Can’t be just a glitch …

I just discovered that since we, or more accurately, my sister, last posted in July (“Condo hunting”), this blog has acquired 600 new followers! Yahooooo! I’m seriously loving all 682 of you right now!!! (So much so that I am sending each one of you big, big hugs!  OOOOOOOO x 682) And I can’t believe y’all are also loving us! But that must be it, mustn’t it? I mean, I don’t think I have that many family members (though I am Filipino and proud of my über-extended family from all over the world), or that many friends (My mom hardly goes out. My sister does nothing all day but play Cityville. And I’m, well, shy.). Thing is, though, this extraordinary increase in readership occurred while I was, er, sleeping, i.e., while I was busy doing everything but posting. So our new 662 followers must have been really blown away by my sister’s “Condo hunting” post (must admit, it was pretty awesome) or must be encouraging me to sleep more often. Or longer. Or forever?!!! Don’t say it. I’d rather think it’s a wordpress glitch.

 

We’re in Business, Baby!

Not too busy to blog…

Been busy with work. (Not an excuse for not writing.) More specifically, with establishing my “practice”. I have a new (virtual) office  (Hoot! Hoot!) and a new email address with a domain exclusive to moi!  So I’m in business, y’all! Thing is, though, with these new fixed costs, this “business” (I should say “noble practice”) could be at risk of being unviable. The only surefire way to keep afloat is to get more clients! Which will make me busy busy busy. Using up a substantial amount of my me-time to service other people doesn’t excite me much, but, hey, I figure re-gaining my financial independence (principally from Hubby who has been mighty kind and generous throughout my “hibernation” period) should make up for any downside. And I’m finding that working again is actually quite stimulating. And with the added perks of being able to work from home, and being able to choose what work to take on, has made this venture thus far quite enjoyable.

3 clients to date. I’m the man! Or the girl. Or the it. I’m the It-girl. Whatever. I’m back. Can’t wait to get paid so I can go shopping!

When your escape sends you back to reality, say thank you

Because the first season of “A Game of Thrones” was such a cliffhanger, I promptly borrowed the 5-book series from my sister to read.  It was so engrossing, it managed to pry me away for good from the Facebook game “Cityville”, which I had been obsessively playing for over a year.

Books and the Internet are my escape from the trials and tribulations of everyday life (Ha! I seem to imply I lead a hard and complicated existence when in reality, my life, though not simple, is not too bad at all!).  They help me relax at the end of a tiring day, easing me into sleep at night.

Then came this book series.

I get to know the characters and their families, their values and fears.  I accompany them through forest and desert and snow for days on end.  I see them through hunger and a thousand moral dilemmas.  I cheer them on to battle.  Then before they (and I) can even straighten up to savour a victory (not to mention gloat), it’s taken away by a host of foes or a scheming fiend who turns all their dreams and hardships to naught.  Dang!

But, fine.  Sometimes, that’s just the way it goes, even in fiction. I tell myself, you just have to plod on towards that happy ending made much sweeter by everything that went before.

And THEN (and this is really the thing that gets me), the author decides to snuff out my most loved characters, just when I’m already so emotionally invested in them.  I scream – What kind of warped thinking is that?! Did he have a childhood deprived of fairytales?! Doesn’t he know the rules of fantasy writing?! Aaargh!

My escape is leaving me spent and sad.  I am on the fourth book now (Yes, I’m still at it — I WILL see my heroes avenged!).  When it gets too much, I put it down for a bit and reach for a brief I have to read, or that project bid I’m supposed to be writing, or the budget that needs sorting out.  Aaaah, that’s so much more relaxing.  Thank you.

A waste of me? (An Article by The Forgetful Magpie)

In celebration of Mothers Day, I want to share this article, written by my mom (The Forgetful Magpie) and published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on November 6, 2011 (see the article here).  This post is dedicated to all the mothers out there (especially to my mom and my mother-in-law) who have found quiet happiness in home and family and to whom we owe much thanks. I salute you. Belated Happy Mothers’ Day y’all!

