The Mommy Files–ACE Water Spa

One of my favorite things to do in Germany is to go to the local swimming hall (Spaßbad) with my son, and spend the day swimming indoors, in warm water, especially when it’s cold out.

I was very happy to find out that this is also possible in the Philippines, with the opening of ACE Water Spa. It costs about 550 Php, or about 10 euros entrance. It is basically the same price in Germany, with the same facilities. They also provide a swim cap, probably to protect the filter system of the water, which you have to give back at the end of your 4-hour stay.

They also have a sauna, which many people unfortunately don’t know how to use. Scented pools, massage whirlpools, and a swimming pool. I was very impressed by the facilities. Unfortunately, no photos allowed inside, so all I have is a blurry picture of the spa from the viewing window.

They also have a restaurant and hotel, but it looks pricey, from what I gather from their website.

So if you are stuck in Manila during the rainy season, ACE Water Spa seems to be a good place to take your kids. Although at this moment, Manileños are enjoying (?) the summer heat. What I would not give for a glass of halo-halo!

Ace Water Spa

United St. cor. Brixton St. near Pioneer, Pasig City

and 399 Del Monte Avenue (near cor. Banaue St.) SFDM, Quezon City

Open from 6 AM to 10 PM (weekdays) or 11 PM (weekends)

Entrance 550 Php Adults, 250 Php for children under 4 ft.

 

The Mommy Files: Rome for Kids

Ok, my last vacation in Rome bombed. I took the little one with me on vacation, and he was definitely unimpressed with Rome.

“There are too many people. Too many dead people and too many old houses.”

Yep. He’s got a mind to him, even at age 3!

Oh well, at least he got to meet his cousin and his aunts, which was the true purpose of the visit.

But if you are already with Rome with kids, there are several places that you could go to entertain the little ones in between doing adult things like visiting museums. Rome isn’t a very kid-friendly place, but Italians are very kid friendly. And if you’re the uptight kind of parent who hates it when strangers pat your kid’s head or give her candy, then steer clear of Italy.

Toddler friendly playgrounds are located in:

Parco di Castel Sant’ Angelo.

Located in a park next to the famous Castel di Sant’ Angelo, also known as Hadrian’s tomb, I made the mistake of entering the park when I actually wanted to go into the Castle. Signs tend to be very confusing in Rome. I stumbled upon this spanking new playground. Toddler-friendly swings (swings that look like little cages) seals the deal for me.

Villa Borghese

Villa Borghese has a lot to offer children. For three euros, you could ride a choo-choo train shaped sightseeing truck that stops right next to the children’s area. It is located near-ish the Metro A line Spagna stop exit. The children’s area has a decent toddler-friendly playground (the aforementioned swings and a small slide for the little ones, and bigger slides for the bigger kids). It also has a kid cinema, showing kid-friendly movies in Italian, a bump-car ride, and a zoo. In the summer there is a lake where people can go boating.

The train leaves every 10 minutes in the summer, and every 20 minutes in winter.

Parco delli Acquedotti

Located in the more modern suburbs of Rome, Parco delli Acquedotti is a part of the Via Appia park, in the shadows of the ruins of Roman Empire-era aqueducts. Very impressive, with wide open spaces, it feels very removed from the hustle and bustle of modern Rome. There is a toddler-friendly open to the public free public playground, and a fairground-type paid playground in the area, full of noisy coin-operated rides, inflatable slides, trampolines, and a ball pool (3 euros for 20 minutes).

There were also ponies! We also paid a euro fifty each for a 10 minute horse-drawn carriage ride in a jogging oval next to the aqueduct. To get there, take the Metro A line to Giulio Agricola. Leave the exit going to Giulio Agricola street, and walk five blocks to Via Lemonia. Turn left. It should be on the right side of the street, about 100 meters from the intersection of Via Lemonia and Giulio Agricola.

