Viewing: happiness

Five years

Has it really been five years?

I sometimes joke that we haven’t “achieved” anything in five years, when many of our peers already have families, businesses, cars, homes. But the life we’ve lived together for the last five years is a life that we wanted—one of our own choosing and making.

We’re figuring things out as we go along, and that flexibility is one of the things I love most about our marriage. We are not perfect by a long shot, but we are perfect for each other. And we are happy.

On December 29, five years ago, I hadn’t the vaguest idea how to be a wife. Five years later I’m still stumbling and learning. I am so blessed to have a husband who loves me and accepts me for the wife I am. It gives me the confidence to face becoming a mother, yet another thing I’m going into without having a clue.

Happy anniversary, my love. We’ve had five wonderful years of “just the two of us.” The best is yet to come.

Wedding photos by Mango Red

Birthday dinner: Brasserie Witteveen

One of the places that I like to go to in the Pijp is Brasserie Witteveen. My friends with kids like it because unlike the typical Dutch cafe, Witteveen’s wide aisles have lots of room for strollers. I just think it’s a really good-looking place to meet someone for lunch or a drink, thanks to the combination of sleek design with cozy elements like the seamless, 16-meter leather Chesterfield couch.

Brasserie Witteveen

I’ve always been curious about the private dining area at the back of the restaurant. Since Friday was my birthday, I thought it was a good excuse to finally check it out for myself.

Witteveen private dining area

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Just as things should be

Last week’s ultrasound scan came at the perfect time. After struggling with mixed feelings about my changing body (a hormonally-enhanced struggle, no doubt!), I really needed to see what was going on in there. At times, it’s one thing for people (well-meaning, sweet people) to tell you “Embrace your pregnant self! Your body is a miracle! It’s doing amazing things! Everything is beautiful and perfect! Blah blah blah”… and quite another to believe it yourself.

Getting to see my daughter (daughter!!!) was like taking a big eraser and wiping all these feelings clean. All that was left was a contented stillness in my formerly noisy head… a blank space ready for wonderful things to show up.

It was as complete a medical checkup as you can get at the age of 19 weeks. Marlon and I cycled through fascination, excitement and relief as the ob-gynecologist took us through organs and systems that, eight weeks ago, were not yet visible or not functional. Although the echopraktijk made it clear that this scan is limited and doesn’t guarantee a 100% healthy, normal baby (they only check for visible abnormalities), every pronouncement of “normal”—for her heart, head, bones, weight, among others—made my heart swell just a little bit more.

As an able-bodied person, I was reminded of the many little miracles I’ve taken for granted: that my mouth can open and my esophagus can swallow, allowing my stomach and bladder to fill and empty; that the part of my brain that controls my limbs is normal and functioning; that the vertebrae of my spine are fully closed, having formed in my mother’s womb without any holes or openings.

I never thought about these things… until I saw them taking place in another body right inside my very own body. There’s just no other way to describe it than… amazing.

Suddenly, things made sense. Weeks of drinking 2-3 glasses of milk a day were crystallized into a perfectly formed spine and the tiniest ribcage, not to mention a femur—the long bone in the upper leg—described by our Dutch gynecologist as “small,” indicating a small baby. Take note: this is the Netherlands, where babies and adults are huge. I’m pretty sure for a Filipino baby, her size is okay.

The scan also revealed why I can feel our daughter moving, but Marlon can’t when he puts his hand on my belly. It’s because the placenta, the baby’s food source, lies along the front of my belly (it’s the thick white thing at the top of the photo). And I thought Marlon couldn’t feel the movements because I was too fat! I can stop kicking myself now.

What I took away from it all was this: somewhere, somehow, things are unfolding exactly as they should. What needs to be happening is happening… whether you see it, or understand it, or not.

This is something I need to remember now and then; maybe you do, too. I couldn’t be more thankful for the reminder.

Nine weeks

When Marlon and I moved to Amsterdam, we knew that we wanted this to be the place where the next chapter in our lives would unfold. And now that it’s really happening, I can hardly believe it.

Say hello to our little mango, the nine week-old adventurer who has already traveled to Iceland (without us knowing it!), the baby who will come into the world in March 2013, and the reason why Marlon and I are so, so happy.

At this point, our baby is not really a mango… more like a grape, actually. But when we saw her for the first time during the first ultrasound last week, she (and I’m just going to use “he” and “she” interchangeably here, I don’t really like “it”) already had discernible legs, arms, a head, an umbilical cord, and a beating heart—a whole, entire person in less than an inch.

