day 718 | December 28, 2014 | Penang Roadtrip

The great thing about having a long-time group of amazing friends you and your kids click with, is that even the craziest ideas can easily morph into bizarre reality. I've driven from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur before -- and taken a bus from Kuala Lumpur to Penang. But never did I imagine that we would do the whole stretch in one go.

6-7 hours, the boys said. They were driving, so figured, they would know what they're talking about. Each way ended up being 12-13 hours. Thankfully, the little ones were some of the easiest kids to travel with. Non-stop rain on the day we arrived, but blessed with a couple of days of lovely sunshine. 5 giddily happy kids, who sang an endless stream of Taylor Swift. Yummy sinful food galore. Uncountable calories which translated to at least 2 kgs of weight gain. (Spot the belly!) Any regrets? None at all. Okay, maybe that I should have gobbled more! Oh, and next time, we're gonna fly!

What the little ones enjoyed:
Pillow fight in the hotel room
G Hotel swimming pool
Bouncing on top of beds and couches
Adventure Zone Indoor Playground (Escape Eco-Adventure Park, if it wasn't raining)
Sing-alongs to Taylor Swift's top hits! Here's a cover/mash-up I actually don't mind.

For the grown-ups:
Gurney Drive Hawker Food (better as take-away and dine picnic-style in room)
Hunting down good food
Penang Heritage Trail
Cheong Fatt Sze (Blue Mansion) Guided Tour
Beach massage

What we're going back for:
Malihom Retreat
Durian Season at a Durian farm!

Driving through clouds...
Ipoh stop-over

day 715 | november 21, 2014 | Sumilon Island, Philippines

Closest airport to Sumilon Island is Mactan-Cebu (est 3-4 hours)
A quick recharge trip with the girls in an idyllic island paradise. Managed to check off a few things in the bucket list too -- sleep by the beach underneath uncountable stars, and swim with the whale sharks. Let the images tell the story...
Tucked in for the long ride
Mainland jetty

day 716 | november 16, 2014 | Zamboanga Hermosa

I had butterflies flying to Zamboanga. It shouldn’t be so strange to be meeting your father-side family, but it held a 26-year old strangeness to me. This was a deeply personal trip. Stories upon stories of so many years ago, shaping the lens with which I perceive my history. The intent was to layer real memories and grown-up impressions on top of childhood fiction, and to bridge the past to the present. I worried about being disappointed, too afraid to expect anything.

It started with a phone call. I called Mamang a few days before my flight. She would be excited to see me, they said, but I heavily discounted it. Maybe they were just being nice, easing my worries with kind words. But upon hearing her voice on the phone, I knew the sentiment to be genuine, and fought back tears with a steady tone and paced breaths. I haven’t gone for the trip yet, and I was already on an emotional roller-coaster. Whatever history there was, we acknowledge and make the active decision to move forward. And then, it was there again -- That feather-light feeling of everything falling into place – I was where I needed to be.  Doing what I needed to do. Writing chapters of my story that needed to be written.

Snapshots that barely scratch the surface… but hopefully shares some of the beauty I found there. 

day 712 | september 20, 2014 | OOOM Pop-Up

My beautiful date!
Roo and I were supposed to catch her first concert -- except the show was cancelled. Still riding the high of Laylapalooza, I was looking for an opportunity to bring Roo to a live performance. When we found out the next OOOM session fit right into our packed calendar, we went straight for it. As we were walking to the National Design Center, Roo was internalizing how she felt when she had to perform for the very first time. "I just pretend it's just you and me, mommy." Honored to be in her mind's safety circle. 

The rooftop was packed with talent. From first time performers to more seasoned OOOMers. Love love love. Roo and I are both inspired by the courage to perform, the intricate guitar play, beautiful voices, and words from songwriter originals. Sharing some of our favorites here (scroll through the images, and click through the links)...

Next OOOM will be on Saturday, October 4, 2014, SCAPE. :) Plenty of ear-candy, and perhaps with a little more exposure, Roo will take the chance to walk up behind that microphone...
Sunset in Antarctica  |  Find them in FB  | Love their haunting  Cover of Kodaline's "All I Want"

day 711 | september 6, 2014 | ROO-saurus and RED-ranodon Party

They wanted Dinosaurs -- and as long as it wasn't princesses, or 'Frozen,' or 'My Little Pony,' I was more than happy to go with their party theme choice.

