Sunday, May 25, 2008

Here we grow again

Herbs. Vegetables. Weeds.

Sometimes I still get these three confused as far as my little garden is concerned.

During the Victoria Day long weekend here in Canada, I did my slightly belated spring gardening. I pulled out recognizable weeds and dead plants from last year... tilled the soil...added topsoil...

I turned my two small plots into one. You see, when my father-in-law created these two plots 4 years ago, he put a 1 ft gap in between so it would be easier to reach the plants. I thought I could use this space for more plants instead. So now my vegetable/herb patch is about 4' x 4' in the middle of the yard. Everything is still within easy reach from any side.

I am very pleased to see how my thyme and sage have grown. My Italian parsely plants are lusher too and many new growths have sprouted. The dill has come back to life! And so has the marjoram.

I felt bad the rosemary did not survive the winter. So now it's parsely, sage, marjoram and thyme. It doesn't sound right. I must get rosemary! (I already have.)

What else should I plant this year? I wondered. I've had enough of brocollini. They don't yield that much flowerettes. I decided to get snow peas, curled parsely, onions, and French tarragon. I should've planted English cukes too, in that way I have Italian, French and English--my European ensemble.

I am also delighted that the little lavender I planted last fall is thriving. I expect it to grow and spread out. It reminds Gino of Provence. I look forward to having fragrant lavender blooms in the future.

When my blossom buddies, Merry and Terry, recently asked me about my gardening, I proudly told them I have planted new herbs in addition to existing ones.

"So what did you plant?" asked Merryblossoms.

"I planted snowpeas--"

"That's not herbs," she butted in. "That's a vegetable." She was teasing. She's the same friend who realized I couldn't tell a weed from a vegetable when I volunteered to help her weed her yard some time back.

Last Saturday, after coming home from overtime work, I decided to layer wet newspapers under the little rocks and soil that serve as the pathway around my garden plots. I read in many places online that this is an effective way of preventing the growth of weeds by smothering them. I thought I would try it.

When hubby buddyblossoms checked what I was doing, he was quite impressed. I was very proud to add that many vegetables have sprung in one corner, even though I wasn't sure I planted them.

"If you didn't plant them, maybe they are not vegetables," he pointed out. Good point. But what if I had thrown some seeds in that area a long time ago? For me, anything that doesn't look like dandelions or wild grass must first be assumed as vegetables. I always give them a chance to show their true nature.

As for dandelions, I don't know whether to categorize these as weeds or vegetables. Their young leaves are edible, but they grow too fast and if left unattended can overtake any patch of land. I don't want them growing in my garden. I can eat them with other greens that you buy in packs from the the supermarket, but in their natural environment, I can only regard dandelions as grass.

My tiny garden is full by now. Yesterday, I got two small tomato plants to go with my onions. I might still be able to squeeze in garlic so I can have a garlic-onion-tomato combo that are often sauteed in Filipino dishes.

Except for the snow peas, onions, tomatoes and peppers, my plants are mostly perennials. I have some flowering plants too -- pink-and-white-striped petunias, a rose plant in a pot, a hanging basket. My tulips have faded to sprout again next spring.

Every day, I look over my garden and I am very pleased. Now I understand what my mother used to say of her many tropical and flowering plants, "Nakakabusog sa mata." (A feast to the eyes.) Although I am growing mostly edible plants, I am already content just looking at them. Using them for food is a bonus.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Mothers' day

My mother and me

Last Saturday, my sister, brother-in-law and I went to Seattle. We celebrated Mother's Day with our mother.

Living with a family of boys to men, I find that these visits to my mother allow me to do and talk about girlie stuff that nobody in my house would relate to. At my mother's apartment, I can sift through her huge collection of trinkets, costume jewelry and cosmetics, and try them on, even take them back to BC. Last weekend, I used her mascara, tried on her different shades of lipstick, used her nail polish and gave myself a pedicure. My mother and I tried on her wigs too. She thought I should have one. I might just order one with that's dark brown with auburn streaks from her catalogue.

My mother's dresser is filled with beauty enhancers! My late father had gotten used to her taking a long time in front of the mirror. Sometimes he kidded her about it. Today, at 83, my mother still wears make-up even if she has nowhere to go. "Aba, maganda pa rin ang nanay pag nakaayos. Sino'ng mag-aakalang 83 na ako," she tells me confidently. (Your mother is still pretty when made up. Who'd think I'm 83?) She really looks younger than her years.

I grew up watching my mother, a full-time housewife, put on make-up every morning after tending her plants, answering the tabloid crossword puzzle and taking a shower. By the time my father came home for coffee break at 10:15 am. she was nicely made up. She retouched her make-up before my father came home at 4:30 pm.

I wonder if I'd be like her when I grow old. I am not a make-up person. I just don't have the time. I have a simple regimen. Moisturizer, foundation, lipstick, blush-on. Sometimes I put lipstick on the run while heading out the door, warming up the car engine or entering my office building. Eye shadow and mascara, if I have one, are for special occasions. And I hardly ever pluck my eyebrows. Ouch!

Back at my mother's apartment, I looked through her suitcases of Filipino costumes that she and my father had collected and used since the early 1990s when they became an active part of a Filipino seniors' group in Seattle. They performed in many places including the Benaroya Hall, home of the Seattle Symphony. She's still actively folk dancing and singing today.

A part of the IDIC choir before going to a performance.
There could be more who were not present. The number of
men has dwindled in the last 10 years.

While I was trying on some costumes, she played Filipino folk music. I pretended to dance the tinikling with imaginary bamboo poles. I never danced tinikling when I was younger. Now I feel too old for it. I couldn't keep up with the fast music, and there was even no bamboo!

