I always say that Saturdays are real, in the sense that the day does not have to pretend to be a weekend because it really is --- languid and lazy, and expectant of all things languid and lazy.  Sunday is the one that can be quite the faker (although I toss that word very lightly here for lack of a more appropriate one that seems to escape me in the here and now).  I say that because if you really think about it, you really do spend a big part of that day sort of gearing up for Monday and the rest of the full work week.  Already that is quite constricting, don't you think?  So it's really Saturday that I like best.

Anyway.  I have a Saturday routine. Sort of.

I wake up, and loll in bed for as long as I can until the hunger for real food beckons, usually at around 1 p.m.  Until then I enjoy the endangered pleasure of just thinking of and staring at.........nothing, really.  All cushy under the comforter with sunlight coming in through the wide windows in our bedroom  thoughts come, and then they go; some choose to stay, and if I like them I allow them to.  Otherwise I push them away ever so gently but firmly.   It is liberating, having the luxury of time to draw thoughts and throw them up the ceiling, chasing after each other before they settle back inside my mind, waiting. Just waiting for the next retrieval.  Saturdays sort of allow that.  In between, I stretch like a cat, bury myself in whatever book I am currently reading, and then I go downstairs to the kitchen and pick up my favorite paper.

I skim fast over the headlines, and proceed directly to her column.

I love her, Barbara Gonzalez.  I love the way she writes so fluidly and candidly and honestly, as if she were a Saturday herself.  Because of and thanks to her, I start my day always with a chuckle or two, and the desire to keep on writing, especially and even when I don't want to.  Always, her stories leave me wishing that she had shared something longer, even if she already did to begin with.  Like a child and her love affair with candy, i just want more and more.

Maybe it is the honesty that jumps off her words as it plays out on the page, the very same thing you easily remember each time her name comes to mind. I do not know her personally (although I've had the pleasure of meeting her once) but because I read her so often I feel I do and I dare say that she is one of the few people I believe to have an almost palpable freedom from any fear, a gift (or grace even) I so admire if not also desire.  The wise say you look up to those who already possess something you wish at some point in time to also have.  I would love to have that kind of freedom, the whole big juicy slice of it, but a little voice tells me it most probably is something that can only come naturally with age, and over and above that, a wealth of experience. Like a rite of passage, you earn it, but you can't rush it.  Some things just have to to run its course.

She is not always happy, Barbara I mean, but she is not also always sad. Like you and me she has ups and downs, something she candidly shares with her readers every week, but bubbling constantly through the surface of her stories is a kind of joy peppered with acceptance about the circumstances of her life, wherever it's at at the given moment.  She is almost Zen in that way.  Her stories, no matter how mundane, get me thinking, and feeling.  That is what happens, I guess, when you read something from someone who writes from the heart.  She is like a wise, funny aunt, or if she were much, much older a happy, lovable, wise and funny grandma.

In between Barbara Gonzalez and my Saturday's end there are random activities, eventful or otherwise ---- a dinner with good friends and family, a movie maybe, most probably dance rehearsals, mass.  But the other constant in my Saturday is......


By a Chinese nun who seems innately good to the very heart of her, the way dear nuns should be and almost always are.  I like her as a person and as an acupuncturist, and I find time in my toxic schedule to go see her because there is something reassuring about her soft voice, her sure fingers, the way each 30-minute session makes me feel.  Like I can take on the world again, however big and crazy it is. I feel stronger physically and emotionally, and when I sleep at night, it is thankfully deeper. Heaven knows I need my shut-eye.  In that space there is peace and goodness and light. Balance.  Which I think really is the heart of acupuncture.  Balancing the energy flow.  I'm sure the good sister prays for her patients, too, because acupuncture alone, no matter how effective, can't be that magical. Or can it?  I think it is a combination of many little wonderful things, all of which we do not have to understand individually to fully appreciate.

Pricked ever so lightly by fine needles, coupled with moxa that smells like holy smoke if there was ever really such a thing,  to say that I feel so rested and calm when I am in one of her sparse, clean cubicles is an understatement.  Most of the time I doze off, other times I count the needles stuck here and there in strategic spots in my body, and there have been moments, too, when I have wondered if moxa was how Moses' Burning Bush smelled like.

