Suffering in Silence

We are all familiar with the adage: you never know what someone is experiencing, so it’s important to be kind. This cautionary piece of advice couldn’t be more true for me today. There are special people in my life experiencing severe trauma and pain. Many of these people are pillars in their community, functioning at a high level and excelling in ways that most people could never achieve. Yet, behind the success, there seems to a masked version of their real life, only visible to a certain number of people.

Maybe because I’m a teacher or because I have been told that I have an open spirit, but lately folks in my life have come to me, revealing their secrets and struggles, and while they are not looking for a solution, in some ways I feel responsible to help them. I’m not a therapist or have any kind of technical training, so my help can be very limited. I think the best thing I can offer, besides being a comforting ear, is the remind people to be kind to others. We really don’t know what people are experiencing. We can only imagine. So, if you find yourself at the airport, grocery store, park or any where surrounded by others, the simple thing you can do is smile and be kind. Believe me, these small acts of kindness go a very long way.

Hello!

Hello, is anyone out there? I didn’t realize that the last time I wrote on my blog was almost 1.5 years ago. I apologize for my long absence; I did not intend to take this long of a break. I blame COVID (twice), a new job and a move. SO much has happened in the time that I have been away. And while I’d like to fill you all in, I think it’s best to just give you the 10 most recent highlights:

  1. We moved to Las Vegas
  2. I started a new job!
  3. I started a new hobby- macrame
  4. I read for Litquake- SF’s biggest literary festival
  5. My niece turned 4
  6. I wrote 25,000 words for nanowrimo
  7. I was gifted a Kindle (but I still buy actual books)
  8. I went on a cruise to the bahamas
  9. I attended my 25 year high school reunion
  10. I have perfected my recipe for vegan Shanghai lumpia!

Dear readers, please tell me what you have been up to? What important events or goals are you proud of?

I hope to hear from you.

Mabuhay,

Sheila

I’m COVID positive

My COVID experience started on September 2, 2021, when I made a comment to my co-worker that I might not come to work tomorrow because my throat felt a little sore. It was very minor- just a scratchy sensation. I had been testing students one-on-one the last two weeks, so I assumed it was the overuse of my voice, or my body adjusting to going back to work, wearing my mask for long hours. The next day, more symptoms developed: congestion, body aches, tiredness, which felt normal because I associated them with my recurring sinus infection. On Sunday I spoke to the Kaiser advice nurse, on Monday I spoke to the doctor who expedited a COVID test. On Tuesday morning I took my test, and that night I received my results. It was positive. By then, when I lost my sense of smell and taste, I already had an inclining that I had COVID. The test confirmed it. Turns out, I probably had COVID sometime at the end of August, then symptoms developed 3-5 days later, and I didn’t test ‘till three days after that. It’s easy to see how the virus spreads so quickly.

You hear how unpredictable COVID is, how it affects people differently, how there is no definite way to predict how your body will respond. I know many people who survived COVID, but I also knew a few people who didn’t. I wondered where I would fall on the spectrum. I wondered if my asthma, my weight, my thyroid would affect my experience. When I developed a form of pink eye on the 5th day, I cautioned if my symptoms would unexpectedly turn severe like other cases I read about.

I don’t know how I contracted COVID. There’s a myriad of sources- my husband went to the dentist, I work at two schools where the students are not old enough to get the vaccine, my brother-in law visited one day. I wear a mask, I’m vaccinated and I’m as safe as I can be in public settings. But with COVID, especially with Delta we know it spreads faster and it’s more infectious than the outset of the pandemic. I believe my breakthrough COVID case was bound to happen; it was just a matter of time. It is also worrisome that at my schools, it seems as if there is a positive COVID case everyday; students are in the hallways sitting next to a garbage can, vomiting. The outdoor isolation tent seems to have students daily, waiting for a parent to pick him/her up. When I see students playing, hear them laughing, or witness them smiling with their eyes, it’s easy to forget that we’re in a pandemic, and it seems like kids at school is the right decision, but when COVID cases rise and as I see adults and students get sick and the after effects of COVID unknown, I’ve decided that school is probably not the safest place for people to be, especially those unvaccinated. I’m lucky that when I return to my job, my interaction with people will be limited, and I’m taking it one day at a time.


