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Ana Viajera, Author at

Ana Viajera

Ana Maria Lykes left her job as an editor-in-chief for AsianTraveler magazine and as a travel columnist for a local paper in the U.S. to answer to an even bigger boss: a demanding three-year-old. She continues to contribute for a few publications here and abroad while pixel stitching and light chasing. She has a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science, a master’s in Creative Writing, and a doctorate in potty training.

Posts By Ana Viajera

What You Should Know About Dating a Filipina


Once, when my husband had revealed to his Vietnamese barber that he’s married to a Filipina, the excited barber exclaimed, “You married Asian, now you sit back and relax.” My husband almost fell off his chair. It was the furthest from the truth. When he married me he had these (more…)Read More

How to Sparkle Like a Sexy Momma

Your son is your world. I get it. So is mine. But there are other things in my world too, namely the rest of the family, friends, my career, my passions, and most of all, myself. Although I would do anything for my son, he is not necessarily the center (more…)Read More

Oh! The Pain to Be a Raving Filipina Beauty


It’s not like we want to be perfect. Maybe just a little. A little taller, a little fairer, a little more filled out in the right places but a little thinner. A taller nose and straighter hair would be nice too. Unfortunately, not all of us are built that way. (more…)Read More

7 Sparkling Tips to Start Your New Year


Hey, 2015 just called. He’s excited to meet the fabulous new you. He said it’s going to be an exciting and fruitful year filled with love and abundance. But, how do you prepare for your date with 2015? Here are seven get-fabulous tips for the New Year. Tip 1: Be (more…)Read More

7 Sparkling Lessons From An Unconventional Mom

My mother is a beautiful, complex creature like no other. She wasn’t like most moms, not prone to exhibiting sappy affections or wearing aprons. When we were newborns, she rarely carried us in her arms, afraid that we would accidentally slip off her fingers. The carrying was left to the (more…)Read More

7 Sparkling Tips to Travel With a Toddler

It’s bad enough that you have to endure a long-haul flight with a crick in your neck, seated next to an overweight smelly passenger. Factor in a screaming toddler in the other seat next to you and you have yourself a 14-hour long nightmare. Oh, and the toddler belongs to (more…)Read More

Maid in Manila or Maid in America?

Imagine a typical Pinay housewife’s day. She wakes up early to prepare breakfast and gets the kids ready for school before her usual chores: supervise the cleaning, go to the market, and plan the meal for the night. Another day accomplished with a lot of help: a kasambahay, a driver, (more…)Read More

When Passion Takes Flight Later in Life

Back in high school, I thought I was going to be a fashion designer. Every day I drew models and different outfits that I fancied in my head, putting together a collection that never made it to the runway. Many years later, my imagination kept running, this time sketching stories. (more…)Read More

Travel: Love Story in a Caribbean Island

I once met a Spanish dreamer who said that “travel is a love story.” My husband and I had just arrived at her little rustic inn hidden by trees from the rest of Little Corn Island, and she had asked me what I did for a living.  I told her I (more…)Read More

External Blog Entries

The Time of Adobo and Halo-Halo is now

27 January 2015 | 9:42 pm Published by Planet Philippines
(Planet Philippines is a news magazine distributed in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto, London, Melbourne, Chicago, Boston, and Los Angeles)
Qui Austin's kinilaw right in the middle

In almost every corner in the world you will find a little Chinese restaurant. Like the famed dumplings, Asian treats like sushi, pad thai, kimchee, curry, or pho have forever enjoyed the warm spotlight on the international dining table while our humble adobo grows cold in the shadows. But soon all that may change. Filipino cuisine, a melting pot of flavors from different cultures, is about to make its global debut, steaming and bursting with fresh flavors.

Multicultural ingredients

Filipino fare may be a bit strange to the foreign tongue, but the world is craving for new unusual flavors. According to an article in Thrillist, America is looking for a new East Asian food obsession and “signs are pointing to a boom in Filipino food.”  The spark of that flavor explosion started a few years back when Andrew Zimmern of Bizarre Foods told that 2 years from now Filipino food is “going to be the next big thing.” He revealed this in 2012. That was about 2 years ago which means that the time for adobo is now.
Pig and Khao's sisig
“It’s just starting,” Zimmern explained. “I think it’s going to take another year and a half to get up to critical mass, but everybody loves Chinese food, Thai food, Japanese food, and it’s all been exploited. The Filipinos combined the best of all of that with Spanish technique." Add our Indonesian, Malaysian, and even American influences are thrown into the pot along with our indigenous flavors and techniques from over 7,000 islands, making into one exciting cuisine.

We’re blessed with fertile land and oceans teeming with the freshest catch for us to create flavors and food art that should open the global palate to us. Our creativity and our practice of using every part of the ingredient (pig blood, chicken intestines, etc.) and using pork in almost every dish should make Filipino fare even more intriguing to whet the world’s appetite.

Looking sexy for 2014

Last year, in addition to Zimmern’s thumbs up, he also named Pinoy food as one of the highlights of 2013. In, he named “brilliant Filipino food” as one of the highs of 2013, second to cronuts. “This is the year, finally, that Pinoy foods have their day in the sun.” 

Maharlika's longganisa

Other food authorities are backing up Zimmern’s endorsement. Details magazine named Philippine fare as “the next great Asian food trend” and Zagat, an influential travel and food guide, named Pinoy Cuisine as one of the most exciting emerging cuisines. At the start of this year, Thrillist, a men’s lifestyle brand, was thrilled to report that Lumpia, Adobo, Pancit, Menudo, Inasal, Kare-kare, and Lechon Kawali will be the next East Asian food obsession. 

Meanwhile Andrew Knowlton of Bon Appetit claims that this year will be all about Filipino inspired food, greatly influencing how the world eats. Perhaps foodies are looking for a new twist on the pad thai or are finally acquiring the taste for oxtail stew livened with shrimp paste. Although considered strange, confusing, and even ugly (pig blood stew, anyone?), it is now considered as one of the sexiest cuisines in the world. 

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Summer Dream (2014)

20 January 2015 | 9:42 pm

It really does seem like a dream, this season, the way it quickly passed. Everything passes so quickly it seems. It is no surprise that I am writing this in the dead of winter under several layers of clothing. For now I will try to remember back to warmer days.

It was in the middle of summer when we returned from the Philippines, the fourth of July to be exact. And we were on the plane to Oklahoma City when everyone below started the lightshow. From 35,000 feet up, fireworks bloomed like little supernovas amongst a galaxy of stars.  Over it, the stubborn blue sky is burnt orange on the horizon. It was a wonderful homecoming that ushered in great things to come that summer, a season of sweet partings. 

During a short trip to Chicago to see an old friend.

One of the highlights of the season was my son’s first day of school. I knew it would happen someday, but I didn’t think he would walk out of my heart too soon. After we drove him to school, I shed a few tears. I cried for the time that we would never get back, back when he was a baby and it was joy to just smell his breath even if it was a little bit sour. I cried for the many moments when I was too tired to play with him. I cried for the number of times when I chose my computer over my son, because I had to get an article done or process a photo that couldn’t wait. Meanwhile he sat playing alone, waiting for me. These are the days that I knew I would never get back. These are the days I couldn’t do over.  I cried for the future, for the times when I will lose him over and over again, when he will let go of my hand to run to his playmates or when he’ll start to think that he’s much too old to hold his mommy’s hand.

First day of school Thanks, Dr. Seuss!

The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn on the desk represents this major milestone in our life. It’s an Ed Press winner that I had bought way before my son was even conceived in our head, thinking that someday, it is story that I would like to read to my child. It’s about a mother raccoon sending her hesitant baby off to school with a kiss on the head, a reminder that he will always be safe, always be loved. 

The book came with heart stickers for the hand, a reminder of the kiss, of the presence of love. We had read this book several times in the past few years and had used the sticker each time until there were only two left.  I thought I would save the book and took it out for us to read on the eve of the first day of school, although separation anxiety has never been as issue with us. Earlier on, we try to raise him to be independent and to be able to explore the world even without us hovering, but knowing that we would always be around. 

Hanging out with new friends.

The book was a nice little ritual to share with him before he entered this new stage in his life. That night we used the second to the last sticker. The next day, when we were all set to leave the house for his first day of school, he piped out, “wait! My kissing hand!” It warmed my heart that even with all the excitement, he had remembered the kiss. We had that one last sticker to send him off with.

Summers are for playing barefoot on the grass.

Like in spring, summer was spent a lot in our backyard, playing (with new friends!), reading, and gardening. I never took an interest in gardening. I don’t have the green thumb my mother had (she could grow a garden in her bedroom window on the 15th floor right in the middle of a concrete jungle) and the only thing that I’ve really grown was a tiny eggplant that I had to planted for my home economics class back in grade school. I few cacti succulents have also died on me; that should give an idea on my gardening skills. But new friends had gotten me interested in gardening and the joys of harvesting things to eat from our very own soil. Sometimes, neighbors would leave a bag of produce picked from their backyard. Because we have such a huge backyard, I thought, why not engage in a little agriculture?

Shoot and play

Last spring, my son had sowed a few carrot seeds at the zoo’s Eggcitement event and soon as they started to sprout, we planted them in our backyard. To my surprise, they actually grew and by late summer, we harvested 2 tiny baby carrots that my entire family shared. Everyone must partake in the bounty of our soil. I also tried growing some scallions which also grew quite surprisingly, but I had left them out during one of the first frosts and died. Nevertheless I consider these few attempts a success and have then sworn to go full force come next spring. There is something very satisfying about the idea of just going out to my garden to pick a few sprigs of basil when I’m making my spaghetti or knowing that the onions I’m using come right out of our backyard. 

Moon over Granada

I’ve sort of lost steam in terms of enthusiasm for my Twitter account but it keeps surprising me. I’ve reached the 5k mark with over 300 fans (And as of writing – January – 12.4k followers and over 2.5k fans!). It also continues to open doors for me, although just a crack. Last May, a distinguished photographer and oral historian emailed about one of my photographs: Moon over Granada. He wondered how it would look like in black and white, adding that it reminded him of an Ansell Adam photograph. And he wrote:

Glad you see what I see; if you convert it, may I also see what it looks like?

It reminds me so much of that photo Ansell Adams took in the desert, I think the title was "Moonlight over (something - I can't remember), but you should look at it sometime to see how your photo has the same feeling...

I was beyond floored. For my work to be compared to an Ansell Adams’s photograph and to have such an established photographer take notice of my work (taking the time out to write to me) is such an honor and very encouraging. I have no illusions, of course. I know that I have a lot to learn, but every now and then a newbie like me needs some inspiration or encouragement. If you’re in the Connecticut area, Anthony Riccio has several book tours already scheduled in the next few months.

Nanay and New York (she went home also on September 11)

Since I am writing this several seasons too late, I am more than likely to forget many more milestones. And I’ve been trying to think back to remember the things that I need to include in the banner. But winter currently embraces me. The chill makes me forget. It’s all like a dream, so vivid but forgotten in the cold morning. For this reason, I decided to go with the actual look of my desk, so I don’t have to worry about items that I may forget to include on the banner. My desk is normally not as clean and organized. Usually it’s cluttered with mail, scraps of paper, trash, and my little one’s toys, but the pile of books, the box of cards sitting on the books, the votive candle holder, the bouquet of pens, the box of tissue, the little wooden jewelry box (a gift from a friend during her trip to Bangkok), the wooden cross, and the little shell are staples on my desk.

And right there, right where the sun’s arms had escaped through the window curtains, is my mother’s beautiful face, because the light had finally found her to take her home. Near the end of the summer came the answer to our prayers- the passing of our mother who had lain in bed, languishing for almost three years. We are comforted knowing that she can now be her old self: feisty, funny, and beautiful. 

My beautiful mother.

Whenever I return to my childhood home, I would try to bring back something with me as a reminder of my childhood and as a way of uniting my past and present homes. I also like to fill the house with things that have special meaning whether it be from travel, from a friend, or a memento from the past. I had brought with me one of my mother’s little tea sets, something she more than likely picked up from the Tokyo International Airport (I probably got my wanderlust from her, and my hoarding tendencies!). I also brought home some of her pictures, one of which is on the desk reminder of how beautiful she once was, and perhaps even more beautiful now that she is reunited with her Creator. I wrote a tribute for her published by You can read it here.

I always leave a post with a quote from one of the books I’ve been reading, so I think it would only be appropriate to leave one from The Kissing Hand, especially since this season was also about goodbyes between mother and child.

Chester took his mother’s hand in his own and unfolded her large, familiar fingers into a fan. Nest, he leaned forward and kissed the center of her hand.
Now you have a Kissing Hand, too, he told her. And with a gentle “Good-bye and “I love you”, Chester turned and danced away.

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7 Sparkling Lessons from an Unconventional Mother

29 December 2014 | 11:06 pm Published by
Read the complete story here.

I learned a lot about motherhood in the most unconventional way.

My mother is a beautiful complex creature like no other. She wasn’t like most moms, not prone to exhibiting sappy affections or wearing aprons. When we were newborns, she rarely carried us in her arms, afraid that we would accidentally slip off her fingers. The carrying was left to the nursemaids, but the nurturing she did herself in the most unconventional but still loving way. And she carried us through life this way. Even after she’s passed, she continues to carry us with her memory, memories that inspire and if nothing else, makes us smile.

1.       Make treasure out of trash


My mother was a packrat. During trips to the states to visit family, she’d return with balikbayanboxes of stuff she’d hoarded mostly from dollar stores. Amidst the packed towels and trinkets, I’d find pine cones. I simply dismissed it as part of her “hoarding” tendency, then I later discovered that they were pinecones that she’d picked up during her many walks with her grandkids. They’d collect pinecones, stones, and whatever “treasures” they could find, making an adventure of their walk. It was one of the things that my sister-in-law most remembered about her. I know now that the treasure was really in the memory. These seemingly insignificant objects that we tend to ignore have created a cherished memory for my family, more valuable than any precious stone. She had found joy in what had fallen or what nature had rejected. My son never had the privilege of walking with his grandmother, but he had “inherited” that interest in looking for treasures during our walks.

2.       Don’t let life bully you


“Be good,” “don’t start a fight,” are some of the usual reminders a mother would give her child when sending her off to school. Not my mother. What would stand out even to this day was: “if somebody pushes you, push back” and always, “fight back.” She is by no means a war freak but when it comes to her children she can put up a good fight. We are not to be pushovers, she said. She taught us to always fight back like she did, never allowing life to beat her down. Even on her deathbed, she wouldn’t let pneumonia beat her, holding on much longer than the doctors expected.

