in working with orphans. I often wondered if her work in helping others allowed her to find some sort of healing from her past. 

No one but God, would have been able to empathize with the pain and sorrow of what she had gone through when losing my Grandfather. I wish I took the opportunity to ask her about her past-- how she coped with the feelings of betrayal from a relative, along with the burden of losing a spouse, and when healing and forgiveness took place.

I have never dealt with learning to forgive on the level my Grandma had to go through, but I was reminded of her story after she passed. Forgiveness has been a recurrent theme the Lord has been hammering in me for the past few years. I've heard the word plenty of times growing up in the church: Christ died so that our sins would be forgiven-- the concept of grace never became personal for me until I left for college, and then it was demonstrated to me again through my own husband. 

I have learned to receive such undeserving grace, but yet the past few years have had me holding onto past hurts. I felt entitled to my ill feelings towards certain friendships I had invested in, that had grown distant through our own pride and misunderstandings. I allowed the seeds of bitterness to take root within my heart. However petty and insignificant the reasons behind my unforgiveness were, I could not seem to let things go. It wasn't until someone painted an illustration for me, revealing that unforgiveness was like drinking the poison that was intended for the other person. That really struck a chord, and I began to open my eyes to see the damage I was doing not only to others, but to myself. 

It has been a slow learning process, these past few years...and I am still learning today. Choosing to forgive is a daily quest, and I find myself struggling, even with my own children. Love does not come easy, but I am reminded that there is a perfect love out there. And it holds no record of wrongs. It is kind, it protects, it doesn't dishonor others, it isn't self-seeking, nor easily angered. It doesn't delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes and always perseveres. Most importantly, love never fails (1 Cor. 13:4-8). 


The ultimate definition of love is found through The One who created love and exemplified it through dying on a cross for broken people like me. I find myself asking: 
If Christ died not only for sinners, but for those who ridiculed and despised him, who am I to hold judgement and unforgiveness towards others?
I am looking forward to the day when I will see her in heaven -- renewed and completely restored.



| Ephesians 4:31-32 |Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Gift of Being Present


Last month set us up for a scare when JJ had a febrile seizure for the first time. He had a fever that day, so we decided to give him a bath. After singing and playing merrily along, he grew quiet and refused to get out of the tub. My husband called me into the bathroom to finish bathing him. That was when he went underwater, and appeared to be motionless. I felt my heart drop into the pit of my stomach. I began to panic, and immediately lifted him out of the tub. We called 9-1-1 and the operator asked us a few questions and gave us instructions. When my husband tried opening our son's mouth, he clamped down hard onto his finger. At that moment, we realized he was having a seizure and laid him on his side.  I remembered my younger brother going through a seizure when he was a little younger than JJ, and felt slight relief, knowing that he would most likely be okay. The operator calmed us down and had us check for breathing, which he was doing on his own. He began going in and out of consciousness and ended up falling asleep as the paramedics and fire department arrived. The paramedics drove us to the ER, where they checked him out and looked for signs of an infection (which they couldn't find). They concluded that his seizure was caused by a quickly escalating fever, and said that in the future we would need to be more aggressive in alternating between fever reducers to keep his fever  down. 

That night I could not sleep peacefully, as I replayed the incident over and over in my mind. What would have happened if we left him for more than five minutes? The thought made me feel sick to my stomach. Earlier that morning, JJ had told me he was feeling sad and wanted me to hold him. I held him for a minute and told him I needed to make him breakfast. Looking back, I felt overwhelmed with guilt. If something horrible had happened to my baby, how much regret would I have had for not spending more time holding him while I could? I know I'm being a bit dramatic, but I couldn't help but think about the what if's. All he wanted was for me to be present, and the Lord clearly revealed my constant struggle to be present- not just physically, but mentally and emotionally.    

They say on average, most children barely receive 3 minutes of undisrupted time with their parents without distractions (iPhones, laptops, household duties...). It is the sad reality of being part of a tech-media-savvy generation. Being a stay-at-home-mom, I'm physically present all day, and sometimes the endless needs can feel overwhelming. I tend to have a Martha complex when I'm at home, trying to tie all the loose ends to ensure our home is in place and everyone is well fed. However, I am learning (and fighting through) to take the time to fully be in the present, to focus on quality versus quantity. And this carries on over beyond my children, but also in my relationship with God. How difficult it is to sit and be still... 

On a side note, other than the ER scare, the transition has been less intense and we are beginning to adapt to the new bebe. JJ thoroughly enjoys spending time with his baby brother, but there are still times when pangs of jealousy arise, as expected. Below are some iPhone (mostly) photos of some of the more pleasant moments...^^

My tan bubba ^^

Friday, July 10, 2015

Make a statement.

 Its been awhile since I've posted anything style-related, but even though I am now a Mama of two, I still enjoy dressing up every now and then to get out of my daily uniform, which typically consists of sweats and a t-shirt (shocking, I know). Since my shopping challenge a couple of years ago, I have made a commitment to only purchase what I see myself wearing for more than just a couple of years. There have been some regrets here and there, things that have landed as donations at our local thrift store, or sold online at thredup.com (a really great website to sell and purchase from btw).

However, I am still redefining my own individual style, which has definitely changed over the last few years. As I went through my closet to clear out the clutter, I found that there were several items I had not worn in the last year- those items were the first to go. I also sorted through all the crazy costume-y stuff I used to wear when I was young and child-free, and ended with a ton of basics. These are the items I resort to when I don't want to think a whole lot about what I put on (which lately, is most mornings). Because I have been building my wardrobe around good, solid basics, I find that accessories and statement pieces have been my go-to when in need of making an outfit look less blah.  I have always been one to accessorize with jewelry, but shoes and bags can also make a statement without being over-the-top.

A friend recently introduced me to Ora Delphine, an up and coming handbag company that produces stylish, yet quality leather bags for reasonable prices. So when I saw this green pony haired leopard clutch on their website a few months back, I immediately gravitated towards it. It was unique without being flashy or loud, and the versatility of this clutch is what drew me in - wear it with the gold chain to make it dressier, or dress it down by removing the chain altogether. It also came with a black leather strap as another option. The best part is that the clutch is large enough to hold all my basic essentials, which is muy importante, because after all, what is the purpose of a bag if it can't hold anything in it?

Ora Delphine is having a summer sale at the moment, and I've collaborated with them to give you an additional 50% off sale prices with the code DV50 from now until the next weekend! Their styles range from basic, bold to trendy and fun. You can find a similar version of my leopard clutch as  a wristlet on sale as well : ).

I decided to pair the clutch with a silk pistachio colored blouse, my torn/ripped/well-loved skinnies with a skinny belt and strappy heels.
Don't mind the little one stirring up a ruckus in the background! ^^