Yellow blaze

Ivory Hut: Yellow Blaze

One gray summer day, in a part of Connecticut I’d never been to before, I took my mom hiking up a mountain.

We drove up to Mt. Tom State Park, saw a sign pointing to a trail, and started walking. It was a cool morning and we explored the woods, happy to be alone together. I gave myself permission to feel and act like a three-year-old, happily going anywhere at all as long as Mama was holding my hand. I may have even skipped a little.

But soon our steps slowed, became more hesitant. The path felt less beaten, and before us was a mass of tall grass that looked like nothing had touched it but mist and brief bursts of sunlight. We looked at each other, not knowing which way to go. Finally, we turned around and found our way back to the car, certain we had gone the wrong way.

As we drove to the welcome center, we saw a young man, clean cut and walking with a purpose. He seemed to know exactly what he was doing and where he was going.

“Excuse me, sir. Can you please tell us where the hiking trails are?”

“Just follow the yellow blaze.”

“I’m sorry, could you say that again, please? Follow the yellow what?”

“The yellow blaze. Just look for the yellow blaze.”

“Oh. Okay. And where do we find this yellow place?” (Obviously, I had no idea what he was talking about.)

“Oh, they’re everywhere. Once you start looking for them, you can’t miss them.”

As we started heading back to the path, I noticed a small sign that said exactly what the young man had told us. “Trails marked by yellow blaze.” So that’s what he meant, I thought to myself. Not that it made any more sense to us. What in the world is a yellow blaze?

Then we saw it: bright yellow paint on a tree trunk. We walked up to it, wondering how we could have missed it before. Then we walked a little further, and saw it again. And again. And again. On trees. Rocks. Half-downed poles. Remnants of an old bridge. Now we walked even faster, no longer uneasy about getting lost or not being able to find our way back.

Here! This is the way to the top of the mountain! We were sure of it now.

Every so often we’d come to a fork with no yellow blaze, and one of us would stay put while the other walked along one path, looking for the next yellow blaze, turning back if none could be found so we could take the other path instead.

Ivory Hut: Yellow Blaze

And so I learned that hiking is more than simply putting one foot in front of the other over questionable terrain, occasionally swatting mysterious insects from your skin, testing the ground you walk on with a stick as you make your way toward an unknown and unseen summit. It can feel like a lonely and scary-at-times adventure, and unless you know where or how to look, it’s easy to miss all the signs of help along the way.

As we neared the top of the mountain, I was struck by the unintentional meaningfulness of exploring this unknown area with my mom, keeping an eye out for the yellow blaze. I couldn’t help thinking that we all need a yellow blaze in our life, someone or something to signal when we’re going the right way, when we’ve wandered off too far, when it’s time to head back and start over. For some, it may be their faith, their moral compass. An abstract ideal. Their image of a future self.

But for me, on that gray summer morning in Connecticut, I was grateful for the realization that I was hiking with my yellow blaze. And wherever I may be in life, all I really need to do is look around for signs of her. On trees. Rocks. In listless dreams and stubborn hopes. In values so tightly tied around who I am, they almost smell and sound like me. In wistful memories and promised tomorrows. And sometimes, even in regret. Just follow the yellow blaze. As long as I can find where I am in relation to her, I know I’ll never be lost, I’m never alone, and no matter where I’m headed, I know I’ll eventually get there.



The Ivory Hut: Roots (Chiang Rai photo)

I think I’ve been wanting to write a book since I was six years old.

(I almost said five years old, but I’ve been noticing that five seems to be the default age my memory coughs up when I want to replace the tired “as far as I can remember” phrase with an actual number. Not that nothing ever happened when I was five. I know for a fact that I began playing the piano at five. I probably also told my first lie when I was five. “Yes, Mama, I practiced piano today.” Five is a safe age to use because it feels believable to have been at least marginally self-aware at that age. But if I keep using five for all my “since I was a child” stories, I’m afraid I’ll wear it out. Only so many things could have happened when I was five, I know. No kid could have been that busy. So today, I’ll say that I’ve been wanting to write a book since I was six.)

