Salone del Mobile at the Universita di Milano

Walking around a furniture fair for a couple days, one inevitably sees a lot of kitchens, bathrooms, toilets and chairs—especially chairs. (Why do all designers seem to be hell-bent on reinventing the chair?) After a while, it all got to be a bit too much for me. So on our last day in Milan, I suggested that we look for some of the large-scale installations I’d been seeing on Instagram, most of which seemed to be concentrated in the Universita di Milano.

Milan Salone del Mobile 2014 Universita di Milano

It turned out to be a great way to end our visit—with hardly any of the crowds we’d previously encountered in Tortona, lots of big, playful and imaginative installations, and refreshing bursts of color.

Milan Salone del Mobile 2014 giant textile balls

Milan Salone del Mobile 2014 Endless Stairs

Milan Salone del Mobile 2014 copper pendant lamp

I love looking at beautiful things as much as anyone, but after a while I had begun to crave something a little more conceptual, more thoughtful—more than just someone trying to push another product. Maybe I’m just idealistic, maybe these installations at the University of Milan were trying to sell something too, but they certainly did it in a more subtle way. By pondering big questions such as scarcity, sustainability, the future of cities, and more, they created an opportunity—in the midst of all the activity of the Salone—to pause for a little reflection.

Milan Salone del Mobile 2014 mirror selfie

Reflection, get it? Bada-boom-tsss! Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, you’ve been a great audience.

Milan Salone del Mobile 2014 Blago travel buddies

Oh, look at me being all profound and meaningful when in fact I’m just another shallow girl who can’t resist taking a selfie!

Speaking of meaningful, I hope you’re having a rich and meaningful Easter weekend. From what I’m seeing on Instagram, everyone back home seems to be partying at the beach, but I wish you a few quiets moment to reflect, recharge and to celebrate all that is sacred to you. Have a blessed and peaceful Easter!

Milan: Downtown cool in Zona Tortona

It makes total sense that Milan has not just one, but two design districts. If Brera is uptown posh, Tortona plays it downtown cool. Although it has a grittier vibe than Brera, Tortona also explodes into a riot of activity during Salone del Mobile.

Milan Via Tortona design street

Crossing the pedestrian bridge into Via Tortona, street art serves as a kind of border that marks entry into creative, alternative, and dare I say it… hipper territory.

Milan Via Tortona pedestrian bridge street art

It’s not just stickers and spray paint that Tortona has more of. Former industrial warehouses give this neighborhood a lot more space, making it possible for brands to mount more ambitious, large-scale showpieces for the Salone.

Milan Salone del Mobile 2014

Even big-name brands—such as Peugeot, whose Design Lab dreamed up this futuristic, wood-and-carbon fiber baby grand for Pleyel—want to nab a bit of Tortona’s street cred for themselves. We don’t mind; we’re just here to enjoy the show.

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Milan: Design spotting in Brera

I considered sharing my recent travels in chronological order, but with my #blago2014 travel buddies Jillian and Judith getting a head start on our adventures at this year’s Salone del Mobile, I decided it would be more fun to blog about Milan alongside them. Won’t it be interesting to see four different sides of the same story? Mine begins in the impossibly stylish district of Brera.

Milan Salone del Mobile 2014 Brera Design District

Populated by designer names, elegant boutiques and impeccably dressed residents, Brera is a hotbed of activity of Milan’s very own Design Week.

Milan Salone del Mobile 2014 Brera

Brera opens its polished, darkened doors to the masses during Salone del Mobile. It was an incredible experience to just wander around, popping in and out of upscale shops and showrooms, swept up in an Italian-designed lifestyle that 99% of us can only ever admire from afar.

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A tale of three cities

I attempted to blog while I was away, but between Tala and New York, I was wiped out at the end of each day. Now, I’m back home—except this time, Amsterdam is more like a two-day springboard for the next adventure.

My life for the last few weeks has revolved around three cities:

Zurich. This wasn’t my usual kind of travel, but a quick zip in and out. Yet my trip to Zurich was the most exciting thing that’s happened to me in months. That’s because it was my first time to work as a producer in Europe! Marlon always gets to travel for work, but I’ve only done so twice. So any kind of work-related travel is a big thrill for me, even if I didn’t get to see much apart from my shoot location and hotel room. (It was a really nice hotel room, though!)

Zurich dawn over the Sihl River

Watching the sunrise from my hotel room in Zurich

This job was particularly juicy for reasons I can’t disclose yet: the client and the star. More importantly, it’s been over three years since I’ve gotten my hands dirty and worked on set. I was simply thrilled to get back in the game. I used to find production awfully stressful, but my attitude towards responsibility, competence and confidence in my work has changed over the last three years. Being responsible for another human life tends to change your perspective.

New York. Boy, eleven days in the Big Apple with a toddler can really wear you down! After getting used to low-lying, laid-back Amsterdam, the sprawling madness of Gotham was a bit of an emotional roller coaster that took us from blissful highs (the best fettucine I’ve ever tasted at Top Chef judge Tom Colicchio’s restaurant, Craft) to hair-tearing lows (catching a cab during rush hour in midtown Manhattan… with a baby). But I’m not complaining.

New York Empire State Building view

Empire state of mind

I would have loved to live in New York, but that was for another (younger, hungrier) me. Much as I relished the abundance of great food, fantastic shopping and that incomparable big city feel, our life is here now. I’m happy for the chance to experience it all, and to be able come back to a home and a life that feels more comfortable and natural for who I am now. Still, there are some amazing experiences to share, and I promise to share them!

Milan. Time away from being a mommy helps keep me balanced and happy. What more if that time is spent with seriously fun and creative people, in a beautiful and inspiring place? That’s why I’m thrilled to be setting off for Milan and Salone del Mobile—the Milanese equivalent of Design Week—with fellow bloggers Judith, Kat, and our wonderful host Jillian.