Red's specific request was to BE a dinosaur in her party. Whether that involved a melt-underneath-thick-Barney-costume, or full-on body painting, she didn't care. As long as she was a dinosaur. I was being merciful when we settled on face-painting and a dino-head. She really gets into character as an awesome miniature!

Roo, on the other hand, was feeling VERY social. When I had asked her to list out people she wanted to invite to the party (I advised 8-10), she gave me a 30+ kids strong list. Two parents each, sometimes a sibling or two, her guest list started to feel like a wedding banquet! Had to sit down with her to get to a fairly decent number she can be happy with. We still ended up with 18-ish kids.

I got fixated on sand. Just had to have it, and was tickled by the idea of having our own sandpit. With H's help, it got done -- and with minimal criminal activity involved. I still wonder though, if I'd been caught taking a bagful of sand from East Coast on my birthday, would I have been arrested? 

Delegated more this year, and simply helped the kids execute some ideas that tickled. Images from the party and preps. Will let the images tell the story! :)
Birthday girls!

day 710 | august 14, 2014 | Willing Hearts

Willing Hearts Soup Kitchen

Soup Kitchen operates from 6:00am to 4:00pm
Address: 11 Jalan Ubi Block 6, #01-51
Kembangan - Chai Chee Community Hub
Singapore 409074

"Unless you have a big group, you need not inform WH in advance of your visit. They do not have a regular roster for volunteers so you have the flexibility of helping on the day and at a time of your convenience."

I've been meaning to get the kids involved in volunteer work. Several friends cautioned that both my little ones might be a tad too young, but I think it depended on the kind of work they are tasked to do. When I found Willing Hearts, I knew I'd found something I could regularly engage the kids in -- a meaningful cause that will expose them to different types of work, drive awareness of underprivileged Singapore, and get their hands working on what the heart believes in. Planted a simple idea on how we were going to help prepare food for elderly people who cannot afford to buy their own food. Both were reasonably excited to try to help, and even packed their own knives.

For 12+ years, Willing Hearts has been operating a soup kitchen that prepares, cooks and distributes daily meals to the needy, including the elderly, adults, and children in Singapore. On the day that we served, the target was 4,000 meals. We arrived to a flurry of activity. Everyone looked busy -- peeling and chopping vegetables, cooking, stickering packets, loading meals onto trucks, and running off for deliveries. All this at 8 in the morning!

We asked a lady where we could be of help, and she looked at Roo and Red speculatively. "Do you think they can peel cucumbers?" "They can peel and chop them!" I replied fairly confidently. She looked at me strangely, before handing me a couple of peelers to start with. And off we went with peelers and boxes of cucumbers, setting up a cozy little workstation where we could work shoulder-to-shoulder with other volunteers.

Knowing what the little ones can do is different from knowing if they would be willing to do it. I needn't have worried about pep talking the two of them though. They dove right into the work, and only hesitated when they couldn't quite get the peeler to work smoothly. Spent a couple of minutes guiding them, and they caught on pretty fast.

There's a certain buzz to the place. You may be strangers standing beside each other, but you figure out what role you can play, and you work at it. A natural instinct to weave yourself into this engine that runs, tireless and thankless, for an idea that you're doing something good.

We were in the outdoor kitchen until 2:00pm, and were among the last volunteers left standing for that day. The kids didn't complain that I hadn't fed them lunch, or that they didn't get to do anything else. We went through tons of cucumbers -- peeled them, washed them, chopped them. At least 4 boxes of cucumbers, that until today, I can still smell phantom cucumbers in the air. My young volunteers are little warriors -- enduring, strong, inside-out beautiful. And this is yet another instance when they made me extremely proud to be their mom, their friend.

For next month's visit, we will try our hands at cooking eggs early in the morning, as well as in delivering the food to the distribution void decks. I hope the little ones will appreciate how the simplest tasks fit into the bigger objective; as well as meet and empathize with the recipients of the food we've labored on -- to see firsthand the reason why we were chopping veggies to begin with.

