Life in a studio – a year and a baby later

Lately, I’ve been craving a creative outlet. The most creativity I’ve used recently involved figuring out how to amuse my infant or keep him from hurting himself. So what can I do? Well, reviving this blog seems like a good start. However, how do I find the brain space to write meaningfully? With such little and fragmented sleep, I don’t feel coherent enough to properly convey my thoughts. At times, blog ideas pop into my head while I’m in bed trying to fall asleep. But when free time comes about, I want to exert the least amount of energy as possible (read: mindlessly reading internet articles, browsing social media or binge-watching tv shows). Those ideas are left unwritten.

In search of inspiration on what to write, I looked over some old posts. I ran into this one written after I just moved into a studio apartment. It was the month before I realized I was pregnant. It amused me to read over my reasons for choosing to be in a smaller space. Mind you, generally, I laugh when reading what “younger” me finds important enough to document. But, what I found hilarious was how much I emphasized the importance of having “less stuff” in the post. Since we decided to stay in the studio after the baby, it has resulted in the complete opposite of that. So I thought it might be fun to post an update on how our space looks now.

First of all, I know. We’re crazy. We tell ourselves that all the time. But we had several reasons for staying in a studio even with a 3rd member of the family. First of all, the price of the rent is still pretty good considering the area where we are living. Secondly, our baby was 1.5 months old when our lease was up. We had so much going on that we were in no position to plan or execute a move. Lastly, which is really the biggest reason, we were very idealistic. We figured a little baby couldn’t possibly need that much space. Right!? Well….

See below for a visual on how the space compares from then (January 2016) vs. now (October 2017): 

pre-baby studio

This is how our space looked like pre-baby

post-baby studio

This is how our space looks list with an almost 1 year old on a particularly cluttered day. Note the poopy cloth diaper on the diaper pail.

Though we are realizing that we could use more space and a separate bedroom, I do hold to the opinion that living in a studio with a baby is still absolutely doable. If any of you are considering it, I want to encourage you on that decision. In fact, depending on your baby’s temperament, your experience may even prove to be easier than ours. It does have its challenges, but you certainly learn a lot of patience and creative problem-solving in the process. For example, I’ve rearranged the layout of this studio at least 5 times to accommodate the baby’s changing needs.

Honestly, living in this studio with our baby feels like one of those experiences where we’ll look back and just laugh at ourselves. Yes, it was a tough year, as most first years with a first child normally is. We also have the added challenge of our little one’s personality being more restless and emotional than the others his age. (Probably personality traits we’ve passed down to him.) But as hard as it was, there have been plenty of fun times this year – good friends made, adventures in new places, lazy weekend mornings with baby etc.

Our lease is up in a couple of months and we are planning on moving to a bigger apartment. We’ve had a lot of good times bonding and growing as a family in this small space. I know we’ll look back on this last year with fond memories – at least the parts I can remember through the fog of sleeplessness.

Would any of you parents or parents-to-be consider living in a studio? Would love to hear your thoughts. And stay tuned for more posts on studio living with baby.

around Jersey City

Wanderings look a lot different lately. With my constant companion, a completely dependent and adorable baby, things have changed. Since my child also happens to have a very spirited personality, he takes time to get used to things yet hates missing out on anything (read: doesn’t just fall asleep as other babies seem to). This combination means that venturing out too long can be a bit of a disaster. 

I see all the mamas out there who have travelled to many countries before their child’s first birthday. They are a constant inspiration on my Instagram. Unfortunately, that life doesn’t currently apply to mine, as much as I sometimes wish I could whisk us away for a break from this city life. 

Late naps and staying out past a 7pm bedtime mean a sleepless night for everyone, so we spend most of our time around our humble neighborhood. The days are filled with more calm and routine than the spontaneous activities I was accustomed to doing. 

