Sunday, December 29, 2013

Dear Zahara: 6 Months

Dear Zahara,

A very merry unbirthday to you, yes you! It's so hard to believe that you are already six months old! Although you are still a baby, in many ways you are already so big. This was a month of big changes for you--the biggest of which is that you started solid food! You've only been eating for a couple of days (we started on Christmas), but the verdict is in; you LOVE it! Daddy and I were amazed at the ease with which you began eating. You knew exactly what to do with the spoon that was offered to you. You grabbed it out of daddy's hand and put it right in your mouth.

Since you're such a good sitter now (you can sit by yourself pretty well!), we put you in a high chair for the first time. You loved being at the table and part of the action. It's great for mummy and daddy too, because now we can use both hands to eat without having to hold you the whole time. Yay!

Another big development this month is that you can roll both from your back to your tummy (which you learned last month), and from your tummy to your back! You've been a lot less frustrated at night now that you can roll yourself back to a comfortable position. Speaking of which, you are a bed hog! We traveled a lot this month--you saw your fourth, fifth and sixth countries!--and we ended up with you in our bed a lot. You were only able to sleep if all of your limbs were splayed out like a starfish. You definitely are your parents' child. That's how both mummy and daddy sleep too.

You are so fun to play with these days. I love hearing your high-pitched squeal when we play peek-a-boo or when I'm tickling you. It melts my heart when you reach for me and "kiss" my face. We need to work on your kisses though. It's a big, sloppy, open-mouthed affair with a lot of grabbing and pinching. Still, it's a sweet sentiment and I love it.

Zoey, you are the best thing to happen to daddy and I and we can't imagine our lives without you. Happy half-birthday. Here's to the next two hundred!

Things I Love: Clarks Boots

I have a pair of Clark's boots that I absolutely love. They are perfect. They have a low heel with a rubber sole, so they are comfortable enough to be my every day shoe even when traveling; but since they are a leather knee-high boot, it still looks like I made an effort.

I wear these boots so much (especially here in England where every season is boot season) that I wore out the zipper. I stopped in to my local Clark's store to see what they recommended and I found another reason to love the company. Their policy is to either give me £20 toward the cost of fixing the shoe, or allow me to buy a new pair at half price! I didn't even buy the shoes in that store in the first place, but it didn't matter at all. I chose to buy the new shoes since it would have only been around a £10 difference. What an amazing policy for an amazing pair of shoes!

Update: Sadly, I no longer love these shoes. The zipper went out again when I was already back in America so I couldn't get them fixed. What a bummer.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Baby Essentials: 0-3 Months

The first three months of a baby's life are often called the fourth trimester. The baby is so helpless, relying completely on you for everything. To be honest, this was not my favorite time. Yes, Zahara was an absolute gift and I tried to cherish every moment because they are fleeting. Lovely sentiments aside, the first few months are hard! No one really tells you how hard. The baby has no sense of day or night; for the first few weeks (unless you are one of the lucky ones whose baby innately knows how to sleep well), you are in a weird limbo with no real schedule. 3:00 in the afternoon might as well be 3:00 in the morning, and vice versa.

When I was pregnant I read a ton of "must-have" lists to help me prepare for the new baby. Each list was different than the next. Some bloggers' "must-haves" were other bloggers' "least used." I combed through each one; read countless reviews on Amazon; spoke with my mommy friends; and put together the end-all-be-all of baby registries. It was absolutely perfect and had everything I could possibly need for Zahara's first few months. Then Zoey came and I realized how impossible it is to actually prepare for a baby. Every baby is different, and what works for one will not work for another. So, with that caveat, here's my list of essential baby items for 0-3 months.

Muslin- I've already told you about my love for muslin, but seriously these things are the greatest. I still do not leave the house without one. An absolute must-have for me are the aden+anais swaddle blankets. Yes, they are a bit pricey, but they are worth it. They are huge and so soft. Grab a few packs of cheap ones too though.

Onsies- Zahara lived in these, and these only, for the first few weeks. Granted, she was a summer baby so she didn't need a lot of other layers, but these were the most convenient one-piece outfits. We bought a bunch of cheap ones from the grocery store to start us off, knowing that she would go through several a day. We had a couple of newborn size, but she was in size 0-3 pretty quickly.

