For Alexandra

journal alexandraMy one and only daughter turns one year old today.

I haven’t considered buying her a material gift, first off because she’s too young to appreciate anything that isn’t edible—and second, because she’ll be getting a whole lot of presents from relatives at the big party in a few hours (she shares the same birth date as her German grandfather).

But I have decided to do one thing, starting now: I’ve begun a journal, just for her.

My thoughts, notes and musings to her. I want to record these memories, our times together, what she knew,journal2 what she loved, what she did, what she said (and how she said it), what she attempted, and what she accomplished…how she cried, how she touched my heart, how she frustrated me, and angered me, and loved me

…and how enormously I loved her.

baby girlOf course it will be many years till she reads it, but it’s important to start recording these moments now.

As I began to write in this journal, I realized it was also what I wanted as a child. I wanted to know my mother’s reflections…I never knew of her hopes or dreams—whether for myself or for her—and some of the early years of my life are lost with no record of those times (my mom and dad split up when I was five).

But it’s okay.

I have made my way through life with experience for a teacher, and I know now that my parents both love me unconditionally. Still, sometimes, I wish there were more of my mom (in those faraway moments of 1981) to remember.

So, I am gifting my daughter something I never had—insight to her mother’s feelings, dreams, and desires.

…unspoken thoughts, meant only for her.

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Whether she is 13 or 31, or 50 or past then, she will know that her imperfect mom still found a way to pursue a perfect love—the one she found with her.

And perhaps she will realize then, the incredible gift of life to my soul that she, my Alexandra, gave me.

alexandra

Posted in Alexandra, Change, Children, happiness, Inspiration, life, love, Thoughts, writing | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Sketchbook Assignment #1: Same Picture/ Different Views

I recently signed up for the MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) by CalArts, entitled Live!: A History of Art for Artists, Animators and Gamers with Jeannene Przyblyski, Ph.D. I’m so excited to learn about so much that I don’t know yet! I am also inspired by the fact that there are thousands of students around the world taking this course for free, made possible by Coursera.

Our first assignment in this eight-week course is to make two sketches: one, that stands for what I think art really should be, and the other, what I think people in the world think art should be.

That seems so broad, with so many possibilities about what other people think it should be. I felt stuck…I tried to sketch but could not capture it in just one picture. It ended up being a whole lot of written words in my sketchbook!

But it got me thinking, about one tiny aspect of this, and recalling a personal story…

If we talk about “the art world”, what comes to my mind are galleries, exhibitions, art collectors, auctions, and artists trying to make it up the ladder of “success”. And in that world, there are many intellectual people, many sincere artists, but also probably many that just go see art for the sake of the status, the crowd they want to be associated with—I come from the Philippines, and this was often the case, in a country where art is not “as accessible” to everyone.

I remember, as a young teenager, though I loved going to art exhibits to see the works, I didn’t really enjoy “that crowd” so much. I did not understand the mind of an art critic (definitely something I hope to learn more about in this course!), or the mind of an art collector, for that matter. I only knew that I loved to create, and wanted to learn more about creating. Plus, many of my friends were artists and it was something we did together, for fun.

Years later, in 2005, I held my own solo exhibition at the Sheraton hotel of Kamapla, Uganda. I’ll tell you that story some other time, but the particular moment that this assignment led me to think about, was when—as a result of that exhibition—the Kabaka (King of Buganda) purchased my painting. What an honor and experience.

Here is a photo of that artwork, entitled “My People”:

MY PEOPLEAs it became public knowledge that the king himself owned my art, I was soon getting more phone calls, and people wanted to buy “that painting”. Of course they couldn’t have the original; only a duplicate.

And I made sure to tell them, “It won’t be exactly like the picture—it will be similar, as I can never reproduce one exactly like that one.”

No one seemed to mind. Sometimes, they didn’t even know what the picture was. They’d never even seen it, or a picture of it. They’d say, “Just paint me the one the king bought.”

I ended up selling reproductions of that painting eight more times.

Although I love this particular piece of art, only I know what inspired me to paint it, and the moment I came in contact with this tribe. Those who paid to own the artwork itself will never really feel what I felt at the time, a respect and sadness/concern for the community where this nearly-forgotten tribe lived, way up on the mountains.

