Sorry, not sorry

I was about to sit down with my tail between my legs, and write a sheepish apology for having been away from the blog for so long.

But, after 4.5 years in the Netherlands, the land of confident directness and zero apologies, this exceedingly polite, too-eager-to-please Filipina has learned to distinguish between the apologies that are necessary, and those that aren’t.

So, as the hashtag goes, I’m #sorrynotsorry…

… that I’ve been traveling for work. In the last two months, work has taken me to two of my absolute, most favorite cities in Europe: Berlin…

Berlin Brandenburger Tor

and Barcelona.

El Born Barcelona plaza

As someone who tends to joke I’m just a WAHM who sits at the computer in my pajamas all day, it’s a thrill to realize that my work as a freelance writer and producer can actually be… glamorous. Backing up footage in a hotel room with floor-to-ceiling views of Barcelona and the Mediterranean Ocean can do wonders for one’s perspective.

Barcelona beach view from the W Hotel

I’m sorry, not sorry… that I’ve been working a lot. Last year I had a Tim Gunn “make it work” moment, when I realized that I need to acquire more local clients in Amsterdam, and develop a network of contacts here as strong as the ones I left behind in Manila and Singapore. Because this is home now.

Well, I’m doing just that. Work has begun to trickle in from local businesses and entrepreneurs, some of whom are doing design-led, inspiring work that excites me (even if the pay doesn’t always).

These days, work takes up most of my writing time and brain. With what’s left over, I’m sorry, not sorry… that I’ve sought (and found) new things to love about Amsterdam.

WWIM11 2015 Amsterdam

I joined the 11th Worldwide InstaMeet hosted by the local Instagram community in another effort to bring my online life offline. I met like-minded explorers, discovered postcard-perfect spots in my own city, and became more addicted to Instagram than ever. Hmm, time to revive Instagramsterdam?

I’m sorry, not sorry… that I’ve blown off work to go on weekday dates with my husband. Marlon has had a few weekdays off, and after dropping off Tala at the gastouder, we date like giddy teenagers. Shedding the mom-and-dad routine for a day, we get high on the bliss of afternoon movie matinees. We talk about our pipe dreams. We try “that place” we’ve been wanting to try (there’s always a long list).

ArtDeli Amsterdam

Then toss back a glass or two of wine before cycling back to reality, back to the daughter who runs squealing into our arms, and back to the household we have to keep running.

I’m sorry, not sorry… that I’ve been cementing our life with traditions and routines. Friday lattes with my mommy friends at the new cafe with the awesome play corner. Afternoons at the playground and Saturday mornings at the farmer’s market. The food trucks of Rollende Keukens and the orange fever of King’s Day.

King's Day for kids at Westerpark

All of that takes time, effort, and energy—all of which goes into solidifying one’s sense of home in a foreign land. And I can’t do any of that from behind the computer!

Finally, and it should go without saying, that the one thing I’ll never be sorry for… is that I’ve simply been away being Tala’s mom.

Reading her books upon books, and singing her Filipino folk songs. Choosing her outfits in the morning (a power I won’t be holding for long), and searching for wooden legs for her new desk on Etsy. Wiping her hands of chalk after she’s gone wild drawing “polka dots” on her bedroom wall, and brushing her hair despite her toddlerrific efforts to resist.

Tala chalkboard wall closeup

Trying to act normal and ignore her throughout Hulk-sized fits of rage (quickest way to end it), researching her school options in our neighborhood, and worrying about why she suddenly seems to hate the babies at her daycare. Marveling at how quickly she falls asleep after a good long cuddle from me, at how much she needs Mama’s touch to feel calm, safe and loved. And so much more.

This is my life lately, a life that has enticed me away from the computer. I have nothing to apologize for, and everything to celebrate. What are you #sorrynotsorry for?

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Cherry blossoms in Amsterdam

Cherry blossoms in Amsterdam Japanse Bloesempark

After a long winter, spring has finally arrived in Amsterdam. And it’s about bloody time! Seasonal affective disorder (SADs) got to me big time over the last six months; the return of sunshine, blue skies, flowers and budding green leaves has brought my energy back with it.

To celebrate the season, and because I really needed some cheering up the other day, I’ve been on the hunt for those most ephemeral symbols of spring—cherry blossoms. So where does one go to see cherry blossoms in Amsterdam?

Cherry blossoms in Amsterdamse Bos

My friend Giova brought me to the ultimate spot to see cherry blossoms in Amsterdam: the Japanse Bloesempark (Japanese Blossom Park) in the Amsterdamse Bos, the park bordering the cities of Amsterdam and Amstelveen.

Because these delicate blossoms are so fleeting, you must see them soon as they burst into bloom. A few days of rain and wind, which are synonymous with Amsterdam weather, can lay them to waste immediately. It helps to have a friend who lives close by to be on cherry blossom patrol.

