Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Sayonara, Hayato!

My family enjoys having homestays who come to Canada from Japan or Korea to learn English. We’ve been doing it since last year. It’s always been a very pleasant experience for us. This is why they leave us feeling bad, which is how we feel right now about Hayato.

On Monday, Hayato, our 16-year-old Japanese homestay, left for his home country. He stayed with us for a mere 12 days, but he blended quite well with the family. My boys hit it off with him quickly. They played and laughed a lot. Hayato loved playing the guitar too, sometimes jamming with Mickey till late at night. We were able to go together to the pool, the mall, the beach, the church and the park at the US border. Mickey took him to downtown Vancouver, English Bay and Metrotown mall.

Having a homestay really means extra work for me – driving, preparing lunches, cooking and maintaining the house in order.  But it pays off in terms of the cultural exchange that transpires between our guest and our family. I find it very enriching.  It is quite delightful to see his progress in speaking in English within the short time that he is here. My boys are also better behaved around our guest. That’s a bonus!

Hayato, like Jong Heon and Yo Hei, is now part of our growing global family. It’s a privilege to be part of these boys' Canadian memories.


Saturday, August 27, 2005

A pleasant surprise

“Mom, am I an accident?” Markus, sounding disturbed, asked me one day. “Kuya Gabriel said I was an accident.”

“No, you are not an accident,” I assured him. “God does not make accidents. You are a surprise. A pleasant surprise…” I didn't like to use the word "unplanned". Three of them were.

Markus seemed unconvinced. “Didn’t you always want to have a girl? Then why did  you have girl names for Kuya Gino?”

And for Mickey, and for Gabriel and for him. There were Sophia, Riana, Galadriel (yes, from LOTR), Mayumi, Kimmi…

“That’s because everyone guessed I’d be having a girl,” I said. Even my OB-gyne thought so in all my four pregnancies until I had an ultrasound. With Gino and Mickey, having an ultrasound was not yet routine at St. Luke’s Hospital. There was that element of surprise. When I got pregnant with Gabriel, she said it was something I needed to have on whatever month. New hospital policy. So I knew their gender beforehand.

“I had beautiful pregnancies,” I sort of boasted. OK, I boasted. And exaggerated.

Many people think that if you get uglier—darker neck, swollen nose, bloated face, etc--during pregnancy, it's a boy. The statement "You're having a boy" is loaded with a subtle insult about your appearance. To be told the opposite is therefore a compliment.

I was starting to reminisce and to conjure up images of my “beautiful pregnancies” when Markus interjected, “That’s nowhere near the truth, Mom.”

He has a nice way of bursting my bubble. The pictures in my head quickly dissipated. Then he gave his own idea of how to tell a baby’s gender, and it sounded as absurd  as those you hear from adults.

I have four boys and am very content. I might have wanted a daughter at some point in my child-bearing years, but today I wouldn't wish it. I don't believe in accidents. Believe me, Markus. You aren't one.

And neither are your brothers.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Tough questions

“I don’t get it, Mom,” Markus told me as he stood by my bedroom door. “What’s the point of living if you’re only going to waste it by dying?”

Tough question for a 9-year-old. Tough for many adults, too.

I believe I wondered about this myself when I was in Grade 4. I can say exactly where I was and what I was doing when it hit me. I was walking along the corridor of the U.P. Elementary School when I was suddenly gripped by this mind-boggling question.

Like Markus, I didn't get it either. It didn’t make sense to me.

So here I was, trying to answer a complex question in a language Markus could appreciate. He sat at the bedside and we had a little discourse.

“You know, God made us to live for Him and to enjoy Him forever...” We talked about heaven and hell and how faith in Christ made the difference for the two thieves who were crucified alongside Jesus. Markus had a few more questions; I didn't pass up this opportunity for a simplified theological discussion. No, not when I had a captive audience.

My prayer is that none of my boys will waste his life on all sorts of vices and godless pursuits. I hope they realize you don’t have to die to waste it.

Sunday, August 21, 2005


Ever since Gabriel and Markus noticed the hair on my lower arm, they’ve been teasing me about it. I’ve seen more hairy women, called balbon in the Philippines, and back in my country, it was viewed as an asset among females. That was the impression I got from people. I’m not sure if times have changed and being balbon is now something to be ashamed of. Or maybe I got it wrong.

