Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Some useful things to have when you're expecting (Updated Version)

baby stuff

Remember this post from like a year ago? Apparently it's one of the most viewed posts I've ever written so over the Christmas break I decided to update it and repost it in case any of you missed it. My updates are in italics. P.S. In the future, if you're looking for this post or any other baby related post, make sure to check under the label 'baby'. 

A few months ago I found out that a good friend of mine in Barcelona (another American expat) is expecting her first baby, a little girl (!). We finally got a chance to catch up over lunch last weekend and she pumped me with questions about necessary items to have when you're expecting. Off the top of my head, I rattled off as many items as I could remember. But when I got home that day, I started making a more detailed list for her with links to the products on Amazon. Apart from telling her what I thought would be useful, I also told her what items I thought were totally unnecessary or which items we received and never ended up using. It occurred to me to post this same list here on the blog because I remember how overwhelmed I was when I was pregnant by all the lists of "must-haves" and "essential" items a baby supposedly needs. 

Before we get into the list, I think it's important to mention that what may have been useful for the Professor and I may not be for you. Our decisions on which products to buy were based on how much money we wanted to spend, the fact that we live in a big, walkable city where we don't need a car, the fact that our apartment is small and that we are not fans of clutter, and the fact that I'm a stay at home mom who breastfeeds and co-sleeps. So my advice to you would be to think about what would work best for your life as you read this list. With that disclaimer in mind, here are my recommendations:

For feeding your little one:

  • The My Brest Friend pillow  was something I used several times a day every day when nursing the little one. It's a real back saver and arm saver especially when you've got a newborn who nurses for hours so many times a day. As necessary as this was, the little one outgrew it really quickly and after he was two months old, I stopped using it. Since you might not use this item very long (or not at all if it turns out you're not able to breastfeed) my advice would be to borrow this item from a friend if possible or buy it secondhand. 
  • The Medela Harmony Manual Breast Pump has probably been the most essential item I received. Even though I'm mostly a stay at home mom, I sometimes teach classes for a few hours a week and I need to leave the Professor a few bottles so he can feed the little one in my absence. The pump is very efficient but if you're going back to full-time work and still want to breastfeed, I would say to DEFINITELY get an electric pump. They're expensive but the manual pump that I have would give you carpal tunnel syndrome and it takes too long to fill a bottle. Apparently some hospitals allow you to rent out an electric pump from them so this might be a good option. Be sure to ask at the hospital where you plan to deliver. 
  • Comotomo Natural Bottles:  Even though the breast pump comes with two bottles, we registered for the Comotomo bottles since they are slow flowing (meaning your baby won't chug the milk) and because the shape is meant to imitate a breast. We used the bottles that came with our breast pump to store milk in the fridge and then we poured the milk from those into the Comotomo bottles. Now that the little one is eating solids and purees, we use the old pump bottles to store his homemade baby food. They're the perfect size! Note: I have two pieces of advice for picking out a baby bottle. The first is, don't buy too many. One or two should be sufficient because you may find that your baby doesn't take a bottle or that he/she has issues with the bottle you bought. The second piece of advice is to think about how difficult it is to clean the bottle you select and also how many pieces it comes with. I have to admit that one reason I liked the Comotomo bottles is because it's wide enough that you don't need a bottle brush and it only has two pieces to clean. 
  • You're going to need lots of burp cloths. In the early months, I had one in every room of the house because you never knew when a spit up/vomit situation would happen. I love the Aden and Anais burp cloths because they're soft and so big but really any kind will do. Note: baby spit up really smells and it gets stuck in a baby's neck and all their folds so don't be surprised if you're bathing your baby fairly often especially in the early days. 
  • I didn't register for breast pads, nipple shields, or nipple cream  I think if I'd have gone back to full-time work outside the home, I would have been more self-conscious of leakage and I would have bought the breast pads. I never needed nipple shields and the hospital gave me nipple cream which I only needed for a few days anyway.
  • Now that the little one is eating solids, I use this Immersion Blender to mash up all his food but any food processor or blender would work. As for spoons and bowls, just make sure whatever you buy is BPA free. Also, chances are you'll receive a million bibs as gifts and you can't see why you need so many but trust me, you do. 
  • The little one loves his mOmma water cup and we like that it's spill proof! Since he's teething now he also likes to gnaw on the straw. 
  • Of course, you won't need a high chair for the first five or six months, but I thought I'd throw in that we bought the ubiquitous IKEA Antilop high chair in white. It's inexpensive, slim and extremely easy to clean. As with the baby bottles, my advice to you when buying a high chair is to consider how easy it is to clean. If it's got a fabric cushion or a lot of tiny nooks where food can get stuck, I'd pass on it. Oh, and a note about buying a white high chair. Apparently carrots, tomatoes, strawberries and pomegranates all stain. This is not a big deal if you always wipe the chair clean immediately after every meal. But in case you don't get to the stain right away, I discovered that using a paper towel with vegetable oil easily removes stains from the chair. Sounds weird, but it really works