Nursing Cover- Dan and I have a very active lifestyle, and we wanted to include Zoey in that as much as possible. Obviously life with a baby is different, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't be able to get out and about. Since I'm breastfeeding, it helps to have a great nursing cover to allow me to feed comfortably anywhere. My mom got me this awesome one from Pea and the Pod. It's soft, lightweight and provides excellent coverage.

Moby Wrap- For the first few weeks when Zahara was so little, it was wonderful to be able to wrap her up and carry her around. She felt safe and secure, and I liked having my hands free. Dan loved wearing her too. As she's gotten bigger, we've transitioned to the Ergo, but the Moby was a great first carrier.

Phone/Tablet- With a newborn, you won't have a lot of "down time," but you will have a lot of time where you are forced to stay in once place in relative darkness. You'll be feeding her or trying to get her to sleep (probably on you). Having some form of entertainment that you can use one-handed and in the dark will help keep your sanity.

Baby Bathtub- This is the easiest way to clean your baby. Yes, you can use a sink or a regular bathtub or a laundry basket, but I like that this one has a little seat for her to sit in. When she was a newborn, she used the mesh sling and it kept her from getting in too deep. It was a big comfort for us new parents.

Hooded Towel- Yes, you can use a regular towel for your baby. But, I like the hooded ones because they keep her head warm while I am dressing her. Plus, how can you resist the cuteness?

Fisher Price Cradle N' Swing- This thing is a miracle worker. Even today when we're trying to get Zoey down for a nap, I'll stick her in here. It rocks her, plays music; has a moving mobile; and has a mirror for her to look at. It is a great place to put her when you are trying to grab a bite to eat or a shower.

Britax B-Agile Stroller- We did a lot of research on which stroller to buy, and the end went with this one since it was so highly rated on Amazon. I don't regret it at all. It is really sturdy and handles bumpy pavement well. It's incredibly easy to fold (one handed!), and it's light weight. We also got the Britax car seat that can clip directly into the stroller. Love it!

Moses Basket/Pack n' Play- For the first three months, Zahara slept in a moses basket next to our bed. I had never heard of these before moving to England, but they are really convenient for the early months when you want the baby close by. A pack n' play or other travel crib would function the same way.

Boppy- I really loved my Boppy for the first few months. I loved wrapping the pillow around my waist and resting Zoey on the side while I fed her. It took the weight off me and allowed me to have my hands free. It also helped me make sure she was positioned correctly.

Summer Infant Changing Pad- We opted not to get a traditional changing table, and instead get this portable changing pad. What a great decision! I love that we can move it to whichever room we happen to be living in at the time. We bought a microfiber cover for it, which is really soft and easy to clean.

How does this list compare to yours? I'd love to hear your experience!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Zahara's First Holiday Party

I have been lucky enough to make some great friends while here in Harrogate. I am especially grateful for all the friends I met through my pregnancy yoga class. One of my American friends recommended the class to me as a way of learning how to cope with pregnancy and labor, but also as a way to meet other pregnant women. She said many of her "mom" friends are women she met in that class. I feel exactly the same way.

It is so wonderful to have a group of friends who are going through exactly what you are. Two of my friends' babies were born just days away from Zahara (one is two days older, the other two days younger). Of the seven of us who see each other regularly, the largest age gap for the babies is only twelve weeks!

Last week we all got together at our friend Kristiina's house for a little holiday party. All the babies dressed up, she put out a delicious spread and we had a fun Secret Santa exchange. Zoey was the only one in a non-holiday-themed outfit, but she put on her best party dress.

Everyone had a great time, until we tried to take a group picture. We lined up all seven babies on the couch. Six of the babies were absolutely fine; one was screaming her beautiful little head off. Can you guess which one?

This is my favorite picture. It looks like Chloe (the elf on the left) is saying to Olivia, "What's up with this baby?"

Monday, December 16, 2013

Bear-y Christmas

Harrogate put on its second annual Christmas market a couple of weekends ago, and it was even bigger and better than last year. There were tons of stalls with hand-made crafts, jewelery and adorable hand-knit baby clothes. Unlike last year, there was also a food tent with local sweets, meats and mulled wine.

