Birthday # 33

Last weekend I turned the ripe old age of 33. Yay!

I’m not the type to throw a big birthday party. I did when I turned 21, and I had a smallish dinner out with friends when we first moved to Amsterdam. But nothing makes me happier than to curl up in a cozy, quiet little bubble of love with Marlon and Tala. Over the years, Marlon has become such an expert at making me feel cherished that I hardly feel the need to seek birthday adoration from other people.

I woke up to the smell of freshly brewed coffee and the sight of this beautiful chocolate ganache cake from Patisserie Holtkamp. Holtkamp is known for the best cakes in Amsterdam, and supplies their desserts to some of my favorite cafes. Tip: call ahead to order a birthday cake, because the ones in the bakery go fast!

Patisserie Holtkamp Amsterdam chocolate cake

Yes, we breakfasted on chocolate cake. And yes, Tala had some too.

Tala and chocolate cake

Then it was time to address the elephant in the room, which you might have seen on Instagram.

Giant birthday present for my 33rd

Few things can awaken your inner child like seeing a giant birthday present sitting in your living room. If you want to make someone feel younger, not older, on their birthday, this is definitely how you should do it. So let’s unwrap it, shall we?

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Life outside the semicircle

I moved abroad seven years ago, after Marlon and I were married. In those seven years, I’ve missed many things from abundant sunshine and ripe mangoes, to good restaurants and sharing wardrobes with my mom and sister. But the biggest hole in my heart was the one I made when I left the Ateneo Chamber Singers.

With ACS in Riga

Before the competition in Riga

Since I left, my ACS family—because that’s what it is, really, a family—has changed. Many of my closest friends have moved overseas and moved on to other things, replaced by many people I don’t know very well. Still, I jumped at the chance to be reunited with them in Vienna and Riga. Sitting in the audience, face to face with what I had given up to pursue this life, I felt quite confronted—by loss, reality, I don’t know what to call it. It’s more than nostalgia, and more than I could ever recreate by joining another choir or making new friends.

Ateneo Chamber Singers at the World Choir Games Riga 2014

Sitting in the audience at the World Choir Games

I wondered why I was sitting outside the semicircle, listening to beauty instead of creating it. I wondered why I wasn’t singing anymore. I wondered: what is my song? What am I an instrument of? Listening to my friends’ voices soaring, I wondered if I had maybe, somehow, over the years, lost the part of me that could soar. (There are very few experiences that allow one to soar. So if you find one, seize it.)

ACS wins Musica Sacra at the World Choir Games

Victory!

Yes, it was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster— a contemplative, almost spiritual experience. The sound of ACS singing tends to do that to people. After all that wondering (and quite a few tears), the answers came. There were no words, only pictures—images of everything I love about living here.

ACS in Riga

I’ve been away from home a long time. I don’t hide from the sun anymore.

Life requires different things of us at different times. Once it demanded me to let my voice soar in packed churches and concert halls, together with the voices of friends I knew so well that I literally knew when they would breathe. Now life asks me to hush and sing softly to my baby in the silence of her room, for an audience of one.

Seeing what I’ve been missing out on was confronting for me. But confronting the result of my choices made me realize that that’s what being an adult is all about. We live with the choices we make; we make the most of them; and we make a life we love out of them.

With Tala and Marlon at the World Choir Games

Keeping Tala quiet (and occupied) during the competition

So this is what my life as a choir groupie was like. It inspired me to return to my “real” life—to Marlon, Tala, Amsterdam, Europe—with a renewed commitment to what I’ve chosen, and a deeper determination to make it truly worth what I’ve given up.

Related reading: For an insider’s perspective, check out this blog post by ACS alto Trina Belamide.

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Happy Father’s Day!

Fathers Day 2014

Happy Father’s Day to all the amazing dads out there!

Marlon is in Stockholm for a speaking engagement, and we started missing him even before he left (yes, that’s possible). He hasn’t had to be away for more than five or six days for work, but it’s still difficult when he’s away. Even when it’s easy, it’s just… not as fun. I don’t know how the families whose dads travel frequently or are based abroad do it.