For putting the little one to sleep:

  • We bought this crib from IKEA along with an IKEA mattress and crib sheets and we barely use it. We never thought we would co-sleep with our baby since we were too afraid we'd roll over him or suffocate him. But it turned out to be the best solution for us. Even though we don't use the crib for night-time sleeping, I will sometimes plop the little one in there for nap or when I need him to play by himself in a safe place while I do stuff around the house. A play pen or pack n' play would work just as well for that purpose, but if you're living small like we are or on a budget, a crib will do just fine. Update: When the little one was around 11 months old, we sleep trained him and he's been using his crib ever since. 
  • I went back and forth over giving the little one a pacifier but in the end, I did and it truly did help him fall asleep. He doesn't go for a pacifier anymore but you might find them invaluable in the first few months like we did. My advice would be to buy just a few and see if your little one uses them.
  • We received many swaddles and only used them the first few days after the little one was born. He didn't like being swaddled and figured out how to get out of them. Interesting tidbit: Swaddling is not big in Spain. In the hospital where the little one was born, where all they do is births, the nurses had never seen a swaddle before and had no idea what to make of it. 
  • We never used sleep sacks but I can see where they'd be handy. The little was born in the hottest month of the year so we didn't start covering him with a blanket until late October. At that point, I started dressing him in warm, feet pajamas at night since every time I put socks or a blanket on him, he'd kick them off.

For diaper changes:

  • Hands down, the most used thing we own is the Skip Hop Changing Station. If you have the space for a changing table, that's wonderful. But if you live in a small apartment like we do, then this product is for you. It's made of vinyl so you can wipe stuff off it or wash it in case of emergencies. But when you're not using it, you can fold it up and put it away and when you need to go out, just grab it and head out the door. It has a compartment for extra diapers and it comes with a plastic container for baby wipes. P.S. I think diaper bags are unnecessary if you have a changing station. Anything else your baby might need (pacifier, bib, burp cloth) will fit in your purse or stroller basket. Update: We ended up buying a Skip Hop Diaper bag because the stroller we have has a very shallow basket and you can't collapse the stroller if there's stuff in the basket. The diaper bag has a long strap so it hangs right off the handlebars of our stroller whether it's open or folded up and that's super convenient since anything you might need (juice box, diaper, teething toy) is more accessible than if you had to rummage around in the stroller basket. As an added bonus, the diaper bag's become a very useful item to have every time we travel since we can fit so much in it. 
  • The little only had diaper rash when he was two weeks old and it went away as soon as we switched to perfume-free wipes. In any case, the hospital gave us a care package that came with diaper rash cream so we never needed to buy it. Update: Once he began eating solid foods, the little one got diaper rash more frequently so we always have a tube of diaper rash cream around. Our preferred one is Desitin.
  • The idea of a diaper genie kind of grosses me out so we never registered for one. Also we wouldn't have had the space for it anyway. We put dirty diapers in odor locking baggies we get at the supermarket. These ones are similar. Whenever we leave the apartment we just grab the full bag and toss it in the trash.
  • Another note on diapers: When the little one was born, I tried to spend as little money as I could but I learned a very important lesson: There are a few things in life you should never buy cheap, like luggage or car insurance. I also learned that you should never buy cheap diapers and that there is a difference between overnight and daytime diapers. Overnight diapers save you from the leakages that cause you to do laundry so often. 

