Swimming with Whale Sharks in Oslob, Cebu

We just got back from our family trip to the Philippines! We’ve visited family in The Philippines and Australia every year since our honeymoon. It’s always a fantastic time: we visit, catch up with Mark’s (big!!) extended family, and have exciting adventures.

Mark’s extended family on his paternal side, Australia 2017

This year my favorite day was the one we spent whale watching and canyoneering in Cebu. Though our family lives in Quezon City (right outside of Manila) we always take an additional trip away from the traffic and pollution of the Philippines’ largest city to have some adventures. Previous years were in boracay, puerto princessa, Palawan, Coron, Palawan, Hong Kong, and the Great Barrier Reef. This year we went to Cebu.

Sunrise from the balcony of our hotel

Cebu is consistently ranked amongst the best islands in the world, according to Condé Nast. It’s known for incredible diving, white sand beaches, Spanish and Roman Catholic influences, and its lechon.

Island hopping from our first day in Cebu

We started out the day swimming with whale sharks in Oslob. Whale sharks, known in Cebu as butanding, are the largest known extant (still living) fish species. The measure in at 18 meters and weigh more than 34 tons. When the guides mentioned they were the biggest fish, I was confused, because I didn’t realize a shark was a fish, unlike whales or dolphins. …I guess elementary school was a long time ago…🤦‍♀️
A decade or so ago, a fisherman came across a whale shark in this particular area and fed him some prawns (shrimp, for my American friends). He continued to see this whale shark and fed him, and the word got out amongst the whale sharks. This makes sense because in general, whale sharks make ocean-wide migrations but also congregate in areas of high food density.

Mark’s cousin Angel

Fast forward to today: each morning there is a large team of whale sharks in this area. In the center, there is a man on a boat feeding them. Around, there are boats hooked up to a line system with the engines up, careful not to hurt the fish, and a whole lot of travelers with snorkels on.
The whale sharks were enormous! It reminded me of seeing a full size shark display like they have at natural science museums—but they were alive and right there! It was unbelievable how big they were and thrilling being near them.

I obviously had no idea what to do with my body when he was taking these pictured

One of the rules of viewing the whale sharks is that you must keep a distance of 5 meters between you and them at any given time. I noticed at one point I was too close to one, so I turned in the other direction to swim further, only to find another one just as close! I was surrounded! 

This was later on with two different whale sharks. I still didn’t know what to do with my body.

It really frightened me! What I didn’t realize is that whale sharks are filter feeding. This means that they eat by straining food particles and suspended matter from the water with a specialized filtering structure. In other words, their diets consist of things that are far smaller than you and I.
Filter feeding animals like whale sharks, krill, clams, sponges, Baleen whales flamingos, some ducks and many fish are help to clarify water and benefit our ecosystem. That means these creatures aren’t just another pretty face: they’re helping our environment. This contributes to the disappointment in learning that whale sharks are indeed an endangered species.
Another rule was that those swimming with the sharks were not allowed to have on any sunscreen, lotions, or scented beauty products prior to getting into the water with them. Those who did were told to rinse off in available showers prior to getting onto their boats. I knew this ahead of time so I had on a long sleeved rash guard and thin yoga pants to protect my pale skin, ha!
My only regret is that I didn’t remove my life vest so that I’d have better control of my swimming and would have gotten a better picture.

My friend Bryan got a few good shots with the sharks

If you’re not a fan of snorkeling or swimming in open water, no worries! You can still watch the whale sharks from the comfort of the boat. These boats were far smaller than we expected, generally the boats we take in the Philippines look more like these paraws:
We thought Mark and I would be able to take turns, one of us caring for Elvis while the other swam along with the fish. Unfortunately the boat was closer to a canoe with outriggers (or katig) on each side. But! Mark was able to see the fish up close still as the came up frequently to the top of the water. Elvis was quickly lulled to sleep by the rocking of the boat.

Swimming with the whale sharks was amazing, but it wasn’t even my favorite part of the trip! Next post I’ll talk about canyoneering, and how our family needed to be rescued after jumping off a cliff!

A Story About Our Colorful Mid Century Modern Inspired Woodland Nursery

Around this time last year, I shared my pregnancy announcement. I showed y’all my babymoon in Paris portrait session, but aside from that, it was radio silence over here about anything baby. But yes, we welcomed a beautiful baby boy in the summer.

