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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Patis Tito Garden Cafe in San Pablo, Laguna

One of my favorite days from my trip home—was that really almost two months ago?—was our first Sunday lunch together as a family. Still exhausted from jet lag, my stomach was tied up in knots at the thought of heading into the city and being swallowed up by the pre-Christmas traffic jams, just to wander around yet another shiny mall packed with dazed holiday shoppers.

So we drove away from it all, further and deeper into the South: to San Pablo, Laguna, the hometown of my maternal grandmother, and to Patis Tito Garden Cafe.

Patis Tito Garden Cafe dining area2

Formerly Kusina Salud, Patis Tito Garden Cafe brings together the rustic charm of an old Filipino provincial home, the lush greenery of a tropical garden, and the homegrown flavors of slow-cooked Filipino cuisine. It is a combination that stirs the senses and feeds the soul, and feels both familiar and unusual at the same time.

Patis Tito Garden Cafe bed and breakfast entrance

Bed and breakfast in a beatiful old Filipino home

The familiarity comes from a deeply rooted love for Filipino culture, and the uniqueness from a creative spirit with an unconventional point of view. Both are the trademarks of owner Patis Tesoro, the designer who is best known for revolutionizing traditional Filipiniana wear with her passion for bold colors, rich patterns and Filipino craftsmanship.

The style and personality that has made Patis a force in Filipino fashion for 30 years is what gives her Garden Cafe its particular flair.

Patis Tito Garden Cafe colorful seating

Color and pattern mix with rustic Filipino furnishings

Patis Tito Garden Cafe Tesoro style

Figurines dressed in Patis’s style, featuring indigenous fabrics, intricate hand beading & embroidery

Patis Tito Garden Cafe art

Husband and wife, owners Patis and Tito Tesoro

It was a privilege and a pleasure to meet Patis herself that day. She’s an inspiring figure. “I was close to your age when I started with this place,” confided Patis, now in her sixties. Marlon and I—co-conspirators, partners, dreamers—looked at each other, wheels in our heads starting to turn. “It’s never too early to begin. Just don’t give up.”

Patis Tito Garden Cafe dining table

I have a special place in my heart for old Filipino houses. It’s an affection I inherited from my mom. I didn’t always feel that way—I was a bratty kid who hated being dragged around to our relatives’ rickety old houses in the province—but now I see what my mom loved about them. Finally being able to share a passion of my mom’s made spending time with her here even more special.

Patis Tito Garden Cafe callado window

Now let’s talk about the food. Mmm, the food.

[Read more…]

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Urban Jungle Bloggers: Plants & Coffee

This month’s Urban Jungle Bloggers theme has got me thinking about my relationships with plants and coffee.

At home, plants and coffee have a regular meeting place: at my desk. The fig tree that stands beside my desk can tell you how I love to start my mornings with a cup of coffee while planning my tasks for the day and clearing my mental space for work.

But coffee is only for that quiet time of focusing, planning, and thinking—because when I start working, I get so caught up in words and ideas that my coffee goes cold before I know it!

Urban Jungle Bloggers Plants and Coffee - Fig and Succulents


A coffee cup or two—sometimes even three—is always planted on my desk, along with tools of my trade: a battered old thesaurus, dictionaries in multiple languages, and notebooks filled with to-do lists and ideas.

But not all the coffee cups on my desk contain coffee.

Urban Jungle Bloggers Plants and Coffee - Coffee Cup Baby Succulent

I’ve been growing this tiny succulent since Judith gave it to me as a single leaf in April last year. When a neighbor gave me a set of these beautiful ceramic cups for my birthday, I knew I’d found the perfect “crib” for my baby. Nestled in this cup on my desk, basking in the light from a huge window, this little succulent gets everything it needs to grow.

Urban Jungle Bloggers Plants and Coffee - Succulent in a Cup

It’s not just plants and coffee that mingle in our household. I’ve discovered that plants and cheesecake get along pretty well, too. Yes, cheesecake.

At our grocery I discovered the most addictive chocolate banoffee cheesecakes, which happen to come in cute, single-serve glass containers. After the cheesecakes are gone (I can’t imagine where they would disappear to!), I dress the glass dishes up with a bit of washi tape, and use them to propagate a few new baby succulents at a time. And so far, so good! Maybe, like people, succulents need a little cheesecake to be happy.

Urban Jungle Bloggers Plants and Coffee - Succulents and Cheesecake

Since moving to Europe from Manila four years ago, I’ve become more choosy about coffee and braver about plants. I’ve grown to find as much satisfaction in brewing an espresso on a stovetop cafetiere as I do in seeing my little green experiments grow a bit more each day.

I don’t always brew the perfect cup, and my plants don’t always make it. But there’s always a chance to try again… to buy a few new plants at the market, nurture them, then sit back and see how it goes. And while I wait, I’m going to make myself another cup of coffee.

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