The Sylvanian Store Keepers, London

23 Oct

Kittymama in LondonIt’s been almost five months since I was in London, and I realized I have yet to take you to a virtual trip inside my favorite store in all of London- the Sylvanian Families Store in Mountgrove Road. This particular Sylvanian Families store stands apart all others in the world because it is the original home of Flair Sylvanian Families products. Also known as The Sylvanian Store Keepers or SSK, it is an extensive walls-to-ceiling collection of current UK products and merchandise. With the end of Flair’s distribution agreement with Epoch, the Japanese creator and manufacturer of Sylvanian Families, in 2013, SSK now owns all existing stock of Flair Sylvanian Families products. While this transition means a more unified market strategy for Epoch, it also signals an end to the era of those glorious blue boxes. I visited the store twice in the week we were there and truth to tell, I would’ve gone there every single day if we had more time. The first time A♥ took me, it was a day after we had arrived and right after he finished his work meetings. I have only a few pictures because I was simply overwhelmed with joy. The second time, well, I’ll just let the pictures speak for themselves. :-)


I made it!

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When you get to SSK, the first thing you would notice is- Holy Moly!!!- so many blue boxes! It took all my restraint not to jump up and down (the way I did outside, on the curbside, as you can see in the picture above). Here I was, giggling for the camera.

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A♥ wisely suggested a photo op with Belinda and Kitty of SSK (Rocky had the day off), perhaps to take my mind off all the things I wanted to buy, teehee. Freya Chocolate was looking a little shabby that day, but then again, with so many people wanting to touch her, it was a surprise she hadn’t gone bald yet.

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And then, armed with my packages, it was time to go. :-(

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Four pictures? That was all I had? Concerned by this lack of pictures (and you know how Filipinos love their pictures), I armed myself with a new list and a firmer resolve. A♥ and I went back to the store a few days later and I made a conscious effort to document the experience in pictures. Somewhere along the way, I may have gotten a little too excited, but I did manage to snap some really nice photographs.

This is the Picadilly line train we took to get to Mountgrove.

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We got off at the Arsenal Station in Highbury, London.

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There was a bit of a walk but since the weather was fair and breezy, Kittymama’s wheezing was barely noticeable.

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A few more minutes of brisk walking and we found the street we wanted.

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Even from afar, Kittymama could not contain her excitement. “There it is,” she shrieked at the top of her voice. It was a good thing the streets were empty that time of the day.

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Another picture (because she insisted)… and she looked ready to pounce!

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She made her way right in, gently whispering “Yoohoo! Anybody home?”

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To our great pleasure, we were welcomed by Rocky (Ben Miller, Operations and Retail Manager). I told Rocky that he has fans in Manila- and I happen to be one of them! (He blushed, heehee.)

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Kittymama felt right at home in SSK’s Sylvanian village. She really didn’t want to leave anymore. (Apologies for the blurry picture, my hands were shaking in excitement.)

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 Here’s a clearer and closer shot of the center table display.

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There were so many details to look at that I drooled, heehee. Good thing I managed to retract that string of saliva or I would’ve died of shame!

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On top of the center display were these wonderful air balloons that were made by hand especially for the Club Collectors’ magazine in summer 2012.

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A quick tour and we saw dioramas and displays filling the shelves with so many fantastic things to see!

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And there were wall to wall to ceiling shelvings of so many products- families, babies, playsets, houses, and more! I suddenly wished I had deeper pockets then. :-) SSK 14

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Each display was meticulously detailed and made to look as realistic as possible. I guess that’s why we never tire of Sylvanian Families- there are just so many things you can do with them, so many ways to display and play with these fascinating critters.

The Seaside Restaurant was entertaining guests that day. I took a peek and no one seemed to mind my intrusion.

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And the majestic Regency Hotel was also filled with guests coming for a visit- this was just too cute for words!

