Day 24: Too young to fly?

Two little birds in the Jonkor Street Market in Melaka

While walking along the night market street in Melaka, I spotted these two birds peacefully perched on their cage door. When people drew close to look at them, they didn’t flap their wings and fly off. They just stayed. The owners later revealed that they were too young to fly. They still hadn’t developed the wing power to flap and lift off.

It’s one thing to still be anatomically ill-equipped to do what you’re designed to do. But sometimes, perhaps because of years of conditioned thinking, we can be like these birds who feel we can’t fly or do what we’re meant to do for so many other reasons — or excuses.

Are you too young to fly…or maybe just a little nervous about flapping your wings towards your heart’s desires? Just a little bird wisdom to think about on a Tuesday morning.

Day 23: Sisters’ pact

Reunions are sweet! This is the first of many more to come...

Whenever my sisters and I want to talk about something über secretive, we say “sisters pact”. Well, recently we’ve made another kind — one that involves making time to be together in one city once a year. Our most recent reunion took place during Mom’s wake in July. Prior to that, the last time all seven of us were together was 12 years ago, during Michi’s wedding.

It was Mom’s wish for all of us to reunite — one we all wish for but had been too busy to do until she reminded us. We’d been living in four different parts of the world, keeping the flames of the sisterhood burning through email, Skype, calls and visits by whomever could make a trip. This post is a reminder to live up to our sisters’ pact to see each other once a year — for me, the location is irrelevant for as long as the attendance is complete. Mom reiterated this wish to my nephew, Mari, a few days before she passed away.

How about you? Is there someone you’ve you been planning to see but have put off for one reason or another? Make that call today.

Day 22: Persistence makes perfect

Before and after (left and right): Diane's hollow cupcakes from three weeks ago, and yesterday's perfect baked treats.

I’d like to talk about my friend Diane’s pursuit of the perfect cupcake. About three weeks ago, she set out to bake according to someone’s no-fail recipe. The result? Exhibit A on the left. While they tasted good, the cupcakes’ tops fell and hollowed out, and her icing had the consistency of…milk (you had to sip it before you ate the cupcake). The good part? The cupcakes tasted good.

She reported back to her friend, the recipe owner, who told her never go back into the kitchen. Which Diane didn’t do. She was back in the kitchen a week later. I was away so I didn’t taste her cupcakes, but they apparently didn’t cave in.

Then yesterday, week 3, Diane did it again — the result is Exhibit B on the right. Perfect cupcakes, icing and all! When I asked her what was the secret of her success, she said: “I learned from my mistakes, and researched on ways to do it better.” Despite her friend’s advice to give up baking (a joke, I am sure), she did the exact opposite and tried again. And again. I think it helped that our friend Maan, who has done some baking, lent her a hand (chief sifter and taster). More than the extra head to offer wisdom, it’s always more fun baking with good company (at least I think so).

The verdict: Deliciously moist cupcakes with just the right amount of sweetness — the sprinkles were the icing on the icing of the cupcake.

What’s your version of a sunken cupcake? How can you work on it?

P.S. I’ll be on a road trip for two days so will do makeup blog entries on Wednesday. Will still try my best 🙂

Day 21: My weekend in pictures

Clockwise from top left: Rose Citron plates; cafe latté; wine with Aldo and Maan; and DJ cupcakes (aka Diane Jorolan's cupcakes)

Four things I’m loving this weekend:

1) Pretty plates and cups from Rose Citron on 23 Keong Saik Road, Singapore. I pop into this sweet little shop during lunch break because just looking at the cloth bags in lovely floral patterns, plates from Holland, notebooks, rings made from electric wiring, and baby’s clothes inspire the crafty chick in me.

2) Coffee! This one’s a latte, but I am a fan of local Kopi C from the nearby kopitiam. It’s sweet, thick and addictive!

3) Diane’s cupcakes. My flatmate Diane has been possessed by a baker’s spirit, and has been experimenting on making cupcakes for several weekends now. This time, her little chocolate cupcakes are beautiful and delicious! I decorated one with an icing heart 🙂

4) Surprise gimmicks. Since waiting for a cab took forever last night, my friends Aldo and Maan and myself decided to pass the time with French wine at a nearby boutique hotel. We stayed for two hours, and never stopped laughing. Ah the joy of spontaneous get-togethers!

How is your weekend going so far? Why note make your own collage of your weekend in pictures…feel free to share it with me!

Day 20: On cutting down trees

Would you make a tree grow, or cut it down?

My sister Mica shared this with me just yesterday. She had read from the blog of Samantha Fey that the men and women living in the Solomon Islands of the South Pacific have a unique way of taking down trees. Men circle the tree for 30 days and scream at the tree. They hurl insults at the tree for the duration of that entire month (30 days seems to be a magical number for getting results). The effect of their screaming is that the tree dies. It always does. The villagers believe that the constant screaming and insulting is what kills the tree’s spirit.