The support from friends and family, the daily calls, check ins or even the delivery of organic Gatorade from a dear friend were sources of comfort for me. I was also surprised with the care I received from Kaiser. They sent me a care package complete with high grade cleaning solution, sanitizer, alcohol wipes, body wash, shampoo, condition, face masks, gloves, eating utensils, plates, cups, even a thermometer. Although I had most of the items at home, it was reassuring to know that in all aspects of my life, including my health care, everything was easy so I could just focus on my health and healing. Even when I was contacted by Contra Costa County they offered to do the trace contact on my behalf and asked if I needed help financially and with food preparation. I wondered about all the people who were affected at the onset of the pandemic, when a lot was unknown, when the system and after care weren’t as robust, how lonely and frustrating and expensive it might have been, especially the immediate hours after testing positive. It’s an odd time. Many thoughts run through your head and the imagination runs wild. The care I received from my circle, including the County and Kaiser made things feel less helpless, less overwhelmed, less like I was a statistic. This was the care I received for my case; I only hope others receive the same care, especially those with more severe cases.

There’s a mental condition called Survivor’s Guilt , where a person who survived a life threatening situation, while others did not feels guilty for surviving. Many people have experienced this in traumas we’re familiar with such as 9/11, Pulse nightclub, a car accident, Cancer, and most recently COVID. While my COVID case was relatively mild compared to others, I do wonder about those who weren’t so lucky, particularly family members who died because of COVID. Some didn’t live long enough for the vaccine to become available to them, so by chance and by time, I was fortunate to have a chance simply because of a timeline. It could also be because I haven’t eaten meat in over a year, or that I received both vaccines of the Moderna, it could also be because my family prayed for me and my mother in law added our names to a congregation of nuns who prayed for us. Who knows why I was lucky and relatively unscathed. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge those who had a different experience, those who needed a pacemaker after COVID, those whose sense of taste never returned after COVID, those who will have life long lung issues after COVID.

And it wasn’t just me who tested positive. My husband, my brother-in-law and two other people , including a friend’s children, tested positive. It was clear that our 6 degrees of separation had been compromised. Could I have been the COVID culprit? Probably. Most likely. The conditions at my school make it the obvious answer. And I carry a lot of guilt for that possibility. It is wild when I think about it. How a simple action turned into something possibly life threatening. We found humor in the situation though. We jokingly thought about having a quarantine routine or eating an entire onion or durian. And I affectionately referred to us as the COVID Crew. My mother in law, in jest, said something to the effect of: “I can’t believe all my children have COVID all at the same time”. But it all turned serious when my niece all of a sudden had a fever of 103 and then my sister developed flu-like symptoms, the possibility of spreading the virus to them became even more severe. My niece is only three. She’s lived most in her life in the pandemic, and it didn’t seem fair that she was a bystander of poor actions. They ended up testing negative; which was a huge relief, but the guilt ensued. I was sorry and sad. I’m grateful that my family has been kind, understanding and has found humor in a grave situation. I love them very much.

As of today, day 10 of my quarantine, the only symptoms I feel are fatigue, loss of smell and taste and a slight congestion. My days are strange. I haven’t been outside since September 2, and I have urges to take long naps throughout the day. I miss my hikes; I miss my family; I miss my tastebuds. I don’t find pleasure in the things I’ve taken for granted like eating, drinking, or smelling my favorite perfume, a home cooked meal or the wonderful outdoors. I think about the possible long term effects I might endure like COVID brain fog or a persistent disorienting metallic taste in my mouth. I think about the last flavorful thing I ate: a nori roll wrap with sunflower seed pate, alfalfa sprouts, cucumber, tomatoes, onions, avocado. I think about the email I got from work urging me to take advantage of mental health services they are offering for free.

I go back to work tomorrow (Tuesday, September 14), and it will be 13 days since I set foot on campus. I’m looking forward to putting this behind me, but I do worry that COVID might make its way back, like others I read about who had COVID twice, like the CDC study in Kentucky. The most I can do is take the same precautions I took before: sanitize, wear a mask, physical distance, wash my hands, get tested regularly. But even with all of that in place, the chances are still there, albeit significantly less, but still there. What I’ve learned from this situation is that being infected with COVID means different things for everyone. Cases vary in degrees and people respond differently- socially, emotionally, mentally, physically. I think about the positives: the support of family and friends. The surprising outreach from work, Contra Costa County and Kaiser Permanente. It seems once you test positive,all hands and feet are on deck and on the ground and an army of people are there to help with the process. I’m thankful for the vaccine; I am assuming it prevented my symptoms from escalating and me being admitted to the hospital. I’m grateful to all of you who have also chosen to get vaccinated as well; it may have saved your life and others. If you are still considering not getting the vaccine, which is now approved by the FDA, I hope my experience encourages you to reconsider or at the very least to have a conversation with those around you, especially those who you love. Being positive affects your entire community. Even if you live alone, if you step foot outside your door, you’re impacting life all around you and there’s a strong possibility that your actions might impact the health of another person. I honor each person’s individual choice and what is best for you and your family. But after experiencing this and contending with all the possible outcomes that could have been, it would be irresponsible of me to not share this story, my story. A possible life may depend on it. And that’s a chance I’m not willing to take. Stay safe and thank you for reading.

