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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!

Yay, it’s the weekend!

I don’t know about you, but I’m thrilled that it’s Friday!

Yay Tala!

Yay! Yay! Yay!

It’s been a tiring week. Marlon went on a special five-day management training course that had him out the door early and home late every day. We’ve barely seen each other and, because he’s such a hands-on dad, I’ve really felt his absence. I conserved my energy at the start of the week, but mid-week the discovery of an unexpected pocket of time led to what I can only call a complete brain malfunction: I decided to start working out again.

If you know Jillian Michaels (“America’s Toughest Trainer™”) or the concept of HIIT (high intensity interval training), then you’ll know that returning to such a demanding workout after 18 months (!) reduced me to a sorry, whimpering carcass. Not the most brilliant move when I was basically a single mom for all of Tala’s waking hours this week. I had to pick Tala up from the gastouder right after my first workout,  and while heaving my concrete limbs plus 8 kilos (17.6 pounds) of wriggling baby up the stairs, I thought I would never make it.

But I did make it up the stairs, and I made it to the weekend. Go me!

I’m looking forward to much-needed rest and family time for the next two days. I’ll be back on Monday to announce the winners of my birthday giveaway and tell you a bit about the results of the first-ever Currystrumpet reader survey. I’ll also share a creative project I’ve been working on for the past few weeks and a high school hobby that I’ve reconnected with.

For everyone back home who is weathering Super Typhoon Yolanda, you are in my thoughts. Stay safe and have a good weekend!

Birthday giveaway + reader survey!

Tomorrow, October 26, is my birthday. Yay!

As he does every year, my amazing hubby has been dropping hints about his birthday plans for me. If they involve good food and time with the two loves of my life, I’ll be more than happy.

I don’t have any deep, philosophical musings about turning 32. I just want to enjoy what I cherish most: my home and my family. I could do that any day of the year, really, but tomorrow I will savor it, and be grateful for it, just that extra bit more.

What I do have is a birthday request.

I’ve been feeling the need to add a little zing to my blogging routine and freshen things up around here. I’m putting a lot of thought into the blog these days to make some new and exciting things happen… soon.

Now I’m going to go out on a limb and do something I’ve never done: get you involved. Yes, you, my readers! I’d love to know your thoughts on some blog-related matters, and well, just get to know you you a little bit better. I’ve been blogging for so long, I feel a bit embarrassed that I never had the courage to do this sooner.

So for my birthday, would you click here to answer a short reader survey? You’ll make me super happy!

Birthday giveaway

To say thanks and to make it fun (it is my birthday after all), I’m giving away a few goodies from some of my favorite neighborhood shops.

I will choose two readers at random, who will each win:

  • a cool Aztec print notebook from the whimsical design shop Rare Bird,
  • a 4R-sized recycled leather envelope from leather goods and accessories boutique Cellarrich (one reader will receive a deep purple version, not in photo)
  • a hand-set, letterpressed card from Typique, a wonderful traditional printer that’s had the same address on the Haarlemmerdijk since 1967 (a real Jordaan treasure!),
  • all enclosed in an I Love Tea canvas tote bag from Tea Bar.

Click here to take the reader survey and join the giveaway. Both survey and giveaway will be open until November 8, Friday.

I’m really looking forward to your answers. Thank you in advance!

Merry Christmas!

I found this funny little snapshot in my mom’s stash of old photos. This holiday greeting goes out from the little girl in me, to the child in each and every one of you.

Wishing you joy, laughter, peace, and all good things. Have a very merry Christmas!

Liebster Blog Award

I returned from Granada to find the nicest email from Gudy Herder of Eclectic Trends, who guest blogged here about brunch in Barcelona. She nominated me for the Liebster Blog Award, a blogger’s way of saying “You’re one of my favorites! Good job!” (Liebster is German for “favorite”). Thank you, Gudy!

With the Liebster Blog Award comes 11 questions from Gudy, and the duty to pass on the award to blogs with a relatively small following. So here goes…

*where do you live?

Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

*cat or dog?

Cat! Rogue is our favorite souvenir from Singapore.

*what do you love about blogging?

