paper suitcases from t-shirt boxes

June 27, 2012 § 34 Comments

Hours and hours flew by as I made our wedding favor boxes: paper luggage.

At first I thought: it’s just a t-shirt box and I only need to repeat the process a dozen times, it’ll be a cinch.   I didn’t consider the hours alone on painting each side of the t-shirt box into our wedding colors.  Nor the time to contemplate and execute the paper details like the corners, straps, handles, and Velcro enclosures.

What was most important is these need to be compact.  These suitcases will be traveling from Toronto to New York to Las Vegas afterall and, well, they have to fit in our big suitcase before they are given away to our guests and vendors the morning of the wedding.  So I made sure to maintain the ability to fold and unfold these in the same way they came when they were t-shirt boxes, but also have the ability to attach and detach items that easily convert them into luggage.

We’ve called them our “Keep Cool” kits, as they will contain relief from the Vegas and Grand Canyon heat.

Tutorial to follow after the wedding!  Keep posted!


January 8, 2012 § 3 Comments

After Christmas with the folks in quiet suburban Michigan, I was so eager to loudly ring in the new year last weekend at the world-famous countdown in Times Square, now that O.T. has officially moved to the Hudson Valley in New York.  Well, this is an experience only worth attempting once — and the operative word is “attempt”.

We made the clever choice of taking the subway into Manhattan and arrived in Columbus Circle by 8:00 pm.  From here, there isn’t glaring evidence of the mess that is Manhattan on New Year’s Eve, until we turned the corner and started walking south along 8th Avenue…

Nearly all streets were closed.  Crowds were being corralled like cattle.  Seriously.  Our walk along 8th, from Columbus Circle to 53rd (where we missed a dinner reservation because the street access had closed), and redirecting ourselves back to 59th to be able to cross to 7th — took an hour, including a ten-minute pizza break to calm my nerves (p.s. New York City has the best pizza in America…so sorry, Chicago).

At 9:00 pm, the time we made it to 7th, we found our line of sight on Times Square.  We were sandwiched between the Wellington and Park Central Hotels at 56th.  With a crowd this large, this was the absolute closest we could be to Times Square — a whopping thirteen blocks away from the festivities and with three more hours to spare,  standing still like grazing cows, except without the open green pastures or the elbow room.

Maybe, the 7-footer man standing directly in my line of sight was the deal-breaker.  The view of his head, though shiny, was not an ideal replacement of the New Year’s ball.  O.T. and I decided on a recourse…

Back to 8th Avenue.  9:30 pm.  It wasn’t so bad.  The crowded coral on 8th had a huge TV screen with semi-audible sounds.  remiding us to “Don’t Stop Believin'”.  When I looked up, we were at the foot of the beautiful blue Dream Hotel, under a clear message.

O.T. and I left long before the clock struck midnight.  We were in his car, driving north on the Taconic, when the ball dropped and he honked the horn and flickered the lights and we could not be happier.

NYE in NYC provided me with early lessons in 2012.   Always be prepared.  If things don’t go as planned, it’s okay — take alternatives.  Always find some fun out of the journey (at the least, find a pizza joint).  At the end of the day, no matter how rough, the most significant are those you love.  And, always look up higher and dream (big, like New York City).

christmas with the folks and holiday handcrafted decor

January 8, 2012 § 4 Comments

Here we are — me with mom, dad, and my older brother — posing inside the Compuware building before gorging on meat at Texas de Brazil in downtown Detroit.  As you know, my parents are Michiganders and all holidays of the year are spent south of the Canadian border.

I also want to share with you pictures of the wonderful handcrafted treasures adorning my parents’ house during Christmas each year, and hope you will find some inspiration in these pieces for your own handmade decorations.

The craftiness of my culture is something I take much pride in.  At your next décor jaunt to, say, Pier One for example, if you take a good look you will discover that many of the “earthy” products are crafted in the Philippines.  Craft is a huge part of Philippine export and culture, specifically crafts made out of natural products such as wood and fibers.  My mom has traveled many trips to Manila only to haul back luggage filled with holiday handcrafted décor.

My parents’ nine-foot tall tree is peppered with a number of unique handmade ornaments, out of molded pulp and embellished with rhinestones and large opalescent red beads.  They remind me of fashion earrings, except about four times the size (I tried to wear them once for amusement, however, until oversize earrings reaching past the collarbone become fashionable, I will leave them on the tree).

My parents also have a spectacular Philippine-made crèche on their fireplace mantle.  Each character is up to 10 inches tall and carefully crafted using native fibers.  The material is similar to the decorative mesh bought at craft stores.  However, these fibers have finer lattice and are more pliable.  Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the three kings, and the angel all don garments sewn out of these fibers.  I love the added details, such as the ropes and tassels, and especially the fluffy feathers on the angel’s wings.

