For Alexandra

journal 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.


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.

My Girl


Scanning blank pages on this new morning. White space to fill—not mine, but my daughter’s. This new life which has yet to be lived; days and milestones yet to be celebrated.

Moments yet to be realized and treasured.

A brand new start, for something that hasn’t existed yet. How do you capture innocence? How do you celebrate life so pure, so angelic, so vulnerable?


We begin a new journey together, my love. And as we do, I hold your hand, but hope to not hold you back.

Life is for learning, exploring, making mistakes, and trying again.

Life is for love, and loss, and living again.

You must write in the pages of your own book—I can guide you, but not write them for you. You will learn with time, grow with the moments; intuition will guide you, and love will always bring you back home.

You were born into a family of travelers, wanderers, explorers, adventures. We will give you the experiences which will be yours to keep, the boat to set sail and launch out to new horizons. But what you find there and where you decide to anchor will be up to you and your choices.

I can hold you and nurture you only for a little while. I can be your strength just a few years.

When you finally go out on your own, when you finally know what it means to follow your heart, I trust that you will hear it beating in all the right directions.

I trust you will find your way.

Just as you found your way to us.


Alexandra, born March 1, 2013

12 Gifts That Cost Nothing But Love (and a little effort!)

gifts of love

gifts of love

There’s a plant-bed full of Aloe Vera bushes behind our house, and they remind me of the love that has matured over the three years I have been married.  It was originally just a single potted plant—the first gift my future-husband ever gave me.

The sprig of Aloe Vera may seem a very strange present—and it sure looked that way when he first showed up at my house with it. But I soon learned that it was a miracle plant, intended to soothe the blistering sunburn I’d gotten during that first date together at Apuao beach.

Many moons later, I used the same Aloe Vera plant to heal the scar from the C-section birth of our son, and again to soothe a burn I’d gotten while in our house. That was a gift which, literally, kept on giving.

Each time I see those bushes, I am reminded that real love must be tended to, watered, nurtured, and given time–like that single plant which multiplied.

I also remember that often, the sweetest gifts are not store-bought nor ordered from a catalog.

Now, it’s that time of the year again when we are bombarded on all sides with consumerism and the pressure to buy, buy, buy, that perfect gift for that special someone.

But love isn’t supposed to be material, is it?

Is it possible to cancel out the costs and spend nothing but time for something meaningful?

If they really are the person meant for you, then they shouldn’t expect you to spend tons of money on an expensive Christmas gift. The time and effort you put into making them a special gift should say more than any gift certificate could. And the worth of that gift—the love it leaves in your hearts—can last forever.

To get you started, here are 12 suggestions:

1.      Make a power-point digital presentation with photos of all your memories together. The captions should reflect your thoughts on those special times. Enjoy viewing how far you’ve come together.

 2.      (For her) Put together a necklace or bracelet made of seashells from your last trip to the beach together. Pictured below are the beautiful shell earrings he once made me!


 3.      Prepare a home-cooked breakfast in bed. Easy menus include: Fruit salad and yoghurt, brewed coffee, bacon and eggs, pancakes (get the ready-mix kind). Get creative for dinner-in-bed ideas!

 4.      Give seeds to plant that will one day blossom into flowers, or fresh spices like basil and coriander, if your partner likes to cook.

 5.       (For him) Mend or sew all his broken clothes and missing buttons; iron his slacks and office shirts…you get the idea…

 6.      Write a poem or song for them. Don’t worry if it sounds corny. (‘Tis the season, after all)

 7.      Write your own ‘gift checks’, to be ‘cashed’ on any given day.  ‘Tonight I will give you a full body massage’, or, ‘Today we are going to watch your favorite sitcom together’.

 8.      Do an outreach activity together, like visiting children in a hospital ward with secondhand toys, or volunteering together for a local charity.

9.      Bake a jar of Christmas cookies or chocolate crinkles.

10.  Is your loved-one away during the holidays? Record a video of yourself telling them how much you love them, and why. Better yet, record his or her friends giving their tributes–this can be done on Christmas and not just birthdays!

11.  Make a New Year calendar (in Microsoft Office) for them, with each month having a different picture (either of the both of you, or one new sexy picture of yourself every month)!

 12.  Do more than just one of these this December! For a twist on the 12 Days of Christmas, make your own gift-giving calendar, where you celebrate your love in various ways on different days leading up to the 25th. Variety is the spice of a love-life!

–I’d love to know what creative gifts of love you have planned this Christmas! Tell me in the comment box below…

(This article was originally published in SmartparentingOnline)

Starting Over


CHANGE. It’s seemed to be the ever-present theme of my life. But especially, this last year.

With change came movement; development; life.

The last week has been another series of change. After one month in traffic-jammed Manila, we set out to explore the nearby beaches in the province’s outskirts, and ended up loving the fresh air so much, we went home only to pack up our suitcases and get back out of the city—for good.