And when she moved… suddenly she wasn’t an idea, a plan, or a picture on a screen anymore, but a real living miracle inside my body. It’s simply amazing. I still have difficulty wrapping my head around it sometimes.

More to come soon, including how I’ve been feeling, what it’s like to be pregnant in the Netherlands, and a veritable buffet of yummy comfort food care of my amazing husband. There’s much to share, but don’t worry… this blog isn’t going to turn into a pregnancy diary overnight. Life goes on… but it just got a whole lot better.

This post is part of the August Post of the Month Club over at Life on Planet Baby

A wedding in the South of France

The highlight of my summer was a trip to the south of France for Mimi and Pete’s wedding. They were married civilly in Manila more than a year ago, a simple but moving ceremony they thoughtfully put on live streaming for the benefit of family and friends abroad, such as myself. I was thrilled to receive the invitation from Mimi last year, after we found out we were moving to Europe. For friends flying in from Manila and Singapore, this trip was almost a year in the making!
Ever the tour organizer, super-efficient but amazingly relaxed bride Mimi welcomed us at the Etap hotel in Caissargues, Pete’s hometown, with a card, a jar of locally made confitures, and a handful of brochures on the Languedoc-Roussillon region (and its popular neighbor, Aix-en-Provence). Can’t start a proper Glee Club tour without a tour kit!
A tour wouldn’t be complete without singing, which we were requested to do by Pete’s relatives literally the moment we stepped into his mom’s house. Pleased to realize we had a member of the original touring prod staff to take our photos (the original adventurer-turned-doctor Ross, who took a break from her residency in the States to attend the wedding), we launched into a bass-less rendition of (what else?) the tried-and-tested Rosas Pandan, a song I haven’t sung in eons. Never fails to bring down the house!
Dinner was an al fresco meal care of the amazing Agbay women, Mimi’s sister-doppelgangers May and Meng. Marlon and I were especially excited to see Filipino food on the table, complemented with the requisite French baguettes, or as Mimi’s mom calls them, pambugbog.
After dinner, we rehearsed around the dinner table for the Mass, and did some light prep work like separating confetti and folding menu cards for the reception.
The day of the wedding was everything we sun-starved Netherlanders had hoped for: abundant sunshine and a temperature of 32℃. (As you can guess, the Manila contingent was not as happy.) We spent the morning in the charming town of Arles, with its gorgeous farmers’ market and Roman ruins (more on which later). Then it was off to the hotel to prettify ourselves, and from there on to Eglise Saint-Sauveur, just a hop and skip away from Pete’s mom’s house, to rehearse.
Close to 5pm, Pete pulled up wearing his dapper gray suit and a huge smile, and guests began to trickle in, dressed in what would be considered shockingly casual clothing in Manila, but seemed just right for summer in the south of France. The Pinoys were definitely the dressier guests at this wedding. I was glad to finally debut a vintage floral-print maxi dress I got in San Francisco last year, with a polka-dot scarf from Uniqlo and tangerine wedges. God knows when I’m going to get to wear this again!
As soon as we stepped into the church, events took off at warp speed. I didn’t take as many pictures as I would have liked (the choir never does!), but I can clearly remember my first glimpse of Mimi in her elegant bridal whites. She was holding her bouquet and her mom’s hand, and crying openly all the way down the aisle. Naturally, I choked up. I think all the girls just stopped singing the wedding march (L’important c’est la rose), except for Trina who was not a girl, but a bass that day. Seeing wonderful things happen to the equally wonderful people who deserve them is one of the best feelings in the world.
And just like that, it was over: the Duhamels were kissing, people were cheering, and lavender and white confetti was falling everywhere, like a dream.
The not-so-newlyweds piled into an adorable yellow pickup truck, Pete’s first car, to roar off to the reception with horns blaring all the way there. I don’t know what was cuter, the truck itself or Mimi’s giant skirt and petticoat sticking out of it.

Being so close to Spain (just three hours by car to Barcelona!), Spanish touches such as paella and bullfights have seeped into the unmistakable Frenchness of the region. Thus, a reception at a manade, or bull ranch.

It was such a picturesque place, with wide open grounds, tall grass, a lovely little plaza, of sorts grapevines hanging around trellises. The grapes looked so luscious that we all thought they were fake. Duh, south of France nga pala to, not some tacky restaurant in Manila. 