The set is a gift from my aunt who bought it at a craft show in Manila ten years ago.  The following year, my uncle found a near-identical Philippine-made crèche at a boutique at the tony Yorkville neighborhood here in Toronto.  He laughed after his sticker-shock — each character was being sold at $100 a piece, putting the whole set in the $700 mark.  My aunt paid only a fraction at the source in Manila.  If you are inspired, perhaps you can make your own this year!   Sew some decorative mesh for the garments and bake some polymer clay for the faces, hats, crowns, gold, frankincense, and myrrh, and you have yourself a substantial project for 2012!

macaron moment at ladurée in nyc

December 15, 2011 § 6 Comments

I haven’t been toParis.  I could’ve been had I accepted my parents’ generous offer to have a family trip a decade ago, but I declined because I wanted to take summer courses on Late Baroque art and architecture here in Toronto.  So off they went, mom, dad, and brother, to celebrate mom’s 50th in Europe and to see, in the flesh, the very places and art works I was studying in my books.  Go figure.  Sigh.  Going to Paris on dad’s dime is an opportunity long gone.  But I digress. Paris has come to us in 2011.  Here it is, Ladurée‘s first and only North American branch opened in New York City late this summer.

I was in New York over the weekend to give O.T. emotional support as he signed a rental agreement on a new apartment in  Hudson Valley, home to IBM’s headquarters and many campuses.  As of Monday next week, he will be designing computer chips for IBM after several years of doing so for AMD.  It is a very stressful time for him and a little sojourn was in order.  A macaron moment!  We spent a couple of hours in Manhattan for one purpose only: to indulge in macarons.  Ok, fine, I admit.  This was really more of my thing, but I was happy he conceded.

I love macarons, as I’ve recently attested through creating my own plaster macaron ornaments.

I was armed with $150 and managed to afford one box of 24 macarons and three boxes of 6 macarons as gifts, and a bag of 4 macarons for O.T. and I to snack on, leaving me $13 under budget.  Yes, $137 gets you less than four dozen macarons at Ladurée, which may be hard to stomach, despite being able to scoff down a teeny macaron in two bites.

As for the taste of the macarons, I hate to say this, La Bamboche and Ruelo in  Toronto are still my favorite, considering the exotic and innovative macarons they serve such as green tea-sesame, rose-lychee, mango-green tea, and yuzu, among other delightful flavors.

But isn’t Ladurée’s packaging so pretty?  With less than four dozen macarons, perhaps I paid more for the packaging than I did the sweets.  I love the details, down to the custom-cut wax paper that lines the boxes and the golden seal that secures said wax paper (in the box of 24) and the elegant slip of paper listing all the flavors available.

It’s an indulgence indeed and one I could only excuse now that it is Christmas.

D-I-Y engagement photos: part 2 of 3 — napa valley, california

August 6, 2011 § 8 Comments

Here’s the second installment of our self-taken engagement photos, this time in the verdant vineyards of Napa Valley!

Just like the first set of photos, these were taken with a camera on a tripod and softened with a heavy dose of photo editing, all of which I will explain with more depth in the next and final post of this three-part series.

If you missed the first set, please have a lookie here for part 1.  I admit I am a lot partial to that previous set now that the pictures are up for comparison.  They express much more dramatic flair than this set, what with the tall brown grass on the knolls of Ed Levin Park, and the wind blowing through my curled hair and chiffon dress.  The sheer effort of hiking up hills in a dress as my curls fought for their survival is, in my mind, the clearer winner.  However, O.T. is not fond of days when I actually make an effort (a lot of it) to look made-up.  This seems to be true for most men.  They prefer women in jeans, hair undone, without the slightest trace of powder, and maybe just a smidge of lip gloss.  So, these here pictures — a version more plain and less panache — are for O.T.

Though both sets of pictures display props I’ve made to highlight our long distance love, I do favor these airplane props in this set over the red tin can telephones in the previous.  For one thing, as most of you have already read, our fateful love story began at an airport and in an airplane.  Secondly, I used the logo I designed for this blog (with a few changes in theme).  Third, I wanted to make use of paper, I am obsessed with paper afterall.

We went into Napa without a single plan of what to see.  Neither being wine drinkers (a cardinal sin in Napa), we knew we were visiting to take pictures.  From downtown Napa, we drove up and down the Silverado Trail searching for the perfect spot.  There are plenty of beautiful spots, though not what we were seeking.  Most vineyards are fenced in and close at four o’clock in the afternoon.

We diverted out of the Silverado Trail and headed southwest to Carneros and discovered a beautiful spot right at the entrance of Cuvaison Estates.  We had gotten there well past 6 pm.  Despite the gates being closed, we were able to walk through rows of unfenced vineyards to take our shots.  The gates were far from the main road, so we drove further in to discover a pond waiting to be photographed.

Other cars had driven in, one driver paused a while to watch us take our pictures as we made our poses in front of the camera and tripod.  He waited around after we finished one set (we were doing pictures in threes) and gave us the thumbs up from his seat.  He drove past us on his way out, rolled down the window, and asked if we needed his help taking the pictures.  We thanked him for his thoughtful offer but happily explained that we had undertaken the exercise to conduct our own engagement session.  He smiled, puzzled, and disappeared past the vines.