There’s a life lesson here somewhere for me, I think. It probably has something to do with finding contentment with my here and now. I’m taking this as an opportunity to try to get to know the area around me a little better. There are enough new challenges around the corner that I should appreciate these peaceful routines while I can.

reflection after a year

Last November, my husband and I had packed up all our belongings into 7 suitcases. We said goodbye to friends over coffee, wine and gin-tonics. Then we left our newlywed life in Madrid, Spain to follow an opportunity that opened up in NYC.

It is hard to believe that this was a little over a year ago. In that amount of time, our entire life shifted in a way that makes our old life almost unrecognizable. There were many things with the move that was a welcome change. Though we have moments when we wish to have spent a little longer abroad. A negative consequence that we noticed immediately (and continue to feel) was the higher cost of living here. Even after a year, it still hurts at the first of the month when we have to fork over rent that was twice the amount that we paid for an apartment near the heart of Madrid.

Then again, I certainly cannot regret where life has taken us this past year. Now, we have an adorable little newborn. Had we stayed longer, we wouldn’t have our little one. I knew that I didn’t want to be pregnant and give birth in a foreign country where my language skills was only intermediate and there was no family around to help. Another thing I’m grateful for is having my skin back to normal. Madrid was so dry that I suffered a terrible case of eczema the whole time I was there. It didn’t help that I found myself allergic to Spanish wine, of all things!

There are a few Madrid habits that have hung around our household. Late lunches and dinners are still the norm. It doesn’t help that my husband comes home late from work. We also have gotten pickier with what we consider good bread and olive oil. It’s pretty hard to find a decent one without spending a fortune (or at least it feels like a fortune in comparison to what we used to spend).

If you told me last year that my life would be the way it is now, I would not have believed you. Has it already been a year already?

4am looks different these days

A familiar feeling hits me as I sleepily walk to the kitchen at 4am for my customary post-breastfeeding glass of water. No, it’s not the one of pure exhaustion that only a newly-minted parent can understand. This is a more nostalgic, slightly giddy feeling that was a norm for me just last year.
A year ago, I was still living my complete other life in Madrid, Spain. Waking at 4am used to  mean something different. It meant that I was about to have a day of adventure and travel. A 4am wake-up call meant excitement.  Of course, my love for sleep could only be overridden by a reason such as this.
Maybe it is this new state of tired delirium that right now I can almost hear my alarm go off for a  4am wake-up call. (I insist that we can make it to the station by 6 with 30 minutes extra sleep, but my husband wants to be safe). I am groggy but the anticipation for a new place to explore brings energy was I go through a final item check and last-minute packing of toiletries.
In an hour or so, I step out into a still sleeping barrio (cuz, honestly, who wakes up early on a weekend when Spaniards don’t start partying till 2am), then hop the metro for the train station. On the ride over, you can see folks headed home from a night/early morning out with friends. There are also others who have the same eagerness in their eyes, riding the metro with their bags packed. We all make or exodus out of the subway car when we get to the train station, ready for whatever adventure the weekend brings.
Those days are now over. That chapter in my life was brief. It feels like the hint of a dream from long ago. Who could have predicted 11 months ago when we decided to move to NYC that those moments would be replaced by these types of 4ams? Instead of walking around my apartment for a final check before locking the door, I now have a newborn child cradled in my arms for a night feeding. It’s a different sentiment. Another type of excitement. It is also far more uncharted and uncertain than any travel could ever bring to me.

White Sands (2013)

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#memoryMonday – sledding down something white but not cold

Almost 3 years ago, my friends and I road-tripped to New Mexico to explore Carlsbad Caverns, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, and White Sands National Monument. As beautiful as the National Parks were, I enjoyed the time at the White Sands best. It was quite spectacular being surrounded by an all white desert. Plus, was the set for the music video of one of my favorite Boyz II Men songs – Water Runs Dry. Too bad my friends weren’t too keen on recreating it. 😀

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Mendoza, Argentina (2010)

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my name on the side of a mountain in Argentina

It’s unlikely one would accuse my husband of being a sappy romantic. But then there are moments when you find proof to the contrary. He spent several months down in Argentina after we met. During his travels, he wrote out my name with pebbles in the Andes mountains somewhere by Mendoza. I have yet to visit this beautiful country. But I smile when I think that my name was somewhere there. Hopefully one day I’ll get to see this place.

