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A morning with Emerson, the herons and the horizon

January 11, 2012

We arrived on an overcast morning, just as the sun was rising behind the clouds. As my parents quickly got to work with the men and the fish, I took two plastic chairs and sat myself down outside the little house, close to the creek. A man named Emerson kept me company, as did the wandering herons and the two handsome black dogs that came by to look at me now and again. There were herons flying about everywhere – making noise, tormenting smaller fish, and running with awkward grace around the sections of the pond that had been drained into the creek.

The herons behind the house.

How beautiful it was to read Ralph Waldo Emerson on that calm Monday morning, and to digest his thoughts on nature and beauty in the presence of a vast space that is, quite appropriately, an example of both. I propped up my feet, wrapped in happy striped socks, and proceeded to read. I’d set the book down every now and then, and was thankful for the opportunity to let my eyes wander – from near objects to far spaces. I suddenly thought of something I read years ago in Toni Morrison’s, “Beloved.” I can’t remember the words exactly, but I never forgot it’s impression. She was describing a man’s eyes, and how he had the gaze of someone accustomed to looking at things from a distance, someone used to being outdoors. When you work in the field all day, your attention stretched across meters or miles, how different it must be to then focus on something near – like a book on your lap, or a friend sitting across the table from you.

Loosely wrapped in all that space of the fish pond, my usual day’s activities felt so cramped in comparison. How much of my day is spent looking at things literally right in front of my face? How much time is invested in my laptop, my television, my cellphone? You reach out to touch these screens and your fingertips meet no depth.

How much of my days are spent looking into the distance, leveling my world out with the horizon? You stretch out your arm to touch the space and find how short your own reach is, and how much of the world there is yet for your soul to grasp. Thank God for eyes with which to take in the beautiful sights of this world.

Emerson reminds us, “We are never tired so long as we can see far enough.”

Here are some photos from our quick trip to see our fish at Ilog!

View of the farm from the house.


The “living room” and my makeshift bedroom set-up. Yay for mosquito net tents and air beds, pumped with a hand pump!


Enjoying the sunset and another book. Check out the vintage He-Man bedsheets, straight from the 80’s!


Monday’s golden sunset.


Electricity at the house for the very first time! Built as a very basic structure many decades ago, the little house has been through so much and still stands. Thanks to an awfully loud generator and some newly installed wiring, we enjoyed a little bit of a light, or a little bit of the night. When we finally returned to silence and darkness, I kept reading with my flashlight. You should’ve seen the state of this house just a couple years ago! 


Rising with the sun, I joined Mom and Dad for a walk around the pond.


My trusty, and reliably bright, blue boots!


Tuesday's sunrise.


I am sixteen, going on seventeen!

January 7, 2012

Today I told someone I was twenty-three. I didn’t even realize that was wrong until ten minutes later.

That was probably the first time I ever went ahead of my age. I’m twenty-two. Usually something inside tells me I’m seventeen and I have to take a second to think when people ask me how old I am. I literally have to take a moment to get my facts straight!

Is this what happens as you get older? When you’re a child and growing up, your age matters so much. A large part of your identity, you never forget how old you are or how old you are turning on your next birthday. Older people ask it too often for you to get it wrong!

Meet little T. I assure you, I was not as much trouble as I looked!

When I was eight years old, I remember wanting to be eight forever. Not only was that my favorite number, there seemed to be so many great and wonderful things about being eight years old, none of which I can seem to recall today. I remember when I turned ten, and what a huge deal it was – I was graduating to double digits! Then I remember turning thirteen and finally being a teenager. Every teenage year that followed seemed to come with its own set of expectations, its own set of stereotyping, but also a longer list of things you’re allowed to do and decisions you are given the chance to make on your own. At first it’s a later curfew, next thing you know, your parents are letting you go to school on the other side of the planet. Literally!

Every year counted while growing up. Being seven was light years away from being nine. When you were fourteen you looked at eleven year olds and thought, Oh how young they are! When you were sixteen, you were too cool to hang out with the kids in grade school. Every year brought you closer to being more “mature,” and supposedly being taken more seriously. (Then you meet those older people who help you realize that sometimes age has little to do with maturity and being “grown up”.)

When you’re an adult, How old are you? never seems to be the first question anymore and the answer doesn’t seem to hold as much weight as it did in the playground. Surely it becomes less of a welcomed inquiry as the years go by. Ever meet adults who brag about how old they’ve become? Ha!

Age is just a number after all. More important things shape your identity!

But yes, T, it’s twenty-two for now, not twenty-three.