3.        Walk that extra mile


She loved to walk, whether it be for a religious pilgrimage or a shopping spree. She could walk the whole length of Nathan Road in HK till sundown and bring me to tears in exhaustion. And through all the miles covered, I never heard her complain. That kind of resilience she took with her to almost any life marathon she endeavored. No matter how hard life was, she kept on walking.
Dedicated to my beautiful Nanay.
Dec 25, 1935 - Sept 11, 2014
Read the complete article here.

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Tips and Tricks on Traveling with a Toddler

19 November 2014 | 9:35 pm
Published by

It’s bad enough that you have to endure a long-haul flight with a crick in your neck, seated next to an overweight smelly passenger. Factor in a screaming toddler in the other seat next to you and you have yourself a 14-hour long nightmare. Oh, and the toddler belongs to you. 

Because I live abroad, flying back to the Philippines - without the hubby who has to work -is a reality that I deal with often. And I’ve managed to lug luggage and little one across the world a few times with no battle scars to contend with save for jet lag. Here’s how I did it without having to take out a bottle of Benadryl.

Published by

1.       Prepare now

Not days before. Not even weeks before. I mean NOW before you’re even planning the trip, because a well-mannered child is a great travel companion. My son is by no means perfect. We’ve had our moments. But we’ve never had to deal with a tantrum. We’ve either been lucky or maybe the following parenting technique works:

We never give him an audience. If he cries for no reason and we’re sure he’s not hurting or needing something, we let him cry it out. We explain why his behavior is unacceptable, and if he still doesn’t let up, we leave him alone for a bit.

I believe that trying to appease will only teach him that if he cries long enough, he’ll get what he wants. If you don’t believe in the “crying it out” technique, then try a little distraction (“I’m sorry we can’t go to the store now, but we can start packing instead, because we’re getting on an airplane! Should we bring Teddy?”). Be quick with the distraction before the waterworks start. Sometimes a change of scenery will help. Take him outside. The key is consistency. “No” means no, not yes after the 10th“no”. If you buckle, he’ll eventually figure out that persistence pays.

Read the complete article here.

2.       Use your golden ticket

Your child IS your golden ticket. In most cases, they give special treatment when you have a tyke in tow. Most airlines have kiddie meals and little toys for younger passengers. If the flight is not full, you may be bumped up to preferred seats which can give you and your restless travel companion more room. Other airlines also offer assistance at boarding especially when you have a lot to carry. You can also request for priority boarding so you don’t have to wait in line and get off earlier if you wish.

Read the complete article here.

3.       Pick the right location

When my husband once traveled with us, he had this idea of leaving one seat between the three of us. His rationale? Rarely does one want to sit in the middle. Besides who can refuse a request from a mother and child to scoot over to the next seat? The plan worked, because nobody dared to take the middle seat, giving our boy an extra seat to stretch in.

Like I said, you may have the option to take preferred seats for free, but I choose not to because they usually have arm rests that can’t be raised, so my toddler can’t lay on my lap and stretch over to his seat for a more comfortable sleep. I also prefer aisle seats so we can easily get in and out without having to jump over a sleeping passenger.

Read the rest of the tips here.

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We are currently under repair. Please bear with us.

27 August 2014 | 4:05 pm

We are currently under repair. Please bear with us.

Meantime, you can view:

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Late Bloomer (Spring 2014)

25 August 2014 | 8:56 pm
Late Bloomer (Spring 2014)

Once again the seasons escape like water through my cupped hands. At the start of the year, I had vowed to put the spring banner up before summer comes. But summer is starting to pack up for the colder days.

I have no excuse. It is always the same story: busy, busy, busy, and life has a way of derailing you, throwing curveballs at you – mostly pleasant surprises, but still unexpected. We always plan one international trip and one local trip every year, but God saw it fit that I should cross borders twice this time.
Escape the Spring Break crowd in Tulum, Mexico.

Our first international trip was to Tulum, Mexico. It was a beautiful escape to kick off another exciting year. And as planned, I had my fill of ceviche, margarita, sun, sand, and sea. It also gave us a good dose of culture and history as Tulum is home to one of the best preserved Mayan ruins. Tulum is also the place to go to avoid the Spring Break crowd. While Cancun is overrun by American college kids, Tulum is quietly dotted by hipster Europeans who prefer to soak in the sun in silence. There is a price to pay to avoid the crazy crowd though as everything was pricey, including the shopping.  
Shopping is part of the joys of travel, hoo-hoo! Oh, I love owls too.

We like to fill our home with stuff we had picked up from our travels. For this trip, we bought a beautiful black and white Talavera water dispenser and the fish plate featured on the banner which I use as my ladle rest. I also got this gorgeous Mayan weaved necklace bib made from Chiapas. I like to fill my wardrobe with statement pieces that tell a story, and I’m excited to wear this one on a date night.
My Animo family: Reunited in the Philippines, 2014.

Our second international trip was to the Philippines to visit my ailing mother. Although we had come home expecting the worse, it was surprisingly pleasant in spite of the circumstances. It was the first time that we were reunited (save for my husband who had to stay home because of work) as a family in a long while as we all live in different cities now. We bonded once again as a family, gathered around the table, celebrating family and food (Because in Bacolod, all you do is eat and eat. And eat. And if you have nothing to do, you eat!).
Barber bonding between grandfather & grandkid: priceless.
I could have made the trip without my boy, but my husband had insisted that I bring my son along, knowing how important it is for the little one to spend time with his Filipino family. I am most grateful for that, for a husband who wants his son to form a strong bond with his Filipino heritage. And although we missed my husband’s birthday and our anniversary, seeing my son do everything with his grandfather, made it all worth it (In honor of our anniversary and my amazing life partner, I included the head wreath on the banner. It is my wedding wreath which I wore during our reception, handmade for me by our Marshallese friends.)
Snuck in a little bit of beach time (Carbin Reef, Negros Occidental)
Father and grandson went to the barber’s and the bakery together. Every weekday Tatay would drive my son to school although it was within walking distance. He would sit patiently while the toddler ran around the playground and while I paced, impatient and ready for lunch. We had been home for over a month now and every day, my son would say, “I want to go to the Philippines.”
My son's teachers at Creative Beginners.
And yes, he went to school for a couple of weeks. I thought I would deal with some crying once I left him at the classroom, but the moment the classroom door was closed between us, he forgot about me. I also enjoyed the whole experience as much as he did (because I knew the owner, every now and then I was allowed to watch unobserved even when parents are really discouraged to.) The letter F on the banner is one of his little projects at school, and of course, it stands for his name and “family”.
My Mother's Day backyard breakfast prepared by my boys.
Like the birds who had been banished by winter and returned at the last frost, spring also saw me tweeting to celebrate the blooming of life. Twitter was another time suck that I didn’t have the time or the interest for, but I joined it for a project which I later abandoned. Although the project was shelved (maybe for now), my Twitter account soared. As of today, I have over 9,000 followers and close to 900 fans. Not bad, for a fledging Twit, I think. And if you want to know how I did it, email me. I’ll be more than happy to share my secret. In fact, I might write about it soon.

Come travel with me aboard a different vehicle!
And just as @wwwAnaViajera took flight, it also opened some doors for me. First, it connected me to kindred spirits: writers, photographers, artists, and dreamers. It gave me the venue to share my photos and to earn some approval from fellow artists. I am overwhelmed and surprised by the number of Retweets and Favorites that my photos have been getting (the ones from fellow writers and photographers give me the most high). I also have a couple of established photographers emailing me to discuss my work. On top of that, my posts have been featured in a few travel sites like Geotravellers, Bluegreenresorts, and another travel site that currently slips my mind. In all the spring madness, there are so many things that have escaped me, and there are probably several milestones that I fail to include here.
My photo was featured on Blue Green Resorts and a few other sites.
But I digress. Through Twitter, I was also invited to write for Editorial IV, a news website for leaders and movers, a venue for intelligent debate. I was honored to be invited as guest contributor and thankful to be given the opportunity to share my thoughts on the equation of success.  You'll find the article here.
Another new writing opportunity presented itself to me through, a site that inspires Filipina women to shine. I appreciate how the site allows me to write about issues that are close to my heart. Read one of my stories here.

Easter is like Christmas for this family.
And as always, spring bloomed for us without fail. My son continues to blossom as he celebrated another Christmas in Easter. Yes, Easter is like Christmas in our household, which I figure is appropriate, because according to Christian teachings, Easter is a more important holiday than –eep- Christmas. Yes, you read it here.

After all, it is Easter that gives Christmas it’s meaning. Without the empty tomb, the significance of the cradle in the manger would be just as empty. Not many are aware that the Easter season is actually observed for 50 days until the seventh Sunday of Easter. And so it is that we would have several Easter egg hunts and treats throughout spring in our household. And looking at my son eye’s shine every time he gets his Easter treats makes me feel like a child on Christmas morn all over again.
The children’s classic Guess How Much I Love You, represents our Easter celebration. It was something I’ve always wanted for my child, even before I got married. It is a recordable book from our beloved Aunt Tracy. We also have a smaller travel version, a gift from friends during one of my baby showers (I had two!).

Another book on my desk is A Fine St. Patrick’s Day by Susan Wojciechowski in honor of - you guessed it – St. Patty’s Day, another important holiday for this family. I may have mentioned this before, but my boys are part Irish. I also love everything Irish. The first Irishman I met was a priest who officiated one of our masses in St. Scholastica’s Academy back in grade school. I can’t remember how he looks like. All I remember vividly was his ruddy cheeks, his engaging sense of humor, and his lilting accent. He also said the Irish loved to drink. I thought then that the Irish were the most interesting people in the world. Oh, and did I tell you that I love U2?

Almost everyone in my husband’s family has already been to Ireland, so our first European trip will more than likely be to Dublin and Galway to find Finnegan’s forefathers (just putting it out there in case the universe is reading).

Spring saw me another year older and wiser. I got my wish too!
And finally, Twitter got me waxing poetic and inspired as every now and then I would compose my own quips and quotes about travel and life. I know I am no Dalai Lama and I probably have no business composing inspirational rhetoric, but these are thoughts and observations that I’ve picked up along the way through my journeys, some I may have unintentionally and subconsciously picked up from enlightened beings and made my own.

I’ll be leaving you with a few lines that I think best suit this blossoming period of my life:

There is no such thing as true love. Love that is not true is not love at all. Love is love. There is no other kind.”

“Love is a travel story. Travel is a love story. What's your story?”

And because it is good to be home:

“The best destination is home.”


Some of the spring blooms in our backyard - Zinnias!

More spring blooms. A gift from a friend.


As the seasons change, so will my desktop banner. I will be adding little touches to it, moving the items around, and customizing it for the season. I will archive its transformation on My Desk. 

Read more about how I put the banner together and how my real writer's desk looks like at My Desk. And tell me how your desk looks like, and I will tell you who you are.

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My love story

29 April 2014 | 2:51 pm Published by

I once met a Spanish dreamer who said that “travel is a love story.”

My husband and I had just arrived at her little rustic inn hidden by trees from the rest of Little Corn Island, and she had asked me what I did for a living.  I told her I was a travel writer which started her waxing poetic. Watching her looking out at the sea, her eyes reflecting the quiet ebbing of the waves, she got me thinking of what we had to go through to get there.

Sitting on the edge of the Caribbean, Little Corn Island is one of Nicaragua’s best kept secrets. To get there, my husband and I had to get on a 10-seater plane from the city of Managua. After lurching and wobbling through the clouds for one and a half hours, it got us to Big Corn Island in one piece.

At Big Corn, a cheerful Creole drove us to the dock where we waited for our boat at a restaurant by the water, observing dark-skinned fishermen clean their catch on the shoreline. We watched the fish being gutted and its blood streaming like a dream into the water. Our ceviche was as fresh as could be.

The boat was larger than our plane, but we were packed like excited sardines baking under the sun. It rocked uncertainly under our weight. When we finally arrived at Little Corn, the journey was far from over. We walked for 30 minutes, dragging our heavy bags along a roughly cleared path through the jungle.  Coconut trees nodded overhead as if to say, “welcome,” but I hardly noticed. I was thirsty, tired, and my shoes were digging blisters on my heels. I wanted to blame my husband for choosing a place so difficult to get to. Instead I bit my lip, because I could hear him cursing under his breath, having to carry my extra load.
Read the rest of the story here.

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What’s Missing in the Read+Write Equation of Success

14 April 2014 | 1:10 am

An excerpt from my guest post in Editorial IV, a place for news, opinions, leaders, and intelligent debate. 

I’ve read quite a number of writer’s memoirs not only because they are interesting reads, but also because I’m constantly looking for ways to improve my craft. There is plenty to learn from them in the craft of writing and the art of living. What they all have in common is that they all subscribe to the Read+Write equation for success. According to many of the literati, if you want to be a great writer, then you must read much and write more. It is a tried and tested formula resulting usually to a Pulitzer Prize or a spot on the N.Y. Times bestseller list.

Writing while on assignment at Huahin, Thailand.

Some have even longer equations like read+write+read, read+read+write+write, and several other combinations. Each one promises success. But whatever happened to the variant called “live”, I wonder. What about living? Shouldn’t that be part of the equation too? In fact, shouldn’t it be the most important part of the formula?

One of my favorite writers answers by saying that if you want to be a great writer, you must forget about having a life. And that’s when the equation fell apart for me.    He said that when he waits in line, to buy a ticket for instance or wait at the doctor’s office, his nose is always half buried between pages. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather people watch. I prefer watching the mom with a crying baby on one arm and a phone on the other while a toddler tugs at her leg, and I wonder how she manages it all. I think about how it must be like in the morning when several things are pulling her in different directions. I imagine there is a dog or cat waiting at home too, waiting to be fed. All this visualizing - isn’t that in a way storytelling too? Or at least, the beginnings of a story?

The books can wait (Tulum, Mexico).

Pardon me if I fail to mention the name of this royalty of the letters whose words I consider gospel (except for this “not having a life” part). I couldn’t find my copy of his writer’s memoir, and I don’t want to misquote him. What I’m writing about is simply what I remember from reading his book which is like most of his novels- pulls you in and never lets go (if you want to know who this writer is and what the title of the book is email me at

Maybe I am wrong. Maybe the the reason why I do not have a notable award to speak of yet is because I would rather romp barefoot on the grass than sit inside, forsaking the sun, to read about life although it is out there waiting for me.

