Sunday, December 21, 2008

Sherry red

Meet Sherry, the newest member of our family.



We took her into her home last Thursday. We are all very delighted to have this adorable dog around the house. My boys had been wanting a dog for a long time, but I was not very open to the idea. If you read an old entry in this blog, I set several conditions before getting a dog. I said it had to be free, has had shots, toilet trained, etc.

To find one meeting the first criterion, my boys had been searching craigslist for free dogs looking for a loving home. They found a few and contacted the owners, but nothing came out of those.

A month ago, my officemate emailed a bunch of us regarding a dog that was being given away by someone she knew. I immediately contacted the person. That night we checked it out. We instantly liked Sherry, also called Sheli by her current Korean owners.

There was one hitch though. It turned out that Sherry's original owner, who gave her to the current ones this past summer, wanted her given to someone she knew. She didn't know us. As a compromise, we had to wait for a month while owner #1 tried to look for a potential owner.

Since then, my boys kept counting the days and weeks. They were getting impatient. Me, I was fine with it. It gave me time to pray about this particular dog joining our family. God, if this is going to be good for us, let us have the dog. But if not, please do not give it to us.

When the time came, I got an email that we could get the dog. I thought, It is meant to be. We all got excited and bought dog food, treats, a dog collar and leash. Sherry was coming with her own doghouse.

Sherry is a red-coated Shiba Inu, the smallest of 6 original dog breeds from Japan. She is intelligent and knows several tricks. However, the commands she understands are mostly in the Korean language. So know we are trying to memorize those commands at the same time shifting her to English.

For now, we can get her to "sing" and "pray". I saw her respond to dance, wait, and other Korean commands. I wonder who will learn faster--Sherry on understanding English commands, or us on speaking Korean.

According to the National Shiba Club of America, adult Shiba Inus readily adjust to a new family and almost instantly adapt to being a spoiled only child. So true. She is now at ease with us and loves being pampered.



Sherry is easy to have in the house. She doesn't chew on slippers or chairs or jumps at the Christmas tree. We can leave her alone in the house and not worry about her making a mess. She is housebroken and will only pee or poop outside. The only thing is she loves to go for a walk and will give you good exercise when you take her out even in the snow.




As to diet, she is not a big eater. And she is a very healthy dog too. Never had health issues.

Sherry is a welcome addition to our family. We are so happy to have her. I read on some websites that pets, especially dogs, are good for your health, physically and emotionally, unless of course you are allergic to them.

Let's see if we can still teach Sherry new tricks.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Santa Claus, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White

"Mom, if you could be a fictional character, what would you be?" Markus asked me as I was driving him and Gabriel to school one morning. Before I could answer, he continued, "Me, I'd like to be Santa Claus so I will work only once a year."

"Not really," I said. "You make toys the rest of the year."

"No. Santa doesn't do it. He just says, 'Yeah, you make toys.'" Right, Santa has many helpers.

"Then I'll be Sleeping Beauty. I will just be sleeping and my Prince Charming will come," I said. He will wake me up and because I'm still groggy and wanting to sleep in, he will bring me a tray of apple-cinnamon topped oatmeal, eggs, pancake and hot mocha... Wait, that's not fiction. That's what MrB did for me last Sunday.

"Or I could be Snow White and have seven Dwarfs," I continued. "I have four already. I only need three more. Yeah, I'll be Snow White."

And live happily ever after.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Pests

These past few days, we've been noticing a growing number of fruit flies in our kitchen and dining room. There are always fruits in the house but it seems that whenever we have grapes, the flies aren't far behind. And these flies multiply fast.

This morning, Gabriel got a flyswatter and started swatting these pesky creatures on the walls and mirror. I was at the dining table, checking emails on the laptop.

"Don't do it so hard. You might disturb the neighbours or break the mirror. You're not swatting rats. You're only swatting flies...," I said.

Gabriel snickered. "Mom, you don't swat rats," he replied.

"Whatever."

When I stood up, Gabriel used the laptop. I got the flyswatter and started hitting the flies. Pretty soon, I was hitting them hard.

"Mom, the neighbours!" Gabriel blurted.

There's something about flies and flyswatters that arouse a "killer instinct" in me. I think I have memories stored in my limbic brain of the many flies, ants, cockroaches and rats we had to exterminate in some way inside our houses in the Philippines.

Soon after we moved into our own house that was still unfinished, among the first things we had to get installed were screens on all our windows and doors to keep the flies and mosquitoes out. The flies were not just fruit flies, but full-sized ones. Occasionally, one or two would manage to get in so you need to keep a flyswatter handy.

And the ants! I know we can learn a thing or two from their diligence, but apart from that I loathed these smart critters. They are so tiny but so many and so organized. I was amazed but extremely annoyed at the speed at which they found our food and swarmed on them. Oooh I hated that!

Being a stay-at-home mom, I was constantly finding ways to outsmart those ants and kill them in the process. What worked best for me was to place a shallow bowl or bowls of water in the middle of the dining table, and put an empty glass at the center of each one. I then placed the plate of food on the glass like it was perched on a tower. Let's see you all drown. Bah!

Another public enemy -- cockroaches! We were the first residents of our house, but it seemed those vile roaches had been there before us nesting in the surrounding lot. I was a very squeamish person, but when I had enough of these vermin creeping on our floors and kitchen counters, I declared an all-war against them. I hit them with a slipper, a flyswatter, a rolled newspaper. No mercy! Finally, Baygon killed their colony. I did not allow a stray roach to wander inside the house again without me running after it. Whaack!

OK, I will not even describe to you how we killed rats and mice. Oh, I forgot to mention termites. For these ones we had to call professional exterminators because they knew where to find the queen. You can't have termites in the house. They are destructive and very insidious.

When we first came to Canada, I was so relieved that we could leave the food on the table and not see an ant or a fly or coackroach. Deliverance!!! I was almost delighted to finally see a mosquito.

So here I was this morning, flyswatter on my right hand, reliving the same aggressive emotions I felt when I was battling pests that disturbed our home life in the Philippines.

Ooomph!....Hrrm!...Hah!... Oomph! I grunted as I hit the flies here and there, almost obsessively.

"Mom, the neighbours! Calm down," Gabriel said.

Once I got the momentum, I couldn't stop. I felt a great sense of satisfaction with each fly killed. I kept muttering things like, "Patay kang bata ka!" (You're dead, kid!"), "Buti nga sa yo," (Serves you right), "Akala mo makakaligtas ka sa 'kin, ha!" (You thought you could escape me!)... Oh, I can do this all day. It is good for releasing aggression!" Better than nagging.

"Mom, stop! You're annoying," Gabriel complained as I kept swatting around him.

"Oh, there's one! Move your head," I said while jolting his head forward. Now that's annoying--and intentional. "Oops, there's another one," I did the same thing, teasing Gabriel even more.

At one point, I stood quietly, flyswatter raised on my right hand, ready to pounce. It was as if I was taking an oath, "Do you swear to swat a fly and nothing but a fly?...

"Mom, stop standing there," Gabriel said. He grabbed the flyswatter from my hand. I remained standing.

"Mom, stop looking around. Watch TV," Gabriel insisted.

I was relentless. I went to the kitchen and looked around. I found a few more flies perched on the cabinets. I swat them with my bare hands.

"I love swatting flies," I exclaimed. Did I just say that? I thought to myself. Either my life is dull and pathetic, or I am one who will find excitement in anything. I won't ever get bored.

I think I have killed most of the flies. I don't see them flying anymore. Good riddance!!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Here we go a-caroling

If you happen to visit the Philippines at this time of the year, you will see many groups of children and adults alike caroling on the streets at night. They are singing for a little gift of cash for children, a bigger amount for adults. I don't know what is considered acceptable these days. During my time, we were happy to get 25 centavos from a house.

Caroling is one tradition I grew up with back in my home country. I was first allowed by my parents to go caroling with friends around age 7. We lived in a campus where neighbours knew each other, so it was safe for small kids like us.

It was an exciting time to go out every night with friends. We roamed around the neighbourhood as soon as it got dark till about 8 or 8:30 pm. We became bolder as we got older, and ventured farther and farther. But it was still within the campus.

We considered 4 or 5 as a good number of carolers per group. Less than that, homeowners might think the rest of the group was just hiding behind the bush or at a corner, waiting to have their turn. We tried this sometimes. In effect, the same group was trying to get a shot at the same house twice. Smart! But adults were suspicious and quickly dismissed very small groups of carolers with "Patatawarin" (Sorry). Smarter! Also, if there was just one or two of you, adults would give a very small amount, if at all.

