Tag Archives: family

Soothes my soul

It’s not readily obvious to those who’ve only recently visited my blog, but if there’s one thing that’s been a constant in my life, it’s music. I’ve been playing since I was old enough to hoist myself on a piano bench, and growing up, the only way I could fall asleep was to leave my stereo playing. (And the best way to wake me up was to shut it off. It drove my mom insane.)

In my mind, I think I naturally assign songs to certain moments or phases in my life, almost as if I’m compiling separate soundtracks for each event. There are songs, with words or otherwise, that manage to hit me hard every time I hear them, even 48 minutes into a “repeat single track” loop that ends up lasting half a day. I seem to instinctively attach something to every piece of music I enjoy, and if you ever even just casually mention your favorite song, that’ll be one of the things I’ll always remember about you.
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During my trip to the Philippines earlier this year, one of my most cherished moments was the day I spent the afternoon cooking with my beautiful Auntie Lou in her kitchen.

Auntie Lou is an amazing cook. When I showed up at her house, starving and waiting to be picked up by her daughters for lunch, she invited me to have a little bite to fight off the hunger. She apologized that all she had was leftovers, but I wasn’t complaining. Especially not when her leftovers look like this:

That ain’t meatloaf, darling. (Not that there’s anything wrong with meatloaf.) No, her leftover dish was shrimp sauteed in butter, olive oil, garlic, red peppers, maybe some wine in there … my stomach’s growling just thinking about it.

Auntie Lou was also the one who opened a whole new world of homemade yogurt, sweet lassis, and pandan-flavored simple syrup to me. (My inability to keep away from the lassi pitcher was also the reason I was too full to eat anything when we finally got to the Indian restaurant for lunch.) Her paella has effectively relegated all other paellas to “I guess I’ll settle for this if I can’t have Auntie Lou’s paella” status, and the recipes that she shared with me are so precious that I hand-carried them on my flight back. Oh yes, I put jewelry and vintage coins in my checked-in luggage, but her recipes? They were safely tucked inside my camera bag.

She also has amazing taste and a wonderful eye for decor, and no recipe—no matter how detailed—can ever teach me how to furnish and beautify my home the way she does.

Here is the study, done in a Mediterranean/Turkish theme. I swear, I don’t know how she does it. I wouldn’t even have thought of doing a Turkish theme if a turkey came and flew right at me screaming “HGTV!”

I don’t know about you, but I can almost smell the spices and feel the silk and rich fabrics. Never mind that I’ve never been to Turkey. Or the Mediterranean. (Or have HGTV.)

Here is a section of the living room that adjoins the terrace. It’s dark, so you can’t really see that the terrace leads into the backyard. But the next photo shows a better view of the backyard, which slopes down and leads into the pool about 15 or so feet below.

I almost did all my scuba pool sessions in that pool.

The thing I love most about this house is that, as beautiful as it is, you’re never afraid to touch anything. It’s as warm and inviting as can be, and everyone knows that the instant they enter the house. Notice the collection of bags thrown on top of the seats and tables.

Even the kids know that it’s a place where they can just hang, plug in their games, rest their feet on the furniture and rearrange couches so they can all see the screen.

Not even the grand piano is off limits, and it’s not unusual to hear the first tentative strains of Hot Cross Buns spiral down into some heavy-handed Chopsticks-Blue Moon mashup, followed by uncontrolled giggling.

It’s also the place where we were treated to an impromptu talent show/program by the kids. It was a night of song and dance and gymnastics and witty emcee spiels and commentaries.

Ah. Lovely, warm memories, indeed.

Just the other day, I found out from my uncle that the tragic floods caused by Typhoon Ondoy (Ketsana) in the Philippines brought 5 feet of dirty flood water through their home. This home. This lovely, warm, beautiful home.

I can’t wrap my brain around that. Five feet of water? That’s almost the height of my cousin below, the one in pink, who is about 5’4″.

And as bad as that sounds, they are merely grateful that they’re safe, alive, and that things are not as bad as they could have been. There are so many others who have lost far more, and my heart goes out to all of them. Some have nothing left but the shirts on their back, and others, not even that. Many have had to evacuate to their rooftops and wait to be rescued. Some subdivisions are still flooded as we speak. And yet, again and again, I see news clips of people who still have the strength to smile, to give of themselves to help others, and who, secure in the thought that things will eventually get better, simply roll up their sleeves and get down to the business of cleaning up and moving on.

Things are ultimately replaceable. Not people, and not their spirit. Calamity may cause destruction, but in the long run, the things it destroys are overshadowed by the strength that it builds.

I do hope this portrait of Auntie Lou wasn’t destroyed, though. It’s one of my favorite things in her house.


Because I enjoy torturing myself, this is the second installment of my unofficial “they’re so cute they make me incredibly homesick, and no amount of cake can fix it right now” series.

