Saturday, September 29, 2007

To see is to eat

Markus and I were having breakfast one morning when I started extolling the benefits of yogurt. "It's healthy food," I said. "I always have yogurt in my grocery list," I added.

"I will eat yogurt only once a week," Markus replied, showing little interest in what I was saying.

"Yogurt is really good. And it helps your digestion..." I continued as I ate my fruits and yogurt.

"Mom, you know what I learned at school? If you force a child to eat something that he doesn't like, it will cause him stress. So you shouldn't force me to eat yogurt because I will have stress and anger problems," Markus said in a funny manner.

"All I'm saying is yogurt is healthy and I will buy it every week now," I countered. What else is Markus learning from this teacher? That is something you tell parents, not children, I thought.

I used to buy yogurt in pints which we eat like ice cream. We get a few scoops from it at a time. It's for everyone, but mostly it's ignored in the fridge. Lately, I've been getting yogurt that is conveniently packaged in little 100-gram containers you can finish in one eating. I noticed Markus and Gabriel snack on those more than they did the pint-sized. Gabriel even brings it to school. They eat yogurt without me having to say anything. No stress on my part--or theirs!

Which brings me to my point. I recently read an article on CNN.com that talked about mindless eating. The gist is that studies have proven that we eat what we see. And we eat what is more convenient.

Case in point. Yogurt in small containers is more convenient to eat than yogurt you have to scoop from a pint and transfer to a cup.

To test the findings of the study, I put small bowls of nuts, peanuts and soynuts, on the dining table. My family eats them. I have had to refill the bowls a few times. The same nuts in the cupboard are hardly touched except by me. Which is easier, to grab nuts from a bowl, or to open the cupboard, reach out for a bottle, unscrew the lid and grab some nuts? It's common sense but I never thought about it.

This is also probably the reason why my family loves fruits. Fruits are always within sight and within reach in our kitchen.

Over the last few years, I have been gradually introducing more healthy foods to our household. We are not quite there yet. My boys still react like I'm serving them poison when I mention "healthy food". Hopefully, as they see more foods of this kind on the table, in the fridge and the cupboards, they will mindlessly eat them.

Click here to read the CNN article.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Markus is 12

I remember the birth of Markus like it was yesterday. The year was 1995, the year my parents were marking their 50th wedding anniversary on August 16. They were coming home to the Philippines for the first time since moving to Seattle in 1991.

I was pregnant and due to give birth that September. At my request, my parents postponed their trip and anniversary celebration to September so they could be around when I gave birth.

If I remember right, the event was originally set on September 23, a Saturday. “Can you induce me to labour so I can give birth in early September? I don’t want to miss my parents' golden wedding celebration,” I begged my doctor. Request denied. So I kept more physically active hoping it would hasten the baby’s bearing down. Didn't happen.

For some reason, the celebration was moved to September 16. Oh no!! I could be giving birth on or near that day. I should try to hold it till AFTER the 16th! So from being quite active, I slowed down all movement. Change gear!

On the evening of September 15, I was watching several members of the family decorate Casa Milan, the venue of the celebration, when I felt my contractions become more and more regular, and more frequent too. No pain, just contractions. At around 9 pm, when they were 5 minutes apart, I knew it was time to go to the hospital. I learned that from Lamaze class so I told Bud about it. We excused ourselves from the flurry of activities, headed home, I took a shower, grabbed my hospital bag, dropped off the boys at my sister’s house, passed by the parlour where my mother was having her hair done, called my OB-gyne and drove to St. Luke’s Hospital. I was admitted past 10 pm.

I was quickly wheeled to the delivery room, which was what I wanted so I could avoid a long stopover at the labour room where you hear other pregnant women moaning and groaning. That would only make me more nervous. My boldness in giving birth had decreased with each birth, and this was already my fourth. My courage was nearly depleted.

I was close to giving birth but my doctor had not yet arrived. An attendant came with a chart and asked me several questions... How many children do you have?... What are their names?... Birthdays?... Aaarg! Can't you see I'm in labour? Have you ever felt like strangling a person?