From her I also take herbal tea that is supposed to be good for me.

I believe her.  Even if it tastes like it has been 'brewed in hell', to quote a friend of mine who takes it, too.  She got pregnant.  Twice over.
God please allow that to happen to me, too.  I would love to have twin boys if You will allow it.

The tea tastes a lot like mud and dried leaves and a rain shower happening within a very hot day --- all that all at once, like a garden in a cup.  So, yes, I guess you can say it is quite a strange taste, an almost punishing strange taste. But I don't complain.  It is, after all,  something I got used to quite quickly, maybe because I have to take it twice a day, everyday.  And like I already said, it is packed with stuff good for me.  The bitter taste should be a small price to pay.

This is my Saturday.  Kind of.  What's yours?
I did.........

........ not drop the egg.

But only because I did not join the game.  I do not not know if that is good news, or bad news, or a little of both.  This year, the egg-catching contest had to be between husband's and wives.  Richard was not present, so my candid take is that it actually was a graceful way out of predestined horror (on my daughter's part yet again) and perpetual embarrassment (on mine).  Fate can be so kind, really.  It IS nice to just be a spectator in an activity that tortured the memories for quite a bit.  I saw many eggs break as the contest progressed; they looked beautiful against the green grass, lit dramatically and naturally as they were by the bright summer sun.  That said, I was happy I took no part and did not contribute to that beauty, no matter how glorious and photo-worthy.

Let me just say that it was a lovely house we were welcomed into, with many absolutely beautiful things tastefully splattered all around.  I did not take any photos, out of respect for the privacy of the owners, even if I wanted to.  It was also a house I had heard so much about, because many moons ago and long before I was even born, it was owned by my grandmother's sister.  My mom and her siblings have made many memories in that very same space.

I had fun in the yellow afternoon, playing games that left me sweaty and breathless, and feeling very much like a kid again where the only order of the day was play.  The energy of the little ones is contagious and refreshing.  And that is saying the very least.  Oh to be so young, excited, and (thankfully) so carefree........

I do not want my little girl to grow up so fast.  Her world now is so pure and joyful, the wonder years in its truest sense.  At her age, you pretty much go where the wind blows.  Why (and how) do adults stop being so spontaneous?

We were in the green team.  We did our best.  We finished last.

We blamed the loss cheerily on the fact that our clues (for the Amazing-Race-inspired main game of the event) were written on green paper and tucked into plants and bushes and little trees.  It was like looking for a needle in a haystack.

This is what each family in our team went home with, tucked into a sturdy brown paper bag.

At midnight I had it as a snack, eating it the way my Dad taught me how when I was a little girl --- cut into discs, and drizzled with the golden flavor of honey.  As far as fresh, ripe mangoes are concerned it is a hard habit to break.

The rest, our cook will likely mash and bake into banana choco-chip cupcakes we have perfected, the recipe of which I lifted from a recipe book I bought at random.  I will share that wonderful recipe with you some time.

All in all I did.........have a very lovely time.

I wish me luck

I say that because I do not know exactly how many of you are out there, reading my thoughts.  If you happen to say hi to this site anytime between now (it's half past 2 a.m.) and lunchtime later, please jump along and wish me luck, too.

You see, it is my daughter's school's Family Fun Day.  It should be a walk in the park, right?  Just lots of sun and even more fun, all lightness and ease, like a perfect summer's day.  But here's the real deal: my daughter is not exactly like me.  When it comes to playing, winning is a big part of the fun.  She has great expectations because like her father, she is a natural when it comes to sports.   I. Am. Not.  She likes competing, and she likes winning.  I can be a super mommy in every other way but admittedly, I suck in a major way when it comes to most everything truly athletic and competitive.