For getting around:

  • Your choice of stroller will be determined by where and how you live. Barcelona is very walkable and has excellent public transportation. For that reason, the most popular strollers here are the Bugaboo and the Maclaren. This is because they are both lightweight strollers that take up little space in your home when folded up and are small enough that they are easy to navigate narrow and crowded city streets. The Bugaboo was way out of our price range so we settled on the Maclaren. We like that it's suitable from birth and light enough that we can carry it up and down the stairs in our building (we live on the 3rd floor with no elevator). Note: If I lived in Miami or Los Angeles or a city where you are constantly getting in and out of your car, I'd probably buy a stroller base with a car seat attachment. The Britax B looks good for this.  
  • It may seem unnecessary, but I'd advise buying a stroller liner. These attach to the stroller seat and can be removed for easy washing in the laundry machine. When your baby has an explosive diarrhea situation or spilled their chocolate milk all over themselves while in the stroller, you'll  realize that this was money well spent. As I've mentioned before, always think about how easy something is to clean before you buy it.
  • Easy as the stroller is, still easier is using the Ergo baby carrier. When we're popping out of the house to run errands or go for a walk, we strap on the Ergo and pop the little one in. He loves being pressed up against our chest and always falls asleep in it. Note: If I could go back in time I would have chosen another color besides black since you can see lint and spit up stains easier in black.
  • I mentioned in my original post that we don't have a car here in Barcelona so we didn't register for a car seat. But since we go to Miami for large chunks of time a few times a year, we ended up buying one when Roman was around a year old. There are SO many car seats out there and shopping for one can be quite intimidating. One thing I would suggest is to just bypass the infant car seat and buy a convertible car seat right from the get go that will grow with your child. The one we have is suitable from birth to 65 lbs. This is the one we have. A car seat is  a tricky thing to recommend though because experiences can vary depending on the size of your car, the year it was made, etc. Apparently, since 2002, cars have to come with the LATCH system which makes it easier to attach the carseat. If your car is older, it might be a little more hassle but as we have a newish car, this has never been an issue. Also we drive a mid-sized SUV so we find that the car seat is just the right size but if you have a smaller car, you might think it's really big. And keep in mind that if you buy a stroller system like the one I mentioned above, it'll come with an infant car seat so you won't need to worry about buying another car seat until your baby grows out of that one. 

For bath time:

  • We bought this baby tub and we love it. Because we're short on space, we love that you can fold it and put it away when you're not using it. We also bought the accompanying infant support. 

For play time:

  • I'm not a big fan of lots of bright, plastic and noisy toys so we have a very small collection of these. Up until a certain age, your baby will find amusement and entertainment in ordinary, everyday things (keys, water bottles, tissue paper, mommy's glasses, etc) so you don't need a bunch of stuff for them to play with. We got these stuffed animals because they're cute but the little one plays with them only sparingly.  
  • Ever since he was born, I've put him on his Activity Mat so he can stare up at the colorful hanging toys. When he got older he would bat at them and try to grab them. Now that he's seven months old, he uses this mat primarily to lie on his tummy and feel the different textures. He also likes the little mirror and the bird that chirps. I love that when he's not using it you can just fold up the mat, disconnect the arms and put the whole thing away. It's nice to not be surrounded with baby stuff all the time and take your living room back.
  • I've written before about his jumperoo. He, like most babies on Amazon, loves this thing. 

Other things that came in handy:

  • Nosefrida: Weird but effective way of clearing your baby's stuffed nose. Tip: If your baby's congested, take a hot shower and then bring the baby to the bathroom. The steam helps to loosen the mucus and is more gentle than the Nosefrida.
  • Sophie the Giraffe: Now that he's teething Sophie is a life saver. We take her everywhere.
  • Aden +Anais swaddle blankets: We didn't use these for swaddling but they're perfect as a light blanket, a discreet nursing cover when you're in public or to drape over the stroller on a really sunny day.
  • We received tons of clothes when Roman was born but most people like to buy a size up which meant that we had very little clothes that he could wear immediately upon coming home from the hospital. Make sure to buy yourself some of those cheap white onesies labelled NB for newborns just in case. 
  • Barcelona gets pretty chilly in the winter months so we bought this bundler to go on Roman's stroller. He's so snug and warm in it. You can see a picture of him in it here.
  • A last thing that I think is great and super useful. There is something called Amazon Mom I just found out about that gives you special deals and fast delivery if you subscribe. It also comes with coupons for baby stuff and a discount on diapers delivered straight to your door. We don't live in the U.S. so I'm not a member but it sounds pretty sweet. Have any of you tried it?