Read the complete article at Editorial IV.

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Still on a different Time Zone? Here's how to Beat Jet Lag

21 March 2014 | 3:44 pm

Ahh...the pains you have to go through to get to paradise (Corn Island, Caribbean).
Published by Action and Fitness Magazine

You’re back in Manila, but your mind and body clock is still in New York. That’s not a good thing when there is a night and day difference between cities. Everyone around you is getting up and at ‘em, while you walk around in a daze, ready to crash any moment. You got the travel bug, and it’s not the good kind. It’s called jet lag, the kind that punishes your body for the 14 hour long haul flight and the 12 hour time difference. There’s is no way you can turn back time, but there is a way to squash the bug. Here are a few quick turnaround tips:


Quick fixer-uppers
Hydrate – drink lots of fluids before, during, and after the flight. The dry cabin air can leave you dehydrated and can make you feel more tired than you already are. And when we say drink lots of fluids, we don’t mean the complimentary in flight beer or vodka on the rocks.

Rest – make sure you’re well rested before your trip. If you’re tired before you travel, jet lag will even be worse. Get a full night’s sleep before you take off.

Exercise – a no brainer, don’t you think? Staying in good shape in general can do lots of wonders. Stick to your exercise schedule. Just because you’re on vacation doesn’t mean your fitness routine should be on leave too.

Stretch - Athletes stretch and warm up before the game. You can benefit from that as well. Stretch out your limbs before the flight. Doing so helps your muscles and joints endure the hours of inactivity. You can also do it during the flight.


Fly fully equipped – bring a neck pillow, a blindfold, slippers, and earplugs. Wear loose fitting clothes so your body can breathe. Your feet may swell up while in transit; avoid high heels or snug footwear.

Freshen up – while in flight, wash your face, brush your teeth, or even change undies. Freshening up can be rejuvenating.

Go decaf -   After the equivalent of 1 P.M. in your destination, refrain from drinking coffee.  Caffeine can greatly affect your snooze time and will make it more difficult for you to adjust to the new time zone.

Eat up – on the first few days of your trip, eat light snacks every few hours. Doing so will help keep your metabolism cranked throughout the day. It will also help prevent possible food coma from overeating.

Adapt - upon arrival, follow the schedule of the time zone you are in.  Even if you don’t feel like it yet, eat when the locals eat. Same goes for your sleeping schedule.

Shower – take a nice cold shower if you arrive in the morning. A shower after you’ve landed will make you feel refreshed and will help stimulate circulation. If you arrive at night, a hot shower or bath will help you relax before bedtime.

Readjusting your clock

According to the National Sleep Foundation, it will take you about a day to adjust for each time zone travelled.  Adjust your snooze button before your departure.  Several days before your flight:
Westward:  always wake up an hour later and sleep an hour later
Eastward: always wake up an hour earlier and sleep an hour earlier

You can also pre adjust by regulating your light exposure before your departure. If you’re heading:
Westward: expose yourself to light in the late afternoon and evening, and stay away from light in the morning 
Eastward: expose yourself to light in the morning, and stay away from light in the evening

Anti-jetlag diet  

Follow the following diet days before you’re scheduled to leave:

4 days before – start the Argonne Diet by consuming large meals. Opt for a high-protein breakfast and lunch. For dinner, stock up on the carbohydrates. Coffee intake should be limited between three and five in the afternoon.

3 days before – eat small. Total calorie consumption should not be more than 800 calories. You won’t be running a marathon so easy on the carbohydrates as well. Again, limit caffeine intake between three to five P.M.

2 days before – Gobble it all up. Eat large meals. Again, prepare high-protein meals for breakfast and lunch, and a high-carbohydrate dinner. Limit caffeine intake between three to five P.M.

1 day before – eat small and light. Total calorie consumption should not be more than 800 calories. Similarly, limit carbohydrate consumption. If you’re westbound, caffeine should only be taken in the morning. If you’re heading the opposite direction, coffee should be limited in the evenings.

Departure day – If it’s a long haul flight, sleep until breakfast time at your destination. Consume large meals with a big, high-protein breakfast.  

To pill or not to pill

Taking sleep aids may help you get a good sleep, but incorrect sleep medication, can only make jet lag worse. Here are some things to consider before popping the pill:
-          The National Sleep Foundation does not recommend over the counter sleep aids as they may cause a severe hangover effect.
-          If you are considering melatonin, a hormone produced by the body to induce sleep, take a pill at the time you wish to sleep at your destination, beginning three to four days before your trip.
-          Drink 0.5 to 5 mg of melatonin no earlier than three hours before you wish to go to sleep.
-          Taking melatonin with a light therapy box is known to reduce the effects of jet lag. A light therapy box gives off light that mimics outdoor light. It is often used to treat depression and other conditions caused by exposure to bright artificial light.
-          For a good four hour sleep, consider Sonata.
-          For long haul flights, you may want to take Lunesta. This sleep medication guarantees about 8 hours of sleep.
-          If you’re using Ambien, avoid taking it for a flight that is less than 8 hours long. Also, do not take with alcohol.
-          Remember that taking sleeping pills can cause nausea, dizziness, confusion, headache, vomiting, and dry mouth.
-          You may also want to try antihistamines and motion sickness pills to induce sleep.
-          Consult your doctor before taking any of these medications.
Get moving in-flight

If you’re not getting any sleep, might as well get moving. Combat discomfort, poor circulation, swelling, cramps, and lethargy by exercising in flight.  
-          Walk around the aisles when seatbelts signs are off.
-          Squeeze a tennis ball or even a balled up sock with your hands until they’re tired.
-          You derrière gets the most beating during long haul flights. Exercise your gluteus muscles by flexing and holding as long as possible.
-          With the balls of your feet planted, raise your legs using the calf muscles. Place your hand carry on your knees for more resistance. Repeat until tired.
-          Do repetitive, head, shoulder, and arm rolls.
-          Stretch your arms and legs constantly. Arch your torso forward and backwards like a cat.


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Our Greatest Journey - Winter 2014

20 February 2014 | 5:45 pm

Winter has been so kind to us this year. It has gifted us with many days of sun, days of blissful 70s weather occasionally gloomed by the “teens” (with a pretty dusting of snow as consolation) as if to remind us that winter is still very much present. But then we can’t complain. In a few days we are off to Tulum, Mexico for our yearly winter escape.
Wake me up when winter ends.
I know I’ve said this before, but every year, we decorate the foot of our Christmas tree with Christmas books before Santa comes in to replace them with presents. I’ve collected over a dozen Christmas books and was going to feature one of my son’s favorites. But at the last minute, I’ve chosen The Very Hungry Caterpillar, a children’s book, as the winter book for several reasons. First, I’ve been very pleased with how my son has taken to reading. We read every day, twice a day (before naptime and bedtime) at least two books every time. Sometimes he’d try to prolong going to sleep with an emphatic “one more” or “last one” until we’ve read about 4.
Our first Christmas in our new home.
There is always a favored one every week, one we’d read over and over again every day and one of them is The Very Hungry Caterpillar about  -you guessed it – a famished insect who ate through the whole week. Written and illustrated by Eric Carle, the picture book is a fun tale for toddlers that teaches them about what happens when one overeats while learning about the days of the week, counting, and different foods. I had gotten a small board book but it got waterlogged when I set it by the fish tank, so I moved the fish down to the kitchen, also because his bookshelf is starting to get really crowded (Because of the flurry of activities, I had failed to mention that we had gotten a dragon scale betta fish last spring for our son and had parked the little aquarium in his bookcase. The fish called Una is almost a year old now. We’re very surprised he survived this long).

One of our new Christmas books is The Night before Christmas

a Little Golden Book specially printed

by my husband’s company for the kids.

As replacement for the board book, I found this coloring book version of the Very Hungry Caterpillar. I thought it was perfect, because we’ve been staying indoors a lot this season. Christmas and winter are all about crafts, trying to keep an ever curious and restless toddler busy with paste, paints, and crayons. You will find the book on the banner, opened up to the butterfly page in anticipation of spring.
Christmas (and the entire winter) was all about crafts.


Also on the desk is a tulip, part of the Valentine bouquet from my husband, because Tulips are very significant to us. Many say that tulips are symbolic of perfect love and eternal life. This spring blossom is also a favorite flower of someone very dear to me, my angel, who was lifted up to heaven a long time ago.
Una is surviving winter.
Several years back, I had asked St. Therese for a sign to know if my boyfriend then (now my husband) is the one I will be spending my happy-ever-after with. And when I received a bouquet of roses (St. Therese’s sign of an answered prayer), it was wrapped in paper printed with Holland tulips. Call me nostalgic, superstitious, and a romantic fool, but I thought it was almost like my angel was telling me: “go and move forward. He’s the one.”  And so I walked down the aisle to meet my best friend with a bunch of burnt orange tulips held tight. I’ve never let go since.
My bridal bouquet of burnt orange tulips, heralds of spring.


On St. Valentine’s Day, we renewed our vows in a little chapel along with about a dozen couples, a majority of them were elderly couples, and we were probably the youngest pair. I found it meaningful, to be surrounded with older couples who still strive to strengthen their marriage even after all these years. The Rev. Bishop Patrick Zurek officiated the Celebration and Recommitment of Sacramental Love. For our marriage to be blessed by a bishop no less made the ceremony even more significant. He said that there is something liberating about committing to love, to one person. How ironic but true. It then occurred to me that on the day that I tied the knot, I was freed.
With my Valentine and Ever-After.


The place card on the desk is from the dinner after the service. Last year, we celebrated valentines on the beach, under the stars, with a Swiss couple. I hope our Valentine’s celebration next year will be another unique occasion (not that there is anything wrong with the usual wining and dining).

A little greeting from my cupid.
I usually feature a travel item/gear and for this season, it’s my favorite winter tote. It’s an oldie from Michael Korrs, a metallic silver tote with leather straps. It’s light and roomy enough for my personal effects, my camera, and diapers (which I hope to be rid of in the next few weeks). And because it’s silver, it’s a great accessory to brighten up my outfits this winter.
This metallic MK tote brightens up my winter wardrobe.
And finally, the paisley notebook is my journal for 2013 as I say farewell to another beautiful year. It sits on the National Geographic magazine to welcome Our Greatest Journey yet: 2014.

Here's a to a blessed and beautiful year ahead!


As the seasons change, so will my desktop banner. I will be adding little touches to it, moving the items around, and customizing it for the season. I will archive its transformation on My Desk. 

Read more about how I put the banner together and how my real writer's desk looks like at My Desk. And tell me how your desk looks like, and I will tell you who you are.


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Better Blocks in OKC

18 February 2014 | 10:45 pm From my TravelOKCity Column

Living in the city, I have always been drawn to creative dynamic districts. Instead of going to the hippest nightspot, I prefer places alive not with blaring Lady GaGa but with folksy local tunes. I love places of diversity where owners of pop-up businesses can share artisan coffee with conglomerates and talk about homegrown art. A thriving place that offers a wide variety of options for the craving palate and the hungry soul seeking self-expression and stimulation. A green society that creatively benefits from the environment without taking advantage of it.

Better Block OKC is in the process of building these communities, street by street, block by block.  A city movement, Better Block OKC is a community revitalization project initiated by Urban Land Oklahoma Institute (ULI), an organization that advocates the responsible use of land and supports in creating and sustaining thriving communities. In alignment with ULI’s commitment, Better Block OKC aims to change the way we live in an urban landscape by temporarily demonstrating how to improve an area with pedestrian and public infrastructure combined with art, culture, pop-up businesses, and street life. I’ve heard a few call it the dream of the Millennials, a place similar to the plazas and markets in Europe where people can lounge, commune, and be inspired. 

Indeed, wouldn’t it be wonderful to step out of your home into a block party or a town fiesta? Or to have a buzzing market with fresh produce and affordable crafts just a walking distance away? I’d like to have a used bookstore and a café just next-door where I can take a break from my writing without breaking the bank.

Last month, I stepped into this aspired world at NW7th and Hudson where Better Block OKC launched its first project, transforming an area that would have been otherwise just another region in the city into a hub of activity.


Trucks lined the streets selling all sorts of food fare from waffles to eggrolls.  Establishments took their café tables and chairs out to join the party. Makeshift stalls sold fresh fruits and vegetables. Shops like OUI showcased handmade and one of a kind jewelry, paper garlands, weavings, and ceramics from independent artists and designers from LA, NY, and OKC.

A pop-up flower shop bloomed with rainforest-certified, free-trade roses from Ecuador. Farm-direct flowers like ranunculus, jumbo hydrangeas, Starfighters, and white Oriental lilies filled the air with the smell of spring and the promise of a blossoming summer.Art installations also decorated the sidewalk, adding to the festivities.  Recycled bottles were used as planters and hung in strings forming a “green” curtain against a brick wall.
Add caption


While lining up for Belgian waffles, I witnessed street art in the works. Two young men busied themselves with spray paint, one balancing on a small ladder, the other on a bicycle. Their masterpiece expressed the sentiment of the entire state: a bright yellow thunder rumbling over the opposing team.   

The whole process was art itself, including the spectators taking it all in with their eyes and their camera phones. They gathered around in an almost perfect half circle as the artists moved, in sync to the music, sometimes in unison, sometimes in response to each other’s movement as if they were in a standoff. Their agile bodies swayed this way and that, stretching their arms as far as they could reach to bring forth color.


Better Block OKC was also Better Bark OKC. The 2 day event encouraged furry friends to come by as long as they were on leashes.

 Everything inspired creativity and community to urge the people to get more involved.  An interactive chalk wall encouraged revelers to share their thoughts about community building or simply have fun by making up their own once-upon-a-time –stories by filling in the blanks.


Little notebooks were handed out for visionaries to write their ideas and suggestions for the city.   “Think big and broad. Now and later. Detailed and big picture. But most of all, remember that your ideas matter,” encourages the first page.  “Be a player in your neighborhood; champion its needs, and help us build a better OKC.” Pages are like worksheets or activity sheets where people can draw, doodle, or simply dream.

I don’t know when the next Better Block party is, but soon as I hear about it, I’ll let you know and we’ll have a party.