So I use this picture in my assignment, not because I think art SHOULD be like my art, but to represent what the process of art means to me.

To me, the picture was a symbol of:

  • Exploration (both the long journey to reach the tribe, as well as the process of creating this with pastels on felt paper)
  • Expression (The personal process of creating something)
  • The power to change one’s circumstance, or one’s outlook
  • Communication
  • Life (Art should be vibrant, exciting, striking, I often use deep colors)
  • Awareness (Hardly anyone knew that this tribe, called the “Ik”, existed. I wanted my portraits of them to tell their story, to show their faces, fears, and dreams)
  • Bridging cultures (too much to say on that!)
  • A personal experience we can (and sometimes, should) share

I know what the painting meant to me at the time…but it became valuable to others for an entirely different reason. So if I am allowed to do so, I’d like to use this picture for both illustrations.

Thanks for reading! I’ll update about the new things I’m learning from this exciting course as we go along.

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And You, and You

poem

Penned a simple little poem for my children today…

Winter walks on windy days
Just me, and you, and you
Through silent paths, through snowy slopes
Through shades of gold and blue

I need not walk alone today
For I hold not one, but two
Together, in this magic weather
Just me,
And you,
And you.
***
17 Feb. 2014

feb stroll1

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Wide Awake in Winter

winter2Do you know how snow-dust sparkles? I never knew—until yesterday.

If it is a sunny day, like the ones we’ve been having lately, then winter dances and pierces and sweeps through the senses.

Those snowflakes didn’t just flutter down. They swirled and twirled and whirled like magic. Crisp. Gleaming. White.

Pure white—but sometimes, when the sun’s reflection bounces off of icicles and snow-dust, suddenly, one sees vibrant colors. It is ten degrees below freezing point—and yet, walking through the woods, I feel warmth.

winter walk

This month, the start of the New Year, I am doing lots of celebrating—a magical winter spell sets off the perfect mood; I gaze at the way sharp shadows of light strike the snow at 11 o’clock.

Did you get to celebrate something today?

Celebration isn’t always fireworks, candles and cake. Sometimes, celebration is simply being thankful. It’s acknowledging. It’s saying, “Yes, this is where I am meant to be, and I’m going to make the most of it.”

schnee3Celebration can also be commemorating: observing, honoring, and remembering.

I am honoring my daughter’s first babbles, her awkward “dance” (bouncing) every time she hears the sound of music, and the murmuring exhale she grunts when I tell her she’s eaten quite enough today.

schnee12I am remembering the squishy sound of my son’s gummistiefels as he sloshes through every muddy pile of melting ice.

schnee11And the way his concerned four-year-old voice pierces my train of thought loudly:

“Mom, the baby’s alive!”

(He means, she’s woken up—I must get back to mommy-work.)

schnee5So I’ll be realistic too. Not every moment is met with joy. There is the mundane, day to day that being a mother requires: endless nappy changes, dishes to wash and little people to keep happy and well-fed. Trips to the doctor’s office, meeting with the school principal, laundry to sort, hang, and fold. And always, a floor of toys to sweep.

And maybe, that’s why we need to celebrate the special moments more. Even the ones we think aren’t quite that special.

I take this 3-kilometer walk every day to pick up my son from school. The same routine. My fingers are frozen as we trudge through the show. But I try to make each day on the same route a new experience.

snowy walkThe sunlight’s glint is never exactly as it was yesterday; the village sounds are never just the same. On some days, I find horse-riders trotting through the streets; other times, snow-sweeping tractors plowing through the neighbor’s gardens.

I’ll admit, it wasn’t always so for me. With my first pregnancy, I was also in this same village, and I felt cold, and isolated, and bored.

narnia1It was a new experience in a foreign country (a new continent!), and I’d had all the usual moods a pregnant woman goes through. Not used to eat cold herring and schwarzbrot for dinner, I craved the warmth of tropical islands, the chaotic mess of the city. And oh, yes, I missed speaking English with other people!

It wasn’t easy, that first long winter, before my son was born. And of course, the days following, as a new mom, were even tougher.

But this time around, I’m getting a second chance at choosing: choosing joy over self-absorbedness, artistic expression over boredom. Choosing to see the sun through the shadows, to notice the way nature unfolds, envelops, and captivates. Choosing to appreciate and reciprocate the love of my family here, who care for us so well.

snowy walk3As I walk the same snow-swept paths along the edge of this Eastern German forest trail, I’m glad to be just where I am today.

