Friday, September 25, 2015

Cali-cation - Yosemite, Tahoe, Sisters and COUSINS!!

It must have been about 6 months ago when my cousin was telling me about her fabulous summer plans which included spending a lot of time with my younger sister, Marie, and niece, Sasa, in Cali, including camping in Yosemite. I was super jealous. Then I had a really good idea: go to Cali
and go camping in Yosemite with my sister and niece! Not very original, but pretty good nonetheless. Plan was proposed and accepted, and tix were bought. (Actually, one ticket, which was part of the brilliance of the plan - go before Ebba turns 2 and I would have to pay 2 full fare tickets.)

The plan got even more brilliant when I decided a stopover in MN would also be necessary. Hard to visit the US and not see the grandparents. Turns out that was a brilliant plan, because Grandma helped ease the pain of jetlag so that when we arrived in Cali we were 100% ready to go. The fact that Grandma also prepared a full Thanksgiving meal for our arrival was not too shabby. Really.

Four days in MN was not long, but it was enough to squeeze in a few visits with friends and lots of time with the grandparents. We also ate donuts, which was very important to me.

Lekker donuts!
We arrived in Cali and got to check out my sister's new house in Oakland and see Khiza for the first time since he became a father! Soon, however, we were off for 4 days of camping in Yosemite! We arrived with almost enough light to set up the tent, but not quite. Our friendly camping neighbors lent us theirs (that night and every night thereafter) as we discovered that the lantern we brought did not, in fact give off light. We all slept amazingly well in the fresh mountain air (when air mattresses weren't leaking, of course).
Visiting a National Park with two toddlers sort of set the pace. There was lots of gathering of sticks and stones and simply playing in nature. We took the obligatory drive up to Glacier Point for the inspiring views over the valley and Half Dome. The kids were content climbing on rocks and driving log trains to San Francisco to visit Gigi. Nature really is the best playground.

Family photo!
Toot toot! Off to San Francisco!
Nights around the fire were always capped off with s'mores (duh). I even tried one using Dutch stroopwafels instead of graham crackers. You lose the nice crunch, but gain soft caramel. Definitely worth a go, if you happen to have stroopwafels with you next time you go camping.
As if camping in Yosemite hadn't given us our fix of natural beauty, we drove on to Lake Tahoe to celebrate the wedding of Alana and Patrick. We checked into a hotel and enjoyed the luxuries of showers and clean sheets. We spent nearly 2 hours the next morning swimming in a heated pool in the warm sunshine. It was glorious!

After celebrating National Cheeseburger Day at lunch, it was finally time to see the lake! We headed over to Emerald Bay for a hike and to enjoy the view. Time did not allow us to go all the way down to the bay, with its' enticing blue waters. However, we made time the next day by leaving the kiddos with Uncle Khiza and Marie and I rented kayaks and actually got out on the lake. I even took a quick dip in the chilly (62F, 16.5C) waters. I got my lake fix!
Hike down to Esmerald Bay
That evening we took a sunset cruise on Lake Tahoe and toasted to the happy couple! The views were stunning and I enjoyed half-conversations with many, as I often had to run to catch Ebba before she toppled overboard. Just as the after-party was kicking into high gear, Marie and I said goodbye to the Tahoe crew and headed back to Oakland so Ebba and I could make our flight the next day.
The Mac Crew
Goodbyes are never easy, especially when such distances separate us. But having been able to spend so much time together (the most in many, many years) left me feeling full of sister love and grateful for the opportunity to have had that time with Marie. We had conversations we had been meaning to have for years, shared the joys and frustrations of parenthood, and got glimpses into each other's lives that just don't transcend Skype. I was also so happy that Ebba and Sasa were able to really forge bonds that will (hopefully) lead to their own lifelong sisterhood.
PS - Wonder where Simon was during all of this. My guess? Eating pizzas and watching movies.In reality, lots of after school play dates and fun weekends with his Pappa.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Sunny Sardinia

I remember reading the book The Blue Zones many years ago, which sought out the longest living cultures and tried to understand what made them live so much longer. Indeed, people living in these Blue Zones reach the age of 100 at 10 times the average rate. One of the Blue Zones highlighted in the book was in Sardinia, and I am not sure I even knew where Sardinia was at the time. But after reading about it, I knew it was a place I had to visit. And I just did.