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After all the gawking and drooling, the picture taking and more drooling, of course there was shopping to be done (again!). I had planned my luggage to make those boxes fit, of course, and I bought some Sylvanians for a friend too.

Before saying goodbye, I just had to have a last picture with Rocky. Meeting Rocky, Belinda, and Kitty were highlights of the visit too and I shared stories of my countrymen’s fondness for Sylvanian Families with them.

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If you ever get to London one of these days, do drop by and say hello to these lovely folks at SSK. These are the people who make our critters come alive for us. If Sylvanians had superstars, Rocky, Belinda, and Kitty would be them!

My gracious thanks to SSK and their lovely personnel for making my visits welcome and memorable. Hope to see you all again soon!


Sylvanian Families Shop

68 Mountgrove Road Highbury London N5 2LT

020 7226 1329

The PH♥SF Sylvanian Families Clay Crafts Workshop and Party

17 Oct

It started with pure serendipity and a most opportune one at that. By a fortuitous turn of events, while browsing at the many attractions of last month’s Kawaii Convention, I bumped into a friend at Whitespace Manila. (See us below saying “hello” to each other):

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Kittymama: It’s you, Ingrid! Ingrid: I knew it was you the moment I saw Nimes. *shrieks of joy*

Ms. Ingrid Guerrero, the artist behind Provenance 1800 Designs and Crafts, was holding a clay workshop for attendees of the convention that day. I was not aware she was one of the events participants and finding her there, amid a throng of young people, was such a pleasant surprise!

We barely managed a conversation because of the noise and din of the crowd, but in those short minutes, Ingrid planted the seed for what would turn out to be a Sylvanian clay workshop. When she suggested having one for collectors like me (and her), I jumped at the opportunity to organize it for PH♥SF, my Facebook-hosted community of Sylvanian collectors.

I have to confess, though, that in the process of organizing the event, I had my moments of doubt. Would I be able to pull it off? Would people come? Would they pay to learn this craft? The initial interest generated was enthusiastic but in the course of the month’s preparations, I began to run into stumbling blocks. There were people who had confirmed and reserved slots, only to change their minds when payment was due. There were also cancellations at the very last minute. All these gave me a serious case of angina. However, when I thought long and hard about the help and generosity of the people who stepped up for the group, and yes, for me, I knew giving up was not an option.

There was Ingrid, who had whittled down the price of her kits to accommodate our group, even as she would be doing most of the work during the workshop. Another friend, Blooey S., had generously allowed the use of their office space in Makati for a very minimal fee. And Ban Kee Toys, our country’s official local distributor, had said yes right away when I sent Mr. Joseph De Leon, Brands Department Manager, a request for assistance. Ban Kee even had ToyTown personnel set up a pop-up store just for us. I owe these people a great deal of gratitude for their support and help.

Despite the difficuties of planning and getting everyone on the same page, we- Ingrid, Bloeey, Ban Kee, and I- made it happen. It turned out to be a great day for learning and fun, as also for fostering old friendships and making new ones. As a crafter wannabee, I had expected dismal results in my first foray into clay, but what do you know? I made a reasonably looking (read: not ugly) mango cream pie (inspired by Bizu’s mango chiboust, my favorite)! Yay for Kittymama!

Below are some more pictures from the event. If you’d like to see more, head on to PH♥SF’s Facebook page where you can access the pictures from Blooey’s camera (hers are really nice, I tell you).

This was Blooey’s handmade welcome bunting for PH♥SF! It’s so pretty!

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Our first guests were Ayen’s lovely girls. They were so well behaved!

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Loot bags and clay kits and dolls, oh my!

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Sylvanian Families sold at a discount! *dances for joy*

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Ms. Love of Labor of Lovewas our special clay guest and supplier. Thank you for coming, Ms. Love!

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Teacher Ingrid started the lessons with an introduction of the projects we were going to be making that day. There were three in all: ice cream cones, pies, and sushi! Nom nom nom nom nom.