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Coming home (Fall 2013)

10 January 2014 | 5:28 pm
The first banner taken in my new office.
Fall had escaped me too quickly. I’m now facing the first days of January from my  new office window, watching the snow start to melt under the bright sun. I am going to ask the same question I asked from summer: where did the autumn days go? To moving and unpacking. To settling in and repainting. To welcoming a steady stream of visitors and showing them around town. To making new friends and coming home. And so I apologize not only to you but to one of my favorite seasons for not giving it a proper tribute. And although we’re in the midst of winter, I am still posting the fall banner as My Desk is really just my journal and milestone tracker. And if you just happen to drop by, you are more than welcome to take the tour.  

A fall find I failed to share last year.

When we first came home to our new property, we found a card sitting on a little housewarming present from the previous owner. “I hope this home makes you as happy as it has us. We have made some of our best friends in this home and neighborhood,” it read.

And then the last line made my eyes well up –“Love abides in this place!” This is exactly how I feel about our old home, and it gave me great comfort to know that we are moving in to a place filled with love.

Love abides in this place.

I didn’t think it would be possible, but I had fallen in love with this house. It is in another historical neighborhood with lots of trees. This house is a little bit younger, built in the forties, but the little remnants of history from the milk door to the antique keys you see on the banner (don’t you just love old fashioned keys? I got one made into a necklace by a local artist in Oklahoma) gives the house just as much character as our starter home. It is also twice as large as our old abode with 4 bedrooms split on two floors, a basement, an attic, a laundry room, a walk-in pantry, a shed, huge front and backyards, and a dog run.  Each bedroom has an adorable window alcove, including the bathrooms which are almost twice the size of our old ones. The eat-in kitchen is spacious enough to accommodate our pub table. We painted the dining side of the kitchen red to make it look just like our old breakfast nook.

The living room before we moved in (photo borrowed from the real estate site)


Our living room now.

There is more than enough space than we know what to do with. In fact, now that I have a good sized walk-in closet, the closet and the dresser in our bedroom are practically empty (the TV room is also my husband’s dressing room, in case you’re wondering). There are two big closets in my office. One is almost empty while the other is where I temporarily store my books. Floor to ceiling bookshelves are underway.

I can't ask for a better office view.

I no longer have the three large windows that faced the backyard in my previous office, but I got a great trade off: three tall windows facing different sides of the house- the street, the backyard, and the side of the house overgrown with ivy and foliage, making it look like an enchanted forest according to my husband. He had planted a bird feeder by the window and most days, little chirping visitors (over a dozen of them when the feeder is full) would come to say hello. I couldn’t ask for more.

Speaking of windows, they’re everywhere. My kitchen is surrounded with them and the living room and the formal dining room feature beautiful bay windows. It is important for lots of light to come in and bless us every day.

I’m also happy that the house is a walking distance away from schools and a 10-minute drive to my husband’s workplace. After all, what’s the point of a beautiful dwelling place when you can’t come home early enough to enjoy it?

I enjoy decorating the house with pumpkins!

And so the past few months had been spent unpacking, cleaning, painting, staining, hammering, looking for specific things in the dozens of boxes, bickering (I want it red, he wants it to remain gray), exploring, discovering (I found an old fashioned pencil sharpener in the attic and he found a vintage fireplace poker in the basement!), sitting back and enjoying what we’ve done so far, and envisioning the many joyful days in this house.

We started exploring the Canyons this fall.

Featured on the desk is the door knocker from my husband’s childhood home. My in-laws had given it to us as a housewarming gift. Meaning and history make presents even more special, don’t you think? It has our last name engraved on the face and making it even more special is the fact that they think only my husband (amongst the siblings) would appreciate such a gift.

For the longest time, I had referred to our son as a “winter baby” but technically, he is an “autumn child” as he was born on the last day of fall. But then he was a newborn throughout winter, so I guess we can say that he is a child of both seasons. Time flies quicker than the falling leaves. He’s walking out of my heart too soon and his first little pair of shoes are on the banner (a gift from friends). Just recently he has taken to calling me “mom” instead of “momma”. There is something sweet and funny about that, but it’s also sad.

The fall festivities also kept as pretty busy.
We now know our ABCs (although we trip on the letter J or the letter Y every now and then), can spell our name, and can count all the way up to 40 when guided (1-10 is a piece of cake). He loves tea sets as much as he loves cars and can navigate through the iPad better than his dad can.

Speaking of Apple products, I recently switched to a different phone provider on an iPhone just because it’s free. I still maintain what I said before about Apple products. I don’t see what the fuss is all about. It’s actually a bit of an annoyance sometimes, because the displays are so darn small that most times I would need my glasses just to read a text message.

Also on the desk is a Build-A-Bear dressed in Marine Dress Blues.  My husband’s nephew Ben had had it made when he was much younger in honor of his uncle serving in the Military. Now that Ben has outgrown it, he’s passing it on to his uncle’s son. I find it a sweet gesture which is why I’m including the marine teddy on the desk also to commemorate Veterans Day. I feel so blessed knowing that my son has such a great role model.

I've taken an interest in chalkboard art lately.

The first quarter of the year is when we usually go for our vacation abroad, so we’ve been  looking around for a new destination. Guatemala or neighboring countries in Central America were in the shortlist just because it would be an easy flight (which explains the Lonely Planet guide on the desk). The major consideration was the distance. It has to be a short and easy flight as we are taking our toddler with us. But our search eventually brought us even closer to home until we landed on the Mayan Rivera.

I painted a whole panel in my son's room this chalkboard in the hopes of sparking creativity.

Mexico has never been in our radar. I hate to sound like a snob but to us, going to Mexico is synonymous to say, a trip to Las Vegas or L.A., overly commercialized tourist traps. I would more than likely have fun in these places, but they would never find a spot in our itinerary. Then we discovered Tulum, not quite as trampled and trodden as Cancun, but offers us the Mayan Ruins, the Riviera Maya white sand beaches, the ecological parks, the colorful markets in the pueblo, and all the tamales we can eat. The tickets have been bought and the beach side hotel has been booked. We’re counting the days.

An Amarillo autumn

Finally, the book for fall is Middlesex, a Pulitzer Prize winner by Jeffrey Eugenides. Urged by the old adage “don’t judge the book by its cover”, I endeavored to plow through it although it looked like heavy reading (remembering my bumpy trip On the Road) based on the somewhat somber looking book cover. It was far from gloomy though even with the story starting at fire- and war-ravaged Smyrna.

Middlesex is an engaging light read, a telling of a family saga, ala telenovella, only retold masterfully and cleverly, deserving of the prestigious award. Aboard the ship to the United States, the reader is taken on a history lesson on the Balkan Wars, the Nation of Islam, the Watergate Scandal, and the rise and fall of Detroit in the 60s, events that I would have otherwise little interest in. The story also explores gender identity and ultimately, the search for one’s true self. After all, isn’t that every one’s quest in life?

Just a few months in the house and we were already receiving guests.
Someone close to me had recently disclosed that she is finding her purpose yet again. She is over 10 years my senior, and she’s come upon this selfless but unsettling stage in her life when she gave everything until all she can hear is the echo of tired laughter. Even at her age, I understand her longing, because I feel that we are constantly finding purpose, otherwise we remain complacent and stagnant. I believe that we need to keep moving, keep traveling. Didn’t Pico Iyer say that “We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves?”

Relocating had forced me to reevaluate my purpose as it somehow derailed my path to my goals. But in the end, the aim is always the same: to be happy. Because it is when we are happy and content with ourselves that we become more useful to the world. At least, that’s what I believe.

Don’t listen to me. Just go keep moving, find your happiness, and then come home.

And this is home.



As the seasons change, so will my desktop banner. I will be adding little touches to it, moving the items around, and customizing it for the season. I will archive its transformation on My Desk. 

Read more about how I put the banner together and how my real writer's desk looks like at My Desk. And tell me how your desk looks like, and I will tell you who you are.

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Postcards from Nirwana (Bintan, Indonesia)

13 November 2013 | 5:41 pm

Published by Asian Traveler, 2008

12 May 2008

Dear Editor,

Salamat Datang! After three hours of waiting in the airport, another three hours on the plane, two hours  on the Singapore ferry terminal, and 55 minutes on a high speed catamaran, we are finally here. The weather is scorching hot, and the people’s greeting is just as warm. I’m sipping on a cold glass of sweet red tea that cooled my dry lips and refreshed my weary spirit. I have a feeling that  this is just a taste of what I will experience in the next few days. I will be writing you postcards constantly to update you  and more importantly, make you envious.

Can’t wait to get my feet wet.


Wish I had brought home this gorgeous Indonesian woodcarving.

3:30 pm, Day 1

I’ve barely unpacked, and  I haven’t even had the time to get used to the dim coolness of my room when the Nirwana staff ushered us excitedly out for the initial tour. I’m writing this right now in a buggy as it cruises through the smooth roads of the Nirwana Gardens resort compound. Driving the golf cart is Ady, the communications manager of the resort. As she drives us through the well manicured lawns and the generous trees, revealing the ponds and fountains, I am beginning  to see why the resort is called paradise. I was told that Nirwana is Sanskrit for paradise.

We’re getting off at the resort’s Thai restaurant. Check with you later.



4:25 pm, Day 1

I hope you’re not working too hard. Summer is eager and waiting. I can feel it as the sun bites on my skin, hungry for a burn. I’ve found a perfect spot here by the spice garden at the foot of Baan Aarya, Nirwana’s Thai restaurant. It has a spacious veranda with wooden floors overlooking the beach. Inside, the feel is warm, elegant, and eclectic.  Rich tones of greens and reds complement the dark hardwood furnishings made even more alive by the golden tinged tableware.  The generous glass windows reveal  coconut trees dancing with the wind outside, looking like live portraits.

From where I am seated, on the grass, by the herb garden where the chefs harvest spices for their Siamese delicacies,  I can see the dark blue waters go on forever until it meets with the open friendly sky. I am surrounded by the smell of chilli, lemongrass, and pandan leaves.

I am getting hungry.

6:30 pm, Day 1

Hello Editor! Dust is starting to settle. I’m  seated by the pond at the entrance of the Nirwana Resort hotel. Large koi fishes  are cavorting in the water. The underwater lights are bouncing off  their colourful bodies, making them look like mystical creatures,  moving around in graceful circles as if participating in a strange ritual.

Nirwana is a sprawling 240 resort.

A gong sounded nearby, perhaps announcing the arrival of more tourists. I’m weary to the bone, but my heart overflows with gratitude and anticipation. Before heading back to our place, the Nirwana Resort hotel, we passed by the resort zoo which features several exotic wildlife. The first one to greet us were several albino alligators tanning their white skin. There were also a couple of pythons lazing in the afternoon heat, and a huge vulture watching us warily.

8:00 am, Day 2

It’s day two in paradise. if you’re wondering why I’m writing this on the hotel stationery instead of a postcard, it’s because I got a feeling that this is going to be long one. Through my window, I can see the garden fountain gurgle endlessly. Early this morning, I explored Nirwana by foot, a place “where variety comes to life.” At least that’s  what the resort’s tagline says.

Nirwana Gardens is a sprawling 340 hectare property characterized by five resorts and hotels to cater to every type of guest. “Variety after all is the spice of life,” Nirwana’s general manager proudly explains.  Last night, I had a nice chat with the resort’s general manager, Abdul Wahab, and he told me more about this place over a tall glass of fresh watermelon shake. He had friendly eyes that brought light to his dark face. Smiling, he claimed he was Filipino. However, his thick Singaporean accent easily gave him away.

“Nirwana is a beach holiday resort for families. We are a family resort,” says Abdul. The Nirwana Resort Hotel, where I am staying for a few days, is a 245 room hotel that caters to every budget. Most of the rooms overlook the beach and the infinity pool where the chlorinated water overflows out to the sea (at least that was how it looked from my room). When guests tire of lazing by pool where frog statues spitting water watch over the sun worshippers, they can simply walk to the beach and wash off the chlorine in their hair with the salt water. 

I walked farther, on my bare feet to feel the powdery sand under my feet, and cut through the jungle. After about five minutes, I found myself at the Mayang Sari Beach Resort. The name alludes to the fragrance and essence of natural beauty. Beauty must smell like the sun and the sea and the promises of a ripe summer.

This part of paradise features fifty single-storey air-conditioned chalets with thatched roofs and private verandas. Each chalet has its own unique design, complimented by aromatic scents from lighted  incense to match the mood and theme of the place. Farther ahead is the Indira Maya, the paradise of romance. The exclusive villas boasts of extravagance fit for gods. Overlooking the north-western coast of Bintan, the villas include a private swimming pool, an individual courtyard, an outdoor sunken bath, luxurious furnishings of teak and antique and countless other amenities. 
Heading back, I found myself at the Nirwana Beach Club. This resort is situated on the water’s edge of Bintan.  The club offers accommodations in very reasonable prices, but the rustic huts are in no way cheap. They’re quaint colourful cabanas, complete with amenities, including wireless internet access.

Getting coz with a new friend.

The club is also near the Seasports Centre where windsurfing  and dinghy sailing lessons are offered regularly. Day fishing, kayaking, boogie boarding, snorkelling, waterskiing and wake boarding are also available. As I sat on the hot sand, cooling my toes in the salty water, I watched as the tranquil sea was occasionally disturbed by Banana boats and  jet ski hydrocrosses speeding by.

I was informed that if I got tired of sunbathing (as if that is ever possible), I can go jungle trekking, coastal rock trekking, cycling, rifle shooting or try archery. I thought of how heavy the bow must feel on my sun kissed shoulders and politely declined. They were eager to keep me occupied and persisted with the Sri Bintan Kampong Tour, the Traditional Fishing Tour, the Gunung Bintan Adventure Trek, the South Bintan Heritage Tour, and the Tanjung Uban Explorer. I thought of the mosquito bites versus the feel of the sun biting my shoulder and smiled coyly, shaking my head. “How about Go-Karting, Elephant park, mangrove tour.....” Wait a minute, elephants you say? The thought of Dumbo and his flapping pink ears did it for me. It’s set. Our elephant park tour is scheduled for tomorrow. Those sweet sneaky Indonesians....
I have to go. I can smell the Thai noodles from here. They always serve that on the buffet line for breakfast. Will write to you soon.

1145 pm, Day 3

part of the joys of traveling is making new friends.

Hello Editor,

I gained some new friends today, Emma and Rollie. Rollie likes to dance and play soccer. He’s an attacking midfielder with a powerful kick. He also stinks a little bit, but everybody seems to love him. Emma on the other hand is regal and graceful. She sat quietly, raising her trunk as I sat on her strong leg. Stretching out lazily, she sat on one of her hind legs like a giant walrus lounging on the beach and raised her head high, allowing me to hold on to her one short tusk. Her master said female elephants have short tusks while males have long ones.