I’ve learned that, every time there is uncertainty, insecurity about my future, or when it seems the way is clouded with fog, and I can’t see where I’m headed…somehow, the road keeps going and winds up somewhere amazing.

Here’s wishing that your year-end will be one that you can look back on and see where the challenges drove you to champion; where the struggles made you stronger; where the loss made room for new love.

I don’t think 2013 is going to be any easier. But we get wiser with each mistake made…when we open our hearts to life’s possibilities—even the possibility of failure—we create space in that future to grow, to deepen, to breathe.

Just keep on living. Keep on loving. Keep believing!


What I Learned Living in Italy without Internet

life in italy lake como

lake como italy 1From May till September of this year, my small family lived on Lake Como in Northern Italy, where my husband worked at a water-sports center for the summer season.

The tiny apartment we were blessed to call home for those few months was charming in an old-fashioned way. It was a bright yellow centuries-old flat, on the corner of a narrow cobblestone street, so close to my neighbor’s window that not only could they see our underwear hanging out to dry; we could also hear their every whisper, laugh and (all too often) shouting marital disputes at 3am.

living in italy houseWe, like any normal people, wanted to buy a super-fast wifi connection for our temporary home. But in order to do that, we would have to sign a whole year’s lease. Knowing we weren’t going to stay in the country that long, we opted to not have it. (When we finally purchased a plug-in Internet device, it was so slow that it was worse than having none.)

This made for daily trips to the wifi-friendly Bar Pace café across the street, where we sipped creamy cappuccino, ate fresh, fluffy croissants, and checked our emails for half an hour.

Weekends on the lake got a little more active, with parachuters dropping down from the Alpine slopes, kitesurfers plowing through the rippled waters, sailboats in regattas, and dozens of sunbathers enjoying summer.

living in italy juneBut most of the time, life in Como was mostly uneventful; night-life was non-existent.

And after those slow-paced months, the realization hit me:

I didn’t miss not having Internet.

I didn’t miss not being “socially” connected.

I didn’t even miss texting!

I had a Twitter account, and a Facebook Page, and even a LinkedIn, yet never felt the urge to check my friends’ updates—never knew what was going on in half a thousand other people’s lives.

Here’s what I did do: life in italy beach

Ate chocolate gelato every day

Swam every day with my son

Read more books

Saw more sunsets

Did a lot of people-watching

Did a lot of listening

Went running every morning

Used my telephone only to book occasional dinners at restaurants, doctor appointments, and reach my husbandGera Lario painted by Nyx Martinez

Painted more 

Drank lots of prosecco and vino rosso with girlfriends, without distractions

Read more stories to my son

Fed swans and ducks every day

Watched Futurama episodes as a family on our laptop, every night

Learned a little Italian (“Bambini! Attentione! Macchina!”)

Got off my butt to exercise and lost 16 lbs


For those few months, I also did more dishes, laundry and house chores than I’ve ever done in my short history of being married and being a mom. It was exhausting, since I also spent every moment with my son. life in italy gravedonna

I spent every moment with my son.

And my husband, when he came home from work, did, too.

Today, I’m reminding myself of what life was like without an Internet connection there in Italy, because in a day or so, my world will change.

I’m buying a Smartphone.

Because of new changes, lifestyle moves, new work, travel and just plain Real Life, I’m getting back to being universally connected. I don’t want to be unrealistic about new business start-ups, career and family, and it’s essential that I strive for a balance (Main point: STRIVE.).

Yes, I’ll suddenly be ever-present in the online world, able to see all my updates and send out messages on the fly.

But I don’t ever want to forget the sweet life, the real Dolce Vita.

And that was, dear readers, being ever-present for my son, for my husband, and for myself—without distractions of modern living.

It was being able to hear myself think.

It was being able to hear both of my boys laugh, play, and even snore.

It was being able to silently pray, without static.

I’m making this note today so that maybe, even when Amazon delivers my brand new gadget, I can still find a balance-point–somewhere in-between real life, and the sweet life.

Maybe I can keep in mind what really matters.

life in italy lake comoIf you have helpful tips on parenting while still being realistic about other obligations, work, etc, I’d love to hear from you :)

Tears on the Lake


A few weeks ago, this paradise we call our home for now, turned into the picture of horror. Two rescue helicopters, several ambulances and many rescue workers scurried around the harbor, while we could only guess what had happened.

The news spread quickly: a young boy had disappeared.

The search operation continued until early morning, and resumed the next day. I didn’t realize it had gone on so late, till Karsten and I took a walk to the far side of beach where we love to go, where a little waterfall runs down into a river, and swans bathe below. It usually looks this serene, and I shot this photograph just the day before:

They hadn’t given up their search, and a little crowd of onlookers had gathered at the now cordoned-off bank. The silence was foreboding. It seemed like no one breathed, as men worked silently from a boat, still scanning the shore. I led Karsten away just as the worst sound ever—the mother’s final cry—pierced the silent, eerie air. And I knew then that the search was over.