Bud tried to help with the interview, but when it came to the boys' birthdays, he got them all confused. Thankfully, he did not forget how to be a good Lamaze coach. So in between painful contractions, which by this time were happening in rapid succession, I grunted each of my sons' birthdays. November 12, 1986...January 14, 1988... December 11, 1993... Is my doctor here yet?

When the resident doctor gave the go ahead, with one big push I gave birth to 6-lb Markus at 11:44 pm of September 15. My own doctor came a few minutes late just in time for post-delivery procedures, very apologetic. "My husband had the car... I couldn't get a taxi sooner..." That's okay. Just give me a discount.


Holding Markus in my arms shortly after his birth.
See the clock. It was almost midnight.
And yes, that's a bean bag in true Lamaze fashion. Better than a reclining table.

The next morning, we were up early getting ready to attend my parents’ anniversary at 10 am. I got a temporary hospital pass from my doctor while Markus remained in the nursery. We arrived at Casa Milan a little past 10 after the ceremony had started. I was delighted to see my three boys and the whole family in formal wear. Gino and Mickey were in traditional barong tagalog. Gabriel, less than 2 years old then, looked very cute in an elegant shiny off-white attire but barefoot. They had forgotten to put on his shoes!

I was very happy to make it to the celebration. I didn't want to miss it for anything. My parents and everyone else were pleasantly surprised. During the reception, people kept offering me a chair. They did not know how uncomfortable, even painful, it was for me to remain seated. I should have brought a cushion.

After the event, we passed by our house to take a nap. Bud was very tired from the previous night. I still couldn't sleep from the adrenalin rush so I cleaned up a bit. Too much mess we left behind. I was back in St. Luke’s before night time eager to take Markus to my hospital room. We left St. Luke's the next morning.


In Mom's room at last

Everytime Markus’s birthday comes around, we remember my parents’ 50th anniversary, or vice-versa. Being the youngest son, nephew, grandchild in my side of the family, Markus's birth could not have come at a more meaningful time.


...and Markus makes four!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Tears and fears

This morning, our pastor said some things at the beginning of the church service that totally broke my heart. I became all choked up. Throughout the service I was holding back my tears and was struggling to hear the rest of the sermon series on the Book of Daniel. Finally, when the congregation was dismissed, I went to the washroom, and cried. I had to release it.

So what did he say that hit me so much?

First, he referred to a recent study that showed that 87% of young people in evangelical churches drop out of church once they step out of high school and go to university. What's happening to our youth?

Second, he read a couple of letters from a two university students who gave an account of their experiences and challenges as a Christian in different universities hereabouts. This is where I almost broke down. The students described life at the dorm, the parties, the porn, the condoms, the skimpy clothes and what-have-you, or what-have-you-not... They also talked about the general disdain for Christianity in the classrooms.

The sadder part was when one student wrote about how university stripped her of all boldness as a Christian. She lost her voice, unable to speak out for her convictions and core beliefs. I wish I could quote the letter in full because it was very descriptive and well-written, you could almost imagine the girl being thrown into the lion's den. Fortunately for her, she found support from our church, people who prayed for her, encouraged her, stood with her during her years in campus.

I believe those letters struck a chord with many young people and parents in the congregation. For me, my thoughts shifted to my four boys who are bombarded daily with teachings and influences that undermine their Christian upbringing. My boys are in the lion's den!

I could imagine what they have to face at school, the temptations, peer pressure, the mockery of Christianity that they hear from classmates and professors... How are they holding up? Or are they holding up...

Decades ago, I was in the same situation going into one the most secular, if not the most secular, and humanistic universities in the Philippines. I gave my life to Christ when I was in fourth year high school and was just beginning to understand what it meant to be a true Christian. I did not have deep theology. I was new at reading the Bible. All I was certain about was that Christ loved me and died for my sins, and that my only hope for eternal salvation was to put my faith on His finished work on the Cross. I made that decision in July 1975.