 

Debt-free Detour through Madrid

It was just under two years ago when my husband and I made the decision to move abroad to Madrid, Spain. If you were to hazard a guess as to why, most likely the answer would fall along the lines of having a serious case of wanderlust, being disillusioned with life in the U.S., or fulfilling a lifelong dream of moving to the country. But the reason wasn’t nearly as glamorous. In fact, it was more practicality than adventure that led us abroad for a short time. Most of my friends don’t even know this, but we left because it was the quickest way to pay off graduate school loans and reach our goal of being debt-free.

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Coming to that conclusion wasn’t easy. It required leaving behind certain things like a full-time job that I loved and getting rid of the majority of our belongings – including a condo, 2 cars, and a really good bed set. (Never underestimate the value of a really good bed set.) I left the comfort of a good community in a city where I knew my way around and could easily communicate with everyone. Instead, we chose a life where half the time I felt like an insecure 6-year-old attempting to speak a new language and make new friends. But, after weighing the options and adding up all the numbers, it made more sense to follow this “promotion” abroad than both of us working full-time and staying in the States.

You may be wondering, “How are you saving money moving to Europe?”. Most people think living in Europe would cost more than the U.S. And it’s not necessarily wrong if we were being transferred to a city like London where cost of living is indeed high! But a typical monthly expense in Madrid was even less than half of what we spend now that we’re back in the States, living in the shadow of the great (and pricey) New York City!  For example – one-bedroom apartment for two in a great neighborhood near the city center = 725€, treating a few friends to a couple of rounds of beer and wine = 20€, three-course lunch menu with drink of choice = 12€.

For all other things that weren’t quite as cheap, I either bought it when visiting the States or grit my teeth and do without. (The latter felt like a chore until I adapted more to the Madrid lifestyle.) There were times it was as if we were college students instead of seasoned professionals. We spent the least amount possible and on a selfish note, did very little traveling than I had hoped. There were also moments when I wasn’t so sure my ego could stand not having a full-time job and spending my days instead with social and volunteer projects. I couldn’t have made it though without my awesome partner who helped keep things in perspective and reminded me to focus on the greater goal instead of the temporary challenges and discomforts.

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In the end, it was all worth it. With less money being spent, most was squirreled away to the loans. After 1.5 years of chipping off at that gigantic iceberg, I am so happy to say that the day has finally arrived when I am completely debt-free again! The only downside is that we’ve since left that wonderfully affordable city, following yet another practicality, and are now trying to save money in a very expensive part of the U.S. Wish us luck!

P.S. I know everyone’s journey is different, depending on necessity as well as preference. I acknowledge how incredibly fortunate it was that mine happen to include a stint out of the country when others have given a far larger sacrifice. Where has your path to a debt-free life taken you?

 

Kaunolu, Lana’i (2005)

#memoryMonday – Offroading in the quiet little island of Lana’i.

This place was one of King Kamehameha’s fishing spots. On this particular day, I had no luck catching a single fish. But I have yet to replicate the unique experience of being  so remote a place that not a single soul could find you without knowing you were going there. I felt a strange kind of peacefulness, walking on the slippery rocks at the side of the cliffs  and standing at what felt like the edge of the world.

When Less is More

After being back in the U.S. for 2 months, I can finally say that I have a “home”. The lease was signed last month and I worked on turning it into a cozy abode. At the moment, this place, all 500 square feet of it, feels perfect.

Before coming here, my husband and I expected that a move near one of the most expensive cities in this country would be a challenge. We wanted to find a way to keep a lifestyle close to the one we had in Madrid. That meant the place had to be affordable, close to reliable public transportation and within walking distance to restaurants, groceries etc. It also meant keeping a simple, relaxed way of life by a city known for being the complete opposite.

