A few months ago, I was setting ambiguous deadlines to get my blog back into shape and up to date. Today, I’m happy I’ve fallen behind because going back to post about previous trips means that I get to relive these moments and adventures. The photos bring respite knowing how lucky we are to have made these memories, and they bring comfort knowing we’ll get beyond these challenging and uncertain times to vacation together again. Cheers to November 2019.
There is a reserved space in my heart for big family gatherings, but getting one-on-one time with cousins is like reuniting with unique siblings. We are linked with familiar roots so trading stories is a must, yet at the same time, we there are fun unknowns to discover which makes spending time together a joy. Plus, Kelly and Brian are growing great kids so that adds more gratitude for my sprawling family tree.
The Swaines’ visit featured the traditional London attractions so I felt prepared to tour them around pretty efficiently. However, my regular London rounds have been upgraded! Here’s the important lesson I learnt from the Swaines: you can find a playground and a pint next to any landmark in London. Googlemaps was the secret to our success!
We lucked out riding the top level, front seat of a double decker bus to make the circuit from Parliament to Trafalgar Square. Big Ben was still covered in scaffolding. A horse peed at the exact time Finley posed in front of the Horses Guard! St. James Park is the spot for the bathroom pitstop and is likely home the most visited playground in all of London. Buckingham Palace is where I learnt that Polly does not like to take part in family pictures.
The next day we walked St Paul’s cathedral, Millennium bridge, and the Tate modern. While I changed Saya, Finley and Polly created graphic art that projected onto a wall of screens. Finley drew a Swedish flag and Polly’s image was fittingly…modern? Kelly’s plan for Borough market was Bread Ahead donuts and we were wowed with Brian’s fried cheese arepa! After snapping an iconic Tower Bridge family picture we rested with a pint at the Monument. This is where I learnt that Polly is not a fan of people dressed up in life-sized costumes like Mickey Mouse and Pikachu.
From Lancaster Gate’s entrance into Hyde Park, there is a playground about ten minutes walk inside. There is also a cafe with lagers at four quid apiece. This was a likely stop before heading for afternoon tea on the other side of the park. To say the tea was in the late afternoon is an understatement, but it was Halloween themed, and it included non-egg sweets and treats so Polly could partake.
As is customary, we stuffed ourselves at Lahore, and then pretended we had walked far enough on Brick Lane to fill ourselves with Dark Sugars’ hot cocoa. I fully support this tradition.
Finley and Polly were excited to visit London but it was sweet that they couldn’t get enough of Baby Saya. The next generation already carrying on cousin hangouts is the absolute best.
I get my fill of art when Bachan visits London. I see her energized by our ventures to local and major art exhibitions. Her preference is modern art, but she’ll muse over the masters, too. For her annual October visit, we started at the Barbican for their Cabaret exhibit, and then had afternoon tea in their conservatory. On a rainy Sunday, we trekked out to a craft fair featuring Japanese Shibori and textiles. The artist in my mom was even enthused when we selected a handful of house plants to decorate our flat.
I sandwich in a now-customary mini vacation during her visits to London. I knew I had to perfect place to feed her artistic imagination. Amsterdam boasts a MuseumKwartier that could fill at least a week of museum wanderlust. We stayed across the street from the quad so we could walk over whenever suited.
We arrived on the Eurostar and ate lunch at Foodhallen. It’s an easy space for groups to find a meal, and it’s situated in the same building as an up and coming artist shop. The shop features a tattoo parlor for store bought items. You ‘tattoo’ directly onto the cover of a journal, mug, glasses case, t-shirt, etc. We skipped the ‘ink’ but it’s an idea I hadn’t seen before. We spent the remainder of the afternoon walking the canal rings to give my mom a sense of the city, and to give her some practice crossing the streets between the infamous bike and tram lanes.
For me, the first sight to see has to be the Anne Frank House. I always book tickets for the first entry in the morning to see the space as empty as possible. My mom admitted she wasn’t sure she wanted to start the trip with such a heartbreaking exhibit but was ultimately glad she did. Saya also did very well in the small and narrow annex.
From the Anne Frank House, you can wander the nine streets, and take yourself to stroopwaffles at Lanskroon bakery. I led us towards the sandwich place that Ev suggested to get burgers, but we were distracted by the line outside the soup place across the street: Soup en Zo – Spiegel. It was a better lunch option as my mom was beginning to feel a bit under the weather. We took our soups back to our hotel and had a much a needed siesta.