I’m lucky to have had a mom who was both mother and father to me, but this time of year I’m also filled with a nostalgia for something I never really had. It seems everyone is changing their Facebook profile photos to show fathers walking them down the aisle or playing the doting grandfather; in my photos, Dad is eternally young, and I’m still a chubby, curly-haired baby.

I guess by now you’ve seen Dove’s sniffle-inducing Father’s Day ad? It doesn’t have to be Father’s Day to make me grateful for Tala to have a chance at all of that. And isn’t that all parents want for their children—to give them something they never had?

Okay, enough sentimental jibber-jabber. I hope you’re showing the dads in your life how special they are today. Time to think up something fun for the dad in our life when he gets back from Stockholm!

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Things to do in New York: The High Line

How was your weekend? I’m feeling so rested and refreshed from my Mother’s Day treat! Marlon made banana chocolate chip pancakes with bacon for a delicious brunch at home, just the two of us, while Tala took her morning nap.

Then he sent me off to the spa at The Conservatorium Hotel for a pedicure and massage. I lingered for a short snooze, some time in the steam room and hammam, and bit of reading by the pool. It was exactly what I needed! I’m feeling a lot better and ready to take on another busy week.

Let me start this new week with some pictures from our trip to the High Line Park in New York. I can’t believe this was more than a month ago!

The High Line park New York

March was probably not the best time for a stroll on The High Line. It was chilly and wintery, with only an occasional glimpse of blue skies. But even without the sunny weather and fresh blooms of spring, I still wouldn’t have missed a walk on the High Line.

The High Line New York Chelsea park

I loved seeing all the different styles of architecture, a mix of classic red brick apartment buildings to shiny new condos in glass and steel.

The High Line New York train tracks to warehouses

Built in Manhattan’s busiest industrial district in the 1930s, the High Line was a railway built 30 feet above ground to transport goods directly to warehouses at third floor level. The railway fell into disuse piece by piece over the years, with the last trains coming to a halt in the 1980s. Two decades after falling into disrepair, it was transformed into the popular public park we see today.

The High Line New York Tala and me

It rained most of the time we were there. Tala got antsy in her stroller, so as soon as the rain stopped, we brought her out and took lots of family photos—some of my favorites from this entire trip.

The High Line New York Tala and Daddy

She was clearly happy to be out and about!

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This man

… has been a revelation to me in the past year as a husband, friend, lover, partner, and most of all, as a father. I knew he was going to be good, but I never knew he was going to be this good.

Marlon and Tala bath

This man has been hands-on literally from day one. He holds his daughter with as much loving tenderness today as he did when she was a few days old.

Marlon and Tala in Greece

This man is always happy to see her and eager to take her in his arms. He adores her, dotes on her, gives his weekends to her, and she knows it. He has to be told, sometimes, actually many times, to put her down and let her play and learn by herself.

Marlon and Tala

This man swoops to my rescue when the last grains of my energy and sanity have fallen through the hourglass. His strong arms have carried his daughter up and down endless flights of stairs in airports, train stations, museums, our home.

Marlon and Tala in Paris

This man takes his daughter to the market every Saturday to give me precious time for myself. He occasionally returns with a new discovery—wild mushrooms, carob syrup, a lobster, how to shuck oysters—that fills him with an infectious delight. This man truly loves to cook for his family, and always makes sure I have a matching fork and spoon (because he knows I care about weird things like that). Marlon and lobster

This man has seen me at my worst in every possible way, especially in the past year. Yet he is still here, my fan and friend, my confidante and champion. He makes me laugh, forgives me and believes in me. He always has a good answer for my stupid questions like “Does this make me look like a wrestler/pillowcase/hooker?” He loves me in a way I know I will never be loved by anyone else, ever.

Marlon and me in El Nido

This man is the reason my family lives this life, why it’s so much fun, why we have so much beer in the fridge, why Tala has beautiful eyes, why I am a wife and mother, and why I want to be a better one.

Family selfie

This man turns 33 today, and I can’t wait for him to get off that plane from London and come home to his girls who love him very, very much. Happy birthday, my Googly!

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