T’s Twelve Magic Words for 2012

January 5, 2012

Last year, I welcomed 2011 with 11 Prayerful Hopes. Throughout the year, I’d look back at what I wrote – reflecting, but more importantly continuing to look ahead with the same steadfast hope.

For 2012, I decided to open up the year with 12 words. In the next twelve months, these twelve words will be my inspiration. On pretty little blocks of layered paper, I wrote them down (looking forward to incorporating them into the handmade planner I’ve working on!). I’ve called them magic words, but really they’re a lot of work. They require action, real effort – and more than just a wave of a wand or a sprinkle of fairy dust. Yet they are magical because I am hoping they will usher in some pretty breathtaking little breakthroughs this year.

Here they are, in no particular order; all related, but most certainly distinct.

Hope. Kindness. Peace. Thankfulness. Self-Control. Love.

Selflessness. Goodness. Forgiveness. Diligence. Patience. Joy.


In a little bag, I mixed in all the pretty papers with my 12 words on them. One by one I took them out again, taking note the order in which they came out by writing a tiny number in the corner on the back of each one. Each number corresponded to a month of the year. To give myself some kind of structure to this unfolding process/personal experiment, every month is to have it’s very own word. You could even call it a theme of the month, or perhaps the quality of the month. The task is to reflect on each of these attributes, carefully throughout the course of the month, and to find tangible ways to make them living truths in my life. Throughout the course of the year I will also dwell on these words collectively, hopefully doing my utmost to live by their “magic.”  I’m quite certain that by the end of the year I will have learned 12 profound lessons, each inspired by the words I’ve chosen. Heck, I’d be a winner if  I end up with just one lesson by the end of the year, profound or not.

This is exciting, albeit substantially unnerving, this little soul adventure I’ve set up for myself. I made sure that the relationship between word and month was completely random on my end, but I cannot help but already anticipate the ways God is orchestrating all of this in order to teach me very specific lessons. Ah, how the Creator has His ways! All I can do now is step out with with an open mind, an open heart, and pay attention.

On another note, here’s a sneak peek at the planner I’m working on. I did all the sewing last night and I’m now working on the inside. It’s a lot of work – I’ve barely made it into decorating the first week of February!


Fare thee well, 2011. A Playlist.

January 3, 2012

I have this on my bedroom wall at school - a poster by Mark Weaver, based on a Fleet Foxes song.

Here’s one last look at 2011: I’ve come up with a playlist.

I tried my best to look back as far as I could into the year that just passed, to pull out the music that walked through the year with me. Thanks to Pandora, YouTube, and more recently, Spotify, most of the music that I obsessed over can’t even be found on my computer.

So this is made mostly from memory. I get obsessed with an artist or a specific song, and for a couple days, it becomes somewhat of a theme song, and the artist becomes a friend. For at least a short period of time, it will be the song that soothes me most (thus the overplaying). The music eventually tags itself to a certain memory, a specific place, or a distinct season in my life. Each of these songs walked me through some period of 2011, and each artist at one point was a steady voice in my head. (How hard it was to give some artists only one song!)

I almost made a second mix to share, one with more mainstream music – songs that were played at parties, the music we danced to and heard everywhere we went. But it felt so impersonal, you know? All you’d have to do is look up a year-end Billboard chart, and there it all is.

Ten, twenty, or even thirty years from now, if I want to remember what 2011 felt like, all I have to do is play this music. Enjoy!

Listen to the playlist here.

T’s “Fare the well, 2011” Playlist

(Music roughly in order of appearance.)
  • M83: We Own the Sky
  • Discovery: Can You Discover?
  • Bell X1: Velcro
  • Robyn: Dream On
  • The Cold War Kids: Audience
  • The Temper Trap: Sweet Disposition
  • Timothy Bloom and V.Bozeman: Until the End of Time
  • The Penguin Cafe Orchestra: Perpetuum Mobile
  • Balmorhea: The Winter
  • Stateless: Bloodstream
  • Clint Mansell & Peter Broderick: Not At Home
  • Devendra Banhart: Brindo
  • James Vincent McMorrow: Early In the Morning
  • Bon Iver: Holocene
  • The XX: Intro
  • Sigur Ros: The Fountain
  • Poison & Wine: The Civil Wars
  • Coldplay: Up In Flames
  • Fleet Foxes: A Shrine/An Argument

Thank you, 2011. You were a good one!

December 31, 2011

I went out for a run today. I figured it would be a nice way to close the year. Since arriving home for the holidays two weeks ago, I’ve barely gotten my usual dose of exercise (at school I dance at least four hours a day, four times a week. At least!) Aside from express ab exercise sessions while watching tv and some quick and light weightlifting here and there, I haven’t gotten off my butt to get my heart rate going.