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Many people may consider this rented space too small – the kind you get if there’s not enough money to spend for bigger or the kind you keep before you have kids. Not to mention, as a rental, this place seems far off from the ideal. After all, many people in the U.S. would consider owning as a checklist item for adulthood. However, our apartment in Madrid was all of 52 sq meters (560 sq feet) and the condo we owned in Austin was 516 sq feet. So, the only differences are that there is no separation for the bedroom and the nearest bakery is several blocks instead of 2 doors down.

After taking into account our life goals and personal tendencies to travel and move around, having this small place fits what we need. Here’s just a few personal reasons why less is more:

1) Less space to clean = more time for preferred pursuits
I know I’m not alone when I say that I do not enjoy cleaning (except washing dishes which I find weirdly relaxing). But it is a necessary evil. So the less time spent doing it, the better. It means there’s more time to go take a walk, read, binge-watch Netflix or catch up with a friend or two – anything but cleaning!

2) Less stuff to worry about = freedom to move around
After two transatlantic moves in two years, we’ve trimmed off most of the excess accumulated over time. Before the moves, plenty of clothes and household goods were donated to friends and charities. What we have left is more or less what we need/want. Plus, since the place is a rental, we don’t have to wait around for a buyer to take the place off our hands like the one in Austin. Though we have no set plans to leave in the next couple of years, it’s good to keep the possibilities open. Who knows when a great opportunity might come this way? If it does, we’re ready.

3) Less room for things = save money for traveling
While in Madrid, I barely went shopping. It’s not from lack of good stores. Quite the opposite. But there were better uses for my euros and the apartment had little space for unnecessary extras. With so many places to explore nearby, the money instead went into the travel budget. Now, I realize it’s hard to escape shopping in the U.S. It’s so easy with online shopping and credit cards accepted everywhere. That’s one of the biggest temptations I noticed when I returned. However, what will really make me happy, a brand new dress or a check in my “places to visit” list? Okay, that’s a hard one because I love dresses. But at the end of the day, it’s more fulfilling to be on a plane to a new place than put a new dress in the closet.

Overall, less keeps things simple. It’s one less thing to think about on the to-do list. One less room to furnish and clean. One less accessory to consider. One less toy to pay for. One less (insert item here) cluttering (insert already overstuffed part of life). The simpler you keep life, the more time you have for little pleasures. And that ideal is the best part of our old life in Madrid that we hope to hang on to no matter where we go.

out with the old (hat)

This new year has crept up too fast! I feel barely ready for it. The last time I had a good grasp on what was happening in 2015, my husband accepted a job offer in the U.S. From that point, we had one month to close out a life in Spain, find an apartment the month after and yet another month to set up a new home.

Whew! It is exhausting me again to think about what ensued to reach this point.

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Goodbye old neighborhood! (Madrid)

So here I am, back in the country where I grew up. Even more, I am back to the metropolitan area that closely resembles “home”. After over a year of life in Madrid – feeling like I’m on perpetual blind dates in search of new friends, having cafe con leche and vino on terrazas when I actually found amazing friends, kissing everyone on the cheek twice (even if I didn’t like them), maneuvering Spanish bureaucracy and other challenges and joys of being an expat – that chapter is closed (for the moment).

Now, a new challenge is in front of me. It’s no longer about integrating into a new culture and new country… at least not that much. I’m still having lunch at 2pm, dinner at 9:30pm and hanging out at “night” starting 6pm, sounds odd. But that aside… knowing that I’m back for a couple of years, there must be a way to merge wandering tendencies with finding peace and contentment back in my old haunts.

So, how can one look at an old place with new lenses? Guess that’s what I will find out. After all, wandering never really ends no matter where you live. There is always something to explore.

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Hello new neighborhood! (Jersey City)

Here’s looking forward to a 2016 full of new discoveries and friendships! Happy New Year!

What are you looking forward to this year?