What to do on a rainy Seattle day: Go antiquing

In America, Boxing Day is better known as the After-Christmas Sale Day. Instead of duking it out at the mall, however, we ended up spending the afternoon sifting through Antiques at Pike Place, a veritable treasure trove of vintage finds in Seattle. One day after Christmas, we were daydreaming about next year's tree, which we'd love to fill with kitschy vintage baubles. This store had plenty of it—we're talking everything from little Beatles-emblazoned jukeboxes to Battlestar Gallactica-themed ornaments to slice-of-Americana cowboy boots. There were also plenty of things we would love to find sitting under the tree on Christmas morning: cool vintage hard shell luggage, trippy old school blenders fit for Megan Draper's pad, and a beautiful lit globe from the 1930s. Here's hoping that if we're very, very good in 2015, maybe Santa will fill our home with these gorgeous finds come next Christmas!

Pasko in America

Happy Christmas Day everyone! Have you gotten over your eggnog hangover yet? We've just had our late brunch of eggs, bacon and mimosas to recover from an evening with copious amounts of lechon, silly gifts, laughter and wine. Everything feels right with the world.

Filipinos always feel a bit of longing during the holidays, missing our over-the-top Motherland that takes Christmas to whole other levels. But eventually we find ways to make our adopted homes just that—home. Whether its digging into a Kamayan Christmas feast with the New York barkada or erupting in hysterics over silly White Elephant gifts with my family in Seattle, we've found our own version of Pasko in America. It turns out, home really is where the heart is.

Wishing you all the happiest holidays, wherever your home may be!

Parting Shots of Bergdorf Goodman's Holiday Windows

We can't go through the holiday seasons without talking about Bergdorf Goodman's holiday windows, now can we? As much as I try to avoid the Fifth Avenue madness during the holiday seasons, I can't stay away from those beautiful windows. This year's theme is a celebration of the arts and I definitely walked away feeling inspired. I took some shots of my favorites below, which celebrate music, architecture and painting. For the full details on how these windows were conceptualized and crafted, and to see the full range of beautiful windows, visit the Bergdorf Goodman blog here.

Wishing you all a beautiful and inspired holiday season! 

Hiking the Hook

For someone who grew up with a grand total of two seasons (summer and monsoon), autumn is an absolute treat. Seeing the leaves turn just doesn't get old, and one of the best ways I've found to enjoy it is to go on a nice hike. I'm still very much a sneaker-level hiker though so I rely on my friends to steer me towards beautiful foliage. Last weekend, my friend Emily led us to a gem of a hike that winds through Hook Mountain and Nyack State Beach Park.

The 6-mile hike starts out on a flat and curving path hugged by the Hudson River on one side and Hook Mountain's sheer cliffs on the other. Thicker layers and wind protection are recommended for this part of the hike, which can be quite windy. This is a also nice and scenic path for runners and bikers, and we passed a number of them as we went on our way.

After about 1.5 miles, the path forked. We took the lefthand path marked Rockland Lake and continued on the tree-shaded route, past the old stone building and a sign about the Knickerbocker Ice Company. From there, we followed the green-blazed hiking path. 

The unpaved path took us through the woods and some rocky switchbacks where we glimpsed the Hudson River through the trees until we broke through to the summit, where stunning views of cliffs, foliage and the river were plentiful. As we hiked from one part of the mountaintop to another, vistas switched from the Hudson River to a peek at Rockland Lake.

We descended through a path shaded with tall trees and dotted with large boulders. I loved this part of the hike where the trees were still lush and the leaves were starting to turn.

At the tail end of the hike, we switched over to the white-blazed path and emerged at the foot of the mountain in the quiet suburbs. As we walked back towards Nyack Beach State Park, we got a nice look at the mountain we had scaled.

And because this is the hike that doesn't seem to stop giving, we ended with a stroll through a sandy beach fringed will fall foliage before circling back to our car. It was one of those routes that felt like 4 different hikes wrapped up into one. So lovely!

Afterwards, we rewarded ourselves with a hearty lunch/supper at Prohibition River on Nyack's Main Street. We tried a plate of the house-made Pickled Pickings, which that day was interesting and tasty selection of Swiss chard, cauliflower and asparagus. I tucked into the delicious burger and pint of pumpkin beer that I had been envisioning for about 30% of the hike, and yes, both lived up to my expectations. Emily had a hearty bowl of sweet potato curry over sticky rice, which she found quite satisfying. For dessert, we shared the apple pie spring rolls. The name of the dish gave everyone pause but it was delicious ... like an haute version of McDonald's apple pie (a compliment, I swear!).

We've got just a few more weeks left to take in the fall foliage (and enjoy pumpkin beer), so go out and get as much of it as possible before the season ends!