At the end of the night, we split our earnings by the number of singers so it was really better to keep the group fairly small so everyone got a good share.

We made our own musical instruments. I used to collect pop bottle caps, flatten them with a hammer, make a hole in the middle and string them into a circle with a galvanized wire. They sounded like bells. Others might bring a can and a stick. Others might have two rocks they hit together. We probably made more noise than music, but that was for the homeowners to decide. They could give us money quickly or dismiss us with Patatawarin as soon as we sang Jingle bells....

We took note of which homes were generous or stingy, and which had dogs. We avoided the latter two. We went back to the givers, say, 2 or 3 days later. We tried not to go to their homes on consecutive nights or they might say, "Kayo na naman!" (It's you again!) and not give anything.

Sometimes we were lucky to find a home that always gave. This might be our own homes, or our next door neighbour, or the rare regular giver kind. More often than not, people gave randomly. Many said "Bumalik kayo sa Pasko" (Come back on Christmas Eve.) People tend to be more generous closer to December 25.

But there were Scrooges too. When we encountered such a home, we sometimes softly sang to ourselves, "Thank you, thank you ang babarat ninyo thank you!" (...You're so stingy, thank you!) as we left.

Caroling ended on December 24. On December 25, people were already tired from the celebrations and probably sleepy from staying up late on the 24th, they were no longer in the mood to hear carols. "Tapos na ang Pasko!" (Christmas is finished!).

I probably stopped caroling at age 12 or 13. At that age, it no longer felt appropriate. I knew I was outgrowing it when I started to feel embarrassed to sing especially when I had a classmate in the house. I sort of hid in the dark.

For adult carolers, it was different. They were more musical, usually had at least a guitar, and gave advance notice to people. There might be an occasional group that would just sing in front of your gate without notice, but they are the kind you will enjoy. Beautiful singing, guitar, sometimes speakers too. It would be a shame not to give anything.

After a long break, I went back to caroling when I joined a group of college friends from Christian Communicators. We went to a few homes that our leader knew. Our purpose was not only to bring cheers but to have fellowship and share the true meaning of Christmas, the birth of Jesus. I can't remember if we raised funds too.

In the following years, I joined our church choir in caroling. This was a real musical treat to people we visited. We sang in four voices, a capella or with a guitar. It was lovely. In between songs, someone shared his or her testimony about God's salvation. At the end, someone shared the gospel or an encouraging Christmas message. Then we shared a sumptuous snack prepared by the host.

Here in Canada, the caroling tradition is still alive among Filipino groups. I have joined our University Alumni Association's caroling 2 or 3 times. It was a fundraiser for some project in the Philippines. There was a lot of eating, too.

Last year, I joined the Filipino group at our church in caroling at the homes of new immigrants from the Philippines. I played the guitar. We brought them gifts and goodies. We went to give--not to receive--not just goodies but more than the the Christmas message, God with us.

I missed caroling this year. But plans are already in place for the one next year. I hope I can go then. It's a good tradition.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Stalked

I was talking with my sons one morning about young girls stalking guys. "Be careful," I said. I think, to a normal degree, most teens go through a "stalking" stage--following their crush around, trying to get a good view of the girl or guy, trying to get noticed or unnoticed... Or maybe this was back in my time? In this Internet age, you can easily find people online.

Going back to stalking, do you know that I was stalked once? I only knew about it when it was over. I was then in my 20s and still single. It was not a fatal attraction kind, no harm intended, just an unusual kind of getting-to-know-you...faster. A new acquaintance tasked his "connections in the underworld", he said, to find out if I was in a relationship or not. They followed me everywhere. He later confessed to it.

"That's an intrusion of my privacy!" I said, very upset. That ended the getting to know me--faster.

Nowadays, there's no need to go to that extreme because everyone seems to be online anyway. Facebook, MySpace, and a host of social networking sites have changed the way we do community.

But it's still different from seeing the real person, not just the virtual one. So yeah, maybe lovestruck girls or guys may do a bit of "stalking". However, when it becomes creepy and obsessive... "Don't play along with it. Be careful," I told my boys, just in case they encounter that experience.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Too hot to handle

OK, I have 18 minutes to blog. That's the time remaining for my cake to bake in the oven. I promised the boys I will bake something tonight. Choco chip cookies, Markus said. But we don't have choco chips and we ran out of eggs. So I'm making this No Egg Chocolate Cake recipe that I found on the Internet. I hope it turns out well.

Here I sit, making sure I don't forget I have something in the oven. I have learned my lesson. It was about this day last year when I almost burned down our kitchen. I partially burned my arms.

What happened was, I was preparing to fry something and had poured canola oil in the pan when the phone rang. A telemarketer. It took a while before I could say, sorry, not interested. When I went back to the kitchen, I was distracted by the dirty plates in the sink and proceeded to wash them. I forgot about the frying pan.

As I was washing the dishes, out of the corner of my left eye, I noticed flames suddenly rise from the pan. OH NOOO! I panicked and lifted it straight to the sink under the running water. BAD IDEA. I knew I wasn't supposed to do that but I was not thinking.

What happened next was that the flames grew and burned the paper towel hanging above the sink. I got more scared and carried the hot and burning pan out into the adjacent foyer. I thought it was safer there.

I carefully put down the pan on the floor, while enduring a burning sensation on my hands. During those 6 or 7 steps to the foyer, I saw something burning on the right side of my face. OHHH NO MY FACE!!! I thought it had caught fire.

I quickly stepped back, covering my face with my hands, spun around, bumped into oven and lost my balance. I dropped to the floor with a loud thud. All these happened within seconds.

"GABRIEEEEL!" I screamed. I knew he was in the basement. I alerted him to what was going on so he could call for help or run for safety.

"Mom, what was that?" he asked, looking at the pan on the floor. The fire had almost died out. I was composing myself.

"I almost burned the kitchen," I answered. I checked myself in the mirror. My hair was singed but my face was spared. I was so relieved. I ran cold water on my hands and forearms which had turned red and were hurting.

I looked around the kitchen. How did the paper towel not completely burn? I wondered. It was like the fire was snuffed out as soon as it started. Same thing with my hair. Only the surface of my thick hair got singed.

I imagined my guardian angels must have been busy putting out fires here and there. Oh you foolish woman...

For the next several days, I applied lots of my doctor-prescribed cream that looked like mayo on my forearms which I then wrapped in saran wrap. "My lunch," I joked to the kids.

I still have burn scars on my right forearm. They look like a map, slightly browner than my skin.

"When your pan catches fire," a friend said, "just toss salt into it." Really? I never knew that. I know I can simply turn off the stove and toss in a wet cloth, which I forgot to do. I tried to grab the fire extinguisher, but didn't know how to work it.

"When you get a burn, rub toothpaste on it," another friend said. She swears by this first aid technique.

"Stop, drop and roll..." I used to sing with my young sons at their daycare class on Fire Prevention Week years ago. That's what you're supposed to do when you catch fire. Stop, drop and roll. I dropped and rolled on the floor, all right, but it was unintentional.

The most important lesson I learned from that experience is not to leave hot oil cooking in the pan. I am very aware of this now.

I think the cake is done. It will be ready when the boys wake up.

Take care in the kitchen.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Day of rest

Two weeks ago, our pastor challenged us to observe a day of rest or Sabbath each week. I will not attempt a theological discussion here of the biblical Sabbath or mention all that was brought up in that Sunday service. Suffice it to say that I came away from the service agreeing that, yes, having a Sabbath is a good idea.

It does not have to be Sunday or Saturday. Whatever suits your schedule, that's what our pastor said. The important thing is to take a break, spend more time meditating, reading God's Word, praying, visiting with people who will refresh not drain you, doing things that restore the body and the spirit.

I have read other materials on keeping the Sabbath. I remember one author saying that on this day, do things you don't HAVE to do.

I decided I will try to have this day of rest from now on. How hard could that be?

Fortunately MrBlossoms and I were on the same page on this. He agreed to take Saturday for himself. I get Sunday.

On his free day, he goes to a nearby forest with his books and iPod. I do the chores at home. Me, I prefer to stay at home, cooped in the bedroom, served food (ah, wouldn't that be nice?)... He does all my chores.

He suggested that I go out, to the mall maybe, but that is hardly rejuvenating for me. Shopping exhausts me. I want to stay home. They can all go out and leave me alone at home to enjoy some total peace and quiet...Wait, that's not good on the wallet.

