Gem Palace ring


I was looking through my photos of India, fixing the next batch to be uploaded, and figured that this photo has a story to tell. Ingrid shot this while we were having lunch at the Oberoi in Agra. Yes I am wearing a ring that I so love, I will wear it as much as I can. I can tell you that it is a ruby set in gold with two tiny blue sapphires holding it in a screw. It swivels completely 360 degrees.

I’m sharing this picture in its raw form. Un-photoshopped and unenhanced. I am aware that the little wrinkles under my eyes are visible, and so are the moles on my temple, my dry lips and my crooked nose. I have red veins on my cheeks and green veins around my eyes. Sometimes I think my skin is transparent. It’s been that way since I was a child. If you look closer you’ll see that I have a three inch scar above my left eyebrow. I got that from a bicycle accident when I was 8. And that’s why my left eyebrow has a bald spot. If you look even closer you’ll probably notice a little bit of whiteheads. Just a little.

When we were in India, we had very little time at the hotels. Most of our time was spent on actual tours, meaning roadtrips on the bus. I planned all my outfits, keeping in mind that I’d be sharing my photos. I gave up on fixing my hair, so I kept it on a ponytail most of the time. Or just let it hang in all its messy glory. I didn’t have time nor did I even want to wear makeup. All I had on was faded lipstick, a little eyeliner and a bit of powder (applied with a tiny brush and never with a sponge applicator. I’m not a fan of overly made up faces). No foundation. I wanted my skin to breathe. And thanks to the gorgeous light in India, everyone looked softer and more beautiful. Sigh.

So this is how my skin looks bare. Yes, I’ve had lots of time to think about my flaws. When I was younger, I wanted to change everything about my face. But my mom always told me to love what God has given me. She doesn’t know that I asked my Canadian orthodontist to look into making my jaws more even. But when the dentist told me that she’d cut one side and shut my teeth together for many weeks, I ran out the door. Eventually, I grew to accept the way I looked. And just forgot about it when I had better things to do and worry about.

I am raising three daughters. I know at some point they’ll be bothered with something about their face or body. This early we are trying to not put emphasis on physical appearances – hence the creativity, imagination, playing in the park, enhancing of talents and basically living a normal childhood. They know that I stand against beauty pageants but I support the performing arts. But if they develop some sort of neuroses about their looks when they’re teenagers, I will not brush it off. I know those issues are real. I just hope I’ll know how to coach them through life then.

I’m okay with my scars and wrinkles. They don’t bother me at all. The only anti-aging thing I do is use Olay Total Effects (and no, this post isn’t sponsored. Haha). I use it sparingly though. If my skin is oily or I know I’ll be exposed to hot conditions, I lay off it. The highest maintenance I do is visit the derma religiously. Every two weeks, I go to Belo Greenbelt for a simple cleaning. No fancy treatments, no lasers, no crazy peels, just a basic facial and removal of whiteheads. Sometimes I do a powerpeel to slough off dead skin. I’ve been doing this for over three years. And prior to that, with another doctor. It’s an investment of your time and money (but not so expensive).

Where am I going with this? I don’t know. I just got reminded of what my mom said – love what you have been given. But also take care of it. Natural beauty is great. Low-maintenance is even more wonderful. But make an effort to take care of it. I’m glad I found my routine and that it allows me to face the world with no makeup.



Chef Stevie’s Vietnamese menu




During our trip to India, my food friend was Steven Villacin. He’s so adventurous, ofcourse, being a foodie and all. Our first meal was breakfast. I was seated beside him and we tried everything. I was surprised that I liked the salty masala buttermilk. He said it was an “acquired taste.” The salty milk was just all wrong to him. It had herbs floating on top too, like a mojito. For me, it neutralized my tongue. It had been burning from all the curry and chutneys I was trying.

Stevie, as everyone fondly calls him, used to work in the financial industry. He ended his high-powered and fast-paced career and went for what he truly loved doing. Cooking. He put up a food order/catering business called Chef Stevie’s and made a name for himself with his specialty, Hainanese chicken rice. This has been my never-fail pot luck contribution at most parties.

Last Saturday, Stevie and his cousin Claudette CV Travel, the travel agency that put together our fabulous India tour, treated us to Chef Stevie’s new menu. We had an awesome lunch at home. Patrick is now expecting something like this every weekend. Good thing I have Chef Stevie’s number on my fave list. Haha.

Warning, viewing food photos past midnight can make you hungry.


Fried Shrimp Lumpia with Bacon served with Sweet Chili Sauce – Php1,200 for 50 pcs. (minimum).


The kids loved this!!! And so did I.


Fresh Vietnamese Spring Rolls with Peanut Sauce. One order consists of 15 pieces for Php1,050. Additional pieces are charged at Php70 per piece


I felt healthy eating this. I kept getting reminded that everyone I met in Vietnam was slim.


