Viewing: Manila Girl at Heart

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!

Manila shopping: The new & improved Bleach

I may have been adventurous with dining out on my recent trip home, but when it comes to shopping I’m completely a creature of habit. I have a roster of favorite shops in Manila that I hit for what I’ve come to think of as a kind of annual restocking.

My shopping list might not all be the stuff of Pinterest-worthy blog posts (plastic file folders and Japan-made pens at National Bookstore, for example), but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the store that’s consistently at the top of my list got a major makeover. I’m talking about , formerly known as Bleach Catastrophe.

Bleach Greenbelt new look

In the six years I’ve lived away from home, my yearly trips home are never complete without a few new goodies from this store. Some of my favorite shirts of Marlon’s are from here, and I wore Bleach all throughout my pregnancy (which says a lot about their roomy yet flattering cuts).

Bleach Greenbelt menswear

Alongside the launch of an updated look for her store, Bleach owner Tinay Villamiel also expanded into home and interior items with a pared-down, modern sensibility.

Bleach Greenbelt new interior

I love that these are designed and made in the Philippines, using natural materials (linen, canvas and cotton), but offer a younger, hipper alternative to the usual Asian-Filipiniana fare.

Bleach Greenbelt new home items

Bleach Greenbelt banquet placemat

Bleach Greenbelt eggs and bacon tote

Maybe I’ve just gotten used to seeing a lot of gray, but after the sensory overload that is Manila, Bleach was a welcome visual break with its subtle palette. It’s refreshing to see something a little bit different, like these French- and Scandinavian-inspired details tucked into Bleach’s clothing, homeware and interiors. We all crave a little something that will transport us elsewhere, which also explains the proliferation of Buddha heads in homes across Europe.

Bleach Greenbelt merci dress

Bleach Greenbelt oui pillow

Bleach Greenbelt French inspired details

I like the new home items, but I do miss the wider clothing selection of the old store. I’ve always loved Bleach’s comfy basics with a twist—although every time I visit the store, there always happens to be some kind of pearl-earring-and-Lacoste-wearing preppy girl who’s walking out looking like she doesn’t get it. Haha.

Naturally I couldn’t leave without picking up a couple of things for myself: this cozy charcoal gray graphic sweatshirt…

Bleach Greenbelt gray sweatshirt

and this little black dress with an asymmetrical hemline for just Php 495, or €7. Ridiculously affordable, even if you’re not converting to Euros!

Bleach Greenbelt little black dress

Looks like this LBD will have to stay hidden for a few more months before it makes a debut. Can it be spring now, please?

Manila eats: Grace Park at One Rockwell

You don’t think I could have just five memorable meals during a three-week vacation in Manila, now could you? I saved my favorite for a separate post: , Gaita Fores’ newest restaurant at One Rockwell in Makati.

Grace Park gets a post of its own because, well, it’s just so darn photogenic. Embracing bare concrete, beat-up wood and rusted iron seems a bit of a risk for an upscale establishment. But rustic industrial is the new shabby chic, and it’s all about the mix. Grace Park pulls it off with class and flair in its loft-like interior.

Grace Park restaurant Rockwell industrial stairs

Grace Park restaurant Rockwell chandelier

Grace Park restaurant Rockwell decor

I love old Filipino houses, so it warmed my heart to see details like vintage iron grillwork and bricks brought into the mix. Grace Park was named for the residence of Gaita Fores’ paternal grandmother, and seeing these fixtures immediately makes me picture old, stately family homes like those in old and New Manila.

Grace Park restaurant Rockwell vintage iron grille

Grace Park restaurant Rockwell bricks

Mismatched cutlery and chairs, vintage brown and green glass tumblers, even repurposed kitchen items create an eclectic and homey feel. I’m totally going to steal this idea of using  humble llaneras (cheap aluminum tins with a pretty specific purpose: for making leche flan) as a tabletop container for napkins.

Grace Park restaurant Rockwell repurposed lanera

Then there’s the food.

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Manila eats: my 5 most memorable meals

Now that I know what it’s like to live in a non-foodie culture, coming home to Manila’s foodie scene was gloroius. Manila peeps, you’ve got it gooooood.

In Amsterdam, casual dining options such as the cafe or lunchroom are plentiful, but rarely deviate from a stubborn devotion to bread: tostis (grilled cheese sandwiches), broodjes (sandwiches), paninis (Italian sandwiches) and tartines (open-faced French sandwiches). Do you see a pattern here? ”If we can make it at home, why pay for it?” seems to be the general attitude towards eating out. And the practical Dutch are more the type to socialize over after-work drinks and nibbles (borrel and hapjes) than to bond over tables groaning with food.

That’s why eating out becomes a mission of the utmost importance when I’m in Manila.’s list of 50 great restaurants of 2013, plus recommendations from friends, guided me in sampling a few of the new additions to Manila’s booming restaurant scene. Here are some of my favorites.