Blago Milan 2014 invitation

Jillian’s handmade invitation to Milan

Our home base will be in the beautiful Lago Maggiore, just 20 minutes from Milan’s Malpensa Airport. After these big city trips, I’m looking forward to spending some time at lake, too.
Am I worried about leaving Tala with Marlon for five days? Not at all. He’s an amazing partner and one hell of a dad. Seriously, my biggest worry is that her outfits won’t match. Speaking of outfits, it’s time for me to pack. Girly blogger weekend, here I come!

New York, New York!

Yep. You read that right. I’m in New York. Please don’t kill me.

New York Midtown Manhattan American flag

Every single year, Marlon and I resolve to travel less, or at least do fewer and longer travels. With this latest unexpected trip, we’ve failed in spectacular fashion. But who can resist the siren call of New York? Besides, it was either tag along or not see Marlon for nearly two weeks. It was a no-brainer.

New York Lincoln Center Steps Welcome

Do you ever feel that sometimes, life is happening too fast for you to catch up? Between Tala’s birthday and this trip, I sang in my first Dutch choir concert at one of my favorite Amsterdam museums, flew to Zurich for a last-minute work trip, stayed at this charming boutique gem and filmed at this stunning five-star hilltop hotel, and squeezed in a bit of calligraphy and watercolor for a snail mail swap. All in the span of 10 days. Whew!

Did I mention when I get back, I’m going to do an about-face right back to the airport for Milan Design Week? No? There you go.

New York American Museum of Natural History Explorer


That’s a lot of blog backlog to work through, but it’ll have to wait. New York is winking at me in the spring sunshine, and a little girl in a gray bear suit is tugging on the cord of my laptop. Time to explore, and have a wonderful weekend!

Party DIY: Hand-lettered balloons

Did you see the hand-lettered balloon garland I made for Tala’s first birthday party? I wanted to write a separate post about this fun little DIY project because I enjoyed doing it so much.

DIY hand-lettered balloon garland

Aside from the balloon garland, I also hand-lettered individual balloons and floated them around the cafe. Tala is already used to hearing English, Filipino and Dutch, so I used a combination of fun party words from those three languages.

Hoera! Party balloons DIY handlettering

Hoera (pronounced hooh-rah) means hurray!

Leuk! Party balloons DIY handlettering

Leuk! is Dutch for nice, fun, or cool. The Dutch say it so often, in the beginning I was paranoid that people were being sarcastic with me.

Yehey! Party balloons DIY handlettering

We also had Super! Yay! and Yippee! And of course, I couldn’t leave out our very own Yehey!

This was so much fun for me. I’ve always loved hand lettering—just ask my high school classmates and look at my old textbooks. Plus, it’s easy! Anyone can do it and it doesn’t take much time. Here’s how to DIY your own hand-lettered party balloons.

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Babies ‘n Bacon: Tala’s first birthday brunch

If it feels like birthday central around here, that’s because it is. After Mom’s and Marlon’s birthdays, finally, here’s my full report on Tala’s birthday brunch!

As I’ve said, kiddie birthdays here are very low-key. People usually host them at home, with birthday cake and a finger-food buffet that would leave most Filipinos hungry light nibbles—no themes, no magicians, no big deal. Anticipating busy travel and work schedules, Marlon and I decided early on to have the party at a cafe. I got Marlon to approve my birthday brunch idea by adding “bacon” to the name of our party: Babies ‘n Bacon.

On Tala’s birthday, we felt every bit of our DIY European lifestyle as we juggled our morning routine—feeding, playing, changing—with party prep. Marlon was in charge of balloons, blowing them up himself with a tank of helium that he’d lugged home on his bike the night before. (Yes, ganyan talaga dito. Sariling sikap.)

Tala's first birthday outfit

Naturally, I was in charge of dressing the birthday girl. Her comfy bleach-spattered sweatshirt is a custom print job from local Amsterdam label, . I considered printing “It’s fun to be one,” but it seemed overdone. The sweatshirt went perfectly with funky geometric leggings from my all-time fave googoo&gaga.

Tala's first birthday sequin hairpiece

Naptime gave me a few minutes to stitch together a quick birthday hairpiece: stars, sequins and the number one, of course.

Tala's first birthday walking with balloons

After Tala’s nap, we walked to our party venue with thirty balloons wildly gyrating in the stiff Amsterdam wind. Not an easy task!

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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!

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.

Party prep for the weekend

Tomorrow is Tala’s first birthday, and all I can say is: I’m so glad I live in a culture where the approach to birthday parties is practical and laid-back.

It’s a good way for me to ease into the world of kiddie birthday parties. I have quite a few friends with babies Tala’s age, and recently my Facebook feed has been a parade of glittery fairy costumes, elaborate theme parties and fancy home-baked birthday cakes. It’s a bit intimidating, but I have to remind myself that motherhood is not a competition, and the most important person in this equation is literally incapable of judgment.

Mama might not have a fat bank account or know how to bake, but she has pretty handwriting and is great at finding things on the Internet. That should count for something, right?

Babies and bacon!

Our plans are simple: we’ve invited friends to a “Babies & Bacon” birthday brunch for Tala at a neighborhood cafe. The cafe is very typical Dutch, so the process of “educating” them on the elements of what would be considered an American-style brunch—with bacon and Bloody Marys—has been… interesting. I’ve had to yield my ambitious plans of fluffy pancake stacks to the reality of flat, crispy Dutch pancakes; however, I’ve been assured there will be Mimosas, so I guess you win some, you lose some.

I’m off to run a few last-minute birthday errands, but I’ll be back next week with some snaps from Tala’s first birthday party. Wish me luck, and think a happy thought for Tala on her first birthday!