My sons are just exaggerating this “hairy arm” thing. The fact that they noticed only recently means it is not very obvious.

“Mom, why don’t you shave your arms?” Gabriel asked one afternoon while we were watching TV in the living room.

“No, shaving makes the hair tough.  Women wax,” Mickey butted in from the dining table.

“So, Mom, why don’t you wax your arm?” Gabriel continued.

“I don’t like to wax my arm. I like my arm,” I replied.

Markus hatched a plan. “Kuya Gabriel, let’s wax Mom’s arm while she is sleeping.” Then turning to me, he said, “Come on, Mom, we’ll do your moustache too.”

“I don’t have a moustache!” I protested.

Ahh, these kids need to go back to school quick before they notice my eyebrows. And I better hide my gel ├ępilatoire.

Friday, August 19, 2005

You gotta do what you gotta do

Summer break is almost over. I am quite pleased with what I have accomplished around the house within the last two months. I got a few things fixed and improved. What a difference these have made in our home life. It’s so nice to have things working properly! These have given me a greater sense of ownership of our home as I look at the fruit of my blood, sweat and cheers.

I am not a handywoman. I WASn’t, but that is changing now. I'm beginning to do things I would've easily hired someone else to do had I been in the Philippines. I’m also trying to get my boys interested in fixing things because of the steep cost of labour here.

Last weekend, I had a long curtain rod from Ikea installed in the living room. I did the measurements and the markings, Gino drilled the pilot holes, and Mickey plugged the anchors and screwed the brackets into them. It sounds simple, but for us amateurs, this was quite stressful. The rod is not perfectly straight, but hey, who’s to complain?

Mickey once mentioned to me something about him not having the genes of a handyman, that he was not interested in these kind of things. I replied, "Was I born a handywoman? I do things because I have to." I try to learn. I read up or ask around.

Do I enjoy painting the walls? Do I enjoy hammering? I would rather sing in the shower than caulk it. I would rather play ping pong, take long walks, or spend a week in the Bahamas (if I had the moolah). But to fix the toilet??? I don’t even want to clean it. But you gotta do what you gotta do. Even if it makes you want to barf.

Markus told me recently, “Mom, do you know what my plans are for the future? I'm gonna get a good job, one that requires you to be very smart. Then I'm gonna give you half of my salary so you can keep this house and buy new things.”

Thank you, Markus. That is really very smart of you. However, when you do get lots of money, can you just buy Mom a new house, one that's not gonna require me to be very handy? Or you can just send me off to the Bahamas.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Lost in translation

I was deboning fresh salmon prior to baking it when Gabriel came and asked permission to feel the fish. I said OK, and he immediately washed his hands. As he was doing this, I said, “Just don't lamutak the fish.” The English term escaped me. (To my non-Tagalog speaking readers, this is pronounced la-mu-tak, not lay-moo-tahk.)

With some hand motions, I tried to show him what lamutak meant to make sure he got it.

I turned away briefly, and when I looked back, Gabriel was doing exactly what I told him not to do.

“No, no, no!” I exclaimed. “That’s lamutak! That’s lamutak!”

Gabriel took a flake of fish and left the kitchen. A few minutes later, he came back to return what looked like a small fish ball.

“No,” I said. “Don’t put that back. That’s already lamutak.”

How frustrating it was to be groping for the right word. It was not even close to the tip of my tongue. I asked Gabriel what lamutak might be in English.

“Squish?” he asked.

“Yeah,” but squish sounds a little lame. It’s probably closer to “mash”—with an attitude.

Gabriel learned one Tagalog word today, and I learned that if I wanted to say “mash” and evoke a sense of grossness, lamutak says it better. Save the finesse for later.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Kimchi on my mind

Jong Heon went home to Korea last Thursday. Three weeks went by so quickly. We miss him already. After work, I drove by his ESL school and felt a tinge of sadness that my homestay was already on a flight back to the “land of the morning calm”. Will he miss our home of the morning commotion?

I hope he has good memories with my family – our wandering the streets of Vancouver when we got lost and found our way to English Bay for a fireworks exhibition, our picnic at a park along the Fraser River, our trip to Victoria, his playful wrestling with Gabriel and Markus, and many hours of playing video games with the boys.