East Village Halloween Dog Parade

I can't seem to outgrow Halloween (nor do I really want to). From the first time my parents dressed my kiddie self as 80s-era Madonna to my years of Halloween galavanting here in New York, it has been one of my favorite annual events. With work and grad school corralling me in for the past year, however, I've had to tamp down on my partying. Thankfully, my friend Kathryn introduced me to a way of enjoying this yearly occurrence that doesn't result in a hangover: the Tompkins Square Park Halloween Dog Parade. It's pretty self-explanatory so I won't bore you with more words and just show you my favorite shots from the 2013 and 2014 parades. Trick or treat!

Autumn in New York State

Fall in New York State can be such a magical time. From the punishing summer heat, temperatures simmer down to just the right level where the air is pleasantly fresh and crisp, and you can run around all day with a wisp of a sweater and never break a sweat. On one such gorgeous weekend, we escaped to the North Fork to enjoy New York in all its autumn glory.

We stayed over the weekend but if you only have a day, I recommend starting with a lovely brunch at the dollhouse-like Jedediah Hawkins Inn. Built in 1863 and painstakingly restored to its present charming state, the property includes a boutique hotel, a top-notch restaurant, and even a speakeasy. It would have been nice to have brunch in their pretty garden but there was an event when we arrived so we had to be content with dining inside, which was not a terrible compromise. We agreed that the dining area was reminiscent of the second floor of Ladurée on Champs-Élysées—elegant, a shade old-fashioned but somehow cozy at the same time. I couldn't resist indulging in the amaretto french toast, served with fresh whipped cream and baked in-season apples. So delightful!

The North Fork is known for its many wineries (see my extensive rundown over at Discoverue), but since I had a European on driving duty, we decided to limit our boozing to just one spot. We chose Shinn Estate Vineyards and had a nice time sitting outdoors and trying their different reds. My favorite was the reasonably priced and playfully named Wild Boar Doe (get it??). I've been to the North Fork at other times of the year but I have to say, it's at its most gorgeous in the fall when the vines are lush and grapes ripe for the picking.

For all my planning, the most memorable part of our weekend ended up being at a farm that we just happened to pass on the road: Bay View Farm Market. They have a large open air market with stacks of colorful produce and the scent of freshly grilled corn emanating from the back. I've stopped here before to walk through strawberry fields. This time, it was the stunning fields of blooming sunflowers that drew us. That sight alone was worth the trip.

Autumn in New York is a beautiful but all-too-fleeting time. If you haven't done so yet, get out there and enjoy New York at its loveliest!

He for She

I've spent the entire weekend immersed in feminist literature, digging into how masculinities and femininities influence influence war and conflict, as part of my graduate school work. Admittedly, I used to have a bit of a negative connotation of feminism, feeling defensive about fighting for women's rights in the midst of all the suffering in the world. It wasn't until I dug into the theory behind feminism that I understood its full breadth. My professor Dr. Sylvia Maier explained it best by saying that gender studies is about emancipation of men and women alike. It is not a divisive issue because we are all affected by it and this very basic inequality is where so many other types of inequality feed off. Another person who just beautifully explained it is Emma Watson, who launched the He for She campaign today at the United Nations as the UN Women Goodwill Ambassador. I encourage you to watch it and hope that you'll participate in the He for She campaign. For more information, visit www.heforshe.org.

North River Lobster Company

Summer is supposedly over but you wouldn't know it from the still rising temperatures here in New York. I'm not complaining—I'd like to hold on to summer as long as possible! If, like me, you're intent on enjoying every last bit of the remaining warm weather in the city, here's a fun activity to try: hop on the North River Lobster Company boat for seafood, sun and sailing on the Hudson River.

We feasted on oysters, black tiger shrimps, Maine lobster, Mahi-Mahi fish tacos and shrimp po' boys as the boat sailed on the Hudson. There was no shortage of lovely New York views as we lunched and boozed. I would recommend getting there as early as possible if you'd like to dine outside, as the outdoor seating was full by 12:30pm on a Sunday. Also, if you have the tendency to get seasick, I would advise you to pop a pill as this is very much a moving restaurant. But if you love seafood and being "out at sea", an afternoon on the North River Lobster Company boat is a fun and unique use of what remains of this summer.

North River Lobster Company docks at Pier 81 near West 41st Street and 12th Avenue, New York, NY.

The Summer of Jeff Koons

In New York this summer, the highly popular and controversial artist Jeff Koons is holding court.

In the middle of Rockefeller Center, his monumental piece, Split-Rocker, stands in bloom. I found it quirky yet arresting when I first saw it, a gargantuan topiary depicting slices of a rocking horse head and a dinosaur fused into one. As with other Koons sculptures I've seen, I was entertained and impressed, albeit slightly unsettled, by this piece—but I didn't ponder it further until after I viewed Jeff Koons: A Retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art.

As I walked through four floors filled with Koons' body of work, I began to grasp his fascination with duality and juxtaposition. The first pieces displayed were from his 2013 Gazing Ball series, with two sculptures inspired by classical antiquity and another by classic Americana. The choice of contrasting subjects was the first juxtaposition; the choice of material, chalky 19th century-favorite plaster and the shiny metallic gazing balls of Koons' childhood, was the second.