We felt very chi-chi with our champagne and canapes before dinner…

… while the French seem to have downed bottomless shots of Red Bull. Seriously, they danced their asses off in the three hours leading up to dinner. And then they kicked their chairs back and danced all the way up to FIVE FREAKING A.M. the next day. Spell S-A-B-I-K.

In the meantime, we were just happy to finally spend time with our beautiful bride, ooh-ing and ahh-ing over all the details of her dress, a labor of love by our friend (and my entourage designer!) Tria…

And of course, we were just happy to take lots of pictures. 
Lots of them. Sayang ang damit!

Especially when we went out into the ranch grounds in the setting sun, champagne flutes and DSLRs in hand, for our very own de buena familia/Emperador Brandy photo shoots. Based on these two print ads, whose wine would you buy: mine or Pia’s?

The French may have had their dancing, but we Pinoys had our camwhoring. Kung saan ka masaya, suportahan ta ka. Ika nga nila, walang basagan ng trip!

A dove’s tale

Last weekend, Marlon and I achieved another DIY milestone: painting the living room. This time around, we chose a totally different feel from the bedroom and went for Dove Tale from Farrow & Ball, a lilac-tinged dove gray. 
This time, it went a whole lot faster and smoother. Having lots more space to move around in made a huge difference. We were able to be more systematic and orderly about placing our “drop cloths”, which were reused cardboard boxes from Ikea and from our moving in, plus bubble wrap from a couple of furniture deliveries. Marlon had wanted to buy proper drop cloths from Gamma, but when he saw that one was €27, it was easy to sway him to adopt the cheaper more eco-friendly alternative.  

Goodbye boring white walls!

After priming the walls on Saturday morning, we let the primer dry overnight. With Farrow & Ball, primer pa lang, maganda na! That could be the seed of a winning campaign if they ever decide to venture into the Philippine market. 
Excuse the dining room mess. We had to dump everything somewhere.
We finished both coats in a record 5.5 hours, with an hour’s lunch break. We had to work a lot faster because streak marks are more obvious with a lighter color. Also, instead of painting the corners first as we did with the bedroom, we painted them last, which turned out to be a wise decision. The paint dried smooth and a lot more even this time around. “We’re getting better at this, Mrs. Plazo,” said Marlon. 
The night before we painted, I had an anxiety dream that Dove Tale turned out to be a cheap satin bridesmaid kind of lavender that Marlon hated. I still had my doubts while we were diluting the paint, but after the first coat, I decided that I loved it. And by the time we finished the second coat, I was in love… again.

So here’s the living room before, with blah flat white walls:

And after, with Dove Tale. Tadaah! I’ve been obsessing about gray walls for the last few years, so I’m ecstatic to finally have them!
It turned out to be more lilac-tinged in our living room light than the way it looks on the website, which is more brown. I’m envisioning bright yellow accents with touches of purple here and there.
We have quite a few paintings with metallic frames, which I think will work really well against the gray. I’m excited to hang them up.
Marlon thinks it looks yummy. “If we had gone any lighter,” he said, “parang sayang lang yung effort natin mag-paint.” And a few shades darker would have swallowed up the wine crates and daybed. 
So, the living room is well on its way! We’ve still got a lot to do, like hang the paintings, put books and other knickknacks inside the crates, buy an easy chair, replace the big floor pillows and add bright throw pillows to perk up the daybed. And the dining room still looks like a war zone. But for now, I’m patting us on the back and enjoying the lovely lilac hue. 

Our cobalt cocoon

A little over two weeks after Marlon and I first moved in, we’ve transformed our bedroom from this…

To this! Behold the fruit of our DIY labor!

I am in love with the color on our walls. Although the paint job is far from professional, the blue to me is completely swoonworthy. Jonel referred to the color, to my mild horror, as Ateneo blue. I joked to Marlon that we should start calling our bedroom The Blue Eagle Wing.

Then I saw that it was the same blue that both Blogger and Facebook use. I’m sure if I really put my mind to it, I can come up with a dozen companies or brands that use this color. But why would I want to do that when I am already so perfectly happy with it?