Sometimes, my daughter is fast asleep in her stroller, and other times, she is wide awake.

Wide awake, I’ve realized, is how I want to be.

Exploring the world with the senses I’ve had all these years, but now finding new ways to use them.

Finding new ways to come alive.

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Nothing can cure the soul but the senses, just as nothing can cure the senses but the soul.
Oscar Wilde

Posted in Adventure, Beauty, Change, Children, Europe, happiness, learning, life, Parenting, spirit, Thoughts, Travel | Leave a comment

Notes on Twitter and Trains

wb2Did you know that, as a boy, Jack Dorsey, was fascinated—no, obsessed—with trains? And that, his interest in the dispatch center and the way they communicated eventually led to his invention of the popular social media tool, Twitter? It’s been told that as a kid, he often hung out at the train track with his brother, waiting to capture them zooming by on camera.

Yesterday, for something different and fun, we travelled old-school style, in a very old, original steam locomotive engine!

photo of our train track by wikimedia

photo of our train track by wikimedia

The Weisseritz Valley Railway, or Weißeritztalbahn dates back to 1881. Although the track has been reconstructed due to severe damage with the 2002 flooding, its locomotive and cars are the original, basic design. It’s a great way to see the Erzgebirge mountain views here in Saxony.

And today, it wasn’t about getting to any destination at all. This was purely for the excitement and enjoyment of our transportation vehicle. Winding through all that nature, I couldn’t help but feel like we’d time-traveled back hundreds of years ago. (Interesting read: What nature does for your productivity.)

wb1We simply took the train to the very last station (about 45 minutes one way), stopped for lunch at a Greek restaurant, ate way too much Suvlaki, and then rode the steam engine  right back.

My son was fascinated, as usual. My daughter, her first time to ride the train, watched just as intensively as we chugged up the trail that followed the Weißeritz river, and waved to everyone who stopped just to see the steam engine go rolling by. I’ll bet they were also surprised to see three Asians waving back at them from inside the locomotive!

wb4We’ve ridden countless trains since Karsten was born, been to the German train museums numerous times, and when there is an opportunity to watch one pass, we do so with all the hurrah and excitement. Aren’t kids a great reason to start doing things “just for fun” in your adult years?

I hope that, as we greet the first few days of 2014, if you have made new goals for yourself, mapped out and marked destinations you’d like to reach, that you remember to enjoy the getting there, too.

Happy new year; happy journeys!

wb3http://www.weisseritztalbahn.de/

wb6P.S. Speaking of Twitter, you can find (or connect and follow) me here. ;)

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Notes in the Night

Tucked beneath winter’s dark blanket, held magically under a silver moon’s spell, it sounds as if all Saxony is fast asleep.

All, except my daughter, that is.

The tiny one has kicked off her blankets and socks, crawled unceremoniously out of bed, and proceeded to drag me along after her, to play. At 3am.

Jetlag can be cruel.

While she gnaws at toys in the old box we opened up from when her brother was a baby in this house (our in-laws), I contemplate.

last day bay2The year has come full circle, and I am just where our journey began, before that little girl was born. At the end of 2012, we’d moved back to tropical Philippines, from a biting cold Germany.

I’d needed help with the new baby and toddler, since a C-section operation was expected. Household help and nannies were no luxury in Asia, and I knew it would be many months of recovery before my body could be back to normal. Besides, I was homesick—for chicken adobo, and social neighbors, and the sharp/sweet fishy taste of bangus belly, and cinnamon sand between my toes.

My husband agreed—begrudgingly—to move us all back, and we set up house in a quite historical little place called Subic Bay.

last day bay1It was here in Olongapo City that the Americans had stationed their troops for many years. But since the fatal eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in the 90’s resulting in a giant evacuation, and other historical events, the Bay town was now a tourist stop, for leisure and slow living. We thought it would be a nice place to live with the kids, in stark contrast to Manila’s grit and grime, where we had no intent on raising them.

On the first day of March, just as we’d scheduled, this feisty girl was born, steps from the ocean’s mouth.