This story reminds of the work of Japanese researcher Masaru Emoto, author of The Hidden Messages in Water (I first learned of this in the film What the Bleep do we Know?). Using a special photographic technology, he is able to capture the details of a water crystal. He did an experiment to see how thoughts and words affected the formation of untreated distilled water crystals. He typed phrases onto paper, and then taped them onto the bottles and left them overnight. Here are the effects of the words on water:

"Thank you" (photo from http://www.unitedearth.com.au)

"You make me sick, I want to kill you" (photo from http://www.unitedearth.com.au)

Kind words turned the water into a beautiful “snowflake” crystal, whereas the insult resulted into an image that resembled diseased cells under a microscope. And since we’re made up of 75% water, think about the effect of words and intentions on people.

The words we say to trees, water and people always create an effect.

Today, will you cut down a person, or nurture her to grow? Will you speak words of love and appreciation, or hurl insults and curses to water down someone’s spirit? Think about it. Ultimately, what comes into play after is a universal and biblical truth: Do unto other as you want them to do unto you.

Day 19: Preserving our stories

I found this video on A Cup of Joe, and was so touched by the story of Danny and Annie, so I am sharing it above. The love story of this Brooklyn couple was preserved by StoryCorps, a company whose mission is to tell the stories of Americans of all cultural backgrounds.

Every family has its own storyteller, the one who remembers the details of that family reunion that took place in 1964 like it just happened yesterday. I had an uncle who was the expert of the Japanese War. When I had to write up a paper for history, my mom said I should interview Uncle Mag. He told me how the dogfights took place in the air space above them in Pampanga, and how the foil wrapper of the chocolate candy the American soldiers gave away glistened in the sun. I didn’t have to open a single history book to prepare that report. My cousin Alvin remembers the parties my parents and his parents attended in the 1960s, and how, on one particular night the wives set out looking for their missing hubbies who had wandered into a nearby bar in Angeles when they should’ve been in a party. Tsk, tsk!

While that last story is better off forgotten (although it did give us a good laugh), there are others worth preserving and retelling over and over. Love stories, children’s firsts, adventures, funny conversations, tales of courage and triumph, happy beginnings and endings. Family vacations. Relationships formed over campfires.

Why not be your clan’s storyteller? Today, write down a vivid event from your past, or collate old photos, then interpret them in a format that you can easily share with family and friends. These are memories that helped form you, and are stories worth re-telling to your children, nieces, nephews and grandkids.

Day 18: Drawing and reinvention

Random drawings on a lazy afternoon with the nieces

I’ve always considered myself a writer first. My love for the written word came early in life, at the age of 9, and manifested in poetry that rhymed which I wrote on small pieces of paper and left on the bedside table of my mom. As a kid, I would write the “sketches” for our skits on special occasions, when my sisters and I performed for our parents. In high school, I also wrote the scripts for a few plays for English class (set to 1980s music — got the idea from my older sister Rina).

But I also enjoyed another kind of sketching — doodling. I didn’t think I was excellent at it, but I enjoyed the process anyway. I drew Candy Candy, that 1970s Japanese anime character, and made my own versions of Sanrio characters (one of them I called Kopari Tuyo, a Hello Kitty knock-off with bandages and slit eyes, and another one was a lizard called Mister Bayawak — for obvious reasons — see below). During my afternoon with the nieces, I got myself a sketch pad at Muji and drew the illustrations above.

My friend Tara told me in 2008 that I should write and illustrate my own book one day. So in 2009, I tried an exercise: I drew one thing every night for about 40 nights. I practiced with Adobe Illustrator and started with simple things (coffee cups, stick-style park benches, trees) and progressed to people, animals, dancers with flouncy skirts. I figured, if I wanted to draw and write a book, I had to be good at it. Practice makes perfect, and to quote Stephen Covey, I “sharpened the saw”. I chose to reinvent myself as an illustrator and a writer. I have since turned the drawings into a line of greeting cards, did a poster for a cancer awareness benefit, and illustrated a book for Gawad Kalinga called A Summer Day of Nothing but Everything by Noelle Q. de Jesus.

And one day, my own book will see print.

How would you like to reinvent yourself this year? And what would you do to make it happen? Would love to hear your thoughts.

Day 17: Niece and easy (Part 2)

Clockwise from top left: Cranium night at Marie's; action scene with Sophie and Martine (the bunnies); Erin and her collage; and Ada showing me her costume before her MassKara Festival dance for Linggo ng Wika.

Since prequels are very much in vogue, let me share a little about what happened the days before yesterday.