The bedroom is about 75% done. The floor lamp and bedside table are temporary—the latter was actually bought for the balcony. I already ordered bedside tables from Gewoon Chic, a great Dutch home webstore that I just discovered, which will be delivered today. Then all we need are bedside lamps, plus a chest of drawers for Marlon’s clothes (since I’ve pretty much taken up most of the closet space).
Oh and speaking of closets… check out Marlon’s pride and joy! He is over the moon seeing the results of his assembly job, and so am I.
Having decided on a palette of cobalt blue and white with metallic accents, I made the bed with this white cutwork bedspread from Jaipur, one of the stops on our honeymoon in Rajasthan. It used to be on our daybed in the living room.
We bought half a dozen freaking bedspreads from this one salesman who dazzled us with the whole Bollywood song and dance. He described his wares as “sho shoft, sho fabuloush” sho often that it shtuck—Marlon and I now refer to the bedspreads as fabuloush, as in “We need to wash the fabuloush.” I think we were mired in credit card debt for the better part of a year, but we sure had a blast. And now that we have a home worthy of the fabuloush, they’ve turned out to be some of my most treasured purchases.
At night, with yellow light, the blue loses some of its cobalt zing, but still remains lovely and rich and enveloping.

I thought about repainting my dresser in the same glossy white as the bed, but that would make everything too matchy-matchy. I totally got the matchy-matchy gene from my mother, but I’m doing my best to suppress it. So it will remain a soft matte ivory.

Marlon is as in love with the blue as I am, but says it’s made it harder for him to wake up in the mornings. I have no such problem. In fact, since we moved back into the newly repainted bedroom, I’ve been waking up every morning at 7.30 a.m. to have breakfast with him before he goes off to work. And if you know me, you’ll know how abnormal that is for me. Maybe it’s the effect of having a home that inspires and excites me… a home that I can’t wait to wake up in every day!

So happy I could burst

I’m looking at my calendar for the next few months and naiiyak ako sa tuwa. Literally.

February 25-28 – Brussels, for the Affordable Art Fair (wala kasing Art in the Park dito, ayan naghanap ako ng kapalit!)
March 7-10 – Paris, to visit Mimi while Marlon flies to China for work CANCELLED!
April 8-11 - Geneva and St. Bernard in the Swiss Alps, for Eena’s 30th birthday party
April 13-20 – My sister will be in town! Yay!
April 21-26 – Easter holidays in either Bucharest, Romania or Istanbul, Turkey
May 13-16 – Oslo, to visit my sister and watch Cecilia Bartoli in concert
May 26-31 – Paris again, to help Mimi out with the Ateneo College Glee Club visit
Mid-July – My funny, insane, gorgeous, wonderful friends are flying in for Mimi and Pete’s wedding and I get to host them for three days in our home! Yaaaay happy house!
July 29-31 – Nimes in the South of France, for the Duhamels’ church wedding

So mukhang sa June ako magpapahinga at mag-iipon lol.

What’s amazing is that of these seven trips, we’re only spending for accommodations for two: the Easter trip (if we opt for Bucharest, we get to stay with friends) and the Duhamels’ wedding.

Is this really my life? Thank you God. I’m so blessed and that’s an understatement.

Welcome home

Finally, the months of living out of boxes and suitcases, packing and unpacking, obsessing and worrying, have reached their most welcome end. Marlon and I moved into our new home last Thursday (eight Internet-, cable- and phone-less days ago!), and every minute in it has been nothing short of bliss.
Our building, on a quiet residential street in Amsterdam Zuid (zaud, or South), dates back to 1928, when Amsterdam hosted the Olympics and built blocks upon blocks of dormitories for athletes. After the Games, the dormitories were turned into private residential apartments. I love fitting into this slice of the city’s history. And I love the fact that I now live in a building that’s approaching a century old!
Though the building is old, the apartments inside are usually refurbished to modern standards. It does feel a little bit like a dormitory when you stand in the entrance/hallway and see a whole bunch of doors.
The first room on the left when you enter is a dining room. It has two things that are completely new to me: a coat closet and china cabinet. The dining room adjoins the living room, with heavy wood and glass sliding doors in between. They’re a bitch to close, but I guess they would be useful if you want to heat up either room faster or keep the heat in just one room.
Our bedroom faces the south, which apparently gets the most sun. Hurray!
So does the guest bedroom, which has a door that opens out onto a balcony that runs along the entire length of the apartment.
Ting alert: I can picture a couple of chairs and a small table for alfresco dinners in the summer. In fact, we already got a table, discounted from €275 to €35 at the very chi-chi Moooi Gallery’s warehouse sale. A few locals I spoke to had no idea about the sale and were shocked at the markdowns. Go me!