Anyway, I thought resting for a day would be really easy. NOT! At times I felt guilty doing nothing, lying in bed, resting. At times, I thought about chores. NOT WORKING requires discipline!

Last weekend, I had to drop off the car at the shop for a tune-up. Hubby had to follow me in the van so I can have a ride home. Since we were already on the road, we did our grocery shopping too. As agreed upon, hubby would move his rest day to Sunday because of all these errands.

This meant I had to do all chores on Saturday--laundry, cleaning and cooking our Sunday food on top of our Saturday food... I didn't quite finish everything. By Sunday, there were a couple of little things that I had to do that were chore-related. I need to plan better next time.

Still, I was able to get much rest on Sunday. By night time, I was tired of resting. How odd! I am so not used to this. As I said, I need better planning so that my day of rest doesn't feel like wasting away. It's supposed to be rejuvenating, remember? For the body, mind and spirit.

So I will list ideas on how I can spend this day of rest. While the weather is cold and rainy, I will probably do more journaling, reading books I had long wanted to read, blogging, trying creative things... MrBlossoms has agreed to give me some art lessons in January. I was planning to take lessons at the city recreation centre here, but hubby can very well give me that--for free! (Or maybe in exchange for a back massage oh HIS day of rest...)

Thank God for Sabbaths. He probably knew our propensity to get busy, busy, busy and to work ourselves to death. Maybe that's why He had to set the example for us by creating the heavens and the earth in 6 days and resting on the 7th, and then declaring the day of rest sacred.

I wonder how my life will change after consistently keeping a day of rest?

Friday, November 28, 2008

It's my turn

I am reading through the Book of Acts in the New Testament these days. I have read it many times before in different English versions. Now I'm reading from The Message which uses contemporary language. It appeals and speaks to me in a fresh way.

Lately, I've been finding myself crying as I read the lives of these first century Christians.

I cry as I read about the early disciples and apostles. I thank God for them and the nameless others from that period who endured severe persecution and gave their lives for the love of Christ. So now we have the Gospels, Acts, Epistles, Revelations... Plus the books of the Old Testament.

I cry as I imagine the many men and women who through the centuries remained faithful at all cost to follow Christ and keep God's Word. I don't think there's any other book that has withstood as much opposition as the Bible. It's still being opposed today, burnt, confiscated, declared illegal, accused of hate crimes, prevented from being taught even in so-called free countries. But people still die for it.

I cry as I remember the missionaries who, following Christ's Great Commission to "go into all the world", laboured and gave up life's comforts, even their lives, to take the gospel to unknown foreign lands including my own.

I cry because I am grateful. Eternally grateful.

It must have taken thousands of faithful people to bring me to a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. I never saw them or knew them but I hope to personally thank them in heaven some day.

And then there are the ones whom God brought to my path from a young age who directly or indirectly drew me a step closer to knowing Him...

...the college students who went to my high school to mount a concert where I first heard a gospel presentation.

...the Crossroad singers from abroad who performed at that concert. They went as volunteers, raising their own support, spent many months or years preparing.

...a student boarder at our house who owned the first Holy Bible I ever touched in my life.

...my father who, intentionally or unintentionally, promoted Bible reading to me when he started taking trips and staying at hotels from where he took home Gideon's New Testaments. I took a pocket New Testament from his room and started reading it in secret. I quickly got hooked.

...the Certain Sounds Singers who visited my campus like the Crossroads Singers did 3 years earlier. This is where I finally invited Jesus into my life.

...each diligent Bible study leader and fellow student, many just a little older than myself, in the university who took time to guide me through the Word of God and answer many difficult questions.

...many preachers and teachers, often working with meager pay and difficult circumstances, who faithfully built me up and helped me grow in my walk as a Christian even when I wasn't always teachable.

I cry as I think of the countless people whom God used to prepare my path long before I was born and brought into my life so that I may know Him. It's like He orchestrated this huge production to get through to me.

I still have those people in my life today, co-travelers in this faith journey.

Thank you all you faithful people.

Now it's my turn. I don't mean now now. From the time I made a decision to give my life to Christ, it's been my turn.

It's my turn to be faithful.

It's my turn to observe and preserve His Word.

It's my turn to pass it on.

It's my turn to make my own sacrifices, to endure the insults and mockery and criticism from people and institutions which sometimes scare me silent...

To be honest, it's not easy to follow Christ. Jesus said it Himself, "You must take up your cross..." I can't do it on my own. God help me!

But having Christ in my life in a very real and personal way makes any sacrifice a small thing. And it will be fully rewarded, by leaps and bounds.

I found this video on GodTube. It's a song by Steve Green (shown here) that has resonated in my heart since the first time I heard it, perhaps in the late 80s or early 90s. I remember singing it with a small group at our church. I'm not sure if I already had kids then, but they were certainly in my mind. Because in the end, all I want my boys to remember about me is that Mom was faithful. And it's only because God is.


Steve Green singing Find Us Faithful

Monday, November 24, 2008

Hummmm

I learned an easy stress relief tip this morning as I was perusing Dr. Oz's website RealAge. According to a Dr. Amy Wechsler, "humming has has been scientifically proved to boost nitric oxide (NO), a nifty little body gas that, in small doses, has a stress-reducing effect."

I like that. I'm a natural hummer. I've blogged about it before. I hum a lot especially while I'm working.

"Mom, do you know what you are humming?" Gino asked me the other night while I was making chicken pot pie.

"It's from James and the Giant Peach," Gabriel, who was playing computer games nearby, replied.

"Why are you humming that?" Gino wondered what made me remember an old tune, which I can't remember now, from the movie that we loved to watch when they were very young. I don't know. I didn't even realize I was humming--again.

According to the article, "humming affects the airflow between the sinuses and the nasal cavity in a way that creates more NO, a gas that promotes wound healing, new collagen formation, and better blood flow in the skin." It further says NO is produced in our respiratory tract and most notably in the sinuses.

It's good to know that there's another stress relief method that won't cost you a penny. It never ceases to amaze me how our body works, and how a simple thing like humming does it good. And I'm already in the habit of doing it!

Friday, November 21, 2008

"The more we learn...

...the less we know."

Isn't this the truth? It seems that with knowledge comes ignorance. You realize that, hey, you are not as smart as you thought.

The other day, I was talking about car maintenance with a female colleague who's only a year older than my eldest son.

"When I graduated from university, I thought I knew everything. And then I found out I really didn't know anything. How sad!" she said. "I didn't even know how to make fried rice."

I can relate. I felt that way too. I still do sometimes.

But I think that is good. For one, it keeps you humble. And it makes you teachable. And you become more eager to learn about things you don't know or you thought you had figured out.

It's been decades since I finished school but I am still studying. But this time it's more about acquiring skills and gaining more wisdom to deal with my day-to-day challenges. It's never ending.

Oh, I have so much more to learn.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

CyberMom

One Saturday morning, while I was still in bed, I went online on our laptop to check what my boys were doing on the PC. I knew they were already awake and either Gabriel or Markus would be playing Maple Story. I decided to play a little prank.

"is dis markus?" I initiated a chat. My boys did not know that I could access both our PC and laptop from any computer connected to the Internet as if I was in front of the monitor myself.

"yeah... who's dis?"

"mom... don't chat with strangers..."

The chat went on and Markus was wondering how we can both see the same desktop except that I wasn't physically beside him. I played with the cursor. Pressed CTRL-ALT-DEL and other buttons that showed up on his monitor.

"come, check what i'm doing," I said. I was getting a kick out of it. A little later Markus went to my bedroom and watched me as I operated the PC from the laptop. He was fascinated. It was Gabriel's turn to play on the PC. Markus suggested that I mess with Gabriel's game.

"Mom, that would be funny!" Markus said.

"If you're the one playing, will that be funny?" I asked. Gabriel could see an extra arrow going all over the desktop.

"Mom, you froze my game," he complained.

Later that day, Markus was back on the PC in the living room, and I was cooking in the kitchen.

"Markus, don't chat with strangers online," I repeated.

"But it was you, Mom," he replied.

"Yeah, but you didn't know that. It could be a stalker. Just ignore it. Or we should have a code like, I know you have a mole on your face," I said.

"Mom, a stalker would know that," Markus answered. I decided to humour him.

"What about, you don't brush your teeth everyday... Or, you drool on the couch..." Markus was being a good sport.