I hope you enjoy the pictures as much as we enjoyed taking them!  Feel free to click on each set for a larger resolution.  Up next: D-I-Y engagement photos part 3 of 3: beyond the camera and tripod.  Stay tuned!

D-I-Y engagement photos: part 1 of 3 — ed levin park, california

August 4, 2011 § 10 Comments

I’m back from sunny California with sets of photos I couldn’t wait to show you — our very own engagement session!

For my pocket’s sake, I never considered engagement photos.  Not until my inner frugalista decided it would be a great DIY project to tackle on this blog.   Yes, believe it or not, all these quasi-pseudo-professional-ish photos shown here were taken by us, the way self-portraits are best taken: with a seemingly ordinary pocket-size digital camera on a tripod.  And, well, without denial, a lot of post-processing.

I admit, it was a wee bit of an exhaustive ordeal to acquire these shots.  First, the convincing.  When I broached the subject of taking our own engagement photos (and I had never once broached the subject of wanting any engagement photos to begin with), O.T. thought my DIY streak was out of control.  I understand, there are certain things left to professionals.  When I told him how much wedding photographers cost, he happily conceded.

As I talked (and talked) about all the DIY details, such as props and shots I planned for these DIY photos, he became more excited (he’s a fantastic listener, can you tell?).  I talk. He listens.  It’s perfect.  We are on the same page.

He, in fact, conjured up a lot of the frames and I gave no resistance (as much to his credit as mine).  He truly has a lot of creative input and, yes, I do my share of listening, too!

I will talk more about the inspiration to undertake this project and the behind-the-scenes details including a photo editing tutorial, but I will wait until part 3 of this three-part series (I did mention exhaustive ordeal, didn’t I?).

We took these shots on the magnificent hills of Ed Levin County Park in Milpitas, California.  We had visited this park two years ago, taken some beautiful shots during our hike, and were familiar with the scenery.  In fact, when I decided we would do our own engagement session, my first and only thought was Ed Levin.

We made sure to come in the late afternoon when the sun was low.  We arrived at 6:00 pm and fumbled along as we posed shot after shot.  After much fumbling and retakes, we had well over 200 shots, during which time the sun had waned in the distance.

There were brief moments of frustration (entirely due to our inadequate understanding of photography and light, and consequential thump of reality that this stuff isn’t as easy as we thought), but we had much more fun than we ever imagined.  So much so that we decided to take more pictures later that weekend, in a different scene — the vineyards — with different props.  Up next: DIY engagement photos part 2 of 3: Napa Valley, California.  Stay tuned!!

I hope you enjoy the pictures as much as we enjoyed taking them!  Feel free to click on each set to zoom in for a larger resolution.  If you missed our fateful love story and the wonderful way he proposed, you can find that right here.

a big thank you. a new york minute. and a sign?!?

May 28, 2011 § 13 Comments

May has been one mammoth month that had me out of routine.  It’s been a while since I’ve allowed myself the rare pleasure of social existence.  I — a homebody, who allocates the bulk of my free time to staying in and creating stuff and blogging here about said created stuff and being a telephone junkie —  socialized (in the flesh) through the month of May.  Mind you, I am no recluse at any degree.  I thoroughly enjoy company.  It just happens that most social outings leave me with remorse at the consequential lack of productivity.

This month was different.  My parents came to town for a few days.  I enjoyed the company of old friends and former co-workers by dinners-out and random congratulatory visits to my home.  It’s been a wonderful, welcome interruption to an otherwise methodical life.  Getting engaged has filled me with sooo much love from all the people in my life I’ve come to know — including you!  Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all your warmest and fondest wishes!!!

O.T. came back to my side of the continent for the second time this May, this time for a possible job in the east coast.  He had an interview in Albany a week ago on a Friday.  I skidded out of my office parking lot that afternoon and found myself in Albany seven hours later.  We decided to drive the extra few miles to New York City for a brief weekend getaway.

Having taken the car and driven into Manhattan, we didn’t accomplish much at all.  We crawled through traffic nearly the entire afternoon on Saturday.  From my car window, the view was consistently as such: a stampede of pedestrians sifting through the streets amidst a sluggish stream of taxi cabs and cars.  I felt moments of deliriousness (architect Rem Koolhaas’ book “Delirious New York” is nooo misnomer).  We have 5 million people here in T.O..  The Big Apple has 8 million.  The difference is apparent.

One strange thing happened in New York that got me deep in thought. ..a sign??

I  already came to the conclusion over half a decade ago that I am a magnet for low-probability circumstances that beg the question — What are the chances?!?  As you’ve come to know the story of my fateful meeting with O.T.,  I cannot explain the non-coincidences to which I am often exposed.  However, I go with the flow.