I’ve always been fascinated by words. Words and numbers, really. But especially words. I suspect it’s in my genes. When my parents first met, what drew them to each other was the fact that my father would begin quoting a random and obscure passage from his favorite author, and my mother would so effortlessly continue where he left off. Growing up, I read every book in our library, many of them twice because we owned two copies. Later, I learned that when my parents married and merged libraries, they realized their collections were almost identical. So what they thought was fate and immutable destiny was instead the result of having shopped at the same bookstore.

I loved words and how they made me feel. Words in love songs, singing about the kind of love I couldn’t wait to feel. I must have been seven or eight years old when I wrote my first love letter. His name was Romeo (I kid you not), and everyday after lunch, we left each other little gifts: stickers, rulers, drawings, letters. I remember liking him so much that I was certain this was what the songs were singing about. Yes, this was the truest of true loves, and I believed it with all the conviction of a second grader. So I found my favorite Anne Murray song and wrote those words down for him. I remember the concern in my parents’ faces when they read the letter, and I couldn’t understand what was so wrong about telling a boy that I was just another woman in love, a kid out of school. In hindsight, the song probably wasn’t appropriate for my age, but what did I know? I was seven. And I was in love, like I heard on the Mellow Touch radio station all the time.

From that early age, language served as my refuge, my outlet, my best friend and advocate, my favorite companion. I wrote more as I grew older. I wrote songs and poetry that I knew would probably touch only me, but I wrote them anyway. I had to. It was probably the mathematical side of me, wanting to somehow defy the immeasurability of emotion. If I could only identify the parameters defining whatever it was that tugged at my soul, then maybe I could explain myself to me. And even when that didn’t happen, maybe it was enough that I could string some words together in a way that made my insides jump, or twitch, or at the very least sit up and take notice.

I love many other things, too. Like photography. Music. Just about anything that has to do with food. But it is writing that brings me the most … contentment, I think, is the best way I can describe it. Happiness too, but mostly contentment. It’s the same kind of contentment I get after solving a very difficult problem. When I was a programmer, I always strove to write efficient, elegant code. Code that other people can read and immediately understand what I’m trying to accomplish. And I guess that’s how I strive to write, too.

So before I veer too far from what would be considered efficient and elegant, let me just say that I’m working toward contentment. Yes, I’ve been wanting to write a book since I was six, but maybe that’s just because, back in the ’70s, blogs didn’t exist.

This, in a sense, is a return to my roots, if you will. I created this space for the primary reason of writing and somehow, along the way, that intent was cluttered with expectation and meandered along the side streets of diversion. My favorite posts remain the ones I wrote for the sheer pleasure—or painful necessity—of writing. So I will write more posts with just words. Sometimes a few words masquerading as poetry, and sometimes a lot of words. Whatever it takes to express when something old is remembered, or when something new grasps what already is inside me and pulls, pushes, twists, and tosses it about until the change takes. Because, if you allow them enough space, words have the insistent power to transform you.

And maybe, just maybe, when all the words have been tallied and collated and printed on odd-sized pages stapled together, maybe I will have written my book after all.


Of Hope and Expectation, and Finding Color Again

Bangkok flower market. From 'Of Hope and Expectation, and Finding Color Again' by ivoryhut.

Finding color again. It was a phrase I heard Penny De Los Santos utter back in 2010, when she spoke about the darkness that filled her world after a personal loss, and how eventually, a trip to India brought color back into her world. It was a phrase that resonated loudly within me.

For the past 3 years, I’ve been struggling to to re-awaken my motivation for many things that used to bring me great joy: writing, creating recipes, music, and making pictures. I tried many times, failed many times, then eventually stopped trying. Life got too busy, providing me with a convenient (albeit valid) excuse to put everything else on hold while we worked on rebuilding our home. Even when I resolved to try again, everything I did felt forced. There was no flow. Nothing seemed right. I wasn’t looking for anything to come easy; I merely wanted what felt familiar and natural.

If you’ve seen my recent tweets and Instagram photos, you’ll know that we just returned from our first vacation in years, traveling to the opposite side of the globe. It was a trek back home to the Philippines for me, followed by a first for our small family: a tour of Thailand. I packed my camera equipment with a mixture of excitement and detachment. I knew there would be great photo opportunities all over Asia. What I didn’t know was whether or not I would find the desire to capture them.