Cherry blossoms in Amsterdamse Bos wide view

The park has 400 cherry blossom trees, which were planted by the Japanese Women’s Club as a memorial to the victims of the tsunami in 2000. Half of trees bear Japanese women’s names, while the other half are named after Dutch women.

Cherry blossoms in Amsterdam Japanese hanami picnic

The park is a favorite picnic spot of expat Japanese families who miss the traditional hanami, or cherry blossom viewing parties, of their native land. It also hosts a Sakura Festival every 10th of April. For visitors of all nationalities, it’s a beautiful place to take photographs, contemplate nature, and simply enjoy the coming of spring.

Cherry blossoms in Amsterdams Kersenbloementuin photo shoot

I love a good concept photo shoot as much as anyone else, but please, please be gentle with the cherry blossoms! We saw a woman who must have been tugging on this branch for a good half hour while posing for photos. These blooms are so delicate, giving them tender loving care means they’ll last longer for everyone to enjoy.

Unless you are up for a very long bike ride, the best way to reach the Japanse Bloesempark is by car. Closer to the city center, your best bet to see cherry blossoms in Amsterdam is at the Westerpark.

Cherry blossoms in Amsterdam Westergasfabriek

The trees line the cycle path right beside my beloved kinderbadje, with some small picnic tables nearby should you want to dine under the blossoms.

Cherry blossoms in Amsterdam Westergasfabriek cycle path

This is truly one of my favorite spots in the city, and I can’t wait for summer to see it filled with happy, splashing kids, mine included!

Cherry blossoms in bloom Amsterdam Westerpark

Have you seen cherry blossoms in bloom? Tell me all your favorite secret spots. Maybe one day I’ll actually get to see them in Japan. One can dream, right?

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A letter to Tala on her second birthday

My dearest Tala,

Feliz cumpleano! That’s how they say ‘Happy birthday!’ here in Madrid, Spain, where we’re celebrating your second birthday. How special is that?

Tala and Mama street art Madrid

Today we’re celebrating your birthday with brunch and a visit to one of the world’s most famous museums. But I also want to celebrate your birthday by telling you what a wonderful little girl you are growing up to be. I can’t capture all the ways in which you are so very special, because you are changing so fast but I will try. I hope when you’re older, you will read this and smile as Mama tells you what you were like at the age of two.

Tala Retiro Madrid

You know how to express what you want, and your language has really blossomed in the past year. You understand Dutch, English and Tagalog, and even more amazingly, know when and to whom to speak which language. I’ve stopped taking note of all your new words each week because I can’t keep up anymore.

Even if it drives me bananas sometimes, I’m secretly proud of the way you firmly say Ayaw! (Don’t want!) because it takes the guesswork out of so many things. The way you use language makes us laugh sometimes. I cherish the way you stumble over words as you try to grasp them: ‘t’ is your default consonant (polka dots are ‘totatots‘), and you haven’t quite gotten an ‘r’  yet (chair is ‘chaiw‘).

Tala at the beach

You love to cook at your little kitchen, and to dance when you hear music. You love singing: Twinkle Twinkle, Incy Wincy Spider, Happy Birthday, Gabing Payapa, Ili-Ili, Somewhere Over The Rainbow, Fly Butterfly. You love when I bounce you up and down on my knees to This is How The Gentleman Rides, and stand oh-so-still to keep your balance when we sing I Can Put My… (Beanbag, Bunny, Ducky) On My Head.

You love counting—one to twenty in English, isa hanggang sampu sa Tagalog. Dutch kids don’t learn that at school until the age of four, but you have a competitive Asian Papa who is really good at numbers.

You are a compulsive arranger and rearranger. I wonder where you got your compulsion for neatness, but I’m more than grateful for it. You love Nijntje, flags, cars and trains, dogs and cats, polka dots and hearts.

And oh, how you love books. You can read quietly by yourself around Mama, but when Papa is home you insist he reads to you. He must have read The Cat in the Hat to you a hundred times by now.

Like any other toddler, you have your meltdowns when you’re tired or when you don’t get what you want. You hate shoes, and you’re shy around other kids. You thrive on routine and repetition, two of the very things that can drive Mama up the wall.

But I like to think you’re special in the way you understand certain things: that you need to play quietly for a while so Mama can work or rest, that Papa is crazy about you and you can twist him around your little finger.

Tala MixMaxBrasil

Your sleeping times are changing—fewer naps and much later bedtimes—because you find the world so very exciting and it’s hard to calm down. I know, because I can hear you chattering to yourself in the dark after we’ve laid you down to sleep, practicing the new things you learned that day.

My beautiful baby, you are het poppetje in Holland, la bambolina in Italy, la maniquita in Spain. Total strangers come up to us and tell us what a little doll you are, which makes Mama not-so-secretly proud.