Explora Il Museo del Bambini di Roma

This is a privately owned and operated museum, with corporate sponsors. Like many of its  ilk worldwide, it tries to get kids to understand the practical applications of science and explain how the world works. There is a water playground, a pretend grocery store, a pretend bank, a “vegetable garden,” among others. There is something for kids of all ages, as soon as they know how to move around. All the facilities are labeled in English and Italian. They also offer art workshops for children, at added cost. There is also a restaurant that has a kiddie menu, and pasta dishes that cost around 6.50 each.

Opening times are normally from Tuesday to Sunday, 10 am to 6:45 pm. In August they open at 12 pm. Due to overcrowding, children are only allowed to stay for an hour and 45 minutes at a time, so entrance are in shifts. Infants up to 12 months old pay three euros, while children starting from age 1 and adults pay full price, seven euros. One way to get around it is to go an hour before closing time, when the entrance is reduced to 5 euros. On Thursday afternoons, the museum is not so crowded, and the entrance is reduced to 6 euros.

There is also an outdoor playground more suitable for children aged 6 and up, and a mini-playhouse for the toddlers right in front of the building is also free.

To get there, go to Flaminio at the Metro Line A, and follow the exit going to the tram. You can take the tram number 2 going to Mancini and go one stop, to the Maritime Office, or just walk about 250 meters from the start of the tram line to the Museum.

So there you have it! When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Unlike in Germany, children there are allowed to participate in adult social functions, so it is common to see children with their parents in the streets, and in restaurants, until 11 o’clock at night. Have fun!

How to Survive Erfurt’s Weihnachtsmarkt and Shopping with Babies!

Erfurt’s Christmas market is one of the more popular ones in Germany. Erfurt has an intact medieval town center, which means most of the buildings surrounding the cathedral square were built while Magellan was sailing around the world. Imagine that.

Because of this, the Erfurter Weihnachtsmarkt attracts many tourists from all over Germany. It is charming in its own right, but it can be downright hellish if you have a small child or baby with you. The organizers do make life easier for families going to the Weihnachtsmarkt. The paths are wide enough to get around with a baby carriage, there are restrooms, and there are definitely attactions just for the little and not-so-little ones. But once the crowd and the lights start to get to the kids, you are not far from the first stages of a Fukushima-sized tantrum.

However, there is a special way to get around the crowds without exploding in frustration.

If you have a baby, I would always recommend using a kangroo pouch or sling instead of a  baby carriage.

A good way to off-set the tantrum is to go to a place of relative peace. And most of these are located in Anger square not far from the Cathedral.

DM, the drugstore on Anger square (Anger 66-73) has a changing table and provides free diapers and wipes to all its customers. (Open Mon-Sat from 7 am-8pm)

Parents who prefer to leave their children behind while Christmas shopping can go to the Familienzentrum in Erfurt. For € 2.70 an hour, parents can leave their kids in the hands of qualified childminders. There is a kid-friendly restroom, changing tables, an indoor playground, cheap food and drink and other amenities. Not a bad deal. ( Open Mon-Thurs 8am-7 pm, Fri 8 am-2 pm, Anger 8, Erfurt)

The shopping center Anger 1 (located where else, on Anger 1) has a breastfeeding and changing room free of charge to all families. Just ask the minder for the key. Paid restrooms for 25 cents.

For older children, Cafe Wildfang is a good place to go. Parents can sip a hot coffee in a cozy cafe while the kids play in the indoor play area. The restrooms are kid friendly, have changing tables, free diapers and baby wipes. (Open Mon-Fri from 9 am onwards, Sat starting at 10 am, Sun starting 2 pm)

Not far from Wildfang is the F1 shopping Center. The Geier shoe shop has an indoor playground for the more active ones, and they have a restaurant for the parents. A big negative is that there are no restrooms. The mall has one, but you have to pay 50 cents to get in and I’m afraid they’re not child friendly.

For babies that just exploded a mountain of diarrhea in their nappies and YOU NEED TO CHANGE NOW AND STUCK IN THE WEIHNACHTSMARKT WHAT SHOULD I DO?