 We’ll be doing the mangrove tour after lunch. I’ll write to you again.

Lunch was fantastic. We had crispy baby squid, sprinkled with sesame seeds, laden with barbeque sauce, and nestled on fried spaghetti noodles  shaped like a basket. We also had Gong-gong, sea snails considered to be an aphrodisiac. I didn’t really need to awaken my desires, but I thought I’d try out Bintan’s delicacy. It was tough fishing it out of its shell with a toothpick, but my hard work was rewarded by a soft chewy treat spiked with a dip of chilli and garlic sauce with a splash of lime juice and tomato sauce.

Fish on! fish on!

I am happy to report that I literally fished for lunch. I used this heavy fishnet to catch a feisty black garupa while balancing on a swaying plank by the side of Kelong, the floating restaurant. It was worth risking a cold dip in the water as the steamed dish melted like cream in my mouth. It was cooked in Cantonese sauce, not too salty or spicy as the shy chef, Ken Ow explained.
The crab dish was a sharp contrast to the strong flavours brought about by the black pepper sauce. The tangy flavour was washed down by the fresh watermelon smoothie which wasn’t too sweet. According to the chef, most of the dishes are prepared Cantonese style. This means that the flavours are subtle, not too sweet, spicy or salty. Even their fruit shakes are not dripping with sugar, which was perfect for me.

530pm, Day 3

We set out to the Sungei Sebung Mangrove at exactly 2pm. Apparently everyone is always on time here. Even the shuttle buses and the buggies that drive us around.  

The Bintan Mangrove is not only a popular tourist destination, it’s also a unique ecosystem that serves as coastal protection and provider of   countless raw materials. On our tour, our small but efficient boat sliced through the mercury like brackish water. After two days of sun, sand and sea, the line of endless mangroves on both sides was an interesting break. The sound of the jetty’s motor drowned out the noise of the wild. We sat back relaxed by the droning sound and the still waters.  Occasionally, we would be treated to little surprises like a tree snake coiled around a branch, its yellow striped body standing out in a sea of green leaves.
It was a full day. I’m ready for my spa treatment.

1030pm, Day 4

Like an oasis in the middle of a tropical jungle.

It was drizzling when we headed off to Kedaton Tropical Spa. The light patter of rain blessed our warm skin as we made our way into the spa on a checkered patterned path, where grassy green squares alternated with concrete.
Kedaton is a Javanese term that refers to the dwelling of a queen. How fitting, considering we were treated like no less than royalty. The word Kedaton also suggests “haven” or “new heaven on earth.” The Nirwana Gardens spa is hidden in the heart of a tranquil tropical garden where white blooms hang from a trellis ceiling and  delicate colourful flowers litter the floor.

I was treated to the south seas massage. I drifted into a half sleep, taking in the intoxicating and oddly relaxing scents of oils and flowers, as firm but gentle hands worked through my body, stimulating the circulation of my blood and lymphatic system. 

I am so relaxed. I’ll cut this report short before I doze off. I loathe the packing that I have to do tomorrow.
2:30pM Day 5

Nothing ever good lasts. My brief Sojourn this part of paradise has come to a close. Alas, I have to bid the quiet swaying palm trees farewell. The white plumeria blooms nodded goodbye, but their intoxicating perfume will always haunt me. The hot Bintan breeze will always keep my soul warm. Its heat will constantly remind me, on my cold and dreary days, that there really is such a thing as nirvana, not a fantasy heavenly world, but a paradise of powdery sands, sparkling waters, and welcoming people.

I’ll be seeing you in the next few days. In the meantime, I hope you will start to consider sending me to somewhere colder next time for a change, somewhere where I can wear my trench coat, perhaps?
Warm regards,

Ana Viajera

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The Remains of Summer (A Farewell to our First Home)

2 August 2013 | 3:41 pm
A farewell to our first home.

Where did the summer go? Mother Nature must be punishing us for having our summer vacation in advance, idling on the beach under the tropical sun, while the rest of the country froze in the middle of winter. When we returned spring had sprung. 40 plus one winks later, summer came, and just a couple of days ago, my husband said we only have a few more weeks before the first golden leaf starts to fall.

The lazy warm days are escaping me too quickly, although lazy isn’t the word that I would use to describe the past few weeks. More like crazy. This is the reason why I am posting my summer banner blog just a few days shy of autumn, and I apologize. Summer is usually packed with family affairs and events around the city, but it has gotten even more hectic while we prepare for another major adventure in our life.

I really thought this is where we would grow old in.

We are moving to Texas. My husband got an incredible job offer from a multinational company, a top tier management position with a compensation package that we couldn’t refuse, a post that will soon see my son riding the most advanced helicopters (if he’s lucky, he’ll get to test ride the President’s chopper!). So the last few weeks have seen us preparing for the move – house hunting and getting our first home ready to be sold.

Thank you for the love, beautiful home.
Aside from the highly attractive compensation and benefits, we were given a relocation package that many people say aren't offered anymore. So the move won’t be as stressful. There will be professionals coming in to do the packing.  I won’t even have to lift a finger to pack my toothbrush….well, maybe my underwear. As easy as they are making everything for us, the move will still be painful as we love our first house.

My best friend from high school came to kick off our summer.
This house has filled our days with love and joy. Every guest that has come to see our first home always comment on how lovely it is. They probably are just being polite, but even all the realtors that have come to appraise the property are confident that we will be able to sell the house quickly not only because it is in a prime location (one of the best neighborhoods in the city), but also because it has so much character to it and has been so well maintained. True enough, less than a week after it was listed, we had several offers. After we made a verbal agreement, somebody called asking to for a chance to overbid. Needless to say, we got more than we asked for the house.

This summer has been kind, blessing us with lots of rain. And our backyard bloomed!
I had planned to include a sprig of Crape Myrtle blooms from our trees in honor of our beautiful backyard and front yard, but I have so much in my mind lately that I forgot.  In its place instead is an old fashioned key that hangs from the doorknob of my bathroom. I think it best represents the house’s old world charm.

The bathroom where the key belongs to.
Anyway, my husband had hired landscapers to plant Crape Myrtles over a year ago, and I wasn’t pleased about it because it had not been cheap. But it all paid off as they now bring more color to our yards. Although not much grows in the back (thanks to the dogs), my husband works hard to keep the backyard somewhat looking decent as we love to hang out there on warmer days to entertain or enjoy a glass of wine (or two). His front yard is also his pride and joy. He has received numerous praises for it and the big joke in the neighborhood is that people are making bets on whether the grass is real or not.

Dining in our backyard is joy.
During sunny days, I also allow our child to roam free in the back to make mud pies in his fort or chase after our terrier while I watch from my office window. This is one of the many reasons why a good backyard is a non-negotiable when looking for a house. This means absolutely no townhouses or condominiums not only because there is something to be said about owning your own plot of land, but also because we want our own private backyard.

Travel white: shawl from Hanoi, Fugitive Poems by John Keats, Salvatore Ferragamo  
white bucks, and Calvin Klein leather tote.
You might notice that this banner is predominantly white, my ode to this white hot season.  It was taken in my home office, the last banner that will be shot in one of my favorite places in the house. Yahoo recently wrote about the white purse trend for the season of the sun, and of course I have my own white tote from Calvin Klein, one of my summer must-haves. When my son was a newborn, I made do without a purse for the longest time, simply because it was a hassle to tote around a baby bag, a purse, and on most times, a camera bag. Not counting the baby carrier of course, and the stroller, and the Baby Bjorn and on and on and on. Then I discovered the magic of the big tote – a mommy purse and a baby bag in one and a camera bag too! My white leather Calvin Klein tote does it all for me.

My place of worship overlooks the backyard.

If you’ve been traveling with me for a while now, you would know that I have little love for all things frou-frou, including baby bags.  For my baby shower, my sister-in-law had gifted me the JJ Cole Swag Bag, a little too expensive for my taste, at least for a baby bag that I know I won’t be using for long, but I like it because it is not too obvious and still stylish, I think. And while we’re on the topic of stylish baby stuff, I gotta rave about our stroller – the Quinny Maxi Cosi. I love it not only because it’s lightweight and easy to maneuver (unlike the common clunky ones) but also because it’s like a modern version of the traditional baby carriage (btw if you’re looking for a stroller the JJ Cole Broadway 360 is similar to the Quinny one. Really cute!). People have stopped me several times, complimenting the stroller and the baby of course (I love how people here are generous with their compliments. Even strangers come up to you and say, “I love your dress”, or “cute shoes, where did you get it?”, or “gorgeous baby!”)!

Love this stroller. Love this house. Love this life!

Now that all that baby stuff is out of the way – after all, my baby is now a big boy – let’s move on to the other items on the desk. The handmade bracelet is one of the gifts my husband had brought home from a business trip in the Bahamas. And I got the camera pendant from a little boutique during my last trip to Bacolod. It’s one of those cheap kitschy products from Korea, but I think it’s cute.   

The book for this summer is the Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. I’ve always known her as the tragic poet, and I’ve never found the taste for poetry except for a few moving lines from Rumi. But recently, a friend had mentioned that Plath did write a novel, and I thought fiction from a Pulitzer Prize winner would be worth the time, tragic or not. Besides, it is an American classic.

Another little milestone for Ana Viajera.

A number of people had asked me how I choose my reading list. Aside from the classics and the literary canon, I usually go with the suggestions of writer friends. The New York Times can also be a good guide but then they’ve also been known to give a thumbs-up to the likes of Paris Hilton. I have been guilty of wasting my time reading a few NY Times bestselling potboilers and shallow reads like Daniel Steel, Sidney Sheldon and the like back in the summers of my high school years, but I guess as a writer, it is something that I had to go through. One of my mentors had said once that you have to know what is out there – the good and the bad - to know what to avoid or emulate.

One of my summer shoots.
With Plath being a poet, I had expected her prose to be more lyrical, but she surprised me. She did not bother to impress with lyricism. In fact her language was straight forward, oftentimes blunt, but not to say that her work is less than remarkable.  

Love shooting at Bricktown because of all the interesting elements.
Esther Greenwood, the disturbed main character, is somebody that I can’t identify with, yet she made me laugh and cry. I can’t understand why she wants to end her life in spite of how the universe has been so generous. She also despises the picket fence kind of life, the kind that I think I live although my fence posts are rainbow colored.

The JJ Cole diaper bag I used, before I discovered the practicality
of the big tote (photo from
“The last thing I wanted to get married. The Last thing I wanted was infinite security and to be the place an arrow shoots from,” says the heroine. Esther is my complete opposite. I DO want infinite security and it gives me joy to be somebody’s place where an arrow shoots from.  I am one of the characters she loathes, the ones who would have reveled in that glamorous internship in a top fashion publication in NY. She would probably think of me as shallow and vapid the same way I would have found her exasperating and tedious.  This is one of the reasons why I found her novel fascinating as it offered a different perspective to life, because what may be exciting to one can be dull to another.

Just because we were crazy busy didn't mean
we weren't able to squeeze in some sun worship!
And although Esther and I are complete opposites, there is one thing that I agree with her. Like her, “I wanted change and excitement and to shoot in all directions myself, like the colored arrows from a Fourth of July rocket.”

I wasn't able to take pics of a lot of fireworks, but I think this small one
outshines the big guns. Surely you can tell why.


As the seasons change, so will my desktop banner. I will be adding little touches to it, moving the items around, and customizing it for the season. I will archive its transformation on My Desk. 

Read more about how I put the banner together and how my real writer's desk looks like at My Desk. And tell me how your desk looks like, and I will tell you who you are.

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Winners of 9 FREE Magazine Subscriptions from Ana Viajera and Zinio

26 July 2013 | 10:30 pm

Thanks to Zinio for the free magazine subscriptions!

Congratulations to the following winners of a free subscription to their magazine of choice from and Zinio.

1.     Cora Nicholas- Technology
2.     Super Tamad – National Geographic
3.     Carlyn Barrenechea – Good Housekeeping
4.     Angela Mae Era – Elle
5.     Alan Dizon – Conde Nast
6.     R.O. – Esquire
7.     Helix’s Exedra – National Geographic
8.     Rosette – Esquire
9.     J. dela Rosa – National Geographic

Please email us the following to claim your prize:
1.    First and last name
2.    Email address where we will be sending you instructions on how to access your free magazine subscription.
3.    Your magazine of choice (in case you’ve changed your mind; you can view the complete list of magazine titles here.

Make sure to respond on or before July 30, 2013, otherwise your prize will be forfeited and awarded to wait-listed participants.

We’re announcing the winners in advance to give them ample time to respond. Winners will be announced again on the 28thas stated in the contest rules.

Please be reminded that you have to be a member of to claim your prize. If you aren’t yet, simply click on the “Join this site” button on the right hand corner under Followers.

Thanks again to all those who joined. Visit us again for more freebies and free trips (no passport required!).

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Ana Viajera is Giving away FREE subscriptions to Esquire, Elle, National Geographic, Conde Nast and many more!

15 July 2013 | 8:58 pm


Win a FREE subscription to any of these popular titles.
There are hundreds more to choose from at!

Hello Viajeras! Want to win a free subscription to your favorite magazine? Ana Viajera (with the generosity of Zinio) is giving away 9 FREE subscriptions to popular magazines. Choose from any of the thousands of titles offers like Marie Claire, Esquire, National Geographic, Good Housekeeping, Newsweek, Popular Photography, and thousands more!

To join, simply
1.    Be a member of www.anaviajera.comby clicking on the “Join this site” button on the right hand corner.
2.    Comment on this post (or any other Zinio post on this site) by sharing the magazine title that you would like to win.

Watch out for future posts on for insider tips on how to increase your chances of winning. Contest runs until July 25, 2013, and winners will be announced on this site on July 28, 2013.

Contest is open to all Viajeras- wherever you are in the world!
Subscription length will depend on chosen title.

If you’re stuck with piles of magazines at home and have never heard of Zinio before, discover the new world of digital magazines. Zinio delivers the ultimate magazine experience for the digital age. The largest magazine stand in the world offers thousands of titles from the best in news, politics, technology, art, style, travel, and more. Zinio's products include the world's largest newsstand and top-rated applications for iPad, iPhone, Android and Windows 8. With Zinio, you can store and read full magazines offline, sync libraries across multiple devices and search digital magazine archives.  Build your library without having to worry about space and clutter, and you can take your collection anywhere with you!

