Taking Beautiful Photos of Children

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She just loves to dress up for the camera.

Since the dawn of throwbacks in social media I have earned repute for living in the past by peppering my Facebook wall with Timehop photos and a host of other do you remember whens? I can’t help it. I have a treasure chest and an online gallery of beautifully captured memories. Most of them are snapshots of unforgettable moments and milestones in my children’s lives.

I love taking photographs of my children, so much so it’s an obsession. And luckily enough, they, too, love the camera.

But, my kids have not always made it easy for me. Backtrack to the time they were just gaining independence by learning to walk, every photo session with them had been practically a testament of my patience. Forcing a two-year-old to follow my lead when all he wanted was to explore the world had resulted over and over in major meltdowns, often leaving me panicked and embarrassed before all and sundry. Fast-forward to the present, getting a fidgety five-year-old boy to sit quietly throughout a snoozy Sunday Mass or a wedding ceremony, even more so having him stand in one place long enough for me to find the perfect angle can still be quite harrowing.

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My then 4-year-old son at his aunt’s wedding.

Photographs of Children in Their Element are Always Beautiful

I have learned to roll with the punches. Years of experimenting with various tactics to get my son and daughter to say cheese in front of the camera have taught me a couple of things about taking pictures. Really good ones.

For one, a good photo doesn’t always have to be a beautiful portrait. Most of the time a child’s personality shines brightest on pictures that have been captured at the spur of the moment. That is the beauty of candid photography; it allows the photographer to capture his subject in their element, which always translates into visuals that speak a thousand words. Running after them, clicking away at their heels, and trying to sneak a shot or two of their facial expressions may yield many blurred images. Still, there will always be two or more photos among the roll of disappointing candid shots that are worthy of a place in my Instagram account.

Great Photography is a Matter of Good Perspective

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My daughter and her cousin at Nuvali.

It always takes a lot of creativity and thinking out of the box to capture the best of everything. I have had fun experimenting with different angles over the years and many of them have produced beautifully preserved memories of my children’s childhood.

I love watching my kids explore the world around them. So, shooting from a distance, a safe few meters away from where they play with the other kids allows me to see them bloom in their environment. Often times, I feel like an outsider looking in on someone else’s life, but I am thankful for that momentary space and detachment, giving me the freedom to click away to my heart’s content at the awesome scene before me.

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A glint of mischief. Photo credit: Aileene Mayuga

But, getting down to their level always gives me a better perspective of my little subject.

According to professional photographers, a good over-the-shoulder shot of a child immersed in a hobby provides a unique kind of story-telling. This sort of angling gives people access to a child’s world as he sees it. Admittedly, I don’t have very many photos of my kids taken at this angle. But, I always delight in watching them work or play from where I stand hovering quietly and contemplating sneaking a shot or two of their creativity.

An aerial shot of a child lying down or preoccupied with a hobby provides another cinematic third person point of view of their world. It feels pretty much like looking down on my loved ones from heaven. When the Daughter was a baby, I used to take pictures of her while I stood over the bed in my effort to capture those very fleeting seconds of pure love and joy.

But, beautiful pictures do not always have to be big or cinematic in appeal. The little things that people take pleasure in counts too. Zooming in on a minute detail that makes a part of a beautiful wholelike a little girl’s pouting lips, the wide glistening dark eyes of a baby, and a toddler’s pudgy little hand– can result in photographs that are both intimate and artistic.

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An over-the-shoulder shot of my young graphic artist at work.

Staying on Guard for Unguarded Moments

When I became a mother, life as I knew it was never to be the same. It turned me into an expert multi-tasker almost overnight and taught me to balance career with parenting responsibilities literally. This memory of me–a then sleep-deprived freelance online writer–using one hand to type a paragraph while the other held my attention-seeking one-year-old daughter on my lap will forever be etched in my mind and heart. I wish my husband had taken that picture, but then again, the most moving experience isn’t always captured on camera or witnessed by any other. Taking that thought with me through the years, I have made a point to be on the lookout for special moments, whether it be sad, happy, mad, or downright silly.

It has been my quest now for more than eight years, to document the important milestones in my children’s lives–the fleeting moments of happiness and sadness, the frowns and the laughs, the scratches and scars that constitute one’s childhood. As a mother so in-love with her children, I just cannot do without a camera. Still, it is nearly impossible to capture everything because there will always be instances in life that are just too meaningful to let go of for just a minute only to take a snapshot of it.