Sardinia is a rugged, rural island, lined with clear turquoise waters, sandy coves, and jagged cliffs. During the summer holidays it swells with tourists who come to splash in its warm waters. The landscape is brown and dusty from the unbearable heat (says this Northern girl) of a Sardinian summer. But I can now tell you that May is the perfect time to visit Sardinia.

We traveled a bit around the northern part of the island, and it made me realize how much it has to offer as I felt we saw so little. The landscape varied in each area, and the number of small hidden secluded beaches was really impressive! We stayed at small agriturismos along the way, all of them with a homey feel, good food, limited English, and - most importantly - animals!

Our first destination was just outside the small village of Arzachena, just inland from the Costa Smeralda. Our B&B was tucked away in the rocky hills, with a lovely pool and an unbelievable breakfast spread. We explored some beaches, rested by the pool in the sunshine, and did some hiking.

From there we headed south to check out some of the beaches near Cala Galone. Lucky for us, the weather was on our side and perfect for playing at the beach, and even swimming in the chilly water. One of the beaches we found had a warm tide pool, and it was so perfect that we ended up back at it the next day. At the end of the day we headed back to Los Canales where they served up a nice pasta dinner for the kids. Once we put the kids to bed, we set down for the set dinner menu and enjoyed local Sardinian specialties (such as suckling pig), wine, and date night in Italy with our kids sleeping nearby!

Our last stop was outside the city of Alghero, at a nice little farmstay. We explored some beaches, and enjoyed all the animals on the farm. There were baby goats and 2 week old piglets! So cute! We also had a memorable meal, again without kids, that included 11 appetizers, that nearly all came directly from the farm (including the wine)!

Gelato in Alghero
One of the highlights of my days was my early morning dates with Ebba. Unlike her brother, she is not one for sleeping in. In an effort to let the boys get some sleep she and I would head out each morning to explore our surroundings. By the time we were all ready for breakfast we had already climbed a hill and found a great view of our surroundings, or walked along the cliffs along the sea. It felt like we sharing some sort of solitude, and it was lovely.
Sardinia was a perfect place to spend the May holiday. It's low season, but still has lovely weather and so much to offer!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015


This past week was Simon's voorjaarsvakantie (spring break) and it was a staycation, baby! And not just a staycation. A Pappa's-abroad-and-we-have-wheels kind of staycation!

I was admittedly not thrilled when I learned that Martin would be gone for Simon's week off of school. It meant I would be on my own and we definitely would not be going on holiday. A week with the kids sounded like a lot of work! (And it didn't help that when Martin left Simon was sick, waking up a lot, Ebba waking up, and I was hardly sleeping at all. But whatever.)

And now it's nearly done and I am here to report that Ebba, Simon and I make an amazing staycation team!

It started off with a sick birthday boy. I was heartbroken. Not only because he was sick but because he was sick on the 2 days that Ebba was in creche and I was looking forward to spending 2 days with just Simon, something I have not done enough of since Ebba was born. But it was nice to also just be home with him, play games, and cuddle.

But on Wednesday we started making up for it. We headed to the Eye Film Institute for Het Fantastich Kinderfilmfestival. Public transport to get there included a ferry across the IJ, which is just cool! Simon went to an Emil movie with our neighbor (and his best bud), Ans, while Ebba and I walked around the institute. Ok. Toddled would be more like it. She's toddling now. It's so precious.
How could I have forgotten how ridiculously amazingly cute it is when your child learns to walk. The first few weeks are amazing. I was just mesmerized watching her toddle around, plomp! on her little bottom, and get right back up to toddle some more. Others seemed to enjoy her toddling as well.
Simon and Ans
Our handyman
They had tons of activities for kids all over the institute, and Simon used some power tools to build himself a small car (with some help). Pretty cool!

Thursday we had to make up a swim lesson that he had missed when he was sick over the weekend. It was in Noordwijk, about 40 minutes from Amsterdam so I decided to make an afternoon of it and head off and see something. Along with Simon's buddy Julius we headed off to Boerderij Geertje (a petting zoo), where there were at least 100 baby lambs that you could cuddle with. It was just oozing cuteness! Swim lessons were followed by pancakes in a typical cozy restaurant where the kids could play until pancakes were served. Goat cheese, arugula, pine nuts and honey - yum!