And when I saw her, so strong, so dark-eyed, so full of life, spunk, and at times, complete seriousness, the name my husband suggested (well, we still debate who came up with it first) stuck.

Alexandra.

a.aug2It took a few months, but I slowly recovered, thanks to my mom who arrived to help us for a few weeks, and to “Mary Poppins”, our indispensable nanny.

Three months later, both children contracted pneumonia and were hospitalized, one after the other.

In the thick of this crisis, I learned the most about being a mother. The strength I never knew I had: the kind that fights for life, never gives up hope, and never succumbs, even when the tears and trials are too many. When the kids had recovered and the worst had passed (as it always does), I also got back to healthier living, exercising, regaining myself.

Life was precious, as it always had been; only now, I’d come to cherish it even more.

pi2I found my creativity resurface with a coffee-table book project for the Philippines’ Dept. of Tourism (soon to be released), editing work, and my online magazine.

In the year that was 2013, it seemed too, that the Philippines as a country, suffered horrendously. Natural disasters occurred nearly every month; rife with civil wars and political drama. It scares me to list the recent events that happened just this week, as we were leaving: a bus falling off the highway near my parent’s house and killing over 20 people; murder at the airport where an 18-month old baby’s life is lost to the bullet; holdup at the mall.

When one becomes a parent, priorities change: suddenly, all you care about is your children’s safety, security, finding a place they can come home to and feel no fear.

And as much as I love many things about the Philippines, we knew we wouldn’t stay forever.

No place in the world is perfect, and this side of the planet has its downsides as well. But when you can’t have it all, at least you can choose where is best for the moment.

o22And now, in this stage of our lives, when the children are young and need a solid foundation, fresh air to breathe, structure and nature, we find ourselves back here in Middle Europe again. Here, my partner and I, then a young and carefree couple, walked through enchanted forests, climbed ivory sandstones, drove through golden fields and swam in Spring.

So we’ll stay here awhile in this beautiful place and nurture them. I hope they’ll make fond memories, too.

My children, my pride and joy…they were the best things about this year that was. The source of  my ecstasy and exasperation, frustration and freedom.

Freedom? You ask.

Yes.

Because, in a strange way, they keep me untied down. They teach me how to easily let go, say goodbye (or “until then”), and start all over.

juni1From these tiny tots, I’ve learned how to move house in a single day and not look back. Or, how to go back, because second chances may just be in the cards. How to adapt and embrace change.

So many days, my son has asked me, as we’ve packed our things into boxes and bags, as we’ve gotten ready for takeoff, and strapped ourselves safely into constricting airplane seats, “Are we going on an adventure?”

And each time, I’ve answered him, “Oh yes—yes we are.”

It is in this exact moment, recalling our adventures, that I hear my boy laughing in his sleep. Not a tiny chuckle, but the giant, uncontrollable kind of laughter.

I smile along, knowing they’ve also taught me to enjoy life, heartily and for no reason at all. To laugh out loud, and dance all crazy, just because it feels good, and it’s fun.

And now, excuse me, my daughter’s just done a stinky…this note must end abruptly.

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Notes After Haiyan

Stepping off the plane and onto a slippery tarmac the morning of November 8, no one could have foreseen the repercussions the day’s events would bring.

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We were flying back in from a week’s vacation in Hong Kong, already delayed but expecting worse weather conditions. Upon arrival in Subic Bay, it wasn’t until evening that the sky burst, pouring out untold destruction as Haiyan swept across the country.

On our hillside home, the wind howled louder than usual, but we kept the shutters down, flashlights nearby, and slept through the night.

The next morning, my husband had a scheduled meeting in Manila to discuss our family’s business on one of the islands in Palawan.

“Are you still going?” I asked him, while stirring the day’s first coffee.

“No,” he said quietly. “There probably isn’t anything to discuss anymore.” His gaze was distraught; he’d been following the news online.

I flipped on the TV, and there it was.

Death. Destruction. The worst storm in history had left its mark.

typhoon-haiyanAnd this was just the beginning.

The island we’d just finished construction for a new kitesurf camp on, lay in the direct path of the typhoon’s fury. As we watched bleak image after image of survivors in shock, as the news of a rising death toll spread across the globe, we could only hope that my brother and the 20 staff members on that tiny island in the middle of the South China Sea, were still okay.

