Lily’s favourite moment

 

 

Things have been so crazy for me lately. I’m not working on a big project or anything specific. But I feel busier than usual. It’s like everything from real life just piled up. I fill my hours and minutes doing so much at home, at work, at my kids’ school, I can’t seem to accomplish anything at the end of the day. Everything is half-done. This is the multi-tasker’s nightmare. Busy but feeling unaccomplished. How did this happen?

I told Patrick, I wish I could go on a long haul flight just so I could watch movies uninterrupted. Heck I’d be happy riding a P2P (point to point) bus from Glorietta to Trinoma just to watch one film in its entirety.

So we got to talking hypothetical situations. “What would you do if you didn’t have to work or do homework?” My answer was, “watch movies.”

Lily’s answer got me.

“I would sit on a rock under a tree, facing a lake or a pond. There, I will sketch and paint. Just like that time in Shanghai, Mom.”

Lily was referring to that time last April when I brought her to Shanghai with me while I filmed for AirAsia Red Talks. It was not the usual travel situation because it was for my work. I told her ahead of time, that the priority is to film Mama in specific scenes. So she would just have to cooperate.

My girl was more than cooperative. She was a real trooper. She walked patiently on The Bund while we waited for the light to change. She saw our team shoot a time-lapse of the skyline for what seemed like an hour, just to get a good 10 second footage of the sunset. Everywhere we went, she brought a book, a sketchbook, and a few pens.

 


This is the moment imprinted in her memory.

 


The rock. The little pond. The trees.

 


Lily sketched the trees in her paper notebook. But drew more details in her head. Today she still talks about the light and the pleasant weather.

 


I remember loving that moment too. That’s why I took so many photos of her while she was in her zone.

 

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Our candid moments were captured by some of our crew members.

 

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I valued that day too. This became my screensaver for the past six months.

 

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We had a lot of special moments during that work trip. This was our first night, shooting at The Bund. Lily was tired. She got sad and missed her sisters.

 

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Another sketch time. While waiting for the bus, she found a spot to sit on near the Shanghai Expo red building.

 

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When she was so afraid to step on the glass floor at the Oriental Pearl Tower, but I didn’t want her to miss the chance for a great photo. So we just sat together and got the shot.

 

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Another must photo spot on The Bund

 

I brought Lily as my “plus one” on this shoot trip because it was her turn. I already had travelled alone with Sophia. We went to France when she attended a two-week camp in Gerardmer and Paris. (Note, that after Lily got back and talked to her sisters about the great time she had with me, Sophia asked if she could go back next in line to travel with me too. She says the France trip shouldn’t count because it wasn’t so much a mother-daughter experience, she was focused on doing the camp experience. She’s right. And I can’t wait to take her on a trip next. And Stella too.)

I will write a separate story about why these one-on-one dates with daughters (or sons) matter so much. For now, I hope you enjoy this video from our AirAsia Red Talks series. There are six episodes in this series, which you can find in the AirAsia Facebook Page. This one documented my Shanghai trip with Lily, and it ends with a poem (not written by me) about why we travel.

 

 

 

 

 

For Patrick

 

 

This letter was published in Manila Bulletin on June 17, 2017. It was a surprise for Patrick. And he was surprised. He says he didn’t do much to deserve such praises. He says his greatest contribution was to not get in the way of my mothering, because I wanted to do so much for them and it brought me joy. Well, okay. But dads, especially mine and Patrick, play a big role in child rearing. Their physical presence and interaction during the early years of life do so much in enriching the development of a child. And the relationship between father and daughter is so special. I really believe that awesome dads who are doting and always present make a secure and confident daughter. That’s just my opinion. I wrote this to support UNICEF’s #earlymomentsmatter campaign.

 

Dear Patrick,

Being parents to our three girls is one of the biggest blessings in our life together. Seeing them thrive in every stage of their young lives is an amazing achievement for both of us; and I am so grateful to be in this journey with you by my side. We know there will be challenges that each child will face, but having you as their loving and doting Super-Dad gives them extra strength to face the world.

I look back fondly at the time when we were new parents—those long, sleepless nights with each baby’s crying fits and diaper changes; and even when one of the girls’ poop leaked and dropped on my toes while we were out for a walk. We can now laugh at those moments, even though back then I’d sometimes ask if I was failing as a mother. You joyfully took on half of the many responsibilities—like lovingly burping the babies after each time I fed them.

 

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My favorite photo. Patrick and Lily.