Thailand was a complete immersion in an astonishing world so different from my life now. Everything was new: the smells, the sounds, the merchandise, the flavors, the landscape, the people. We explored palaces, street markets, sailed (okay, more like motored on a boat) to a spot on the Mekong River where you can see Myanmar to the left, Laos to the right, and Thailand behind you. We drove down highways flanked by rice fields, the lushest hue of green I’d ever seen. We watched school children play soccer with towering ruins from the 13th century as their silent audience, and heard temple bells ringing outside our hotel room, followed by a wave of saffron robes finding their way across courtyards, monks barefoot and holding bowls to receive their food for the day from the people of the city.

I fell in love with Thailand. With the light in that beautiful land. With its people, especially the children. And my camera loved it so much I have scars on my right hand because my skin began reacting to the small amount of latex in the camera grip. I didn’t care; I just kept shooting.


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When I first spoke of the battle to re-kindle my desire for photography after having lost my entire collection of photos, it was photographer Stephen Scott Gross who cautioned me not to embark on a mission to rebuild my lost portfolio. He warned me against pre-judging every new shot, comparing it with an old one I had lost, gauging its worthiness as a replacement. I still remember what he told me: that when expectation enters the picture, it changes the dynamic. And it’s true. Expectation comes with limits and demands, often arbitrary and unkind. Expectation opens you up to disappointment because, ultimately, it’s a pass-fail course. But hope—hope always looks forward. When something hoped for doesn’t come to pass, it isn’t a failure; it merely means it didn’t happen at that time. With hope, there is always next time. And another time after that. And hundreds of next times after that. For as long as it takes.

And so it was with Thailand. I left with the hope that I would find something that would make me love photography again the way I used to, but I was ready for the possibility that it wouldn’t happen for me then. I let go of all expectations and merely held on to that hope, and the faith that it would someday come back to me even though I had no clue when that someday would be. It was hope that helped me get past myself. And hope brought me back my love for photography and helped me find my colors again.

Thailand hill tribes. From 'Of Hope and Expectation, and Finding Color Again' by ivoryhut.


Finally (an update)

ivoryhut fire and construction

It’s been a while since I last posted an update about the fire and I thought today would be a good day for that. First, I want to let you know that the generous contributions from everyone helped us buy a used car that Tom and I now share. We lost three cars in the fire and only received compensation for two of them (the third was a historic car that had no fire coverage). Since our other two cars were just about 10 years old, we didn’t receive much from our auto insurance company. Thanks to everyone’s donations, we were able to buy a used Honda sedan. It doesn’t have the bells and whistles of my old Honda, but I cherish it so much more because every time I look at it, I know I’m looking at a precious gift from all of you.

Browned Butter Banana Streusel Cake (Gluten-free!)

ivoryhut Gluten-free Banana Streusel Cake

Banana cake was one of the very first things I ever attempted to bake. I still remember clearly the day. It was sometime in the mid-90s, when my hair was much longer and I still had delusions dreams of being some kind of Melissa Etheridge rock musician. I was at our neighbor’s condo, watching our friend make banana cake without a recipe, simply mixing ingredients together until the consistency looked right to him. I was so amazed you’d think I was watching someone split an atom.

As much as I enjoyed experimenting in the kitchen, I never imagined baking would ever figure in my repertoire. I stayed clear of it because I thought it required a level of precision I just wasn’t capable of, and a few early disasters convinced me I was better off leaving it to the experts. Truth be told, I was more comfortable assisting with circumcision. (You’ll be glad to know that, unlike baking, there were no early disasters in my brief medical career.)

about me

I write, cook, play music, and make pictures. Not necessarily in that order. I was born and raised in the Philippines, and it shows. That means I eat rice with every meal, love my cousins like my own siblings, and firmly believe that avocados are best eaten with cream and sugar.

If you want to learn more about me, here are 43 things I'd like to do. Here's a little something about my name, in case you were wondering. Here are some other places you'll find me:

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One summer night in 2010, our house burned to the ground and we lost everything we had. This is the story of what happened and how life and hope can always rise from ashes.

I'm proud to belong to an amazing community of Filipino food lovers. Together, we celebrate this often-neglected Asian cuisine, sharing our family's treasured recipes and discovering new ones along the way. This is our club.
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