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We were all ears.

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I loved the mommies and kids’ table! Our youngest participant was only six, followed by an eight year-old, a nine year-old, and a tweener (twelve).

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I borrowed this photo from Ingrid’s page to show you that I was as engrossed as everyone else in our little crafts. I was a bit nervous and unsure of how mine would turn out, but they didn’t look so bad in the end, heehee.

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Photo borrowed from Provenance Designs and Crafts

While we all listened to Teacher Ingrid (you can see Ayen at the background), Nimes was doing a fashion shoot with Cecil Mace, the Sylvanian photographer.

Fashion credits: blouse and jacket from Jenny Dolls/shorts from Manuheali’i Blythe/boots from eBay/styling by Kittymama

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You can see the little ones bent on perfecting their craft projects. They definitely made their mommas proud!

V made itty-bitty, tiny cones.

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His sister, V, wasn’t feeling well at the start of the day but the workshop cheered her up! (I hope you’re well now!)

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Little J has grown up since I last saw her and she was even better at this than I was!

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A worked with full concentration, despite the critters she brought along to play with. These kids worked as hard as the adults. Bravo!

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We took a break halfway through the lessons. The break allowed us time to stretch, get a drink and a snack. It also turned into shopping time!

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Our pies all turned out well, though, we had to admit, some were naturals at it. Blooey even had time to make chocolate chip cookies. (Now why didn’t I think of that?) The really nice cherry pie in the middle was Jeng’s. I wonder who made that really nice pie with the braided crust?

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Kittymama admired my pie. “It’s the sweetest thing there is” she declared.

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Our ice cream cones came in all flavors and looked delicious!

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Nimes and Kittymama posed with their imperfect, albeit still delicious, cones. (Now how will they ever eat it if their elbows don’t bend? Heehee.)

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Our sushis came out last from the oven and each one looked scrumptious! While others stuck to the prescribed lessons, the more adventurous and more industrious of us made waffles, pork buns (siopao), hotdog sandwiches, and hotdog on a stick! Amazing!

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 Our industry was well rewarded. Aside from the lessons and the kit, we brought home a special gift from Ban Kee. We love our loot bags!

We ♥ Sylvanian Families! We ♥ Ban Kee!

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We had our picture taken as a group to remind us of this fun day and our new friends.

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 Our critters and girls also had a special group picture to commemorate this wonderful day. (Nimes eyed her cone with envy while Ayen’s girls tasted theirs.)

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Thank you, dear friends, for making this day a success! Shall we start planning for another one soon?

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Oh, So Fabulous!

16 Oct

Alphonse turned in early these last two nights, a rather unusual occurrence these days. I tend to forget he is almost twenty, and that 9pm bedtimes no longer apply to almost-full grown adults like him.

We’re transitioning to a new teacher this week and you know Alphonse, he instinctively reacts to change. We’re glad it seems he likes his new teacher but I know he will miss Teacher Paul when the week is up. So far (knock on wood), the only thing we’ve noticed is a change in his sleeping pattern (knock on wood again).

The other day, he woke up at 4am all bright and chirpy. He and I waited for sunrise while watching videos on YouTube but the second he saw sunlight streaming through the curtained windows, he grabbed his dad by the wrist and forced him to stand up. Then he pointed to the car keys and half-dragged his bleary-eyed father to drive him around the block.

It came as no surprise he was out like a light early that night. Wanting to take advantage of this, I decided to call it a day too. But just before I turned off the lights, Alex called out to me in a whisper and said, “Look at Alphonse, Mama. He is fabulous!”

I took a peek at Alphonse, already fast asleep in his bed. His body was slightly bent at the waist, his arms stretched upwards and bent at the elbows, his hands lightly touching the sides of his head. There was a small smile playing on his lips, He looked so calm, so peaceful, so beautiful. He did look fabulous!

And did I tell you? He slept through the night!