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Guests at my daughter’s 7th birthday party. Photo credit: Tel Pechon

 

 

 

Introducing: Elegant in Pastels

“Women are many things–strong, meek, complex, forthright, vain, mysterious, tragic, and self-contradicting. What better way to celebrate their beauty than to draw them in oil pastels, crayons, and pencils? The featured artworks in this blog are accompanied by famous quotes and not so familiar lines from movies, songs, celebrities and fashion icons.”

Source: Elegant in Pastels Defined

When my eight-year-old daughter told me that she wanted to grow up to be thin and beautiful like the model on the centerfold of the fashion magazine she had just shown me, I couldn’t help but balk at the thought.

The woman was pretty no doubt. But thin? Scrawny? Close to skeletal even? I was deeply concerned.

The Skinny of It All

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“Style”

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against being “skinny” per se. At least, not in any way personal. For a lot of people, it is their genetic makeup to be thin. I mean I’ve also had my fair share of struggles trying to gain weight when I was growing up. Besides, people just can’t help their metabolisms or rather how it’s programmed to work.

But even with that in mind, I am still not thrilled about my daughter looking up to ramp models and other fashionably skinny celebs as paragons of beauty. I could imagine the disappointment and heartache that she would later face in life, should she fail to live up to par with society’s standards, or worst, fall short of her own expectations. For years, women all over the world have suffered in the name of beauty.

Died for it even.

And, in vain.

Beauty is Diverse

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“It’s the Eyes”

Beauty cannot be and shouldn’t be confined in a box or restricted to a set of adjectives (tall, svelte, and fair-skinned). Over the years, media have successfully defined beauty as so that young girls today are dying with insecurity over poor self-image. You can imagine my panic as soon as my daughter expressed her desire to look like the model.

Unlike my daughter, I’ve had the privilege of growing up in a place where practically the whole world converged in one community. There, I saw beauty at its most diverse—race, color, shape and size. It was largely because of  my exposure to different nationalities and cultures, that I developed this appreciation for beauty of all kinds. I could only wish the same for my daughter–that one day she finally sees beauty for what it is beyond its packaging and grow to understand that being beautiful is not necessarily about looking fabulously thin in a tight-fitting dress.

Redefining Beauty Through Art

Beauty is diverse. And, diversity is most definitely beautiful.

So, how do you explain that to an eight-year-old?

That question got me starting on a project last year aimed at redefining beauty for my daughter. I took pencil to paper and created a series of portraits of women from different walks of life.

My efforts resulted into  Elegant in Pastels, a blog that celebrates not only beauty in its multi facets, but women empowerment as well through famous lines and immortal quotes.

The world is filled with all sorts of flawed, strange, and unique wonderful creations. Bits and pieces of imperfections, when put together, usually sum up to become this magnificent whole.

Diversity is what makes the world so beautiful.

Love Revisited

It’s Valentine’s Day. And, I’m feeling kind of sentimental about the father of my children—the person responsible for my angst and mood swings, the one who could break my heart over and over and mend it in an instant; the man who had been at the receiving end of my countless Facebook tirades over the years.

I hate him. I love him.

Sometimes I want to throttle him.

Oftentimes I just want to kiss him senseless.

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May love forever be young and new.

It’s interesting that the same person who could bring out the best in me could also incite the worst from me. But despite the complexity of our relationship; my ever-changing feelings; my discomfort over this occasion (for reasons which I’ve already explained in a previous post), I choose to honor him the best way I know via this blog post (whether he deserves it or not).

Backstory

Our story goes all the way back to the angst-ridden mid-nineties, when Eraserheads, Rivermaya and Siakol conquered the airwaves, and Teeth’s “Prinsesa” was the most requested love song on radio stations all over the country. We were college students from different campuses. He was a small town boy with big dreams. I was a balikbayan girl struggling to adjust to her new environment and her parents’ native language. There were no sparks, no fireworks in that first meeting. But it was definitely the start of a long winding journey of comic friendship and on-and-off-again courtship.

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Poles apart as North and South.

Together, we were an unlikely pair. Nevertheless, my strength was his weakness and my weakness was his strength. In that manner, we complemented each other—helped one another. He was always proud of me and sometimes bragged about me. In return I respected him for the man that he was then and could be.

From where we stood at that time, the future looked bright. And eventually, we went the way of all couples in long-term relationships:  down the wedding aisle to exchange vows of eternal love and lifelong commitment. But, of course life thereafter was never to be the same.

Looking back on those happier days, I just can’t help but wonder how we have come to be this today: Complex. Uncooperative. Always bickering.

Witnesses to our love story and friends privy to our problems would shake their heads and say, “I told you so.” Apparently, not everyone approved of the relationship. To some, we were bound to fail at the onset.