 

From the first signs of life in my womb, you made sure I was healthy and that I got regular medical guidance. You attended all Lamaze classes and gyrated your hips during the exercises. When we didn’t get to do the last Lamaze class because Sophia was born early, you brought the manual and had to DIY the swaddling. You never missed any of my monthly doctor’s visits. You made sure I ate well and indulged me in my cravings. I was easy, though, I just liked broccoli, beans, and plums.

You became the expert baby whisperer, successfully plopping Lily’s full cheeks on your shoulder after each feed and rocking her to sleep in seconds. To this day, she has very good sleeping habits.

You were very supportive of my wish to exclusively breastfeed each baby by making sure I was always comfortable. You gave me back and neck rubs whenever I needed them, joined in the whole ritual of propping me up with pillows, and made sure I had a glass of water nearby. You knew breastfeeding was not only good for the babies, but also easier for us once we got our rhythm going. You helped me prepare pureed carrots, beans, and potatoes when it was time for them to have solids on their sixth month; and you encouraged me to continue breastfeeding even then, which I really appreciate.

 

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Patrick and Stella.

 

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Patrick with Sophia and Lily in Singapore

 

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Patrick and Lily in Singapore

 

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Patrick and Sophia at the dentist.

 

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Photo by Real Kids’ Doods and Issay Tanabe.

 

When I faced challenges and felt guilt when I returned to work, you supported me through it all by reminding me that I was not only a good mom but that I’m also a strong and beautiful woman. Mothers need to hear these from their partners, even if they’re sometimes an exaggeration of the truth. Do you remember the time you almost forced me out of the house to have a foot spa and hair treatment a week after I gave birth? You knew little things like this would make me feel like my old self again. You jokingly said, “happy wife, happy life.” To that I add, “happy mom, happier babies.”

Now that they are in school, our girls are going through their lessons knowing that Dad is there to help them in Filipino and Social Studies, even if it means having to hand-draw Stella’s Tagalog vocabulary worksheets. I treasure these sketches like precious art work.
You built worktables for each of them so they could tinker, build miniature doll houses, and sculpt in clay; and we savor the joy of their drawings, sculptures, paintings, and writing.
They are also very active and well-rounded girls who love biking and the outdoors just like you do. Thank you for taking care of that department.

You always listen to them, even if at times it is challenging to hear in a house full of little women. You joined me in reading to them even when they were just babies drooling on the pages of each picture book. You watch their poetry, art shows, and plays at school with the same enthusiasm as when they perform their made-up “Broadway productions” at home. I love how you take time to make their favorite hot chocolate drinks in the mornings.

You may think I’m not looking, but I see you. I see you do these wonderful things for them, Patrick.

It is the lessons outside the classrooms that they need most help navigating life, things for which there are no blueprints or manuals. But you are always by my side, helping raise our girls to be “Wonder Women” in their own right. While young girls need good female role models, and this is why I try to be present in all their activities, nothing replaces the security and comfort a father can give his daughters. It was your role during the earliest moments in their lives that have made such difference in how they are now.

 

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Art Fair Manila 2017

 

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At our favorite bistro, UNO.

 

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Carrying Stella in Japan. She just turned 7 then.

 

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Game of the Generals with Stella.

 

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Chess with Stella.

 

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Cooking with Lily.

 

And look at them now: bright, creative, and energetic girls who bring so much joy and love in our lives and those of others. I’m amazed by their talents and their boundless creativity that started from when they were young because you helped me nurture them. Those precious times you played with them stimulated their brains.

Only time will tell if we’ve done a good job raising our girls. It’s never an easy task, especially in the digital age. Children get sad, frustrated, or angry at times. It’s natural and healthy for them to be able to express their emotions. But I’m proud and thankful you handle situations like this with so much love, patience, and understanding.

 

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Our girls in their Gingersnaps frocks.

 

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Museum visit.

 

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In Liliw, Laguna.

 

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Thanks for being the calming force in a house full of emotional women. Most of all, thank you for taking care of me.

 

Just a few days ago, I remembered it has been 21 years since we’ve known each other. It was the anniversary of our first lunch as friends after which you never left my side. Since then, you have been my partner in every important decision in my life—work, health, home décor, travel plans, and when UNICEF came knocking at my door. It was a huge responsibility and one that I was honored to accept. You helped me make that life-changing decision and you continue to do so with each new challenge that my work with UNICEF brings into my life.

So, especially today on Father’s Day, I’m proud to call you the Super-Dad to our three girls. I am confident they will find their place in a crowded world, speak their voices in a space full of noise, and share their talents despite the intimidation of judgment in a complicated maze of female adolescence. I don’t often get the chance to tell you what an amazing husband, father, and partner you are, but let this be my way to honor you as the greatest father to Sophia, Lily, and Stella.