Get out of the square. Head to the library. Go down Pergamentergasse 11, where Peckhams cafe is located. There is a changing table with baby cream and wipes. (open Mon-Fri from 11 am-6 pm)

If there are any updates you can give me, they are most welcome 🙂 Happy shopping!

Agent Oso’s Pine Cone Bird Feeder

I try to limit my kid’s exposure to television…but I couldn’t help it. Agent Oso is a really cute Disney cartoon character! It’s one of the two cartoon series that I let my kid watch, and it really is very informative (and in English!)
One of the episodes shows kids how to make a pine cone bird feeder. We picked up a couple of pine cones and made pine cone bird feeders! So easy, my toddler could do it himself.

We used: bird seed, peanut butter, pine cones, and string.

First, we smeared peanut butter onto the pine cone, filling all the gaps.

 

My kid then rolled it in bird seed.

I cut a foot of string, tied it around the base of the pine cone, which I didn’t smear any peanut butter on

Et voila! Pine cone bird feeder. My kid was so excited to see the first birds feed on our bird feeder. So much joy for so little money!

Martinmas Lanterns

Photo by Anja W.

Photo by Anja W.

St. Martin’s Day is a big deal in Germany, just like trick-or-treating is in the US. I really like seeing cute kids go from house to house or from shop to shop with lanterns, sing songs, and get sweets or a pastry called Martinihörnchen, which reminds me of a croissant.

I didn’t know of St. Martin’s day  until I came to Germany. I know the word Martinmas, thanks to the novel Pillars of the Earth.

In Catholic parts of Germany, Martinmas refers to November 10, the day of St. Martin de Tours, a Roman soldier turned preacher/monk who saw God after giving a freezing beggar half of his cape. In Protestant parts of Germany, it is November 11, after Martin Luther’s birthday, the founder of the Protestant movement.

As a parent of a German child it is obligatory (!) that I make/buy a lantern. Common Martin lantern themes are heavenly bodies. This year, I made another one, and it was so easy.

You need:

Three A4 sized card paper/cartolina (available in Germany in different colors)

Colorful tissue paper (known in the Philippines as papel de japon)

Glue

String or twine

Step 1: Glue the bottom (last 1/2 inch) of the A4 paper. Stick the top edge (also the top 1/2 inch) of the second A4 paper onto it. Then you have a long sheet of paper.

Step 2: On the new bottom edge of the very long sheet of paper, make a fold/crease the last 1/2 inch of the bottom part of your paper.

Step 3: Fold the long sheet of paper in half. The edge of the paper should be even to where the crease is. Then fold that again in half. You should have four equal sides, with the crease forming a 1/2 inch “lip.”

Step 4: Draw easy patterns on the side of the paper that will be the “inside” of the lamp. Common themes are the moon, sun, and stars. Poke a hole in the middle, and cut out the patterns.

Step 5: Glue the edges of the cut-out figures. Cut up the tissue paper to fit and place over the glue-lined holes.

Step 6: Close the lantern by gluing the 1/2 inch crease and sticking it onto the other edge of the paper.

Step 7: Trace the square lantern over your 3rd piece of card paper, leaving a 1/4 inch allowance around it. Cut the square out, cut the corners of the square, and fold the edges inwards.

Step 8: Glue the edges and stick it inside the lamp. This is your lamp “base”

Step 9: The rest of the paper can be cut evenly into a 5 to 7 inch long strip. Poke two small holes 7 inches apart, and cut out a big hole about 2 inches in diameter in the middle. fold the paper to make it fit into the lantern, the paste the folds and stick on the top edge of the lamp. Wait to dry. When dry, you can thread the string through the small holes and tie the edges so it won’t slip through. The big hole is for the electric “fishing pole lamp” that is available in Germany at this time.

I’m going to brave the cold November night to walk around town begging for sweets. Have fun!

Photo by Anja W.

Photo by Anja W.