Whether they were right in saying so or not, our relationship have so far withstood the test of time and surpassed speculations at its worst.

“Love is blind. Marriage is an eye-opener.”

Now, when long-hidden idiosyncrasies begin to surface in a marriage, realizations as ominous as dark foreboding clouds usually start to seep in. Gradually you lose sight of the good things as you start to focus on the more serious negative aspects that have just made themselves known.Then, you begin to question:

Where was the loving sentimental man so afraid of losing me? And for that matter, where was the understanding, patient woman who only saw the best in her man?

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Well, nothing could be any truer than this definition of love that I came across one day at the Gallery of Love inside the Peranakan Museum on one of my Singapore visits. After being married for several years at the time of the visit, I just couldn’t agree more with its author (one of the hundreds and thousands of tourists that came to the museum year over year).

I came into the marriage with ideals molded from watching “Friends” and believed that no matter what, the Husband and I will work things out like Chandler and Monica. Apparently he was no Chandler, and neither was I anything close to being Monica.

The Husband’s refusal to play the part of the funny, witty and attentive spouse became my frustration. In the same manner, my failure to become the quiet, meek and understanding wife befitting any swaggering testosterone-packing leather jacket-clad action hero disappointed him. But, of course, that wasn’t the be-all of our troubles. Apparently there were issues—no, actually just one major flaw on his part–that still needed some fixing. At the start of the marriage, this problem has been nothing but a giant wedge in our relationship. But, then again that’s another story I wish to discuss at another time (when I’m ready) because it deserves a separate blog post all on its own.

Understanding His Language of Love

Though I can fault my husband for that one major flaw, I can certainly credit him for many great things.

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Secretly wishing that the Husband would do what besotted men would do for love.

First and foremost, he is by all standards the perfect father. He is a terrific caregiver who never fails to attend to our children’s need in times of illness. Usually there at the kids’ beck and call, he would rush to their aide without further ado. I envy him for his boundless energy and for his fast-thinking (always knowing what to do and when). I’ve always felt that I pale in comparison as a parent. But, who am I to complain? Any hardworking woman would hanker for a husband like mine who would gladly take half of the parenting responsibilities that have been bestowed upon her from the very moment she became a mother. And for that, I am proud of him.

But, romantic he is not. Often, I’d wish that my husband would do what other men would, since time immemorial, for their wives. But after nine years, I’d given up all hope for candle-lit dinners, out-of-town escapades for two, flowers and violins and other frivolities besotted men usually indulge the love of their lives. Instead, he’d do my laundry. He’d cook dinner when I’m bogged down with work (and I confess he is a way better chef than I could ever be). He’d make coffee and breakfast for the two of us, long before I could even open my eyes. He had always been my nursemaid when I’m weak; the doctor/nurse who administered my wounds post C-section. I just couldn’t ask for more.

Clearly, he and I speak different languages of love.  I love long walks in the park and meaningful conversations. He is quite content with a quiet night at home with the wife and the kids. Though he has little taste for frivolities and other trappings of romance, he would always hold my hand as we walk together in public—and proudly so–regardless of curious stares or glares from by-standers.

And that’s all I ask.

 

 

Why I Dread Valentine’s Day

It’s February 9th. Exactly five days to go before Valentine’s Day here in my side of the world.  And, I’m not at all enthusiastic about this oncoming event that lovers everywhere are hankering to commemorate (once a year), which is never complete without the pomp and glamour inspired only by commercialism.

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Valentine’s Day celebration is never complete without the pomp and glamor that is inspired by commercialism.

This year, I choose not to celebrate for reasons only a few folks can understand and happily marrieds will never seem to get.

The mere thought of going out to public places strewn with public displays of affection, flowers, balloons and what-not is sending cold shivers down my spine. And, social media is no better place as people will surely be littering their virtual walls with undying professions of love, proposals, and photos of precious blings their hunny-bunny gave them that day.

So, why do I dread Valentine’s Day so much these days? Let me count the ways.

We can’t afford it.

When times are hard, wining and dining your sweetheart at some fancy restaurant is just out of the question. So why jump into the bandwagon of splurging on luxury items when you can actually spend quality time with your loved one in quiet and simplicity?

Unfortunately, everywhere I go, I see ads screaming “buy me!” in bold white or glaring red italics:

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It’s disheartening to know that love and happiness can be bought, knowing that you have very little to spare for even a  bar of chocolate

Buy this to put a smile on his face.

Buy that to please her silly.

Book a room at Forever Bliss Hotel for a night to remember.