There are hundreds of titles to choose from Conde Nast to Town& Country, from Elle to Esquire, from Outdoor Photographer to T3. Overwhelmed? Don’t be! Get the Z-Pass to get 3 new magazines for $5 every month. Don’t be pressured to choose the right one;  you can swap your titles every month and explore. With Z-Pass, you don’t have to commit to a full year subscription to a title that you later discover is not to your liking. If you get bored, simply switch to another title!

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Connecticut: In Search of a Fairy Tale

14 July 2013 | 9:47 pm Published by Leisure and Adventure Travel Magazine

A gloomy but still beautiful day in Connecticut.

Before you read on, I just wanna let you know that I'm giving away 9 FREE subscriptions (no strings attached!) to popular magazine titles like Esquire, Nat Geo, Elle, Macworld, Maxims and hundreds more to choose from. Read about the contest here.

And here's an insider tip:

Leave a comment on other Ana Viajera posts (aside from Zinio) and increase your chances of winning! In fact, the more comments you leave, the more chances of winning!

Thanks to all those who have joined so far!

Connecticut: In Search of a Fairy Tale
published by Travel Leisure plus Adventure Magazine

There is a place in New England, where I can picture Hansel and Gretel tracing a burbling brook to a water falls and get lost along the way. Behind charming Federal style houses, I wouldn’t be surprised if I spotted Bambi darting through bushes. By the backyard of my lodging is a path that leads to the woods where I imagine the Seven Dwarves live. Do I live too much in my childhood storybooks? I couldn’t help it when Connecticut‘s enchanting towns call to mind the stories I’ve loved. A stay in this New England state is a chance for me to revisit my childhood, to devour dark chocolate dipped pretzels like Gretel did the gingerbread house, to call on Rapunzel to let down her hair at the Gillette Castle, and to sit on Mark Twain’s desk and rewrite Huckleberry Finn’s adventure.

Once upon a time in Kent

Kent, known as the top foliage town in New England, is one of those small communities that I absolutely adore. Along the main street are quaint bookstores, antique shops, art galleries, cafes and boutiques that made me want to stay happy ever after in this delightful Northeastern town. I could sit outside J.P. Gifford Market, a blend of the old world market in Rome and the new world café in New York, and enjoy an Indian chicken Tikka Marsala wrapped in naan with arugula, tomato chutney and cucumber rait under a red and white umbrella. I could sit there for hours watching locals walk leisurely along the streets like time was on their side.  Or, I could walk over to the House of Books and open the red door to reveal more worlds to me. On the shelves were hand written notes (“I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter. – T.S. Eliot”) that told me that this is not your ordinary big chain bookstore like Barnes and Nobles or even Powerbooks.

Five miles north is the Kent Falls State Park where rushing water cascades 200 feet down to join the Housatonic River. The ¼ mile steep trail can be a challenge but a refreshing reward awaits at the top. When I reached the top, the powerful rushing water, the crowding foliage, and the smell of a new day in the midafternoon silenced me. After the climb, I followed one of the forest trails and sat on a picnic table to enjoy the mist and waited patiently for a reindeer sighting. It was a magical moment even though Bambi did not make an appearance that day.

The prince in a castle

His name is William Gillette, an eccentric actor, writer, and producer, best known for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes in the 1916 silent film. Gillette built a castle high up on the banks of the Connecticut River in East Haddam in 1919. 

It was closed the day we went to see Gillete’s kingdom, but even just the grounds proved worthy of the drive.  The park grounds feature scenic trails, picnic areas by the pond, and a spectacular view of the Connecticut River where the ferry lazily glides on the still waters. 

I roamed the area within the stone walls that corral the fortress and found a stone arch which led to one of the trails. The green path was inviting. I could almost hear it calling for me to explore its mysteries, but I was a little afraid that I would get lost. Maybe, I thought, if I dropped crumbs to mark my path, I could easily find my way back, but we all know what happened to that story. So I made my way back towards the imposing medieval structure and longed to see the peculiar features that the castle is known for: hidden mirrors and lock protected and hand carved door latches.  Locked out, I  looked up at the stone towers, imagining Rapunzel unfurling her long golden tresses. But there was so much Connecticut had to offer. There was no time for daydreaming.

Following the sweet trail

Salty pretzels dipped in dark chocolate, milk toffee sprinkled with nuts, and a chocolate ganache center coated in rich cocoa: these are the stuff that fairy tales are made of, I think.  It pleased me to know that Connecticut is home to many world renowned chocolatiers  and local chocolate artisans. So it only made sense that I followed the Connecticut Chocolate Trail. 

Pardon the cliché, but I did have a little taste of heaven at the Belgique Chocolatier in Kent where the trail begins. As a matter of fact, the Boston Globe claims “…heaven must be like a box of chocolates from Belgique.” Chef Glissen, the artist behind the dark masterpieces of Belgique, former chef to royalty all over the world, is famous for his artisan house-made chocolates, truffles, and handmade ice cream.

At Bridgewater in Brookfield and West Hartford, the American style premium handmade turtles, toffees, caramel and peanut butter patties look like jewels in silk lined boxes. They can cost a treasure too at $38 for a box of 1 pound assortment.  Bridgewater is renowned, having won several awards and glowing reviews from the culinary world.  The trail continues all over the state with over 8 sweet spots offering edible treasures that I wont trade for rubies or opals.

Huckleberry’s home

Here is where the stories were created, at the Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford Connecticut. Here, where Twain, who originally was Samuel Clemens, was the happiest and the most productive in his whole life, is where he breathed life into Huckleberry Finn. Up in the billiard room was Twain’s private domain. This is where he conjured stories while looking out the generous windows, not seeing the cardinals playing in the meadows of Nook Farm and instead seeing the Mississippi River where Huck would have his adventure. I looked out hoping that I too would be inspired and see a story that I could write, instead all I saw were the withering trees surviving winter.

All throughout the house were stories wanting to tell their tale from the large pier glass mirror in the drawing room to the black and silver patterns on the red ceiling in the entrance hall, calling to mind Middle East and Asian Cultures which must have inspired the writer. 

Every room was a revelation, a chance to enter the mind of a great creator.In the Library, the massive oak mantelpiece from Ayton Castle in Scotland had probably heard the numerous poetry and stories that Twain had told his children while they sat captivated, surrounded by artworks and hundreds of books. 
Down the hatch

Once upon a time, the people of Connecticut decided to create a lake by filling it with water from the Housatonic River.  Within weeks, an army of men swarmed the valley to build the state’s largest body of water connecting the city of Danbury and the towns of Brookfield, New Fairfield, New Milford, and Sherman. The people called it Candlewood Lake, and it was good. With mountains rising from its shore and the vast blue Connecticut sky providing a stunning backdrop, the 5,400 acre lake soon became a favorite watering hole for locals and vacationers alike. People from as far as New York were drawn to the lake  to swim, fish, or simply relax. I chose the latter with shrimp for company at Down the Hatch, Candlewood Lake’s only waterfront restaurant located in Brookfield.

It was still a little chilly, but it was nice to sit out by the water and enjoy the fresh catch beer-buttered with coleslaw and fries on the side. Over by the dock, a bunch of schoolboys were loading up their dingy, getting ready for a little adventure, perhaps at a secluded cove.  I sat enjoying the quiet and watched them as their little boat sputtered to a start before it went its merry way down the lake, their laughter trailing behind them.

He loves CT!

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Z-Pass: Your Passport to See the World and Beyond

10 July 2013 | 9:13 pm

So where do you want to go for the rest of the summer? Why settle for a boring staycation when you can discover the secrets of Europe’s most  unusual city or search for Africa’s great tuskers. You can do all that and more in your PJs with Zinio’s summer reads. If you’re a homebody, get settled with news weeklies (The Week, Newsweek etc) or easy reads like Reader’s Digest or O, The Oprah Magazine. 

Win a free subscription! Details found below.

There are hundreds of titles to choose from Conde Nast to Town& Country, from Elle to Esquire, from Outdoor Photographer to T3. Overwhelmed? Don’t be! Get the Z-Pass to get 3 new magazines for $5 every month. Don’t be pressured to choose the right one;  you can swap your titles every month and explore. With Z-Pass, you don’t have to commit to a full year subscription to a title that you later discover is not to your liking. If you get bored, simply switch to another title!

With Zinio, you can read your favorite magazine on any device wherever and whenever and try it for one month for free!

Click here for your free trial!

If you’re stuck with piles of magazines at home and have never heard of Zinio before, discover the new world of digital magazines. Zinio delivers the ultimate magazine experience for the digital age. The largest magazine stand in the world offers thousands of titles from the best in news, politics, technology, art, style, travel, and more. Zinio's products include the world's largest newsstand and top-rated applications for iPad, iPhone, Android and Windows 8. With Zinio, you can store and read full magazines offline, sync libraries across multiple devices and search digital magazine archives.  Build your library without having to worry about space and clutter, and you can take your collection anywhere with you!


Over thousands of publications to choose from!

Want to win a free subscription to your favorite title? Ana Viajera  is giving away 9 FREE subscriptions. Choose from any of the thousands of titles offers like Marie Claire, National Geographic, Good Housekeeping, Newsweek, Popular Photography, and thousands more!

To join, simply

1.     Be a member of by clicking on the “Join this site” button on the upper right hand corner.

2.    Comment on this post (or any other Zinio post on this site) by sharing the magazine title that you would like to win.

The best comment wins, but watch out for future posts on for insider tips on how to increase your chances of winning. Contest runs until July 25, 2013, and winners will be announced on this site on July 28, 2013.

Contest is sponsored by and is open to all Viajeras- wherever you are in the world!

Subscription length will depend on chosen title.

Happy reading…and traveling!

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Of the Cuddled and the Caring

9 July 2013 | 1:54 am

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Of the Cuddled and the Caring
Published by Planet Philippines

(Planet Philippines is distributed in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto, London, Melbourne, Chicago, Boston, and Los Angeles.)
The Melbourne edition

Playmates Mira and Finn have a lot in common. They love to play with clay, are attached to their “blankies”, and take a bottle of milk to bed. The only difference aside from their gender is their age: Finn is two while Mira is almost six. Mira is by no means delayed in development. She, like many Filipinos raised in the Philippines, is just reared differently. My son on the other hand is Fil-American, raised in the Midwest, and is just about to be weaned from his bottle.

During a recent visit to the Philippines, I noticed a stark difference in how Filipinos are raised compared to children in the Western world. During a get-together, I expressed concern over my son’s attachment to the bottle. My friends waved it off. One said she weaned hers when he turned five.  The others had similar stories. I found that surprising, thinking kids back home no longer take a bottle after the first year. But what shocked me most was the confession of another friend. He claimed that he breastfed on his mom until he was seven years old. Seeing him now as a grown up with his own children and imagining him sucking once on his mother’s breast as a little boy was disturbing to say the least.

It takes a village

The whole conversation about weaning did not settle my concerns and instead made me think about how different Filipinos are brought up. They say it takes a village to raise a child. It is never truer in the Philippines. Without question Pinoys receive more attention from their caregivers. After all, Filipino children are closely surrounded by family from the immediate family to the extended members. If parents work during the daytime, kids are often left to the care of a close family member or a yaya who the child has usually grown to love. In this environment, the child gets the sole attention. 

In the Western world, the young ones are left at day care with a bunch of other kids. In this structured environment, they are taught to follow rules and schedules and learn to live with other kids. They are expected to know where to find their snacks while halfway across the world, Filipinos their age are still being spoon-fed. Yayas follow them around with a lampin in hand.

Case of the night stalker

The Lolo is always part of bringing up a Filipino child.

The spoon feeding extends to the formative years. Even adolescents are still “babied”, co-sleeping with their parents. If a nightmare wakes them up in the middle of the night, they are patted or rocked back to sleep. Back in the States, when the child comes running to their parents’ room in the middle of the night, a parent simply takes the kid back to his room.

We also have a little night stalker. He was never used to being carried or rocked to sleep. A bedtime story and a “baba” will send him happily off to slumber, but in the middle of the night we would hear the patter of feet heading towards our bed. We had long since surrendered the battle and had gone accustomed to him clambering into bed with us. 

Apparently, this should not be a problem as my friends kids (many close to their adolescents) are still happy campers in the master’s bedroom. It’s cheap and effective contraception they say.

Towards independence

Bridging the gap between Filipino parenting and American child rearing.

Back in the States, kids are not only expected to sleep in their own room, they’re also expected to take care of themselves with both parents working. After their toddler years, they don’t have maids to clean up their room or help give them a bath.  On some instances they are paid to mow the lawn or paint the fence. As they grow older, they are encouraged to baby sit or wait tables to finance a Justin Beiber concert or a new mobile app. 

Early on, Western children are conditioned to be self-sufficient because soon as they are of legal age, they leave the house. It’s not like they are kicked out of the house; even the kids themselves yearn for independence, to earn their own way and finally be able to paint their walls black without anybody breathing down their neck.

Caregivers and go-getters

Americans are usually weaned off the bottle at age one. In the Phils,
kids are still on the bottle at age 5 or even older.
Experts say that the kind of sheltered upbringing of Filipinos can be detrimental to growth and maturity.  Sheltered within their little “villages”, Pinoy children are noted to be shy and quiet compared to their Western playmates who were reared early on to be assertive because there was no yaya to attend to their needs. If they want something, they go get it themselves.

Filipinos on the other hand will always have someone to get something for them even when they can do it themselves. If there is no yaya, there is always ate, lolo, and of course papa.

The Filipino values family more than anything else and they take care of each other no matter what. To leave our aged at a senior’s home is unthinkable. We care for our own too much that we cannot close our doors to a bachelor son who still has not found the initiative to get his own place or a widowed aunt who has no one else. We even open our doors and hearts to strangers.

Anybody who needs assistance can rely on a Filipino’s healing hand. This is one reason why Filipinos are known to be excellent caregivers. The best example of this is Gertrude Baines. She is not Filipino but is recognized by the Guinness World Record as the oldest living person until her death in 2009. She was cared for by a group of Filipino caregivers, nurses and doctors.

Planet Philippines Melbourne edition

There is great pride in the fact that we are outstanding caregivers, but I’d like to think that we are more than just that. Surely we should also be known for our talent, our ingenuity, and so much more.  

