Category Archives: Thoughts

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.

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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.

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.

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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

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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.

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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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More Love

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I never cry when watching movies; I never cry when reading books; I never cry over silly, sentimental words or pictures.

I cry when I am frustrated, stressed, or in the horrible-mood moment.

Yet this morning, the tears blurred my eyes when reading certain words. Today, my feelings gushed over inside, trembled and spilled, because I’d realized a painful truth:

I have become a yeller in the last few weeks.

Handsfreemama’s blog always brings me inspiration; today, her written words brought me that truth.

Again, it isn’t because my son has done anything so terrible at all, but it is a result of pent up stress, over-commitments and tasks I mark up for myself, hoping to accomplish before each day or week is done.

Last night, I yelled him to sleep, as he lay on the bed beside me—I wanted some peace and quiet to finish up my work in the late night hours, and it had already been tiring over the weekend with a new baby.

So I raised my voice repeatedly, using words that scare and intimidate—and as he naughtily laughed them off, kicking around his blanket, I yelled even louder.

I’m ashamed to say so.

When all I really want to do is love him, I find myself also taking out the day’s stress on him, just because he is the only person in the world physically close to me right now.

If you are also one of those parents who want to love, but everyday demands get in the way, please read her post right now:

The Important Thing…About Yelling.

We could all use a lot more love.

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Two Week Wonder

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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.

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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

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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?

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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.

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Alexandra, born March 1, 2013

Midnight in a Mother’s Thoughts

coron1My eyes linger over stunning photographs of blue and emerald water, reaching out from banks of white. In a couple of the frames, a man stands just at the shore, his back to the camera’s lens. He’s looking out onto a horizon dotted with vibrant colors of kites soaring, sailing high in the wind.

Breath comes in short gasps, especially at this late hour of the night. There is a weight of three kilos on my chest, and I shift awkwardly amongst bean-bag pillows, propping myself up on an already painful shoulder, so I can see the screen of my aging Lenovo better.

Beside me, on a messy bed, my three-year-old son smiles in his sleep.

The weight I feel is my second child, incubating the final month inside me. This last stretch of time will be the hardest, and the heaviest. But I’ve imagined, many times over, the first moment of finally seeing and holding my daughter—and that makes the wait less painful.

Scanning photographs my husband has sent of his day’s work as a kitesurf tour operator out on remote islands, I remember our carefree days of travel, when I could go at a moment’s notice and journey with him. Back then—four years ago—we had no other obligations. No children tying us down; no diapers to pack or bottles to wash. Just two people; two backpacks; two passports—the world.

Now we are four.

I’ve made the decision to have this second child, and meanwhile, to let my husband carry on as he has before the children came. His is a world of constant change and movement, and I would do everything to keep it that way. What I fear most, though, is the stagnation that conforming to “typical” family life may render. Of becoming attached to things, and houses, and places.

Yet some days, there’s a simple wanting of my own painting studio, with a hundred brushes and three easels; a full refrigerator and the break of constant relocation. I want to furnish the kids rooms with toys, and books—big hardback ones that are too heavy to lug around airports. They would have their own shelves and boxes for all the extras…

Is there somewhere in the middle one can find, a balance between being blown with the wind, and finding steady footing? Is there a spot you reach in life, when you’ve figured how to get on with the journey, while keeping rooted in the essentials?

I feel as if I’m still trying to find it. The longing I have is not for a physical home, because I have found that all over the globe with my boys, when we pitched our tents or mattress beds wherever the wind took us. And it all felt quite right.

I ponder how far we have come, the miles we have made together—it’s all worked out so far, despite the physical hardships, the sacrifices, and the endless not knowing.

Baby turns inside me, her fists pounding as if wanting to dig a way out. A sensation tightens inside me, hardening for nearly a minute, and then slowly releasing—Braxton Hicks. I soothe her from the outside, my hand rubbing against my own layer of skin, taut and stretched beyond normal. The inner fistfight doesn’t stop, but I’ve learned it hardly will, and that this is a good thing.

Closing my eyes, and rolling heavily onto my other hip, I shuffle the pillow underneath a leg lock, trying to find some semblance of comfort. It comes, finally, with the stillness of the night and another barrage of thoughts.

We were travelers, and still are. The journey has taken a different path, but it’s kept me walking steadily forward.

The moon winks through the open window, spraying its soft light ever so gently. In the silence, I drift and prepare again to dream.

Do You Ever Miss that Sound?

Potato seller in Kampala. Photo by Robin Yamaguchi

After living on Lake Como for five months, I realize how truly blessed I am to be in one of the most amazing, beautiful places on earth.

I also realize I miss chaos.

Growing up in chaotic Asian cities like Bombay, Bangkok and Manila, I knew what it was like to walk through crowded places, throngs of jam-packed people on trains and buses, questionable street food, smells and sights and sounds whizzing by, tickling every one of your senses—or clogging it.

There is always a dense humidity in the air, and the constant buzz of people.

Out here, in Western Europe, there isn’t much of that. There is peace, and quiet, there is amazing nature, there is untouched beauty. And there is so much to love about it.

But there is also a longing in my heart to get back to a little bit of the craziness of living, the things that may be not so tranquil, but force you to find a balance inside. I remember that feeling when shifting my way through the markets of Kampala, and once while watching a sunset on a busy beach in Colombo.

Some cities and towns in Italy do seem to have a nice mixture of both the unexpected, and the sublime.

Visiting Merano in the Spring

Have you ever found anywhere in the world during your travels that has a good balance—just enough stimulation, yet just enough silence?

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More on Life in Lake Como

Let me tell you a little more about life here in Como:

We live just a couple steps from the town piazza, behind the local church, the bakery, and Gelateria. Across the street are two café bars, my husband’s work place (watersports school) and a giant, grassy playground with a tennis court, basketball court, trampoline and swimming pool.

The atmosphere here is a typically relaxed one, where people stroll unhurried, and whole families play together—or sometimes with total strangers, and children learn to love Nature. Out on the beachfront, kitesurfers pump up their kites to air out, while parachuters glide down the mountain side’s cool air, the wind powering them just enough for an early morning sail.

It’s a place where locals greet you by name, and always a smile. Unlike Germany (our previous home), where the conversation ends at “Good day”, before walking quickly on one’s way, here they will continue chatting—regardless of long queues at the checkout, schedules, or working hours. You learn to not get impatient, but rather, appreciate the fact that people are taking the time to listen, and converse, and communicate—face to face.

Besides, siesta will come soon, and then it will last at least three hours.

And when you live in Italy, you learn to embrace this laidback style. You sip cappuccino, eat gelato, and have a midday Prosecco—as you please. You take your time. You smile more. You stay up late, and sleep in long hours. You chat long minutes because you bask in the presence of another human being, you share life stories as the sun sets in front of you, and you swim naked in the lake, because water is for nurturing.

After a long day’s work (and yes, sometimes just being a stay-at-home-mom is quite a lot of plain hard work with no paycheck at the end of the month) if you get to kiss your son goodnight and say, “I love you, and when you wake up, we’ll go swimming together at the beach,” that’s something to not take for granted.

So you can manage those disputes that sometimes happen in the shadows of your home; those misunderstandings, the trivialities of life. You can look forward to greeting the next Summer day, because as long as there is someone to share it with, and good health to enjoy it a little bit longer, then life is quite delicious.