My gas light turned on as we entered Manhattan and we consulted with the outdated five-year old GPS my brother lent me.  The old sage showed us several gasoline pump symbols on the screen and advised us of their locations in range of my car’s position.  We chose the closest.  And through the thick of pedestrians, cabs, and cars, we managed to go into the location suggested — where no gasoline station is actually in existence.  Instead, in its place was Martha Stewart Living.

In the compacted, colossal, complex city of New York, I was led by a dysfunctional navigation device to a place of crafty worship, that of my crafty deity!  What are the chances?

I once toiled over a job application for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia.  It was back in 2009.   In July of that year, on a flight from Manila to Detroit, as I pondered the future of my already dying business, I had something of an apparition.  I realized that very moment, somewhere over the Pacific, that my real love is not the wedding invitations I was making, but the act of making.  The joy is in the process of conceiving ideas and bringing them to life, whatever those ideas may be.  I dreamed on that plane that I will craft the rest of my life under the guidance of Martha Stewart and I will have the platform to be able to produce things that people can use and enjoy, and in turn, I will fulfill my calling.  I broke the reverie to turn to my dad to my left, then brother to my right, and uttered the words “I will work for Martha Stewart.  It’s what I’m meant to do.” to which they replied with unspoken bemusement.

It wasn’t long until October 15, 2009 (a momentous day as it happened to be O.T.’s milestone 30th birthday, of all days), Martha Stewart was hiring a Crafts Associate!  I scrambled through the coffers, and submitted three of my favorite works that would summarize the diversity of my ideas.

Of course, we all know I didn’t get that job nor get close to getting that job.  I know somewhere buried in a drive of thousands of digital resumes and portfolio samples was mine.  But I didn’t let it hinder me from continuing to do what I’ve loved to do since I learned to hold a crayon.   A year later, in October of 2010, it occurred to me that I have all available platforms to share my crafty ideas with the world.  So I started this blog.

Last weekend, when my GPS unknowingly led me to Martha’s studio as opposed to a gas station and while being confounded by the improbability of that very circumstance, I was reminded of the very big dreams I had only two years ago.  Maybe 2009 wasn’t my time.  Maybe the heavens have given me this nudge to try that dream again.  Maybe this one brief, bizarre experience in New York is a harbinger to be heeded.

he said it was love at first flight

May 15, 2011 § 64 Comments

This is a story about my travels.  It is also a story about my love.

Last Sunday night, one week ago, was yet another of those recurring drives from the airport.  I watched O.T. disappear past the security gates of BUF Buffalo Niagara International Airport.  He flew home to California after eight elated days in Toronto.  This time, our parting was rife with optimism.  It was only eight days before when I picked him up at the arrival gate and the course of our lives became clear.

For every cheerful hello and tearful goodbye we’ve exchanged at various airports across North America, we were bound to arrive where we are today.  In over two and a half years of traveling between two coasts, we boarded many planes and parted through many clouds.  Our cloud has a silver lining.

The day we met. My aunt took a picture of me before checking in at SFO, moments before meeting O.T. Then on my way from Minneapolis to Toronto, a beautiful sight of lenticular clouds.

Back in 2008, I was half asleep at SFO San Francisco International Airport’s Gate 45A, awaiting my morning flight.  The guy beside me spoke.  A query: “Are you going to Michigan?”.  I was groggy and a little baffled, but the question didn’t register as anything unusual.  The fact is, my parents live in Michigan and this is a question I am often asked.  I replied, “No.  I’m going to Toronto, but I have a transfer in Minneapolis”, assuming he was not familiar with the airport code and meant to ask about Minneapolis.  Yes, he, too, was on his way somewhere with a transfer in Minneapolis.  A conversation ensued about our past travels.

Half an hour later, our boarding call.  He uttered, “Maybe I’ll see you on the plane.”  I mused, boarding pass in hand.  We were quick to notice the seats on our respective boarding passes.  He was assigned 46-A and I, 47-A.  “Well, what are the chances? We will see each other on the plane.”

And so, we boarded that flight together.  The lady at 47-B was happy to exchange her seat for his, a window seat.  He and I sat together through the duration of a three hour flight, absorbed in candid conversation without a minute of pause.  He, in show-and-tell fashion, kept me amused with pictures on his iPhone — his latest visit to a San Francisco art gallery, a recent hiking experience in the red woods, and an Anderson Silva fight.  I was fascinated.  His interests aren’t so random.  My minor in Fine Arts history and annual wilderness camping experiences and the occasional UFC Pay-Per-View viewings with friends just paved a sense of accord and appreciation in those three short hours.

We disembarked at MSP Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.   He asked if I would like to eat lunch.  We had our first meal together.  We shared sushi.  We exchanged contact information and parted amicably.  He shook my hand.