An extra-special treat (they were tickled that Red is their youngest volunteer so far), we were given a tour of the premises -- the giant cooking pots, fried rice machines, ginormous hansel-and-gretel ovens, and an opportunity to go into one of the freezers! We were also privy to facilities yet to be launched. They are opening a TCM pharmacy, general clinics, a dental clinic, a legal consultation service, and physiotheraphy classes for the elderly within the next month. And perhaps even a matchmaking service!

As we were leaving the premises of the community center, Roo tugged at my hand. "Everyone here is super nice, mommy. People are so kind..." And I'm glad that she's seeing this side of humanity, beyond the commercialized, epicurean influences that we are constantly exposed to. I affirmed the work she's done for the day, and reminded her that she too is strong, and kind, and persevering. The smile she gave me in response was starburst. We'll definitely be coming back!

day 709 | august 11, 2014 | Rock Out Party!

When Mommy E invited us to Laylapalooza, Layla's Rock party, I got very excited. So much so, that I volunteered Roo to perform a song for L's birthday without consulting with her first. Breathed a sigh of relief when Roo readily agreed after I finally got around to mentioning it to her.

I expose the little ones to all sorts of music -- but there are some favorites we keep on coming back to: Corner by Allie Moss, Way I Am by Ingrid Michaelson, Animal by Neon Trees, King of Anything by Sara Bareilles, If It's Love by Train, Payphone by Maroon 5, Stellar by Incubus, and recently Sky Full of Stars by Coldplay... but we struggled to find something she'd like to sing. Then the littler one started to ask for songs from Frozen. Urk.

Thankfully, Roo chose another Train favorite, Hey Soul Sister. (Pat Monahan and Drops of Jupiter. Dreamy sigh. Excuse me, little ones, as mommy reverts back into a fangirl.)

She worked through the lyrics on her own -- I passed her a print of the lyrics one morning, before I left for work, and when I came back that evening, she was well on track to memorizing the whole thing. She voluntarily committed to mastering the not-so-easy bridge, a segment of the song I wouldn't be so confident in singing myself. Pressure was on to try to support her with a little bit of back-up, and we brushed up on our well-kept out-of-tune guitar. When I told her that Mommy E only expected us to sing until the chorus, she insisted on singing the whole song -- because she loves the lilting notes of the final 'tonight.'

Performance day, and she rocked it out with pink highlights, a borrowed Barbie shirt (her younger sister's) and leggings that were at least 2 sizes too small. We didn't bring the guitar, and I didn't need to sing with her. She sang on her own, with a quiet sort of confidence, standing between her friends and accompanied by cool electric guitars, in front of a small supportive crowd, parents and little ones singing along. This momma couldn't help but beam with pride. Oh yeah, that's my girl right there... :)

Thanks for having us, Mommy E, Daddy A, L and Z! We had so much fun preparing for your party, and being in your party, catching up with friends we hadn't seen for a while, and soaking up all the prettiness prepared for the celebration. We only wish we could have seen your whole family jam. Maybe when Daddy A's arm heals. Rock on! :)

day 708 | june 21, 2014 | Flow Anilao

I've been following FlowSurfYogaSamba for a while now. They specialize in running retreats hosted in various beach resorts in the Philippines (and expanding into Indonesia). So when they posted about a quick getaway from the urban jungle on the same weekend we were in Manila, just had to grab the opportunity. The proposition was simple enough:

"Renew and refresh with a relaxing yoga class.
Learn the Brazillian martial art of Capoiera.
Dive and explore the colorful coral reefs of Anilao.
Learn how to prepare healthy eats.
Lounge and unwind on the resort's sun deck."

The little ones mostly did the lounging (and laughing at their mommy and daddy's attempts to be more flexible). The highlight of the trip for me was diving again after such a long time. I was nervous going into the water, and worried that I'd forgotten how to use equipment. It surprisingly came easier than I expected. Doing yoga before diving seems to have lent me a certain calm. I don't remember being as steady and zen in all my previous dives as I did on this one. Will be trying more yoga before the next dive!

Definitely signing up for another retreat -- something with surfing and samba, somewhere in Palawan or Siargao...(and for a longer period!) :) Felt so re-energized after this trip!