My little doll

You teach, exhaust, surprise, delight, and amaze us constantly. I wish I had an inexhaustible supply of patience, energy, and love, because you deserve all of what I have and more. When I’m running low I try to remind myself that I’ll never have you, as you are right this very moment, ever again. I’ve never worked harder in my life than I do to take care of you. And every time you hug me, kiss me, learn something new, or call me Mama, I feel as if I’ve been rewarded with an infinitely precious jewel.

Happy birthday, my love. I wish you many years of happiness, and that the world you are so excited to discover is generous and kind to you.

I love you so much. Now let’s go to brunch.

Your teary-eyed loving Mama

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Ugu Bigyan Potter’s Garden

Visiting Patis Tito Garden Cafe whetted my appetite for more Filipino creativity and tropical greenery. When Patis herself recommended that we visit Ugu Bigyan Potter’s Garden in Tiaong, Quezon, just a short drive from her cafe, I found it hard to resist.

I’ve been hearing good things about potter and artist Augusto ‘Ugu’ Bigyan’s pottery studio and restaurant for years, but it had always seemed too far to visit. Now that we were practically in the neighborhood, we simply had to go.

We were welcomed by the wide, welcoming embrace of this majestic mango tree—the Valhalla of aerial plants, it seems, where the best and bravest plants go after fighting the good fight on earth.

Ugu Bigyan Potter's Garden mango tree

Situated on the same expansive property as his own home, Ugu Bigyan’s “potter’s garden” is dotted with lush tropical plants and pavilions featuring elements of traditional Filipino homes such as thatched nipa roofs, antique furnishings, and more.

Ugu Bigyan Potter's Garden cogon pavilion

I would have loved to sit down at one of these tables for Ugu’s famously delicious (and surprisingly affordable) meals, made with local ingredients and served family style. But it was the end of the day and we hadn’t booked anything in advance. The food photos at Sushi Bytes and Out of Town Blog are absolutely torturing me with what I missed!

I also would have wanted to relax on one of antique butaka chairs—a Spanish colonial easy chair, with long arm rests and curved rattan back—with a cup of barako coffee. Oh, well, next time.

Ugu Bigyan Potter's Garden seating area with butaka chair

Instead of stuffing our faces (which we’d already done at Patis Tito anyway), we explored the garden, which bears marks of Ugu’s artistry everywhere…

Ugu Bigyan Potter's Garden patterned wall

… and eventually came to his shop, which is filled with his beautiful handmade ceramics and earthenware.

Ugu Bigyan Potter's Garden creamer with clay birds

Ugu Bigyan Potter's Garden earthenware

Inspired by nature, Ugu’s creations are earthy, organic and unusual. I loved the flocks of birds perched on dishes and cups—they’d inject a little whimsy in the daily routine, but the muted colors keep them from being over the top.

Ugu Bigyan Potter's Garden ceramic ladle and plate

Ugu Bigyan Potter's Garden ceramic cups

I wanted to buy almost everything, and I’m not even really into ceramics! I wish I’d taken better pictures, too, but it was almost sunset when we arrived.

Ugu Bigyan Potter's Garden pottery shop

Ugu Bigyan Potter's Garden vase

We also took a peek into the workshop where Ugu’s ceramic creatures wait for color and fire to bring them to life. Ugu offers pottery workshops in his studio, which must be booked in advance.

Ugu Bigyan Potter's Garden workshop

I wish I’d taken better pictures, too, but it was almost sunset when we arrived.

Ugu’s pottery goes on sale a few times a year, most notably on his birthday when the discount corresponds to his age. The master potter turns 52 on August 9, 2015—sounds like the perfect time for a return visit, don’t you think?

Ugu Bigyan Potter’s Garden
90 Alvarez Village
Barangay Lusacan
4325 Tiaong, Quezon
+63 42-545-9144
+63 917-560-5708
+63 917-560-7973
+63 42-545-8689
Open for lunch and coffee

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I amsterdam international profiles

Four years ago on January 10, Marlon and I arrived in Amsterdam. If we’d stuck with our original plan, we’d be preparing to move away (or renegotiate) within the year. But life worked out differently, and I can’t imagine being ready to leave by this time.

We made a home, started a family, met new friends and slowly found our way here, like so many others in this incredibly diverse city.

This month, I amsterdam profiles a handful of the thousands of international citizens—expats, immigrants, interns, students—who live and work in Amsterdam. And I’m proud to say I’m one of them! You can read the full interview with me on the I amsterdam website.

Deepa i Amsterdam international profile

The interview and photos are by the lovely Jess Walter, who came and spent a gray winter day with us at home and walking around the neighborhood.

I have to say: many of the things we talked about in this interview, I don’t even think about anymore after four years of living here! Jess had a few good questions (and I had a few good answers, ehem) that didn’t make the final edit, so I thought I’d post them here.

[Read more…]

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