"A stalker would know that. Something like how many extra toes do I have?" he replied. "Or something emotional like, who's my best friend?"

"That's not emotional," I said.

"Or what time was I born?"

Gabriel butted it in. "Even you don't know what time you were born."

Finally, we set some codes between ourselves.

I monitor my boys' Internet use. I don't trust the Internet. I have parental controls on our computers at home. I keep the login password and change it almost daily. Because Gabriel and Markus come home from school earlier than I do from work, they have to call me for the password after they have done homework and housechores.

Now I don't even have to be home or in the same room with them to see what they are doing online if I wanted to. I won't be doing this a lot. It's just another protective measure.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Election fever, part 2

Here's what happened next...

There I was, standing outside a beerhouse on a main road in San Pablo City. Nervous on the inside, calm and collected on the outside. I was damsel in distress, where's my knight in shining armour?

With two options--to spend the night outside a closed MacDonald's, or, to ride home with a jeepload of men, all total strangers--I chose what I thought to be less risky, the second. After all, the men had a drink but weren't drunk. No slurred speech or unsteady walk. They looked decent and friendly. They were respectful and kept a safe distance.

In my 10 years of doing fieldwork in the rural areas, I had found men from the provinces to be generally nicer and more respectful towards women compared to their Manila counterparts. I was also emboldened by the fact that they were known to the policeman who gave me over to their care.

But as a precaution, I sat closest to the back of jeepney, near the exit. I kept my eyes and ears open throughout the trip especially when we passed through dark and winding isolated sections of the provincial road, in between vast coconut plantations.

If this jeepney slowed down to stop, I thought, I will jump out, throw away my bag and folder of questionnaires, and run into the dark.

Finally, we reached the next town. The streets were better lighted. There were more houses on the roadside. But at the junction, the jeepney parked in front of a house which had a carinderia or small eatery in front.

"Mag-pansit muna tayo "(Let's have Chinese noodles), somebody said. I respectfully declined and said I would stay in the vehicle. But they insisted that I join them in their midnight snack. When I saw there was a woman inside, I decided to go in. This was probably safer than staying outside by myself as it was almost 12 midnight.

The drivers seemed to know the owner of the eatery. She must be related to one them. I made small talk with the men and the owner of the place while eating, and dropped names of relatives in Los Banos just in case they knew anyone. It was also my way of saying, Hey, my roots are from this province. We could even be related.

I might have spoken with their accent too because that was one technique I often used during my field assignments to win the locals' sympathy and get them to accommodate me for an interview. It often worked. Locals seemed to appreciate the fact that I was trying hard to be one of them, never mind if I looked or sounded awkward.

Finally, we were done eating and back on the road. There was one more town and then I was home. My aunt's place served as my base for this period. I heaved a sigh of relief when we got there. It was already around 1 am. Thank you, guys, for taking me home safely. Thank you, Lord! I learned my lesson.

Indeed, I learned valuable lessons from this misadventure, foremost of which was to avoid unnecessary risks. My work in itself, when I had to do field interviews, involved dangers, I did not have to go looking for more. Watching an election campaign was not as important as watching my little boys--then only Gino and Mickey--grow up. I was already a young Mom. I needed to be more cautious. I had to go home in one piece.

I think this field experience, and that presidential race, was one of my most memorable one. I have other adventures and misadventures during my younger years that I could blog about. Even my boys will be surprised. It's like Mom had another life. Why, of course, there is more to me than cleaning and cooking!!!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Election fever

Finally, the US presidential election is over. Let's start praying for Barack Obama. He will need lots of prayers.

Here in Canada, we had elections last October and Stephen Harper got to keep his post as Prime Minister. The campaign period was short, and compared to that of the US, it was much tamer. I find the election process here quick and simple. It is relatively easy to choose who to vote for. You base it on party platform more than personality or looks or patronage.

In the Philippines, it is very different. Each election season is marred with mudslinging, violence, vote-buying, cheating, murder... I can't remember it ever being peaceful. Party platforms are not very clear. Candidates change parties. Balimbing! (Like the starfruit) Election day itself is so chaotic at the polls. Even the dead vote. Flying voters are bussed to polling places. These are all allegations with sufficient evidence.

The counting process takes a long time. Ballot boxes are stolen. Election returns are doctored. In the end, you don't really know who won fair and square. I'm not sure if things have improved.

But the campaign period in the Philippines is festive. You will hear various jingles on the airwaves or blaring from vehicles going from place to place from early in the morning till evening. Posters and buntings are everywhere.

There is one Philippine presidential election that stands out in my memory. The year was 1992. The main candidates were Ramos and Santiago.

During one of my fieldwork assignments in the province of Laguna, I learned that Santiago was going to hold a rally in San Pablo City on the same day I would be in the area. I thought it was a good opportunity to hear a presidential candidate in person. When else could I have that opportunity? So I decided to stay and wait for the rally scheduled early in the evening.

6 pm. People started arriving. Soon there was a huge crowd and the roads were closed. 7 pm. still no Santiago. Someone announced that Santiago and her party would be late in coming from another rally in a different town.

I had waited anyway, I decided to stay. Finally, Santiago's party arrived and the crowd started cheering. Several people spoke and finally Santiago herself delivered her crowd-rousing speech.The rally ended past 10 pm.

As people left the area, I realized that there were no more public transportation plying the road. I was stranded in a strange place where I did not know anyone. What to do???

I walked and walked looking for the bus terminal. No bus. No jeepneys. Should I spend the night here? Where? There was a McDonald's in the town square and although it was closed, it was lighted and there were chairs outside. I could sit there, chat with a homeless and wait for dawn. What if I fell asleep? Nah, not safe.

I walked around looking for someone I might be able to approach for assistance. I saw a policeman standing by the road but I was hesitant to approach him. During those days, policemen had a bad reputation. You couldn't tell if they were on your side or they were goons in uniform. But what choice did I have? I took my chance and approached him.

"May motel ho bang malapit dito?" (Is there a motel nearby?") I asked. I didn't see a hotel in the area, but a small motel or hostel might be available.

"Nag-iisa ka? Huwag, delikado," (Are you alone? No, it's not safe.) he replied. He looked concerned. This was an honest policeman, I thought. Travel tip: A lone female checking into a B-class motel in the city outskirts could be perceived as a hooker or an easy target of thieves, rapists or voyeurs. He did not want me to take that risk.

When the policeman asked me where I was staying, I told him I was staying with an aunt in Los Banos, a town about 30 minute-drive away. He said there was a group of jeepney drivers who were headed to that town. They were having an association meeting in a nearby beerhouse. He could ask them to give me a ride.

At around 11 pm, several men started going out of the beerhouse. The policemen approached someone and told him about me. They seemed to know each other. I could tell they all had a drink, and I was going to ride with these guys? At midnight???

To be continued...

Friday, October 31, 2008

Dust to dust

Here in North America, Halloween is a big deal. Children and adults come out in fancy costumes and go house to house for trick or treat.

In the Philippines, the big day is November 1st, not October 31st. We remember our dearly departed on All Saints' Day, a stat holiday. Cemeteries and memorial parks are packed with people bringing flowers and lighting candles on their loved ones' tombs.

When I was a child, we regularly visited the grave of my fourth sibling Tessie who died of polio before she turned two, maybe 3 years prior to my birth. Her little tomb was on a hillside of a public cemetery in Marikina. My father painted it white every first of November and we spent the day there chatting with other visitors of surrounding tombs. I went around and collected candle drippings that I turned into a smooth ball of wax.

I remember the story of two young siblings buried near Tessie. We saw their parents every year on All Saint's Day. The brothers, around 10 years old, drowned together in a creek and were found clinging to each other. What a sad story. I'm sure I heard other how-he/she-died stories, but that's all I could remember.

Over the years, this Marikina cemetery became more and more crowded. The traffic leading to it became increasingly horrible. People inched their way in and out of the cemetery supervised by young Boy Scouts. Because tombs were above ground unlike those in memorial parks, it became harder to find a path to walk on. Tombs which had no fresh paint or visitors often became stepping stones for those who had little respect for the dead.

I remember that on November 1, when it was not searing hot and sunny, it was terribly muddy in the cemetery. But people came in droves, thousands upon thousands of them. Some would come on October 31st to clean the grave and paint the tombs or have an overnight vigil.

Our annual visits to my sister's grave became less frequent when my maternal grandparents and other relatives died and were buried in the province. We started going to my mother's hometown of Laguna on November 1. This day became some sort of a mini-reunion in the cemetery with our extended family.