The following day, he called me when he landed.  He was visiting Istanbul.  I was at home in Toronto.  I was surprised he called, despite expecting him to.  I picked up the phone amidst a cleaning frenzy.  I told him I was selling my piano and a potential buyer was on the way.  He asked, “Can you play one last time on your piano before it is sold?”.  “What would you like to hear?” .  “Elton John.”  “I don’t know any Elton John off the top of my head.”  I played him my favorite, Sun and Moon from Miss Saigon.  The door bell rang.  I made a request, “Do you mind calling back in half an hour?  I’m home alone and the buyer is male.”  He agreed.

The buyer came in, a young electrical engineering student from the University of Toronto, my own alma mater.  He tested out the keys.  I asked him to give it all he’s got and play what comes to mind.  He played Elton John’s Can You Feel The Love Tonight and purchased my piano.  I was astonished.

What are the chances that Elton John’s Can You Feel The Love Tonight would be played by a random buyer in my home within minutes that I was asked to play Elton John by the random stranger living in California, calling me from Istanbul, and who I met at the airport whose plane seat was randomly one away from mine?

Well, things aren’t so random.

Back at SFO, moments before meeting O.T., the airport personnel responsible for checking me in was named Romulo — my father’s name and not a common name.  I had a short conversation with Romulo.  I noticed his nametag as he noticed my birthplace on my passport.  Butuan.  It turns out the hometown of Romulo at the check-in desk was Butuan — a not-too-significant city in one of the southern islands of the Philippines.  A city I haven’t seen since I was ten months old.  This man who hailed from the city of my birth, this man who has the same unique name as my father, was the man responsible for checking me into the flight where I would soon meet my husband-to-be.

Are things ever truly random?

The piano buyer, who unbeknownst played Elton John without request, was completing a degree in electrical engineering.  Why wasn’t the piano buyer pursuing a more common degree like business administration or psychology or biology?  Before pursuing his Masters and PhD in computer engineering, O.T. completed his undergraduate in electrical engineering.

What are the chances?

O.T. called me back within half an hour, as promised.  O.T. called every night ever since.  There was never a single day since we met that he didn’t call.

A few weeks later, O.T. and I found ourselves at LAS Las Vegas McCarran International Airport, this time not so randomly.  We met, planned.  We shared our first kiss, unplanned, by the baggage carousel.

Sometime later, we found ourselves at SFO once again, where I love you’s were exchanged for the first time.

Last summer, on our way to IST, we found ourselves at the same gate at SFO and decided to reenact the day we met two years prior in the very same seats at Gate45A.

In the past two and a half years, we have shared many blissful and tearful moments in airports across North America like YYZ Pearson International Airport in Toronto, JFK International Airport in New York, DTW Detroit Wayne International Airport, and as far away as FCO Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport in Rome and IST Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul.

Two weeks ago, he surprised me with a request to pick him up at BUF for a late night flight.  I drove in from Toronto listening to Buffalo’s Joy FM station.  As I approached the airport parking, the radio played Can You Feel The Love Tonight.  I cried.

At the airport, by the baggage carousel, an orange suitcase caught my attention.   I could use an orange suitcase.  We were waiting for his red suitcase which never made its way around the carousel.  He said, “Well, maybe we should check out the orange suitcase since you like it so much.”  He pulled it off the carousel and I thought he lost his mind.  “This suitcase is for you”.  It was tied with a bow.  The crafter that I am, I said gaily, “I love this ribbon, I saw it at Michaels”.  I laughed.  I opened the suitcase.  It was loosely packed with two heart-shaped Will You Marry Me balloons.  He dropped on bended knee.  My eyes were fogged.  He asked the question.  I said yes.  People clapped.  Two elderly ladies standing beside us started taking pictures.

One of the ladies said, “This man sat beside me on the plane and he told us what he was about to do tonight.  I’m so happy to share in this beautiful moment in your life.  I have been married to my husband for sixty years and wish you the same happiness I’ve had in my life.”

What a wonderful lady he sat beside on the plane on the night he proposed to a woman he met on a plane.  What are the chances?

The passport to our future is stamped.  I am soaring on cloud nine.  I know I am truly blessed.

Last Sunday before O.T. disappeared into the security gates at BUF.

vanishing venice

February 27, 2011 § Leave a comment

While crafting my bean-by-number venetian mask the other night and while masquerades transpire at the Carnival of Venice today, I wistfully went back in time to revisit my Venetian experience three Februaries ago, in 2008.

I had actually just missed the Carnival of Venice by a few days, though enough masks were on display throughout the small city, an outsider could easily assume the Carnival of Venice was at hand.  But no matter the day, all throughout the year, you are greeted by these fantastic (albeit freaky) faces at most shops and stalls.

Venice is really such a small place, you can explore most of its splendor in a day or two.  The dense labyrinth of streets, alleys, and canals all seem to lead to the Rialto Bridge and Grand Canal, where most people are headed.

St. Mark’s Square is one of few large open spaces on Venice’s plethora of islands.  There you will find the three most notable architectural sites of the city: St. Mark’s Basilica, its bell tower (the Campanile), and the Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale).  I wasn’t thwarted by the long queue to climb up the Campanile and, after a patient wait, was rewarded with the best views of Venice and the Adriatic Sea.

