Sunday, July 31, 2005

Feel at home

"I feel sorry for our homestay," Mickey told me yesterday morning. "I know lots of families who have homestays and they have big houses and nice cars."

We have neither. Our old townhouse, though spacious for our family, is smaller than the monstrous homes so common here. I drive a 1991 Honda Accord that has no airconditioning and lacks a visor on the passenger side. When our guest arrived, we had a plumbing problem that got fixed only a week later. (LHB, I was charged only $40/hour.)

Mickey was right in a sense. We are not the ideal homestay host family.

"Well, you know, what is more important is how you treat them. These kids are homesick. They need a caring family more than a big house and a nice car. That is what they will remember more," I said.

I could say that from experience. My first job at the University of the Philippines took me travelling a lot to very depressed areas in the countryside where I did not know anybody and where there were no motels or inns. I had to rely on total strangers to take me in, always through referrals. I sometimes travelled with a team and often by myself. I knew what it meant to be lonely in a strange place where I did not speak the language.

My host families were mostly simple rural folks who lived in very humble homes. I experienced staying in places where there was no running water, electricity, bed, or a normal toilet. But these people had big hearts and treated me like a VIP. It was very humbling because, really, I was a nobody from the big city. But with everything they had, they gave me a haven.

On the other hand, I have been in large, beautiful homes, with a place for everything and everything in its place. It was like stepping onto a page of Metropolitan Home. Or the set of Martha Stewart's TV show. And yet, I felt very uneasy. My movements were calculated. I couldn't wait to be out of the door.

My homestay seems quite comfortable in our house now. He interacts with the family and lingers in the living room. He slurps his food with gusto, which is a compliment to the cook (that's me), and his bedroom is beginning to look like my sons'. He must be feeling at home.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Out of the mouth of Gabe

Awakened by my murmuring, Gabriel leaned on my arm as I was praying beside him in bed early one morning. I thought he had gone back to sleep as his eyes remained closed.

After I said “Amen” he looked up to me and said, “Mom, I realized something while you were praying.”

I sat up straight, eager to hear something profound “out of the mouth of babes”. An epiphany.

“And what was that?” I asked.

“I realized you have hairy arms.”

So much for profound and so much for epiphany. It was nonetheless out of the mouth of babes.

Leave it to children to say the most candid things at the most unexpected time.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Pie for thought

A mother’s love is not like a pie that you can cut up so each child gets a slice. Each child gets the whole pie! Now don’t ask me how this works. It’s just how it is and I believe I’m speaking for most moms.

However, even if I love my boys with the same deep level of affection and high level of commitment, I treat them differently. One size doesn’t fit all.

It sounds ironic but I think it is unfair to treat all your children the same. (Of course, children won't understand it this way.) They have different ages, personalities, needs, likes, dislikes, talents, gifts, idiosyncracies. They are different people. I have to adjust accordingly. Yes, we have certain house rules and family values that go for everyone, but beyond that, I have to give room for everyone’s individual quirks.

This can be very challenging and a lot of work. I have to keep abreast with what’s going on in everyone’s life and continually connect with them individually. It’s no easy task considering that they are in a constant state of change inside and out. I admit I don’t have it all figured out. It’s hard to keep up.

Some people, upon knowing I have four boys, give me the look that says, “How in the world do you live with that?” Some actually ask it. Recently I had someone tell me, “Hats off to you.” Others have told me “Congratulations.” To me they all sounded like “Good luck.”

I do not count on luck. Every morning I ask God’s favour on my children and pray for each one by name. I ask for wisdom and strength and every other ingredient that will go into my pie for the day. Then I go about baking it.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Spring cleaning in the summer

I have a 16-year-old male Korean homestay. He arrived today and will be at our house for three weeks as he goes to school to learn English. We are all very excited.

Yesterday, someone called me if I would be available to take in 2 boys, aged 16 and 13. “Sure!” I said. I immediately headed to Wal-Mart after work and bought lots of stuff – convenience foods, toiletries, towels, a set of linens… I didn’t forget to get air fresheners for the house and for the car. I wanted to have all the bases (and muggy smells) covered.