That Moco Museum was the perfect sized space for an afternoon visit. The museum is dedicated to Banksy, Kusama, and other modern artists who are becoming icons in their own right. The elements of social justice intertwined with cartoons and sculpture made use giddy to discuss the artists long after we left the exhibit.
De Pijp neighborhood is on the other side of the MuseumKwartier but I can see how tourists miss heading in that direction because they’re pulled back into the canal rings. I’m glad we ventured out to find a local spot called The Seafood Bar. It was a relaxing space for an early dinner, nothing frilly, and just basic good eats. Saya was even lulled to sleep in the chill atmosphere!
It’s pretty clear that my mom was under the weather on our last full day in Amsterdam. We took it easy and only went to the largest museum in Amsterdam: The Rijksmusem!? I booked a tour so that we could see one section of the museum comparing Rembrandt and Velazquez. This was my plot so that I wouldn’t become overwhelmed like my previous self in the Prado and the Lourve. We took a rainy walk back to De Pijp to have an early dinner at the Spaghetteria before tucking ourselves into bed.
On the final morning, we hit the Stedelijk Museum for modern Japanese poster art. As we waited for the museum to open, a small boy took an interest in Saya and kept poking his head into the pram. This entertained us until we were able to enter the museum. The posters were fun, and some we connected with right away: like the one with all the tree kanji creating a ‘forest’, or the global warming poster with a giraffe and the continents as her spots. We wanted to spend more time here but had to catch the Eurostar back to London in the early afternoon.
Though we know that Saya is Bachan’s muse when she visits London, the museums of Amsterdam didn’t hurt one bit when it came to a little inspiration. My mom will tuck away these moments of inspiration to feature later in a new block print, a New Years poem, or a fun outfit for Saya when she returns next.
Lanskroon bakery for stroopwaffles
Soup en Zo – Spiegel for soups, salads, and breads
The 9 Streets for window (or real) shopping
Saya’s first longhaul flight to the West Coast was a dream. Maybe she’s got Bay Area chill in her genes? It tickles me to imagine this being the reason she took to the BA baby seat, and why she played quietly for hours sitting between us.
I’m organizing our September tour into three buckets:
- Family love in Cali with Corey
- Family love in Washington
- Friend love back in Cali
Family love in Cali with Corey
Saya met SO many people on this trip. On that first Sunday, Saya met her Bachan for the first time. We gathered at Brian, Meggie, and Paxton’s house with Auntie Marlene and Gary to kick off our West Coast tour. How nice to see the next generation of Kozono/Tonai/Kawakami/Forrest babies meet. Paxton and Saya will be in the same grade once they start school just like Brian and me.
There was a lunch time feast to welcome Saya into the Nishi/Diamant Clan on the following Monday. Barbara (Auntie Grandma), Uncle Corey, Auntie Er, and Takeo hung out in the garden with home grown tomatoes, and then the kitchen playing with ‘honey bears’.
On Tuesday, Uncle Roy, Auntie Marian, and Kristi visited with us at Auntie Jo’s house. Saya was showered with love, clothing and books from her Fresno family. Aburaya lunch was a hit for Auntie Jo’s birthday, and though Kristi had to get back for work the next day, we were glad for their overnight visit.
Uncle Jim swung by Grandad’s next. He said he wanted to make sure to give her a little squeeze before flying out that morning. Auntie Lisa and Uncle Gary also cuddled with Saya on a relaxed afternoon on the back patio.
Grandad and Mamo entertained my day trip to UC Berkeley so that we could show Saya some of the campus, including the Faculty Club where we married a few years prior. We took some family portraits with our new baby bear cub. Then, Auntie Jamie, and Matt, were reunited with Saya-bear to celebrate Mamo’s birthday.
Family love in Washington
Bachan, Auntie Jo, Saya and I flew to Washington while Corey made the journey back to Londontown. We landed in Renton and were whisked away to cheer on Daisuke in his first futbol match. Jose was coaching, too, so it was a family affair!
On Saturday, Miya and Jose hosted a mega-birthday party for Emiko, Auntie Jo, and Livingston- the September babies! My heart was soaring when Tracy’s family, and Auntie Bev joined as well. Cousins were running around one another, and at times, into one another with all the excitement and happiness this day brought.
Arts and crafts with Auntie Jo and Bachan was a daily activity for Daisuke. Miya’s kitchen was flowing like the Streganona cauldron even with all the kids circling her knees. And Emiko continued to be skeptical of her new cousin who might be usurping her position as the baby girl!