Public transportation on this holiday was a nightmare. We always took the car to Laguna. One time I took the bus with my cousin. The terminal was full and very chaotic. When an empty bus arrived to pick up passengers, people rushed to it before it fully stopped, and squeezed themselves through the door. No line-ups! Wanting to secure a seat faster, my male cousin climbed through the window like other men were doing. Then he pulled me up. I was maybe 16 or 17 then, but, hey, forget modesty. Get me on the bus!! This was not a time to be slow and persnickety.

Eventually, my November 1sts became just another free day when the traffic and crowds--both the living and the dead--became way too much of a hassle. I stayed home or went out with friends.

There was a time in my young life that the mere sight of a cemetery gave me chills. I feared it. I didn't want to imagine myself among the lifeless people trapped inside those cold, dark tombs. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

But that was a long time ago before I had Christ in my life. Now I have come to terms with the reality that my life on earth is but a vapour. A tiny speck in time. I am not staying here forever. I don't want to. I want to be with my Maker after my earthly mission is accomplished. And that's where I know I'm going, no shred of doubt about it. Jesus promised to give eternal life to all who believe in Him. He doesn't make promises He can't deliver.

I've been to several funerals of people I know who had Jesus in their lives. It was a somber occasion and yet a joyful one. Yes, there were tears, but more so, there was a celebration of the person's life on earth and the hereafter. You can sense it. On the other hand, I've been to funerals where there was nothing but grief and despair...

The day before my father was scheduled to have an angioplasty, I asked him if he was ready, come what may. He said yes, and that he had faith. Led by my husband, we prayed together at the ICU. The next day, before his angioplasty happened, my father suffered organ failure leading to his death. It was a painful event for all of us, but the last that I talked to my father, he was at peace. I take comfort in that fact and in the memory that I once overheard him telling my mother months before that salvation is truly in Jesus alone, just like the guy on the radio, or TV, was saying. I believe that if he were standing here right now, he would say it again. God's Word says it. Christ's resurrection affirms it. My father is witnessing it.

One day, I too will go. The Bible says I cannot add one day to the number I've been given. What matters is where I go next and how I live my life and who I live for in the meantime.

In my family we talk about death casually. Not with dread or the superstition that if you talk about it, it will come. This is not to say they can go ahead and do stupid things we are all going to die anyway. To be brave is one thing, to be foolish, another. Occasionally, I talk about the virtue of donating organs and the practicality of cremation. I am not concerned about this shell I will leave behind. The real me will be having the time--or eternity--of my life.

I know someone who has very specific funeral instructions in her will. It sounds like a party, balloons, happy songs, no eulogies. Talk about Jesus and his goodness instead, and what He meant to her life. That's one going away party. A home-going celebration.

"Mom, what will you leave with me?" I've been asked this question one or twice before. "My debts," I jokingly reply.

Really now, here's what I want to leave with my family, more than the little savings and investments I will manage to put aside in this uncertain economy. I want to leave them a faith legacy, one which they will enjoy forever. There's nothing like an everlasting return on investment after your body returns to dust where it came from.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Breakfast in bed

It wasn't Mother's Day. I wasn't down with the flu. But I had breakfast in bed.

It was Pro-D day Friday, or Professional Development Day at my boys' high school, so they had no classes. Gabriel woke up very early. (How come kids wake up early when there is no school?) He sneaked into my bedroom and asked something about food that I didn't cook or cooked the previous night. I can't remember. I was still groggy at 6am.

"There's pork chop in the fridge," I mumbled.

He went to the kitchen and some time later went back to my bedroom with a platter. By this time I was ready to get up.

"Wow!" I was pleasantly surprised to see a piece of pork chop with romaine lettuce on the side drizzled with a little balsamic vinegar.

"Mom, taste," he said. Gabriel had made his own sauce.

I sat up and placed the plate carefully on my lap so that nothing spilled on the white linen.

"Nice!" I commented. I don't know what he mixed but it was good. "Can I please have rice?" I'm not used to eating pork chop without rice.

"No rice for you," he said.

"Just a little," I replied while giving him back the plate. Gabriel went back to the kitchen and returned with leftover brown rice on my plate. I enjoyed my surprise breakfast in bed, courtesy of my 14-year-old chef-in-the-making. Thanks, Gabriel! That was really wonderful!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Modern

Last weekend, my mother was here with two of her friends from Seattle, both seniors like herself, to attend my grandniece's christening. They stayed at my house for two nights and two days. It was a nice change from having all boys-to-men around the house. Let's have more estrogen! (or whatever is left of it anyway).

One of my mother's friends is Manang Flor, a puny 78-year-old widow about 4'8" tall. You'll never guess she has 10 children. When she first saw me in Seattle, she said I needed a haircut because my hair made me look old. My mother agreed. I obliged. How can I say no to two elderly women? And how can I refuse a cheap haircut, the by-donation-only kind?

Manang Flor loves to cut hair and sees it as a service to other people. It's almost like a passion for her. It makes her happy to make people look better.

I had little time to think about, or rather, little resistance to refuse the order, I mean, offer. Whats' the worst that could happen? I'd look awful or funny for a few days and then my hair would grow back. I could take a chance at looking better.

Then Manang Flor gave me a facial and a back massage and taught me some exercises and reflexology techniques. (She worked for years at a hospital back in the Philippines.) It was like having a mini-spa treatment. I was grateful.

Fortunately, my haircut turned out well. When I went back to BC, a friend of mine noticed it immediately. She said whoever did it knew how to shape the back. Very good then. My previous hairstylists have all disappointed me because they couldn't get it right. My hair is too thick and a little stubborn. It's hard to cut short.

Last Saturday, Manang Flor said she'd cut my hair again. She and my mother had decided back in Seattle that it was time to cut my hair even without seeing how it looked. I obliged again. No big deal. Manang Flor cut my hair meticulously while telling stories about her life, her husband, her 10 children... It was a long haircutting session.

When she was done, she asked my opinion and made a few changes according to my preference. Some bangs, hair slightly covering the ears... Then she taught me how to comb my hair this way and that, dry it a certain way, use anti-flat... My mother and her other friend, Manang Letty, chimed in every now and then.

Next, my eyebrows. They should be tweezed, they said, and then nicely shaped with an eyebrow pencil. I avoid plucking my eyebrows. I've tried it and it hurt! So I let them be, stray hairs and all. And the eyebrow pencil? I think the only time I used one was when I acted in a play during my high school years. I can't remember using it any other time. Not even on prom night or my wedding day.

But there's always a first time.

Manang Flor made me recline comfortably then she dabbed cream on both brows and eyelids and began plucking the hairs there one by one. She said my tweezer wasn't good so I might feel a little sting sometimes. Surprisingly, the plucking wasn't as bad as I thought. She did this for several minutes while telling me stories from years gone by. When she was done, I looked at the mirror and went into shock, haha. I was somewhat shocked, to be honest. I had never seen my brows this thin. Ooh, I will really need a pencil.

The next day, I was standing beside my mother in front of the mirror as we were preparing to go to the mall. She was putting on make-up. I was fixing my hair and wondering what to do with my thin eyebrows. I had no pencil. She let me borrow hers. She said I should never use black, only a shade of brown. Manang Letty was fixing up too and giving me additional tips.

"Dapat maging makabago ka na," my mother told me while styling her hair. Yes, that's my 83-year-old mother telling me, her middle-aged youngest daughter, to become modern. I found that rather amusing. Me, getting beauty tips from 3 senior citizens!

At the mall, we went to Shoppers Drug Mart where we got some beauty stuff including my own medium brown eyebrow pencil with a tiny little brush attached to its cover. How cuuute! From now on I will brush my eyebrows too!

Next, we went to Ardene. My mother and I like this store and enjoy looking through its trinkets and accessories. We got earrings on sale, 3 packs for $10! One pack could have more than 3 sets of earrings. What a deal! I prefer these cheapie ones to real jewelry that I'd be afraid to lose. I got some dangling ones to go with my new short hair. I have started wearing large dangling earrings. Wow, isn't that modern! Hahahaha.

I wanted to get my ears pierced again so I can wear two sets of earrings on each ear. My mother agreed. Maybe if I said I'd get a nose stud too, she'd say "Siya nga!" (Right on!) When the saleslady showed me the studs and the price - $15 for one ear, $20 for both - I said I'll do it next time. Beyond my budget. Cheap, cheap, cheap.