Thank you for all that you do.

xoxo

 

 

Facebook Safety: What every parent should know

 

 

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This photo appears in my book CHIC: Tips on Life, Style, and Work. Photo by Jeanne Young.

 

It all happens so fast. One year we’re all about twirling in tutu skirts and fairy wings, next thing I know, Sophia goes to camp in France, Lily is navigating through emotions with friends, and Stella is having big conversations with even bigger words. My girls have grown. And unlike what our parents went through when they were slowly releasing us into the real world, we have to deal with both the real world and the online world.

My kids are not gadget-savvy. If my husband had his way, they would be. But I chose to keep them off social media and to limit their gadget time. As a result — and I can take credit for this — they are creative and outdoorsy kids. Ok, the outdoorsy part is my husband’s. He takes them biking, hiking and such.

Some of Sophia’s classmates were on Facebook as early as first grade. Soph never felt left out. She was busy playing in the park with her BFF neighbour. When her classmates came up with a FB group for school-related announcements in Grade 7, that was the only time we gave her a Facebook account. She was 13. The “legal” age for minors to be on the social media site. Til this day, Soph can’t really manage to navigate through FB. All she knows is that there are some cute puppy and kitten videos on it.

My kids have a little community on Facebook called The Strawbunny. This is to share their art and creative expressions. It is managed by Patrick and me. Occasionally we do post photos of our children. They were born into this already – each birth announcement was featured in a magazine or in my show. However, we keep their presence online under control. And they are ok with it.

I feel strongly about the safety of minors on the internet that I wrote a section on it in my book. The threats are real, folks. UNICEF recently came out with a baseline study on violence against children in the Philippines. While there are predators online who are waiting to pounce on children, there are also friends and acquaintances who sometimes overstep boundaries and create a very stressful environment for your kid –  yes, bullying. So parents, please be aware of your children’s digital tracks. You have to know about all their activities online.

 

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In mid-November, I was invited by Facebook to join a workshop on safety. This was attended by a few journalists. They released some valuable information that can help all of us manoeuvre through Facebook with safety. The biggest concerns in our forum then was the proliferation of fake sites and hate-mongering. Facebook has now improved its mechanism to identify these unwanted activities. In “Report Post” there is now a slug for “it’s a false news story.”

 

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After the workshop, I had a brief discussion with the officers from Facebook head quarters. I asked them more about the need for keeping kids safe on Facebook and all social media sites. There are way too many minors below 13 on social media. As it turns out, every day, parents in the Philippines come to Facebook to ask for advice in Groups, share pictures of their kids or just stay connected with family in different places. And for many parents, they also have questions about how Facebook works once their kids join.

 

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Facebook tools for journalists.

 

Facebook just launched the Parent’s Portal, a new section of the Facebook Safety Center. It will include guides for parents about how Facebook works, tips for talking with kids about staying safe online and resources from experts around the world.

Here are six tips to help parents kick off a digital discussion so that both parents and their children get the most out of their Facebook experience:

Let your child know that the same rules apply online as apply offline.
If it’s not something you want others to do to you, don’t do it to others. Just as you might tell your child to look both ways before crossing the street or to wear a helmet while riding their bike, teach them to think before they share online.

Try to be a good role model.
The adage that children will “do as you do, not as you say” is as true online as it is offline. If you set time restrictions on when your child can use social media or be online (ex: no texting after 10:00 PM), follow the same rules.

Engage early.
Data suggest that parents should engage online with their children as soon as they are on social media. Consider friending them when they join Facebook. Just as you lay the foundation early for dialogue and conversation offline with your children, you should lay that foundation early online. It gets harder to do so if you wait. Even before they are on social media, talk to them about technology as a whole. It can help lay the groundwork for future conversations.

Identify and seize key moments.
For example, when your child gets their first mobile phone, it’s a good time to set ground rules. When your child turns 13 years old and is old enough to join Facebook and other social media, it’s a good time to talk about safe sharing. When your child gets a driver’s license, it’s a good time to discuss the importance of not texting and driving.

Trust yourself.
Typically, you can adopt the same parenting style for your child’s online activities as you do for their offline activities. If you find that your child responds best to a negotiated agreement, create a contract that you can both sign. Or, maybe your child just needs to know the basic rules.

Ask your children to teach you.
Not on Facebook? Or, maybe you’re interested in trying a streaming music service? If your children are already familiar with these apps and sites, they can be an excellent resource. The conversation can also serve as an opportunity to talk about issues of safety, privacy and security. For example, you can ask them questions about privacy settings as you set up your own Facebook account. And, as most parents know all too well, your child will likely appreciate the opportunity to teach you.