When I entered UP, I was still wobbly in my faith. Not that I doubted having given my life to Christ, but my knowledge of deeper doctrines was not deep enough. University life scared me not so much the academic part of it, but the part where I would have to stand for my Christian beliefs and convictions against what was taught in classrooms and promoted in the academic community. I expected to swim against the tide of public opinion at some point.

I knew I would not be able to make it alone so I joined IVCF, CCC and later Christian Communicators, all Christian organizations. I needed to be in community with like-minded people. During lunch breaks we would gather for prayer and devotionals by the side of the main library, and have weekly bible studies with a small group. We held evangelistic outreaches.

Indeed, it was tough to be a committed Christian in the university. Some of my Christian peers in high school fell away from the faith in their first year of college. Others disappeared later.

It was difficult indeed, if you want to maintain your convictions. In some of my classes, what I believed about God and the Bible were questioned or contradicted, if not mocked. For me who was not the arguing type, it was hard to take that. Around the campus, there were many issues and causes going on at any time that could easily pull you away from your spiritual moorings.

It was tougher when I reached third year because I entered the Institute (now College) of Mass Communications to major in Broadcast Communications. Everyone I talked to, especially those who were a year or two ahead, gave a dire picture of the college. In fact, I heard some call IMC and the College of Music beside it Sodom and Gomorrah.

It didn't take me long to understand why my college had this reputation. First, it was the stress brought about by my course. There was nothing more stressful than putting up a "live" TV show every week while a "terror" professor sat beside you, if you were the director, screaming at our ear at the slightest out-of-focus or dead air. Then there were papers and thesis requirements that kept you awake till the wee hours of the morning. Students were going bonkers, sort of. It is not uncommon to see people in a state of near-panic, swearing, shouting, smoking... Second, the culture of our college imitated what was out there in the industry, and you know how it is in the TV and radio industry.

Shy and quiet people that I knew transformed within a year in the college. Their language changed and loosened. Their appearance changed. TV exposure does that to you, doesn't it? Their disposition changed.... If I didn't remind myself of who I was and focused on my goal of being in a Christian communications ministry some day, which has been fulfilled, I would have succumbed to the culture. The pull was very strong.

I tried to stand my ground, to keep my values and identity. Did I succeed? Not without my friends and Christian fellowship. I could not have survived alone. On our college yearbook, someone wrote beside my picture "The exception to the Broadcasting stereotype. Manages to be different without being conspicuous..." I take that as a good thing.

Today as a parent, I want nothing more for my children than to be truly committed Christians wherever they are in life. But that is something they need to choose for themselves moment by moment. They need to fight their own battles. For my two adult children especially, I can only give them occasional advice and reminders. They are past the age where I can drag them to church. They need to live out their own faith, as I did mine.

I have to keep believing and claiming the promise in the Book of Proverbs that says, "Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it." That gives me much encouragement.

Bud and I make it a point to pray for our boys every day because we recognize that the battle is won in the spiritual realm. We believe that as we pray, God releases His power that envelops our children. They are covered.



Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Broccolini

Have you heard of broccolini?

I never knew there was such a vegetable and it's flourishing in my garden! I just discovered this last Saturday as I was looking for fennel bulbs at Pricesmart. I saw several bunches of this vegetable that looked so much like what I have in my garden. They were labelled broccolini.

It made sense.

You see, for many months, I had been waiting to see big, compact broccoli heads grow from my "broccoli" plants. Many small heads kept appearing but none became big enough. They would grow to be a little smaller than tennis balls then start spreading out. If I didn't harvest them soon enough, yellow flowers would start shooting up. When this happened, I would simply assume their growth was "derailed". Soon the stems of flowers would grow very long and produce pods. I collected the seeds from the pods after they dried, and re-planted them or gave them away. I already have several young plants that are growing in two separate planters where I used to grow wild plants, a.k.a. weeds.

Occasionally, I harvested whatever seemed big enough. But I have always wondered why I was not getting regular-sized ones you see in the market. Now I know why.

When I did a bit of research on the Internet, I found out that broccolini is a cross between broccoli and Chinese kale. It resembles broccoli. In fact, it is often mistaken as a young broccoli. But it's said to have a sweeter flavour. You can sautee it, steam it, roast it, boil it or stir-fry it, or put in your sinigang. Just like broccoli.


