A Tree for Alex

We are the Trees.

Our dark and leafy glade

Bands the bright earth with softer mysteries. Beneath us changed

and tamed the seasons run:

In burning zones, we build against the sun

Long centuries of shade.

–Mary Colborne-Veel, Song of the Trees

Alex Tree

On a windy afternoon in mid-March, we gathered in the grandfather’s garden. Spring was in the air, casting a glow on violet krokusse blooms and clusters of snowy-white schneeglöckchen.

Opa had readied shovels, the wheelbarrow, and a couple of cold beers.

Plus, a potted fruit tree, bought yesterday.

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Four years ago, he had planted an apple tree for our son, Karsten.

“All of the children born in this town,” he explained, “get an apple tree planted in their honor, following an old tradition.”

And although Karsten’s younger sister (now two years old) was born a world away, in the Philippines, he’d decided that she should also have her own tree in the garden now.

Well, Alex had decided it in fact, that she should have one, as she pestered Opa last week: “A tree for Alex?? …a tree for Alex!”

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Karsten’s Apfelbaum, now with sturdy trunk and young branches shooting high into the sky, was not bearing fruit yet. It would still be a couple of years, Opa said.

Still, it seemed to me that time had flown so quickly. What was before, just a thin, scrawny stick, had grown into an entire life-giving creation. With its tiny lime-green leaves and branches curving upwards, it climbed gracefully, silently. Higher, higher into the sky. Standing quite a lot taller than Karsten now.

The kids joined in on the tree-planting—even Alex, with her miniature shovel and toy wheelbarrow. Not complaining of the biting wind, because she knew, today was something special.

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An hour later, the new sapling was in, secured by firm and fertile soil all around; held in place by a second upright log.

Robuster Pfirsich—a peach tree!

A few years from now, if our adventures bring us back to celebrate another spring together, Alex’s tree will perhaps have blossomed, and we’ll be enjoying plump, juicy peaches. Together with ripe red apples from her brother’s tree.

Two lives–growing simultaneously, yet individually. Two trees, someday bearing fruit, someday greater than we now know.

A Light exists in Spring
Not present on the Year
At any other period —
When March is scarcely here

–Emily Dickinson

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For Alexandra

journal alexandraMy one and only daughter turns one year old today.

I haven’t considered buying her a material gift, first off because she’s too young to appreciate anything that isn’t edible—and second, because she’ll be getting a whole lot of presents from relatives at the big party in a few hours (she shares the same birth date as her German grandfather).

But I have decided to do one thing, starting now: I’ve begun a journal, just for her.

My thoughts, notes and musings to her. I want to record these memories, our times together, what she knew,journal2 what she loved, what she did, what she said (and how she said it), what she attempted, and what she accomplished…how she cried, how she touched my heart, how she frustrated me, and angered me, and loved me

…and how enormously I loved her.

baby girlOf course it will be many years till she reads it, but it’s important to start recording these moments now.

As I began to write in this journal, I realized it was also what I wanted as a child. I wanted to know my mother’s reflections…I never knew of her hopes or dreams—whether for myself or for her—and some of the early years of my life are lost with no record of those times (my mom and dad split up when I was five).

But it’s okay.

I have made my way through life with experience for a teacher, and I know now that my parents both love me unconditionally. Still, sometimes, I wish there were more of my mom (in those faraway moments of 1981) to remember.

So, I am gifting my daughter something I never had—insight to her mother’s feelings, dreams, and desires.

…unspoken thoughts, meant only for her.

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Whether she is 13 or 31, or 50 or past then, she will know that her imperfect mom still found a way to pursue a perfect love—the one she found with her.

And perhaps she will realize then, the incredible gift of life to my soul that she, my Alexandra, gave me.

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Waking up in Wonderland

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Sleep-ins, as all moms know, become something of a distant memory once a baby is born.

But today, I welcome my 8-month old’s wake up call, her whining to go outside.

Because today we are in the “City of Pines”—that lovely, cool climate escape called Baguio. I slip into some comfy strolling clothes, and then push her out into the sweet-scented open.