The pink and white marble façade and the pink lamps of the Palazzo Ducale are sights to behold, but the wonderful surprise was a pink-haired street performer doing some tricks with the pigeons.  Nearly every square foot of St. Mark’s Square is covered with pigeons.

Although there are open spaces like St. Mark’s Square and the Grand Canal, it is hard to overlook the very compact fabric of this city’s infrastructure.  As romantic as Venice is, there is a haunting melancholy about this old, cramped city.  It’s a bit of the forlorn.  Most walls are peeling with age, and within a day’s stay, it is clear that the tourists outnumber the locals, many of whom are making an exodus out of the city.

What is considered as “streets” on maps are in fact alley ways, a lot of which are as narrow as three feet.  The Bridge of Sighs (the bridge that led criminals from interrogation to imprisonment, with a last view of the world through tiny windows) is a reminder of that sense of lonely abandonment experienced by Venice.

By day, Venice is a bustling hub for tourists guided around town by gondoliers.  But as the sun sets, there is a piercing silence descending into the city.   By night, the streets are deserted and pitch black, the tourists are settled indoors, the shop keepers have left the islands, and it is as though the mask was lifted to reveal the city’s very desolate fate.  And as we know it, the 117 islands that make up the city of Venice are all very sadly sinking into oblivion.

Travel Crafty Toronto

February 24, 2011 § 2 Comments

Head over to Craft to explore Toronto’s many crafty offerings in the article Travel Crafty Toronto by yours truly!   Enjoy the magnificent crafty scene in this beautiful city.  I hope you will come visit us one day soon!

cn tower building blocks

February 23, 2011 § 7 Comments

This week on Iron CraftChallenge #8: Hometown.  The challenge is to craft something representing your hometown.

This week is for you, my Toronto!  What a significant coincidence that I’m also writing a Travel Crafty article on Toronto for Craft tomorrow.  It’s all a great reminder for me just how spectacular this city is.

We, Torontonians, have had the greatest pride and fortune of being home of the tallest tower in the entire world, the CN Tower, for thirty four years.  Only recently (in the fall of last year) was this title replaced by the Canton Tower in Guangzhou, China.  From 1976 to 2010, the CN Tower held the world record with a height of 553 meters (1,815 feet) — that means the tower stands half a kilometer high into the sky, or a good one-third of a mile!

So I thought it fit to craft building blocks of Toronto’s most famous icon with simple permanent markers, 1″ cubes of wood (pre-sealed with a coat of clear polish to avoid bleeding), and an abiding love for architecture.

Here are a couple of views of Toronto’s skyline showing off the incredible height of the CN Tower.  To the left, O.T. and I took a shot of downtown Toronto from across the lake in Centre Island.  To the right is a view of the CN Tower at night from a regular city street.  Every night, the tower is lit up with changing colorful lights.

These are views from right beneath and atop the tower when we went up two years ago.  The CN Tower offers a fantastic 360-degree view of Toronto, with views as far as Niagara Falls on a clear, sunny day.  What you see here is the view of Toronto’s financial core (most of those skyscrapers are banks).  Notice that O.T. and I are lying on a glass floor on the observation deck.  Yes, about half a kilometer or a third of a mile directly below us is a combination of grass and pavement!

If you love heights, Toronto is waiting for you!

Stay tuned for more on Toronto on Craft: Travel Crafty this week!

istanbul was constantinople

January 23, 2011 § 9 Comments

It seems the “plane” of paper, plate, and plane is lagging far behind.  I hope to make up for the lag today.  The third installment of my Istanbul trip was on my to-blog list for December.   Over the holidays, instead of compiling my own thoughts and experiences of Turkey, I watched Hallmark Channel’s reruns of Martha Stewart’s adventures.  They were a great reminder of the marvelous time I spent in Istanbul last summer and of the delay my travel posts are experiencing.

Back in November, I began recounting my trip to Istanbul in the posts Inspiring Istanbul ( dedicated entirely to Turkey’s beautiful İznik Tiles) and Turkish Delights (highlighting all the mouth-watering exotic fare that had me bursting at the seams during my trip).  I left out the most important post for last — the historical sights of Istanbul.  Istanbul is rich in history, having been the seat of four empires throughout history.   Yes, once upon a time, Istanbul was Constantinople.  I think we all learned that from a song!

Istanbul is the only city in the world situated in both Europe and Asia.  The continents are divided by the Bosphorus Strait, along which the city is built.  Most residential areas are in the Asian side of the city, commerce and main historical sights on the European side (shown above).  There are two very busy bridges connecting the two continents, but the best way to cross the strait is by taking one of many frequent ferry rides across.

Our first stop — the most famous sight in Istanbul, the Hagia Sofia.  Now a museum, it was once the largest church in the world for nearly a thousand years.  It wasn’t the architecture that had me in awe, as is usually the case when I travel.  What had me marvel here was the combination of Christian and Muslim relics.  The Hagia Sofia was once converted into a mosque, and despite being so, the Christian iconography was not entirely eradicated.

