Happiness is… a Hot Cup of Coffee

Most mornings, I break my fast with a cup of coffee. Some days I brew coffee; most days, because sleep is a premium, I go instant. I heat about two cups of water in an electric kettle and pour it over a heaping teaspoon of coffee granules. I add a packet of stevia, then a tablespoon each of heavy cream, butter, and coconut oil/MCT oil, the last depending on what I have at the moment. I pull out my Aerolatte frother and stir away, creating a rich, smooth, and creamy concoction. I smell the faint hint of coconut and the strong notes of coffee, and already, my senses are wide awake.

I like to take my time to savor my coffee. I usually just have one cup a day; on special occasions, though, I make an extra cup. But when Alphonse- my coffee guzzling son- comes out of his little schoolhouse in the morning, I have to gulp the whole thing down in a hurry, leaving only a teaspoonful or so at the bottom of the cup for him to drink. I have to tell you that caffeine and Alphonse don’t mix very well, unless I want a hyperactive man-child literally climbing the walls.

Lately, Alphonse has been asking for more and more coffee. I take that as a sign to stop drinking coffee in front of him so I decided to extend my intermittent fast to 18 hours, moving my BPC in the afternoons while Alphonse is busy. This way, I have a few hours to enjoy coffee without downing the whole thing in one go.

Now this is where Ember comes in to give my life an extra boost of happiness. I got the Ember travel mug as a Christmas gift over the holidays, and while I have accumulated a wide variety of mugs and tumblers over the years- from double walled stainless steel vacuum flasks to plastic reusable mugs and hardy acrylic cups to dainty ceramic teacups- nothing quite beats the virtues of the Ember.

Just what is the Ember?

The Ember is the the first temperature controlled travel mug that keeps your beverage at your desired temperature for hours, allowing you to enjoy your drink without hurry. For people like me who like to sip and savor, the Ember is a handy mug to have around. It may seem like a novelty, especially since some thermal mugs can keep things warm for hours, but once you’ve tried it, you’ll love the way your coffee (or tea) stays exactly the same way for hours.

At USD150, the Ember travel mug is a pricey deal, particularly when one considers that its volume is only 12 ounces. The 10-oz Ember ceramic mug is a little more affordable at USD80, but without a lid, it is more useful for home and office use. I prefer the flexibility and durability of the travel mug. The huge advantage Ember has over newer, less expensive temperature mugs (such as the Lexo tumbler or Joeveo’s Temperfect mug) is that it allows one to remotely set the temperature via a smartphone. While I write, or clean, or bake, or even get the occasional catnap, I keep the Ember filled with hot coffee and it helps me get through another afternoon of chores. I’ve been using it for a few months now and I can say with certainty that it is a great way to enjoy a hot drink any time of the day.

Most US Starbucks stores carry the Ember, but for those of us here in Asia, Amazon is our best bet for purchasing one. The good news is that the product is available for delivery to the Philippines.

Pros: easy to use, remote fine tuning available, completely washable

Cons: price, availability in the country

Verdict: If you love coffee, you won’t go wrong with the Ember. 🙂 It’s worth every cent.


Happy 57th, Barbie! *

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*Barbara Millicent Roberts turned 57 yesterday, March 9, 2016.

I’ve never been a girly kind of girl. Ask anyone who knows me. Apart from a short interlude with a Fisher-Price Mandy doll and a 1974 Baby Alive doll when I was nine or ten, dolls were never really my thing. I liked reading and playing video games more.

As a young girl, I hoarded back copies of Reader’s Digests from my relatives and spent the bulk of my allowance on Nancy Drew books. I bought music cassettes with what was left of my allowance, spending hours sitting by my huge “portable” radio/cassette player (the kind that needed six D-cell batteries to operate). Long before emo and goth were fashionable, I was the girl in black in the middle of summer, listening to songs of loss and death, writing essays about the futility of “being” and the death of love. In short, I liked solitary, nerdy, dark things and not the glitzy, glam, bedazzling life of a Barbie doll.

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Wish I had been able to keep mine. (Source: http://www.giank.it)

Eh, Barbie dolls? I only really had one. It was a Ballerina Barbie with pale blonde hair, a white and gold tutu, pointe shoes, and the highest arched heels I had ever seen in a doll. She was so beautiful she made me want to become a ballerina myself. She was my inspiration for taking up the dance in my childhood, never mind that I always had thirty pounds over my peers in weight and body mass. Unfortunately, Ballerina Barbie suffered an early demise. She survived me for all of a year, until my younger sister Joee accidentally decapitated her in a brief struggle for ownership.