Nowadays, you'll see me walking with my new hair, penciled brows, and a different scarf everyday, thanks to my sis-in-law Noemi who sent me a bunch from the Philippines. TWC, how about some fashion tips for me?

I'm not sure how long this "beautification season" will last. Call it the "modernification" of Lerryblossoms.

I must go back to Seattle when my hair and brows grow back and have Manang Flor redo them. I need to keep up with the modern times!!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today is Canada's Thanksgiving Day. Am I ever so thankful for living in this big beautiful country and for the many blessings I have had the past year.

Last night, we had a potluck dinner at my sister's house with our two families and the latest addition to the clan, her 6-month old granddaughter. It was a happy occasion!

Thanksgiving is one tradition that my family has learned to adopt as immigrants even before we understood the history behind it. We have been celebrating Thanksgiving Day in some way every year, with no reference at all to its original meaning. We are simply thankful.

In case you, like me, didn't know, Canadian Thanksgiving has nothing to do with the pilgrims and the Mayflower that are behind the American Thanksgiving. That's what I thought when we were new here. We were more familiar with the US holiday in November. Now I know that Canada's Thanksgiving Day has to do with being thankful for a bountiful harvest. In Canada, harvest comes earlier than south of the border because of the colder weather. This much I know.

Although my family does not particularly like to eat turkey, we normally eat it on this day because it's the traditional food in every Thanksgiving party. My sister roasted one yesterday. I have not done so myself and I'm okay with serving roast chicken instead, but I will eat turkey, no problem. Just don't make me roast it. Maybe in the distant future.

I made Sticky Ribs with Sweet Potatoes, a recipe I found on the Internet. I don't usually make and bring an untried recipe to a party. Yesterday was a good attempt. I was pleased with the result.

I also made creamy pumpkin soup. Pumpkin is abundant this time of year. I had never thought about cooking pumpkin because I always saw it more as Halloween decor rather than a vegetable. I only know kalabasa. But when my friends Ric and Loida were here, they mentioned pumpkin was good to make into soup especially if you use a food processor. So for the first time, I made a dish out of pumpkin yesterday and it actually turned out well. Now I want to try other things with it.

The other day, we went to a cranberry festival in Fort Langley where I bought fresh cranberries for the first time. Gino made cranberry sauce with them. So easy! I think I will make my own cranberry sause from now on instead of getting the processed one.

So this was how our Thanksgiving Day went. On Friday we are going to have another celebration with our friends this time. I have endless reasons to be thankful. And another thankful celebration isn't a bad idea.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Butchart Gardens, Vancouver Island

Here's a slide show of our recent trip to the Butchart Gardens. If you want bigger images, click on View All Images. To mute the music, click on the speaker icon. Loids and Ric, glad to have you. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Together again

Loida and I worked together at the University of the Philippines for 10 years. She became my closest friend and associate at UP-ISSI. I remember my first field work assignment. The two of us traveled together to Nueva Ecija, an unforgettable experience I will probably blog someday.

By association, our hubbies naturally became part of our circle. When we became neighbours at a newly opened subdivision in Quezon City, our lives became more intertwined. Our children took the same school bus to the same Montessori school. They became like a family to us, sharing, helping out, looking after each other's kids.

In 1995, they migrated to New Zealand. Three years later, we migrated to BC.

Oceans apart and leading separate lives, we were not completely out of touch. Though our phone conversations and emails were few and far between, we simply picked up from where we left off.

The topic of visiting each other sometimes came up. They always sounded serious about coming here to visit or work. I wanted to visit New Zealand, but it was more like wishful thinking. O me of little faith...

I was totally and pleasantly surprised when Loida emailed me a few weeks ago that their whole family was coming to Vancouver for a holiday. The details of their trip--the plane flights, vacation days of the whole family from work or school, etc--came together in a way that can only be described as providential. We were thrilled! I immediately filed my own vacation leave.

After 13 years, we saw each other again two Fridays ago. Their kids have grown; I tried to fast forward, or rather age forward the images I had of them in my mind. Loida and Ric, however, looked more youthful than in the olden days when we were back home bearing the heat and dust and traffic and lack of water in the area where we lived. They said we seemed younger too. What great friends we are!


Reunited after 13 years and looking less stressed

They were here for only nine days, three of which were spent in Seattle. For the rest of their visit, we had a great time of catching up and enjoying each other's company, cooking together, seeing places, driving around, chatting, and planning our next get-together.


Searching online for a cruise. Whooppeee!

But we are thinking beyond a mere vacation together. I wish they can just move here, God-willing. Then we can be neighbours again!! Yay!!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Blueberry picking




My sister told me about a blueberry farm in this city where we live. She sounded very enthused about it and prodded me to go blueberry picking too.

"Come on, boys," I told Gabriel and Markus. "Let's go blueberry picking." They were uninterested. "Mom, just get from Superstore," they said. Unable to pluck them from the computer, I went by my lonesome.

Following my sister's directions, I drove down to 152 St. and turned left on Colebrook Road leading to what appeared to me as a mere open space. I was about to make a U-turn when I saw a structure from a distance. The sign said River's Bend Winery. This is it!

I hadn't been to a winery before. I went inside the small building expecting to hear people working and machines running. Instead it was very quiet and there was only one lady inside. But then it was a Sunday.

"Do you still have blueberries?" I asked.

"Sure! Have you been here before?" the lady replied.

"No, this is my first time. Where's the farm?"

She led me outside and pointed to the farm's direction. "Just go straight and you'll see a road there," she said.

I didn't know I had to bring my own bag so she gave me a box. There was something else I didn't know--what a blueberry plant or bush looked like.

When I saw neat rows of vines, I thought that was it. However, the fruits were all green and in clusters. These look like grapes. Or are these blueberries? How come they are not blue? Or are blueberries harvested green then they turn blue? Or maybe there's more down the rows. I was totally confused.

I walked and walked. Not seeing the familiar blueberries I get from the Superstore, I phoned my sister. She told me the blueberry farm was after the grapevines. Imagine the shock on the storekeeper's face and what she would be saying in her head if I came back with a box of green grapes instead of blueberries. What a dumb woman! Hahahaha. She'd be too nice to say that out loud.

The lady said there was a road, but maybe she meant a path. I followed the path to the bushes. I didn't recognize that area to be a farm. It seemed unkempt with lots of tall wild grass. There was nobody else there. I was alone.

Remembering what my sister said, I walked further towards the back of the farm because the bushes closer to the road had been harvested and were fruitless. Finally I saw a bush with three blueberries. I was very excited. Yes, blueberries!! Now I was sure I was in the right place. I immediately picked one and ate it. Yes!! Encouraged, I walked further on, maybe 200 metres from the road.

When I saw bushes with lots of fruits, I got even more excited and gathered them hastily. I gobbled them up just as fast. For the first several minutes, I ate what I collected in my box, then started over. I took lots of pictures with my phone too that I can't download to the computer. (The pictures here were taken by my brother-in-law.)





I could not contain my great delight, I called up Gabriel. "GABRIEL, YOU ARE MISSING THIS. THERE ARE LOTS OF BLUEBERRIES!!! I'M IN THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE!!!," I said.

"Mom, you are screaming!" Gabriel complained. I tried to tone down a bit.

"Now I'm whispering. There are LOTS OF BLUEBERRIES!!!"

"Mom, you are still screaming!"

I went happily about. It was so quiet. All I could hear was the sound of the wind, the swaying grass, the occasional light planes flying over the farm. And me talking to myself. This is sooo gooood!

This farm reminded me so much of my mother's hometown of Laguna, Philippines and the plantations that my buddy and I walk through or trespassed. It also made me pine for my grandfather's orchard on Mt. Makiling which we frequented when I was a child. Nostalgia....

I moved from bush to bush staying close to the edge of the main path. I did not venture further inside for fear of snakes and other creatures. Then I realized I was alone. If there was a perv hiding in the farm I'd be an easy target... No one will hear me even if I screamed... These bushes are taller than me... I can run and leave my harvest behind... Fear started to rise in me. I shushed it with a mouthful of blueberries in between prayers.

I was blueberry picking for about one-and-a-half hours. It was very relaxing. I thought it was a great alone time. I enjoyed myself tremendously. What a way to spend a bright and windy Sunday afternoon in such a tropical ambience.

