Viewing: family

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!

Happy birthday, Mom

The two most important women in my life were born one after the other. Yesterday we celebrated Tala; today I celebrate my mom.

Mom and me in labor

One year ago, this was me in labor at home. My mom was right there, cradling my head in her lap and stroking my hair, being a mom at the moment I was about to become one. It wasn’t all beautiful and black-and-white; in the hospital I shouted “Don’t touch me!” at her when she tried to rearrange my legs on the bed.

But she was there all throughout my labor, swallowed her many anxieties and opinions (of which Marlon got an earful while I was knocked out on general anesthesia), and trusted me to do things my way at this pivotal moment in my life. Though she said she often felt useless, I didn’t need her to do anything except just be there. And she was.

After Marlon, she was the second person who got to hold Tala even before I did. I wouldn’t have chosen any differently.

Mom holding Tala at birth

The last year has made me understand my mom in a profound way. I wrote her a letter last Christmas saying, in about nine handwritten pages, something to that effect. Here’s an excerpt from that letter:

As a (new) parent, I am quickly learning that all parents are just doing the best we can with what we are given. You did spectacularly well with the situation life gave you. I don’t know how you did it, but I am so thankful that you did.

Looking at everything you did for Ate and me all by yourself, I don’t know if I could ever do the same. If Marlon and I are able to give Tala even half of what you were able to give Ate and me, I will be so happy and proud.

You and I may do the day-to-day things differently, but when it comes the big picture, you are my inspiration. Everything you have done for me shapes the way I am raising my daughter.

Happy birthday, Mom! I hope to always make you proud. I love you.

Paris, then and now

Am I getting older, or is it just getting harder to recover from travel? We came back from Paris on Wednesday and I’m still more than a little dazed. Tala brought a raging diaper rash back with her, the house is a mess and I’m paying for my oyster-greediness with a mild case of food poisoning, but of course you don’t want to hear about that. You want to hear about Paris!

Trocadero Paris Eiffel Tower with fiance family and baby

I’m thankful for the chance to keep returning to this vast, complex, beautiful city. Each visit is always mix of well-loved favorites and first-time experiences. Yet each time, I keep discovering things that I haven’t yet done and still want to do, and I just want to keep coming back for more.

I’m incredibly thankful to have returned to Paris with both Marlon and Tala. In 2006, Marlon proposed to me in Paris; seven years later, we’re back not as fiancees, but as a family. We tried to recreate this picture at Trocadero as best we could, marveling at how little and how much things have changed since then. Funny and amazing, how life works out.

I’ll be back next week to write about Paris in more detail: food, shopping, sights, and our favorite experiences together as a family. Till then, have a wonderful weekend!

Ten months!

Tala is 10 months old! She looks as surprised as I feel. Is she really just two months shy of a year old?

Tala 10 Months

Lots of new things this month: some good (her first four teeth popping out on Christmas Day) and not-so-good (high-pitched shrieking, getting used to feeding her three solid meals a day).

The best thing about the last month is that she spent most of it back home, in the Philippines. She may not remember her first visit home, but I always will.

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JR’s Inside Out Project in Amsterdam

I discovered the street art of JR a few months ago while visiting Berlin. After seeing his large-scale paper pastings in Berlin, I became interested in his work and hoped that one day I might be able to participate in one of his art projects. So this weekend I was thrilled to find JR’s Inside Out Project in Amsterdam, right in my own neighborhood!

The Inside Out Project is a global participatory art project launched by JR when he won the TED Prize in 2011. Instead of taking photographs of people and pasting them in different location all over the world, as he normally would, JR invited the public to share their portraits as a way of standing up for something they cared about.

Since then, more than 130,000 people in over 108 countries have taken their own portraits, sent them to JR via the Inside Out website, and received large format posters to paste in their own communities. Most of them are groups that have used the Inside Out Project to make statements on everything from LBGT rights and violence, to dreams and memories. The Inside Out Project has also sent traveling photobooth trucks all over the world, most notably this year at Times Square in New York.