My sister Joee was the one who loved Barbies. She still has many of them today, dolls we bought together on summer trips to Hong Kong. Given time to explore the small city by ourselves, Joee and I would find ourselves entering dimly lit stores along Mody Road, looking for Barbie dolls to take home. Along the stretch of Nathan Road, we found many of our treasures and hoarded them happily- Barbie for her, Hello Kitty and Game And Watch for me, or as much as our combined allowance for the three- or four-day trip would allow.

All of my love affairs with dolls ended unhappily and lasted no more than a summer’s worth of boredom. Even as I maintained my fascination for Sanrio, books, and video games, I lost interest in dolls, Barbie dolls most of all. On hindsight, I think my body and self-esteem issues as an adolescent contributed a lot to my inability to connect with a Barbie doll. Try as I might to look or feel like one- beautiful, glamorous, perfect- I was always a gawky, nerdy ugly duckling in my mind.

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My first Silkstone- Trace of Lace: A♥ got her for me because her hair is like mine. *blushes*

It thus comes as a big surprise that as I cross the threshold of middle life, I find myself an owner of not just one or two Barbie dolls, but, ehrm, quite a few. Silkstone Barbies and Kens make up my current Barbie collection. They are all beautiful in their exquisite ways, all perfect, and all mine.

What caused this change of heart, you ask? For starters, they were gifts from my husband. He must have noticed me spending a little more time viewing doll pictures on Facebook and so he gave me one on Mother’s Day three years ago. This was followed by three on my birthday, and some more on the countdown to our 22nd anniversary. So, even as I whine and complain about the cost (Silkstone Barbies are not regular, play line dolls and do cost a bit more), I find myself quite fascinated with them.

The truth is, despite my long history of angst with what I used to perceive as the “impossible perfection” Barbie endorses, I have made my peace with her. These days, I no longer see Barbie’s beauty and unlikely body proportions as a critical reflection of my deepest personal flaws. I don’t diss her choices to become a nurse, secretary, cheerleader or any of traditionally female gender work roles that stereotyped her for years; after all, she has made larger strides in gender equality in her 57 years. I don’t blame her for materialism, eating disorders, intellectual inferiority, promiscuity, or the sexualization of young girls. These problems are not Barbie’s doing; they come from a much deeper place than a doll or the ideal of the doll. Instead, I think of Barbie as a reflection of the changing times. She is not perfect but she knows how to adapt and survive. And while I would wish for her to temper her mind blowing expenses on fashion, I laud her for the zest and love of life she espouses, for the kind of giggly enthusiasm that is hard to match by jaded men and women of her years.

(Below are some of my dolls. Click the picture to view it on a larger scale.)

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barbie 07My silkstone dolls (well, some of them)

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barbie 04I love the doll and dress sets best!

barbie 05Lingerie Silkstones 1-6 
barbie 06My favorite Barbie and Ken set- Darya and Nicolai

I can only think of one more argument that trumps all of the above and it is this: all of my Barbies have been gifts. As such, I choose to focus on these acts of giving. For the first time in ages, I know what it feels to be a girly kind of girl, even just a teeny weeny bit. I doubt I’ll ever be one completely, knowing how most days, I’d give up a bath for a couple of hours of The Sims 4 or Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer. Some things never do change. But if there’s anything I learned from my experiences with Barbie these days, it is that Mattel might have had it right all along.

“Girls can do anything.”
“Be who you want to be.” 
“Be anything.” 

I am A♥’s best friend. I am a mother. I am a geek. I am a wife. I am a nerd. I am a gamer. I am a collector. I am an advocate. I am a girl.

And I like being all these.

I like being me.

Happy birthday, Barbie! Thank you for the inspiration.♥

HBD Barbie

Happiness is… Old School Love, Retro Games (xxii)

GB 02 I’ve had a Game Boy since it was first released in the eighties. I was fortunate to have an aunt who lived in Japan so the very first one I owned was sent in as a gift for my siblings and me. She then brought home a couple more (a second fat one and a pocket version) when she came back to visit with her kids. Somehow, I ended up with all of them, perhaps because of the five of us, I was the one most addicted to them.

In my adolescence, I met a young man who shared many of my interests and obsessions. Nintendo was one of them. And while he was not my “first love” as I was not his (we were just great friends in high school), it was our shared history that led us to rediscover one another as we transitioned into young adults. Almost 34 years of friendship later, 24 of those married to each other, he and I continue to hold many of the same passions in life, Nintendo still being one of them.