Care package from Kaiser
Pink eye photo
One of the fun the things I looked forward to was the phonecalls with my niece and using the filters
The last flavorful meal I had on Friday September 3

What is a healthy marriage?

I read or possibly heard somewhere that every marriage can define their own rules. Since no one was given a handbook or given the wisdom and secrets to a healthy marriage, it’s safe to assume that no one has the perfect or flawless situation. I believe the pandemic, sheltering at home, living on top of each other has exasperated this idea even more. Some say that having time apart is natural and is a healthy way to maintain, rekindle, ignite the spark. Others argue that time away is dangerous- that sooner or later you’ll get accustomed to the distance and will remain distant. I don’t know which argument is true, but my hubby and I are currently trying it.

In the past, we had time apart for legitimate reasons- work, family, emergency. It was never by preference. We always preferred, wanted, to come home, nightly to each other. If hubby had to travel for work, I requested that he take the flight right after work, not the next morning. If I had to visit family, I would make sure to come home, never extending my stay more than I needed to. We always had a purpose for being apart, and we knew that the time away from one another was harder on the person staying home, so we never tried to make it worse.

Over the weekend, the word “space” was brought up and we decided to take action and plan for space this week. The arrangement I proposed was that I would stay home this week and hubby can stay at his parents’ house for a few days. Next week will be my turn. I will stay at my parents’ house while hubby stays home.

What will I do at home alone for a few days?

Nothing grandiose. I do like the idea of stillness and quietness. Having the TV on less. Reading more.

I don’t know how long this arrangement will last. Who knows if we will even enjoy it. But I think it’s worth exploring, even if it seems strange to other people. I’m not excited or sad about the temporary situation. I’m curious and hopeful that every couple can decide, together, what is best for them.

Vegan pancit canton

Growing up, my interest in cooking was marred by my mother. As a self- trained chef and baker, everything my mother cooked was naturally delicious. It was very difficult to cook anything under her shadow. Compared to her, my dishes came out under seasoned, under done, under cooked. And because my mom didn’t have recipes and relied on her instincts, I was very intimidated with cooking. 

It wasn’t until I discovered youtube that I became more comfortable with cooking. My confidence in the kitchen increased when I watched youtube shows like Laura Vitale, Panglasa Pinoy and Chef John. With video, I could easily follow along and replay if I was confused.

Tomorrow, I will be at my mom’s house for Easter and we all decided to bring a dish. When it comes to cooking Filipino dishes, my skills have been mediocre. To me, certain Filipino cooking requires an intermediate to advance level of cooking, where as I’m still performing at the beginner. By with faith and youtube, I attempted a Vegan Pancit Canton recipe and made it today. It will be the dish that I bring to my mother’s tomorrow. 

My husband, my taste tester, said it was delicious. I’ll say my mother’s reaction will be true testament. Stay tuned! 

A Different World

I grew up on Black television. I watched shows like the Cosby Show, A Different World, In Living Color, Martin, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Living Single, and years later, when I reflect on that time in my life, two shows that inspired me were A Different World and Living Single. I imagined that when it was time for me to attend college, I would live in the dorms like Dennis while attending classes taught by obscure teachers and hanging out with friends at the Pit. Then when I graduated, I would live in New York, similar to Khadeja James who was the owner of Flavor magazine I imagined. I too, could be a writer and live with my friends in an opulent townhouse in Manhattan. 