This Year’s Cake: Lightning Mc Queen

I was a bit hard-up for ideas regarding my son’s birthday party this year. The decision to throw a “Cars”-themed party came to me after finding a Lightning McQueen cake pan at TK Maxx.

I thought that using a cake pan would be easier than making a 3-D cake like last year’s Thomas the Train. In fact, it presented other challenges. The cake pan had a lot of grooves. Even if the moist choco buttermilk cake recipe requires a lot of oil, the cake still stuck to the pan despite oiling and flouring. It was frustrating to pry the thing out.

Icing the cake using regular white icing also meant that one had a smaller margin of error. Fondant is like clay: If you goof up, just re-roll and try again. Not with regular icing. This year’s frosting is kid-friendlier. That means no raw eggs, unlike caramel buttercream icing, which had raw egg white. Basic white icing is a block of butter (1 cup=250 g) left overnight on the counter (in the Philippines, 2-3 hours), beaten with an electric mixer until fluffy. Gradually add a cup or more of powdered sugar (aka Confectioner’s sugar) until it turns white. Add one to two tablespoons of milk to improve spreadability.

We needed white icing since McQueen’s eyes and teeth were white. It took less time to make than the Thomas the Train, as I started baking the first of the cake’s two layers only last Thursday evening. The eyelids couldn’t be completely red since we ran out of red food dye. However, everybody loved it and I’m glad that my son appreciated it. He was so excited that he wanted to eat cake before going to bed!

Dunkin’ Donuts!

Donut

 

American franchises are rare in Germany. Aside from the ubiquitous Mickey Ds and BKs, there aren’t a lot of American franchises in my neck of the woods.

Heidelbergerin made a comment about making an unexpected stop to Dunkin’ Donuts when she last went to Berlin.

Strangely enough, I do the same when I find myself in Berlin, I strangely make a beeline for Dunkin’ Donuts, either the one at Potsdamer Platz or at the Zoogarten Bahnhof. Oh, and speaking of the Zoobahnhof, across the street is a KFC, and when I’m there, might as well stop by and get an Original recipe chicken and mash with a lot of gravy. I miss the jugs of gravy that stand at the condiments section, Germans are stingy with the condiments. But I digress.

When I went to Italy via Berlin Tegel, I bought an overpriced hotdog from an “American-style” hotdog stand there. I’m not normally a hotdog, chicken, or donut person, but there really is power in marketing to kids. I buy them not because I really crave them, but because they are familiar foods in a strange country.

Does this make sense?

 

The One Time I Went Crazy: Thomas the Train Cake

So, you know, I usually make things based on a whim. Things basically that challenge me. I tell myself things like, “hey, wouldn’t it be cool to make a recipe from a medieval cookbook?” Crazy things like that.

So last year, a week before my son’s 2nd birthday, I thought “wouldn’t it be cool to make a Thomas the Train cake?” That is my son’s obsession. Trains and automobiles. So instead of doing what any normal mom would do (pay someone to do this cake), I decided to roll up my sleeves, bullied my son’s dad, and do it ourselves. Thankfully, I found a step-by-step guide on the internet to talk me through it. I hope it can help you too.

Let’s start with the face. You need to make the face in advance because the fondant mixture needs to dry out. Otherwise, it will be too heavy and it could cause your cake to collapse.

The face is made of marshmallow fondant. Marshmallow fondant is basically a 500 gram bag of barbeque marshmallows, blitzed for 60 seconds on “high” in the microwave in a heavily greased pyrex or ceramic bowl (I cannot stress this enough), with 2 tablespoons of water. When this is melted, pour the mixture into another greased bowl filled with half a bag of confectioners sugar or cornstarch. This improves the elasticity of the fondant. I tried to use my kitchen mixer, but it gunked up my machine. So I waited a few minutes and kneaded it using an oiled spoon, then by hand. Make sure that it is cool enough not to scald you! Get the mixture out of the bowl and wrap in cling film for an hour.