When it comes to handheld consoles, I’ve owned almost all iterations of the Game Boy line. I’ve gone from the original gray, monochromatic, fat Game Boy to the Pocket and Color versions, all gifts from my favorite gaming partner. I shared the GB Advance with my eldest son because we could only afford one then (and the son wanted it so much he bombarded the North Pole with daily letters to Santa). My husband later made up for this injustice (hehehe) by giving us individual GB Advance SPs- a blue one for our son and a pearly pink one for me. Despite the many Nintendo upgrades I’ve had since then, jumping from the GB platform to the DS systems, I still have a fully functional, sleek Game Boy Micro, also A♥’s gift, tucked away in my games box for safekeeping. Just because.GB 01

Last night, when he came home, my husband handed me a small bag. Since my birthday last week, he has been handing me gifts every day. The day before last, he gave me Hello Kitty bento tools and a Blythe doll. Before that, he gave me a light blue Gameboy Advance, more dolls, and the Sims4 gaming CD. I had made him promise not to go overboard with gifts this year because I already knew what I was getting for my birthday (a trip!). Alas, he’s still a little stubborn when it comes to this. (Not that I’m complaining.)

He looked at me expectantly as I opened the bag. Normally, I like to indulge his enthusiasm with some heartfelt squeals but I was a bit surprised when I saw what was inside. It was a fat Gameboy, one very much like the old one we still have in one of our bottom drawers. I looked at him funny, my smile turning upside down.

“Try it out, try it out,” he insisted. “Turn it on and see,” he egged.

And so I did. This is what I found:


This is an original 1989 Gameboy model DMG-01 modded with a screen that came from the Gameboy Advance SP AGS-101. (Insert squeals here.) My husband was right. As soon as Tetris came on, I could not put the Game Boy down!

“I still have my Tetris moves,” I bragged to my chuckling husband. Pretty soon, I was all praises for his ingenious gift. Now you know why my gaming partner is my best friend. He knows me really well. 🙂

This mod plays Game Boy and Game Boy Color games. (Hello Kitty Cube Frenzy, here I come!) While its insides are GBA, it does not play GB Advance games for two reasons; one, the visual window can not accommodate the entire screen and two, its port only allows the insertion of basic Nintendo cartridges. The contrast slider no longer works (there is no need for it) but everything else does. The speakers are amazingly crisp and clear, loud too. For me, however, the second coolest thing about it is that it no longer uses batteries. The genius who modded it, a young friend of my husband who goes by the name Hai Hai (thank you!), gutted the innards and replaced it with the SP’s motherboard and rechargeable battery.

For the first time in weeks, I was able to put down my 3DS last night to play something other than Story of Seasons. Lost in the game, I found myself humming to the Tetris theme all night. (That song- “Tetris Type A theme,” a mesmerizing version of the 19th century Russian folk tune Korobeiniki– how do I even get rid of Tetris LSS when it’s been playing in my mind for years?)

Once in a while, however, I paused my game and reached over the other side of our bed to give my gaming partner a kiss. It felt strangely comforting to share these moments with the best friend I grew up with, the very same person I shared so many other Game Boy moments with. And it felt absolutely right.

Old school love and retro games, what’s not to celebrate?

Kawaii: Not Just for the Young

kim 22You would think that an older adult would probably be one of the last persons alive to enjoy a Kawaii convention, but leave it up to THIS old person to actually LOVE it!

I was at the Kawaii in Manila 2 convention last Saturday, a first for me because I had only heard about this event last summer from friends. Months ago, my gaming friends and I had planned to go together that day. Nearer the date, however, scheduling became a problem for them and they could no longer attend the event. Lucky for me, I didn’t have to go alone because my husband generously volunteered to be my date! (Well, Nimes tagged along.)

So now you can imagine an old couple doing their best to fit in a crowd of beautiful young people, and although one would most likely snicker at the absurdity of this idea, it turns out that my husband and I felt quite at home among these young ones. Never mind that we were both dressed in uniform black in a sea of colors or that we were sporting unfashionable gray hair (him more than me, heehee), there was so much fun to be had in an event that promotes not only “cuteness” and beauty, but acceptance and positivity, as well.

We came in at exactly eleven, when the doors opened, and left almost two hours later. We would have stayed longer but we also had to do our parent chores for the day. We missed out on a lot of the fun stuff, like the workshops that came free with the purchase of a ticket, or the fashion show (I love those Himegyaru styles; alas, I am old!) , but we managed to get real life glimpses of what it meant to be “kawaii” in attitude and perception, which, in the end, is what really counts beyond fashion, fun, and fluff.