Things I think are unnecessary/things we never used:

  • White noise machine
  • Baby bottle dryer
  • Baby wipe warmer 
  • Infant swing
  • Boppy pillow 
  • Humidifier/Dehumidifier 
  • Baby mittens 
  • Video monitor
  • Play pen or pack 'n play 
  • Rocker/Glider
  • Baby food maker

I realize this was quite a lengthy post but I'm hopeful that some of you may find it useful one day. Good luck and/or congratulations! 


Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Quiet Time

Happy New Year friends! I hope that wherever you are, you are in a place that makes you feel at peace with the world. Yesterday, with the departure of the Three Kings, the winter festivities finally came to a close. We've been in Miami for the last three weeks and our days have been filled with visits to family and friends, long treks around the city in our car (hello Miami traffic!), late bedtimes and later wake ups the following morning, many indulgent and rich foods prompting some predictable New Year's resolutions, a few thousand screenings of Frozen, and the noise and chaos of too many battery operated Christmas gifts. As much as I enjoy this time of year for all it brings, at the end of every day I so look forward to getting into bed and curling up with a good book for some quiet, recharging time. (Of course, I don't mind if a certain little one curls up in bed with me as long as said little is in a good mood and does not try to jump on me or climb me or ask me for another cookie). It may seem fitting then, that the book I've been escaping into every night is a book entitled 'Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking.'  I've only read the first few chapters so far but it's been really interesting learning some things about introversion and understanding that side of myself better. I seldom make resolutions but this year I've resolved to carve out some more 'me' time because a sliver of peace and quiet during the day goes a long way indeed. My second resolution, which hopefully will tie in with the first one, is to actually finish one of the books I start. I'm currently halfway through two and I just cracked open a new one last night. What about you guys? Any goals for 2015?

I'll be in Miami for another week and a half and then it's back to Barcelona. If I don't touch base with you guys for a while, know that I'm thinking of you. Be well!

(Photo of us by the talented Valentina Barreto

Friday, November 28, 2014

When the lights go on

Something magical happened last weekend in Barcelona. Christmas lights went up all around the city a few weeks ago and just last Friday, they were finally turned on! It seems the holiday season is already upon us and I, for one, am so excited. It's so enchanting to walk underneath the lights and see twinkling and a bit of sparkle everywhere you turn. I'm sure it can charm even the biggest curmudgeon.

A good friend of ours took these lovely pictures of the lights around town and kindly permitted me to share them with you guys here. I hope you enjoy!

P.S. A belated Happy Thanksgiving to all my U.S. readers. I hope your hearts and bellies are full. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Scenes from Aix en Provence

Two weeks ago, the Professor had to present his research at a conference in Aix en Provence and the little one and I decided to tag along. We thought we'd see the sights in and around the city center and then maybe take the bus to nearby Marseille and explore somewhere else. Well, our trip didn't pan out exactly as we planned. Roman's stomach virus lingered longer than we expected and just as he was getting better, he caught a nasty ear infection. The pediatrician prescribed an antibiotic for his ear which cleared up the infection straight away but made his already sensitive and wobbly stomach even more sensitive and wobbly which made him not want to eat and throw up whenever he did. So we scrapped the plan of going to Marseille but we got to know little Aix really well and if I tell you that despite the fussy, vomiting toddler we had a nice time (again, under the circumstances) maybe that'll give you an idea of how lovely this city is. 

Here are some scenes from our trip:

To start things off, here is probably the most iconic image of Provence. A little café with the typical wicker chairs and of course an old guy with a beret sitting with a cigarette and a newspaper. 