The kitchen has all the essentials: fridge, stove, oven, washer and dryer, and that life-changing invention known as the dishwasher. What it lacks in size compared to our Singapore kitchen, it makes up for with the abundance of natural light. I was horrified to unpack our appliances and cookbooks in the sunlight—and to see, for the first time in years, how greasy and grimy they had gotten. We had such poor light in our old kitchen that we’d simply never noticed. Never again!
Yay, a bathtub! The toilet is separate and is one of those odd German toilets. Well, I don’t really know if they’re German in origin, but I first saw them on tour in Germany. Instead of a big ol’ bowl, you get a small bowl and a sort of little shelf. So whenever you—er, unload the goods, they land on the shelf, forcing you to… inspect them before flushing them away. Very strange.
Sylvia, our yaya from the relocation agency who helped us move in, was shocked at how low we managed to wrangle the rent for an apartment and neighborhood of such caliber. What a relief! So while this house was actually our third choice, it turned out to be just the perfect one.

Next up: moving day!

Bantayan bliss

The plan started out as a simple one: fly straight to Cebu from Singapore, then hop on a bus and a ferry to Bantayan. After the last two beach destinations being the highly developed (but still gorgeous) Boracay and Bohol, I was in the mood for a rustic getaway and was totally up for three hours on a bus and an hour and a half on the ro-ro.

Then this whole brouhaha with the Dutch work visa requirements happened, and we suddenly had to fly off to Manila to careening around in various taxis for the greater part of a week. Bantayan became a place to while away time while the Dutch embassy took their sweet three days rubber-stamping our documents. And so by the time we hauled our tired asses to Cebu, I had had just about enough of public transport, city-hopping, and adventure.

So imagine my relief upon arriving at Bantayan and beholding the rustic luxury of our room at the Bamboo Oriental. I consider myself fairly low maintenance (no stranger to the kubo and kulambo here), but after a week of running ourselves ragged, I gave myself a huge pat on the back for deciding not to go the backpacker route with our accommodations this time around.

As my friend Susie would say: “Sah-weet Jeeeesus!”

I knew Bantayan was a little bit out of the way (even Kate’s sweet grandma living in Cebu asked us, “Why are you going all the way there?”) but I was more than a little surprised at how deserted it was. After Boracay and Bohol, it seemed positively desolate.

Little town, it’s a quiet village…
Bantayan is a long and narrow island, and we were too harrowed by the aforementioned careening to go and explore further than we needed to go for food, water and the occasional bag of V-Cut. (Imagine our surprise when one of the store owners told us to wait for the ro-ro to arrive with the V-Cut and mangoes.) Our tip of the isle, near the Santa Fe port, had one sleepy but impressively clean main thoroughfare with a handful of restaurants and bars (the most colorfully named being the Hard Kock Kafe) and a small market. We tourists were far outnumbered by the locals for sure. 
 
But hitting the beach I stopped being unnerved by the lack of humanity. You realize you have this tranquil stretch of golden sand and turquoise shallows pretty much all to yourself, and you just melt. 
Some of the most blissful parts of it all were the two mornings we got up at daybreak to take photos. There was something hypnotic about the reflection of the sunrise on the shallows, in the contrast of silken waters with rough sands.

Even if it rained on two out of the three afternoons we were there, I’d still say the weather was perfect. Having baked in the sun all morning and well past lunchtime, we’d cool off on the veranda watching the storm clouds roll in from the ocean. It was wonderful to just feast my eyes on the wide expanses of dove grays and navy blues, to actually see rich, mesmerizingly moody colors occurring somewhere other than a retail environment and labeled the latest fall/winter “must-have.”

On the one afternoon it didn’t rain, we just holed up in the room when it got too hot, watching the sunlight stream in through the cheesecloth curtains and painting everything with a light liquid sheen of gold.

Nights were cool with a stiff breeze, and we spent hours just watching the clouds swirl, the stars move and the moon set the ocean on fire with silvery light.

And on our last morning, Bantayan bid us a very memorable farewell with not just one massive rainbow slicing through the sky and plunging into the horizon. As in I looked up from my book and almost dropped my book, it was so huge. 

Of course, just one rainbow wouldn’t be special enough to remember Bantayan by; it had to reflect faintly against the clouds, so that it looked like there were two or three rainbows in the sky at any given time. And though my camera didn’t capture the three rainbows distinctly, my mind will always remember them. 
Thank you, Bantayan, for the break we so very badly needed!