The reality is my life was nothing close to the TV shows. I attended college in San Diego and lived off campus. I moved about 5 times and by the time I graduated, I lived four blocks from the beach and could walk to the strip of bars and restaurants with my two blond roommates from the OC. My professors didn’t seem worldly at the time, as English professors, their teaching styles were mostly lecture while students mostly listened, with the one exception. I had a teacher who had big curly brown hair and we read books by different authors on color, including Michele Serros who has been a formidable literary role model to me. I didn’t have much of a campus life- most of the people I spent time with were from Los Angeles or my home town ( they visited me often). And the entire time I was in San Diego, I was in a long distance relationship with a boy from my home town. I always wondered what would have happened if made other decisions like joining a sorority, breaking up with my boyfriend, spending more time exploring the campus rather than rushing home and talking to my boyfriend on the phone. Had I done this, would I have lived a life closer to what I had envisioned when I watched A Different Word. Maybe. But the greatest lesson I thought that would have the biggest impact on me would be moving to a city and not knowing anyone. Turns out, the greatest lesson was moving to a new city and loving someone 600 miles away. 

Photo by ROMAN ODINTSOV on Pexels.com

March 2021

March tends to be a busy month for me, and this year was no different, regardless of the state still mostly in shelter in place. 

Some things to highlight:

March 12- I celebrated my 5 year wedding anniversary

March 13- we had a outside lunch for my father in law’s birthday

March 21- we went to Muir Woods to celebrate my sister’s birthday

March 27- we went to Golden Gate Park to celebrate my brother in law’s birthday

March 29- started spring break, my 13th spring break as an educator 

March 24- got my second COVID vaccine shot

March 7- ended my 4th class for my TESOL certificate (only 4 more classes to go)

March 15- submitted my applications for a professional and writing opportunities

March 6, 7, 14, 21, 29, 30 – Went hiking at different places

March 4-6: went to Sacramento to help my brother with his new home

Last March, in 2020, there so much uncertainty about what life would look like in the next few months, let alone an entire year later. But here we are, in 2021, living indoors and outdoors, savoring life in the smallest and greatest ways.

Lent 2021

Lent is a time in the Catholic calendar that brings us closer to God. During this time, we spend time in praying, fasting and almsgiving- all ways in which strengthens our relationship with God. Every Lent season, I usually participate is some sort of “sacrifice”; it has varied from eating no meat, staying off social media, giving up soda or adding something positive in my life like meditating, cooking, being a better friend. While I was successful in maintaining the goal for the 40 days, soon after Lent was over, I went back to my old habits- indulging and distancing myself from God, unintentionally.

This year I thought, at length, what I wanted to focus on Lent this year. On Wednesday, the first day of Lent, I still hadn’t decided on anything meaningful. My hubby asked me at 5:30 PM what I had decided. The day being almost over, he encouraged me to join his goal, since he already landed on the idea of giving up dairy. I really didn’t want to participate in anything food related because I’m already cleaning up my diet as a vegetarian/ vegan, and now I’m seeing a health specialist and dietician for by hypothyroid. Limiting my food just didn’t seem like the task that was going to bring me closer to God. Unsure of what to do, I turned on the computer and attended virtual mass. It wasn’t until I watched the priest sprinkle ashes on the tops of the people’s heads that it occurred how much I missed attended mass. When I lived about 5 minutes away from St. Callistus, I went every Sunday for almost two years. During this part of my life, I had so many blessings– I was writing, planning my wedding, going to graduate school, training for a half marathon, and I remember crediting God for all the fruitfulness coming my way. After the wedding, school and way after the marathon, I moved and haven’t been to church consistently the way I did almost seven years ago. When the pandemic happened and when churches began offering virtual mass, I attended for a few months and my husband and I prayed together every morning and night, yet over time, that too didn’t last.

This Lent, I plan to attend mass every week, and I’m hoping that this commitment continues well after Lent season. God has continued to shower and bless me with so much, and I know He doesn’t ask for much back. All God wants is some time together.

Hello bloggers

After about a month or so on being on hiatus, I’m slowly crawling back to my safe space– this blog. After blogmas and the holidays, my professional schedule ramped up with trainings and conferences in which I was main facilitator. Hosting these events for teachers has been the highlight of my career; I am gaining teachers’ trust and helping them navigate through curriculum and instruction during one of the most tumultuous times in education. It’s been rewarding for me to hear teachers say that I’ve helped them in some way. It’s something I have missed. I used to hear students thank me, and every since I’ve taken District positions, it’s been difficult to get accolades from teachers; they are usually the most critical crowd, especially since I’m not a teacher from this district who has built a vetted reputation. I am new, and like most people in this situation, it takes time to build trust. I’m slowly making my way.

What else has been new for me? Hiking.

I go on long hikes anywhere from 4- 8 miles, 2-4 hours. I’m so enamored with this activity that I even bought hiking boots and hiking poles.