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My daughter’s gift to me on Mother’s Day

A WASTE OF ME

It was the end of the day, just an hour or so before dinner.

I was sitting on my bed, the pillows propped up to support my back, crocheting a blouse for my daughter, Oya. The television in front of the bed was on.

My daughter, having just come home from work, looked in on me. “What are you watching, Mom?”

I looked up to check.

“You really aren’t watching the TV, are you?” Oya observed. “Oh, Mom, you are just wasting electricity!” she said as she walked away.

“I was relaxing, having the TV on relaxes me,” I whispered, to myself. “I had a long, busy day. Wasting electricity is not as bad as wasting me.” I was referring to the personal energy conservation relaxing bit, of course. But the thought gave me a jolt.

Upon reaching seniority when I turned 60, I somehow, slowly but surely, became a homebody immersed exclusively in the concerns of home and family. It was not a conscious choice. It just happened that on that year, my husband Manny had retired and our granddaughter Martina was born.

Manny hardly ever stayed at home before his retirement.  He would leave for work in the morning and get together with his best friend, Onib, the artist, after office hours and be out until the wee hours. They were both Malate “streetwalkers,” better known as “tambays.”

But Onib had died, and Manny had no friends around our suburban home to hang around with. So I had to be a friend to him, someone to go out with and talk to.  When he developed Parkinson’s Disease a few years later, I had to help him deal with his moments of confusion and offer gentle exchanges, pleasant conversations that were not too taxing or challenging.

My daughter Oya was also back home. She had gone away to college at the University of the Philippines in Quezon City and then to the London School of Economics for her graduate studies. Then she came home to stay, worked for her father until he retired, and sold the business. She found a job in Makati which kept her so busy that she invariably came home tired and famished.

Oya has always been frail and a picky eater. So I made a career of coming up with varied and appetizing menus for her meals and lunch packs. My bedtime reading then consisted mostly of going over recipe books, of which I had collected more than a dozen.

Granddaughter

My granddaughter, Martina, is bright and lively. I simply adore her. I eagerly looked forward to Martina’s bi-weekly visits. I always made sure that Martina’s favorite french fries and shrimps are prepared for her. I read to her, baked cookies with her, and sewed costumes for Halloween, school activities, and parties. I have, in fact, just finished making Martina an appliquéd bedcover with matching pillow cases.

And watching TV every evening “to relax” became my regular pastime. I know that watching TV is more often than not a waste of time, so I do something useful besides, something that does not require too much thought or concentration, mindless tasks like crocheting. I had become a real multi-tasker, one who does several time-wasting things at the same time.

Thus do I find myself at 67, a thorough homemaker, or more simply and honestly, a happy housewife.

I have been happy taking care of these three most beloved people. I have kept a fine house and tended a lush garden with joy.  Indeed, I have found great self-satisfaction in doing the things housewives do because, you see, I do them easily and rather well.

However, I have nothing to show for it. There is no public recognition, no awards for exceptional housewifery. In the eyes of the world, it may be a useful talent but hardly a significant one. So, I wonder if  being “just a housewife”  translates into a waste of me.

I have always been a housewife, but until I was slowed down by age and circumstance, I had moved in many circles and assumed many other roles.  I had many friends and had always felt free to do my own thing. I had been an activist, a women’s and children’s advocate, an organizer, and a writer.

When I ran into my friend, Julie, some time ago, she enthusiastically asked, “What are you writing now?”  “Nothing really,” I had to admit. “I haven’t been writing for a while.”

“What?” Julie exclaimed. “Why aren’ t you writing when you do it so well? You are wasting your talent!”

“I have other talents,” I quietly said. From which I derive more satisfaction and joy, I might have added.