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The breakfast buffet at the hotel’s restaurant smells of buttery croissants, homemade jams, and finely brewed coffee. That, mixed with Asian aromas from the giant spread: garlic-spiced longganisa, honey soy chicken, fish fillets and a large pot of steaming congee. I spy salted egg, banggus and ampalaya ensalada…

But we’re not up this early to eat—not just yet. We’ll wait for the sleeping boys and then pig out later. I’ve packed my camera, so we’ll go revel in this morning hour.

We catch mist rising; cascading streaks of early light. Hints of a perfect day awaiting us, its sun-showers spraying through a forest of impossibly tall pines.

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More pretty things on the pathway: beds of flowers, decked with frosty Christmas beads and giant glass baubles, a wishing pond with dancing kois and invisible water nymphs. At its bottom, a thousand coins glisten.

Dare I make a wish?

And still more pretty things: Paved up-hills and down-hills, winding roads to travel on foot. Further on, we overlook a silent lake. There’s a sprawling golf course in the distance, nestled in this carpeted playground of vibrant green.

Baguio city, tucked away in the Cordillera mountain ranges,  was once the recreation destination for US soldiers, when they held bases around the country. Because of its high altitude, the temperature is always pleasantly cool. Today, it’s just 17 degrees, a refreshing change from the usual humidity we’re used to.

My baby basks.

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She is silent, enjoying, taking in the peace and stillness of this wonderland. Every now and then, she coos a little, and when the hotel staff greets her with a good morning, she eyes them suspiciously before breaking just a half smile from an upturned, pouty lip.

She’s a bit suplada like that.

I scold her for being unfriendly, but maybe she just needs to get out more. We turn down towards an open road, continuing our stroll until it’s time to sleep again.

And this time, I welcome her dreamy midday slumber with a nap myself.

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As partial payment for a project I did for the Philippines Dept. of Tourism this year, I was given a four-day complimentary stay at The Manor. This charming luxury hotel is located at Camp John Hay and—besides other delicious things—serves the most amazing gourmet salads.

http://www.campjohnhay.ph/

My Beautifuls

Yes, it’s much more fun dressing up (and shopping for) a baby GIRL. 🙂

juni3Four month goes–and grows–so fast!

juni1Her she is rocking her Mohawk…

alexandra.juni2And last week, getting her used to riding in local shuttle vans, trikes, jeepneys and buses–we did it all! (Here we are at the Victory Liner bus stop in Pasay, Manila, getting ready for a four-hour bus ride!)

pasay road2The last week was a mix of frustration, exhaustion, exhilaration, and success.

The short story is that we succeeded in getting our daughter’s German passport from the German embassy in Manila. The long story involved a whole lot of papers, shuttling back and forth for hours of bus rides, jeepney rides, tricycle rides and traffic, through flooded cities while dodging typhoons.

But at the end of crazy days, smiles from your children make everything worth it. And waking up to them, too!

morningHappy Weekend!

Birthday Notes and Memories

Last Tuesday, I woke up 32 years old.

In those early morning hours, I wrote a little, reflecting on my past, present, and future. And I started counting the birthday gifts I have been given:

I am most thankful for MY CHILDREN. Seeing them every day, watching them grow, teaching them, and having all the time in the world to love them.

TIME is on my side. That is a huge gift. Time is at my disposal. Time to work; time to play; time to love; time to feel; time to create.

FREEDOM is mine. Another gift. No oppression; no riots, no civil or world wars where I live. Freedom to connect through the internet—something not possible years ago. Freedom to live life how I choose to create it.

…my son peeks over my shoulder as he wakes and sits up in bed with me. “Whoa,” he says, “That is a lot of words!”

WORDS. Another gift. Thank you, Lord, for the gift of words which you have given me. You have enabled me to speak, to write, to communicate with words. This gift is mine; let me use it for good.

HEALTH. I have never been hospitalized for an illness, nor have my children. No accidents, through all those years. And every day, I am given another 24 hours to enjoy living with a healthy, breathing body.

After these, there are others; the list could go on… TRAVEL…FRIENDS…A JOB…MONEY TO PAY THE GROWING BILLS…A HOUSE TO LIVE IN.