On Friday, there was SUN in the forecast AND everyone slept through the night until 7:15!! With boundless energy we decided to head toward the beach* with some friends who are way more in the know than us. We headed to a park along the dunes with beautiful walking paths, plenty of room for kids to run and play (including playgrounds), and another pancake restaurant with typically slow Dutch service. It was cold, but sunny, and nice to see some nature outside of the city. The kids' boundless energy was all used up and they didn't make it 5 minutes on the drive home, which meant a lovely quiet drive for mama as well. A nice treat. (Also, sorry Ebba. As second born and because I mostly carry you on my back, there are no pics of you. But you were there! Yay!)

Hunting for treasure among the dunes.
And the other bit that has made this staycation extra nice, is that I have also given myself a little vakantie. The house isn't too clean, I'm behind on laundry, and I have hardly cooked at all this week. This has made for a more laid back, easy-going week for all of us.

I guess I hadn't realized how much the daily grind is just that, a grind. That pressure of getting out of the house in the morning, and that short time after school when we have to make dinner, eat, bathe, and rush to bed just wears on you. It has made me realize how my attention isn't always focused where it should be. This week I have refocused and hope I can make some changes to keep things light and fun going forward. I am so happy to have had this amazing week with my kids and fall more and more in love with them. What a lucky mama I am!

*Simon was a little frustrated when I told him that we would taking the car again to the beach. "Why can't we just take the bike?" He likes the car fine, but it's just not how we get places most of the time. I like that getting places by car is strange for him.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Where the World is Quiet

We headed to Spain once again, this time to explore the area around Seville in the Andalucia region in the south of Spain. Our first stop was Ronda, known as the birthplace of modern bullfighting and the home of the world's oldest and largest bullring. It is a popular tourist destination, which means it was filled with hordes of tourists on tour buses, which always detracts from the charm. This city was founded in the 9th Century BC, and had a lot more interesting things going on than the bullring, but with 2 kids that was our main highlight!

Safe from the bulls

Our main destination for this holiday was Finca el Moro. On its website it says, Finca el Moro...where the world is quiet. Perfect! Just what we were looking for. The property is located in the Sierra de Aracena National Park, and well off the beaten path down a long dirt road. They sell many farm products for their guests including pork, lamb, and organic vegetables. There is a yoga shala, built on the site of the original thrushing floor. Best of all, there is Violetta.
Meet Violetta.
She's a donkey that lives on the farm, and often accompanies Nick, one of the owners on hiking tours in the region. But sometimes, she just hangs out with boys like Simon for a whole week and takes him pretty much wherever he wants to go. Thanks to Violetta, we were able to take a long hike through the cork groves around the farm AND....Simon's legs did not get tired. He was thrilled, we were thrilled. There's no telling how Violetta felt about it, but she seemed pretty content.

Every morning we would walk down to the pasture where Violetta was hanging with the horses, and we would put on her donkey gear and bring her back to our house for the day and use her for our various excursions are around the farm. To go to the tree house, for example. Or to hang out in the Yoga shala, which we found an excellent place to spend some time when you have a crawling one year old and are staying on, well, a farm. We checked out their bee hives and walked through the remains of this year's vegetable garden. A deep love was formed. We now send postcards to a donkey. And wonder if she will ever visit Amsterdam. True. (We just got a response from Violetta - she had a foal named Pepe! Simon is over the moon, carries the picture around everywhere, and keeps asking when we can go back.)
A photo opp.
Simon demonstrating how a pig a pig.
Our week in Aracena was picture perfect. While it had been cold and rainy the 3 weeks prior to our arrival, we managed to score a week of clear blue skies and temps near 80F (25-26C). We visited some of the small villages during the day and enjoyed some excellent food, or had a cervesa on one of the plazas. (I recommend Arrieros in Linares de la Sierra and Maricastaña in Castaño del Robledo.) When the kids crashed at 7 we read books and enjoyed the stillness and profound blackness of night in the countryside. We didn't hurry. We didn't have wifi. The world was indeed quiet.
Where are the pigs??
Our last few days were spent in the charming city of Sevilla, where I was lucky enough to have a friend who had just moved there at the beginning of the month. Gina and her husband showed us around the city and helped to keep Simon distracted from the monotony of walking around a city with his parents. We watched Barcelona play Real Madrid in a packed outdoor patio. But the highlight was our visit to the Parque de España which included a fun bike ride through the wide avenues. Thanks to my friend Gina, Martin and I even got a date night in Sevilla!
Me and Gina reunited in Sevilla.
Ever the cool customer drinking his milk at the counter.
And just like that, she's 1!
We flew home on Ebba's birthday. She had lunch in Paris. (Ok. At the airport in Paris.) She's one!!