Too much effort

Writing is for me a painful and exhausting process. I do not love it. It takes too much effort and insight and passion and discipline. The writing itself is easy enough, but I agonize for several days just getting it all together in my head. And I have to constantly fight the fear that the writing is not good enough. Because each word of praise I receive ups the ante in my attempt to do as well, if not better. I find that writing takes so much of me—or is it off me?

My gift for writing has served me well during my brief stint in advertising, as well as in writing copy for my husband, who was an advertising man. As an activist/organizer, I have written statements, primers, manifestos, speeches, etc. I have also come up with five books.

I do not think I have wasted my talent. I have rendered a good account of it. Although all the writing was done because I had to, or felt the need to, not for the love of it.

The question now is, does “wasting a talent” diminish it? And does non-writing waste the writer?

Just a few weeks ago, my daughter, Oya, noted that of late I had been quite forgetful and often uncharacteristically disorganized.  “Perhaps you should see a neurologist,” she suggested. “You might be developing Alzheimers.” The neurologist ordered an MRI and an EEG.

The results gave me a third jolt. My midbrain showed a scattering of tiny blood vessel “strokes” that blocked the passage of blood and oxygen in capillaries to my brain. It is not so bad, he assured me, considering the onset of old age. He prescribed medication to not only strengthen my neurological system, but also to prevent any more blockages and mitigate further deterioration.  I had actually been wasting away!

I was told I had to become more active physically, mentally, and socially. I concluded that I had been taking care of everybody and everything else but me. I had been writing, but not for me, not to please myself, not to satisfy my needs, not out of love.

“What did the doctor say?” my husband who was waiting outside asked.

“He said I am no longer as bright as I used to be” I said. “And it could get worse.”

“Don’t worry,” my most loyal fan assured me. “With your brain, it will take a long time before you turn into an idiot.”

 

NAMES

My friend Gilda thinks I have a decided “bakli ng utak”, an irreverent take on things. However, relative my husband Manny and my daughter, Oya, I am quite conventional. Take the case of names. My grandaughter Martina calls me Abu which is simply short for the Spanish “abuela”. On the other hand, Oya has taught Martina to call her Fairygod Oya. Manny, she calls Aga. No, not after Aga Muhlach but as she used to explain, short for “aga,aga buwisit”, until someone more proper and less humorous told her that “buwisit” is a bad word.

My English Canadian friend , Tim’s grandchildren, like everybody else call him simply Tim. “Because”, he says, “that is my name”. Very sensible, but I had to inform him that unfortunately, the use of honorifics are part and parcel of Filipino culture.

Then, there is the case of our recently acquired Belgian Malinois puppy. After Martina was introduced to the new dog, she went running to her mom. “They have a new pet,” she cried, “she is a huge dog, and Mommy, she is called Kitty!” She has yet to learn that people and names are not always reasonable. They can instead be funny.

Writing for a new book

I belong to a group of writers, known as FIRST DRAFT. First Draft has been meeting monthly for several years and at every  meeting we each bring an article to read. During our last meeting it was decided that we would gather our best articles into a book. I volunteered (just this once) to write the introduction (so that I will not have to submit the requisite 2 articles). Instead I was designated Editor, tasked to put the book together into a cohesive whole. I am awfully overwhelmed! I feel laid back me has bitten off more than I can ever so slowly chew.  Geez!

Yoga is not a competitive sport… Ohm

I try not to pit my skills against any other person when in yoga class.  But no matter how many times I tell myself to “Keep your eyes on your own mat,” as my yogi instructs, I sometimes fail in the endeavor. Like in last week’s ashtanga class.

Picture 20 people crammed in a ~40 square meter room. Mats virtually on top of each other. Not very pleasant, that. And all that ujjayi breathing warming the shala on what was already an extremely hot and humid summer day.  A young guy positioned his mat (and himself) beside me. In Manila, few men I know have adopted yoga (which has only recently gained some popularity here) as their fitness regimen of choice, you see. So I thought, beginner, probably. No sweat.