I would like to raise my son to be an exceptional caregiver too. I want to see him grow up as a loving and caring person who will not drop us off at the nearest nursing home when the time comes. But at the same time I’d like to see him as a go-getter. I want to see him conquer and care for the world as a doctor, a pilot, or an artist.
For now, it’s time to wean him off his “baba”.’’

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‘Tis the Season to Resurrect the Bikini

27 April 2013 | 9:11 pm

Published by Total Fitness Magazine

I did get to wear my yellow polka dot number, postpartum.

My husband and I are sun and sea worshippers. He having lived in a secluded beach paradise in Micronesia for over five years, and me having lived most of my life in a tropical country, we are constantly shaking sand off our feet. And then we moved to the Midwest and with winter bearing down on us, sun burn became the least of our worries.
But as we’re slowly defrosting, we are fast tracking our summer this spring by booking tickets to the Little Corn Island in Nicaragua, hoping to get our tan on and our reggae groovin’. 

Getting our tan on at the Surf Shack in Roi Namur, Marshall Islands.

Suddenly, under the five layers of thermal clothing, I find my long forgotten abs. I used to do about a hundred crunches almost every day and climb the stairs from the ground floor all the way to the 25th  and back. Now all the exercise that I do is the frequent baby lifting (roughly 22 pounds and growing) and picking up after my boys (that includes my husband) and the occasional running around to take pictures for my articles. Aside from that, my belly button and everything around it pretty much hasn’t seen the light of day or any kind of muscle activity for over 2 years now since I found out that I had a jumping jelly bean breeding in me. And as my son grows, so does my tummy. 

Docked by Obella to enjoy the sun. We had the whole island to ourselves!

It’s both an unfortunate and fortunate thing, but the only thing that seems to fatten up with my body is my core. I say fortunate because it’s all I have to worry about and something that can easily be camouflaged with the right accessory or a suck of the breath and a smile. But it’s also unfortunate, especially during bikini season, when it’s the only thing that seems to swell, making me look like I’m suffering kwashiorkor or a bad case of malnutrition.

In our little private island, Obella. Read more about it here.

I’ve always been on the slim side. In fact, skinny was an understatement back in high school, but I guess age has contributed a few pounds to my frame moving me close to the category of slim. I’m either blessed with a very active metabolism or I have overstaying uninvited dinner guests partying in my stomach. And although diet by tapeworm is quickly becoming a trend (in case you haven’t heard, some people ingest tapeworm to lose weight), high metabolism is my preferred diet pill.

Self portrait in Bintan, Indonesia.

The teensy weensy yellow polka dot bikini (I kid you not: it is yellow and polka dotted and yes, fashion experts say that bikinis are more flattering for the thin frame) has been purchased but the belly dilemma has yet to be dealt with. My husband on the other hand has been working hard to shed off the love handles that fatherhood has blessed him with. He’s been working out almost every day while I look for clues in the form of paw prints. I could do 4 sets of oblique crunches while the Blues Clues gang sat on their thinking chair, but then there’s always SpongeBob Squarepants tomorrow.

Getting our goof on at Coco Loco, Palawan.

With our get-ready-for-the-beach regimen, our diet has changed too. On more than one occasion, we’ve listened to numerous comments by the cashier ringing up our groceries. Roasted Chicken. Ching, says the cash register in agreement. “Eating healthy tonight?” Ceasar Salad. Ching. “Now this is a light meal!” Wheat bread. Ching. Ching. “On a diet?”

Don't take me seriously.

My husband is doing more than just eating right. He’s enrolled in CrossFit classes, a strength and conditioning brand that combines weightlifting, gymnastics, sprinting, powerlifting, and rowing to improve endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, agility and the whole shebang, when all he really wants is to look good in a Speedo. He better do all the rowing when we get to the beach.

Low tide at Roi Namur.

So far he’s lost 11 pounds in a month, and I am still working on getting back to my 100 a day crunches. If all else fails, there’s always the tankini.

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Stylish for a Steal

14 April 2013 | 8:43 pm
Published by Leisure + Adventure Travel
 (an excerpt)

Got these killer shoes from Guess for a steal.

I’m a thief. I am not ashamed to admit it.  In fact, I am proud to say that I rob retailers, because I acquire my loot for a steal. No, I don’t shoplift. I simply get my goods close to nothing, that it’s almost unfair to the vendor. This is why the fashion police are always on my designer heels, not because I broke the cardinal rule of thou shall not go matchy-matchy, but because they want to know where I got my Swiss Army bomber jacket for $5. 

I got my shopping genes from my nanay (Woodbury Outlet Mall, NY)

And when I say cheap, I’m not talking about quality. After all, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, and company do not reside on a street called shabby. They’re all about quality and style but - sadly for shopaholics like us - not too affordable; that is, if you don’t know where to look in the right places. But don’t fret avid pusher of the shopping cart, I know where America’s most wanted brands for less hide. If you’re vacationing in the U.S. and shopping for pasalubong or stylish souvenirs, go bargain hunting with me. I promise to dress you chic without robbing your bank.

With some of my favorite shopping buddies. These girls CAN shop!

Outlet Malls

Once in a while branded stores mark down their merchandize for a limited time during a promotional sale event. But if you want round-the-year bargains, then head to the factory outlet malls where you can get designer brands for 25% to 80% off every day.  Factory outlets or outlet malls house more than 100 luxury stores that sell stocks from last season (but even some are current!). So if you don’t mind being accused of being “so last season”, then the outlet mall should be the scene of the crime.

In good company with Marc, Michael, and Mischka.

There are over a hundred outlet malls across the U.S. They carry names likes Fendi, Coach, Ralph Lauren, Guess, Tommy Hilfiger, Tory Burch, Chloe, and the luxury list goes on.  A day is not enough to explore these malls fully, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed, so I usually head to my favorite stores and make a bee line for the clearance rack, because that is where the honey is.

Exhibit A: a $59 Banana Republic silver sequined skirt that I got for $4. I got a mustard colored tank top for the same price, but that’s only because it wasn’t red tagged. Yes, may I repeat: everything is on sale at the outlet malls. At Calvin Klein, I scored a $9 leather belt that was originally over $30. 

Why, hello there Louis!

Warehouse Sale

Google your favorite brands, because they hold annual warehouse sales that may be  in your area. The Victorinox Swiss Army warehouse sale in Monroe Connecticut falls during the spring and autumn seasons. To avoid the crowds, go early on a weekday. We went on a Thursday morning, but we still had to wait in line for about an hour. It was worth the wait though.  I thought I’d go home with a handful of Swiss Army knives at half the price, but I took home more than that. In fact, I scored a $325 green pleated skirt dress. I would not pay 300 bucks for a dress, not even a pair of shoes. I would however be more than willing to part with $9 for the same dress. It’s hard to believe that a $300 Victorinox dress would be marked down to spare change, which is why I still keep the receipt and tag as proof.

I can smell a sale from a mile away, but this one stinks!

Some outlet shops, like Nordstrom Rack, are found outside the outlet malls. Nordstrom Rack offers a wide selection of apparel and accessories from the regular stores at not so regular prices. Exhibit A: D&G red wooden soles originally at $445 has been reduced to $149 and change. Store all your stash in a $20 Steve Madden satchel originally at $100. This way, if you’re caught red handed, at least you get caught in style.

My Modus Operandi
For a clean getaway without spending more than I planned and maybe even spending much less, I do the following:

This smooth operator will fall in line for a steal (Swiss Army HQ, CT).

Online operation
There is a number of online retailers that sell discounted name brands like and  They usually feature exclusive offers from designer brands up to 80% off. By shopping online, you don’t have to worry about aching feet. I also know of another site where you can shop for high end designer brands like Prada, LV, Chanel etc. with great discounts. Email me here and I will share this best kept secret!

Careful at the checkpoint
Sometimes regular priced items would find themselves in the $10 dollar rack, and by the time you’re at the cashier, you’d be too embarrassed to return your pick and end up paying more than you planned. Don’t be afraid to clarify with sales attendants or even the cashier. Some stores have price check stations where you can run the barcode to verify the price.

Be a haggle hag
It doesn’t work the same way in the tiangges but on certain occasions, you can negotiate a better price especially if the merchandize is not in perfect condition. A little stain (that can easily be removed) or a missing button may get you an extra 10-25% off.

Subscribe to your favorite store and they'll regularly send you coupons

Double discounts
The beauty of shopping in the U.S. is that they allow you to double coupons. So if you picked up a top at the clearance rack for $4 (originally $14); you’ll be able to shave a few dollars more if you have a coupon (usually given away at the door or as inserts in the 
Sunday paper or check online).

Check out the back of your receipt. Some stores encourage you to join their survey online and in return give you 15% off your next purchase. You can use that on top of your coupon for a piece that’s already in clearance.

Mind the tax
You may think you have broken free with a bargain, but remember that prices in the United States do not include the sales tax in the tag. Sales tax can add up to 9% more to your purchase (in some cases and states, the sales tax is exempted for items over $100). Only a few states and territories are exempted from the sales tax. So if you’re in Guam,  Delaware, or New Hampshire, that’s where you should shop till you drop. Also check your state’s calendar for the annual tax free weekend shopping holiday.

Sometimes Nine West takes off an additional
30-50% off to items already on sale.

Sale Schedules
To maximize your savings even more, watch out for sales events like Black Friday which happens the day following thanksgiving or the labor day sale or the one day sale. They usually take off at least 20% to everything including the clearance items. But don’t be lining up at the door at the crack of dawn. Sometimes these sales do extend throughout the weekend.

Return and exchange
As long as you have the receipt, you can return or exchange any item purchased  that has not been damaged. Go ahead and test drive a pair of stilettos for a day, and if you find that it is killing your feet, you can return it. Review the receipt for return policies.

This sequined number is from Juicy Couture at 75% off

Read the fine print
Sometimes a flashing ‘sale” sign can leave you blind. It is not always as it seems to be. Nine West at the outlet malls usually lure people in with the Buy One Get One Off promo. The existing discounts are good enough, but the 50% off on the second pair may only apply to regular items. 

Read the rest of the article in Leisure+Adventure Travel Magazine (Yes, I have more saving tips and one more secret location to reveal!)

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Spring banner 2013

22 March 2013 | 3:48 pm
Home for Spring

We left in the dead of winter and returned on the first day of spring. I can’t think of a better way to avoid the cold dreary days than to return to my place of birth where the sun eternally smiles down on its people. 

It was a heartwarming yet exhausting trip as we tried to see as many family and friends as possible. We stayed over three weeks in Negros where I’m originally from and a couple weeks in Manila where I spent most of my adult years before I moved to the States. All in all we slept in 14 different beds in 6 weeks (including a night in Guam at the swanky Hyatt Regency). Now I know how it feels to literally live in a suitcase. 

The flowers of spring bloomed in the summer
(in the Philippines!)

I can only imagine how it must have felt like for my son who saw a blur of faces – titas, titos, ates, and, kuyas. But it was a gift to see him meet everyone for the first time or bond with him again. The general consensus was that this little Lykes is a cutie, a charmer, and a smart one. Everybody also agreed that he is such a well-mannered and well behaved child. He is by no means perfect, subjecting us to a little terrible-two tantrum every now and then, but nothing that couldn’t be fixed with a little distraction or a firm “no”.

Our little one was so good for most part of the trip.

His pediatrician said, that with our son being two, now is the perfect time to travel with him– on a long haul flight. It was meant to be sarcastic. But our little boy did very well in the flight, considering. There was a little struggle with the seat belt and electronic devices that had to be turned off at certain points in the trip, but all-in all, he was so well behaved.  My boy is definitely fit for travel.

 Travel, toddler, and the tablet:
the iPad is a lifesaver when you’re traveling 
with a little one and you’re at your wit’s end.

I think I also deserve a pat in the back for managing to travel with a terrible two alone, carting him through several major airports and bringing him home safe from halfway across the world (my husband had returned home early for work).

On top of the world in Patag, Silay.

Most of our vacation was spent in the province. My husband dislikes cities and its madness, so the first chance we got, we stole a car from my dad and went on the road. Our first stop was at the mountain top in Patag in Silay. We stayed for a few days at a friend’s vacation home on the Gates of Heaven. It was appropriately named as the place did wonders for us, reviving us from the arduous trip. Then off we went to the beach in Sipalay. Just as he is allergic to the city, the hubby also hates over commercialized places. He is forever in search of Alex Garland’s mythical beach, and for this trip, Tim’s paradise of choice was Punta Ballo. A kilometer of white sand beach, Punta Ballo is rich in marine resources. Best of all, it’s not quite choked up yet with tourists and establishments. Local children still roam the shores, building sandcastles and dreams by the water, uncorrupted by cigarette smoke and blaring music.

Before sunset (Punta Ballo, Sipalay, Negros)

The fruit bowl on the banner is a coconut shell we got from the Negros Showroom (a favorite place of mine to hunt for treasures to bring home and give as presents) as a remembrance of our days soaking up the summer under the coconut trees (yes, it is presently summer in the Philippines).

Our purple paradise (in front of Artistic Diving Resort, Punta Ballo)

My husband recently unearthed some of his paraphernalia from the past, one of which is his diplomatic passport which is featured in the banner. I’m proud I married a true wanderer. He’s already been to quite a few places before I met him -  Italy, Portugal, Australia, Japan, Pakistan, Indonesia, Marshall Islands -  to name a few - and not only has he been to these places but he’s actually lived in most of these countries. He’s not a mere tourist after all, but a real traveler, somebody who seeks out the soul of the place, somebody who refuses to get sucked into tourist traps and commercialized cities, somebody who would choose Portugal over Paris, Punta Ballo over Boracay. The visas and stamps in his Diplomatic passport are testaments to that.

My marine has seen much of the world and yearns to see more.

Another  proof  of his intrepid spirit is the tablecloth on the banner. It’s actually a sleeping mat that he had acquired on a trip to Butuan in Mindanao years before we met. Who goes to Butuan? Only my husband, who shared a few  glasses of cheap liquor with some workers on the side of the road. He could have easily been drugged, stripped off all his dollars and clothes, and left for dead, but that’s just how he is.

playing around with the nifty fifty (Maxim's Hotel Resort World)
And in case you haven’t noticed, my camera lens has gotten a little smaller. I’ve recently purchased a 50mm prime lens for my camera as I’ve gotten into a new career – portrait photography.