I filled up half my box. It was getting heavy and the afternoon was getting late. I went back to the winery and paid $13 dollars for the 13 lbs. I collected. What I ate was free. "This is so much cheaper than the ones you buy from the store," I said. "That's because you work for it," the storekeeper replied. For me it wasn't work at all. It was a relaxation, an nice escape from work. Almost therapeutic.

"Next time I'll bring my boys," I said.

We finished the last of the blueberries last night. We ate them plain and frozen. "Like ice candy," my sister said. 13 lbs in 2 weeks! I thought we would have some till the winter.

The next time I go blueberry picking I will take the boys along. Now that they've enjoyed having a supply in the freezer, they might be willing to tag along just for the experience. Maybe they'll find it fun. I'm not sure if I will find it as relaxing, but I can go with fun.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Leavenworth & Lake Chelan

On Labor Day Weekend, the weekend of Sept 1, hubby and I, along with my sis here in BC, her hubby, and my sis in Seattle, joined our mother in the annual excursion of her widows' association. The destination this year was Lake Chelan with a stopover at Leavenworth. For $20 per person, I thought that was a good deal! Can't miss that chance.

There were about 60 in this group of widows and their guests. My mother joined the association called FAWOW, short for Filipino American Widows of Washington, after my father passed away in 2004. Many of her friends from another seniors' group and in the Filipino Community are members as well. They have various activities throughout the year. In Seattle, Fil-Am widows don't have to be alone or lonely.

Although these senior women, who are mostly in their 70s and 80s, move slowly and have aches and pains, their minds and tongues remain sharp and active. They blabber a lot and tell jokes that can make you blush.

They know how to entertain themselves. During the trip to Leavenworth, they had a singing session using the mic that drivers or tour guides use at the front.

"Calling Emma...," someone--perhaps the association president--announced. Emma is my mother. She was being called to sing.

"Ayaw ng mga anak ko...(My children said no)," replied my mother seated near the back after my brother-in-law told her it was not safe to walk while the bus was in motion. So the president started singing, a capella.

After one song, my mother stood up anyway and walked slowly to the front. My mother loves to sing and is not shy about it. She sang 2 or 3 old Tagalog songs, then one by one other seniors followed suit. Occasionally, everybody joined in.

After about a 2.5-hour drive from Seattle, we arrived in Leavenworth at 10:30 am. The president announced that we should be back in the bus at 11 am, which meant we only had 30 minutes to go around. Protests, protests.

"Sabi sa iskedyul, isang oras (The schedule says 1 hour)," people complained.

"Pagbaba lang ng bus, 30 minutes na
(Going down the bus will already take 30 minutes), " others said.

After some time of disagreement and reconsideration, the written schedule prevailed. True enough, it took a while for everyone to get off the bus.

Leavenworth is a Bavarian-inspired village as you can see in the pictures below. We checked out several shops. I found the architecture just as interesting as the things for sale.


Wilkommen Leavenworth!



A part of our group



My mother, two sisters and I posing with a man in Bavarian costume, I suppose



Can you imagine us two decades from now?



With my sisters



One more time


Our next destination was Lake Chelan, an hour's drive away. We had lunch at the Lake Chelan Park.



Eating on picnic mats



With MrBlossoms. I preferred to sit in the sun. I felt cold
in the shade. "Parang di galing Canada (As if she's not from Canada)," they said.



With my sisters again


After lunch, the group headed for the casino not too far away. This was really the seniors' main purpose for going to this place. I think they were given a group deal. Not playing and with nothing else to do, MrBlossoms and I went to the apple orchard across the street. This was my first time to go to an apple orchard.



I imagined how Eve must have felt in the Garden of Eden,
except that the forbidden fruit wasn't really an apple. And
there was only one tree, not an orchard, that
bore this forbidden fruit.



It was so tempting to grab one. Nah... There's a name
for that -- stealing!!


We walked back to the lakeside park. It was a good thing we had a book and a mag to read and to cover my face with when I felt like sleeping on a bench. Buddy did some stretching and snoozed on the grass.



Very peaceful surrounding


Our group left Chelan at 6pm. I enjoyed the scenic landscape dotted with pear and apple orchards.

Nearing Seattle, the leader of my mother's cultural group went to the front, grabbed the mic and said some words of appreciation. Then she led the group in singing their usual anthems.

I love my own, my native land, Philippines my Philippines...

I don't hear the English version of this song anymore except from these seniors in Seattle. The Tagalog version is more popular to my generation.

After this nationalistic rendition, God Bless America routinely followed.

...From the mountains, to the prairies, To the oceans, white with foam, God bless America, My home sweet hoooome....

Whatever you might say about the US, I believe it gives them a better quality of life than what they could ever enjoy as seniors back home. For many of them, Seattle is indeed home sweet home. They have a social network, and they get to be ambassadors of goodwill as they sing and dance at several cultural presentations in Seattle and surrounding cities too.

Next year, this group is planning to go on a day cruise to BC. What a fun way to grow old together. Widows, unite!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Going to high school

Markus is going to high school next week! Wow, he's a big boy now in a big school, the same one Gabriel is attending, as did Mickey and Gino.

I took the afternoon off yesterday to bring him to his school orientation. On the way, I gave him a bus orientation. Although I'd be dropping him and Gabriel off on my way to work in the morning, they'd be taking the bus home. I was a bit apprehensive.

"You have to go home with Kuya Gabriel for the first few days until you get used to taking the bus," I told Markus.

"I know how to take the bus, Mom. You get on the bus, drop your ticket, and walk to an empty seat," he replied. "And no talking to strangers..."

"Yeah, but you need to know where to get off," I answered back.

"I know where to get off, by Budget Brake," he said, sounding very confident.

"Yeah, but you need to know when to pull the string. You have to do it before the stop," I said.

"I know that, Mom. Just like you do in Seattle," he said.

Yeah, but... yeah, but... yeah, but... I wanted to make sure he was really getting it.

"No skipping classes. You can't go to the mall during class. Go straight home," I stressed.

"I know, Mom," Markus answered.

"You have to be serious with your studies now. You're in high school," I said. "Join a club. Have some extra-curricular activity. Just don't neglect your studies...."

No to drugs... No to gambling... No to fooling around with loose girls...

Yes to good company..
. Yes to good grades... Yes to hard work...

I didn't actually say all these things yesterday, but I might as well throw them in here. After all, Markus has heard them from me before and will be hearing them again many times over.

As Markus steps into Grade 8, I have mixed feelings of excitement and anxiety. But I believe he will transition well and do a great job. MrBlossoms and I are praying regularly about this. Go for it, Markus!!

Friday, August 22, 2008

One-woman cheering squad

I enjoy the Summer Olympics. This is something I look forward to every four years. Nowadays, I stay up late at night and watch again at dawn to check Canada's medal standings. Go Canada!!

When it comes to sports, I am a very excitable spectator. My kids know this well. I cheer, I scream, I beat my hand on the couch... I could be watching anything--basketball, baseball, swimming, gymnastics, even what my boys say is the most boring game in the world--curling.

"Mom, the neighbours can hear you."

"Mom, what was that?"

"Mom, you're not allowed to watch sports."

"Mom!..."

"How can you watch a game without getting excited?" I retort. It's like sneezing without a sound. Not fun!

When Michael Phelps won gold in one swimming event, a TV station played back his mom's wild cheering at the the stands.

"See? That's what moms do!" I said.

"But he's not your son, Mom!" my boys said. Imagine if he were my son. You wouldn't want to sit next to me.

Sometimes I make the game more exciting to watch by rooting for the losing team. I like to see the underdog catch up and take the lead.

For instance, when the USA Redeem Team played against China, at the start I was cheering for the US basketball team although I'm not an NBA fan. "They're our neighbours," I said. When the US started leading, I shifted to China. "Come on, China!!!" My boys, who were busy playing on the computer, were more interested in reacting to me, rather than in watching what was happening on TV.

"OH NOOO!!! My team is losing!!" I said.

"What do you expect, Mom? You want the losing team," Markus said, somewhat befuddled.

Unless Canada's in the game, I don't really care much about which team wins. So I change sides depending on how I feel about the athletes, or who's winning or losing.

Although I may enjoy a game, it doesn't mean I understand how it's played. So I could be cheering for the wrong reason. Or, the wrong team.

"Mom, do you know what you are cheering about?" one of my boys would ask. No, not all the time. Does it matter? I'm not betting on any one.

It could take only a few minutes of watching a game to get me into a cheering mode as if I were a long-time fan. Then commercial break comes, I change the channel, and forget all about it.