The past three weeks have somewhat changed our food preferences. My boys now like very spicy ramen and kimchi. I used to be the only one who ate kimchi in the family. And whenever I made sushi, I had to leave out wasabe. Now that’s okay too. I have also learned to add chili sauce to most dishes-—stews, soups and even our very own pancit and tocino. Jong Heon loved this “sweet pork”. I didn't know it could be that spicy good.

Bye, Jong Heon. I hope you had a pleasant experience here in Canada and our very multicultural society. You can always come back to our home. Kimchi will be ready for you.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

4 reasons why you’re the “best” Mom

For my birthday last week, Gabriel made me a nifty full-colour illustrated card that was both sweet and teasing. Inside, there were four quadrants, each one containing a reason why he thought I was the “best” mom:

You’re good at saving money …stop shopping at “VV”
You’re very “smart” (“Is there rice anymore?”)
You’re a handywoman.
You’re my Mom.

Then he drew a floor with a paint can, paint stains, a screwdriver, falling hair(!), and a crumpled Value Village receipt in an Ikea trash can. There was also a spider weaving a web at one corner.

On the opposite page, he listed his favourite Mom’s quotable quotes, including my blunders in the English language that give us a good laugh. Without meaning to, I sometimes say garbled sentences and use wrong grammar or senseless words that Gabriel and his brothers find very amusing. They don’t let me get away with it.

This birthday card is now tucked on my wall beside other handmade greetings my boys have given me this year. To me, they are far nicer than Hallmark cards. Nothing but the “best” for Mom.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Car care – when ignorance isn’t bliss

I know very little about cars, but because I drive one I decided this year that I should learn about car maintenance. A friend gave some helpful tips and suggested that I read the manual.

“I’m not the manual kind of person,” I replied. Even so, I searched for it in the glove compartment then read it through.

I retained very little though. And some important things aren’t even written there. For example, the manual does not tell you how to use the air pump at the gas station. The first time I had a soft tire, I used the pump at the gas station and totally deflated my tire within seconds. Fortunately, a kindhearted hunk assisted me. What a pleasure! I mean, his kindness not his hunk-ness.

And have you ever seen anyone overfill his gas tank? Again, the manual doesn’t say that if the gas spout makes a noise, it means FULL. The driver on the other pump had to tell me, “Your gas is overflowing” because I wasn’t looking. I kept pressing the lever waiting for the $ counter to reach my prepaid amount of $30. Why should it stop at $27?

I didn’t particularly enjoy lifting the hood, and even today, I don’t always get it right on the first try. The engine intimidated me, but I had to learn how to add coolant, motor oil and wiper fluid. I have not gotten around to the brake fluid.

Don’t open the radiator cap while the radiator is hot or steam can burn your face. …Make sure you have wiper fluid in case mud splatters on your windshield and blocks your view. …Make sure you have enough motor oil. Use the dipstick to check the level.…

I have added these fluids a few times. For checking the motor oil, I even used the dipstick.

Last Saturday, I was taking my boys and our Korean guest for a picnic at Cultus Lake. Ever the cautious driver, I went on the Internet to get directions. 90 kilometres from Vancouver. Quite a ways off. I checked my tires and checked my oil. Hmm, I think it’s time to refill the motor oil. After doing this, we headed to the nearest gas station to get enough gas. Just then, I glanced at my rear view mirror, and to my horror, my car was emitting so much smoke. I had never seen that happen to my car or to any car here for that matter. I immediately stopped at a parkway and called BCAA for roadside assistance.

“Hello,” I said, “there’s a lot of smoke coming out of that thing at the back of my car.”

“Do you mean the muffler?” the person on the other line asked.

“Is that the muffler? Yeah, the muffler,” I said. Ladies, at least know the basic car parts.

In a few minutes, a BCAA serviceman came and I told him what I had done before leaving the house that morning.

“You poured four litres of oil? You poured too much.” He then showed me two dots at the end of the dipstick that tell you the minimum and maximum levels for motor oil. I never knew about that. So what was I looking at every time I used the dipstick? Your guess is as good as mine.