From there, it was a flashback to the beginning of Koons' career in the late 1970s. In the Inflatables series, I could see the beginnings of what would become his most famous pieces. Koons says he was drawn to these inflatable objects because of the similarity between them and us humans, in that both share a similarly optimistic spirit and that breaths of air keep both alive.

In The New series, the glass-encased vacuum cleaners, relics from the 1980s, were at first confounding then quite entertaining. Imagine that: appliances created for the purpose of sucking up dust, kept dust-free forever! The Equilibrium series held my attention less because of the underlying meaning and more because it demonstrated Koons' fastidiousness at finding a way to keep the basketballs fixed in place inside a water tank (a mixture of fresh and saltwater supposedly did the trick).

Next, on the third floor: Statuaries, in which Koons features stainless silver casts of classical figures and kitschy tchotchkes: Louis XIV next to Bob Hope, a classical Italian woman's bust against a mermaid troll. In the middle of it all, there's Koons' famous piece The Rabbit, a stainless silver cast of the inflatable toy from his earlier work. This sculpture is fascinating for the level of detail put into making a heavy and solid material believably portray a light and airy object. Another interesting juxtaposition in this series: the conscious choice to use a material typically used for cheap everyday things to create costly art.

Banality was a series designed, according to the artist, to free us from our embarassment of the kitschy relics of our childhood. In the middle of a row of life-size tchotchkes was another of Koons' most popular pieces: Michael Jackson and Bubbles. With its porcelain tones and Pieta-inspired pose, Koons meant to convey the sacrifice of self and identity that the late pop star had to go through to be accepted by the public. Another piece that caught my eye was Amore, which combined two of my favorite childhood toys: a teddy bear and Cabbage Patch Kid, arms outstretched in an unsettling plea for love.

The next part of the exhibition, Made in Heaven, is not for the prudish. Here, we are thrown into the lusty maelstrom of Koons' first marriage to an Italian porn star (later turned politician, interestingly enough). While I mostly ignored the explicit floor-to-ceiling paintings of the couple, I did like the contrast between the self-love oozing out of Self-Portrait and the couple's rapt absorption with each other in Bourgeois Bust

After that, I was rewarded with a happy and colorful little Jeff Koons Elephant, a welcome visual treat. Again, it's fun to see how heavy stainless steel was made to look believably like a foil balloon. You'll note from the background of this photo that there were also paintings in the exhibition (though clearly from my images, I was far more smitten with the sculptures). This is a glimpse of his Easy Fun-Ethereal series, which started out as collages which were then handpainted with oils on canvas. Here we get a glimpse of the surrealist painter that Koons started out as in his student years. 

It was the perfect segue to the next floor, which contained some of Koons' most exuberant work, the Celebration series. Here you could see Koons' iconic Balloon Dog, the colorful and collosal Play-Doh, and the $23 million Hanging Heart. Play-Doh took 20 years to complete, entailing painstaking effort to make hunks of metal look like pliant clay. The curator's commentary on the guide gave an added dimension to the piece, explaining that what makes this sculpture interesting is that it appears abstract but is in fact incredibly realistic because of how truthful it is to the original subject, fistfuls of Play-Doh piled up by Koons' son.

The next series was titled Popeye – ... a bit confusing as Koons' Popeye ended up being displayed on the outside terrace and not with the rest of the pieces. I quite liked the formidable granite Popeye, detailed down to the anchor tattoo on his bulging bicep, with flowers growing out of his spinach can. The use of fresh flowers with sculptures is, again, a juxtaposition of the ephemeral and the permanent. Also in this series were deceptively simple-looking sculptures of inflatable walruses impaled on trash cans and plastic chairs. While they weren't my favorite, I marveled at how realistic the toys looked (considering the real thing would've been instantly deflated by the objects they were displayed with). Also: that Hulk Organ is actually a functioning organ!

My favorite part of the exhibition was Antiquity, some of Koons' most recent work, which takes figures from the Paleolithic, Greek and Roman periods and fashions them into the metallic sculptures that have now become the artist's mark. Balloon Venus is styled after the prehistoric Venus figures but is made with careful attention to detail to also look like a real balloon sculpture. In Metallic Venus and Pluto and Proserpina, the contrast is now between the rigidity of the metal used and the fluidity of the sculptures' appearance. Flowers are again used, evoking transcience but also giving that funny feeling that we're looking at what must be the world's most expensive planters. Pluto and Proserpina is my favorite Koons piece to date, catching my fancy with the detail and movement captured by a sculpture, much like Giambologna's Rape of the Sabine Women, which captivated me when I first laid eyes on the sculpture in Firenze's Loggia dei Lanzi.

A lot has been said, both effusive and scathing, about Jeff Koons—but there's no denying that he creates stunning art, made with an effort to reach out to everyone and to make art a relatable, rather than intimidating, experience. Whether you are an art enthusiast or simply just enjoy seeing cool things, Jeff Koons' retrospective is worth a visit.