The next stop was just across the way, Sultanahmet Mosque or Blue Mosque — a breathtaking structure with walls fully adorned with blue tiles.  My most memorable moment at the Blue Mosque was outside in the busy courtyard where O.T. left me alone for a few minutes.  A Turkish lady, around my age, approached me, paying compliments to my dress and purse and asking what country I came from and how I was enjoying my tour.  I automatically felt wary, as I had been forewarned about the rampant pick-pocketing happening throughout the city.  In the end, I realized she just simply enjoyed speaking to foreigners, likely wanting to practice her English, which she spoke very well.  I was embarrassed that while she spoke to me about her cousin in Montreal and her hopes of visiting North America one day, I had my purse guarded with both arms across my chest.  I feel awful!

Within the same tourist block is the famous Topkapı Palace, from which there is a magnificent view of the Bosphorus Bridge and the Asian side of the city.

I was wide-eyed at the sight of beautiful İznik tiles at Topkapı Palace.  Every building within the palace walls were either gilded with gold or covered in porcelain.  I also had my first ever visit to a harem.

Down the street from Sultanahmet Square is an underground wonder, the Basilica Cistern.  It is a large ancient underground water receptacle, built way back in the 6th century.  When I first discovered the sight years ago through an episode of The Amazing Race (I’m a loyal fan), I knew it is one of those sights I had to visit in my lifetime.  I’m happy I had the chance.

Of course, my absolute favorite place in Istanbul is a market.  But not just any market.  The Egyptian Spice Bazaar.  I will go back to Istanbul in a heartbeat just so I can go back for a stroll in the Spice Bazaar.  I love crowded markets.  I fell in love with everything that was there.  Turkish delight confections (as shown in my previous post), exotic spices, dried fruits and vegetables, ceramics, belly dancing outfits, hookah pipes.

I begged O.T. to take me there more than once.  I had to go back to try a turban (I really wanted a belly dancing outfit, but they are expensive!) and he went back for a ceramic trinket as a souvenir for my aunt in San Francisco (how sweet!).

Next door to the Egyptian Spice Bazaar is the Grand Bazaar — the largest covered market in the world, with nearly 60 covered streets and 4,000 shops!!!  It was an overwhelming labyrinth of stalls selling rugs, ceramics, clothes, and other Turkish knick-knacks.

Another famous site is the Maiden’s Tower on a tiny little island in the middle of the Bosphorus, a prized landmark in Istanbul.

For one entire day, we took an hour long ferry to Big Island in the middle of the Sea of Marmara.  We embarked on a 2 hour bike ride along the perimeter of the island, as well as through the busy shop-lined streets of the island’s center.  That was my most favorite day.

Thanks to my projects being featured on Marifet, I realize I have some Turkish readers on this blog.  To my Turkish friends, I would like to say Merhaba!  Bloguma hoşgeldiniz!  To my friends who haven’t seen Istanbul, I hope I could inspire you to visit the city one day.  If these photos here don’t convince you, I’m sure Martha Stewart’s episode “The Istanbul Show” can make the sell (I have watched it so many times).  I plan on returning to Istanbul many times over.

san francisco gingerbread row houses

December 15, 2010 § 6 Comments

I sorely miss the eccentric, eclectic, and colorful city of San Francisco.  So much so that I decided to make gingerbread row houses as an ode to the city’s iconic Painted Ladies fronting Alamo Square Park.  These are not your usual gingerbread houses, they are ice cream sandwiches.  And not just any  ice cream — mango ice cream.  Given that the Bay Area accommodates the largest concentration of the Asian-American populace, I thought exotic ginger and mango couldn’t be more perfect flavors to make these fun treats.

I’m in the Bay Area several times a year, considering it’s where O.T. is currently residing.  This year, I spent a combined three months there, but still can’t help but feel that time could be extended.

The above is a shot of us from the summer of 2009.  I seldom go to Alamo Square Park, but always get a good chuckle out of the audience each time I visit.  I’ve always been confounded by the intent crowd watching the houses (perhaps they’re expecting Bob Saget or the Olsen twins to come out on the porch?).

japan on my mind

December 8, 2010 § 4 Comments

O.T. is in Japan this entire week.  He was given a personal invitation to provide a talk on his research in semi-conductor technology.  For the second time this year, he’s been flown in, shacked up, and exploring all sorts of temples and onsens, and feasting on fresh sushi in his spare time.  Oh, am I ever green as a Christmas tree!  He knows how badly, terribly, achingly I’ve always wanted to go to Japan.  He knows it so well that he was on the brink of purchasing my flight so I can crash his stay.  I imagine I could be blogging a much different post today from an executive suite in Kyoto.  But I, regretfully, declined.  I’ve got several classes left to instruct before my programs are over and I want to be there to bid my students farewell with their completed projects.

