A Tree for Alex

We are the Trees.

Our dark and leafy glade

Bands the bright earth with softer mysteries. Beneath us changed

and tamed the seasons run:

In burning zones, we build against the sun

Long centuries of shade.

–Mary Colborne-Veel, Song of the Trees

Alex Tree

On a windy afternoon in mid-March, we gathered in the grandfather’s garden. Spring was in the air, casting a glow on violet krokusse blooms and clusters of snowy-white schneeglöckchen.

Opa had readied shovels, the wheelbarrow, and a couple of cold beers.

Plus, a potted fruit tree, bought yesterday.

DSCF1778 (2)

Four years ago, he had planted an apple tree for our son, Karsten.

“All of the children born in this town,” he explained, “get an apple tree planted in their honor, following an old tradition.”

And although Karsten’s younger sister (now two years old) was born a world away, in the Philippines, he’d decided that she should also have her own tree in the garden now.

Well, Alex had decided it in fact, that she should have one, as she pestered Opa last week: “A tree for Alex?? …a tree for Alex!”


Karsten’s Apfelbaum, now with sturdy trunk and young branches shooting high into the sky, was not bearing fruit yet. It would still be a couple of years, Opa said.

Still, it seemed to me that time had flown so quickly. What was before, just a thin, scrawny stick, had grown into an entire life-giving creation. With its tiny lime-green leaves and branches curving upwards, it climbed gracefully, silently. Higher, higher into the sky. Standing quite a lot taller than Karsten now.

The kids joined in on the tree-planting—even Alex, with her miniature shovel and toy wheelbarrow. Not complaining of the biting wind, because she knew, today was something special.


An hour later, the new sapling was in, secured by firm and fertile soil all around; held in place by a second upright log.

Robuster Pfirsich—a peach tree!

A few years from now, if our adventures bring us back to celebrate another spring together, Alex’s tree will perhaps have blossomed, and we’ll be enjoying plump, juicy peaches. Together with ripe red apples from her brother’s tree.

Two lives–growing simultaneously, yet individually. Two trees, someday bearing fruit, someday greater than we now know.

A Light exists in Spring
Not present on the Year
At any other period —
When March is scarcely here

–Emily Dickinson

My Birthday Boy!

kbday2The melted butter schmalz blends in perfectly with rich, dark cacao powder. I stir carefully before adding in the condensed milk, vanilla-butter extract, and beating it to a glossy shine.

Then, with the joy of smearing acrylic paint all over a new canvas, I excitedly frost this homemade two-layered cake. It’s shaped like a number 5, of course–for my son’s fifth birthday today.

kbday4It’s only a couple of days before Christmas, so celebrating his birth is like adding an extra punctuation mark into the already colorful paragraph that reads as the story of our festive Christmas in Saxony.

We’d baked the chocolate cake (his request) together last night—it turned out heavier and denser than I’d expected—nothing that a topping of gooey, chocolatey frosting covered in colored crispy sprinkles won’t fix!

And while he’s in Kita (German Kindergarten) now, I take the opportunity to blow up balloons, arrange the gifts on the kitchen table, and add the final touches to this cake.

Opa and Oma arrive with more giant presents, a bouquet of flowers “Für Geburtstags Kind!”, and I take a moment to contemplate my son’s life so far.


k6…Where does time go?

Five years ago today, the end of an excruciatingly painful 48 hours had finally come. After unsuccessful trying for a natural delivery, I was ready and nearly begging for the doctors to operate—and “get that giant baby out!”

It’s not true, as some say, that you forget the pain of labor once you see your child. And five years on, the memory of that intense experience is still there.

But what does happen, is that the new life, which now has grown, grown up, and become an individual—the new love that you now have—all of that covers the pains of the past. All of that makes it worth it. And maybe that’s the biggest magic of it all—the miracle that life can be.

italy3Since my son was born on 22nd of December, Christmastime always has a deeper meaning. I do get all nostalgic, my heart swells with pride as I look upon my son…

Contemplating the life I lived before and after becoming a mother, makes me grateful for every experience.

When you’ve been through a painful birth, you hold that child closer. When your children get sick or are hospitalized, you know just how wonderful all the days of being well truly are. When there are obstacles to overcome, long journeys to make, things to give up just to do the best and be the best for your children, love becomes greater, deeper, forever.

K3With joy, I sing Happy Birthday to my son today, showering him with gifts and love…but he’ll never really comprehend that the painful experience it was for me, 5 years ago!

No matter. To him, it is a joyous occasion, and for all of us, too.