Case in point: Years back during one such school activity I was coerced (by my daughter, who else) to join  a game she was confident I could be fairly decent at.  It was -- this is embarrassing -- an egg-catching contest with a mother-daughter team-up against other mother-daughter team ups and -- this is even more embarrassing --  we lost in the first round.  Among the two long rows of eager little girls (on one side) and eager-to-please-their-little girl mommies (on the other side) we were the first to be eliminated.  Because I dropped the egg.  Even if we were only an arm's length apart.  I tried to catch it, I really did, but I miscalculated the distance.  I saw the horror in my daughter's face when the yolk splashed dramatically on the cold cement floor, over and around the crisp, delicate bits of eggshell.  Horrified silence.  And then the drawn out muttered-under-her-breath incredulous 'Mooooooooooooom.....why did you drop the egg?'  My daughter was near tears.  After giving me so many instructions about handling the poor egg gently (lest it breaks), swinging my arm just the right way,  focusing on how the it travelled from her hand to mine and back, there I was, dropping the egg almost the first chance I got. It is a horrible feeling when you know you caused a little heart to be break, especially if it happened to be your daughter's, and even if it were only over eggs.

The pain that memory has left in her little heart has since faded significantly, thank God that time really does heal.  We laugh a lot about it now and it has made for a mommy story other mommies I know love to have me repeat over and over.  It's all good.

But now with another Family Fun Day looming just hours ahead, I feel the pressure building up, slow but sure.  How can I not.  These are the soundbytes of our evening prayers:

Juliana:  Dear Jesus, please help our team win.  Please help mommy be good at the games.  Please do not let her drop the egg.
Me:  Jesus, please help Juliana not get mad if (when is more like it!) I drop the egg again.
Juliana (with eyes fervently closed):  Please help us win Jesus.  Please LET our team win.  I do not want to bring home a basket of fruits.
Me:  Why, what do the winners get?
Juliana:  A bigger basket of fruits!
Me:  What is a nice prize for contests like this?
Juliana (excitedly, smiling):  Cartolina!  Poster board!  (In that sense, she is very much my daughter.  I would choose the fruits now but when I was her age, a pack of school supplies was king!)

We finished our prayers with me giggling.  Nervously, I must admit.
For now all I know for sure is that I must wear green.  And that I must pray.
Please, Dear God, may I not be the first to drop the egg.

(I) wish me luck.
I am happy

It is a tedious process, let me tell you, that involves first and foremost, a clear big bottle and beautiful green mangoes.  With those at the ready you will also need patience, a good measure of it, because there is real waiting time involved, a pretty significant amount considering it is just food.  Once you've settled into that you can get a few fistfuls of rock salt, that you dump unapologetically over fat strips of the stiff green fruit.  And then you let it be, for the moment at least.  Just like that, no mixing or stirring or shaking, trusting simply that when the salt melts because of the fruit's natural juices, delicious chemistry will start to happen.

You wait overnight, resisting the urge to keep on opening the refrigerator door to check how it is doing.  Only after such time has passed should you drain the liquid that has accumulated --- a very salty one that will remind you of the beach.  Don't be surprised to find that the green mangoes will look strangely more plump now, like they've sucked something they know is good for them, very hungrily.  You will also see that they have relaxed a bit too in their stance, as if surrendering to a fate they did not quite choose but welcomed just the same.  You then pour white sugar, an equally unapologetic amount of it, adding or taking a little to taste (that 'to taste' part always confuses me, honestly).  And then you wait, overnight again --- there is just no fast-tracking the process.  That is where the patience part must come in.  Don't say I did not warn you.

Your earliest reward is happy anticipation.  And then there's always the finished product, of course.  That you finish way too quickly because it is just too good.  Pickled mangoes.  God bless whoever thought of such a wonderful thing.

My ex-boyfriend's mother made the best, not that I tasted a lot of others before I did her version.  But hers was so perfect already I did not have to search near, or far, for something better.  Just thinking about it now makes me salivate, I remember it so well I can almost taste it.  Many years ago as a very new bride I tried to make my own based on what I remembered of hers, but it just was not the same.  It was okay, but different.  Which is also to say it was nothing great, really. I'm okay with that.  Some things just can never be.  I have also chanced upon bottled versions here and there, in restaurants and grocery stores especially, but they taste more salty than it can ever be sweet, or too sweet and not salty enough, and some even take to adding something that tastes very much like vinegar to me.  That just isn't my thing as far as pickled mangoes go.