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Tala’s baptism gown by TRIA

Every girl needs a fairy godmother: someone wise and warm, with the right answers and a magical touch. If you’re like me and everything you learned, you learned from Walt Disney, fairy godmothers also give fabulous gifts (see Sleeping Beauty) and have the ability to whip up a gorgeous outfit to wear to the party of the year (see Cinderella).

Tala’s a lucky girl, because Mommy chose a godmother who did just that. My dear friend Tria Villasis-Ramolete, a wonderful human being who also happens to be a talented fashion designer, created this beautiful ensemble for Tala to wear at her baptism.

Christening outfit by TRIA smocking

I was so busy, and Tala so wriggly on the day of her baptism that I didn’t manage to take any decent photos of her in her lovely outfit! It’s too cute not to share, so I decided to take some pictures afterward.

Baptismal gown by TRIA

Tria, who also designed the gowns for my wedding entourage, created this traditional long, flowing baptismal gown for the ceremony. I asked for it to be gender-neutral so we can still use it for the next baby, and hopefully pass it down in the family. I also wanted it to have a layer of tulle over simple, breathable cotton, to make it comfortable for Tala who would still be adjusting to Manila’s heat.

Tria gave me what I asked for, and more. She also included a pretty little hat…

Baptismal booties by TRIA

and two pairs of white quilted cotton booties, with velvet ribbons to tie around Tala’s chubby little ankles.

Hand-smocked baptismal gown by TRIA


She learned how to smock so she could create this hand-smocked bodice…

Christening dress and headband - star theme

… and she indulged my obsession with stars with this adorable party dress for the reception. I love the subtle shimmer of sequins and how it looks softer with a layer of tulle over it. I also love the oversized stuffed star headbands—yes, Tria made two of them, in two different sizes, just in case. She’s a perfectionist like that.

Ninang Tria and Tala's baptism gown
Yes, every girl needs a fairy godmother. What a lucky little girl Tala is to have Tria as hers!
Tria Villasis-Ramolete

Tala’s baptism reception at The Royal Piccadilly

I wanted to host a small reception for Tala’s baptism, as is traditional. (“It’s a big deal—like a wedding, but smaller,” is how I explained it to our friends here.) So I went online to see how Manila moms do their baptismal receptions and first birthday parties.

Maybe I’ve just gotten used to the laid-back ease and homemade charm of European children’s parties,  but somewhere between the elaborate Western rodeos, vintage circuses, and Parisian patisserie parties (complete with a “Rue du Glitter Tattoo” and ), I felt… intimidated.

“I just can’t,” I mumbled to myself as I scrolled past pictures of Polo by Ralph Lauren themed loot bags, Hello Kitty centerpieces and fully staffed craft tables during Tala’s naps. In desperation, I grabbed at one thing I thought I could at least manage: a cute cake.

Remembering Chuvaness’s adorable birthday cake led me to  at Petron La Vista—just steps away from Santa Maria Della Strada, where we chose to have Tala baptized. Perfect! Squelching my doubts about hosting a christening reception at… a gas station (remember, I moved away before this Petron station became a trendy hangout), it was too convenient to resist.

I sent my cake request to sisters Lora and Cielo via Facebook, and booked The Royal Piccadilly for afternoon tea, sight unseen. Without a single balloon, bunting or tarpaulin banner, this lame-ass mom showed up on the day of the reception to find a wonderful, wonderful surprise.

Christening cake by The Royal Piccadilly

Let’s start with this gorgeous cake. I asked for a cake in purple and pink with stars and clouds. With an angel tucking Tala to sleep under a blanket of stars. Oh, and Tala’s stuffed giraffe. Check, check, and check! in the sweetest way.

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Home for Christmas

The last few days have been a little crazy. Packing for three weeks in a totally different climate and preparing for a 15-hour flight with an almost nine month-old baby have taken up all my energy and mental space.

Aside from the staple oversupply of diapers, milk formula, wipes and outfit changes, my diaper bag and handcarry contains various odds and ends designed to entertain an active infant: pink fluffy pompoms, crinkly foil wrapping paper, a pair of fabric coasters held together with Velcro, a rattle and a squeaky rubber giraffe. I can’t say I’ve ever traveled like this before.

After all the preparation, I think we’re as ready as we can be. In a matter of hours, Marlon and I will be in the air with our wriggly little babe and all we’ll be able to do is pray and wing it.

Then we’ll be home for Christmas.

Christmas parol

Parols in Las Pinas, photo by my sister

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t dreading a few things. The heat and humidity are the least of it; malling as a primary leisure activity and baby jetlag (let’s play from 2am to 10am!) are somewhere in the middle; traffic, parking and so much time spent in a car are the worst. Being confronted with these things makes me realize how much our lifestyles have changed living here.

But then I think of Tala finally meeting Marlon’s side of the family, of my mom and sister’s excitement at being with her again, of her baptism, of her being introduced to a circle of people who love her beyond just Mama and Papa.