Birth announcement foil balloon zero days old

As you know, we moved to our new house recently. What you may NOT know is that we moved in exactly three weeks before I gave birth.

My pregnancy was less than ideal, and at one point I was put on bed rest. So when we moved in, I wasn’t able (nor did I have enough energy) to get started on my projects! It was looking like the baby would come into the world without a space to call his own.

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Painting Class in Fairfield County with David Dunlop

One of the hardest things about returning to blogging is that I have SO many pictures, reference notes, and experiences to share that I don’t know what to pick!

I decided to install a random picker app, put a few ideas on there, and let it help. I use Tiny Decisions.

Random selection app

There’s no affiliation, but the name did help me decide which app to download 😉

Today I’m going to talk about one of the painting classes I took last winter.

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Introducing: Home Number Three

If you’ve been reading for a while, you may know that my little family is now living in house number three. The first was a little mid-century ranch in the the Westbury subdivision of Houston, Texas. It was a foreclosure and we did quite a bit of renovations prior to moving in. We lived there for a little over three years, decided we were moving to Connecticut, then I shared a before and after of our first home.

Next up, we owned a little Cape Cod style home. It was smaller than our previous home, but newly gutted with brand new just about everything–pipes, electric, windows, drywall. Brand new. It was small and on a small lot, but it had a really lovely view of a pond directly behind it, and I’d hop in my kayak in my backyard and row around a bit sometimes. We also had the pleasure of seeing a lot of wildlife in our backyard. It was lovely, but then came time to move, again. So, I shared a before and after of our second home and a subsequent post about maximalist decor in a small space.

Now that I’m back to blogging, I’ll introduce you to home number three.

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Living Small with a Maximalist Mid Mod Eclectic Living Room

Prior to yesterday, the last time I wrote was when I had only a few days left before we moved into our new house. I shared with you a home tour of our first Connecticut house, though it was staged in those photographs for selling. As promised, here are some pictures of what our communal space looked like as we lived in it.

Maximalist Mid Century Modern Decor in a Small Space

Upon entering our previous home, there was a mud room just big enough for a small closet. On the other side of that door, you were first greeted by these stairs.

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I wallpapered the stair risers with this gorgeous metallic wallpaper from Jonathan Adler. The paper was a real splurge, but I still have enough to do a decent size project again and it was, in my opinion, the biggest “wow” feature I could have in a small space.

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They’ve since discontinued this wallpaper from Jonathan Adler, as well as most of the others that were produced by his brand.

On the wall going up the stairs was my collection of photographs from our travels and some of the more exciting experiences we’ve had that were on or off the bucket list. I called this wall my “gallery of adventures.” With it being up the stairs, it was very hard to shoot, but here’s a glance.

Almost all of the frames were thrifted, and if they weren’t already a shade of bronze or gold, I sprayed them with Rustoleum Metallic.

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The pink French door led to the mudroom. I painted it myself. It was white, along with everything else, when we moved in. Check out New House Project Plans to see the beginnings of this space. It was a real blank canvas.

Those footstools were from Homegoods. I thought they were totally unnecessary when I bought them, but I couldn’t resist the fact that they were the perfect colors to go with the rug.

I ended up putting them near the entrance so that we could sit and remove our winter boots somewhere other than the stairs. We did this, but far more frequently we’d move them over to the coffee table as additional seating for board and card games.

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Both of the wingback chairs were thrifted for $25 each, but a few years apart. One day I’ll at least reupholster that mauve-y one. The black and white striped pillows were a couple of my first sewing machine projects. The fabric is from Ikea.

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When we moved in to this home, one of the first things I did was remove the bamboo blinds and add sheer curtains. It allowed for just enough privacy but made for a lot of natural light that ultimately helped the small space feel larger.

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Here’s a wider shot of the living room. In it you can see the weaving that I created with a hula hoop. Going through these pictures is making me so nostalgic!

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For every meal (or any other activity), I sat on the right, facing the water. I really loved the view of the pond and that we could see it from so many angles of the little house.