My mother is a very graceful folk dancer. Last Christmas, she taught me to dance the Kunday-kunday which we performed at the Filipino Christmas party at our church gym. I had to learn it five hours before the presentation because her real partner was unable to make it. "O, kendeng kendeng," she kept telling me. That's means I should bend my waist some more.

Before the dance, my mother grabbed the mic from the emcee and said without a bit of hesitation, "Pasensiya na kayo kung magkakamali kami. Ngayon ko lang kasi naituro ito sa anak ko." (Pardon us if we will make a mistake. I just taught this to my daughter.) Of course, if there was anyone who would make a mistake, it would be me.

My mother is better at this! But I did surprise a lot of people...
including me.

One thing that my mother and I do together is going to Ross or the thrift shop or the mall here in BC. Last weekend, we went to Walgreens and Bartell too. With her, I can take a long time shopping or browsing and it's all right.

Now my mother is here in BC and shuffling between our house and my sister's place. It's nice to have another woman in the house. I hope to look as young as her with I get to her age. As graceful too.

Thursday, May 08, 2008


Once in a rare while, I like to bring my car to Washworld near our house for an automatic touchless carwash. "Like a spa for your car" according to their website. I drive to one of the car wash bays, choose a wash option, and sit in the car while powerful machines do their thing.

Yesterday, I chose the Typhoon wash. This includes a super soaker, a tire cleaner and undercarriage, hi-pressure wash and rinse, triple foam wax, etc.

So there I was in the car while strong water and foaming agents were bombarding the car on all sides and under. I always get a little claustrophobic during this time. "It's like being in a real typhoon--with soap," I told Gabriel afterwards.

I sat there and imagined how it must be like in Myanmar during the typhoon last week. That must have been very frightening. I wanted my wash to finish quickly.

My thoughts rushed back to the most terrifying typhoon I had ever experienced in the Philippines. We have had really extreme typhoons in that part of the world, but the one I remember the most was super typhoon Yoling ("Patsy") in November 1970.

At that time, we lived in an old sprawling cottage-type house inside the UP campus. Our house was made of wood and sawali (bamboo mats) and tin roof. When Yoling gained strength, we watched tin roofs peeling off and flying from our neighbours' homes, some G.I. sheets falling on our yard. When the typhoon became stronger and stronger, we took shelter under our dining table because our kitchen area was the only part of the house that had newer and stronger tin roof.

We had a big household. Aside from our family of six, we had my uncle's family of 4 plus some cousins and boarders. We must be more than 15 in all. Not everyone could fit under the table. My father leaned a big piece of plywood against one side of the table as added shelter and protection.

Outside, the winds were howling. Tree branches were breaking. Various materials were making a lot of noise as they dropped in our front and back yards. We could hear our own roofs loosening. We were huddled under the table. I was very terrified as I stayed close to my mother and father.

After what seemed to be forever, the winds died down. It was very calm. We were in the eye of the storm!

As you might see on satellite pictures, tropical low pressure systems like a hurricane rotates counter-clockiwise. They develop an "eye". As the eye approaches, the winds are very strong, and while the eye is overhead, it becomes clear and calm. As the eye moves away, the wind blows very hard again--in the opposite direction.

During that short period of calm, my father and the men checked out our house and surroundings while the rest of us remained under the table. We had lost parts of our roof. It was wet in the bedrooms. Our basketball hoop in the backyard had fallen on its back.

In a few minutes, the howling winds were back and we endured another frightening period of very strong winds and rain.

I can't remember how long the brunt of the typhoon lasted. It must be hours. Thank God we survived!

When the storm had weakened, we came out of our "shelter". We had lost most of our roof except for that in the kitchen and the adjacent bedrooms. Some sawali walls and screen windows were destroyed too. Our yard was a mess. The basketball hoop was up again, having been blown in the opposite direction after the calm.

As soon as the weather allowed, the men of the family started the process of cleaning up our surroundings. Our old tin roofs were blown away to wherever, but better galvanized iron sheets fell on our yards. These were collected and used for repairs. The destruction in our neighbourhood and campus was unlike anything that I had seen before. It was certainly the worst for our household.

According to my readings, Yoling caused more than 600 deaths. I'm reading now that in Myanmar the death toll could be as much as 100,000! Please help if you can. There are many humanitarian agencies collecting contributions.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Telemarketers, part 2

LHB, I took your advice! I listened to a phone rep long enough to hear what her telephone company--the one that kept calling our house--had to offer. And only because you said you got a good deal this way--3 cents/minute to anywhere in North America and 14 cents to the Philippines.

Well guess what? I got 2.9 cents to Seattle and 11 cents to the Philippines. My former provider charged 5 cents to Seattle and I don't know how much to the Philippines. I only call to Seattle so I wasn't really interested in finding out more than that.

No hidden fees, no monthly charges.

The only downside is it's not direct dialing. You have to call a local number and follow the instructions from there, just like the way you would use a phone card. Hassle.

Actually, we don't make a good long distance customer. We only make calls to my mother in Seattle, that's it. In a month, I don't even spend more than $5 on long distance calls because sometimes it's my mother who calls me. But this telephone company just wouldn't give up even if I tell them I don't make too many calls.

Thanks to persistence, the said company finally got me to have a no-commitment account activated. Hopefully they will stop calling our house.

About the phone rep who was fortunate to call me at the right time, I think she did the right thing. She did not speak in a fake American accent, just straight English. Did not pretend NOT to know that I was from the Philippines, which was obvious by my family name. Did not beat around the bush. Did not make any small talk about my place of origin.

One of these days I might just use their service. With a little more effort in dialing, I could bring down my long distance costs!