Leveling up my skills at the Winston Baltasar Workshop
Model: Joyce Irene Quizon
HMUA: Colleen Foerster De Guzman
Mentor: Winston Baltasar
Studio: Winsam Studio

I know I’ve said this before, and I’ll say this again – I’m not into gadgets or electronics. I admit I have a couple of Apple products, but I would rather line up to check in at the airport than queue up to buy the most recent iPhone (and really, don’t you get it by now? Soon as you’ve finally figured out how to use your iPhone 5, they’ll release the 6th version). So buying a new lens is painful for me. I’m a firm believer that “it’s the Indian and not the pana” as my photographer mentor would say it. But since I’m going pro (ehem), I conceded and invested in a few accessories including the nifty fifty. Some may argue that the 50mm is not a portrait lens, but I am very happy with the results so far. The sharpness and bokeh quality delivered so far is remarkable.

Playing with light and water at the Winston Baltasar workshop.
Before we move on, I know you’re still stuck on the words “portrait photography” and “pro”. I don’t know how it happened myself, but not long after I got my dslr, people started asking me to take their family portraits and document their events with pictures. This year started well for my photography with my first paid gig in January.  I also now have a booking for March, April, and May.  I hope this will be a regular thing as photography has greatly contributed to my creative life. It won’t hurt to earn some green bucks for creative expression.

my first portraiture gig for 2013

In case you’re wondering where all these interest for photography came from, I'll have you know that I’ve always been interested in the visual arts even way before I started writing. I was no Picasso, but I do remember winning 3rdplace at a school contest for a poster in pastel with a patriotic theme (that amounts to something, doesn't it?) and pages and pages of sketches of clothes (I did dream of being a fashion designer once, and this was when I still thought pedal pushers and leg warmers were très chic – and another btw, I have gotten into wearing leg warmers again for winter!).

I’m a little wary about calling myself a “professional” or even a “photographer” when I have so much to learn, but like I said, I’ve already had paid gigs and my pictures have already been published by magazines and broadsheets like AsianTraveler, Leisure+Adventure Travel, and the Tribune. Surely, these should earn me the title?

I can wear this bag around my torso and just forget about it!

Along with the new lens, Santa got me a new camera bag (among other things, of course!) that I am very happy with. I’ve always been on the lookout for a great camera bag, one that is functional but at the same time stylish – one that doesn’t look like a camera bag. Most of the ones I like are leather. The problem I have with leather is that they’re too heavy. Faux leather is an option, but I find it too cheap looking. Ona’s Bowery is the perfect option for me – its waxed canvass is lightweight and compact enough that I can sling it around my body and forget about it. I also like the look; it has that hip European backpacker vibe, I think. 

St. Patrick’s day is a big deal for this part Irish family. Unfortunately
we missed it this year, because we were on vacation,but to commemorate it,  
 meet Finnegan the Leprechaun,a present from my son’s grandparents 
from their last trip to Ireland.

Finally, the book for the season: Kurt Vonnegut’s God Bless You Dr. Kevorkian, a collection of ficto-journalism that is supposed to examine the afterlife in his fictional interviews with the likes of Shakespeare and Hitler during induced near-death episodes. I think it’s more of an examination of life from the perspective of the afterlife, an evaluation of one’s existence. It’s a funny read that I believe shouldn’t be taken too seriously but will bring you to ponder, after a few quiet chortles, about your own existence.

Another version of the spring 2013 banner.

Lying opposite to the book is a notebook, a green archer notebook, another addition to my collection of notebooks, and one of the many gifts that I received from dear friends during my homecoming. I feel so loved.

and off we go to another adventure

It’s almost a week into spring and the temperature is still dancing around the 40s. The flowers haven’t bloomed yet and I am still wearing my husband’s Irish Wrestling sweat shirt over 3 other layers. But spring has sprung in my heart. It’s good to be home.


As the seasons change, so will my desktop banner. I will be adding little touches to it, moving the items around, and customizing it for the season. I will archive its transformation on My Desk. 

Read more about how I put the banner together and how my real writer's desk looks like at My Desk. And tell me how your desk looks like, and I will tell you who you are.

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Visiting the Forgotten (Ghost Towns of Oklahoma)

23 January 2013 | 11:45 pm From my TravelOKCity column, 2011

Forsaken and forgotten but still standing tall.

Every little boy has that intrepid adventurer in him. I am all for cultivating that sense of adventure and imagination in every young mind. The problem is that little boy still resides in my husband’s head. Sometimes he still fancies himself an Oklahombre robbing the Santa Fe train for some silver.

If you stand perfectly still, you will hear ghosts lamenting their past.

So one day, we went searching for ghost towns, so he can live his illusions of being an Oklahoma Long Rider, using TravelOKCity as an excuse. “It’ll be a good story,” he said with a straight face. We headed towards the east from Stillwater, expecting to find forgotten towns inhabited by shadows of former glories. Instead, we found proof of life, albeit slowed down like the old lady manning the little service station at Blackburn in Pawnee County.

Waiting for a vacancy at the very posh Ingalls hotel.
The Waltons was playing on a small television by the door when we walked in. The owner greeted us cordially and asked where we’re from. We’re from the city, we said. My husband stammered a bit when he revealed that we were looking for historic places of interest, groping for a better term than “ghost town”. “Ghost town, you say” she offered kindly with humor evident in her tone. It was as if she knew that she was living in a place that had somehow lost its place in the map. She took out a book and offered it to us. It was a book on ghost towns of Oklahoma, featuring her town. 

sweet little church
We needed to see the United Methodist Church, she said. It was built in the early 1900s. And without looking, as if she had done this numerous times, she offered us a key so we could take a look inside. We took it with reverence as if we were handed the key to the city.  The quaint house of worship had beautiful stained glass windows that were crafted by her daughter. The register of attendance plaque said that last Sunday’s attendance was 15. 

The baby in the manger sheds some light.
Walking back, we came upon a brick building with a weathered sign that said “Oasis”. It had yellowed palm tree cutouts against peeling wall boards. It was far from what we imagined as a refreshing retreat but we figured it used to be the town’s popular watering hole. The rest of the town center was lined with buildings with pretty much the same condition. They however stood impressive, perhaps owing it to the sturdy brick that still stubbornly held their frames as shadows of their former splendid state, when Blackburn was once a bustling whiskey town in Oklahoma Territory. Incorporated in 1909, it once boasted two banks, a public school, and three churches. 

glimpses of the forgotten
Today, the little lady selling candy bars and soda remains as one of the 15 who keep the church and maybe even the whole community busy.

On our way out, we saw a makeshift sign that said:
Things to do today:
1.    Get organized.
2.    Talk to spouse.
3.    Get re-organized.
4.    Talk to spouse.
5.    Abandon entire idea.
6.    Talk to self.

We wouldn’t be surprised if she made the sign herself.

signs of the living
There were no signs of outlaws, so we moved on to Ingalls where the famous Battle of Ingalls once happened. Here, gunshots were exchanged between the U.S. Marshals and the Doolin Dalton Gang, the Oklahombres notorious for bank and train robberies.  During the shootout, three deputies and two townspeople were killed while the Wild Bunch escaped. 

I am so pleased with how my Pentax poin-and-shoot performed during this trip.
Today, not even echoes of the guns could be heard. The dust and the smoke have long settled on the few remaining buildings, dilapidated and withering: the R.M. Salon, the Wilson general merchandise store, and the Ingalls Hotel. Vacancies? Yes, a look inside showed nothing but vacancies.

This image called out to me, begging me to tell its story.
A red chair behind the hotel sat empty, facing a swing long abandoned, pushed slowly back and forth by the breeze.  We continued, passing condemned bridges along the way, allowing us to quietly enjoy the river and the colors of the changing season. 

Traversing abandoned bridges.
At Skedee, another town in Pawnee County, we found the Bond of Friendship, memorializing the truce between European conquerors and the Native Americans. The monument towered over a crumbling food market, an abandoned auto garage, and a service station that sold gas for 49.9 cents a gallon. We only wished we could fill up there, instead we pressed on along highway 16 to our final stop - Shamrock, six miles south of Drumright.

A steam engine, my shadow, and my trusty point-and-shoot.

The once booming oil town of 1,000 denizens is slowly fading into a community of about 100 remaining residents. Not a majority of them are Irish or even of the Emerald Isle decent but the spirit of the “Saints and Scholars” comes to life through Ireland Street every St. Patrick’s Day, passing along the Shamrock Museum, a sad little institution that displayed baubles coated with dust and disregard. Most of the buildings were in the same state. A little red tractor parked by a school in decay and nothing much else.  Before we pulled out, a man in a truck drove up to us, asking if we were visiting. He gave us a pocket history about the town and invited us to his home where we could see pictures of Shamrock when it was once alive. We didn’t need to, we thought. 

Stories stay alive in these dead towns.
We only had to look at his friendly face to know that Shamrock is still the home of the living.

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Photography Lessons from a Cam Whore and a Rebel (EOS)

10 January 2013 | 11:15 pm
Published by Speed Magazine, 2008
(An excerpt and slightly revised)

Don’t get too excited. By no means do I get paid to have my picture taken (although that wouldn’t be such an unpleasant thought) or undress in front of a webcam with or without a reward, but I love the camera. If I sense a flash going off from somewhere, I’d smile. Just a reflex.  I also like breaking rules.  This assignment is therefore a delicious thing to do. Since I love taking pictures so much, I’ve been planning to take photography lessons. Then again, I only like pictures of myself, so I figured I didn’t need photography lessons, I needed a photographer.  Sometimes though, when I travel alone, it’s just me and my timer (note to self: get a tripod).  Left to my own devices, I’ve self taught and learned some of the rules and broke most.

Granada, Nicaragua

The do’s and don’ts of photography are actually just guidelines or design principles to assist photographers in the composition of their work. But as artists, photographers have the right to present their images according to what they want and based on their own interpretation. If these rules are hard and fast, and if every violator of these rules would be penalized, then we wouldn’t have the likes of Andy Warhol or Ansel Adams.

I have no ambitions of being the next Andy or Adams, but breaking the rules have once in a while given me great results, not the kind that would win me an award for photography, but still the kind worth sharing. Here are some of the experiments I’ve done, some with the help of friends, some with my trusty timer. As you can clearly see, I am not a pro at this art (well not yet, although as of this posting, I already have a few paid gigs to my name), so I don’t need professional photographers telling me to learn the rules first before breaking them. I just like to have fun with my camera and my moments. I hope you will too.

Dead center

Taken with my Pentax point-and-shoot in Bintan, Indonesia years back.

Just when I’ve gotten used to the rule of thirds, somebody tells me of the power of taking pictures of my subject dead center. According to the rule, centering your point of interest will make your photo look unimaginative and amateurish. Think out of the box and reposition. Place your subject right at the middle of the frame. 
This works best when the scene presents perfect symmetry like a long winding road in the middle of a picture or a sitting duck at the center of a pond. The water ripples circling the subject presents an arresting effect.  A portrait wherein the subject is looking down the barrel is also a confronting image.

I’ve learned that taking pictures from different angles presents varied moods. Each perspective tells a different story.
Midday myth

Photography basics will tell you that midday is not the best time as the sun is high up and will give you stark and washed out images.  Early morning and late afternoon are the safest time, although there are exceptions.  Mornings are best for landscapes, portraits and wildlife. High noons are for treks in the forests when the sunlight escapes through the dense foliage.
My fall find for 2012.

An overcast setting for high noon is great, but if you're working on a sunny day, go under the shade. Look for shaded settings that allow a little bit of the sun to provide some accent. Shoot scenes slightly underexposed so you can recover the highlights during processing. And always mind your ISO- the lower the better.
Space to move

Taken by a friend during a trip to Batanes, again with my compact camera.

I’ve been taught to give my subjects space to move.  The active space rule requires room in front of a moving subject to give the viewer an idea of where the subject is headed. This rule also gives the image a sense of anticipation.

Since we’re breaking rules here, let’s go the other way.  To add tension and intrigue to your photo, try leaving space behind your subject. This will give the viewer a sense of where the subject has been. The effect is almost dramatic. A trail of smoke or footprints behind the subject gives a nostalgic feel as it subtly evokes the past or an event that has just passed.

Room to breathe

Taken with my Canon EOS

This rule breaker is similar to the previous violation. This time, instead of giving your subject space to move around, give your subject room to breathe or look around. The rule states that you should give room for your subject to look into. So if your subject is looking off to one side, move the camera in such a way that there is space in front of him.

The Pentax and I have had some good times, this time in Palawan.

Again, consider going the other way. When taking a portrait, experiment by leaving a gap behind your subject. Play around with different poses and framing. Have your subject look directly in front of the camera and leave space behind or opposite the direction where the subject is looking at. Try taking your portrait from above or even from below.

About face

I know you're not supposed to cut off your subject’s feet on a full shot, but I took this with a
 timer and my Pentax propped on a post. So maybe I can be excused this time?

The light in your subject’s eyes can tell a thousand stories. But why tell all when you can create some mystery? Consider shooting your subject looking into the distance. This is one of my favourite techniques. I like the feeling of nostalgia the image creates as if the subject is looking at his future or contemplating on the past. It makes the audience want to know what is going on in the subject’s head.

Nica, Granada. Canon EOS. Fave travel buddy.

You may take a picture of your subject looking at another direction, and still reveal his eyes, or you may totally conceal them.  Shoot your point of interest from the back and see just how that image can be as powerful as a picture of a pair of piercing eyes staring right back at you.

Psychedelic photo

Taken by a friend at Sticky Fingers in Makati with the Pentax still.

At the risk of being accused of having the shakes, move your camera while shooting to create motion blur. Camera shake is a big no-no for photographers, but experiment and you might be pleased with the results. Motion blur can create energy in the picture, especially during a night scene at a bar where the feel is exciting. This rule breaking technique can make an action shot more dynamic or make the viewer feel like he’s high on something.

Toss out your tripod and select a shutter speed that is slightly slower than the normal setting. Move your camera during the exposure.  Panning your camera in time with a moving object may also give you an interesting result. If done right, your subject will look sharp against a blurry background. If you feel adventurous, toss your camera just before it goes off. I’m not kidding. Camera tossing is a technique that requires a lot of practice, courage and an extra camera (in case you break one in the process).


More on my photography here.

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Winter/holiday banner 2012

26 December 2012 | 11:47 pm

A New Year's gift to all Viajeras: Book a cheap flight to Atlanta by using the promo code FL15 on CheapOair!

A page from Griffin and Sabine's extraordinary correspondence.