This weekend, the Inside Out Project came to the Unseen Photo Fair at the Westergasfabriek in my neighborhood park.

Inside Out Project by JR at Unseen Amsterdam

So cool! How could I not participate?! So on Saturday afternoon, Marlon, Tala and I queued up at the Inside Out photo truck to have our portraits taken.

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Simple joys and something special

How was your weekend? Feeling tired and a little broke after our recent trip to Maastricht (plus we’re saving up for the Big Trip of the year in a week’s time), Marlon and I decided to stay in all weekend long. I know, married couples are boring, they never want to go out anymore, blah blah blah. Am I just getting old, or is staying at home simply more appealing now?

Whether forced by an empty wallet or by choice, staying in can be extremely recharging and satisfying. I think the key is to mix simple pleasures with a little something special. A Masterchef Australia marathon (such a good show!) on the couch with this adorable face napping on my belly (yes, a long naptime helps!)… now that’s a prime example of a simple pleasure that doesn’t cost a thing.

Tala napping

So is being treated to the sight of the funniest bedhead ever…

Tala bedhead

… and using cuddles and playtime to put the work week firmly into the past (especially for Daddy).

Daddy and Tala

The fun part is injecting a little something extraordinary into what would otherwise be an ordinary weekend. Just one well-chosen treat can make staying at home closer to being a pleasure than a belt-tightening measure. It could be a decadent hot chocolate or a new book to curl up with on the couch.

For us, of course, it’s food. On Saturday mornings, Marlon likes to take Tala for a walk to the Noordermarkt, giving me one precious baby-free morning a week. This weekend, he came home from the market with a large, very pregnant and very LIVE lobster, wild and not farmed, from the Netherlands’ own North Sea.

Marlon's lobster dinner

If you can get over the creepy factor of a plastic bag rustling in your fridge and can handle them without getting pinched, lobsters are the easiest luxurious dinner. Just drop in a pot, cover and wait a few minutes. We had ours with potato wedges and sweet potato fries, a lime, cilantro, garlic and butter sauce, and white wine from the grocery.

Lobster and wine

What simple joys do you enjoy during a weekend at home? And what’s your favorite way to inject something special into a stay-at-home weekend?

In the pantry: Glass jars & chalkboard paint

As I get older, I find myself becoming more and more like my mother and grandmother. Do you feel the same way? I’ve begun taking on some of their habits—even habits that used to annoy me!

One such habit is my grandmother’s penchant for saving and reusing discarded things. Every Christmas, Nanay would open her presents at an agonizingly slow pace, carefully peeling off tape, salvaging ribbons from the pile of wrapping on the floor, and neatly folding gift wrap to be reused the following year. It drove us all a little bonkers. We always told her to just rip off the paper and toss it—something, having lived through the scarcity of wartime, she was simply incapable of doing.

My grandmother also kept empty glass bottles and jars for purposes unknown. A few months before she died, I sat by her bedside one afternoon talking about the wedding with my mom and Marlon. She was 91, bedridden and feeding through a tube by this time.

She apologized for not having anything to give us as a wedding present—except four empty glass jars of Lily’s Peanut Butter (the kind with flowers painted on) that she’d asked her nurses to save. The nurses were embarrassed to bring out the glasses, but I barely held back my tears as I took them and thanked her. Even thinking about it now makes me cry!

Maybe Nanay was just ahead of her time. Today we call my grandmother’s habit by new, hip names: upcycling, repurposing. I now save bottles and jam jars, and use them to organize our kitchen pantry.

Our pantry is a huge drawer that’s about 1.2 meters wide and 30 cm deep (a little less than four feet wide and a foot deep). It can get messy, so I put loose things—like nuts, spices, and lentils—into recycled jars.

Kitchen pantry drawer

To make things easier to find, I labeled all the lids. Initially I used washi tape, but I scrapped that in favor of some leftover chalkboard paint from Tala’s nursery. Painting all the lids a single color helped unify the entire assortment.

Kitchen organization repurposed jars

I wrote the contents of each jar on the lid with a chalkboard marker…

Kitchen organization chalkboard jars
and the pantry drawer looks all the better for it!