Oriental Chicken Salad with Hoisin Dressing. One order consists of 2 half size deep pans (11 3/4 in. x 9 3/8 in. x 2 9/16 in.) for Php1,700. Chef Stevie currently does not accept half orders since not a lot of people order this. It’s perfect for a big lunch. Ours lasted three days! It also comes with crispy noodles for sprinkling on top.


To order Chef Stevie’s Vietnamese menu or his famous Hainanese Chicken Rice, +63906-508-4155


This time last year, I was in Sarangani Province

A page from Working Mom’s October 2010 issue. They did a cover story on me, featuring my role in UNICEF.


A few days ago, my youngest sister, Pauline, gave birth to her first child. She and her husband Mathieu decided on a midwife-assisted birthing process. This is in Canada, where the best health care is free for everyone. The downside of a public healthcare program like Canada’s though is that you don’t get to choose your doctor and sometimes you feel like they’re rushing you so they can move on to the next patient. My sister wanted a more intimate and natural experience. They almost chose a home birth and a water birth. All this would have been covered by the government as well. In the end, my nephew was born at a hospital. After almost 48 hours of labour, the midwife turned over the case to a medical doctor. Lucien Delio was born a perfect little boy. He and my sister went home a few hours after. Everybody happy.

I was reminded of my trip to Sarangani with UNICEF. It was exactly a year ago. They brought me there to see the work of our UNICEF team on the ground, focusing on maternal and infant health as well as breastfeeding. I met mothers in different barangays and municipalities, visited municipal health centres, got to know the work of midwives and saw lots of beautiful babies. This story has a lot of photos, so please click on “read more” to see the rest of the shots I took. I fell in love with each baby I saw. And I’m happy to report that exclusive breastfeeding was practised by most, if not all, the mothers I saw.

August is Breastfeeding Month. There have been many activities promoting breastfeeding awareness. L.A.T.C.H. did an interesting photo exhibit of urban/celebrity moms breastfeeding in public. There are other campaigns. I think it’s wonderful. I just want to add… the importance of exclusively breastfeeding your baby from birth to six months. This means no water, no supplements, no baby food. Breastmilk is pure, perfect and complete. That’s all a baby needs. Exposing an infant to water, especially in our country, could put the baby at risk of infection or disease. From six months onwards you can start giving solids and ofcourse complementary feeding your child with breastmilk up to as long as you want (two years is recommended).

Let me go back my Sarangani story.


Beautiful Sarangani Bay


Mothers in line for their regular health checks.


A breastfeeding mom and a three-week old beautiful baby.


Breastfeeding moms.


The medical staff of Maitum municipal hospital. There is no provincial hospital in Sarangani. Only municipal hospitals and barangay health centres. I was shocked at first but I learned that the solution isn’t always about building infrastructure. They would have a problem keeping the hospital staffed and well-equipped (in a perfect world this wouldn’t even be a problem). Also the way the geographical form of the province doesn’t help either. The province is cut into two, separated by a bay and another province. What was needed immediately were more Skilled Attendants at Birth or midwives.


Barangay Lagundi’s health station. Here in photo are midwives and skilled attendants. Midwives are trained health professionals who are able to deliver babies as long as there are no medical complications. Midwives can recognize medical complications and are able to refer patients to medical doctors in the municipal hospitals. Midwives are not to be confused with mang-hihilots as they are not recognized/accredited by the Dept of Health.


A barangay with mothers from the T’boli tribe.


Jocelyn Lazilla, a midwife who services several barangays in Maitum. Jocelyn drives her motorcycle through rough roads in order to deliver babies. She was the only midwife in that area of almost four or five barangays. No doctors eitiher! Jocelyn is a modern day hero. It was a privilege to meet her and other midwifes in Sarangani. This particular barangay was a scene of an encounter between the MILF and the military. Jocelyn and her team can bravely pass through areas where fighting occurs. She says that at one time, both sides stopped their gunfire in order for her to pass through so she could do the important task of delivering a baby. I was on this visit with UNICEF Representative Vanessa Tobin. She wrote about meeting Jocelyn here.


Breastfeeding. Natural. Universal.


At Kiamba Lying-In Clinic just a few steps away from the Maitum Municipal Hospital. This was our first stop. I was so enamoured by the children. I remember this was the place where I was first asked by one of the mothers, “Paano ba ako hindi na magkakaanak. Kasi anim na anak ko. Ayoko na.”/ How can I stop having children? I have six children. I don’t want any more. It was a harsh reality. There’s still a lot that needs to be done in terms of maternal health and reproductive health.


Her gaze haunts me up to now. It was difficult to hear her story.  I wanted to breakdown and cry but couldn’t. I also wanted her to stop recounting the story. But we were with journalists who were there to listen and tell her story. This woman had just lost her daughter-in-law who died from childbirth. It was to be her sixth child. The baby didn’t make it as well.