Lord, I thank you for all these birthday gifts, and ask you to guide me through another year. Keep me challenged, changing, growing, accepting of all that life has still to give.

Last year's birthday celebrations, I pigged out on German food with my boys!
Last year’s birthday celebrations, I pigged out on German food with my boys!

Year Highlights:

14 May—On my 31st birthday (after an early celebration in Stuttgart, Germany, we drove to Italy and arrived in our new home on Lake Como, possibly one of the prettiest places on earth.

The winding, still snowy road through the Alpine border into Northern Italy--our car was packed gypsy-style!
The winding, still snowy road through the Alpine border into Northern Italy–our car was packed gypsy-style!

In Italy, life was simple and good (Read about it here.) I got back into painting and even sold some of my work in this amazing, picture-perfect place. Every artist’s dream.

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Summer on Lake Como when my mermaid friend came for a visit 🙂

Even though my hands were full with a toddler, and I got pregnant (yes, Alexandra was made in Italy!), the desire of my heart to get back to paid-writing in some form was granted through work-from-home jobs for Philippine Airlines Inflight magazine and the Department of Tourism’s new website.

Growing belly in September
Growing belly in September

At this time, we also launched Lifestyle Planet, a start-up website magazine now growing rapidly! I’m so excited for the future of this 3rd baby of mine! (Go to the link now!)

My little man, always in awe
My little man, always in awe

By the time we got back to Saxony, vibrant Autumn colors had arrived—my absolute favorite European season. And then, we even got some early snow!

Snow in Sachsen
Snow in Sachsen

…but I’m really not a deep-in-winter kind of girl…thankfully, we made it back to sunny Southeast Asia in time to have a tropical Christmas. Reunited with my one dozen brothers and sisters, Karsten got to meet his very young aunties and uncles, and experience again the fun chaos that is Manila.

7 months pregnant in December--Karsten turned 3 on December 22!
7 months pregnant in December–Karsten turned 3 on December 22!

We kicked off 2013 outside the metro, where we now stay (again, temporarily), just a few minutes’ drive from the beach and bay. We came here to have the baby in a more tranquil place, and to ensure that our kids had clean, fresh air to breathe.

Boys at play
Boys at play

Alexandra was born on the 1st of March, 2013, by scheduled C-section, even heavier than her brother. Even though it was a surprise getting her, and not in any of our plans, I’m glad for our beautiful girl.

Picture taken at less than two months old
Picture taken at less than two months old

I don’t know now where the footprints in the sand will lead.

It seems that change is coming very soon again. Story of our life.

But as another year says hello, I am just thankful to have made it this far. I’m setting new goals, dreaming new dreams, but also trying to cherish the everyday simple. The 5pm walks through nature; the crazy screaming (newborns!) nights; the children; more time.

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Last year was not without its trials, tears and challenges. The roads were many, both literal and in my mind. And as my family grows, so do the daily obstacles. I’m hoping to keep taking this one day at a time, while still setting long term goals and reaching them. And I’m grateful for everyone who has been a part of this journey.

Sunsets by the bay
Sunsets by the bay

I can’t believe it’s been more than three decades! Can’t wait to see what’s around the corner. Cheers to new beginnings! New life, new love, new adventures!

Beer, anyone??
Beer, anyone??

Heroic Vs. Happy: Notes on Not Breastfeeding

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Lago di Garda, Italy, 2010

As I shuffle around the house fixing things in the kitchen, I can’t help but notice the large sign on the baby-formula can sitting on the counter:

Breastfeeding is best for babies up to two years and beyond.”

And beyond?

Are they crazy? No way am I having a two year-old yanking on my sore boobs for 24 months, AND BEYOND!

I breastfed my firstborn for about 5 months before going back to the office, where it was too much trouble to pump milk every couple of hours while your officemates wait in line for the bathroom.

I remember, shortly after that, watching a local TV show, where some celebrity dad was going on and on about the benefits of breastfeeding. I was like, “Whatever, you don’t know anything about the pain your poor wife is going through”. I guess it’s not something anyone can understand until they have experienced themselves, having the baby attached to them every two hours, the uncomfortable breasts, the fever-like feelings if you are out and miss a feed, the bursting ducts inside, the general pain and discomfort.–Not to mention that you can’t wear normal clothes!