I think of Razon’s halo-halo and Mary Grace ensaymada, of National Bookstore and Landmark, of Uniqlo and Muji. I think of singing at Simbang Gabi with my Ateneo Chamber Singers family, of vitamin D coming FROM THE SKY (not a bottle!), of having an abundance of people to watch over her while Marlon and I get some time to ourselves. I think of El Nido (!!!) for our sixth wedding anniversary and I think… well, that’s got to be worth it. Right?

Here goes. Deep breath in… wish us luck, and see you in Manila!

P.S. Know any great places to eat and to go with a baby? Leave a comment and I will be eternally grateful.

Super Typhoon Yolanda: How to help

Dear readers, I’m postponing my post on the reader survey and giveaway winners to make this short announcement.

Thank you to everyone who asked about my family in the Philippines; they are safe and sound, and live far away from the worst hit areas. Although I’m far from home, I monitored the news as super typhoon Yolanda (known internationally as Haiyan) destroyed the Visayas last Friday.

The reports of death and devastation that began to trickle in over the weekend were heartbreaking, and they’re not over yet. I can’t even begin to imagine how the people of Panay, Samar, Leyte and the other afflicted areas can begin to rebuild their lives.

The Philippine Disaster Recovery Foundation (PDRF), formed by private corporations and NGOs after Typhoon Ondoy in 2009, accepts donations for the rebuilding of Bohol, Cebu and Zamboanga via its Brick by Brick campaign online.

Gawad Kalinga accepts donations online for its Operation Walang Iwanan.

These are only a few of the many options for aid; I’ve chosen organizations that Marlon and I support, and that accept online donations. It’s also important to me that any help I give, or ask others to give, reach the people for whom they were intended; these are organizations that I trust (wala akong tiwala sa mga kurakot, sorry!) to make sure help gets through.

This article from Rappler and this one from CNN list more organizations mobilizing resources for the victims of Yolanda.

Pinoy friends, I hope you and your loved ones are safe. Bangon, Pilipinas! 

Maternity style: Tropical edition

By the time I flew home for the holidays, I was tired of piling on ten million layers before going out. So I was looking forward to wearing my “real” clothes (which is how I think of my summer clothes) and feeling like myself again for three weeks.

What I loved about dressing for pregnancy in the tropics:

  • Getting to wear sandals. Pretty toes, yay.
  • Packing only two pairs of shoes, because staying with my mom and sister means a bottomless shoe and accessory closet—and a trip to Landmark means shopping for cheap flats!
  • Putting away my thick, woolly maternity tights and seeing my legs again

What I didn’t love:

  • THE HEAT. OMG. Being pregnant, your body temperature is already higher because of increased blood circulation and being plunged into tropical heat does not help. At all. On my last few nights, I couldn’t sleep unless I had both the aircon (set to 21 degrees) and the electric fan on. December showed no mercy to this pregnant mama.
  • Bloating and expanding because of said heat. I didn’t go up a shoe size, thank goodness, but I gained FIVE POUNDS of water—which I lost the day I returned to wintry Amsterdam.
  • Humidity-triggered frizzies. Good thing there’s The Twist!
  • Sweating your way to that dewy (read: oily), no-makeup look. I found myself quite startled to see how much makeup women pile on in Manila (some women really need to lay off the foundation!) until I remembered that it melts off in minutes.
  • Being forcibly reminded of how everyone dresses in the same preppy/simple girl uniform. I lost count of the number of neat ponytails, Longchamp Le Pliage bags and round pearl earrings I saw in my two weeks back home!

All that aside, what I loved most about dressing for the heat was getting to dig out some of my favorite outfits from storage—like the printed vintage shirtdress I hadn’t seen since August…


and being able to wear my normal, non-maternity clothes… even in my third trimester.

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Sofitel staycation

Disaster struck when I returned to Amsterdam from Manila: my entire hard drive crashed. I last backed up right after learning I was pregnant, which means all my digital keepsakes from my entire pregnancy—ultrasounds, weekly belly photos, videos—except for what’s on this blog, are gone. I don’t want to think too much about it, it hurts my heart.

Thank heavens for small blessings. While trying to piece together what little I had left, I discovered the pictures from our fifth wedding anniversary still in my SD card. Marlon and I like to celebrate anniversaries at the beach, but I couldn’t bear another flight on top of two long-haul ones between Manila and Amsterdam. So this year, we opted for a weekend staycation at the Sofitel Manila, which we’ve never been to and had an appealing resort-in-the-city feel.

I’m so glad I still have pictures to remember this wonderful weekend: breakfast in bed, with a side of something special

Sofitel anniversary breakfast in bed

which turned into lazy afternoons (we had two!) by Sofitel’s gorgeous pool, lined with tall coconut trees and directly facing Manila Bay.Sofitel Manila pool

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