Alex was right.
Alphonse is fabulous. Even in his sleep.

P.S. Who doesn’t love this sweet, sweet smile?

Stepping Into the Light

15 Oct

These days, when people ask me how I am doing, I can finally, honestly say that I am feeling better.

For a time after Daddy passed away, I was miserable and inconsolable. It’s easy to understand where the grief was coming from; Daddy’s passing caught all of us unprepared. I feel like we never really said our goodbyes. Losing him changed me and snuffed out the light and joy I used to have. Alongside these wretched feelings, I think what I found most perplexing was that I was also very angry. I never really undertood the source of that anger until recently.

Last year, a good friend lost someone dear to her. In our talks, she mentioned that she was “sad-angry” most of the time and was having difficulty processing those feelings. I could not, for the life of me, fathom what it meant until I lost my father.

On the surface, I think it seems as if I coped with the loss rather well. Putting on a happy face was, at times, easy because A♥ poured so much effort into making me feel normal and loved. Most of the time, however, I knew I was changed. I was forever blighted by sorrow and grief.

For a time, I preferred to be alone with my thoughts. I could not bear to talk to friends, or even see them. I was also prone to fits of hostile anger. I could feel it simmering inside me as I reined back my desire to curse, stomp, and rage at the world. I felt volatile, ready to explode.

Once, after a particularly weary day when I had been crying over something that reminded me of Daddy, I received a message of condolence and concern. Were I feeling more like myself today, I bet I would not have even reacted. But sent less than sixty days after Daddy passed away, the message ended with “I hope you are moving on.” It took all of my willpower not to reply with indignation and sarcasm. Locked in my bedroom where no one could see, I threw a tantrum.

Moving on? How does one move on when my heart still felt weighted down by overwhelming grief? How do I say goodbye so easily? I felt my heart pounding as I ranted and raved by myself. The callousness, the lack of tact, sensitivity, and genuine concern, the seemingly flippant way my loss was treated- these irked and vexed me no end.

Later that day, after I had exhausted my husband’s patient ear, I finally realized where this was rooted: the wellspring of my anger was fear.

I feared losing the acuteness of my loss. I feared time moving on, dulling pain of its sharpness. I did not want to wake up one day and not feel sad anymore. For months, we all breathed in the air of pain and suffering, and losing them both, our companions in this weary journey, meant losing the familiar and predictable.

I got angry at people who suggested that I “move on” because “moving on” felt much like forgetting. I could not let them forget that easily, that quickly. And I could not let go of my last tenuous ties to Daddy, however unhappy these were, as I feared forgetting him myself. It would almost be like I had willfully discarded him from my life.Stepping into the light

In those moments of my deepest fears, I prayed for strength and courage. I prayed for deliverance from this darkness that ate away at my joy and my life. And just like a thousand times before when I lost my way, He led me right back to His love. In my silent devotion, my heart found calm and peace.

I am grateful that the people who love me- A♥ most of all- never gave up and patiently waited for me to feel better again. Knowing that their love comes without judgment, I opened my heart to welcome them back in, allowing them unfettered access to my frailties and shame. Many kept writing to me with brief messages of hope and encouragement. And some went even further, sending me unexpected tokens of their love and friendship. I am blessed with beautiful friends, I am proud to say.

My heart still feels heavy at times. My smiles are still sometimes forced. But for the first time since July, I can stand in the sunlight without burning. I can open my eyes to the light.

I think Daddy would be proud.

Smart Parenting At Any Age

10 Oct

In less than a month, my youngest son would no longer be a teenager. My oldest boy became a legal adult this year. I am, finally, what can be rightly called an OLD mother.

Most of my friends are too, with children who have finally earned the right to their own lives. Being an old mother can be both thrilling and sad, for even as we look forward to our children making their mark in the world, we certainly miss the days when we were the center of their universe.