Meet Mattia, or Mattie for short. She’s Brian’s younger sister, but don’t tell her that. She’s convinced she’s older, wiser, stronger, and tougher. And that she has super powers that are impervious to any big brother schemes.

She’s also a natural swimmer. I watched this little three-year-old swim more than 25 meters across, into the deep end of a pool, blow a few bubbles, then turn around and swim back. It was crazy. And she did it all afternoon, too.

At three, she has more than enough self-confidence for someone twice her age. Or even ten times her age. Her mom once tied her hair back, and Mattie started complaining. She said that the ponytail took away her curls, and plaintively cried, “I’m not me anymore, mommy.” Needless to say, the curls were set free.

She’s the only girl in her pre-school class, and all the boys take direction from her. She decides who sits where, depending on who she wants next to her that day. And, to a person, the boys quietly comply. I’m not sure if it’s because of the sheer force of her personality, or if they simply will do anything to please this adorable little girl.

Yeah. I bet her dad can’t wait for her teenage years.

For now, he can continue enjoying his little girl like this, when even her pouts are cute. And when the only man in her life is her poor, defenseless father who is putty in her hands. Talk about being wrapped around someone’s little finger. And a three-year-old finger at that.

Then again, who can blame him?


I have problem. A very, very serious problem. See this little guy here?

His name is Brian. He’s six years old. His dad and I are first cousins, and his mom is like a long-lost sister to me.

So here’s my problem: Brian is just too far away from me. More than 8,500 miles, to be exact. There’s just no way to make that distance even appear shorter. Not even if I expressed that in flight hours. Unless you love flying and don’t mind spending anywhere from 20 to 24 hours on a plane. Anyone? Anyone?

Didn’t think so.

Just last week, his mom sent an email saying that Brian told her he missed me.

Then he told her that he really liked me because:

1. he thought I was pretty (uh … he’s obviously biased because I built Lego robots with him – more than once, I should add)
2. I played the piano
3. I played video games with him (which, once again, supports the bias in #1)

Brian obviously already knows at the young age of six that the way to a woman’s heart is to tell her that you think she’s pretty. And that she can pop those Winnie the Pooh video game balloons like no one’s business.

Goodness gracious. Those cheeks. My hands are already pinching the air. It’s a reflex action. I can’t help it.

And those eyes. Those mischievous little twinkling eyes that always look like they’re up to something naughty. Look at me. I’m already smiling back.

Speaking of smiles:

You something else? He cleans up pretty nicely, too.

I swear. This kid will be the death of me. A death I will have to die fourteen more times, because each niece and nephew is absolutely so adorable that it has to be illegal to have that many in a single family. It’s got to be either a crime, or a record of some sorts.

And no, I will not be entertaining offers to do “Ivoryhut + 15” on cable anytime soon. Because let’s face it. Who’d want to watch a grown woman build Lego robots, play Winnie the Pooh video games, and rock out children’s tunes on the piano all day? Anyone? Anyone?

Didn’t think so.

My monkeys

Help me, I’m going through withdrawal symptoms here.

These are my nieces. As if I couldn’t stand any more cuteness, there are eleven more of these nieces and nephews. Fifteen in all, each one with his or her own excruciating level of adorableness and cheek-pinching huggability that’s enough to wreak havoc on a girl’s otherwise proper vocabulary.

Goodness. I miss these monkeys terribly.

Amateur tracker

Last week, my cousin’s wife and her sister arrived for a quick visit and whirlwind tour of New York.

After playing museum tour guide for them last Friday (more on that later), we ventured into Central Park for a nice change of scenery.

We had to figure out how to find the lake without a map to help us, which put my tracking skills to test. We eventually managed to find it with the help of the sun, a passable sense of direction, and the trusty old lazy person’s rule (when you come to a fork on the road and have no idea which way to go, go downhill – you may still end up lost, but at least it’s easier on the legs).

Of course, it’s kinda hard to miss a 22-acre lake in the middle of the city, but in my defense, that’s a 22-acre chunk of an 843-acre space. Or 2.6% for all you math geeks.

Of course, after walking from The Met on the east end of the park all the way to the west end, they decided they wanted to go back and go window shopping along Madison Avenue in the Upper East Side. So back we went, again relying on those faux tracking skills.

The caveat to the lazy person’s rule is that, if you ever need to retrace your steps, then all those breezy downhill trails you took the first time are now nasty, unrelenting uphill climbs just when you’re about ready for a long nap.

But I didn’t mind it so much. Not with great views and scenery hiding behind secret corners. Even the kids seemed mesmerized.

With buildings now back in sight, we made our way to Madison Avenue. In a future post, I will explain the story behind my cousin-in-law’s epiphany, when she said to me later that day: “Fashion is your kryptonite.”

At least she didn’t tell me she’d beat me for every mile.