Driving home, I realized I was having two guests and 4 boys of my own, and the house was a mess. What was I thinking?? I almost had a panic attack. Yeah, I think I did.

Just then, my mobile phone rang. It was the program coordinator telling me that another family was getting the 13-year-old, and was I fine with that? Oh, that’s fine. Thank You, God!!! You saved me again.

Even before I arrived home, I had mentally listed a hundred things to do to prepare the house for our homestay. I needed to make a good impression so I will be given another one in the future. As soon as I arrived at around 6 pm., I lost no time idling and began a major clean-up. Dinner was oven-ready pizza. I had to concentrate on spring cleaning in the middle of summer.

The guest would be staying in Gabriel and Markus’s bedroom, I had to turn it updside down. You wouldn’t believe the stuff and junk that were hiding under the bed. So that’s where their socks went. By the time I finished at around 10 pm, I was dead tired and still not done.

I moved on to the shower downstairs. I had been planning to change its ugly caulking during my weeklong vacation in August. I planned to re-paint its walls and ceiling as well. But now the caulking at least must be changed. I worked on this till midnight. Yikes! Folks, don’t let your shower walls accumulate stains and mildew. Clean that grout! I tell you. I used a caulking strip so it was just a matter of peeling and sticking. Last week, when I worked on the tub upstairs, I chose to use the caulking tube with a caulking gun. That was harder to do but had a nicer finish.

Not half-done with my chores, I decided to stay home today and do more cleaning. I started early with my tons of laundry, and cleaned the toilets till they were squeaky clean. Next, I cleaned the window sills with mineral spirits for the upstairs washroom, and with diluted bleach for the downstairs one. Why I had to do it differently, I don’t know. I just know I had a terrible headache inhaling the fumes. I know, I know. Bleach is bad. Between the two chemicals, mineral spirits seemed to do the job better. And it even gave me a high.

Then I scrubbed all the vinyl floors in the washrooms and kitchen. My knees hurt from kneeling, reminding me of the days I waxed our floors in the Philippines. Then I did another round of vacuuming. My head was already spinning. I had not eaten breakfast and it was past 10 am. In fact, I had not even prepared it.“Guys, just eat cereals.”

Our guest was arriving at 1 pm and I was still not done by 11:30. I looked awful. Smelled likewise. I was getting cranky too. I snapped at Gabriel and Markus a few times especially when they walked into the kitchen with outdoor shoes after I had just scrubbed the floor.

“Sorry for screaming at you,” I later told Gabriel as I was folding clothes in the basement. “I was tired and pressured, but there’s no excuse.”

After all my work was done, I soaked in the tub. I swear, it is much better to clean regularly than to wait for spring.

Our homestay arrived two hours late. I had freshened up by then and had taken a nap. I was baking choco chip cookies when he came with an entourage.

This is going to be a fun three weeks. 21 days! They say if you do something for 21 days straight, it will become a habit. For sure, I will be cleaning daily for the next three weeks. Let’s see if it works.

Saturday, July 16, 2005


I became a movie extra last Thursday. Yes! Me, Gabriel and Markus. We will be in the final scene of Dr. Dolittle 3. We made it to Hollywood!

The scenes were filmed at the Cloverdale rodeo. Actors rode horses and "tackled" calves. We, the extras, filled the grandstand. Many came complete with cowboy hats. Because it was advertised in the local papers, there were hundreds of us.

Filming was pretty boring. From where I sat I could not even recognize any of the actors in the arena. My friends said LeVar Burton (Kunta Kinte in the movie Roots and also the blind guy in Star Trek) and a popular young actress were there. Eddie Murphy wasn’t. I read somewhere that he was not going to be in this straight-to-video movie at all.

What was more exciting were the giveaways and raffle prizes. Lots of cheap cameras, T-shirts, tote bags, DVDs, etc. were thrown to the crowd in between shoots. This made the crowd go wild. DVD players and mp3 players were raffled off. The top prize was a trip for four to Disneyland. I was already imagining which son to leave behind. (Just kidding, you guys. Of course I'd take you all.)