It was to be three long days before we’d made any contact with them.

And during those days, I turned to social networks to follow the news, desperate for updates, for information, for hope.

Thankfully, and by nothing short of a miracle plus the boys’ disaster-preparation, there were no casualties, and no debilitating damage to the island. None of the native-bamboo structures had succumbed to the wind. We had never felt relief like this.

And so began a month that was probably the busiest of my 2013, besides March, when my daughter was born.

goodsSuddenly, we found ourselves caught up in a whirlwind of activity. My brother got involved in hands-on relief to other islands nearby whose residents and villagers weren’t as lucky. Our team in Manila organized shipments and air supplies of relief for the outlying islands where the local government, even with its billions of donations, still wasn’t getting to.

1462893_620826914644532_406989573_nPeople around the world who wanted to somehow help the victims of Haiyan were finding us online and giving from their own pockets. We began to work more closely with other individuals who were also active with relief efforts in Palawan, to send relief in a fast, efficient way, reaching hard-to-access areas. The ground teams, meeting shipments at port, would then go, sometimes with boats, sometimes on foot, hand-carrying supplies to the people.

southcoron1The process and logistics were crazy at times, but things were happening. Help was getting to the islands. Medical missions were carried out; hundreds of families reached with food, water, and clothing.

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERAThere are so many stories to tell that won’t fit just one blog post…but the last month, despite the horrible tragedy that was, also brought a bit of inspiration to my personal life.

You see, I went from being a busy mom in the kitchen to being a busy mom in the kitchen with a mission.

I still remember the feeling waking up with a million things on my mind–we’d just heard from my brother, that he was okay. I went to my husband and said, “Help me sort all these ideas in my head. We have ways to get to the islands, to reach the remote villages. My Facebook page is going crazy. People want to send help. We can’t not do anything!”

He looked at me with a, “It’s going to be a logistic-nightmare” face, but, being the level-headed man he is, told me what was needed, first and fast: Boats. Manpower. Fuel.

Suddenly, on the other end of my phone, were priests, doctors, medical workers, and people trying to connect with those who were suffering in the islands, asking us if we had a way to reach them with supplies.

borac2And because we did, it became a team effort of complete strangers coming together in the most unique of ways. I was reminded of my youthful days in Thailand, and of the aftermath of the Tsunami, when I found myself on a beach in Hikkadduwa, Sri Lanka, listening to the stories of survivors, visiting the little school run by the Daughters of Charity sisters, and of the week I spent with hilltop tribes in Uganda.

It wasn’t about one person or one group being a hero; it was about teamwork, concerted efforts; compassion in action–not just talk.

These were the adventures and journeys that, though wrought with difficulty, opened my eyes to the reality of the world. As a teenager, I learned to cherish life, to know its value.

And now, in-between diaper changes, midnight feedings with my baby, and scheduling family activities, there was also scheduling of relief pickups, emailing sponsors from faraway countries and helping to connect them with the immediate need.

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERAI know now that my life’s calling always finds a way to beckon me back.

I don’t have the money, or the resources to make a difference. But what I have always had was the blessing of being surrounded by amazing people. And this last month has proven that vital connections one makes to another, and another, and another, when interwoven in that crucial time, are enough to make miracles happen.

calambuyan2A ripple effect.

You can read about some of the amazing stories of our team’s Haiyan relief since it began here, here and pictures here.

calambuyan5I now find myself with just four days left in the country. So before we go back to Saxony with the kids, I’m enjoying my family and catching up with old friends over long, late night conversations. I’m taking my son around every day and showing him what it means to live an unconventional life.

To me, it continues to mean the same thing: that, sometimes, we don’t know where this journey takes us, what storms are ahead, what unforeseen events.

But we pray for pockets of peace; we trust the love and support of friends—and yes, sometimes even strangers.

It’s a crazy world we live in, and as my children grow, they will see that there is evil, and people with bad agendas, those power-hungry and money-hungry.

But they will also come to find that there is still so much good, so many who make the right choices, to live their lives in beautiful ways, and for humanity. I have met those kind of folks this month, connected with them, learned from them.

1453435_620826514644572_883025096_nWe continue on that journey, with its winding trails, and sometimes flooded streets, and other times, brokedown trains (story of our adventure in Metro Manila yesterday!).