This is broccoli.


This is broccolini.

Because of my ignorance, I have let many broccolini heads--or stems--mature more than necessary. I could have done a lot of things with them. Blame it on the garden centre that did not label the plants correctly when I bought them. What did I know? Sometimes I couldn't even tell a weed from a plant.

It's a good thing broccolini plants are sturdy and perennial. I don't see them dying any time soon unlike my green beans that are slowly fading away. Even broken broccolini stems that I stick in the soil recover and grow.

Now that I know I am growing broccolini, I know better what to do with it. I expect to have a bigger harvest next year.

Will there be any more surprises from my vegetable garden?

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Grazie Maestro!

Ahh this clip makes me want to cry...



Don't you just love that superb tenor voice? I love classical music but I'm not an opera fan. However, I admired Luciano Pavarotti the few times that I heard and saw him on TV. I am just re-discovering him on youtube. His music was a gift to the world.

It must have been a great honour to be part of that huge orchestra accompanying him on stage. I would have loved to be one of the violinists playing Nessun Dorma and I don't even know how to play the violin. But watching and listening to this piece makes me want to be part of the perfomance and not just a spectator.

Here's another clip from Youtube. Here Pavarotti gives a most beautiful rendition of Ave Maria, a song often played during funeral processions in the Philippines that's why I didn't like the song that much. I still tend not to like it because it reminds me of the times I've walked behind a hearse and weeping mourners. But Pavarotti's rendition is excellent!

Addio, Luciano!


Saturday, September 01, 2007

Bon voyage, Gino!

So Gino finally achieved his dream of travelling to Europe! He left Thursday for France to study in Provence at the University of Avignon, places that I could pronounce better with a cold. Lucky guy! No, this wasn't luck. He diligently pursued this opportunity.

We had a family despedida for Gino. My sister and her family were there and so was my mother who extended her vacation in BC to see him off. I cooked chicken wings and a ton of sinigang that Gino won't be eating for the next little while. Bud prepared a Thai shrimp dish. We also had lettuce mandarin salad with Japanese dressing, and some desserts, nuts, pop and chips. And of course, rice. There was nothing French in the menu. I could've used French dressing at least.


Mom and Gino with a new 'do

"Monsieur, mademoiselle, bon appetit," I called out to invite people to the dining table. "OK, that's all of my French," I quickly added. Actually, I have a few more in my pocket which will come in handy when I go to France...

Only Lola, Bud and I took Gino to the airport. No tears, only good wishes and God's blessings for Gino...


With Lola at the aiport


With Dad

Back at home, I started cleaning up Gino's basement bedroom which will be occupied by Gabriel and Markus. Gino will be moving up to the second floor. As I put away his stuff and gathered his mess, that's when I began to cry. Gino will be away for four months in a foreign country! This isn't like the summer he went to Quebec on a student work program, or the four months he was in the US and Ontario working with Southwestern Company. He is across the Atlantic Ocean!

Last night, I kept checking my celphone and email for any word from France on his arrival. This morning I finally got an email from Gino saying that he had arrived and had visited Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower. All the while I was wondering if he had found the train station and his hostel... Did he get his luggage?... Does he have enough cash?...Did he bring warm clothing?...What, he left the granola bars!!... Is his laptop safe?... All these worries while he was already gallivanting, practising his French!

I am now at ease knowing that Gino is having a great time in Paris. He loves it there. He said he knew more French than he thought he did. He's been in long conversations with people. He leaves for Avignon on Monday.

Gino is spreading his wings and I am happy for him. This is stretching my faith as I learn to release him to God's hands. As much as Mother Hen would want to keep him under her wings, Mother Eagle would like to see him soaring. Thanks to the Internet, it would be easy keeping in touch with Gino for the next four months.

When Gino graduated from high school, I wrote him a card and blessed him and told him to go out there and conquer. I think he will do just that. He started it already. Of course, I would prefer to visit occasionally. I want to see France!!!

To Gino, Que Dieu te garde!