I didn’t run for very long, but switched between a steady jog, a quick sprint and a brisk walk of recovery. It was the middle of an overcast afternoon, but the heat and all the effort my out-of-shape body could muster soon tired me. I walked home exhausted, a little breathless, but so happy to be moving! I end this year, 2011, in much the same way. I’ve walked (or more literally, flown) home exhausted, a little breathless, but so glad with the year’s adventures!

Here’s a quick recap of the year that was my 2011. Granted it’s not a complete rundown (and who would want to read about all of that?!), but it definitely highlights some memorable moments.

I turned 22. Welcomed a new sister into the Aritao family. Became a senior in college. I danced – with the Wheaton College Dance Company, with TRYBE. I choreographed – some contemporary, some hip hop, and even random dances for Wheaton’s all-male acapella group, the Gentlemen Callers. I taught classes for the Wheaton Dance Collective. I performed – three of the best dance shows at Wheaton in recent years (according to great feedback!) Behind the Wall, So You Think You Can Trybe, and Cell 45, which just took place a couple weeks ago. I wrote. I wrote for my college and I began writing spoken word. I even performed one of my pieces for a relief fundraiser for Japan.

I went to see some great art exhibits, ones I will probably remember for the rest of my life – the beautiful glass sculptures of Dale Chihuly, the haunting but beautiful visions of Alexander McQueen, and a lovely collection art by one of the artists that has made an incredible impression in my own art, Edgar Degas. I also got to see some of my professor’s recent art (beautiful silk organza collographs!!) at the Newport Art Museum. I revisited New York. Fell in love with Washington D.C. Took my first dance classes in the US outside of my college campus – in Boston and New York – got inspired by all the beautiful, older women who I took class with. They could kick my butt out of those studios! I saw one of my favorite bands, the Cold War Kids. I saw a ballet in the US for the first time – one of my dance teachers perform as the Sugar Plum Fairy in Festival Ballet’s The Nutcracker!

I fell in love with figure drawing. I began to paint, and loved it. I began to do printmaking and hated it. Then loved it, but not after much resistance. I spent the year doing independent work on in the art studio at school, and even got my own spot out on the painting deck to explore my drawing-paintings of dancers. I took a year off of shoe shopping. It was a year of pride parades, flash mobs, a lot of art-seeing and art-making, of writing, of performing, of getting evacuated in a hurricane right at the beginning of senior year. It was a year of tea time – I used to hate tea (until tea quickly and effectively made me feel better when I was sick in the spring!) It was another year of loving and leading ice breakers and energizers. It was a year of falling in love with children – the children I work with in the Philippines, and the adorable ones I just started seeing at a nursery nearby the college. Buhay Makulay had it’s fifth annual children’s fair at the San Lazaro Hospital, and it’s second annual one at a local children’s shelter. It was the year a dear friend passed away.

It was a year of moving. In the spring, moved back into the familiar Davis House. Over the summer, bounced around –D.C., New York, Massachusetts, Hong Kong and the Philippines. In the fall, moved in with two beautiful ladies, and soon realized I wouldn’t survive senior year without their sweet and undying support.

It was a year I learned about friendships. About making mistakes. About being a good leader and what it takes grow into a great one. I learned about being there for the people you love and care about. I learned about decisions. I learned more about hope, more about faith.

Well that’s a lot about me, so perhaps now take a look at what happened in the world. The New York Times’ has a collection of the year in photos here. Or, if you’d like, look at the year’s best twelve fashion trends here.

Here’s another good note to end the year on. I was flipping through my planner and found something I kept to myself and failed to pass on. Today I pass it on to you, and it’s true.

Goodbye, 2011! You sure were beautiful too.

Home for Christmas

December 25, 2011

(My older brother was quite amused with the "interesting clothes" I had on. He asked if he could take a full body shot. I went all out and turned it into my holiday greeting card! Merry Christmas! 🙂

It sure is a blessing to be home for Christmas! I arrived seven days ago and it took a while to get here (54 hours in total – thanks to a delayed flight and the hectic holiday air traffic), but I am here and happy. And so is my sister! (Although she flies out again later today 😦 )

On my mind on this meaningful day are those who cannot be home for Christmas, and those who have lost their homes.

As I walked to my boarding gate, for the final leg of my trip home after hours and hours and hours in the Hong Kong airport, I passed by a TV screen and stopped at the video footage they were sharing. It was news about the storm that was devastating the southern part of the Philippines. This afternoon, the newspapers said that the death toll could reach 3,000! If you haven’t heard about the typhoon that hit my country, here’s a little clip:

Despite the heartbreak, light always finds its way in.