And if, at night, our loved ones are near, and we can still sleep in each others arms, and if our children are healthy and laughing, with a roof overhead, then we have a million reasons to be thankful.

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERA+++

Please watch this video posted on Youtube, with lyrics written by songwriter Armand TJ in Boracay–sung by children who were also victims of Haiyan, but they came together to sing for the world , the beautiful way Filipinos do despite the many storms.

(Relief photographs courtesy of 250k Kiteboarding Adventures)

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Operation Reach Culion: Philippines Haiyan Relief

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As some of you may know, my husband John and my brother Chris run a watersports company called 250K Kiteboarding. They operate kitesurf safaris out of a tiny 2-hectare island in Culion, Northern Palawan.

When Haiyan, the biggest storm on earth crossed the Philippines just days ago, that little island lay directly in the path of its eye. We could only expect the worst. Amazingly, thanks to our brave and dependable staff there (and my awesome brother Chris who made sure to tie everything down!) nothing on the island was damaged and more importantly, NO ONE WAS INJURED. It was nearly 3 days before we heard word from the island staff, but we are relieved to know they are all alive and well. My brother Chris is now focused on helping others who lost so much more in this tragedy. He is greatly involved with relief work on the ground, coordinating, etc.

Small towns such as Culion (south of Coron) in Palawan have suffered terribly. Ninety percent of the coastal homes no longer exist. Our staff’s and friends’ homes are now just posts, the elementary school no longer has a roof over their classrooms, cement structures are the only things left standing in this small, coastal town. There is minimal communication because of a collapsed signal tower. Many of the boats have sank or are heavily damaged which means fishing for their daily sustenance as well as travelling to buy diesel for generators is now limited. Resources are running low. Coron town where many of the residents of Culion go to for replenishment is also running very low on supplies. You get the picture.

The international media has been covering other places in the country, but almost no one has heard of Culion.  The navy and military is already on the scene in Coron town, the main port of Palawan, but in disaster situations like this, a common problem is proper infrastructure and coordination. Distribution of goods is difficult, and often does not reach the little islands way out there. This is where we on the ground and sea can go and help.

This afternoon, Chris is meeting with the town mayor to micromanage relief, assess the situation and prepare a detailed list of items needed in the most desperate places. Then we will be chartering a sea vessel to bring goods to the thousands affected by Typhoon Haiyan. We will update you as we hear back firsthand from him.

Here are ways you can personally donate to Operation Reach Culion, I can personally pass on donations and you can scan the bank receipt and email me when you have sent your help. Those in the Philippines can drop off goods at our collection point in Makati, pls PM me for details.

On behalf of my brother and all the rescue teams out there right now, THANK YOU for helping us reach Culion and those affected by this disaster.

PayPal: nyxmartinez@gmail.com

+63 9999 700012

Or email me for details of options for BDO, CHINATRUST, and BPI transfers.

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Waking up in Wonderland

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Sleep-ins, as all moms know, become something of a distant memory once a baby is born.

But today, I welcome my 8-month old’s wake up call, her whining to go outside.

Because today we are in the “City of Pines”—that lovely, cool climate escape called Baguio. I slip into some comfy strolling clothes, and then push her out into the sweet-scented open.

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The breakfast buffet at the hotel’s restaurant smells of buttery croissants, homemade jams, and finely brewed coffee. That, mixed with Asian aromas from the giant spread: garlic-spiced longganisa, honey soy chicken, fish fillets and a large pot of steaming congee. I spy salted egg, banggus and ampalaya ensalada…

But we’re not up this early to eat—not just yet. We’ll wait for the sleeping boys and then pig out later. I’ve packed my camera, so we’ll go revel in this morning hour.

We catch mist rising; cascading streaks of early light. Hints of a perfect day awaiting us, its sun-showers spraying through a forest of impossibly tall pines.

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More pretty things on the pathway: beds of flowers, decked with frosty Christmas beads and giant glass baubles, a wishing pond with dancing kois and invisible water nymphs. At its bottom, a thousand coins glisten.

Dare I make a wish?

And still more pretty things: Paved up-hills and down-hills, winding roads to travel on foot. Further on, we overlook a silent lake. There’s a sprawling golf course in the distance, nestled in this carpeted playground of vibrant green.