Saving jars is an ongoing project, and not just because it helps me organize my kitchen. Each time I steam the label off a pasta sauce bottle or wash an empty jam jar, I think a little bit about my grandmother. I’m pretty sure she would have been pleased.

Behind the scenes: Newborn photo session

Wow, this week was tough. Marlon went on a business trip for two days, the first time he’s traveled since Tala was born. Though I had babysitting help for a few hours in the evenings, flying solo in the wee hours left me completely exhausted.

So I’m looking forward to this weekend to catch a break, enjoy having Marlon at home, and spend time together as a family. Spring sunshine and warmer temperatures—as the forecast promises—will be a big plus!

I’m also looking forward to sharing the photos from Tala’s newborn session. We booked lifestyle photographer Melody Rae for a photo shoot right here at home before my  mom and my sister returned to Manila. My sister took some behind-the-scenes photos of Melody in action, so here’s a little sneak peek until I get my hands on the goods.

Posing parents

Newborn session with daddy and lola

Newborn session behind the scenes

Newborn photo shoot with duyan

And yes, it’s the duyan! We gave our traditional Filipino bassinet a modern makeover in the last few weeks of my pregnancy. Then Marlon rigged it up on the balcony to welcome the arrival of sunny spring weather, and just in time for the photo session with Melody.

But more on that next week… till then, have a wonderful weekend!

All Souls’ at the Vondelpark

Every year, on November 1st, my mom would set a place at the head of the table with chocolates, an unlit cigarette, sometimes a bottle of San Miguel, and a chair that would always be empty. Then she would gather us up—us two girls, my grandmother and my aunt—and drive to Sta. Cruz, the town where she grew up.

We would buy flowers from the same roadside shop each year and do the same circuit of relatives’ houses, before finally heading to the town cemetery. There we would stay until after dark, spending time with our fathers—my mother’s father was buried there too—in the only way that was left to us.

For as long as I can remember, our family was part of that nationwide exodus known as Undas, All Souls’ Day. Moving away from home in 2007 put an end to those visits for me, and I haven’t celebrated All Souls’ Day in years. It seems outside of the Philippines, nobody celebrates it quite like we do.

So when I found out about Allerzielen in het Vondelpark (All Souls’ in the Vondelpark), right in the heart of the city, I felt like I had found a little piece of home. From 7pm to 8:30pm on November 2nd (the actual All Souls’ Day, not November 1st like we do back home), lanterns are lit in memory of loved ones…

Remembering at Allerzielen

… and in true Dutch fashion, are set sail as boats on the water. In this case, the water was the big pond at the Vondelpark, near the Van Eeghenstraat gate.

Allerzielen in het Vondelpark

From the Allerzielen website: “Everyone who is busy cycling through the Vondelpark, on the way home from work or to the pub, can be a witness. A simple and nice gesture, an accessible way to show how loss is part of life. Because it is so, and so can be difficult.

Everyone is welcome to launch a burning light in memory of someone special. And to celebrate life.”

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Birthday girl

Today, I am the birthday girl! Yay!

To fit the occasion, I found these pictures of my 7th? 8th? birthday, which I spent in Calcutta (before it became Kolkata). Here I am with my mom, my Dadu (grandfather) and Minnie Mouse, from whom I was inseparable at the time. My Indian relatives threw me a party at my grandparents’ apartment, dressed me (and my sister) up in traditional salwar kameez, and showered me with gifts. It was a blast!

I’m not spending my birthday anywhere as exotic this year, but it will still be lots of fun. It’s a full day—today I have my first prenatal yoga class, followed by lunch with my pregnancy buddy (a good friend who is due just a week after me!), a haircut, and finally dinner with friends at one of my favorite brasseries in the city. Then, as is our tradition, Marlon whisks me away to a top-secret location for a weekend staycation. The only thing I know is that it will be in Amsterdam, since he can’t travel without his passport.

The first year of my 30s has been amazing—full of unexpected blessings and happy moments—and I have so much to celebrate. I hope wherever you are on this Friday night, you have reason to celebrate too!