On one of the days, we ventured to visit Eula at Auntie Bev’s house so the kids could have a play date outside of Miya’s house. Another evening, Saya was honored with a special bathtime with her Aunties. I did my best not to turn into a sobbing mess when Daisuke held his cousin for the first time. Each day of this trip made me implore someone to invent teleportation so that the next generation could be together 300+ days of the year!
Friend love back in Cali
Back in the Bay, Ja-Yung caught us at the cafe down the block from my mom’s house. Norio and Liz came by my dad’s house for a quick pre-bedtime cuddle, and then the SL crew spent an afternoon showering Saya with lots of love and attention.
I don’t think I quite understood how important babies are in our lives until this trip. I thought I couldn’t stop staring at Saya because she is my own daughter, but each person she met was also so careful and curious in their own way. Babies bring a fresh hope to our days, and our lives, and we can’t help but have slight sense of awe about them.
Baby Jonah and Evin kicked off August making every day of their visit a play date for Ev and me (forget the babies?!). It felt like there hadn’t been any time between us. I invited her to another baby’s 100 day party, brunch at Ottolenghi, and of course, a bangin’ Sunday Roast with Pops. Exploring the neighborhood with one of my dearest friends let me pretend we were parenting together as we’d imagined it back in the states.
Uncle PScrilla and Auntie Jam’s visit brought more reflection and gratitude. Just like with Ev, touching base with long time friends highlights that we’re all still learning about ourselves and figuring out what we want to do when we grow up. Peyton created meals while Jam and I swapped music. The barrel of laughs started when Corey would return home after work. Saya soaked up all the attention from her newfound flat mates.
In between friends visiting London, Saya and I continued our art circuit. At the Serpentine Gallery, we were wowed by the incredible Faith Ringgold. What a talent. I also discovered Lee Krasner at the Barbican. She doesn’t have a definitive style, but has vibrant and strong brushstrokes on every canvas. We had a quick afternoon tea with Tia Franny. Sarah came by to play after work. I was reminded how much Saya has grown since Sarah’s last visit resulted in Saya sleeping against her chest for almost two hours! Saya’s development is also documented in two pictures below: turning over for the first time in her cot, and learning how to grab her toes. Finally, I attempted to take Saya to work, but she didn’t last long at the office (oops!).
Sam and I finally made our girls trip happen for the August bank holiday. Margate must’ve had the last airbnb for miles and we snagged it. The flat was sweltering but we were determined to make our holiday one to remember. Sam’s colleague, Tatijana, spent the first day with us winding through the small streets, playing at the arcade, and finding the drinks along the promenade.
We had gourmet meals every night: duck breast, roasted dove, and a magnum of rose. Sam even taught me how to shuck fresh oysters.
The ‘man to man’ coverage we played on our kids didn’t seem as tiring when we did it together. The three minute showers still felt refreshing and the cheap, no frills breakfasts hit the spot. I reflected how our first real vacation together felt familiar and relaxed. No decisions needed to be made ahead of time. Our rhythm with our kids felt as though we’d done this before.
For Labor ‘Yay’ Weekend, we welcomed the Freeds to Islington. We rode the bus and played in the park- both highlights for a 2 and 4 year old. We played red light, green light in the backyard and were introduced to their favorite cartoon, Masha.
Then Free booked us a weekend away at Bourton-on-the-Water. It’s a picturesque village in the Cotswolds with a small river running through it. We stayed a short walk outside of village, but ventured in each day to find activities that were perfect for families. Nothing was high tech or animated. Every block hosted an ice cream shop or cafe. Our pub lunches were cosy against a backdrop of stone buildings and low bridges across the creek.
We also made our own fun at the airbnb: obstacles courses and musical chairs. Probably my favorite memory was when we started to play hide and seek with household objects. The game where you hide an object, and then tell the ‘seeker’ if they are getting warmer or colder as they search.
Here is how the first scene played out when Free started hiding an orange for Ryan:
Free’s first rule: “You can ask three questions to help get ‘hints’ about the location of the orange”
Ryan’s first question: “Ok, where is the orange hidden?”
We erupted with laughter as he shattered our obtuse adult ‘rules’. Later, Ryan continued to show us up when it was his turn to hide the orange for his dad. Free closed his eyes to count to ten, and Ryan took no time to put the orange down his pants. His grin was priceless.
Minus the haphazard pack ‘n’ play provided for Saya, it was a great combo of getting to know Jared and Ryan and catching up with Free and Avery. Time slowed down while our kids played together and we uncorked another bottle of wine during this three day weekend.