What did you do in 2011 that you’d never done before?

LIVED IN EUROPE. (This is the big one!)
Traveled in Europe without having to apply for a visa.
Painted my own walls (in the bedroom and living room).

Picked up furniture off the sidewalk.
Celebrated Queen’s Day in Amsterdam.
Used a bicycle to get around.

Learned Dutch. 
Found myself in Paris twice in one year.

Joined a running group and worked up to running for 20 minutes straight.
Grew my own herbs.
Had fresh flowers at home every week.

Wore a bathing suit at a park.

Started writing my very own blog column!
Volunteered for TEDxAmsterdam.
Went on a hot-air balloon ride!
Witnessed the changing of all four seasons. 

Sang at a wedding in the south of France.
Went swimming in a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Went swimming in the Atlantic Ocean.
Did my grocery shopping at a market (not a supermarket).

Learned how to sew (so far, a dress and cushion covers).

Learned how to knit (made a scarf).
Learned how to dance the salsa.
Learned how to bake (my favorite dessert: lemon tart!). 

Hosted a dinner party for 10.
Hosted five house guests, the most I’ve ever had at one time.
Bought serious rain gear (and wore rain boots).

Edited videos for money. 

Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year? 

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. But this year I set goals (something that always works for me when I remember to do it) and achieved many of them. That’s something I will do again this year.

Did anyone close to you give birth?

Susie and Tinus, our dearest friends from Singapore, became the parents of a gorgeous baby boy named Max, the day before we moved to Amsterdam. We were his first visitors at the hospital!

Later in the year, another Max was born—this time to my friend Leslie in Amsterdam.

Did anyone close to you die?

Tito Rolly Cailles, one of our wedding godfathers, succumbed to leukemia.

What countries did you visit?

Switzerland, Portugal, Norway, Italy, Germany, Belgium, France, Turkey and the Philippines.

What would you like to have in 2012 that you lacked in 2011?

A steady paycheck. Haha!

What was your biggest achievement of the year? 

Taking a leap of faith and ending up with a home and a life that I love. Runner-up: losing 8 pounds in two months.

What was your biggest failure?

Succumbing to inertia for a significant chunk of the year.

Did you suffer illness or injury?

I was hospitalized for severe asthma shortly after our arrival in the Netherlands.

What date from 2011 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

January 10, 2011: the day we arrived in Amsterdam.

What was the best thing you bought?

Hard to choose in a year filled with great furniture purchases. But I have would say it’s a toss-up between Final Cut Pro 7—the only purchase that’s paid for itself!—and my large purple leather satchel from Su-Shi.

Whose behavior merited celebration? 

My husband, for sure! From big things (like making the choices that got us where we are this year) to small things (like getting out of bed late at night to adjust the heating), he has done so much to make me feel like the luckiest wife in the world.

What did you get really, really, really excited about? MOVING TO EUROPE!

Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

Appalled and depressed are strong words; I wouldn’t use them. But the Philippine government always manages to make me go aaaaargh

Where did most of your money go? 

Fewer things, more experiences: travel and creative classes. I’m very happy about that.

What song will always remind you of 2011? 

Turning Tables by Adele: it was playing while we were painting the living room. Firework by Katy Perry was on practically every two minutes on the radio in Portugal and was the soundtrack to many a drive. And Kanye’s All of the Lights.

Compared to this time last year, are you:
i. happier or sadder? Happier. Maybe “just as happy” would be more accurate. 
ii. thinner or fatter? For the first time… THINNER, thank God!
iii. richer or poorer? Poorer in pocket, richer in experience.

What do you wish you’d done more of? Find work/generate income.

What do you wish you’d done less of? Stay in bed all day. 

What was your favorite TV program?

Breaking Bad! Also: Game of Thrones, Fringe, Master Chef Australia, Homeland

Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

I don’t hate anyone. Hating is more toxic for the hater than for the hated.

What was the best book you read? A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin.

What was your greatest musical discovery?

Florence and the Machine (sorry, I know I’m late to the party), Calle 13 (reggaeton a.k.a. Latino hip-hop), Joshua Radin (folk), Wende (amazing Dutch chanteuse specializing in the French chanson).