I’m seriously stupid. Needless to say he not only kept pace, he outdid me in every pose (much to my irritation). Midway through class, I decided to focus on my own mat (It was exhausting trying to keep up anyway), my husband’s wise words (“Yoga is not a competitive sport!“) a mantra in my head. So I slowed down and moved my mat halfway behind his. I figured if I was physically behind him, I wouldn’t have to match him and I could concentrate on my own practice; no pressure.

And it worked well enough. That is, until the final corpse pose.  Lying down, face up, top of the head to the front of the room, arms and feet splayed outwards beyond the edges of my mat, I settled in to relax. And then espied, out of the corner of my eye, and smelled, The Foot, his left one, resting much too close to my face. (So close, in fact, that if I turned my head to my right, my nose could have a really intimate conversation with this particular sweaty, smelly Foot.)

(Apologies to the gentleman in the picture. The Foot does not belong to him)
Photo via blisspages.com

I know he’s deep into the pose when The Foot starts twitching ever so slightly. He’s falling asleep!  I think to move back to my original position; but my shuffling about would surely distract the rest of the class. I close my eyes, grit my teeth and bear it. This is my punishment, I thought. For being an arrogant fool. This, I deserve.

I sense The Foot twitching again. As I open my eyes, it jerks.  And hits me, square on the cheek.

Ouch. I didn’t deserve that.

 

Why I Probably Won’t See “The Hunger Games”

I picked up the book, “Hunger Games”, last Saturday from a local bookstore. I wanted to find out what all the fuss was about. You see, the past 2 weeks, the movie’s been screening in maybe 16 of the 20 cinemas in the greater Mandaluyong City malls (my usual haunts). And I didn’t want to see the movie till I’d read the book first.

I finished the book in less than a day. And this much I can say about it: I understand why the book is so popular with the kids. Katniss, the heroine, is Lara Croft, McGyver, Dr. Quinn (Medicine Woman), and a Disney princess, all rolled into one. (To those of you too young to know Dr. Quinn or McGyver … sigh … there’s always Google.)  And mushy, heart-on-his-sleeve Peeta’s just one to swoon over, isn’t he? The main protagonists even manage to remain honorable despite their severe circumstances (Katniss kills only 2 of her fellow tributes; one, in defense of another, and the other, out of mercy. Peeta manages to kill only 1; unintentionally at that). To an adult and a parent, that one day in the future we may have to see our kids enslaved and drafted into participating in some reality death “game” is certainly frightening. But the obsessive-compulsive in me couldn’t suspend her disbelief long enough to appreciate the logic of the storyline. (Too manyArgh” moments. Yes, the book was probably much too young for me.)  If this had been interactive, I would have raised some serious issues. If I were a tribute whose counterpart got killed off right from the get-go, at the Cornucopia, for example, I would have vigorously remonstrated against the mid-stream rule change that allowed 2 tributes from the same District to win the Games together.  How unfair and prejudicial is that?  I would have also raised a howl about the Muttations. Hell, if I were a parent of one of those tributes that got “mutt-ated” …. Yes, all hell. Helllll.  Would break loose.

The movie could prove to be one of the few exceptions to my general experience that movies don’t live up to the books they’re based on. Thing is, I probably won’t see it.

Manic Hostess with the Mostess

Hosted our first-ever al fresco dinner party in the new home! Hooray! And I must say, it was quite a success. Who knew having a bunch of friends over could be so straightforward?! (Though completely stress-free it never is and never should be.)

I didn’t cook, you see. I ordered in. More accurately, I ordered for pick-up.