I love documenting my life, sharing good things, and telling stories. I love searching for the right words to capture a mood or feeling, and knowing that those words land somewhere. Only recently did I really get into the social aspect of blogging: the fun of connecting with friends all over the world.

*what is the most embarassing situation you ever had?

I’ve had many, but the one that comes to mind is when I was running down a slope towards the cafeteria in my high school. My best friend and I were holding hands and she was running too fast for me, so I let her go.

Then I rolled—yes, rolled—down the slope and landed flat on my face in front of the whole school! The previous weekend, I had just won a school pageant so all eyes were on me. Or at least it felt like it. I wanted to disappear.

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Thinking of you, Daddy

Sometimes I feel like I’m still a little girl who’s following you around. Sometimes I think I can almost catch you, but not for as long as I would like.

At the Trevi Fountain in Rome: Daddy in the 70s, me in 2011

And although I never got to know you, that doesn’t mean I can’t be proud and grateful to be your daughter.

Even if your father is no longer with you, you can still make him something or tell his story. And to be sure, we all know more than one father—husbands, in-laws, friends all count. So shower the dads in your life with love today. Don’t just wish them a Happy Father’s Day… make it a Happy Father’s Day!

Sisters who rock

Sisters rock! Especially mine, who celebrates her 3xth 30th 26th birthday today!

My sister & I at ages 8 and 3, photo by Mom; then, at ages 25 and 20, photo by Anton Sheker

My sister’s name is Sheila, but she’s always been Ate (“older sister”) to me. My ate rocks, and she always has. At an age when most teens wouldn’t be caught dead with their baby sisters, she always let me tag along with her and her friends (she was 16, I was 11). She helped me jump over the fence at a Bon Jovi concert, brought me into the awesome universe of Robotech, let me wear her vintage 60s dresses from Bambang Market (in 1998 when nobody our age was wearing vintage), even introduced me to my first boyfriend (let’s say that was a good thing).

She took on huge responsibilities at an early age with no questions asked, and supported me throughout college while building a stellar career. She has all the classic big sister traits—good, sensible, successful and responsible—combined with the boundless energy and adventurous, fun-loving spirit of a younger sister. (Especially when it comes to a night of partying, when I become not just the older sister, but a total granny.)

My sister and I have shared everything from clothes to late-night conversations, to international mommy handovers and mad dashes through airports. She shares because she has a big and loyal heart, and I’m so lucky to be one of the people whom I know always has a place in it.

Happy birthday, Ate!

Speaking of sisters, let me leave you with some weekend reading from another pair of sisters who rock. Thea and Toni Neubauer publish sisterMagazine, an online mag for “active, widely interested and digitally living women.” Covering topics that range from food, lifestyle and fashion to technology, mobile developments and start-ups, sisterMAG is bursting with content and is beautifully designed to boot. You can see for yourself by browsing sisterMAG’s second issue right here.

I met Thea and Toni briefly at The Hive in Berlin and was blown away by their style and smarts. So I’m really looking forward to meeting them again this weekend at the Meet the Blogger event here in Amsterdam.

I’ll be back after the weekend with details on Meet the Blogger and a week’s worth of posts on beautiful, beautiful Florence (yay!). In the meantime, happy reading… and happy weekend!

Currystrumpet on Bloglovin

I know some of you followed the old blog on Bloglovin. Well, now you can follow this new blog with Bloglovin, too!