The BCAA man suggested that I have my oil drained and refilled to the right level. Fortunately, Budget Brake and Muffler was just across the street. I drove the car, belching smoke like crazy, to that shop.

As soon as I approached the man at the front desk, he said, “I can tell just by looking at your car that you blew up your engine gasket.” He said I should not drive the car at all or I might destroy my engine completely, and that his shop couldn’t do anything for it.

“Are you hearing me?” he asked when I stared at him blankly. I thought I just poured too much motor oil. Now he was telling me about gasket and engine and hundreds, even thousands of dollars for repair and replacement. My goodness, he had not even checked inside my car. I thought he was very snooty.

I called BCAA again to have my car towed to Honda along Fraser Highway. At least there, I have a regular customer service person, Malcolm, who attends to me and my car very well.

I sent my kids home, which was just around the corner, with our picnic food. “Mom, that’s why you shouldn’t be putting motor oil. The last time you did that, we had another problem,” Mickey said.

“I should have helped you, Mom,” Gabriel said. He was supposed to be my “oil assistant” that morning but he was busy with other things. Markus did it previously. I try to involve them in car maintenance so they will not grow up as ignorant about cars as I am.

At the Honda shop, Malcolm was very accommodating unlike that guy from Budget Brake and Muffler. However, it would not be until after lunch when my regular mechanic could see my car. I asked to be driven home by Honda service. On the way, I recounted what just happened to my car to Terry, the Honda driver.

“Oh, at least you poured it in the right hole. Otherwise that would have been disastrous. Are you sure you did not use vegetable oil?” he teased me. He gave me very useful car care tips to avoid costly mistakes.

“Why do they sell motor oil in 4-litre containers if you’re not supposed to pour it all?” I complained.

During the next two hours, I nervously waited for a call from Malcolm. Oh God, I hope it’s not the gasket nor the engine. Just please make it be the least expensive trouble.

True enough, the problem was too much oil which was drained and replaced. I had other things checked and serviced too. Honda even washed my dusty car.

I would love to have a brand new or slightly used car in the future. My boys each have a favourite – a convertible for Gino, a VW beetle for Mickey, Hummer! for Gabriel, and vintage!! for Markus.

Me, I just want something that won’t give me a headache!!!

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Project accomplished

My weeklong vacation is almost over. It seems short, but I was able to accomplish what I set out to do. I painted the washroom! Yes, I did it. Good job, lerryblossoms.

It took me four days to complete the job. Day 1 – cleaned the walls and ceiling with TSP, sanded old paint that was peeling off, applied primer/sealant. Day 2 – painted the washroom ceiling and did the kitchen ceiling too. Day 3 – painted the walls mocha. Day 4 - retouched uneven sections, cleaned smudges, cleaned work area and put everything back in place.

Gabriel and Markus were very eager to help. “I want to paint! I want to paint!” They argued about who’d go first. I let them have the first shot at the ceiling so they would stop badgering me. They were so excited to do it for the first 2 minutes. “Ahh, this is hard,” they both said then left me in peace shortly after.

Markus returned later to help with the walls. “Oh, I made two smudges. I’m so bad at this, Mom,” Markus commented after accidentally painting over the white border.

“That’s okay, Markus. We are not painters. We will make mistakes. I’ll just wipe it up,” I said.

Encouraged, he went about painting merrily and after he was done, the two small smudges had turned into two metres of mocha paint on the white trim. No way I could wipe that up. I would have to repaint it white.

“Mom, you should put tape on this,” he said, referring to the edges.

People, there’s a reason for the painter’s tape. I was trying to cut corners by not using it and ended up messing up the trim. “Yeah. Thanks for pointing that out,” I replied.

My project is done and I’m quite pleased. Our downstairs washroom walls are now coloured mocha. Quite bold. “Scary,” Gabriel said. I like it. I think it is very no-nonsense and gives the message, “Whatever you do here, do it quick.” Just right for a busy area.

With this washroom finished, I will start thinking of the upstairs one. That will be my sanctuary. It is roomy and has a tub. I will paint it something light and comforting. “Turn it into a private tub, Mom, so you can relax for once,” Markus suggested. “Put some candles,” he added.

Ahh, there’s nothing like a warm bubble bath after a hard day’s work.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005