But before you say, “How crass!”, or “How rude!”, or whatever words you use to express outrage at such, well, indelicacy and lack of refinement (My grandmother, if she were alive, would have come up with quite a few colorful ones, I bet), you should know that the dishes (which were prepared by an old friend of hubby’s who’s a master in the kitchen) were fabulous (and needless to say, were not your garden variety “take-out-“ food). My newly-minted outdoor buffet table was laid out with the yummy creations of Dulcelin (see dulcelin.com) – American Wagyu Tri-Tip with Japanese steak sauce, Fresh Mushroom Pasta with Truffle Oil, and Baked Norwegian Salmon in Wasabi Aioli. And, of course, Dulcelin’s famous Mango Torte for dessert – “crispy-chewy nougatine, golden mangoes and cream”, it says on their website. (And, yes, the guests were told that the food had been ordered.)

Photo via dulcelin.com. Dulcen's Very Famous Mango Torte

Still, you’re thinking, I’m undoubtedly no “hostess-with-the-mostess” if I can’t mobilize my own household for a small party. In my defense, I took care of all the logistics, including of course, ordering the meals, renting the tables and chairs, supervising the preparatory cleaning of the house and the washing of the dishes and the silverware, and such. As I rarely venture into the kitchen and dining areas of my home except to eat and occasionally look over hubby’s shoulder while he’s doing the cooking, it must be impressed upon you that all that tut-tutting about the house and fussing over the table and placement settings and how the napkins should be folded and arranging the flowers and lighting the candles and making the sure the wine was chilled and, well, generally, busying myself with a myriad other niceties to ensure that the place would look festive and that dinner service would be efficient and orderly (yes, it was a buffet service; but before you pooh-pooh my efforts, the guests’ wine glasses must be refilled from time to time, yes? and the dessert taken out of the fridge and served at the proper time and such?; there’s plenty you can worry about if you’re inclined), was altogether quite a feat for me. Whew. Yes, I did all that remarkably and was very pleased with myself. (Pat, pat, pat on the back here.)

I could do this again. Order in, I mean. I would, really, and without shame, when I have friends over again for a party; our guests loved the food and couldn’t stop saying so. And I do enjoy getting all a-tizzy over the minutiae and (though I may grumble convincingly) I generally love being a fusspot. Do me a favor, though; if you’re ever at my dinner table and you’re enjoying the meal, do ask me to give your compliments to the chef (and I will make sure the chef gets them), but please don’t ask me for the recipe to anything.

DIY … ish … this week

I’ve been on cloud 9 all week after getting a few “likes” and comments, and a couple of new followers (quite likely my relatives / high school BFFs writing under assumed names), on account of the last post (Paging Mom! If you would please write more of that good stuff …). Then I tried writing a new post myself but got the jitters (You should know that my mom’s a professional writer with 5 books to her name; I am NOT, so pretty please be kind). So I left the Mac to simmer for a bit and got busy. With other things. More specifically, a DIY-ish project.

Hubby’s having some friends over for an al fresco dinner Saturday night so I decided that we badly needed an outdoor buffet table / bar for our lanai. But after talking to a few local designers and furniture makers, the cost for the look we were going for was way too prohibitive (I couldn’t believe how expensive it was to have something that’s supposed to look natural / rustic made). So in the end we decided to keep it simple (and cheap). So I managed to steal 2 10-foot yakal planks which my mom bought from a local junk shop some months ago (yakal is a Philippine hardwood that is used for house beams and trusses).

I loved the notches where the joists were supported by the beam.

The planks had been rotting in my mom’s backyard for months. So I hired a handyman to try to breathe new life into the worn wood. The design is, uhrrmm (drum roll please), mine (inspired, of course, by hundreds of online designs – thank you Houzz!).  We decided to keep the notches — and all the holes and other imperfections of the wood; I love furniture with a past!

Used motor oil was poured over the right leg for that weathered look (great for weatherproofing, too) and 2 coats of furniture wax were smoothed over the top and left leg after sanding.

The (close to) final product: an outdoor buffet / bar that is unique in all the world:

I am happy.

The bench is a bonus (from the leftover wood).

 Yes, I’m totally happy.