 

My guiding principle is this — I don’t allow my girls to go out unsupervised in public areas. The internet is one big public area. So while they are minors, they are completely under my care. They are not to run around the internet without my knowledge and presence. All phones are turned over to our family charging-dock every night at an agreed time. Their school and places of activities cannot be published. Photos are not geo-tagged. Etc…

There are many other little rules we have. Some of them are in my book. I’d be curious to know what your policies are in your family.

 

 

Washable Nail Polish

 

 

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A couple of months ago (yes, months), we received the most wonderful present from a very thoughtful reader, Cheryl Sy. I don’t know her personally but she sent me a private message, either in Facebook or Instagram, I can’t remember now. She asked if she could send my daughters some non-toxic nail polish. I politely declined because my girls are, like me, not into nail polish. So we left it at that.

Cheryl didn’t stop there. She ordered a gift from her crafting friend in Oregon, and promised to send these personalized goodies to my kids. Weeks and probably months later, she contacted me saying the package went to Tel Aviv by mistake and that she was working on getting them to Manila. Cute.

Anyway the package finally got to us. It really brightened up my day. It was the most well-thought of presents. Cheryl also wrote lovely notes for me and my daughters. I just can’t tell you enough how we appreciate this gesture, Cheryl. Thank you!! Stella drew a thank you note. And the girls also recorded a thank you video. I have yet to send them to Cheryl. In the meantime, here is her amazing product…

 

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The three bottles carry the names of my daughters — Rose, Daisy, Lily. (Margarita means daisy.)

 

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Personalized charm bracelets for each girl, with miniature Snails bottles and their flowers! Look at them… so adorable, the lily, the rose, and the daisy.

 

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Each of the bracelets has a little “Strawbunny” charm. Not many know that my daughters have a Facebook page called The Strawbunny where they show some of their art work and creations. The Strawbunny character was designed by Lily.

 

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Snails is a non-toxic and completely water-soluble nail polish meant for children… but also good for adults. According to Cheryl she found this brand while searching for non-toxic nail polish for her own daughter. She would use toxic-free polish but would end up using nail polish remover with harsh chemicals. It also took forever to remove and sometimes damaged her daughter’s nails. With Snails (safe nails), the polish comes off with just water and soap! Perfect for little digits playing fancy dress-up. If you want the colour to last longer, you can use the Snails Top Coat and your polish can stay on for up to two days. It then can be removed by water!

 

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Just above the barcode, the Lily. You will also see that the formula is free of harmful chemicals like Dibutyl Phthalate, Toluene, Formaldehyde, Formaldehyde Resin, Camphor, and Parabens.

 

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Stella agreed to have her cute little nails coloured with polish. I promised her that it would come off easily.

 

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The bunny with orange Snails.

 

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I tried it myself. Two coats of pink. I didn’t seal it with the top coat because I wanted to check if it was really water soluble.

 

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And so I tried washing it off.

 

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Just a little soap and some gentle rubbing, the colour came off.

 

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And there you have it… washable nail polish!

 

You can find Snails at Bright Brands in Facebook and Instagram.

 

 

Sophia’s experience in France

 

 

My daughter Sophia’s essay about her camp experience in France got published in the Inquirer over last October 17. To say that I am so proud is an understatement. Seeing her byline put me over the moon. She’s only 12.

 

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You may read Sophia’s full article and photo gallery in the Inquirer here.

 

If you recall from my Instagram, last August, I went to France. That trip wasn’t about me or my work. It was all for Sophia. She was chosen to participate in Copain du Monde, a 2-week camp in the Vosges department in the Lorraine region of France. The trip was sponsored by Secours Populaire Francais (SPF), a French organization that engages in humanitarian programs in France and in other countries in need. In the Philippines, SPF is sponsoring a Yolanda rehabilitation program in Busuanga in partnership with Mirasol Foundation where they rebuilt a school and assisted in some livelihood-generating programs.

Once a year, SPF hosts children from all over France and a few invited countries to participate in summer camps. This year, for the camp in Vosges, they invited children from Japan, Haiti, Nepal, Israel and the Philippines. Sophia was among the four Filipino children chosen by Mirasol Foundation to be sent as a delegate of the Philippines to France. They chose children from a list of nominees from another camp program that my daughter belongs to. While Sophia and the other delegates’ trip was fully sponsored, I presented myself as a “volunteer”. I paid my own way and SPF took care of my accommodations and food at camp. I was with Sophia and the kids for a week. Then I left her in France for the last week. The results of my journey are thousands of beautiful photos and a long video that I edited as their memento. You may view it here or scroll below.

 

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Copain du Monde camp was in a beautiful property in Xonrupt-Longermer, nestled in Vosges at the Lorraine region of France.

 

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After almost 24 hours of traveling, we arrived at Les Jonquilles in Xonrupt-Longemer. Sophia with Alexa Loste, wearing the sweatshirt that Soph designed for the Philippine delegation.

 

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The start of my camp mom duties, wearing the sweatshirt that Sophia designed — just so happy to be breathing fresh mountain air.

 

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The day the kids arrived at camp, they played ice breaker games.

 

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In a setting like this.

 

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Gerardmer is a small lake-side town in the mountains of Lorraine. History buffs would know that this was once the site of active battle during the Franco-Prussian War and World War 1.

 

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The war memorial in Gerardmer.

 

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Sophia’s favourite activity was rock climbing and rappelling.

 

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They went camping overnight two times in different locations. Camping, like in a tent. Here, Soph and Alexa were enjoying the stillness of Lac du Longemer.

 

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This was the hike to the campsite.

 

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We travelled to Paris by train We left Gerardmer at 4am, got to Paris by 9am, boarded the train again at 5pm, back to our chalet by 8pm.

 

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The main activity of Copain du Monde was a one-day trip to Paris to cebrate the 70th anniversary of Secours Populaire Francais. More on that in a separate blog.

 

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One rainy day, the kids took part in indoor activities. Alexa and Joaquin chose baking. They learned how to bake Mirabelle tarte. Mirabelle is a small seeded fruit, much like a peach or plum. It is lovely. And that pie was so easy to make. Now if I could please find some mirabelles here.

 

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This is Naomi. She and her family moved to France from Tibet three years ago.

 

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Even on rainy days, they had outdoor art activities.

 

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This is the bagtag of the Philippine delegation using Sophia’s design. We had Booths Republic make them for us.

 

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Lake Gerardmer

 

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We went kayaking.

 

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Soph and I enjoyed this kayaking experience. I used to hate kayaking in Canada (my brother took me on an extreme camping adventure where we had to kayak 5 hours to camp). This was so much fun.

 

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From Sophia’s article, “it was far from ordinary kayaking because this one had games. My favorite was “the boat is sinking.” The rules: Someone has to yell out a certain number, and in 10 seconds you must group yourselves together and hold on to each other’s boats using the side handles. Whoever gets left behind must stand on your kayak for three seconds—without falling. It was hilarious watching people tip their boats over, screaming their heads off.”

 

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Skipping stones. It’s universal.

 

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We made sure the kids heard Mass on a Sunday. We found this lovely little church on top of a hill in Gerardmer.

 

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After Mass, we walked back up to our lodge. This was the pretty view.

 

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At the cultural concert, the kids performed some songs and a dance. These are all in the video below.

 

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Our daily breakfast. Same every day. No plates. I thought I’d sworn off bread. But now I really miss it.

 

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We had the perfect weather in August. Temperatures ranged from 13 to 18 degrees. But it also got summer hot when the sun was out and there was no shade. Here, the kids did some art activities at the courtyard.

 

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The courtyard was also the only spot where there was wifi. So we (the adults) made it our little office. These are the adult leaders from the other delegations — Prizma from Nepal, Ibrahim from Israel and EJ Pepito from the Philippines.

 

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One afternoon in Gerardmer, we were given some free time. Soph and the kids sat under a tree waiting for our ride home. I went looking to buy some wifi load for this Orange mobile wifi that I bought. I ended up three blocks away. Then I saw the most amazing soft ice cream. I knew Soph loved soft ice cream so I bought her one. The sun was out and after 20 seconds the ice cream started to melt. So there I was, running like a mad woman with melting ice cream for my daughter. When it got to her, it was dripping with vanilla and chocolate melted ice cream. I told her, that is the love of a mother for her child. I looked like a crazy woman running through the narrow streets of Gerardmer holding that melting cone.

 

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They swam at an indoor heated pool.

 

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Most of the days were spent out playing in the beautiful field.

 

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The girls made up their own game and own rules. There was a language barrier. But kids just need to play and they totally understand each other.

 

There are more stories and photos. I’d like to share them in a separate blog entry. My daughter had a life-changing experience in France. She learned so much. Here is the link to her Inquirer article again.

In Sophia’s own words, “Copain du Monde changed my life in two weeks. We did not talk about politics or how to fix the world’s problems. But we were just happy to be with other children from different parts of the globe. It was a reminder that children are the future of the world, that in a loving and peaceful environment, children would become better citizens.”

 

Hope you enjoy this long video I made. You may skip past the halfway mark to see their performance.