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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Amsterdam Light Festival: Water Colors canal cruise

Amsterdam Light Festival 2014

Even a beautiful city like Amsterdam needs a little help in the winter. The sun disappears for days on end, and what little light there is fades to black as 3 or 4 p.m. I need a good incentive to brave the cold and dark, to go out and see the city—and I know I’m not the only one. Thankfully, there’s the Amsterdam Light Festival.

Now on its third year, the Amsterdam Light Festival turns the city into an open-air gallery of public art: sculptures, installations, and projections from artists all over the world, all made with light. From over 260 submissions, 39 artworks were chosen to lend Amsterdam a bit of color and brightness in the dark winter months.

There are three ways to enjoy the Amsterdam Light Festival. To go on foot or by bicycle, you can book a guided tour called Illuminade. There’s also a boat route called Water Colors, which is offered by several canal cruise companies from several departure points in the city center.

I went on a Water Colors boat tour and loved it! I didn’t get to take pictures of all the installations (and honestly, some were better than others), but here are some of my favorite artworks from the tour. The first is Light Bridge, an ode to the bridges of Amsterdam by local design studio Tjep. It’s interactive and reacts to movements on the street and on the water.

Amsterdam Light Festival 2014 Light Bridge by Tjep

Rising from the dark canals like a ghostly mangrove forest, Arborescence by Loop.pH (UK) looks both futuristic and organic.

Amsterdam Light Festival 2014 Arborescence

Everyone on the boat fell silent as we sailed beneath the floating circles of Effervescence by Geraud Periole. Simple yet stunning.

Amsterdam Light Festival 2014 Effervescence by Geraud Periole

Inspired by the Mobius strip, Circle of Life by Amsterdam-based architect Rob van Houten turns a symbol of eternity into an entryway for the rush of people flowing into the city.

Amsterdam Light Festival 2014 Circle of Life Brouwersgracht

Seeing this man and woman together on the bridge, I couldn’t help but think: mood lighting, the romantic Amsterdam canals, and a ring? All the ingredients for a perfect proposal. I sense a missed opportunity here!

Amsterdam Light Festival 2014 Circle of Life by Rob van Houten

See more masterpieces of light after the jump, plus a few tips for enjoying the Amsterdam Light Festival this winter.

[Read more…]

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Sinterklaas printable paper ornaments

Sinterklaas is jarig!

Sinterklaas and Piet printable ornament

That’s Dutch for “It’s Sinterklaas’s birthday!” Today is Saint Nicholas Day, the most well-loved holiday in the Netherlands and the Dutch equivalent of Christmas. I’m savoring the last year before all the Sinterklaas hype starts becoming real to Tala—it’s huge at Dutch daycares and primary schools—and we’ll need to start celebrating both holidays.

That gives me a whole year to start learning all the Sinterklaas songs, watching the daily Sinterklaas News (!) to keep up with the latest movements of Sint, buying carrots for Tala to put in her shoe for Sinterklaas’ horse, and buying Tala a Piet costume that she can wear to the arrival of Sinterklaas from Spain. Yep, it’s a whole other world.

Zwarte Piet printable ornament

For now, I’m perfectly happy to enjoy the peace and quiet with a few touches of Sinterklaas, like these adorable free Sinterklaas printable paper ornaments by Studio Momoki.

Aside from Sint, you can also download three of his helpers, the Pieten. There’s also a black and white version for kids to color in and cut out as a fun craft project.

Vincent Van Gogh Christmas ornament

And, this is totally unrelated to Sinterklaas, but if we’re talking about Dutch icons… I couldn’t resist snapping up this Van Gogh self-portrait ornament at the Van Gogh Museum shop. Perfect for our alternative Christmas tree!

If you celebrate Sinterklaas, a gelukkig Sinterklaasfeest to you and yours. And if you’re getting ready for Christmas like I am, I hope you find something fun to give your holiday decorating a fresh twist. Happy weekend!

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Instagramsterdam: November

In these pictures, Amsterdam looks so still and peaceful, doesn’t it? November is when the city starts to calm down. The summer crowds and the last bargain-hunting travelers from shoulder season have left, leaving the city pristine and quiet.

It is for this reason that I’ve begun to love November. We’ve had a beautiful one this year, with a surprising bounty of the crisp sunny days that show off this city’s beauty.

Instagram Amsterdam November 2014

I usually hate going to the city center, particularly the touristic parts around the Red Light District. These areas are dirty, seedy, crowded, don’t reflect the real Amsterdam, and have nothing to do with my own life as a resident of this city, so I avoid it whenever I can.

But surprise, surprise! November has made me rediscover the city center all over again. All but one of my favorite Instagram pics this month were taken in exactly the areas that I hate so much. Heading into winter, the city center sheds some of its touristic grime, revealing the true beauty of some of Amsterdam’s oldest and most historic parts.

Amsterdam’s cycling lifestyle has helped me appreciate this city and this season so much more. I’ve found true pleasure in pulling my bike off the road, parking it for a few minutes and soaking it all up. You can’t do that when you’re stuck in a subway or in a car in a traffic jam! Those few minutes can simply transform the morning rush.

What have you been posting on Instagram this November?

Instagramsterdam is a blog series rounding up my favorite Instagram posts about Amsterdam every month. For me, it’s a way to appreciate the little things I enjoy about living in Amsterdam, and to embrace my adopted city a little bit more.

If you haven’t yet, come FOLLOW ME ON INSTAGRAM

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