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:

evenings

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.

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journal alexandra

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

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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

Facing My Biggest Fear: Driving Lessons!

Driving_Lessons_Medway_238942

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:

van

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.

succeed

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

Scared…

Confident…

Hopeful…

Nervous…

Trembling…

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

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

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

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.

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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.

boat

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??

Heroic Vs. Happy: Notes on Not Breastfeeding

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Lago di Garda, Italy, 2010

As I shuffle around the house fixing things in the kitchen, I can’t help but notice the large sign on the baby-formula can sitting on the counter:

Breastfeeding is best for babies up to two years and beyond.”

And beyond?

Are they crazy? No way am I having a two year-old yanking on my sore boobs for 24 months, AND BEYOND!

I breastfed my firstborn for about 5 months before going back to the office, where it was too much trouble to pump milk every couple of hours while your officemates wait in line for the bathroom.

I remember, shortly after that, watching a local TV show, where some celebrity dad was going on and on about the benefits of breastfeeding. I was like, “Whatever, you don’t know anything about the pain your poor wife is going through”. I guess it’s not something anyone can understand until they have experienced themselves, having the baby attached to them every two hours, the uncomfortable breasts, the fever-like feelings if you are out and miss a feed, the bursting ducts inside, the general pain and discomfort.–Not to mention that you can’t wear normal clothes!

Breastfeeding is really an unselfish thing to do, and of course we know it’s best for our babies, with so many benefits for them. But recently, I’ve realized that there are many things we do unselfishly, just because we are told to, and society expects us to do them.

Breastfeeding is one of those things.

My newborn is only two months old, but since we started her on formula every few feeds (it seemed that my own milk was not filling her up), something else has happened:

I’ve become happier, and so has she.

Today, when I was home alone, she slept a total of seven hours straight, when previously, she’d only sleep for half-hour intervals before wanting to latch on me again. In those seven hours, I painted a giant canvas, ate a decent meal, played with my son, written and edited articles for work and this blog, and relaxed.

I’ve been feeling great.

On the other hand, there is always some sense of guilt—is it okay to do this, just because it makes me feel better? Because I am seeing so many benefits in my own life? Is it right to feel ok about being “normal” again, getting to sleep, being happier, calmer, stronger, less stressed?

If part of the point of breastfeeding is the bonding with baby, then let me say this: the time I do spend with my child now is more relaxing; I enjoy her more; I am bonding better. I am not in pain or discomfort.  I am able to go out without worrying that the errands will take more than two hours, or that I’ll come home sick, or that I’m failing my child by being away.

I know that as parents, we all want the best for our babies. But sometimes, that starts with finding what is best for you.

What makes you happiest as a parent is going to directly influence your child, and your home atmosphere.

If only society didn’t place guilt on mothers who also just want the best for their families. Like having a C-Section as opposed to natural birth; or taking the epidural instead of suffering and martyring through it.

Personal opinion: if you’ve tried and found out that breastfeeding isn’t going so well, it’s okay to relax, try the formula, and see how your life goes.

My eldest son, weaned off my breast at 5 months, is completely healthy and happy three years later. He is scary smart, and multi-talented. I am so proud of him.

It also helps to realize where there should be leeway for personal choice and our own happiness, so that we can move past those feelings of guilt and focus on loving our children, for all their precious childhood years—and beyond!

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Did you stop breastfeeding before six months? If so, what were your feelings when making that decision? Do you think there are other areas where we as parents allow guilt to hold us back from loving life?

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Disclaimer: In writing this, I’m not knocking those who desire to breastfeed their babies for longer, and who have made the personal choice to do so. I applaud them. And I support the government’s efforts to encourage breastfeeding in mothers countrywide. This post is simply for those mothers who could do without the guilt, with knowing that it’s okay to follow your maternal instincts, too. Your body knows best.

Two Week Wonder

SAMSUNG

Life has been on pause for the last two weeks, as I’ve slowly recovered from the surgery. I’ve had to depend on others to do things for me, accept that time must move slowly these days, and stay awake at nights for my tiny one.

It’s taken a new turn, this twist in adventures—and yet somehow, it doesn’t seem strange; just the natural flow of things.

It was my son who first broke the news to me. “I have a baby sister!” he declared, one sunny day in Lake Como, nine months ago.

“No you don’t,” I half-frowned at him.

But he did, already. I just didn’t know it.

Trusting his instincts, I asked him, shortly before the birth, “What color is your baby sister’s hair? Is it blonde, like yours?”

“No,” he stated matter-of-factly, without looking up from his puzzle. “It’s black. Schwarz. Like yours.”

And so it is.

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Now, she’s here, the little lady bug, who sleeps so much I am secretly hoping she stays this quiet and lets me do my work. Her features already take on quite a mature look, though she is just weeks old.

And when she smiles in her sleep, it is the most beautiful thing on earth.

I told you, this is my journey.

Yes, I miss the days of past, of ziplining across gorges while travelling provincial terrains; of backpacking with just my partner, before there were babies; the days of going on a whim, and risking a lot without a second thought.

with orphans

I know someday, I’ll return to Africa, to the tribal regions of the Philippines, to the vineyards of Tuscany, to intoxicating India. But by then, I’ll have my new travelers with me, little feet marking their own path.

And by then, the journeys—as a family—will be even better.

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Now, something for smiles: Tina Fey’s A Mother’s Prayer for Her Daughter