Meeting Chuvaness

I can’t remember when I started getting addicted to Chuvaness. I think I had just moved to Singapore and was pretty homesick. Chuvaness was one of my connections to home, but soon became a thoroughly engrossing read for reasons beyond that: unconventional tastes, writing that’s both conversational and no-frills direct, a strong and unique point of view and a love for great design. 
Cecile Zamora-van Straten’s posts about her fascinating life in Manila, filled with fashionable friends, indulgent travels, and a happy home with her Dutch chef husband and three sons, soon became—and still is—one of my regular online haunts. Her blog inspired me to start seeing “hard-to-understand” monochromatic clothing in a new light, and introduced me to stores like Bleach Catastrophe and brands like Muji (life-changing!). I know I’m not the only one who’s been influenced by her—the “Chuvaness effect” is an acknowledged phenomenon in the Philippine blogosphere.
So when I sent her an email inviting her to meet up on her family trip Holland this summer, I didn’t think Cecile (the Cecile, in my mind) would actually agree. But she did! And that is how I found myself on a train to Utrecht one sunny spring afternoon to meet one of my favorite bloggers. 
For a woman with a huge online presence and bold (often controversial) opinions, Cecile is tiny and soft-spoken in real life. More importantly, I quickly realized that she is a fag hag just like me (mabuhay ang babaeng bading!). That made it refreshingly easy to get along with her and just hang out, walking the charming streets of Utrecht. 
We went window shopping… and Cecile did some real (I mean, serious) shopping, as she eventually ended up buying this stunning, huge painting by Dutch artist Karin Vermeer.
I met her family: chef Jeroen, Ben and Markus. Not only them, but a whole bunch of Dutch relatives to boot…
… who dragged her (physically) into a family photo. Funny.
“Meeting your family is like meeting characters from a book!” I told her. I feel like I’ve been reading about them for years, so finally getting to meet them was pretty surreal. Especially when she instructed her sons to “kiss Tita.” I’m highly averse to being called Tita at the (relatively young) age of 30, so I asked: “Pwede bang Ate na lang?” Apparently, the boys prefer Tita, so Tita it is.
Being married myself, one of my favorite things about the afternoon was seeing Cecile and Jeroen, one of the blogosphere’s cutest couples, together in the flesh. They have cute nicknames for each other, and Jeroen takes her hand while crossing the street; all these sweet little in-between moments that make a marriage, which you don’t see on a blog. When we stepped into Albert Heijn, I felt like I was going grocery shopping with a hipper version of Ned and Alice Wakefield (or your favorite fictional couple).
And of course, how could I leave out finally meeting the famous Yaya Bhing?
I don’t know many yayas who get to go to Europe, use North Face outerwear and Muji luggage, and have a travel allowance in Euros. Bongga! Naturally, we had to have a picture together. My only regret is that I didn’t ask her to braid my hair.
I walked back with Cecile to her apartment close to the city center, and spent a few minutes outside just talking and hanging out. She was bundled up in her chic mom/travel/cold weather uniform and I had to take off my coat because I felt warm (it was about 10℃, but sunny). 

Finding out how many common friends and acquaintances we have reminded me how small a Pinoy’s world can be. “How come you know everyone?” she asked me. That’s Manila for you—there’s always a connection somewhere. Besides, who doesn’t love off-the-record chismis ? ;)

Meet the Van Stratens!

It was one of those times that can be accurately be described as “surreal, but nice.” Thanks, Chuvaness, for a fun afternoon. Hope to see you back in Holland… but till then, there’s the Internet!

My mother’s daughter

My mom turned 63 years young yesterday! Happy birthday, Mom.
This is my mom in her forties, when I was in grade school. In the photo, she is the only woman in a mining expedition in Mindanao, wearing a necklace and (what I suspect to be) South Sea pearl earrings while traipsing around the mountains of Agusan del Norte.

This is not the kind of thing that a lot of moms do, so this picture I feel perfectly captures the kind of woman that she is. She made a lot of bold decisions and tough choices, and while I’m not quite as brave (and circumstances have not tested me as severely as they did her), I still try to push myself now and then. I thought it was my thirst for adventure, but it may just be that I am my mother’s daughter.

Then there’s me. Sometimes—not often, but it happens—I still feel like the little girl trying to wear her mother’s clothes (I’m wearing her scarf in this photo, by the way) and follow in her footsteps. While we are vastly different—because she has let me be—the older I get, the more similarities I notice between us, just like in these two pictures.

More importantly, the older I get, the more I understand her. (Although she still drives me crazy sometimes.) My mom was widowed early, less than 10 years after she married my dad; after being married for just four years, I have only begun to understand just what she lost and what a herculean accomplishment it was to have rebuilt her life after that, with her family on her shoulders no less.

Not only did she rebuild her life, but she made a good life for us too. And because she did, I am able to, among many other things, indulge my wanderlust, pursue new and different things, stand tall and smile brightly—just as I am in this picture.

So, it’s her birthday, but she is the gift. Again—happy birthday, Mom and I love you!