When we checked into our hotel and received our complimentary map of the city, we saw that almost all of the recommended sights were fountains. Apparently this is the city of a thousand fountains and no kidding, there's at least one every few blocks. This one above was my favorite. Not because of the fountain itself but because of the whole picture: the moss on the base, the green peeking through the pebbles on the ground and the contrast of the bluish grey doors against the warm tones of this old building. Isn't it charming?

A shot of Roman sleeping next to one of the thousand fountains. The poor little one. This was the first day of our trip when he was feeling the worst. All he wanted that day was to be walked around and around so that he could sleep and I was happy to oblige since it seemed like the only thing I could do for him. I'm not exaggerating when I say that I sometimes walked for three or four hours straight just to ensure that he slept as deeply as possible. I could only ever stop for a few minutes at a time since the lack of motion would immediately wake him up.

The good thing about walking around and around was all the window shopping I got to do. When it comes to window shopping in France, my favorite things to ogle are the boulangeries and patisseries. Pastries are an area where the French beat the Spanish, no contest. I think this picture speaks for itself, don't you think? 

Basically, we come to France to eat. We're not very fussed about the cathedrals or the museums or the palaces. But you can bet your life that we take advantage of our surroundings in all things culinary. Especially dessert wise. This is at the Béchard bakery on the Cours Mirabeau. If you go, try the calisson. After all, the cakes are too big for sidewalk snacking :) 

Above is a picture of the best, accidental find in the history of people accidentally finding things ever (that's right, Signor Columbus). While out walking one day, I decided to head down a tiny street off busy Rue Espariat and I found this little gem. It's a cafe run by and for expats with all of the familiar foods from England and the U.S. It serves tea, cakes, and bistro fare but the best thing about this place is the free wifi and the kid's playroom. For me it was like an answer to a prayer. Whenever we were in our hotel room, Roman would fuss and whine because he was bored but I couldn't take him to the park because he was sick and it was cold out. So it was wonderful to find this place where I could sit quietly and sip a mint tea while my little one played with cars and trains and pop up books. We made sure to visit once every day that we were in Aix. In case you're ever visiting this part of the world with little ones, I highly recommend The Provence Shop on Rue Victor Leydet.

A shot of my little one in the playroom of The Provence Shop. The toys are very well loved and most of them don't have batteries but that hardly matters to little kids or parents. Roman was entertained so I was happy. I just have to mention one awful thing that happened here. It still makes me feel a bit horror-struck when I think about it. On our second day in town, I stopped by the cafe in the hopes of trying the lunch (all I'd tasted the day before was the tea and banana bread which was delicious). Just as soon as my salad was served, Roman started vomiting all over himself. The Professor was at his conference and I was alone with a child covered in sick. It was terrible. I used up half a bag of baby wipes cleaning him off while he cried. The lady who runs the shop rushed over to help and I was so grateful to her not only for her speedy response but also for the fact that she was so calm and casual about the whole thing. For some reason, I was embarrassed when it happened-- the way you get when your child has a temper tantrum in public. When those kinds of things happen, I think we feel vulnerable and exposed because they reveal how little control we have over a situation when we feel like we should be on top of things all the time. So I felt ashamed and grossed out (I never touched my salad) and worried about my son. But the cafe owner was unflappable and helpful and that just meant so much to me. 

Asleep again on day three of walking about town. Looking back over all my travel posts, I realized that I have so many pictures of Roman asleep in his stroller. I could start a Tumblr devoted to them. I could call it, 'The interesting things Roman never saw because he was asleep but wouldn't remember anyway if he had been awake because, let's face it, he's just a toddler.'

Most of the time we were in Aix, the weather was lovely with lots of sun and only a mild chill in the evenings so it was the perfect walking weather. Everyone makes a big fuss about Provence in the summertime when it's lavender season and everywhere you go there are shades of shocking purple. But I have to say that Aix in the fall is probably just as delightful. There's not that many tourists, the trees are just sparse enough, and there seems to be a lovely autumnal hue on all the buildings. 