What did you want and got?

Living in Europe has been a lifelong dream that was fulfilled this year. I also wanted to make girl friends, learn Dutch, take creative classes and travel, travel, travel. Check na check!

In terms of material possessions, I wanted a new lens and a sewing machine. Thanks to my thoughtful hubby who knows me so well and always gives me great gifts, I got both!

What was your favorite film of this year? Midnight in Paris!

What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I turned 30 in Turkey! I woke up at the crack of dawn to go on my first-ever hot air balloon ride over the stunning landscape of Cappadocia.

What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

A real summer with sunshine, blue skies and warm weather.

How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2011?

“Embracing Europe.” I experimented more, and gave more thought to putting together an overall look. I also loved being able to layer out of necessity and not pretense… and to be able to do it without wilting! 

What kept you sane? Thank God for the Internet. And new friends.

Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?  Alexander Skarsgard! Hotness.

What political issue stirred you the most?

The NAIA airport renovation and cancellation of KLM’s direct flights to Manila. Yes, I’m selfish that way.

Who did you miss? My family and choir friends.

Who was the best new person you met? 

My new girlfriends, the “ladies who lunch.” I’m so lucky to have found a group of women who are not only genuinely kind, but also smart, creative, easy to be with, and funny.

Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2011:

This quote by James Frey sums it up quite nicely: “If you care about what other people think, you will always be their prisoner.” I’ve begun to truly grasp that I don’t have to prove anything to anyone.

Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:

“Today is where your book begins/The rest is still unwritten.” – Unwritten by Natasha Bedingfield

The most touching experience you’ve had this year?

Being on the receiving end of the Glee Club’s farewell serenade in Paris. Sniff.

What did you like most about yourself this year?

My creativity. I’ve both gone back to what I love to do and discovered new ways to express myself. My challenge for 2012 will be to focus my efforts and ideas in a way that will create value for myself and others.

What did you hate most about yourself this year?

I put off way too many things.

Was 2011 a good year for you?

The best I’ve had in a while. I like the lifestyle changes that have come about as a result of our big move. And it’s not every year that a dream gets fulfilled. I can’t wait to find out what 2012 has in store!

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A few thoughts on dreams

Parang kailan lang, ang mga pangarap ko’y kay hirap abutin…
These lyrics from Florante’s Handog leaped out at me from a video posted by Will, from the current Glee Club, on my Facebook wall this evening.
Bigla kong naalala na noong kaedad ko sina Will, pangarap kong tumira sa Europa. Hindi ko alam kung paano ko gagawin, pero lagi kong iniisip na sana, balang araw, makabalik ako at makatira dito.