On second thought, however, I belong to an even smaller subset of old mothers- those with adult children with autism. This year, when Alphonse turns 20, he is physically a grown man but his emotional and cognitive ages are way younger than his chronological age. As such, at a time when other moms are developing new interests and passions to fill in the time they used to spend taking care of children, I am still finding myself coping with occasional toilet issues, food jags, and the many challenges of raising a young parent award

It makes sense, therefore, to keep abreast of strategies and products that help mothers (and fathers) make their jobs easier. I find myself looking for recommendations all the time, and while Alphonse is certainly past his infancy (hmmm… more of a preschooler, except very large and very handsome), some of the products babies and toddlers use still come in very handy. Think baby wipes, non-flourinated toothpastes, and even skin cleansers!

If you’d like to check out parent-tested and recommended products, head on to Smart Parenting’s Best for Baby Awards for this year’s shortlist of the best products for your little ones. Even my not-so-little one loves them!


Shrek! The Musical

8 Oct

Originally published in BusinessWorld’s Weekender here, October 2, 2014

Shrek the Musical runs only until October 12 (this weekend!) so watch it before it’s gone!


Shrek-the-Musical-ticketsONE of the strengths of Shrek when it first came on the big screen in 2001 was its seamless ability to use parts of stories we already know to form a cohesive, yet totally different, narrative. Based on William Steig’s illustrated children’s book of the same title published in 1990, Shrek took the ogre and the repulsive princess into a different direction with unexpected plot developments and surprising characterizations. How many people knew that ogres can be sweet or that princesses can kick butt? No wonder, then, that when DreamWorks Pictures released the 90-minute animated comedy in May 2001, the returns on their $60-million production yielded more than eight times their initial investment. Not bad for a children’s cartoon.

Shrek The Musical came as an afterthought to the movie’s success story.

Conceptualized around the time the sequel, Shrek 2, was being produced, it has come into its own in the six years it has played on stage and on tour around the world. First produced for Broadway, the play, with book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire and music by Jeanine Tesori, melded Steig’s tale of Shrek’s origin with a musical version of the animated feature. Over the years, Shrek The Musical has wisely honed and sharpened its wit and timing while still retaining the much-loved eccentricities of its characters.

Brought to the local stage by Atlantis Productions, Shrek The Musical takes the viewers into a nontraditional, subverted fairy tale/love story, destroying stereotypes in the process and having lots of fun while doing it. While Shrek appeals to many young children, much of the humor in the movie and play are also meant for adults. And so, while both features cater to children, there is no attempt to dumb down the wit and comedy.

On stage at the Meralco Theater, Shrek The Musical brings the pared-down, more restrained visuals of its West End counterpart and rightly brings the acting and singing to fore. Rycharde Everley, as Shrek the ogre, labors under heavy prosthetics and padding, but his exceptional singing voice brings the audience past the green skin and ugly façade.

Everley sings “Who I’d Be” and “When Words Fail” with so much tenderness that it moves audiences to shed a tear or two. When he reprises “Big Bright Beautiful World” towards the end and confesses his love for the princess, Everley completes the transformation of Shrek and changes the dynamics of his relationships with those around him.

There is great rapport on stage among Everley and his lead co-actors, Shiela Valderrama-Martinez as the non-archetype of a damsel-in-distress, Princess Fiona, and Nyoy Volante as the amazing, spunky Donkey. Ms. Valderrama-Martinez is the perfect foil for the lumbering ogre; she is lithe and beautiful, but strong, equally opinionated, and capable of emitting the most distressing body noises. Her voice is clear and melodic, able to summon sweetness and steel at the same time.

Princess Fiona’s solo, “Morning Person,” highlights this formidable faculty and showcases these seemingly disparate sides of the princess’ personality. Ms. Valderrama-Martinez’s comic timing is rivaled only by Mr. Volante as Shrek’s friend, Donkey (did I say he was superb?). This singer-turned-actor never ceases to amaze audiences with his character transformations. I have to hand it to Mr. Volante; his was Eddie Murphy’s Donkey down pat with touches of physical comedy local audiences lapped up appreciatively.