I have some pictures from the event, a mix of iPhone and Nikon J1 photos. These were taken early in the day, before the venue filled up considerably. I read in Kawaii in Manila’s community page that they were only expecting 500 people to come and were amazed that 1500 showed up to support the event. Makes you wish there was a Day 2, right? I hope you enjoy my photos. And maybe next year, you’d like to come along with me?

Attendees are met with these giant letters in front of Whitespace. Kawaii marks the spot!

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 Nimes is ready for some action and takes her place in center stage. 🙂

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She can’t seem to stop raising her hands in glee, heehee. 🙂

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Meanwhile, we go around for a look-see of the booths in the venue. Look at all the things one can see and buy! Cuteness of every kind!

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And those Totoro pouches are sooo adorable!

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More fun stuff to be had, all sorts of things to wear and don. 🙂

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These are not only delightful but earth-friendly too. I had my eye on the Potchi pouch. 🙂

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How about some sweets for your sweet?

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That’s me, rocking that Guy Fawkes mask! It’s my favorite photo of me from the convention. 🙂

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And me again, with my friend Ingrid of Provenance DesignsandCrafts. Right then, I regretted not being able to stay longer for the clay workshop. Ingrid has those magical crafty fingers that can transform those lumps of color into art!

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I also looked into Japanese language classes, uhm, not for me, but for my son. There’s a manga (comic) drawing + language course being offered by the Kudan Institute of Japanese Language and Culture. He might want to explore this avenue after college.  It’s a great way to see more of the world.

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There was also an Art Exhibit showcasing works by different artists. Below are just a few of those that caught my fancy. These are some very talented young people, I must say. 🙂 If you’d like to see the rest, there’s an online exhibit and directory you could access, courtesy of Kawaii in Manila.

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Nimes loved best this piece of art from words by Ms. Francesca Mae Acpal.

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There’s a faux cherry blossom tree right in front of the venue and it really is pretty. Nimes just had to have her picture taken under it.

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My best discovery of the day was finding a Wendy Weekender in one of the booths. I was told that she belongs to one of the organizers. Nimes wanted a photo with her, and the person minding the booth kindly obliged. However, we didn’t bother waking up Wendy anymore. She must have been pretty tired (along with her momma) after all the things they did to make the convention a success. I just wished I could have met her owner in person. I haven’t met too many Blythe owners and not young ones at that. 🙂

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This fabulous jeepney was parked right outside the venue hall. It was just screaming for a photograph!

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Before we left, I took one last photo of Nimes with the Kawaii PH standees. It was definitely a unique experience, one worth coming back for, in my opinion. While Kawaii in Manila was perfectly packaged to cater to the young, this middle-lifer enjoyed it as much as everyone else. Truth is, everyone needs sunshine in their lives, and Kawaii in Manila filled everyone who came with sunshine and joy, kawaii-style, of course.

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So will we see a Part Three next year? I’m crossing my fingers!  Here’s to next year, Kawaii in Manila!

Mayor at Work

One of the responsibilities Mayor Kittymama does for her community is to do the hard jobs no one else is up to. Sometimes, it can be taste-testing a banana nut muffin all by herself  (best job ever!) or sometimes, it can be entertaining the odd new visitor that comes over to their little town (with a banana nut muffin- second best job!). On regular days, however, her jobs are nothing remotely exciting as banana nut muffins or visitors, but as mayor, she knows she has a duty to her constituents that she needs to uphold.

Yesterday, it was a real-estate transaction that involved the buying of prefabricated buildings for Misty Forest. Good thing Ms. Nimes was onhand to carry the large boxes (Kittymama dragged her out of bed for the heavy lifting, hehehe).

Kittymama real estate

Nimes: Where do you want these, Mayor?

Kittymama: (panting) Give me a minute to catch my breath, will you, dear? I’m tired from all the hauling we just did!

Nimes: But you were sitting on top of boxes the whole time!

Kittymama: Well, it wasn’t easy sitting on top of boxes at all! They were hard on the tush, as you know. Teehee.

Nimes: (thinking) I know I shouldn’t have gotten out of bed this morning. *groan*

KIttymama winks2

Today, Kittymama and her secretary, Ms. Shizue, are in for a “fitness” test. But it’s not just an ordinary “fitness” test.

kittymama fitness 03

Kittymama: Hmm… Let’s see if this one fits.

Shizue: *giggles* Ahhh, this fitness test!

Kittymama fitness

Kittymama: Shizue, based on your analysis and computations, what is the official verdict of our “fitness” test?