The theme of this last-minute visit has been all about family, really, for I’d been too busy to hang out with my nieces during my last trips. So I made it a point to stay with Michi for a few days. Every morning, her littlest daughter Ada woke me up. Last Friday, she walked in with her trademark “Good moyning, Tita Maya” wearing an Audrey Hepburn-esque outfit: a black shirt with a Sabrina neckline (made by her mom, of course!), black leggings (borrowed from Ate Iana), and her new maryjanes with sparkles. This was the basic look for her MassKara Festival dance for Linggo ng Wika. Here she is modeling for me, after which she showed me her dance.

Over the weekend, her big sisters Erin and Iana had a sleepover at Marie’s, where I am a guest. Erin says “Tita Marie has everything!”. They enjoy doing chores like washing the dishes and throwing the trash down the chute when they’re at her flat. After dinner, they wanted to buy Cornettos from the convenience store downstairs. “Tita let’s take the stairs,” they sweetly requested. I said, “Sure”. I mean how does 20 flights in flip-flops compare to a 21K right? But my thighs ached afterwards so I insisted we take the lift after they got their ice cream!

I learned during this sleepover that the simplest things make them happy. Erin took time to put in work on her booklet project. Iana played with the bunny rabbits for hours — at one point, she stuck Sophie into one of the grooves on Marie’s pull-up board. I took some blu-tac and let the other bunny, Martine, dangle like they were in a scene from Mission Impossible, causing Iana to shriek when Martine began to slip from Sophie’s grip.

For the highlight of the night, Marie brought out Cranium, which I had bought years ago. The girls picked up on the how-to’s fast, and we enjoyed two hours of fun (with whoops, belly laughs and shrieks all around!). Erin and Iana loved “Star Performer”, which is very much like playing charades. My favorite: when they each tried to act out “reproduce” for Marie and I to guess. They interchanged between making pregnant bellies with their hands under their shirts, and simulating plants growing out of their heads. Cute!

Another lesson I gleaned is that there’s just so much we can learn from them. The girls had a way of drawing or sculpting clues that I wouldn’t have thought of — they were simpler but clearer and easier to guess. Also, intuition comes so easily for them (ah the joys of being uncluttered with so much logic!). For the “Datahead” category, Erin wanted to answer “Africa” based on her limited knowledge and a documentary she just saw. But being her tita and partner, I insisted on an educated answer. The verdict: Erin was right, tita Maya was wrong.

We went to bed at midnight, tired but blissful from laughing too much. “This is the best game ever,” they both said. Out of the mouths of babes.

Day 16: Niece and easy (part 1)

Faces of joy (clockwise from top left): Water break with Erin and Iana in Figaro; Erin busy on her collage; Iana and the bunnies; and Ada and her colorful "hoysie".

It’s so refreshing to spend a day with my nieces, with no gadgets required to entertain them.

Today, we took a walk around Bonifacio High Street, then went stationary shopping at Fully Booked and Muji (Erin and Iana got pens and notebooks, while Ada sank into the beanbags, beds and chairs). Then we headed back to Marie’s flat, where we are right now, enjoying old-fashioned playtime. Why old-fashioned? There’s not a DVD, PSP or Pet Society account in sight! Here are snaps of my nieces doing what they love: Erin is working on her Sylvanian Family collage for the cover of her activity book. Iana has been playing with Sophie and Martine (soft bunnies) and Mouse (another soft toy), while Ada has been dipping her finger into all the action — she’s been coloring (here she is holding up Erin’s horse colored in by her) and playing with Iana and the soft toys. The only computer involvement is my iTunes playing music — from Jack Johnson to Michael Jackson’s “Girfriend” (Ada’s favorite). What a niece day, indeed.

Day 15: What’s my name?

My "Maya" pin

This morning, my sister Marie fished out this identity pin from ages ago — my version of Carrie Bradshaw’s famous necklace with her name on it. While Carrie was a 20-something who found hers in a flea market in New York, I found mine during a summer in Tokyo. I was 13 years old , and the family was on vacation. This was made just for me by a street artisan who twisted and coiled a single wire to spell out my name in a cursive font, punctuating it with a little bell. It has since tarnished in parts, perhaps from being buried inside boxes and baskets. It’s a mystery how — after having moved rooms, flats and countries — that it turned up in Marie’s condo, of all places!

I wore this Maya pin on the lapels of shirts or over my heart, and sometimes on the strap of a school bag. Come to think of it, it looks just like the way I sign my name to this day!

It brings to mind that last episode of Sex And The City. Carrie finds her missing necklace inside the lining of her vintage purse around the time she feels ignored by her Russian artist lover, Aleksandr Petrovsky. Over these past few weeks following Mom’s passing, I felt a little lost and rudderless, stuck even. But my reconnection with the past — through my sisters, my mother’s letters, my cousins, my childhood stories — has helped me ground myself and move forward to embrace new adventures. And in the process of movement, I think it’s important to remember the essentials: playfulness, childlike faith, family and souvenirs from the past that remind you what your name is… and what makes you happy.

Carrie Bradshaw and her famous necklace (photo from http://www.hbo.com)