The reasons I’ve enjoyed hiking are the security and challenge it provides me. With each step, as the teeth of my rubber soles of my hiking boots, crunch and snap pebbles and acorns, and as my labored and steady breath inhales and exhales through the peaks of the green mountains and dirt trail, I know that this ascend is only for a moment before the ground is leveled and smooth. If I want, I can stop. I can collect my breath, stretch my legs and enjoy the expansive view before continuing the climb. If I really want, I can even turn around and head back down.

It’s fitting that I’ve found hiking as an escape. My mantras for hiking can be easily applied to my challenges at work. Yes, work has been difficult. Yes, it is unfamiliar terrain. Yes, it requires composure and measurable inner strength. At any moment, I can stop, pause, breath and even turn around (start all over). Despite some of the hikes being difficult, I have yet to stop and turn around. I’m always curious to see what’s over the next hill, what’s over the next peak. As demanding the hikes are and the amount of dedication that’s been required, I haven’t given up. And just like my job, I know this obstacle is only momentary. I focus on the determination and grit I’m developing, feeling assured knowing that it’ll prepare me for what is ahead.

Blogmas #25 // Merry Christmas

Hi everyone! I hope you are all having a peaceful and joyful holiday.

I cannot fathom the idea that I posted for 25 consecutive days. For a newbie like me, this accomplishment is quite the feet. Granted, some posts held more time and attention than others, but I still attempted and posted.

Congrats to everyone who participated in blogmas. And to all those who took the time to read, like and respond to my posts, thank you. I appreciate you.

The other day, I received a notification from WordPress that I received 1,000 likes and 150 followers. I don’t share this blog actively, so the idea of getting responses and support from people I’ve never met, warms and lights my heart, especially during this dark time.

Merry Christmas WordPress family.

Blogmas #20 // Christmas Aunt

About a month ago, when the Lifetime Channel kicked off their holiday movie schedule, I watched a movie called The Christmas Aunt starring Keigha Night Pullam (Ruby Huxtable from The Cosby Show). In the movie, Pullam plays a career driven woman but is suddenly called to fly to her mother’s house to help take care of her niece and nephew for a couple weeks. In the movie, what I found endearing, is that Pullam organizes a Christmas list for her niece and nephew to get them in the holiday spirit. Everyday when they wake up they open a card from their aunt who gives them their “Christmas Activity” for the day. It could be anything from building a gingerbread house, donating toys, hanging Christmas lights, baking cookies, going ice skating, and the list goes on and on.

I thought about what I would do with my niece. Although she’s only two years old, I imagine when she’s old enough, I’d like to implement my own version of The Christmas Aunt Holiday Activity List. Here are some things, I’d like to include.

  1. Every year, my niece and I take matching pictures next to the Christmas tree. I’d like to continue that tradition.
  2. Bake traditional Filipino cookies (lengua de gato)
  3. Make a tree ornament that symbolizes the theme of the year.
  4. Make a parol.
  5. Donate clothes or food.
  6. Buy a holiday outfit or accessory.
  7. Go to the snow and do a snow activity (build a snowman, sled, snowboard)
  8. make cards
  9. write a poem
  10. read passages from our favorite books from that year

What about you? What holiday activities would you like to do with your niece and nephew?

Christmas at the Grand Canyon // Blogmas #17

Most people tend to visit the majestic Grand Canyon during the summer- where the vast views are unobstructive by snow and rain. Yet, my family decided to visit during winter. The drawback was that many trails and activities were closed and cancelled due to the weather; however, we were able to visit one of the most renowned wonders of the world in such an intimate and unique way. It was like we had the entire park to ourselves.

Lake Tahoe Christmas // Blogmas #19

Yesterday, I wrote about a trip my husband took to Iceland for Christmas. Today, I want to honor my family’s annual trip to the snow- Lake Tahoe.

We live in the Bay Area in California, so we tend to only experience the typical Cali weather, never snow. But if we drive north for about 3 hours, we see snow in South Lake Tahoe.

My mom’s birthday is in early December, so we’ve made it a tradition to drive to Lake Tahoe for a snowy Christmas.

Ironically, since we’ve gone, it seems like every year, we have family from the Philippines as our guests. Two years ago it was my uncle and aunt who had just moved from the Philippines for about 3 months. Last year, our guests was Mel’s cousin who was visiting from Pasig. To see our guests see and experience snow for the first time was definitely a memorable and lasting memory.