So ang ibig sabihin, dahil nandito ako ngayon, nagkatotoo ang pangarap ko.
Kiddies in Prague, 2001. Slight digression: why did I think I was fat?
I sometimes lose sight of the fact that I’m living a dream fulfilled: when it’s cold, rainy and gray for what seems like the umpteenth day in a row; when I see other people living in fantastic locations; or when I’m slogging through a ten-page immigration document written entirely in Dutch.
How easy it is to forget that my dream came true. So when I do remember, the realization can hit so hard it sometimes brings tears to my eyes.
Though it may seem like it to people who don’t know me or Marlon very well, it may seem like I got to Europe by latching on to a jet-setting expat type (or an expat-to-be) with a career that would take him around the world. But I’ll tell you something not a lot of people know.
When Marlon and I first started dating, the plan was very different. I was dead set on living in Europe (how, neither of us knew… but I was going to do it!) and Marlon needed to follow me, somehow. That was why he took his overseas job with a multinational company in the first place: because he thought it would give him the best chance of following me wherever I decided to end up.
This is the first step that the man of my dreams took in making my dreams come true. He believed in me. He saw me as a person who could, and would, achieve some whacked-out dream like that. Never mind that I had zero plans. Never mind that every time I thought about what I wanted, I wanted it so bad and felt so far from having it that I easily wound up bawling every time. He simply believed in me.
Over the course of the next four years, he took another simple but very difficult step. I can sum it up in four words: he stuck it out. I mostly mean the long-distance thing, but there are other, bigger things that nearly blew us both in separate directions. But he just hung in there. And because he did, so did I.
Then, last year, when I started getting itchy feet and questioning our life in Singapore, he did one last thing that bridged the gap from there to here. He listened. It wasn’t easy for him to consider such a big change, with the career he had built and the comfort we enjoyed. But he listened, and that single act encompasses so wonderful things. Being someone I felt I could talk to about anything, enough for me to open up in the first place, is one. Sharing my sense of adventure and love for travel, valuing what we agreed our marriage would be, and not being bound to money or comfort, were others.
And this is why I—why we—are here.
There are as many dreams as there are ways of making them come true. All I’m saying, really is that this life, and the man I’m living it with, has been one of mine.
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This afternoon I exercised for the first time since November. Yep, it’s been that long—since this whole moving to Amsterdam process first got started, in fact. 
I’d been putting off this workout since we got here. When I first arrived in Amsterdam early January, I resolved to use my time at the serviced apartment by using the in-house gym. Guess how that went. Then when we moved to our permanent address, I got all excited about having the picturesque riverside a few minutes from my doorstep. I told myself every single day that I was going to run. Or at least walk. Tomorrow. Hah! Fat chance (a pun that truly applies to me at this point).
I avoided exercise with an odd, inverted determination. There were a lot of excuses, the cold being my favorite scapegoat. “When I go out in the cold, I burn more calories anyway,” I told myself. E ano kayang ginagawa yung mga cold cuts and cheese sa bahay
Finally, today, I just went out and did it. I didn’t think much about it. I just put on a Heattech top and tights plus a regular hoodie and sweatpants (a 100% Uniqlo outfit), stole Marlon’s Nike GPS thingamajiggie and stuck it in my shoe, and went out.
And found what I had been avoiding all along was actually… not so bad at all. In fact, it was wonderful.
Half jogging, half walking west along the river, I discovered Beatrixpark just minutes from my house. It’s a beautiful open space with long winding paths, duck ponds and large green swathes of grass. I saw lots of doggies bounding along happily, playing catch with their owners, and old ladies sitting all bundled up on park benches with their smiling faces tipped up to the sun. Because of the cold, a kind of fine mist hung in the air, making everything look soft. 
It was another “Is this really my life?” moment. I didn’t feel cold at all and I didn’t really care that my pace was atrociously slow. It felt that good. 
And I realized I avoid a lot of things that turn out to be less painless than I think they’ll be. I think of it as the “hell week” syndrome—you know, back in college when it’s the week before exams and you’re terrified you’re going to flunk or die, but when you’re halfway into it you realize you’re passing and alive and hey, it’s not so bad.
Exercise is one. Housework is another. I never did housework in Singapore, ask Marlon. Getting me to do it is like pulling teeth from a baby lion. But yesterday when the sun streamed in through the windows into my house, it hit me how dirty everything had gotten in the span of a few days. And so I began vacuuming and mopping like a madwoman. I remember thinking to myself, “Hey, this really doesn’t take that much time.” And seeing my all-white kitchen just sparkle in the sunlight gave me a domestic thrill that bordered on perverse. Hallelujah, I have seen the light!
I also used to avoid calling clients. And it wasn’t because they were difficult, I just had this strong irrational sense of not wanting to do it. It doesn’t last long, maybe an hour at most; people who’ve worked with me always find me quick to respond and very “on.” But sometimes even if I already found myself on my way to doing it, I would get a heavy, draggy feeling in my chest in those last few seconds before picking up the phone. Then we would have a normal chatty conversation, getting things done, and I would feel like myself and all fired up to work again. Weird huh?
What do you find yourself avoiding lately and why? And how does it turn out when you do get into it?
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Sorry if this all seems rather cryptic. I’m thinking aloud.

I attended Mass today for the first time in a long time. Today is the feast of the Epiphany, where the baby Jesus revealed himself to the Three Kings.