The barangay health centre had huge Manila paper reports of what had happened to that woman’s daughter-in-law. They brought her to the municipal hospital too late. By the time they got there she needed serious medical attention. I remember her saying they tried to bring her to General Santos City but it was too late.


Lovely seaside community.


Too cute. Mom says he is exclusively breastfed.


Lots of cute babies in the next batch of photos after the jump.

Click here to read more

Ever After in New York


Samantha Sotto, randomly seeing her book at Barnes and Noble on 5th Avenue, NY. It must have been a wonderful feeling! Congratulations Sam!


A few weeks after the release of Samantha Sotto’s first book, Ever After, she went to New York City to celebrate its birthday. She promised me first dibs on the photos of New York and here they are.


Philippine Cultural Center in NYC


Philippine Cultural Center in NYC window display. On 5th Avenue!!


I don’t know what I can write about Samantha Sotto that hasn’t been written about already. All the bloggers and reporters have featured her book and told the story of how she got her book deal with Random House. It’s not just about luck or knowing the right people. Sam worked hard for this.

The only other Filipino author I know who’s been published by Random House is F. Sionil Jose. I first “discovered” his book in Toronto. The book cover caught my attention (yes, I judge a books by their cover). The book was called Don Vicente, but there were actually two novels – Tree and My Brother, My Executioner. I didn’t know who he was, as I didn’t study in the Philippines. I just read the book and loved every single page of it. I thought it would have made a great epic film. When I travelled to the Philippines and met new friends – like Patrick and Lourd de Veyra – I had casually mentioned that I loved an author named F. Sionil Jose. And they were like, “Duh, yeah, he’s the National Artist for Literature.” Next thing I know, I’m meeting the author in his legendary bookstore and publishing house, Solidaridad. And Lourd told Mr. Jose that his biggest fan was a Canadian girl. I was star-struck. I asked him a hundred questions about the characters and the setting, Rosales, Pangasinan.

Now another Filipino author is published by Random House. A first time author, at that. The funny thing is that Sam and I were together every Monday, Wednesday and Friday last summer. Our daughters were in the same ballet class. I had no idea she was a published author!!! Sam sent me a signed copy of her book. I brought it with me to India. But you know, my mind was oozing with India inspiration I wanted to drown in it. So I didn’t get to read Sam’s book. I will get to it one day. My friends who’ve read it loved it.


Here’s a virtual tour of Ever After.


How did the New York book launch come about?
I was originally supposed to be in NYC just to do some press interviews and so I was really pleasantly surprised when the Philippine Consulate offered to host a book signing event for me while I was there. They put everything together in less than two weeks!

What were the highlights?
I was thrilled that I had the opportunity to introduce my agent, editor, and publicist to the Filipino community in New York. They are very impressed and encouraged by the support the book has been receiving from Pinoys. I think the most fun part of the event was the Q&A portion where the audience was able to ask my editor questions about the book and the publishing process.

How has your life changed since the book was released?
I get a lot more email. LOL. I know the hype will fade so I don’t think about that so much. I figure I’m down to the last two and a half minutes of this whole fifteen minutes of hoopla.

New plans?
I’m flying back to the US in October to do more book events in the West Coast. I’m also working on putting together a launch event for the release of the book in Singapore at some point in September. Hopefully, I’ll also be able to finish my second book in the next couple of months. And sleep. That would be good too 😉


Book Display and selling at the New York “birthday party”


Sam, welcoming guests to the book launch


Book reading


Book signing


Deputy Consul General Theresa Dizon-de Vega, Sam’s agent Stephanie Kip Rostan, Catherine Cullen (Crown/Random House Publicity), Sam’s editor Kate Kennedy



Samantha Sotto’s Ever After is available at National Book Store.

Patterns in India



Ingrid and I got to Anokhi in Jaipur just ten minutes before closing time. I hoarded these amazing woodblock print fabric – in bedcovers, scarves and kaftans. But I didn’t hoard enough. When we got to Delhi we went to two Anokhi branches and both were closed. It was Independence Day and the entire city shut down.

Oh well, another reason to go back to Jaipur.









What am I going to do with all this fabric? I don’t know. I doubt I’ll wear most of them (the clothing). I was planning to reupholster an old seat with a graphic print from Anokhi. But there wasn’t enough time to peruse the home section. I really want more.

I was so inspired by the graphic prints and embellishments all over India. Here are a few that I captured.


Carved marble screens in a window at the Amber Fort.


Floral motif fresco at Amber Fort


Ceiling of Sheesh Mahal Palace in Amber Fort, made of mirrored glass mosaics.


Garden at Amber Fort


The walls of Amber Fort.


I’m not done… there’s more.

Click here to see more photos