The challenges of parenting, the hurdles, the costs…everything is worth it when you look at your child and know that (for those who make the choice to become parents) there is hardly anything greater, no deeper love.

monteIt’s a journey on its own, to bring a child into the world, the “trials and tribulations”, the sleepless nights, the excessive worrying, the plain hard work it is, this parenting business, endless movement, constant growth and change.

Yet what a fantastic adventure! One that keeps on going, a thrill that never stops; joy that is replenished and renewed (just as a parent’s patience must be) every day.

kbday13Happy Birthday, to my 5-year-old Superhero!

New Year; New Home

Life has been good to me. I’ve traveled some pretty fantastic places around the world, wound up in adventurous terrain, been lost in enchanting and exotic locations, and called many of those destinations home.

But the latest has been by far, the best. The most beautiful.

Check out my new living room/terrace view:


To the left, I can see where my husband goes to work, where kitesurfers soar over the waters on windy days. In the center, the glistening lights of a little town across the lake sparkle even more in the evenings, when our living room couch doubles as a bed and we can sit/lie and and sip wine together–how’s that for romance? And to the right, the lake continues on southward, traversing through valleys that lie below a cluster of snow-capped mountains, its waters winding through towns and foothills, rippling silently into the distance.

We are still settling in, figuring out where the kids will go to school, how we will continue life in this tiny town, and attempting to learn the language.  But it’s a good start, and a wonderful place to wake up to every morning. We even have a little garden that our tiny gardener has been keeping well-watered.

garten1I thought it was timely that we got the keys to our new house on the same week that I turned 33. The day after my birthday, we moved in, began a new journey as a family. Another chapter closed; a new one begun.

Who knows what the future has in store? Who knows what’s waiting out there? I don’t, just yet.

But I’m excited to find out. Thrilled that, in this beautiful place I’ve been brought to, I find inspiration to paint, being surrounded by my loved ones–my children, my husband, and my friends…even though most of our connections are online these days.

There is beauty everywhere, and I will continue to discover it, though here in Italy one doesn’t have to look very far.


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.


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.


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.


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

Facing My Biggest Fear: Driving Lessons!


Today is unusually dry and warm, like a summer spell in mid-October. I am excited, scared, confident, nervous, hopeful and trembling all at the same time.

Going through the motions of getting my student’s permit at the LTO (Land Transportation Office), I struggle to focus. Feeling half out of my body, it’s as if observing myself from a distance. (“Are you really doing this? At 32 years old? Isn’t that way too late?”)

There’s the confident, go-getter me, telling myself that after all those years of procrastinating, I’m finally going to drive and enjoy doing it….and then the born-in-the-year-of-the-chicken me, who will never forget the automobile accident of 2012 when we rear-ended a bus one rainy night in Tagaytay.

Pretty terrifying. This is what our van looked like in the aftermath:


That side of me is the one who has kept my other adventurous side from actually taking lessons, even though I picked up the leaflet for this driving school ten months ago.

It’s the part of me that notices, right away, the giant sign (but how can you miss it) in the LTO waiting area: “How to avoid being the victim of carnapping, kidnapping, or hijacking.” (Gee, thanks.)

But now I’m saying, no excuses. Every day is an opportunity to learn something new, to advance, to be a better me.

I go through the motions, sign the papers, scribble my signature, have my picture taken, pay the money, and receive my student’s permit.

But I know that the actual driving hours won’t be that easy.

Growing up in Asia, I never felt the need to get behind the wheel. Public transportation, although not super convenient or comfortable, is everywhere, on every street corner.

Later, working in East Africa, I still couldn’t drive; I simply hitch-hiked, chicken-bussed my way around, or found other modes of transportation–like this handsome fellow down by the Nile.

camel nile

But it was when we moved to Europe a few years ago that I realized, immobility was like living on another planet.

Becoming a parent changed everything.

I now feel stuck not being able to drive my kids anywhere, or pick them up from school.

I feel stuck when they are sick and we can’t take ourselves to the doctor.

I feel stuck, when I could be driving them places, giving them new adventures, taking them on the road.

So my kids have actually given me the jolt I needed to go and take those driving lessons.

That, and my husband’s non-encouragement.

His joking laughter at my announcement one day—four years into marriage—to finally learn to drive; his continual pointing out my clumsiness and forgetfulness. And, his unhelpful comments before I leave the house for driving school: “Don’t crash the student car!”

So I am out to prove him wrong.

Sometimes it just takes one person like that to make you do what they say can’t be done, right?

Here goes.


(Thanks to Martine de Luna for directing me to the above poster.)