Technically speaking, I was actually in Japan last summer.  And, adhering to that form of technicality, I can say I’ve actually been to Japan a handful of occasions.  Of course, those times were just dismal hours spent while in transit at the airports of Tokyo-Narita, Nagoya, and Osaka, unable to step outside of the gates.  At best, I surveyed all the corners of the airport terminals, clenching on to any remnant of quirky Japanese culture at the shops and food courts.

Japan Airlines is the first I've seen with a live feed from cameras at the front of and beneath the plane. You can marvel at your current geographic backdrop…or…agonize as you watch the plane plummet to the ground unexpectedly.

Tokyo-Narita, last summer. Sans make-up, looking like an utter wreck as I do when traveling. But I was cheered up after snagging free green tea mochi samples at the shops.

Of course, I had to try the sweet potato-flavored Kit Kat, though I wouldn't recommend it.

Pre-packaged soft-serve ice cream, as only the Japanese would conjure up.

The duty-free shop has an extensive toy and gadget section, as no less expected from the Japanese. Yes, they have invented everything including empowering plastic dogs (via USB) to perform some sit-ups and perverted humping.

One day, Japan, I will see past your airport gates.

turkish delights

November 26, 2010 § 2 Comments

Well, with all the talk of turkey this American Thanksgiving weekend, I am reminded of the hearty food adventures that filled my time and tummy while in Turkey over the summer.  In Istanbul, you will find food along every street and at every corner of the city.  Turkey’s gastronomic spread is wide, with the flavors of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and East Asian in their dishes.  Comparing with my firsthand food adventures in Italy, I have to bestow, without reservation, the title of “Food Mecca” to Istanbul.

Of course, I will begin the adventure with legendary Turkish delights, which gained their worldwide claim to fame by the endorsement of the witch in Chronicles of Narnia.  The Turkish delights often found tough and stale on North American grocery shelves are no justice to the real stuff found on the streets of Turkey.  I bought slices off a tall tower of delights at the Spice Bazaar (left picture).  They come in all sorts of flavors with all sorts of nuts.  I especially love the ones with hazelnuts and pistachios.

My absolute favorite discovery in Turkey is Turkish ice cream, also called Maraş dondurma.  It is found in food carts, served eagerly by jovial young Turkish men, paddle in hand and fez on head.  And it’s also found in tubs at the grocery stores.  It is what I always wished gelato could be — chewy.  It’s the most peculiar and most delicious scoop of ice cream I’ve ever had.  I can best describe it as this: it’s as though ice cream and Japanese mochi melted together into a fateful concoction and got reconstituted in a frozen state of inseparability.  When you have a bite, the ice cream stretches as mochi would, but still maintains the texture of ice cream.  Odd, but so, so, so good.

Then, there is syrupy-sweet baklava.  It’s a heavy debate where baklava originated.  Some stand true that baklava is a Turkish creation.  Others believe it is Greek or Arabic in origin.

If I could make a few suggestions on the dishes to try in Istanbul, I would exclaim: FISH.  Istanbul is situated along the Bosphorus Strait, flanked by the Black Sea and Sea of Marmara.  There is nothing there as ubiquitous as fish, which come fresh out of the sea and are both inexpensive and delicious.

1. There are anchored boats lining the strait that sell and cook fish.

2. You can buy a dish of fish from a boat and eat in a covered patio along the water.

3. Fish markets are as plenty as fruit markets.

4. I had a grilled fish sandwich from a food cart.  It was even better than I expected.

5. There are many varieties of bass available.  The Turks often pan-fry their fish, which is exactly how I like my fish prepared.

Let’s not forget Turkish coffee.  It is nothing like café Americano.  And it makes Italian espresso taste mild.  Turkish coffee is strong and thick.  The coffee grinds are served in an espress0-size cup and eventually settle to the bottom.  Tasseology is customary in Turkey, when the coffee grinds are read as a fortune.

Ah, street food.  Food carts and stalls galore!  And some of the carts in Istanbul are the most stunningly decorated carts I’ve ever laid my eyes on.

6. I had a simit (Turkish sesame bread, similar to bagel) from a food vendor just outside of the Hagia Sofia.

7. A cart of pickles, for snacking, and pickle juices, for drinking.  Drinking pickle juice was my least favorite experience in Istanbul, though certainly one of the most memorable.

8. Roasted chestnut cart.

9. A stall selling skewered deep fried mussels.  They are to-die-for (hopefully not by a heart attack).

10. Doner is Turkey’s version of shawarma.  I eat this so often in Toronto, but it wouldn’t have been a complete trip to Istanbul without one.

And lastly, the wafer helva sold on streets.  These are oversize wafers sandwiched together with a sweet cream filling.  They are children’s treats.  One would assume the street furnishings are for children, too, but those miniature chairs and tables are used by adults during tea time, which is all the time in Turkey.

Looking back, I think the name “Turkish delight” can be used for just about any type of food found in dazzling, delightful Turkey.

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