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We added these shelves out of necessity–there wasn’t much cabinet space in that kitchen at all! They were simple shelves from IKEA with traditional white brackets from the hardware store for support, painted gold. eclectic mid century modern living room-19

There originally wasn’t a light fixture above the dining table at all, so when I had this one from West Elm installed with stained glass lightbulbs, it made a big impact.

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And in the center of it all was our not-once-used fireplace and the definitely used TV that came with the house. We hadn’t had a TV for a few years prior and we left it when we sold…but I admit, we bought another TV 🙃

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And that’s all she wrote! This space, and the projects that I created within it seem like ancient history now, but there may be times I want to reference it or I may decide to finally share half-written step-by-step tutorials for some of these projects.

Self Care

My youngest son is over seven months old! There’s so much that I haven’t shared. There was a time when I felt really free to be open, frank, and vulnerable when blogging. Then I let the anxiety that I experienced upon moving get to me. I let social media get to me. I underestimated the identity crisis I would have once I was separated from what was always home.

I got out of the habit of blogging because I started getting paid work to blog for someone else’s business. I was journaling every morning a la The Artist’s Way in a paper journal. I was sharing my photographs, creative pursuits, and travel through social media. It felt like I was sharing enough, even if it was on someone else’s platform. The paper journaling has served me well; I’m able to gather my thoughts without fear of judgement, organize my future, and look back on my past.

But what blogging does for me is a little different. While I can have a train-of-thought writing experience in private on paper, blogging organizes those thoughts. I’m then able to share those thoughts with others, with the potential to add some value, be it small, to their lives.

I hate how much time I’ve spent doubting myself, talking down to myself and waiting for peer approval to give myself the freedom to share. Every year, I talk about sharing more. It was my goal in 2018, and I fell short.

I’m seven months in to being a mom of two. I wholly underestimated how having two children would knock me off my feet after being a mother for a decade. I really did. As only children, both of my boys would be a breeze. But that’s not the case.

In the chaos of taking care of my children, my marriage, my home, my dog (honestly, he’s mostly forgotten) I have had the hardest time taking care of myself in a way that doesn’t ask too much of my husband, who is having his own hard time with self care. Sometimes self care still feels like work. Exercise feels good, but I need to do it because I need to get healthy. Cleaning feels good but I need to do it or my mental health will suffer. Getting out and meeting with other moms feels awesome, but I need to do it for my infant’s social development. Taking care of myself starts to feel like another obligation, another task to take care of.

Maybe what I really need is to come back to this space, right here. To organize my thoughts. To share. To use my itty bitty platform to shout out into the abyss, “THIS!” to wait, and listen, for over the pond, across the mountains, to hear s little voice in the distance say, “SAME!” Or to say, “I MADE THIS!” To pause, only to hear back: “I think I can, too!”

I’m resolving to make the time to share. To stop feeling like I haven’t “earned” writing on my personal blog because I “should” be doing more freelance work, or cleaning, or taking care of everyone else first. This is the one space that is completely mine, and I do it for me.

In other words: Hi, I’m back. I have so much to share.

Tour Our Second Home, On the Market Before and After

I loved this house well and I had so much fun making it ours, adding my personal style everywhere. The following pictures don’t fully reflect my personal style, because these were the listing photos for the house just prior to us buying it (sight unseen!) and after my friend Ky and I pulled up our bootstraps and prepared the house for showings.

If you haven’t sold a home before, you probably don’t know: you don’t just take pictures of how you’re living in it. You’re going to want to do quite a few things before you put it up.

Prepping a House for the Market

  1. Take down personal items. Photography especially–you want the potential buyer to picture themselves there, not you.
  2. Remove all clutter. Your kitchen counters should be devoid of appliances, your fireplace mantle shouldn’t have any tchochkes.
  3. Take a LOT of furniture out. Open up the space as much as you can.
  4. Take the books out of the shelves and style them instead. Creating space even on your furniture opens up the room to the eye. It’s like magic.
  5. The more you move out of site, the better. Use the garage or the basement, if you have one, to put these items away. If not, rent a short-term storage unit.

As mentioned in our moving announcement, our house sold in three days! We had an offer and a back up offer quicker than we could have imagined.

The Home Tour, Before and After

These are photos that we had listed online of our house when it was on the market in 2015 when we bought it, and months ago when we listed it.

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