This Olympics, I learned to whistle with my two fingers between my lips. A close-up of a whistling lady was flashed on the arena's huge screen, and I thought I could learn to do that, too. That got me started. Shwooo, shhooo, shwoooo... my whistles sounded airy and pathetic. I kept trying and trying, annoying the boys in the process.

"Mom!" Gabriel and Markus complained.

"I'm learning to whistle," I said. "You should learn something new every day." Whistling with my fingers is the new thing I will learn today.

After many attempts, I finally succeeded in producing a real, though faint, whistling sound. Whooot...

"Yay, I did it!!" I blurted. Every time Canada came out to play, I whistled with my fingers, though not always successfully.

"Mom, that's sad. That's why Canada is losing," my boys teased me.

Eventually, I got better at it. Whoooot... Still not consistently good, but getting there.

"Hah! You're just envious because you can't whistle," I tease my boys.

The Summer Games will be closing soon. My cheers will die down. But I will continue practicing my Olympic whistle. It will be better in 2012! Whoot! Whooooot!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Tenting

After an afternoon on the beach, we hiked the Rainforest Trail before going back to Ucluelet. The Rainforest Trail has two loops, one on each side of the highway. For lack of time we only took Trail B, which is 1 km. long.

This temperate forest is very thick. As you walk further, it becomes moist and very cool even on a sunny day. I read that only 5 to 10 percent of sunlight filters through the forest canopy. The red cedar and hemlock trees are old and gigantic, and the undergrowth, dense. There is one tree that is supposed to be more than 800 years old.


The trail is a boardwalk. It goes down, down, down,
then around and up.

It feels eerie in this forest. Very quiet. I made weird sounds to let any wildlife know that we were approaching. You don't want to surprise a bear or a cougar. Occasionally, my boys conspired to scare me by hiding behind trees or walking further ahead. Oh these boys...

Thank God, we made it out of the forest without any close encounter of the bear kind.

We made sure we were at the Ucluelet Campground before sundown because we still had to pitch our tent and cook our dinner. There is no electricity at our tent site.


Entrance to the Ucluelet Campground.

As soon as we found our site, the boys, led by Mr. Blossoms, immediately got to work. We were excited about our location under big tress.


Gino and Markus lay down large pieces of cardboard on the ground. Then they cover these with a blue tarp.


Next, setting up the tent and the canopy for the dining table.

Because we had not gone tenting in a long time, we did not know that one of the tent poles was broken. Thankfully, we had duct tape. We taped a little branch beside the pole like a cast. "Never leave home without duct tape," I said. In case you didn't know, I'm one of those people who think most anything can be fixed with duct tape and twist ties. I brought both.


The tent looks okay now.


Then Gino inflated the airbed.

Later, we discovered that the airbed was deflated. It must have a leak. Fortunately, we had a spare one.

Pitching a tent is not as cumbersome as I remembered it to be. Now that the kids are grown, there's more manpower to do the job. I helped some but mostly I left it to them. Sometimes getting on each other's nerves.


Starting the fire.

For dinner, we had bread, soup and bottled spicy sardines. Then we roasted hotdogs and marshmallows.

After dinner, we hid all the food, utensils and garbage in the van because these attract wildlife. Then there was nothing to do but sleep or stargaze. The boys slept. Mr. Blossoms and I watched the stars and satellites in the clear sky.

When it was time for me to sleep, I went inside the van and bundled myself in a sleeping bag at the back. I had no plan of sleeping in the tent. ("I call the van!") Besides only the 3 boys fit in it. Mr. Blossoms stretched himself in the inclined driver's seat. It was cold at night, but we were prepared for it.

I didn't sleep well because my left shoulder started acting up. In the morning, Mr. Blossoms and the boys were already making breakfast when I woke up.


Bacon and eggs.



I'm liking this.

After breakfast, I went to the shower with a token. You pay to use the shower here. $3 dollars for 6 minutes.

Then it was time to pack up. Camping was not a bad idea after all. The boys even liked it better than the hostel. We should have done this for two nights. I could have saved some.


Preparing to leave

We started our long trip back home at 10 am. While we were enjoying the sights along the highway, we saw a black bear again. Too bad, we missed another photo op.

We stopped at a national park in Port Alberni, hiked a trail again. By this time, we had seen enough forests. We did not stop anywhere else.

We were home before 6 pm. back to the comfort of our beds. We plan to go camping again. Next time I will sleep in a tent -- maybe.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Chesterman, again



After lunch, we brought Gino to a surfing school in Tofino. I think he paid $79 for a three-hour lesson, including rental of the the surfboard and a wetsuit. When I feigned interest in learning to surf, Gabriel and Markus protested.

"No, Mom! You can't do it. You'll only hurt yourself," they said. Why, do you think I'm too old to surf?

"You haven't seen me surf," I said. (And that's because I haven't tried.)

"We've seen you skate. You kept falling every time you stood up," they echoed. Ooh, ouch! ... Ouch!

"It's different on the water," I kept throwing in arguments, for argument's sake. They kept biting.

"No, Mom. Just don't," they said every time.

Gino thought otherwise. He asked me if I wanted to have a surfing lesson too.

"Will I wear a life vest?" I asked.

"No," he said. That settled it for me. I can swim, but I don't like to be out in the ocean without a life vest. Besides, the water was too cold. Okay, the lesson was expensive. You lost me at $79.

After dropping Gino off, we went back to Chesterman Beach. We were excited when the sun came out at 3 pm after a cloudy morning. It was very warm and bright. The sunny forecast proved true though a little late. We thought it would be another false-cast.

Here are some photos taken that afternoon:


Gabriel and Markus spent a long time on the rocks watching the waves or wading in the water.




Eventually, they went waist-deep in the cold water. I read that water temperatures there range from 6-12 degrees.

I strolled on the beach hoping to see Gino among the surfers who came in groups, probably as a class. It was hard to recognize anyone from a distance. I kept looking for someone in dreds. I learned later that they went to a different beach.

I enjoyed walking barefoot on smooth sand. It felt good on the feet. Then I soaked my feet in the water but I didn't last a minute. I went back to our spot. We found a nice one where we laid our picnic mats and spread out the boy's towels on a large log.


That's me.

It was a wonderful afternoon--make that a wonderful day--to enjoy the beauty of God's creation. Ahhh, simple joys...

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Beaches and trails



Right after breakfast, we packed our belongings, left the hostel and drove once again to Tofino where we planned to spend the whole day on the beach and the trails. We stopped over at the Pacific Rim Visitors' Centre at the Tofino-Ucluelet junction. If you are travelling to this area, I suggest you stop at the Visitors' Centre to get a map of the area and some useful information about the Pacific Rim National Park.

It was here that we learned that we needed to get a park pass to be able to park anywhere in the national park. For one family, it cost almost $20. This was good until the next day.

We also found out that mussel gathering was not allowed at all in the national park. "It is illegal to collect and remove natural or cultural objects," according to the brochure. Imagine, if we hadn't stopped over at the centre, we could have been charged or fined for breaking the law like collecting shells and sand, and parking illegally.

"How come the group was able to do it at Chesterman?" we wondered. I checked the map; it was outside the reserve.

At the centre, you can also find bear warnings so you can avoid those trails where there was a recent bear activity. Remember, this is black bear country. Wolves and cougar country too.

Our first stop was Wickaninnish Beach, one of a series of beaches comprising the 22-km Long Beach Unit. The beach was vast. In fact, the Long Beach Unit has the most extensive sand dune on Vancouver Island as you can partially see in the picture above. Here are more pictures from Wickaninnish Beach:



We enjoyed walking on the sand.


We proceeded to the South Beach trail, which is 800 m one-way.


Trail to the South Beach. The boardwalk made it an easy hike.


The South Beach was spectacular. Water activities are not recommended in this area because of the potential danger from large waves and strong currents. It was pretty calm when we were there.



There are many large rocks on south Beach.



We all climbed the rocks and watched the waves from the top. I can stay here the whole day!




I love this!!!



And I love these!!! Mussels a-plenty. Yum-yum! South Beach diet.
Oops, not allowed in a national park.



It was fun watching the water rush through this narrow opening.
More mussels on these rocks. Sea anemones too.


From here, we went back to the Wickaninnish Interpretive Centre where we decided to eat lunch at the seaside restaurant.



Nice view. Very good food too. We each ordered a different
dish and passed our plates around to get a taste of
everything.

So this was our morning. The afternoon was longer. I'll blog about it next time.