Jett Pangan as Lord Farquaad proves he need not compensate for anything. He is caustic and funny, albeit a little terrifying, too. As one who has to play his role on his knees, Mr. Pangan takes on this challenge gamely and proves that size and height play second fiddle to talent.


Nowhere is this production’s rapport more evident than in the genius of its casting. There is the young Fiona (Arianna Everley) who sings like an angel, Dragon (Carla Guevara-Laforteza) with her compelling vocals, Pinocchio (Nel Gomez) with his endearing falsetto and lie-detecting nose, and the rest of the ensemble who form a most unusual cast of characters. Each has a strength that binds the show together. They bring texture, color, and added cheek to the layers of this fairy tale.

They weave the backdrop of Shrek’s journey from nasty ogre to one who learns to love with the story of misfits fighting for their right to live in dignity.

What makes Shrek The Musical delightfully delicious is the combination of wonderful acting and singing, remarkable stage design and props (that impressive dragon puppet is better than Broadway’s), and a story that resonates with many, never mind its fairy tale-esque perspective.

What’s more, it pushes this story with irreverence and is not afraid to make fun of itself with allusions to popular songs and shows to advance its storytelling. There’s a delightful poke at the recent Disney animated blockbuster Frozen, that had the kids yelling in glee and more references to popular shows like Les Misérables, Chicago and Wicked, among others.

Shrek The Musical is highly engaging and grows on its audience with repeated viewing. For an activity for the whole family, it’s hard to find a more engrossing way to spend the weekend than two hours and 30 minutes of fun and frolicking entertainment. In the famous words of the Babe’s Farmer Hoggett (and that which we borrow from a page in Shrek), “That’ll do, Shrek. That’ll do.”

Sylvania (and Love) on My Mind

26 Sep

I had been dreaming of these for years, and it took a while to make these dreams happen. It seemed like Fate played a big hand in them, as who’d have ever thought I’d be able to go to two of my “bucket” places in one month? And yet, they did happen, thanks to my husband’s generosity and his penchant for surprises.

In June of this year, my husband brought me to London, where my first stop was this- the Sylvanian Families store (SSK) on Mountgrove Road in London. I did look funny, dancing a jig on the street, but how could any Sylvanian fan not dance for joy? Surrounded by all those wonderful little critters and a wall-to-wall assortment of Flair Sylvanian Families products, I wanted to stay forever. Honest! We went back to the store a second time a couple of days later, this time accompanied by family. I was thrilled to share this moment with them, though I think my nephews might have wondered if their aunt had a loose screw, heehee. (Hello, Gabby and Darren!) :-)

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Less than two weeks later, I made another trip, this time nearer to home but no less exciting than London. This was not the first time I would set foot in Japan but it was my first visit to the Sylvanian Families Theme Park in Grinpa. *dances for joy- again* My aunt, cousin, and two-year-old nephew Tsumugu went with A♥ and me but I think I had more fun than all of them combined. I can’t put into the words the giddiness and excitement of this particular occasion but suffice to say that it was all I could talk about for days.

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Yay yay!

I remember these trips with a lot of fondness. They were extra special for me because I shared these wonderful moments with people I have not seen in many years. I love that when I think of SSK or Grinpa, I will always think of the people I left behind, people I still miss today. I pray that a reunion with them be possible in the future. In the meantime, I have these to hold on to.

Most of all, I love that my husband made all these possible for me and that he continues to help me fulfill my dreams each day. When I look at these pictures, I try to imagine myself at the other end of the camera. I imagine myself as A♥ and wonder if the happiness he gets by giving is compensated by the joy he sees through the lens. I hope he knows how grateful I am for everything he does to show his love every single day. And I hope he knows that even with all these wonderful, precious gifts, just waking up beside him every day is enough for me.


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