It’s just disheartening how everything like love and happiness can be bought like that for just one day, knowing that you have very little to spare for even a cheap bar of chocolate.  If I don’t give my husband a present, does that mean I love him less? If he doesn’t buy me flowers, should I be upset?

Once upon a time, Valentine’s Day was as a liturgical celebration of one of the earliest Christian saints.  But, since Chaucer’s time of courtly love, Valentine’s Day has evolved or devolved to what it is today–a tradition embedded in romantic love strongly defined by commercialism and made special by a culture of materialism.

Keeping up is stressful.

Celebrating love isn’t a competition on who is happier or which couple did it better. It shouldn’t be. But, sometimes it feels like one, especially on Valentine’s Day.

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Since Chaucer’s time of courtly love, Valentine’s Day has devolved to what it is today.

When life was a bit kinder and our marriage full of hope, I anticipated Valentine’s Day like a child looking forward to Christmas. I never got diamonds nor was I ever treated to a luxury cruise at the Caribbean.  A stem of red rose and a love letter were enough to make me teary-eyed with happiness, and I was just as contented with chocolate cake topped with a greeting that said “I love you” from the husband and the kids. Like everyone else in this day and age of social media, I took pictures of those simple gifts and posted them on Facebook and Instagram, alongside all other posts from friends that boasted of a vacation at some far-flung place or a lavish gift from their wealthy spouses. Nevertheless, I was happy.

Now, seeing these beautifully curated lives on social media juxtaposed with my less than desirable reality never fails to magnify that growing sense of pain inside me. It just makes me want to turn to the happier past rather than embrace change and move on.

Too Tired To Celebrate

Our marriage has been under a lot of stress in the past year and we have just pushed the restart button on our relationship. But, trying to rebuild our life together in the present isn’t enough to put us in celebratory mood for Valentine’s.

Most of the time, we feel tired and ornery from all the worrying about the future, especially with remnants of the past still weighing heavily on our conscience. We’re now gradually picking up the pieces of our shattered plans and dreams, and every shard is a reminder of how something so little can easily hurt a marriage.
All we want now is to shut society out from our private little world and not let its disapproving voice get in the way of our progress.

 

 

Top 6 Supermom Attributes to Emulate

Sometimes, just the thought of the long week ahead –work deadlines, the kids’ exams, never-ending house chores and a host of other things to do—can be daunting that I’m exhausted long before I could even lift a finger to start the day.

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S is for hope.

 

Multitasking is no easy feat and definitely not my strongest point.  At the end of the day, I am feeling more like a rundown old tire that has seen too many years of wear and abuse than looking like the quintessential got-it-together, always on-the-go supermom that I aspire to be. If I could, I’d fly over to school to pick up the children in a bolt of lightning and use telekinesis to accomplish household chores as I tap madly away on my laptop. Unfortunately, my mere mortal capabilities could only permit me to perform one task at a time.

With that said, I just can’t help but marvel at the other women who can juggle multiple roles with apparent ease—the ones with high-powered careers who are not only good at what they do but great at parenting too; the solo parents trying make ends meet with more than one job; and the stay-at-home moms (of let’s say eight kids) with energy that seem to exceed their patience.

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Getting fit is the Supermom’s secret weapon against life’s everyday challenges.

Supermoms all of them. But, how do they do it?

These women do not possess special powers like Supergirl can see through walls with X-ray vision or like Wonder Woman can confine any man of brute strength with her Lasso of Truth…obviously. But their qualities and best practices as supermoms might as well say that they do.

So, what sets them apart? What are their top secret superpowers?

Well, below are just some of the super strengths that make them supermoms in the first place.  Maybe us bumbling mommy sidekicks can learn a thing or two from these examples and take the cue from there.

 

Excellent Manager of Time

Every time we come across the word, supermom, we conjure this image of a multitasking maven who can whip up a scrumptious meal with one hand and type with the other  (while trying to appease an angry client over the phone). But, what the Supermom really is—is that she is disciplined. She is focused and is not easily deterred by circumstances or her surroundings. She keeps a timetable and delivers as expected. With her excellent time management skills, she never fails the people who depend on her.

Excellent Manager of Emotions  

If she can manage her time like she organizes her children’s closets with methodical care, the supermom can certainly handle her emotions. That doesn’t mean, however, that she is never affected by tribulations or rudely awakened by life’s unpleasant surprises. It is human after all to feel sadness, anger, or disappointment. But, while the rest of us are busy shaking an angry fist at God, venting on social media about how terribly we were wronged, or contemplating hurling ourselves off the cliff; the Supermom quietly moves on after maybe crying a little bit over spilled milk or holing herself up in mourning. No matter how tough the going gets, she has this ability to snap out of her affliction and move on.