Baguio city, tucked away in the Cordillera mountain ranges,  was once the recreation destination for US soldiers, when they held bases around the country. Because of its high altitude, the temperature is always pleasantly cool. Today, it’s just 17 degrees, a refreshing change from the usual humidity we’re used to.

My baby basks.

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She is silent, enjoying, taking in the peace and stillness of this wonderland. Every now and then, she coos a little, and when the hotel staff greets her with a good morning, she eyes them suspiciously before breaking just a half smile from an upturned, pouty lip.

She’s a bit suplada like that.

I scold her for being unfriendly, but maybe she just needs to get out more. We turn down towards an open road, continuing our stroll until it’s time to sleep again.

And this time, I welcome her dreamy midday slumber with a nap myself.

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As partial payment for a project I did for the Philippines Dept. of Tourism this year, I was given a four-day complimentary stay at The Manor. This charming luxury hotel is located at Camp John Hay and—besides other delicious things—serves the most amazing gourmet salads.

http://www.campjohnhay.ph/

Posted in Adventure, Alexandra, Beauty, happiness, life, Parenting, Philippines, Travel | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Defining Love

trek7I never thought he’d ask me this soon, but yesterday, he did:

“What is Love, mom?”

My bilingual, inquisitive three-year-old, who already knows the meaning of four-syllable words such as, Esophagus, Stabilizer, and Paragliding, quizzed me on the simplest yet deepest of English words.

“What is Love, mom?” o21

“Love is, like, when you care about someone or something a lot,” I began. “Love is how I feel about you.”

But then I paused. Maybe the explanation wasn’t as easy as I thought.

“When you love someone, you trust them. You believe them. They make you happy. They make you smile.”

No sooner had I answered, that I realized this was my “general”, easy idea of love.

And all throughout my life, love hasn’t been general, nor easy.

Each time I have loved—if I have loved deeply—it was always different. The love I felt for one person was never the same for another.

And definitely, the way I loved my son was something else entirely.

When my daughter came along, even though I had previously thought my heart was so full of love for my first child, it somehow found space to tank up even more for the new one. Overflowing, overwhelming, love.

I thought also, of the days, when the routine of living becomes frustrating, and I tell my son off with angry words. I become exasperated, and upset…but I don’t love him any less.

Every new day, I love him all over again. No matter what passed yesterday, no matter how naughty or disobedient or frustrated he made me.  I love him, because a parent’s love is unconditional.

o5And then I thought about the love that has kept me through the last four years of marriage. In the beginning, yes, this was the love of romantics, of extreme highs, of happy endings in colorful movies.

But now, it is the love that grows deeper with time—the love that, also unconditionally, forgives, forgets, and strives to be better every day.

It is love that communicates, or tries to.

Even when talking about issues is hard, when there are tears, and harsh words passed; when there are misunderstandings, and stupidity. After four years with a partner, you can be sure to have plenty of that.

It’s Love that knows, through those trying days, that this kind of love is hard to come by, and even harder to keep alive. Love that you work at to preserve—because it’s worth it.

Boys at play

Boys at play

And then, there’s the kind of love as written in the Epistle of 1st Corinthians 13:

“Love is patient…love does not envy, it is not puffed up in pride, does not behave unseemly, it seeks not her own, it is not easily provoked. It thinks no evil.”

If that is a perfect kind of love, then my own is far from ideal. I am always easily provoked! I think of my own and myself all too often. And evil thoughts? Well, that’s just human!

But the verses go on:

Love rejoices in the truth. It bears all things. It believes all things. It hopes all things. Love never fails.”

Could I love this way? Believing all the possibilities? Hoping, always? Can I bear my burdens bravely, because Love gives me the strength?

Yes, I can.

I must.

8 mosI held my son a little bit longer that day, treasuring his thoughtful heart, knowing he would grow up way too fast, ask even tougher questions, and maybe, I would never, ever have all the answers.

But the thoughts he prompted had made me search my own soul, made me get back to what, in the end, really matters in life.

Made me know that, often you can’t define LOVE, or put a meaning on it, or make sense of it.

Indescribable, incredible love: sometimes you just know it’s there, and it’s perfect.

And even when it’s imperfect, if it’s real Love, it’s beautiful.

Now, go pursue, preserve, and fight for yours.

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