Of course, every autumn day can't be a sunny one so when the weather turned wet and cold on the last day of our visit, we were happy to escape inside Le Pain Quotidien. This chain serves wonderful organic foods but I have the feeling most people actually come here for the waffles and hot chocolate. We spent at least a good two hours here having lunch and dessert, enjoying the ambiance and free wifi while Roman played with a little French boy who had also brought along some Matchbox cars to play with. The kids raced their cars along the long table and giggled like little maniacs. What I love about this age is that there's no language barrier. As long as there are toys, kids will find a way to communicate. 

Walking around the streets of the city center, I saw this sign repeated a few times. It made me laugh so I thought I'd share it. I've seen signs for deer crossings before but never one for wiener dogs. What privileged animals to get their own designated part of the street! 

This drawing is painted on a window of a bar. It seemed to represent what a trip to Aix should look like. Two people sharing a bottle of wine and deep conversation over a friendly game of cards. 

A shot of the city center at night. When I say night, I mean five thirty or so when the sun went down. Ah, winter. At least it still looked pretty, right?

So that was our trip! We'd love to visit again someday, hopefully when we're all well. Have you guys ever been? What did you enjoy about it?

P.S. Here are some scenes from our last trip (also to France), in case you missed it.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Keeping it Real

It occurred to me that I gush over Roman a lot on this blog. I write about how much happiness he brings me, how cute he is, and the sweet little things he does (the latest heart-melting thing: he wriggles onto my lap, lays his head on my chest and gives a little contented sigh). But there are a lot of challenging, frustrating, and downright disgusting things he brings to my life as well. The latest case in point: he vomited on me three times Monday night. Yep. It was awful.

The little one caught some kind of stomach bug and all Monday evening, he was clutching his tummy and grimacing in pain. We didn't know what to do for him and we figured that putting him to bed early would be the best thing. Contrary to habit, he didn't fight us and that should have been a warning sign that he was feeling really bad. Less than twenty minutes after I put him down, he started crying for me so I went in and picked him up. No sooner had I pulled him onto the bed with me than he started hurling all over the both of us and all over my bed.  I just stood there, totally covered in vomit and shouting for the Professor who came running. At that moment, I instantly remembered a piece of advice from my dear aunt who warned me what to do in this kind of situation. She told me that if your kid ever barfs on you, don't try to take your clothes off because pulling a shirt over your head that's covered in barf is the worst thing possible. Just get in the shower with your kid with your clothes on. So that's what I did while the Professor cleaned up the mess.

It doesn't seem like it could get worse than that, right? But Roman threw up another four times that night and nobody got any sleep. I spent the night spoon feeding him chamomile tea and doing laundry while the Professor held him and watched Finding Nemo for the hundredth time (I love that little fish. He's the only thing that made Roman stop crying). After vomit number 4, we finally got wise and put trash bags over the entire sofa and then covered the bags with blankets (see photo above).

Thankfully, our little one is a hundred percent better. The doctor said that it's just gastroenteritis and all we can do is feed him a bland diet and let him relax for a few days so his stomach can settle. My house is back to normal too. The couch cushions have been debagged, all the bed linens plus four sets of pajamas have been washed, and there is no smell of sick anywhere anymore. Hallelujah!

So just in case you thought it was all giggles and cuddles over here, it's really not. But horrible nights like this one make me so grateful for all of the wonderful ones we've had and hopefully will continue to have in the future. You know, the ones with no vomit.

P.S. For another 'keeping it real' post, check out this old one.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

A magical place and a special day

Today I'd like to share a magical place with you guys called  Pudding Cafe in l'eixample dreta. I discovered this place by accident a year ago after visiting the LAIE bookstore which is directly across the street. Through the window, I caught a glimpse of a crazy white and red striped ceiling and was immediately intrigued by the circus-like décor. When you step inside, you feel at once as though you've entered into Alice's Wonderland with the enormous mushrooms that make you feel dwarfed in comparison. There are comfy chairs and enormous tables, cozy sofas in the corners for secret chats with friends, books piled high on every surface and all the drinks are served in dainty, flowery, cups.