In the past when the cravings came, and the real thing was far from near, I turned to dried mangoes from Cebu for comfort.  It is far from the salty-sweet goodness of my favored pickled mangoes, and its flavor that flits naughtily from sweet to salty and back with every bite, but it is better than nothing.  It may be a twisted substitute, but an already worthy one when all else fails.

Now. What could be better than dried mangoes from Cebu and the pickled mangoes my ex-boyfriend's mother used to make?  Dried GREEN mangoes.  That taste quite a lot like the pickled mangoes she used to make.  That comes in packs.  That I can eat immediately, instantly, whenever the craving comes.  Being able to enjoy something once-upon-a-time-so-meticulously-prepared almost instantly now feels very much as if a slice of heaven met halfway with a patch of Earth to drop me, a mere speck in the midst of its great, big vastness, a happy compromise.  I should send God a great big hug by way of thanks.

This is but a portion of what came in the mail...

There were bright bundles of them, landing happily in the form of a neat package on our doorstep.  Most of it went practically straight to my mouth.  They come bearing tidings of good cheer all the way from Cebu, courtesy of my college friend, Miyan, and her husband Jordan who makes one of the best dried fruit somethings, anythings, in the land, that they export and distribute under the brand name Freshco.  This is my Christmas in February, a yearly ritual that has never been broken, thanks to their thoughtfulness and generosity.  I've seen quite a parade through the years ---- dried jackfruit, dried mango rolls, santol preserves, dried pineapples.  And now, this.  Ever since it arrived I would eat a whole pack all by myself per sitting, and am all the happier for it.

This has been on my wish list for quite some time. I always wondered why no one ever thought of it because, really, if I owned a dried fruit processing factory this would be the first item I would perfect in my product line.  But thinking along the hows and whys of that is moot and academic now because, hey, it is here.  Finally.  And it has found its way to me.  Initially just available in Guam, it will make its debut very soon in local shores.  Is that lovely news or is that lovely news.

It tastes of summer and happiness, and brings forth images of bright days and little girls in lovely summer dresses.  They allow my mind to drift in and out of many other things happy things, too, like being young (and almost gladly ignorant of reality), and the feeling of excting uncertainty that comes with growing up; the joy of discovery, the verve of life and all its surprises.  It does make for a good thing, these dried green mangoes, a very good good thing, actually.  And I just have to look at the happy bunch on top of the refrigerator in our room, the little that is left of the original lot, to remember that. Because each time I do I am met with a kind of happy anticipation that comes with knowing this one is definitely a keeper, something I always must have somewhere, anywhere; if not in my mouth yet or in the pantry, then definitely in the cravings of my mind.

I. Am. Happy.
It works

Well, what do you know.

This thing, many of which appear in this photo in different colors and styles, actually works.

The husband and the daughter have been using it for years ---- they say it relaxes tired muscles brought about by the many sports they do.  Naturally, I did not believe, not entirely, at least.  My old-fashioned mind could not make heads and tails of how a neckpiece, no matter how cute and cool it looks and especially because of how cute and cool it looks, could possibly take away stiffness, or soreness.  A good massage can do wonders, so will accupuncture.  But a thing like this, that looks like a headband and/or a glamorized rubber band, sometimes both all at once....... I mean, really, how?!?

My awakening came a couple of days ago when I got up from bed after a particularly strenuous dance rehearsal, that had me at times being flipped a bit here and there, with terrible stiffness from my neck all the way down to my back. I could not move my head very much.  One back massage, two rounds of hot compress, a stretching activity later, and with no sign/symptom of significant relief hovering anywhere near me still,  I was more than just a little bit ready to try Phiten.  It was something I have heard so much about.  I already had a couple of them actually, given to me as presents, just sitting in some lonely corner gathering dust. It's funny how discomfort can make you quite accepting of things, especially if it promises some measure of relief.  I was ready to give the poor loopy thing a chance to work its famed 'magic' on me.

Richard snapped it on around my neck and, with a promise and a little rub, said that I should feel the difference in no time.  He is far from being a victim of marketing (he can be quite skeptical of wonder products come to think of it) so his confident prediction was one more thing that made the whole thing feel right.