Get-Up-And-Go Attitude

But let’s face it; the mom who is most active is usually the most accomplished. Her optimism and can-do attitude in the face of challenges keeps her on her toes at all times. Though it’s true that good time management always helps in getting things done on schedule, it is always drive and motivation that often see a hardworking woman through the most harrowing of days.

Fueled by Exercise

Spinach is to Popeye as exercise is to any go-getting supermom. Getting fit is like her secret weapon against the battalion of work that she faces every day.  She knows that exercise does not only boost her energy, but improves her mood as well. A healthy state of mind is just as important as physical durability to withstand or surpass life’s challenges.

Woman of Independence

 A genuinely strong woman is never in need of support from a partner (though he or she may offer it), affirmations of friends, or approval of society. When she is down to nothing, she can rebuild anything from scratch—skill and creativity combined. Independence is what sets the Supermom apart from the damsel in distress.

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The Supermom is a mother first and foremost. Her decisions in life are made in consideration of the people that matters to her most.

Motivated by Love

The Supermom is a mother first and foremost, and her decisions in life are made in consideration of the people that matters to her most:  her children. No matter what her goals are—whether it’s to provide for her family by climbing the corporate ladder to the highest peak or to set a good example to her children as a do-gooder in the community, the Supermom is motivated by love rather than vaulting ambition.

Dealing with the Writing Itch

Writer’s block is a bitch. But, inspiration when it catches you off guard–funnily enough with your pants down to your ankles and just as you’ve seated yourself quite comfortably for your morning toilet ritual–can put you through quite a hell of a time.

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It’s been a crazy long week. My creativity is on overdrive. Words play over and over in my head like a last song syndrome whether I am trying to whip up a mean lunch, reviewing my son for his every Friday quiz, or worse, in the middle of work with a deadline hanging over my head like a time bomb about ready to explode (and I’m not even halfway through the task). If anything, my personal blogging (passion) has been a distraction of late.

That bad!

Work is work. I cannot risk compromising my good reputation with the boss/client over a hobby. I cannot afford to lose my day job.  Not today!

Oh, I’ve been bad.

But, I cannot help the outpouring of words, the sudden surge of ideas–all that after a year of drought. The opportunity is just too great to pass up. It’s not every day that I have my muse smiling down at me and literally guiding me by the hand. Besides, if I try to control the urge, the itch gets worse. So with that in mind, I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to sneak in a couple of sentences on my electronic notepad in between work. I will just have to keep in my mind what needs to be prioritized.  Otherwise, write where it itches.

Here’s hoping that I still get to keep my job.

(Fingers crossed).

 

A Children’s Book About Gossiping

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We grownups know that bullying is not just your typical big-brawny-boy-beats-up-tiny-scrawny-new-kid story that abound in playgrounds the world over and can be a lot more severe than schoolyard name callings, as intimidation comes in all sorts of subtle forms.  If boys are prone to aggression, girls are just as predisposed to acts of meanness.

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Ignoring, singling out, backstabbing, and rumor-mongering—name it; the list can go on forever.  These nasty behaviors from young girls can inflict damage to another child’s emotional and psychological well being as much as hitting and kicking can harm that child physically.

One of my greatest fears as a parent, of course, is to find my children at the receiving end of aggression. But, what would be more heartbreaking is to discover that they have somehow become purveyors of hostility.

About two years ago, I bought my daughter this secondhand book I happened to stumble upon at a local book sale. It was no ordinary children’s book. It was a book about gossiping. Now, how cool is that?

But, no. The book did not teach kids the art of tale-telling, rather it preached against it.

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We still have this book, and I would, from time-to-time, read the story to my children before bedtime to remind them of how everything we do can (negatively) affect others.

So, What’s In The Book?

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“A Children’s Book About Gossiping” by Joy Berry uses different scenarios to describe how gossiping can hurt its subject and negatively affect the tattler’s reputation.  What I love about this book is that it also gives examples of how a child can avoid being party to damaging talks about other people.

 

This is by far the coolest story for kids that I have ever laid my eyes on.  If you want to teach your kids the basics of anti-bullying, this is the book to read…unless there’s a more updated story somewhere out there. The copyright of “A Children’s Book About Gossiping” dates back to 1988. Because of the story’s timeless theme and feel, I recommend this book to adults and kids alike a thousand times over.

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Maybe we can relearn a thing or two from the story about the ill effects of gossiping.