After this, you can knead, roll, and mix in the food colors. Always work with the fondant with oiled hands and on a surface dusted with cornstarch.

The website I referred gives a very detailed description on how to make the face. If you don’t have the kitchen tools she has, I think that the wooden end of a paintbrush or a knitting needle will come in just as handy. Make sure to insert the barbeque stick into the face before you work on it, since the stick will alter the dimensions of the face. Use the rest of the fondant to fashion the wheels, the funnel, and the other things that protrude from Thomas. We have enough books and toys to use as reference, but it really is best to base the cake only on one or two versions of Thomas. The diameter of the face is about 4 inches, since I have a 4 and a half inch springform pan in which I made the cake for the face.

I always use the same recipe for buttermilk chocolate cake. Recipes on the net are dime a dozen, so take your pick. Make two batches of that. Pour the batter onto a 13×9 inch pan and onto an 11 inch pan. I am lucky enough that I have a 4 1/2 inch springform pan, since you will need this too to make the face. I’ve read on the net that an enterprising mom used a coffee can to make this, which is a good idea. Make sure to grease it heavily so it will come out. Let this sit for a day out in the open, or freeze it for at least three hours, to make the cake harder, denser, and less spongy. You need a firmer cake to make the abuses you will inflict on it stick. Otherwise, your cake will sag under all the icing.

I swear by Martha Stewart’s Caramel Buttercream icing for the flavor and ease to work with. The only pain is making the caramel, since you’ll have to watch it closely, otherwise it’ll burn. The icing will come out a bit beige, not white. If that is not a problem then by all means use this recipe. It yields enough icing for the entire cake.

As you see, we’ve trimmed and cut the cake from the bigger pan in half, and cut the cake  from the smaller cake pan to fit. I found it best to already work on the surface where the cake will be served and clean up the sides afterwards, since it will be difficult to move Thomas once you’ve got all that icing on it. We used a glass serving plate. Three layers of cake. Ice the layers in between generously to make it stick on each other. Ice the front and stick the trimmed round cake from the springform pan onto it. 

We used a steak knife to sculpt the dome on the third cake layer, to make it fit the cake from the springform. The scraps from the smaller cake were stuck to the top and the back part of the train. Then comes something called the “crumb layer,” a layer of icing that is spread all over the cake to prevent the crumbs from showing through the colored cake icing. Toothpicks were inserted into the funnels and dome to make it stick on the cake, and Thomas’s face was inserted into the cake with a barbeque stick.

Here comes the fun part: Icing the cake. I couldn’t believe the amount of food color we used to come up with the blue, black and reds for this. Since black was not readily available in Germany, we used Zuckercouleur, a coloring agent used for browning sauces, which is readily available in supermarkets, mixed with every single food coloring agent we had, to make it truly black. Experiment with adding yellow to make the blue lighter, or brown to make it darker. Here in Germany, green, yellow, red, magenta, blue, and violet are readily available. If you don’t have a cake spatula, the back part of a butter or bread knife will do.

Et voila! Thomas the train. We needed at least four days to make it. This year I’m taking the easy way out and have bought a Lightning Mc Queen cake pan.

The Mommy Files: The Vatican Museum

SInce I am a mom to a young boy, I am always on the lookout for conveniences for people like me. I guess when someone gets into a certain situation, you become hyperaware of it. When I was pregnant, I seemed to immediately notice pregnant women in my vicinity. Imagine my suprise when I encountered a breastfeeding room. In the Vatican Museum! A Church that seems so misogynist (and I say that as a practicing Catholic) actually makes accomodations for women!

I left my son  back home because I have read that visiting Rome’s many museums will become hell on earth with a young child (younger than seven). And I visited many, many museums.

Although, understandably, many young parents have come from a long way (I saw tourists from the US, NZ, Oz, and South America), and they have to pack in as much as they could on their trip to Rome. So I am very glad that some places have built in amenities for this subset of travelers.

And also a very nice changing table in the women’s restroom. I wonder if they also have them in the men’s?