Determined to do this. For these little people; for myself.


Wish me luck, will you? (And a little prayer!)

Birthday Notes and Memories

Last Tuesday, I woke up 32 years old.

In those early morning hours, I wrote a little, reflecting on my past, present, and future. And I started counting the birthday gifts I have been given:

I am most thankful for MY CHILDREN. Seeing them every day, watching them grow, teaching them, and having all the time in the world to love them.

TIME is on my side. That is a huge gift. Time is at my disposal. Time to work; time to play; time to love; time to feel; time to create.

FREEDOM is mine. Another gift. No oppression; no riots, no civil or world wars where I live. Freedom to connect through the internet—something not possible years ago. Freedom to live life how I choose to create it.

…my son peeks over my shoulder as he wakes and sits up in bed with me. “Whoa,” he says, “That is a lot of words!”

WORDS. Another gift. Thank you, Lord, for the gift of words which you have given me. You have enabled me to speak, to write, to communicate with words. This gift is mine; let me use it for good.

HEALTH. I have never been hospitalized for an illness, nor have my children. No accidents, through all those years. And every day, I am given another 24 hours to enjoy living with a healthy, breathing body.

After these, there are others; the list could go on… TRAVEL…FRIENDS…A JOB…MONEY TO PAY THE GROWING BILLS…A HOUSE TO LIVE IN.

Lord, I thank you for all these birthday gifts, and ask you to guide me through another year. Keep me challenged, changing, growing, accepting of all that life has still to give.

Last year's birthday celebrations, I pigged out on German food with my boys!
Last year’s birthday celebrations, I pigged out on German food with my boys!

Year Highlights:

14 May—On my 31st birthday (after an early celebration in Stuttgart, Germany, we drove to Italy and arrived in our new home on Lake Como, possibly one of the prettiest places on earth.

The winding, still snowy road through the Alpine border into Northern Italy--our car was packed gypsy-style!
The winding, still snowy road through the Alpine border into Northern Italy–our car was packed gypsy-style!

In Italy, life was simple and good (Read about it here.) I got back into painting and even sold some of my work in this amazing, picture-perfect place. Every artist’s dream.

Summer on Lake Como when my mermaid friend came for a visit :)

Even though my hands were full with a toddler, and I got pregnant (yes, Alexandra was made in Italy!), the desire of my heart to get back to paid-writing in some form was granted through work-from-home jobs for Philippine Airlines Inflight magazine and the Department of Tourism’s new website.

Growing belly in September
Growing belly in September

At this time, we also launched Lifestyle Planet, a start-up website magazine now growing rapidly! I’m so excited for the future of this 3rd baby of mine! (Go to the link now!)

My little man, always in awe
My little man, always in awe

By the time we got back to Saxony, vibrant Autumn colors had arrived—my absolute favorite European season. And then, we even got some early snow!

Snow in Sachsen
Snow in Sachsen

…but I’m really not a deep-in-winter kind of girl…thankfully, we made it back to sunny Southeast Asia in time to have a tropical Christmas. Reunited with my one dozen brothers and sisters, Karsten got to meet his very young aunties and uncles, and experience again the fun chaos that is Manila.

7 months pregnant in December--Karsten turned 3 on December 22!
7 months pregnant in December–Karsten turned 3 on December 22!

We kicked off 2013 outside the metro, where we now stay (again, temporarily), just a few minutes’ drive from the beach and bay. We came here to have the baby in a more tranquil place, and to ensure that our kids had clean, fresh air to breathe.

Boys at play
Boys at play

Alexandra was born on the 1st of March, 2013, by scheduled C-section, even heavier than her brother. Even though it was a surprise getting her, and not in any of our plans, I’m glad for our beautiful girl.

Picture taken at less than two months old
Picture taken at less than two months old

I don’t know now where the footprints in the sand will lead.

It seems that change is coming very soon again. Story of our life.

But as another year says hello, I am just thankful to have made it this far. I’m setting new goals, dreaming new dreams, but also trying to cherish the everyday simple. The 5pm walks through nature; the crazy screaming (newborns!) nights; the children; more time.


Last year was not without its trials, tears and challenges. The roads were many, both literal and in my mind. And as my family grows, so do the daily obstacles. I’m hoping to keep taking this one day at a time, while still setting long term goals and reaching them. And I’m grateful for everyone who has been a part of this journey.

Sunsets by the bay
Sunsets by the bay

I can’t believe it’s been more than three decades! Can’t wait to see what’s around the corner. Cheers to new beginnings! New life, new love, new adventures!

Beer, anyone??
Beer, anyone??