Live reindeer

Zebra burger?!

It was a little chilly out, so we put Zoey in the cutest bear suit. That's really the point of this post, to show you how adorable my little bear is. Enjoy!


Friday, December 13, 2013

It's All About Gaudi

Our last day in Barcelona was all about the famous architect Antoni Gaudi. We visited Park Guell in the morning, Sagrada Familia in the afternoon, and took an evening stroll along Passeig de Gracia. I'm not sure which part I liked the most; they were so unique and interesting. I never thought I was a Gaudi fan, but Dan and I agreed that there is something special about seeing the buildings in situ.

The last time I was in Barcelona (twelve years ago), entrance to Park Guell was free. Now you have to buy a ticket that gives you a 30-minute window in which you can enter the monumental zone. Once inside, there's no time limit. My friend Nick recommended buying tickets in advance, and I'll recommend the same to you. It's cheaper, and you avoid waiting in line.

Just getting into the park was a fun adventure. We had to take seven or eight very steep escalators to get to the top of the hill. Here's a view from the midway point.

The park was really nice, and thankfully not too crowded. We had a stroller and a carrier, and the stroller was kind of a pain. We knew we'd be walking around all day though so we wanted to have somewhere to put her when we got tired of carrying her.

I was very impressed with the Sagrada Familia. Known for its lengthy construction (131 years and counting!), it is truly a work of art. The outside is unique and interesting in its own right, but the inside is glorious. When asked about the timeline for the project and why it was taking so long, Gaudi reportedly said, "My client is not in a hurry." Ha! I love that!

Again, we bought tickets in advance, but we didn't realize that you have to buy a separate ticket to gain entrance to the towers. In fact, each tower has its own ticket. You aren't allowed to bring babies (or anyone under 14 years) up there, so Dan and I took turns--one of us watched Zahara while the other went up one of the towers. We each went up a different one so we were able to get pictures of both. It was definitely worth the extra cost to go to the top. The views of the city are amazing, and you get to see some of the sculptures up-close. You take an elevator to the top of the tower and wind your way down a narrow spiral staircase to get back down. I can see why babies aren't allowed. It was scary at times, but very cool!

After touring the church, we walked toward Passeig de Gracia, which is known as Barcelona's 5th Avenue (like in New York). Not only does pretty much every high-end store you can think of have a location on this street, but many of the buildings were designed by Gaudi. You have to pay to get into some of them, but window shopping is always free.

We capped off our trip to Barcelona with another fun dinner of pinchos at Blai Tonight (see our first experience here). This place was a little off the beaten path and was a bit grubbier than the last place we tried, but I loved it. All of the pinchos were only one Euro and it was standing-room only. It felt fairly authentic even though the food was labeled in English. The whole street (Passeig dels Castanyers) was lined with pinchos bars though, so if I had to do it again I would probably some of the other places.

See other days of this trip:
Barcelona Day 1
Barcelona Day 2

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Houston, We Have Lift-Off

Alternate title to this post: This Is How She Rolls. That's right...we have a roller on our hands! I've been saying for weeks that Zahara was on the verge of rolling. On Friday night she finally did it! All day she had really been gearing up. So much so that I took a ton of videos just in case she actually did it. I didn't want Dan to miss out on the first sighting. While she got really close a lot of times, she never actually rolled during the day.

Later that night after we had already put her to bed though, we glanced at the video monitor to see this:

She did it! She rolled from her back to her stomach! The only problem was that she couldn't get back to her stomach from there. So I had to go rescue her and flip her the right way. I thought maybe it was a one-time event, but sure enough, as soon as I put her back down in the crib, she rolled again! Since then, she's been rolling non-stop. I'm so proud of my big girl!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Thanksgiving in Barcelona

On our first full day in Barcelona--Thanksgiving Day--we took a free walking tour of the city. Our guide, Ricky, was great and he gave us a good overview of Barcelona. You could walk for days and still not see all the amazing shops, restaurants, churches and other cool sights tucked into the more than seventy neighborhoods. Zoey kind of stole the show though. Everyone was cooing at her and making her smile while Ricky was talking.