Breastfeeding is really an unselfish thing to do, and of course we know it’s best for our babies, with so many benefits for them. But recently, I’ve realized that there are many things we do unselfishly, just because we are told to, and society expects us to do them.

Breastfeeding is one of those things.

My newborn is only two months old, but since we started her on formula every few feeds (it seemed that my own milk was not filling her up), something else has happened:

I’ve become happier, and so has she.

Today, when I was home alone, she slept a total of seven hours straight, when previously, she’d only sleep for half-hour intervals before wanting to latch on me again. In those seven hours, I painted a giant canvas, ate a decent meal, played with my son, written and edited articles for work and this blog, and relaxed.

I’ve been feeling great.

On the other hand, there is always some sense of guilt—is it okay to do this, just because it makes me feel better? Because I am seeing so many benefits in my own life? Is it right to feel ok about being “normal” again, getting to sleep, being happier, calmer, stronger, less stressed?

If part of the point of breastfeeding is the bonding with baby, then let me say this: the time I do spend with my child now is more relaxing; I enjoy her more; I am bonding better. I am not in pain or discomfort.  I am able to go out without worrying that the errands will take more than two hours, or that I’ll come home sick, or that I’m failing my child by being away.

I know that as parents, we all want the best for our babies. But sometimes, that starts with finding what is best for you.

What makes you happiest as a parent is going to directly influence your child, and your home atmosphere.

If only society didn’t place guilt on mothers who also just want the best for their families. Like having a C-Section as opposed to natural birth; or taking the epidural instead of suffering and martyring through it.

Personal opinion: if you’ve tried and found out that breastfeeding isn’t going so well, it’s okay to relax, try the formula, and see how your life goes.

My eldest son, weaned off my breast at 5 months, is completely healthy and happy three years later. He is scary smart, and multi-talented. I am so proud of him.

It also helps to realize where there should be leeway for personal choice and our own happiness, so that we can move past those feelings of guilt and focus on loving our children, for all their precious childhood years—and beyond!

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Did you stop breastfeeding before six months? If so, what were your feelings when making that decision? Do you think there are other areas where we as parents allow guilt to hold us back from loving life?

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Disclaimer: In writing this, I’m not knocking those who desire to breastfeed their babies for longer, and who have made the personal choice to do so. I applaud them. And I support the government’s efforts to encourage breastfeeding in mothers countrywide. This post is simply for those mothers who could do without the guilt, with knowing that it’s okay to follow your maternal instincts, too. Your body knows best.

Two Week Wonder

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Life has been on pause for the last two weeks, as I’ve slowly recovered from the surgery. I’ve had to depend on others to do things for me, accept that time must move slowly these days, and stay awake at nights for my tiny one.

It’s taken a new turn, this twist in adventures—and yet somehow, it doesn’t seem strange; just the natural flow of things.

It was my son who first broke the news to me. “I have a baby sister!” he declared, one sunny day in Lake Como, nine months ago.

“No you don’t,” I half-frowned at him.

But he did, already. I just didn’t know it.

Trusting his instincts, I asked him, shortly before the birth, “What color is your baby sister’s hair? Is it blonde, like yours?”

“No,” he stated matter-of-factly, without looking up from his puzzle. “It’s black. Schwarz. Like yours.”

And so it is.

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Now, she’s here, the little lady bug, who sleeps so much I am secretly hoping she stays this quiet and lets me do my work. Her features already take on quite a mature look, though she is just weeks old.

And when she smiles in her sleep, it is the most beautiful thing on earth.

I told you, this is my journey.

Yes, I miss the days of past, of ziplining across gorges while travelling provincial terrains; of backpacking with just my partner, before there were babies; the days of going on a whim, and risking a lot without a second thought.

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I know someday, I’ll return to Africa, to the tribal regions of the Philippines, to the vineyards of Tuscany, to intoxicating India. But by then, I’ll have my new travelers with me, little feet marking their own path.

And by then, the journeys—as a family—will be even better.

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Now, something for smiles: Tina Fey’s A Mother’s Prayer for Her Daughter