In a few hours I could move my head again from side to side again the way normal people do, and the following day I was able to throw my head back to do That Dance Step That Started It All.  I was able to resume rehearsals, and while there, dance the dance. I took to Phiten like fish to water, and it was all easier and more gratifying than I ever thought.

I still wear it religiously, even with the stiffness now all gone.  It feels good.  And I take it off only when I absolutely have to (like when I am on cam and it does not really match my outfit).  Otherwise, it's on me.  This is nothing to scoff at.  Phiten, God bless whoever discovered this, is a good thing.  No, it's quite a wonderful thing actually --- unassuming but totally praise-worthy.

I am a sheepish convert, a firm believer now.  Because, although I still do not technically know exactly why and how, it works.  It is as simple as that.  And it cannot possibly get any better than that.

How sweet it is

When I found out I was pregnant 9 years ago, Richard and I were very sure we wanted a son as our firstborn. We were so sure that already, instantly, we had a name for Baby Boy.  We had a nickname, too, that did not necessarily sound very much like the name.
But what do you know, God had better plans for us (as usual).
And chose to give us a daughter instead.
A scrawny, tiny, pinkish-red little someone we took home swathed in a yellow blanket and a matching yellow bonnet, who cooed a lot and cried even more, and who had a thousand little faces to make each day.I remember spending my first few days as a mother just staring at her and holding her forever and ever.

This is how she looked then.

This is how she looks now.

How time flies.

In between, she has been, and still is, everything we imagined a little girl to be ---- a happy mix of sugar and spice and everything sometimes naughty but always nice. All that. Plus more.God threw in a big bonus before He bundled her up to send to us.
Juliana is crazy funny, and I always say that if she were a dessert she would be Roshan's famous Chocolate Cupcake Surprise, delightful through and through but with a delicious, surprise filling inside. Translated into her 9 year-old body and mind, that 'surprise' would be her send-you-laughing-out-loud-and-wanting-more-and-more sense of humor, an innate gift that just gets better and better each day. It is quite unexpected for someone so shy. And sweet.
She is so much of that, too. Juliana is tenderly and wonderfully sweet. She hugs and kisses and says 'I love you' in regular abundance.  She always leaves little presents along my, and her Daddy's, way. In her pureness and innocence, everything is and can be a gift.  How wonderful is that?
She has this endearing habit of getting some of my favorite things: my favorite book, tubes of lip gloss from my kikay kit, a bar of soap, a lovely blouse hanging in my closet, a hair accessory. She will wrap each one the way she knows how,  presenting me with a bundle lopsided and paunchy here and there, something that resembles a happy, beribboned dumpling. I already own these things but when she wraps them for me, it still feels like a real gift, and a new one at that.

About 3 years ago she chanced upon eye-shadow I had just bought, sitting on my desk, yet to be used.  She wrapped it and gave it to me.

She had just started school when once, right before her Daddy was due back home from a trip, she got the already empty plastic milk bottle she was drinking from, proceeded to the garden to pick whatever wild flowers she could find (I do not exactly have a green thumb and thus cannot boast of roses and orchids and daisies growing here and there) and tucked them into the impromptu vase. Then she placed the whole thing solemnly on her Daddy's desk. I wish I took a picture of that then, her very own 'welcome back' present for him, because if I did I could share it with you now. But I didn't. So it is just a memory from the heart that I share with you through words. That is all I have of that moment.
When she could walk and talk, she followed me like a little shadow, curiously asking about the why's and how's of the world she was discovering. Whenever I shopped for shoes online she would also be there, peering behind my shoulder and helping me choose styles and colors (she was maybe just 4 or 5 years old then and already had good taste and a fine eye for detail). I would always drool over the Loboutins, but in the same breath lament about how outrageously expensive they always were, and how it felt like such an indulgence and a sin to buy even just one pair. I have never been one to shop impulsively (that is my Dad's training right there!), and would always sleep on my choices until I was absolutely sure I needed and/or wanted them. Having no concept yet of cost and spending, she probably could not understand how I could like something so much but not go right ahead and buy it, and make it mine. It should be that simple, her eyes seemed to say.
'Too expensive' i would always say.
'Too expensive?' she would repeat, as a question.
'Too much' I would add.
'Too much?' she would again echo.