I had a bit of an epiphany myself. I just realized that I’ve been forcing myself to do something that I don’t like doing just to prove to myself that I can do it. Not because it makes me happy and fulfilled, or because it’s something I’m passionate about, but to defy doubts unspoken (from myself) and imagined (from others) in my ability to do it.
And after all these months, I just realized that I can do it, but I just don’t like it. That I have a right to not like one thing and prefer the other. Isn’t that strange? I’ve been feeling like something’s wrong with me because I don’t enjoy doing it. But that’s the way people are. There are things we like and don’t like, and we don’t have to like everything.
It’s like really liking chocolate and being presented with vanilla. I don’t like the taste of vanilla — I really like chocolate but force myself to eat vanilla just to make myself seem “normal.” But actually, preferring chocolate is normal too! How absurd huh?
And so this is the space I’m in for now. Being okay with not liking something, and not forcing myself to like it. It may seem to you like a “duh” moment, an odd epiphany or an insignificant, self-evident one.
But for now, it’s better than the place I was in just a few weeks, days or even moments ago. Let’s see where we can go from here.
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2008 was the year…

I almost missed my honeymoon flight… and ran straight from my arrival gate to my departure gate without my luggage.

I introduced Marlon to his new Indian relatives, and gave my family in India a new jamai (son-in-law). 

I fell in love with Rajasthan.

I rode a camel for the first time.

I saw my first desert.

I woke up before dawn to see the Taj Mahal at sunrise. If there’s anything I would ever wake up that early for again and again, this would be it. 

I left home and moved to Singapore.

I began to create a new home — my first. 

I learned to cook. Really well, I might add. I also discovered a new pleasure — cooking with Marlon.

my first pasta

my first risotto

I became obsessed with Jamie Oliver.

I started writing beauty articles for Singapore magazines.

I learned that fighting with your husband never, ever means the two of you are doomed.

My grandmother died.

I got the job that I really, really, really wanted – despite having potentially screwed up my chances to get it.

I made a choice that gave me what I really, really, really wanted – despite knowing that there were going to be some people who would absolutely hate me for it.

I started working at BDA.

the office cat, da huay (“big gray”)

bda’s big black-and-white pre-war office on oxley road

I learned how to take ownership of my own ideas and be responsible for them – thereby killing a long-suffering suspicion that in my old concept team at GMA, the only person responsible for the kick-ass work we did was my brilliant partner. Oh, the dramz!

I delivered my first pitch.

I began to learn just what it takes to bring an idea to life. In short, I started to glimpse what it was really like to be a producer.

I conceptualized, scripted and produced my first spot for a regional network.

I bought my first piece of sculpture (from the Taka project, a piece by Juan Sajid Imao).

I made my first overseas remittance (and officially became an overseas Filipino worker!).

I saw Alicia Keys…

and Rihanna live in concert.

I traveled to Malaysia…

… Seoul, South Korea

… and Shanghai, China (where I turned 27 years old) for the very first time.

I jumped off a pier for the first (and what will probably be the only) time in my life, at Tioman in Malaysia.

I did an overnight shopping junket in Hong Kong.

Marlon and I paid off all our credit card debt.

I started having fun doing monthly budgets. Even beyond cleaning off the card, this to me is the ultimate sign of financial freedom.

I made the switch from PC to Mac… and wondered why I never did it earlier. (Oh, yeah. Macs are expensive. Now I remember.)

I learned that not all badings are fabulous and smart, and that my ACS badings are truly rare treasures.

I adopted a cat, Rogue (and inducted Marlon into the wonderful, adorable, thrill-a-minute world of felines).

I attended my first Promax BDA conference.

I got completely, passed-out-and-dragged-home drunk and had the worst hangover of my life… thanks to an office party.

battling for the honor of “drunkest expression” with my boss, james, and the creative director of our sydney office. i passed out shortly after this photo was taken.

I became a student of flamenco (which subsequently led to the most expensive shoe purchase of my life). 

I started muay thai.

I made my own Christmas ornaments, and set up my first Christmas tree.

I had a choir-less Christmas for the first time in over 10 years.

I celebrated one year of being married to Marlon… and continue to discover the thousandfold reasons why people fall in love and get married.

celebrating our first anniversary at the boutique hotel in tagaytay (i’m wearing my favorite of marlon’s christmas gifts this year — my bikini necklace!)

when i look back and see what a year we’ve had, how can i believe that 2009 will be any less phenomenal?

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