I’ll never forget that sound…a parent’s grief; desperation; hope lost.

How do you live after sudden tragedy? How do you go on without your greatest love? It’s hard to imagine how people cope after disasters, tragedies, or immense loss.

The next week, a sense of sadness hung in the air, but my spirits were lifted a little when I continued to meet the people who had come to the lake to celebrate life—to continue journeying on.

I met a Dutch mother whose first child, a sweet blonde boy, had Down’s Syndrome. She had two more kids afterwards, and, “would love a fourth!” she exclaimed. As she tended to her little ones, with the strength that only a mother knows, she bore a certain aura of happiness, one that I am sure comes from living with that much love.

I met a pregnant woman, about to give birth for the third time. She and her other two children, had travelled from China, where they lived, to visit her parents here. She told me about growing up on Lake Como; about life as it once was; about good memories.

I met—and continue to meet—fascinating people in this place. They come and go, spending their holidays on the lake and never wanting to leave. But when they do, it reminds me too, that all good things must come to an end.

We are also nearing the end of our time here—one more month, and then it may be on to a new place, somewhere else to call home. Summer took forever to come, and now it is sailing by fast.

I haven’t blogged in quite a few weeks, because of some personal changes that come with many emotions, thoughts that are sometimes better left un-penned. But I will write this:

Where there is life, there is always hope. After the tears come to wash our spirits and soothe our hearts, the road may be bittersweet, but it’s always worth the journey.

Smile, though your heart is aching

Smile, even though it’s breaking

When there are clouds

In the sky

You’ll get by

If you smile

Through your pain and sorrow


And maybe, tomorrow

You’ll see the sun come shining through

For you.

–Charlie Chaplain

Notes on Trading Security for Freedom


Being in the right place at the right time has nothing to do with luck.

I believe it’s all about the choices you made getting there which allowed you to be in that moment, to experience that miracle.

Getting together with another traveler is one decision I made that I don’t regret. But staying married at the cost of a literal lifetime journey, and raising a child through multiple countries and contrasting cultures in every continent has its challenges.

Last year, I left a well-paid job in the city to come out here to Lake Como and live in one of the most beautiful places on Earth. I miss my nanny, my friends back home, my chicken adobo, soya sauce and rice. I miss my regular paychecks and that feeling of security.

But in place of that, I get to sit on this amazing lake and paint, and teach my son the importance of a global perspective, openness and acceptance of other people, nurturing relationships and embracing new experiences.

At two years old, he learns to not be tied down to any one set of regulations, or become stuck in a rut. We are constantly packing our bags for the next destination, letting go of things and physical attachments, saying our goodbyes, and—always—following the wind.

When this season is over, we will journey again…it’s not quite clear yet where that might be, and sometimes I get a bit anxious thinking about the future.

And then, I choose to just live in the happiness of today.

Because that’s what makes travel so magical: you don’t know what’s round the next corner, the next bend, or at the end of the tunnel. You’re not following a pre-programmed GPS device.

Choose your reality by taking risks, even if it means sometimes changing course. And when you let life surprise you, it usually does.

On Mood Swings and Mommyness


This is my 100th blog post. So, I wanted to make it really special. I thought to craft a post that would inspire or intrigue, or just interest…someone.

However, horrible mood swings are taking place this week (and thank God for female hormones we can blame it on). So instead of being anything fantastic or enlightening, or thoughtful, this note is just to say that sometimes, it’s hard work being a mom.

If you are a mom and reading this, I know how it feels—you want to please and nourish your family; you want to be the best you be—for them. Cook the right meals, set good appointments; get stuff done.

And sometimes, that just doesn’t happen.

Sometimes, you are horrible, moody, lazy, and do everything wrong. Your own standards can’t be reached, your love cannot get you through the day; you burn the cake and the kids wet their beds twice (no, thrice) in a row.

That’s just how life goes, and since we can’t force creativity or inspiration, or special moments, we learn to live and deal with them. Day after day.

But isn’t being a mom all about tending those special moments? Creating memories that only we can understand; seeing the good and potential in others that only we can see; giving and giving again of our love, even when it is tiring and our patience is running out, and there feels like nothing left?

Isn’t it about living anyway, and knowing that in the end, it’s all worth it? My reward comes in the little hugs and kisses at the end of a long day. The cuddles from my boys, who have their own ways of saying, thank you.

My reward comes in knowing that every day, I’m painting a canvas of a life—just letting it flow—without trying to reason or put it in a box. Without trying to force it. Just letting the colors of this new, little life mix into each other and produce their own work of art.

Yes, day after day.

…If you are a mom, what gives you the strength to go on another day?



Sometimes, all we crave are silent moments, which the heart knows but cannot spell.

This original 12×17 cm aquarelle is on sale for just €30, please email or leave a note below if you have a home for it. And if you liked this painting, be sure to check out my complete gallery here. Thank you!