Weeks later I came home to find this on my desk.

She said it was her gift to me, so that I could buy all the Loboutins I wanted, 'Loobooteen' she called them then. To this day, many years after she first presented it to me, I still keep that little pink coin-filled purse, that rests in a heart-shaped craft box she embellished in an art workshop one summer, in the second drawer of my desk. Each time my eyes drift to that little pocket of space, I feel like the richest mommy on earth, with or without all the Loboutins my feet would be very happy to meet.
Things got even better when she learned to draw and write.  A flurry of little notes would constantly drift my way, finding their way to my pockets and purses, pillows and shelves, my desk.

Here are some of them.  I have lots more but these are the ones that have been stuck on the edge of a shelf, right above my desk for many years now.

This particular doodle, my husband has always loved. He says it reminds him of H.R. Ocampo's work.  Juliana was barely 3 when she drew, and colored, this on a Post-It.

This one ..................

Rolls open to this .....................

Yes, Juliana:)  You rock!

Even her handwritten reminders are sweet, all doodled up, and always with at least one heart somewhere.....

she has a thing for hair conditioner:)

I feel the love in the work of her little hands, as they spring forth from her big, sweet heart.  It is fascinating....the magic a child can create for adults.

Before I became a mommy, did I even know for sure that a child can have so much power over the way a day begins, and ends?
When the New Year rolled in I told myself I would make more of an effort to document all her wonderful little presents and sweet little notes, not so much for myself but for her, so that she will remember when she is all grown up just how delightful she already and always was, even when she was little, and all mine.

This came wrapped in Kleenex early in January. She made me close my eyes, and placed it on my palm, one night right before we were about to go to bed.

I turned it over and saw that she had stuck a little heart made of orange foam on top.

See, with her, there always is a little something extra.  A gift is never just what it is.
She also so loves leaving notes written on handmade cards for me to find on my desk after a long day's work. I look forward to finding them, as they come, in many unexpected ways and days.  

For this one she used pretty wrapping paper we salvaged from gifts we received over the holidays. This made a tired January night feel like Christmas still.

handmade envelope, recycled ribbon

the work of her little hands

A gentle reminder for me to help her with her project, propped up on a little flower thingy no less

the pink envelope

 and the matching card

that opens to this handwritten note

Now tell me, is not God really so very wonderfully bright?
My dearest Juliana, the sunshine and moonshine of my happy life, do I even tell you enough how sweet it is to be loved you?

A black hole

It has been 21 days since my first post.

No, I have not fallen into a black hole, although at times it sure has felt that way. I am still here, and have neither been too busy, or too lazy, to write.  Quite the contrary actually.  I have more than just a few drafts in my dashboard, and all these time when I have been seemingly quiet and absent was spent (in between, of course, the steady demands of the day and a life) trying to figure out, in my low tech mind and with my low tech knowledge, how to make photos find its way within the words in my blog, and right before that, how to crop and enhance the quality of my amateur shots.  It is, simultaneously and alternately, easier and more difficult than I thought.  But I'm getting there.

I've managed to make friends with blogging technology somehow, what little I know and understand of it, in a pace slower than I could ever wish.  But I can't complain, really.  I'm trying to figure it all out mostly by myself, and with lots of help from two people ---- Rica, who I hope and pray will officially be my sister-in-law very soon and my husband, whenever he has free time from his otherwise packed and often toxic schedule.  Oh, make that three.  My daughter has proved to be invaluable, too.  And brave.  She sensibly presses a button here and there, clicks this and that, and magic (in my eyes at least) happens.  All of a sudden, what once was a jumbled mess makes sense to me.  She is more computer savvy than I am, bless heaven for small mercies like that.  Thank you, Juliana.

I will back, hopefully within the day, with a new post that has been steeping patiently, faithfully, in my draft box since January 16.  There will be pictures, too.  I am almost done dragging the latter lot here and there.  My oh my, I can get lost and engrossed for hours doing just that.

That said I do not know, given the many things I constantly have to do, if that will always be a good thing ..........