Shizue: Mayor, these Nintendo pouches are suitable only for regular-sized Nintendo handheld consoles like the DS lite, the Dsi, or the 3DS. The xl’s are just too big and won’t fit.

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Kittymama: Any benefits to “spending” 500 coins for each of these pouches?

Shizue: Well, ma’am, these Nintendo pouches are made of durable nylon, they are not bulky like hard cases, and they do have a built in-pocket for a DS or 3DS game cart. Plus, they are cute!

Kittymama: Well, I’m sold on cute! Let’s make it official and make our endorsement to the public.

Shizue: Yes, Mayor. I’ll have the ad up and ready for your approval.

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Kittymama: As usual, you do fine work, Shizue! What would I ever do without you?

Shizue: Thank you, Mayor. I do my best. *melts into a puddle of fluffy yellow stuff*

Pika- Pika- Pick a Chu!

It’s no secret that I am a trying hard, desperate crafter-wannabe and that hasn’t changed at all in all these years. I think the desire to create, to embellish, and to bling has gotten even worse as my mind conjures more DIY possibilities for the things around me.

Take the case of my beloved Pikachu 3DS xl. It’s lovely as it is and terribly cute. And since this limited edition sold out on its release early this year, you’d see its price already horribly inflated in the market.  pikachu original

As such. the thought of “skinning” it gives me the heebie jeebies (okay, worse than that, actually). No one in his/her right mind would dare tamper with the original design for fear of ruining its value. And yet, my itchy fingers are nagging at me to do something.

Something to personalize it and yet won’t be irreversible in nature.

Hmmm… Something like this.

Can you recognize who they are?

Pika 01Meet Hello Pikachu and Dear Pikachu, Pikachu’s take on Sanrio’s most famous couple, Kitty and Daniel.

Of course, once you start on this path of craziness, it’s bound to get worse. *cackles maniacally* Some days, Pikachu just has an identity crisis on his hands, never knowing which superhero he wants to really be.

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And then there’s this, an homage to one of my favorite modern literary characters (I made this for my friend Laser), here’s a truly confounding sight. Confundo!

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Is this Harrychu or Pikatter?

Now,  should I being doing “Chu Chang” next?

Happiness is… (xviii) Sylvanianizing!

If you’ve been reading this blog for quite a bit now, then you know I can be quite obsessive. And when it comes to things I absolutely love, like Sylvanian Families, I do tend to get carried over a bit and turn everything I have into similarly themed items. I did the exact same thing ages ago with Hello Kitty, remember? Although I still do carry “Kitty-fied” things with me, these days, I much prefer to  “Sylvanianize.”

Sylvanianize [sil-vey-nee-uh-nīz]

  1. provide or complement with Sylvanian Families accessories
  2. design or produce something with a Sylvanian Families theme

When I think back to when it began, I suppose it would be the day I started playing around with the idea of personalizing my phone.  A♥ had given me a very expensive bumper case as an alternative to the Hello Kitty silicon cases I used but it just seemed too plain for me. I was toying with the idea of having a Sylvanian Families cover case professionally made but I kept holding back because of the expense. Adding a back cover to my bumper case (to replace the velvet cover it came with) seemed a whim at first but I grew to love the idea. I started with a Union Jack design and then made several more Sylvanian-themed back covers as  got increasingly adept at switching covers.

DIY phone unionjack copy

Another back cover, this one with my favorite “Jerry Maguire” line.DIY SF phone copy

The plugy is a DIY too, made from a Sylvanian Families gashapon figure, a hook screw, and a plugy attachment.

DIY plugy copy

I then moved on to notebooks, making stickers and notebook covers for them. Here is one I use for my Sylvanian Families inventory. It’s not pink, but it’s the shade of blue I really do love. 🙂

DIY SF notebook copy

Mugs became easy targets once I received one that I can personalize. After I finished with one, I immediately got a hankering to do more. Fortunately, there are plenty of them at stores, and at different price ranges too.

DIY SF mug copy

I hesitate to use the word ‘last” because I doubt if this will be the last of its DIY kind. I’ve been having a lot of fun with felt from my lens cap holder project that I have moved on to making them in Sylvanian designs as well.

Here’s a chocolate rabbit…DIY chocolate rabbitand here’s my first attempt at a charcoal cat. Not too shabby, right?DIY charcoal cat copy

I like DIY projects a bit too much to stop right away. I guess that Sylvanian bug has really bitten me hard. And what can I say? It really does make me happy. So, for now, I will continue to: Sylvanianize, Sylvanianize, Sylvanianize!