While Barcelona is most-famously associated with the architecture of Gaudi, we saw some gorgeous landmarks in completely different styles. The Barcelona Cathedral was stunning from the outside (we didn't go in). I also loved this mock bridge (Carrer del Bisbe Irurita) that connects the presidential palace and the town hall in the Gothic Quarter.

We also saw the Jewish Quarter (not that impressive) and Roman tombs (pretty neat). Zoey had a bit of a meltdown halfway through, so I was off in the background taking care of her while Dan stayed with the group. Luckily she fell asleep and I was able to rejoin toward the end. I absolutely love these free walking tours. We have done several in various cities and I am always impressed with the quality of the guides (see here, here, and here).

We spent the morning before the tour started exploring the famous Boqueria market on La Rambla. You could spend hours just wandering through the aisles gawking at the heaping piles of juicy fruit, fragrant spices, and fresh fish. My friend Nick gave us a tip to try and grab lunch at a booth called El Quim. This is one of the best parts about traveling off-season. In the summer, there is no way we'd be able to get a seat at this tiny tapas bar. On this trip, even though the market was crowded, it was nothing like high-season. We had plenty of room.

I treated myself to a glass of Cava, because when in Spain...right? We had some really delicious tapas, but my favorites were the fried artichoke hearts and the padron peppers. I'd never heard of this pepper before, but it is on every tapas menu in town. They are small, sweet peppers that are fried in good olive oil and tossed with a bit of course salt. They are completely addictive. They're kind of like Pringles--once you pop you can't stop. :)

For dinner we knew we wanted to go to one of the kosher restaurants we found about about yesterday to see the candle lighting for Chanukah. So we decided to do dessert first since I don't eat dairy after I eat meat. Luckily, there was a famous pastry shop (Escriba) right next to the restaurant. We ordered a small praline hot chocolate each and a slice of sachertorte (chocolate cake with apricot jam). WOW! It was delicious!

We finished just in time to catch the candle lighting party. It was very crowded in the restaurant, so we didn't get great pictures. It was really fun singing chanukah songs with everyone though. That's one of the things I love most about traveling; you never know what kind of adventure you'll stumble upon.

See the other days of this trip:
Barcelona Day 1
Barcelona Day 3

Monday, December 9, 2013

A Spanish Chanukah

Since we already celebrated Thanksgiving early in Dallas, and Dan had the day off, we decided to skip town for the long weekend and head to Barcelona! This was Zoey's first trip to continental Europe, and she was a champ. We had a great time!

As per usual, we did a lot of eating and a lot of walking. It felt good to be back traveling. I know that sounds crazy since we just got back from our trip to the States, but what I mean is it was our first trip like we used to take before Zoey was born. Even more than that, this was the first time since before the end of my third trimester where I finally felt like myself and could keep up a normal pace of walking several miles per day.

We went exploring pretty much straight from the airport, wandering through Port Olypmic and Barceloneta. It was too windy and sandy to capture any pictures, but I can imagine how fun this area would be in the summer. I loved the small shack-like structures on the boardwalk that opened into giant restaurants a story below on the waterfront. You would never know from looking at them how big they are. Also, on our walk home we spotted a restaurant called Zahara! Too bad she wasn't in the mood for a tequila sunrise.

We found an incredible pincho place for dinner called Bilbao Berria. What makes pinchos fun is that they are small, snack-sized portions that are skewered on to a piece of bread (usually). The toppings vary from fish, to meat, to cheese, and everything in between. There are even desserts on the skewers. You serve yourself and pay per skewer at the end. Usually it's around €1.50 per skewer.

We did a bit of bar-hopping and went to one more place for dinner, Ziryab. It was a really interesting mix of Spanish and Middle Eastern cuisine. The food was just OK, but I loved the ambiance. Lit candles warmed the air as a musician played some instrument I've never heard of. It was lovely.

Our first night in town also happened to be the first night of Chanukah. As we were taking an evening stroll along Las Ramblas, we spotted two guys wearing yarmulkes handing out jelly donuts--a traditional Chanukah treat. They were promoting a Chanukah event for the next night at the kosher restaurant nearby! We ate the donuts and then headed back to our hotel room to light candles for Zahara's first Chanukah.

See the other days of this trip: