Friday, 25 May 2018

Oh to be young and be a student in Europe! University of Oslo European student days Jostein Gaarder Sophie's World Study Abroad
This article of mine originally appeared in Danish publication
“Study Abroad”

I posted a photo of an old article of mine on Instagram so this is for the three people who wanted to read the whole article (inserted right, please click to enlarge). Below is a shorter version of an e-mail I’d sent to a friend after receiving the good news. Later, when I met my fellow scholars, this was one topic of conversation, “what were you doing that very moment you received the good news?” In this letter I talked about a failed attempt to get a scholarship to the UK years before, and in a way, that dream also came true when I worked at a UK university months after moving to England. Dreams always come true in different forms, I guess, if only we all have the patience to wait. I’ve had lots of highs (and a few hurdles) after this, but these two years in Scandinavia and Portugal still rank as two of the best of my life.

Friday, 22 April 2005
6:20 pm 
Guagua, Pampanga
Mood: HIGH

Dear _____,

I CANNOT BREATHE.  Since I got here I consumed quail eggs, iced tea and just a while ago, a bar of toblerone and I wasn’t even aware of it.  I am so overwhelmed that I cannot concentrate.  So I switched on the television and gladly, MTV classic was on.  I sang with the artists for a while.  I want to scream. I texted Nica and she said that my excited mood had reached Manila.

It was the miracle I told you about.  And even if I’m not there yet, I still have to process my visa and everything, I’d like to share with you the good news. The most important thing is how I feel right now. Even if it won’t push through, I thank God for the hope that He gave me today, April 22, 2005.

The good news: I just got my letter of acceptance for a two-year programme study at the University of Oslo (UiO) in Norway.  Alongside this, I’ll be granted a scholarship amounting to something like 21,000 euros per year.  I’ll be able to keep the scholarship provided that I PASS THE TESTS EVERY SEMESTER.  My brother, Nica and the others are confident I can pass the tests.  I don’t know.  

I still plan to finish my M.A. in Special Education someday but this Norway thing will lead me to an entirely different path.  The programme is known as the European Master in Higher Education.  I’ll be spending period of studies in three universities – in Norway, Finland and Portugal.  


It started, as you may know, of how I badly wanted that scholarship to the U.K. in 2000. I waited a few years before trying again, because, from what I saw so far, it is very competitive and even if I have good grades, work experience, and even if another scholarship also paid for my Bachelor's Degree, I knew I had to polish my CV some more. 

I’ve been waiting for their letter through e-mail. I was getting sad because I knew if I didn’t hear from them after April 30th, it’d mean I wasn’t qualified.  And then I thought of going home today for my yearly pilgrimage to Sto. Cristo every April 23... Oh dear _____, I must be dreaming! I’m so excited.  It seems so unreal. I never knew anyone, I mean anyone personally, who has had a scholarship abroad before. Ma said they’d texted me about the envelope but I swear I never received the message. If I didn’t go home I’d have missed the deadline (I should confirm my acceptance by April 25th at the latest or they’ll give my place to those on the waiting list).  

When I got to my room my heart beat so fast when I saw the huge envelope.  If it was a rejection letter, it would have just been a short letter.  I knew it wasn’t.

I called my mom.  I hugged her and told her that her daughter would finally get that dream European education and that she could go telling people that her only daughter is in Europe not as a domestic helper but as a scholar! Please help me pray that everything goes well and that I can get into the University of Oslo.

Love from your (future) European friend,

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Friday, 20 April 2018

M wins art competition art competition secret life of the woods school Berkshire England
A few days ago I received an email then a phone call from M’s school inviting me to attend Friday’s assembly as she will receive an award for an Art and Poetry competition, topic was “The Secret Life of the Woods.” I had no idea they had such competition so I asked M about it. I pretended I saw some parents talking about it on Facebook as she might guess that she won if I knew about it — the school always contacts us for such awards/recognition intending for them to be a surprise on the day. The poetry and art works were unnamed, meaning the pupils across all year levels voted for everyone’s works without knowing whose work it was they voted for. There was an overall winner who won a trophy, the start of an award named after the late grandfather of one of the pupils; he helped in the school a lot and they raised funds and would give this award every year in his memory. All the winning works were displayed afterwards in the hall. I love how inspiring M’s school is and really pushes the pupils to give their very best. It was voted the School of the Year in 2017, not just in primary, but among all the schools in the entire borough. A while back, I told my husband that the other school near us (about the same distance as M’s school from our house, if not nearer, but to the other direction) is also an excellent school. But husband, said, hah, but it’s not the School of the Year is it?

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Saturday, 14 April 2018

Making music with other people (updated with video)

If you go full screen, you'd catch a glimpse of M
 just behind the dark-haired girl on the right;
behind her is the blonde with the white bow. Berkshire maestros spring junior strings course Yellow Submarine BeatlesBe still my heart. As soon as we entered and heard the rehearsal right before the performance, I was teary-eyed.  M is given private lessons by a young, lovely violin teacher (who's also a sailor) since January of last year. I wanted her to learn the violin, sadly, they don't teach it at school and the most sensible option for us is to have lessons here at home. Last month, her teacher suggested for M to attend a spring orchestra course just to have a feel of what it's like to play in an orchestra. Yesterday, M was at the venue (a nearby day/boarding school) since eight in the morning and we attended the 15.30 performance of all the kids, which was spectacular. A plus that they played the Beatles - Yellow Submarine and Octopus's Garden. My two-year-old was still humming Yellow Submarine with me till after dinner!

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Thursday, 29 March 2018

Picture Book-making at the Story Museum in Oxford Claire Alexander Oxford Literary Festival picture book-making workshop
Claire Alexander shows my little girl's
work-in-progress and praises her for a good
I've been attending the Oxford Literary Festival since 2009 and have met wonderful authors during those times (Hilary Mantel, Kazuo Ishiguro, Julian Barnes, even the late PD James, and a lot more). As much as I love classics, it's also great to check out the current literary scene. Left photo: award-winning children's book author and illustrator Claire Alexander shows my little girl's work-in-progress and praises her for a good idea during the two-hour picture book-making workshop (March 17 2018 at the Story Museum in Oxford). I wasn't keen on the events for grownups at the festival this year but I thought M might want to join the workshop. It was geared towards children age 8-14 (one girl who had attended was 14) but at 7, I thought it was right up M's alley so after asking what she thought and she said she'd like to attend, I signed her up. Painfully shy, I was overly impressed with how M conducted herself, raising her hand when Claire asked a question (I guess she is never shy when it comes to these things). Oh my, in the end she was so enamoured with Claire that she said she'd like to see her again! Claire Alexander Oxford Literary Festival picture book-making workshop
M's alicorn drawing at the hotel
Pictured on the right is M's random alicorn drawing to kill time at the hotel. Later at the workshop I asked Claire Alexander to sign it (she signed it top left). I love how my little girl draws from her imagination, something I'm never good at. Alicorns are pony characters in "My Little Pony" - they have unicorn horns and Pegasus wings. Claire Alexander Oxford Literary Festival picture book-making workshopClaire graciously doodled a cat in my daughter’s sketch notebook after I told her how much the little girl loves her cat drawings. She drew Millie from Millie Shares and said she hadn’t drawn Millie in a while. How special that Millie in the book is alive in my daughter’s notebook, saying hello to her (left photo). Claire Alexander Oxford Literary Festival picture book-making workshop"The event took place in the Long Room of the Story Museum, the children sat around tables at the front while we accompanying adults watched from the back. I felt like a stage mother but I was giddy about my daughter attending her first writing workshop, where else but in historic Oxford, where a lot of characters in children’s books that we now love came to life. The museum itself, formerly a huge Royal Mail depot, felt so magical that it could be a part of Lyra’s fictional Oxford. It snowed all day on that Saturday, but it wasn’t freezing enough for the snow to settle (the first time in my 10 years of attending the festival that it ever snowed), as though encouraging the children to create their own Narnia, a world imagined by another beloved author in this very city."

I wrote about the workshop in full over at Fine Books and Collections magazine, including a few tips for those of you who are interested to write and illustrate for children. Click here to read.

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Sunday, 25 March 2018

M reading The Queen's Knickers by Nicholas Allan

Please excuse my daughter's fingernails caked with dirt (other times it's paints and markers). I can assure you these knickers are not from H&M!!!

When she was very small, I borrowed this from the local library and read it to her. Then, recently, she told me she read a very funny book at school and asked me if I've heard of The Queen's Knickers. I told her I had read that book to her when she was very small. There are probably a very few people who don't like this kind of humour but I remember how much we enjoyed it. I decided to buy a cheap used copy online to read to my two-year-old. And you could tell from the video that the book is also a success with him (he wouldn't stop joining in).

This was M's first go at reading this book aloud, I thought she did rather well. She's one of the advanced readers in her class. At 7, she's at level Rainbow, which means she's allowed to read anything that will suit her age. The Queen's Knickers by Nicholas Allan children's book humour The Queen's Knickers by Nicholas Allan children's book humour The Queen's Knickers by Nicholas Allan children's book humour

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Friday, 9 March 2018

Notes on a snow Berkshire England snow Beast from the East sledge The Ridges
Outside our gaslight house, a snow
angel found her way home.
I was born and raised in a tropical country but my first taste of life abroad was in Norway and Finland (not to mention one semester in sunny Portugal to complete the joint scholarship degree), so even after nearly 11 years living in England it still shocks me how unprepared we are for snow. It's a bit embarrassing sometimes, but then mostly understandable. The rubbish bins weren't collected on the day because the same bin men were driving the gritting lorries. As we hardly have any snow, it would be funny to employ people to grit the roads and have them wait around till there is snow (once every four years in these parts, if they're lucky). If we invested on snowploughs, they'll just probably rust from disuse. But on those few days when snow comes, something that's nothing in countries that are used to it, here, schools and offices are closed, motorists get stranded, there is chaos everywhere.

In the news, I saw children skating on what was probably a frozen lake. It was black ice. If I recall, that's dangerous, you're not supposed to do that as black means the ice can break anytime. I guess they didn't know?! I remember my private tea and chat with the Norwegian author Jostein Gaarder and how he urged me to ski in Sognsvann as that lake freezes during winter. As a newbie in Oslo back then, I asked him, wouldn't that be dangerous? He assured me that it was safe to ski on Sognsvann. When I told a Brazilian classmate about this, she said, "this is Norway, if it's dangerous to do anything, you'll see a sign telling you so."

*** Berkshire England snow Beast from the East sledge The Ridges
M had so much fun sledging at The Ridges,
where her dad went sledging as a child.

I remember when we bought this traditional wooden sledge for M in 2013 after a snowy walk at The Ridges, when we saw the kids having so much fun on their sledges. And then it didn't snow the following year. I was having a chat with M's nursery teacher and complained about it. She said that her husband bought 10,000 sledges the previous winter to sell, and now they were all stored in some warehouse. Me and my one sledge, that shut me up. 

So the little girl had lots of fun sledging for the first time at The Ridges, where her dad went sledging as a child. There were steeper and more fun paths around the woods, but she was quite happy with this one that had a little bit of slope and a few bumps. 

We haven't had proper snow since 2013 so it was the first time we had used the wooden sledge! We'd just about gone out at the right time, by afternoon the sun had shone and most of the snow had melted. We didn't dare go out the previous day as there was still a snow storm. The snow was gone in places when we finally ventured out, but at least it was pleasant and not a cold, windy and horrible outing. Berkshire England snow Beast from the East sledge The RidgesI love the calmness in the woods after a snowfall. But for the first time I wasn't sad about snow ending, those few days were enough! It was time to get on with our lives.
Can't believe this photo (on the right) was from last Saturday, we had snow when all the supposedly colder places are already experiencing the first bout of spring. More worrying are the floods/rivers overflowing in some parts of the country as the snow thaws. That the climate is all messed up is not good, and worse that it isn't something new. My husband's birthday is towards the end of March and it also snowed on the day he was born.
*** Berkshire England snow Beast from the East Tod's Audrey Hepburn Mothering Sunday Berkshire England snow Beast from the East Tod's Audrey Hepburn Mothering Sunday
There were a few of these Audrey
Hepburn Tod's print ads that came
out in the 1990s, the one above was
the one I'd posted on my wall.
Our friendly neighbourhood UPS guy didn't fail me on a snowy day. Came by delivering my Mothering Sunday present straight from lovely Italy. Since Mothering Sunday was still days away, I told my husband, "Received the kids' present for me. Where is yours??" Tod's always makes me think of Audrey Hepburn on a bicycle with her dog - that picture was on my wall growing up (right photo).
Mike was away on those three snowy days for a
training/conference in good old (all together now) Birmingham, a two-hour drive away from our place (sorry, in my mind I'm trying so hard to pronounce the place as the locals do). I thought he'd be stranded. When he returned on Friday, the kids and I watched in horror from our window as he struggled to get the car up our snowy drive until he just gave up and left it parked on the street for the night.

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Tuesday, 27 February 2018

February's goodbye letter. P.S. Snow. railway tracks train snow Berkshire England English countryside
Photo from this afternoon - from school, the kids and I walked straight to the footbridge on our way home to wait for the trains. For two days in a row, it snowed when I collected M from her after-school clubs (gardening club on Monday and judo on Tuesday - her week days are nearly full, she's a very busy seven-year-old). I've forgotten how invigorating it is to go for a walk whilst or after a fresh snowfall, well, till it becomes ice masquerading as snow. It is one of the most beautiful things in the world. It snowed almost the whole of Monday and today but because it just melts when it lands, we don't have that much. Not complaining as I remember it's never easy to move the pushchair (or a suitcase) on inches of snow. You could see that in this photo of the railway tracks, how it's just like icing on a cake. It is not fluffy over frozen lake kind of snow, not Alpine mountain kind of snow, but still snow, and it was enough to make the kids giggle.

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Monday, 5 February 2018

Little village stories English village stories escaped chicken
My two-year-old watches our neighbour’s escaped chicken from the lounge and hums the song 
“Chick, chick, chick, chick, chicken
Lay a little egg for me!
Chick, chick, chick, chick, chicken
I want one for my tea.
I haven’t had an egg since Easter,
And now it’s half past three,
So, chick, chick, chick, chick, chicken,
Lay a little egg for me!"

Nothing beats looking out the window on a busy morning and being met with different scenes from a little village life. Particularly charming is an English village life. My favourite scene is of the vicar running after the bin lorry, as he usually forgets to get his bin out and he misses the collection.

Here is a chicken story and what makes it special to me is it’s the kind of story that’s very common where I grew up, but not the kind I thought I’d experience in England. Today at noon, R our postman knocked on the door to tell me that one of our neighbour’s chickens is just outside their gate. “Could you just let it back in?” I asked, I didn’t know what else to do as their chickens haven’t escaped before. At 4pm on the way back from chicken, err, school run, three Year 6 pupils stopped me and the kids to report that they saw a chicken just walking around outside our house. We didn’t see the chicken but as we were about to get inside the house, I heard it squawking amongst the bushes. I texted our neighbour to say one of their chickens is in our garden. I thought it was safe there for the time being as it seemed it was trying to make a nest. The next time I checked it was farther, in our other neighbour’s garden. I didn’t have our neighbour’s wife’s number but I knew she’d be home soon. I got out of the house when I saw her car but before I could knock on their door, I saw her coming from the road around the back, the chicken in her arms. All’s well that ends well. Just two weeks ago, the same neighbours’ dog (a huge Alsatian) managed to unlock their front door and escaped, and just kept crossing the road, causing a traffic jam. Fortunately, he didn’t go to the main road or that would not have ended well.

Our house is very close to a junction but the chicken didn’t cross the road as it must have sensed that those aren’t the kinds of stories we like around here.

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Sunday, 28 January 2018

A reading chair, finally! Trianon chair in natural linen Graham & Greene Olivia Palermo's New York apartment
On the right is a picture of our Trianon button back tub chair in natural linen from Graham & Green. I took a random book from my shelf to photograph and realised only after taking the photo that it was Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory (published in 1940; mine is a 1941 edition, originally from my husband's grandad's collection. Shame I never met him, it seems we have the same taste in books, and interestingly, this is one of the few books I don't have in my Portable Graham Greene which I had left in the Philippines).

We bought this linen chair for the reading corner in our bedroom. It looks like an offspring of the two big Chiswick button back armchairs in our study (see fireplace photo below), bought from the same company some two years ago. I gave up on the dream of a built-in wardrobe and a window seat. I miss my uncles who are carpenters and who would have easily built these for me. Here, it is just too costly to hire carpenters. We've ordered another made-to-measure bookshelf from our go-to furniture-makers in Yorkshire and it should come in about six weeks.

For many years now, I've had this picture of Olivia Palermo's chair in her New York apartment (bottom left insert) in my computer files. I would often hint to the husband to have the same chair made for me. He wasn't a fan of Miss Palermo's chair, saying something like it looks wonky and won't be comfortable. We both agreed on the linen chair we got and I'm happy that he's also pleased with it as he insists Miss Palermo's chair looks silly. Chiswick armchair Graham & Green wood burning stove
The chair was delivered last Friday, there was a lot of fuss over the delivery slot, 12 noon to 4pm. I told the delivery company it was fine, but that I would be out for approx. 30 minutes for school run within the given slot. Husband said he wouldn't be home, so I asked a friend to pick M up from school but after making all the arrangements, Mike said he'd be home after all. We waited the first three hours and they didn't come and I said I was sure they'd come during school run, which was what happened. We had all four hours, I was gone for 10 minutes, and they delivered within those 10 minutes (within those minutes I chatted with another mum I've known for a few years now, and I led our conversation to meat for some reason, and then she told me she's vegetarian). No complaints as Mike was home to receive the chair, but it was very typical of life, that someone would come knocking when you were not at home (an analogy you could apply to more serious situations). It's the direct opposite of when you randomly pick a Graham Greene book to photograph on a Graham & Green chair.

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Wednesday, 3 January 2018

A DiY branch coat stand in a Victorian entrance hall DiY branch coat stand Victorian cottage
Our entrance hall - or what it used to look like.
I showed this picture (on the left) to my husband the other day and told him, our entrance hall doesn't look like this anymore. Actually, that's not entirely true. It's exactly the same, just imagine that there is a push chair there, lots of shoes and a stand next to the front door holding lots of coats (more on that later). 

I remember stepping into this hall the first time that afternoon when we viewed it. I'd seen pictures of the house before and it was already our first choice based on location alone. That day, we viewed two other houses, one a modern house and the other also a Victorian one, both houses in equally good locations. The other Victorian house felt really cramped, for some reason, and I guess stepping into this hall straight after seeing the other house, already sealed the deal for us. There was that feeling, almost akin to a sudden gust of wind, as we stepped in. The ceiling was the tallest amongst all the houses we'd seen that summer; it had the 'magnificence' factor of a massive house that we as a young family couldn't afford at this stage. We were instantly taken by it. 

Items in the photo include a working early 20th century telephone we bought at Eversley Barn Antiques. We actually used it till we found the time to shop for cordless phones -- man it was very frustrating to repeat the process when you miss dialling a single digit. The black and white painting is of our sports boat passing the Tower Bridge in London (something that truly happened during our honeymoon), one of those pictures that my brother did when he visited us. Mike did the green shutters frame -- I would have loved for the frame to have a rustic look, that could be another project. The red bag is a present from Mike, it is the same as Felicity's (Keri Russell) senior year bag in what would be the TV series of my youth. I could watch all four seasons over and over again. They stopped making the bag a long time ago, but a few years ago, during Mike's business trip to California that coincided with my birthday week, I asked him if he could have one made for me by the same company that made them (Vin Baker Tuscany Leather Bags). Mike said the woman he spoke to on the phone said she was "going to ask Vin if they would do one in red." She got back to Mike to say they had enough leather to make one more bag and it was mine! DiY branch coat stand Victorian cottage
The branch coat stand that the hubby made - obviously, this is not how
this space normally looks.
As for the branch coat stand (right photo), we searched antique shops to find the best coat stand that wouldn't look out of place in our entrance hall. I wanted a unique one and in my mind, I already knew we wouldn't find it in an antique shop. So I searched online for a tree/branch coat stand and found several but they are not cheap, others were also from abroad and shipping cost a fortune. It happened again, around the same time that Mike was on a week-long business trip, and I was at our local woods  with my little girl. I found this branch in the woods that I thought would make a perfect coat stand. I hid it under a fallen tree trunk in case a dog-walker would also see its potential as a coat stand. So when Mike came back we went to the woods and I showed him the branch (luckily it was still there!) and he said it wouldn't fit in the car, he would have to carry it home. It was not a small branch so as we walked, with me pushing M, he suddenly wondered if it was even legal to get a branch from the woods and take it home. ("I don't know, you were born here, you should know," I told him). It took a while before he even got to do anything with it as he had to dry it out completely and then treat it first in case of woodworm. I wanted metal hooks, but in the end I liked his idea of wooden pegs. They look better, not that we even see them when we hang the coats. The last challenge was how to make the branch stand and one time we just decided on one of those stands they use for real Christmas trees.

Obviously, this is not how this space with the coat stand normally looks, it would, only if there's only one person living in the house who owns just one pair of shoes and a coat (in a girl's case, not likely!).

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Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Feud: Bette and Joan Feud Bette and Joan Ealing Studios old films
I loved old films, some of my favourites are the ones made
by Ealing Studios.
Binge-watched Feud: Bette and Joan on BBC iplayer over the Christmas holidays, about the feud between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford whilst making the picture What ever happened to Baby Jane? The opening credits alone is fantastic, there's something Hitchcockian and at the same time, light, about it. This series is star-studded, I was so impressed they were able to bring together these actors in one series; the supporting cast is superb. I so wanted to see this since I heard of the filming, having heard of these two stars' rivalry for most of their careers. I saw Baby Jane many, many years ago but I remember most of the scenes - clearly a sign of a memorable film. Davis and Crawford have quite a reputation and if Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange's portrayals of them were accurate, you could see what sort of characters the former were, but they were largely sympathetic characters; if anything, I didn't find Crawford the epitome of evil, I thought she was just quirky. 

Davis got an Academy award nomination for her role in Baby Jane, and Crawford, angry that she was snubbed, contacted the other nominees to tell them that she could accept their Oscar if they wouldn't be able to attend. I thought this was comical, could anyone be this mad?! Could this be real life?! No wonder somebody thought this could make for a very interesting series. The film industry could be very superficial that even good people would go to great lengths to keep up with the younger stars, stay in the limelight and keep afloat in the dusk of their careers. 

I could go on and on about old films, and of course, the fashion from that era (1920s - 50s were great) and how elegant people looked even when they were just going to the shops. In the UK, I specifically love the old films made by Ealing Studios (a few of them in the photo above), mostly top billed by the late great Alec Guinness. They don't make them the way they used to anymore.

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Saturday, 23 December 2017

Crossing the Arctic Circle in Summer Arctic Circle Santa Claus Village Rovaniemi Finnish Lapland reindeerIt's Christmas Eve tomorrow so I'm sharing this old Christmas article accompanied by these even older pictures about my summer visit to the Arctic Circle and Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi (Finnish Lapland). "Before we entered Santa Claus’s office, we passed pictures of him in the hallway. Xiao, after looking at the pictures, said, “There are two Santas, one with big eyes and one with small eyes.” She said one looked more real and she hoped he was the one we met that day. I don’t remember if she thought the one with the big eyes or the other one looked more real – right at that moment, I wanted to cry. I was going through the feeling of being seven or eight, defending Santa’s existence to my playmates, and then one early Christmas morning catching my aunt putting presents in our shoes, which we used instead of stockings." Continue reading here for the full article, a Christmassy read, and a few more pictures, including the warmest shoes in the world made from reindeer's ears.

Eyeshot has been publishing online pieces since 1995. It went on hiatus shortly after my Lapland article was published and it has been publishing on and off since. It was known for the rejections sent by editor Lee Klein to unaccepted submissions. I just checked and there's actually a compilation of these rejections available on Amazon, Thanks and Sorry and Good Luck: Rejections from the Eyeshot Outbox (paperback published 2014). As much as I would have loved to receive one of his rejections which I heard were mostly educational and hilarious, I'm glad he approved of my article (I'd submitted only once). Arctic Circle Santa Claus Village Rovaniemi Finnish Lapland reindeer Arctic Circle Santa Claus Village Rovaniemi Finnish Lapland reindeer

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Friday, 15 December 2017

My Son’s Baptism in Tuscany, Italy (7th August 2017)

I wanted to write about this for very long but now even after doing so, I realised that no words or emotions could make me relive that week of magical experience. Chianti Tuscany Florence Italy baptism Badia di Passignano
At Cappella di Sant' Andrea (the medieval chapel), it seemed 
I was the only one looking at our camera; the others at the 
Italian paparazzi.  
Whether it’s preference for intimacy or sheer reclusiveness, I went full blast (with my husband’s support) and finally had our son baptised in a private Catholic ceremony at a medieval chapel in the middle of nowhere in Tuscany, Italy. I say in the middle of nowhere but when I think about it, he was baptised in Chianti, you know, of the famous wine, some 40-minute drive from the beautiful city of Florence. It was just Mike, me, the two children and a set of godparents, Inga and Martin, who took time off work for a week and shared with us this wonderful occasion. This chapel was fully restored only last June and H’s baptism there was the first in less than a hundred years. It took a year of searching and another seven months of planning how we’d get to Italy and for how long, and in the end we decided to drive from England, revisit places in Europe and visit new ones, and slowly get to Italy and back, totalling the holiday to a good 24 days. We visited some places in France, Switzerland and Luxembourg, and also drove through Germany and Belgium as we went along. Chianti Tuscany Florence Italy baptism Badia di Passignano
Looking at the full moon; photo by Martin,
a day before the baptism.
The 82-year-old Italian priest forgot the date so he was a little late, and some other comical things happened (only in my storybook!), but in the end, waiting just made the atmosphere more relaxed. Believe me, it was a scene out of Cinema Paradiso, an Italian film I adore very much. Everyone we didn’t even know were so supportive; was it really true that lovely Italian ladies lent us baby items that belonged to their now grown children? As someone who never really appreciated big weddings or birthday parties (my poor children!) or big anything, to me, this small, simple event was such a beautiful and most memorable thing. Chianti Tuscany Florence Italy baptism Badia di Passignano
The arched entrance to the medieval chapel and
castle where we had stayed for a week.
It was not dissimilar to Rapunzel’s dream of seeing the lanterns in the film Tangled. When you have a dream, just start working and you’ll be surprised how it could come into fruition, even if at first, people and events in your life seemed to be working against it. In recent years, we haven’t gone to church as much as we’d like to but I thought it was my duty to have my son have a Catholic baptism like his older sister. It might sound a bit off when I tell you my reasons: first I was just following tradition (how I’ve been brought up); second, it’s somehow to please my mother who raised us Catholics. I remember when I was a kid and would meet someone who hadn’t been baptised and we’d think it was not common, almost strange, though that was just how it was among people I know. Though fortunately, my family in the Philippines had stopped asking when H was going to be baptised. I however didn’t want to go through the ordeal of a big celebration and have always preferred intimate, simple get-togethers to commemorate special occasions.

I came of age and met so many people with different backgrounds. I decided it does a lot of good to believe in a power greater than us, but sometimes I thought it didn’t matter which Church we’d go to. From experience, going to church and observing some of these traditions are great things to do together and bind us as a family (it also gets you up early on a Sunday morning, and not surprisingly, you get more things done). I do find myself sometimes disagreeing with the practices in the Catholic church but I’m not going into that, as I know that like anything, no religion is perfect and when I have doubts, it all boils down to making sure that as long as what I am doing doesn’t harm me or others, then, it is not a problem.

Around seven months after H was born, I began searching for locations in Continental Europe for his baptism, at the same time contacting friends and other people I don’t even know, to help us. In January this year, I finally found Arianna, a young lovely Italian woman, who does tours and whose own family was renting a property in Tuscany. She replied to me immediately but said that their family home was not available to let any more. But she excitedly told me that she knew of a villa with a chapel that was just perfect, the Italian name of the villa, Poggio al Ventoliterally translates to “Resting in the Wind.”

Arianna and I communicated in the succeeding months and thanks to her we survived the bureaucracy of going through an occasion like this in a foreign country. In late July, we set off to Italy, stopping in lovely South of France for nearly a week. One of the challenges was H developed car sickness after we’d booked this holiday (typical) and for some reason, after we’d moved him to the forward-facing car seat. I consulted the GP if he could prescribe medication but as H is very young, there was nothing we could do, really. In the end, H had only about three minor incidents during the trip. We drove so much, sometimes up to 4-5 hours a day, for at least two hours at a time. I guess it helped that he wore motion sickness wrist bands, and that he loved car rides and slept a lot in the car. I also gave him ginger biscuits and we stopped somewhere whenever I saw that his lips were turning pale. Chianti Tuscany Florence Italy baptism Badia di Passignano
It was like a dream. We're never ones to stay only in one 
place for longer periods when we travel but this I won't 
mind doing, even in the same place, every year! A lovely 
medieval home, a pool and local trips to learn about the 
region's rich history and culture. And did I forget the 
food??! Had to take a photo of the obligatory Chianti 
wine as it is produced right where we were.

We arrived in the villa, or as they call them in Italy, “castle,” on Saturday the 5th of August. "Castle" is a common term for some homes in Italy but this particular villa we rented is a castle in the truest sense of the word - it is beautiful, historical, and huge, dating back to the medieval times. Arianna and her partner Alessio took us to see the priest on Sunday morning. Everyone involved seemed really excited, like what Arianna said, weddings and christenings with foreigners are very common in cities like Florence, but not over that part of Chianti. Chianti Tuscany Florence Italy baptism Badia di Passignano
WAITING FOR THE PRIEST In this photo, my son sums up 
how boys and men prepare for big days. I grew up with men 
playing basketball an hour before their wedding, sweaty 
and everything, whereas we women need a beauty rest. 
(photo by Martin)
On H's baptism day, we rushed to get ready before 10am, the time when the ceremony was due to start. Our shoes were in the car and when I asked Mike to bring them up, there was only one shoe in the bag! I panicked as the night before, I kept thinking, what if we couldn’t find the key to the car and I wouldn’t have any formal shoes for the baptism? Anyway, the other shoe must have fallen in the boot so Mike went out to get it. Everybody was there except for the priests, the one we had met the day before (the Parish priest) and the other who’d conduct the ceremony in English. Ten-thirty and still no priest. Pauline, the owner of the property, said it’s because he’s very old (82) that he drives really carefully. But all phone calls were unanswered, even the one at the parish office, so Arianna and Alessio decided to drive there to see what was going on. Mike was joking, maybe he was on his way and was caught in something, and being Italian, forgot. I did keep asking, what if he forgot? So when Arianna came, she said good news, he’s on his way, he just forgot! It was all very funny and comical actually, that I relaxed some more and even Martin (my friend Inga’s partner and now H’s godfather) thought he was also getting used to the heat. So when the priest and translator came, he was so apologetic, but again, as they were preparing, the priest realised he didn’t have the English translation of the ceremony! So he had to take off his gown again to go back to the abbey (this time, Alessio drove him, I was worried maybe he’d reach the abbey and forgot what he came there for and forget coming back!) The amazing thing was I wasn’t that stressed (Pauline’s sister Kathryn was surprised); I was confident the baptism would happen, if not that day, any time during our stay. So anyway, the ceremony finally started at 11am. The other priest is from India - I just had to mention this as in the Philippines, we joke about Indians always being late. 

Another problem was H himself, he’d been good waiting with his occasional snarls and scratching the face of the one holding him every time somebody laughed. Born a smiler, I don’t know what has turned H into a grumpy boy. He smacks the one closest to him when somebody laughs and if he can’t do this, he’ll throw something to the ground, He is a thumb sucker like his sister and he finds comfort doing this whilst clutching an old, worn-out booty (we lost the set of mittens and the other booty). So there were a couple of giggles during the ceremony and H didn't like people being happy (bless) so he threw his booty and the Indian priest, seeing it on the floor and not noticing that it is H’s, proceeded to put the booty outside the door on the side of the chapel. This was met by H screaming when he saw what the priest had done (it’s one of those things that children do, throwing things and then realising they like that thing). I loved how my daughter tells this part of the story, “and the priest didn’t know it was my brother’s mitten (booty) and he threw it out the door!” I would understand how someone would think the booty is rubbish, but to H and us, it is treasure. Surprisingly, H was all right during the rest of the ceremony, some snarls or whines when somebody else touched him (like the priest crossing his forehead) but the little dude seemed really aware that something special was going on in the end that he actually looked at the cameras and for once didn’t cry or snarl. I thought the whole ceremony was beautiful and the others did so, too.

I was red in the face because we didn’t prepare any food right after the ceremony as we thought we’d have a meal somewhere. But our lovely hosts Pauline and Kathryn had some prosecco and cakes ready for us, it was really kind of them and we were grateful.

Arianna mentioned that Pauline is training those wanting to be tour guides and is very knowledgeable Chianti Tuscany Florence Italy baptism Badia di Passignano
The abbey in the distance, Badia di Passignano, has my son
H’s name in its Baptism book. H was baptised on August 7
2017 in a little medieval chapel which closest parish
would be this abbey (sort of acting like the Head Office).
about art. The villa itself has lots of furnishings that were obviously not randomly placed there; they are there because they mean something. I found out on Google later that Pauline co-wrote a Chianti tour guide. She offered to give us a tour of Badia di Passignano or the Abbey of Passignano (seen in photo on the right). This photo of the abbey probably has a Disney castle-feel to it from where I took it from a distance, but it really was one of the most solemn places I’ve ever been to. This abbey being the closest to the chapel where H was baptised, it is a kind of a “Head Office” and so H’s name was entered in their Baptism book. Pauline knows the history behind each and every painting in this abbey; I recommend a visit and I assure you they could rival all the breathtaking paintings of the more famous churches in Italy. I guess the abbey being in the middle of nowhere makes it more of a challenge to preserve; it doesn’t get as much help financially as its more famous counterparts.

We had dinner in Siena on the evening of the baptism – recently, we watched Letters to Juliet again and I didn’t realise that Siena was also featured in the film. We unknowingly did a “Letters to Juliet” tour during the trip, adding beautiful Verona (Romeo and Juliet) to the list. Chianti Tuscany Florence Italy baptism Badia di Passignano

Short trip to Pisa to show M the Leaning Tower, 
the other one doesn’t look impressed. Mike and I 
climbed this tower in our late 20s but didn’t bother 
to find out how we’d handle vertigo at this later age.
Throughout our time in the villa, we experienced a full moon over Tuscany, a partial eclipse and Martin mentioned hearing something outside their window very late in the night and looking out and catching a glimpse of a wild boar. We also went on a goat cheese tour with Arianna and Alessio’s tour company. My daughter, who back then was 2.5 months short of her seventh birthday, now properly remembers events and she often mentions how she loved that goat cheese tour, not only because of the goats but also the cheeses we had tasted (she even vividly remembers which amongst the four types of cheeses she liked the most). Mike also had a terrible toothache towards the end of our week-long stay in the villa and was out one morning to look for medication when it rained heavily in that part of Tuscany for the first time in a few months! I worried that he would have trouble driving on the slippy unpaved roads to the villa. But the roads were not muddy at all so he was all right. At the goat cheese tour, the lady said they had only two days of water supply left so the rain was definitely a blessing. We spent only a week in the area but it was like we’d seen what could happen to Tuscany within a year. The rain came with strong winds and in a few seconds, there was a puddle in our bedroom, my clothes all wet as we couldn’t close the shutters (the bolts were stuck). There was a power cut. Good thing Inga and Martin sorted things out because the kids were panicky I had to stay with them. It was all good fun, though.

So many highs and lows looking for ways for H to get baptised in Italy and I really thought it was impossible/would just be a dream. But it happened, and this wonderful place in Tuscany will now be forever part of our lives. Mike laughs at me now when I say things like, imagine H coming back to the villa someday to have his wedding there (I am really getting ahead of myself)! I just found this area by chance and we didn’t know what to expect as it was a part of Italy we hadn’t been to before. What luck that it turned out to be such a beautiful place.

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