Last week, in order to celebrate my birthday, I invited my friends here for cake and tea--my two passions in life! I picked this place for a few reasons 1) the lovely decor 2) it was big enough to fit everyone (that makes it sound like I have a lot of friends, but there were only like 9 people there) 3) the food is delicious and 4) it's a perfect spot for kids. Below is a picture I took of some of my birthday cakes. My idea was that since the portion sizes are enormous, we would order a few different things and share. It was like tapas but with cake, which is even better! We took dainty bites and savored them like sommeliers carefully trying to detect subtle flavors. Then, we voted on our favorites. I have a spot in my heart for carrot cake but the cheesecake got the most votes. (P.S. I have an inner girly girl that doesn't like pink, princesses, unicorns or anything sparkly but cannot get enough of adorable, whimsical, heart shaped plates. That girl's weird). 

As I mentioned, Pudding is a wonderful place for toddlers and little kids. There are plenty of children's books, board games, crayons and paper, some Legos,and other random things lying around to keep the little ones busy while the parents enjoy themselves. Roman probably had as much fun as I did, but that might have been partly because his galpal Amelia showed up.

Just look at these cuties! But don't be fooled by their innocent expressions--these two are doubtlessly up to some shenanigans.

This place is a wonderful little gem in the middle of the city--only blocks away from touristy Plaça Catalunya and yet very few tourists will ever find this place. Even Barcelona natives that I invited had never been here. It's a great place to come and indulge your sweet tooth (dessert makes up 90% of their menu) and chill out with your friends. If you're ever in town, I invite you to visit what has become one of my favorite places in the city.

(Photos: top two from Charhadas, third photo from Milanesa)

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Mind of a Chef

So here's a confession: I watch too much TV. Whenever I'm home alone and need some background noise, I switch on the TV. Whenever I have a block of time where I can potentially pick up a book, I pick up the remote instead. I actually confessed to my sister a few weeks ago that I fear that I'm in danger of becoming an illiterate. I haven't read a book from cover to cover since this year began. And this from someone who used to read a book a month! (By the way I do read a fair bit just not books. I read mostly news articles, op-eds, and blogs. The books I do read, thanks to my son, mostly tend to be about a hippo who has no friends or about a bunch of escaped zoo animals that sneak into the zookeeper's house but, improbably enough, not for the purpose of eating him).

The thing is that when you have a part time job and a two year old, you just don't have that much time or energy to read. When I do have a few hours of free time, normally during that blissful block between when the little one goes down for the night and I pass out on the couch with my glasses on, I prefer to watch something light and short on TV. It's relaxing to sit and let your mind just go blank and also to share that experience with someone else. After all, reading is not exactly a social activity or something you can share with someone unless you're reading aloud or your partner is reading the same book as you and you discuss it with each other afterwards. So, instead, the Professor and I bond by watching TV.

BUT first we have to decide what to watch which gets a little tricky. First of all, it has to be relatively short. Long gone are the days when we can devote 2 solid hours to a movie without falling asleep in the middle of it. Nowadays, we need something that's 30-45 minutes long (and no commercials please!). I also don't want to watch something dark, depressing or deep just before bed so nothing with zombies, serial killers, or zombie serial killers. Then, of course, we have to both be equally interested in whatever we're watching. Tricky indeed.

Recently, we've discovered a show that meets all of our criteria, so I thought I'd share it with you guys. The Professor and I share a love of cooking and learning about food and we're equally fond of chef Anthony Bourdain. I've read one of his books and the Professor and I have seen every episode of No Reservations and his newer show, Parts Unknown. A few weeks ago, I discovered that one of his new endeavors is a show on PBS which features different chefs from around the world and tries to learn a bit about what inspires them and how they come up with new dishes. The show is called, 'The Mind of a Chef' and it's available on Netflix. We've found it both educational and entertaining. The best thing about the show is that it inspires you to get creative and daring in the kitchen which is great if you've been in a cooking rut like I have.

So check it out if you like and then come back and let me know what you thought of it. And if you have a recommendation for something we should add to our Netflix queue, please share!

P.S. I also really enjoyed reading this recent interview with Anthony Bourdain. I'd love to be his dining companion one day!

(Photos of Momofuku, restaurant of chef David Chang who is featured in Season 1)