Someone with a megaphone directed the crowd. He told us when to cheer, boo, gasp, laugh or be absolutely quiet. It was amusing to do these things on cue. “Good job,” the director always said afterwards. I think everyone cheered better when it was freebie time. I so wanted that tote bag. I jump up, waved, screamed… Freebies surely excited me more than the camera.

Whenever the cameras were about to roll, someone shouted “Rolling!” A few others echoed it to make sure everyone kept quiet. I thought they said, “Lights; camera, action!”

We did not win any raffle prize nor did we get a tote bag, but we got all the others including free refreshments, and a chance to be in a Hollywood movie. Watch out for Dr. Dolittle 3.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

The nut that drove me nuts

This is a story about a stupid toilet seat.

When we moved to our own townhouse two years ago, I felt very repulsed by the knowledge that others have sat on our toilet for years and years. I cleaned it very well with disinfectant stuff, but some old stains on the toilet seat wouldn’t go away. I had always planned to get a new seat but only got around to doing so a week ago. Since Gino was looking to earn some money for the summer, I delegated the installation to him as part of the deal.

Gino successfully removed the right hinge of the old seat but got stuck with the left. The thick plastic nut that secured the metal rod was so encrusted, it wouldn’t budge. Rust must have accumulated inside and around it for more than three decades. I guess it was the original seat installed when the townhouse was constructed.

I checked the left hinge myself and vainly tried to loosen the connecting rod and nut with lots of lube oil then used a pair of pliers, then a flat nose, a utility knife, a wrench. Nothing worked.

Because of the bowl’s position, it was very difficult to work on its left side. It was too close to the wall. I usually found myself cheek-to-cheek with the bowl whenever I had to peek under it. It was becoming a pain in the you-know-where.

For days, I worked on the nut and the rod that secured the seat. I became almost obsessive. I worked on it late at night, early in the morning, and times in between. The despicable nut was driving me nuts!

It had become a challenge. I can do this. I will not give up. This thing will give before I do. My hands hurt from the pressure of using the pliers everyday. It was the only thing I could hold down there. After many unsuccessful attempts, I began to entertain changing the toilet bowl itself to get rid of the stubborn seat.

A bright idea dawned on me when I saw Gino drilling his leather belt one night. The nut was plastic, therefore, it could be drilled. Yes! I was sure a series of holes would weaken it enough, and then it could be pried open or torn apart.

Gino got the idea. He began to work on it the next day. However, with drill in hand, body contorted, and powdery rust falling beneath the seat, it was hard for him to stay in that position for a long time. He had to work in increments till the following day.

Finally, Gino called me at work one afternoon. He had successfully pulled that thing out. We were ecstatic. Congratulations! Celebrate! And let me add, Answered prayer! It sounds ridiculous, but I did send several distress signals to heaven in desperation. God pleaase help….

I was so relieved when the hinge was finally loosened. Gone was the constipated feeling of frustration. This toilet now has a nice, padded seat. Great comfort for you-know-when.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Spelling Be

“Mom, how do you spell alcohol?” Markus asked while running down the stairs to where I lounged on the couch after dinner.

“A-l-c-o-h-o-l,” I answered.

“No,” he disagreed then showed me a tiny piece of paper where he had written “alchohol”.

“Oh, there’s no h after c,” I said.

“Yes, there is,” he replied.

“Then that would sound like “al-tsho-hol.”

“No, some words don’t sound like that,” he said referring to the ch sound.

“Yeah, but not alcohol.”

“Oh crap! I lost $15 to Kuya Gabriel.”

“Why do you bet on spelling? Why do you even bet?” I asked.

“Well, anyway, I’m still better in spelling other words like ‘giraffe’ and ‘insanitary',” Markus went on.

“It’s ‘unsanitary',” I corrected him. After a couple of tries, he finally had it right then ran back to his room where he was probably having a spelling contest with his brother.

Markus takes pride in the fact that he was able to spell “nuisance” correctly, whereas, none in Gabriel’s grade 6 class got it right. He and Gabriel still repeat this story to me.

Keep working on your spelling, Markus. Strive for e-x-c-e-l-l-e-n-c-e.

And work on your vocabulary, too.