In six evacuation centers crammed with 20,000 people in Cagayan de Oro, a mix of desperation and a subdued Christmas spirit was in the air on Friday.

For single-mother Nova Lopena, there was so much to thank for. “We lost our house, our little shelter, but he is the greatest gift for this year,” the 17-year-old said of her 2-week-old baby Hadji Rey.

At West City Central School, Josefa Mandula, 66, was waiting for her son to arrive with food packs from the relief line. Mandula’s house was swept away by the rampaging flood, but nothing could stop her from celebrating with her family intact in the evacuation center.

“We can prepare sardines, pancit or misua so that we can have something to eat,” Mandula said.

Said Imelda Lantawan, whose family was sharing a room in the school with 25 other families: “It would be a great Christmas after all, with new friends we can share experiences with.”

In one corner, Cesar Legazpi said that despite the tragedy, there was reason to be thankful for the second chance in life.

“While others perished, we need to go on and smile and honor their memories. We must be thankful for the chance we are given because many did not have that chance,” Legazpi said.

Flora Abellanosa, 65, said celebrating Christmas at the evacuation center would give survivors a chance to “reflect on their lives, their blessings and losses, and the chances we are given and the changes we are going to make.”

Read more about how the survivors in Iligan and Cagayan De Oro still feel the Christmas spirit here or here. My heart goes out to the thousands celebrating Christmas in shelters and evacuation centers today.

On a happier note, there are those who like myself, have been given the gift of homecoming this Christmas. See these emotional and beautiful moments for some filipinos who haven’t been home for years and years and years.

Unshakeable peace, deep joy and overwhelming love;

my wishes for you this Christmas.

Merry Christmas!

8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
   and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

 15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

 16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

There are so many things to be thankful for

November 27, 2011

Having grown up in the Philippines, the Thanksgiving holiday has never really meant much to me. I’ve met the season with no sense of tradition or anticipation. I simply welcomed the break from school and a chance to be reunited with old friends. This year, I delayed making Thanksgiving plans until the last minute. In the end, I found myself going home to Plymouth with my wonderful friend, Erin. And being with her and her family this past week truly did feel like home. I knew I needed a break from school, but I hadn’t realized how much I needed the comfort of a family, the authenticity of people who know joy, and the time and space to simply do nothing. Though college may be a lot of fun (and seriously a whole lot of work too), it can be hard to find those pockets of joy amidst everyone who is just trying to make it through to the next deadline or survive until the weekend. The past couple of days were just amazing and just what I needed to be able to power through the next couple of weeks till the winter break.

(Photos by Erin’s mom, Terry, taken on our walk before tea!)

I had a couple firsts: took a peek into the Native American’s National Day of Morning, enjoyed a full-on Thanksgiving gathering with extended family, watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on television and went out for my first Tea Date with the ladies. I had a lot of time to catch up on things like sleep, sharing photos, Erin-time (it is incredibly upsetting, how little we have seen of each other this semester) and getting my fill of good ridiculously fantastic food. We also went to see the Muppet Movie yesterday (another first!) and I fell in love with Kermit all over again! When we returned home, the family had their own more intimate round of Thanksgiving dinner, and it was so worth having. Erin and her mom made a glorious assortment of dishes, making sure all of their favorites were in the mix. The meal was topped off by the amazing pies they baked – pecan pie with kahlua and pumpkin cheesecake – and the warmth of grateful spirits.

(Terry’s photo of me at Thanksgiving and my photo of her at tea.)

The day after Thanksgiving, I went out alone for a walk on the beach just down the road. It was a beautiful day, warm and sunny, more like spring than the end of November in New England. With my sketchbook/journal in tow, I found a little rock and took my time to just sit. A black and orange butterfly did the same on a little rock nearby. I let my mind wander as I looked out onto the ocean. I prayed, wrote a little and drew a lot, with the sun, sweet on my face. And I felt grateful.

(My noon view of what I believe is Sagamore beach.)

There are so many things to be thankful for. How lovely to have the time of Thankgiving, which inspires us to give thanks. Tonight I am most grateful for gifts of family and friendship. I am thankful for the Koles who folded me into their loving family this week. I am thankful for the girls I live with, Sarah and Yuri – how I looked forward to returning home to you ladies and our Cuddle Castle! And I am thankful for my family, miles and miles away at present, whose love and support never cease to amaze and humble my soul.

Today, I ended the break just as I began it- working in my art studio and catching up with friends. Hoping my joy (and my energy!) runs over and over through these next couple of weeks, catapulting me back into the tropical embrace of home.