In the excitement, we ran out the rented house barely properly dressed just so we could get pictures of snow actually falling.

Christmas house in the Philippines// Blogmas #14

Yesterday, I posted about a vlog I discovered about a couple of foreigners who were celebrating Christmas in the Philippines. That post got me thinking about Christmases I spent in the Philippines. Thankfully, after my family moved from the Philippines to the United States, we visited as often as we could. My most recent visit was in 2016- for my wedding, but before that was 2014- for Christmas.

It was a wild memory! My parents had just built their house and the furniture that was supposed to be delivered hadn’t arrived yet. According to the shipping company, my parents’ delivery was still at the port. Because there was a backup, there would be no way for them to unload the container until next year. In the meantime, my husband and I were sleeping on an air mattress and the entire family ate in the “dirty kitchen” a term in the Philippines that described the outdoor or separate kitchen where most of the cooking occured because of the smoke and smell. As we approached Christmas Eve my mom was devastated because we were supposed to have a family party, but we had no furniture for the guests.

Then a Christmas miracle happened. As we were eating at a restaurant in Tagaytay, we received a call that the shipping container was on the way. It would arrive in a few hours– about 9:00 PM, on Christmas Eve.

We worked collectively to unload, unpack and move in the furniture for a 5 bedroom house. We unpacked and installed TVs, patio furniture, beds and dressers. I don’t know how we all pulled it off; it was definitely a group effort, and it will be a memory we’ll all share together.

Check out the video here.. the video moving part starts on 5:11

Blogmas #7 // Best holiday scents

During this time of the year, the scents such as cinnamon, pine and pumpkin are pretty standard. Every where you go, a department store, a restaurant or even your house will provide familiar aromas reminiscent of the fall or seasonal vibes. Here is a list of my favorite scents for the holiday season:

  1. The “Holiday” candle by The Harlem Candle Company

Not only does candle offer a 80+ hour burn, but the story behind the scent is a tribute to Billy Holiday singing in clubs in Harlem in the 1930s. According to the website: “The Holiday candle is inspired by Billie’s favorite perfume, Emeraude, an aromatic green blend of fresh Winter spruce, pine needles, mint-infused eucalyptus, fir balsam and spicy cedarwood developing into a feminine heart of ethereal blue hyacinth. Strong and full-bodied, yet fragile and dreamy… just like Lady Day. Sets a beautiful mood for holiday time and all year round.” Yes, the candle is on the higher end of the price point, but you’ll feel good about supporting a Black Owned Business while lighting a candle that is not your ordinary and average holiday scent.

2) Almond Eggnog from Trader Joes

I’m lactose intolerant so nothing makes me feel more special than seeing beverage companies catering to me! I love Trader Joe’s for this very reason. They offer a plethora of non-diary drinks, but my favorite seasonal drink is the Almond Eggnog. According to a reviewer, the beverage is “tasty with a warm, comforting sweetness that does gently beckon to the winter months. It also has a very lightly creamy mouth feel.” I enjoy the lightness of this drink as it’s not overtly sweet and velvety like traditional milk. The finish is smooth and if you want it sweeter, you can add vanilla, sugar or cream. The drink is very versatile and definitely beckons season vibes. The smell has the traditional notes of cinnamon, nutmeg with a hint of pumpkin…all the comforting scents of the season.

3) Friendship Cake

Nothing boasts the Christmas season stronger than a sweet indulgence baking in the oven. The entire kitchen and house is suddenly engulfed by the aromas of caramelized apples, pecans and bread. Growing up in traditional household, our house usually smelled like a Filipino bakery during the holidays. I grew up eating puto, babinka, leche flan and turon. However one special cake that my mom made during the holiday season in Friendship cake. Anytime that I smell this sweet aroma, I’m harkened back to my nostalgic memories of my childhood. I will make a longer post about Friendship cake because it actually takes 50 days to make the cake! But you can enjoy some pictures for now…

Activating all my senses during the Christmas season definitely sparks the joy and the Christmas spirit. I love smelling pine, holding a warm plate of dessert and sipping a holiday beverage. But nothing warms my body and spirt more than taking in the comforting scents of the season. How about you? What do you like to smell this time of the year?

Blogmas #6 // How to celebrate a birthday in December during a pandemic

December birthdays are sometimes over shadowed, especially if the birthday is close to Christmas. My mom’s birthday in December 7th, weeks before Christmas, but over the years we have kept the tradition of going to the snow for her birthday to make her day feel more special. This year because of COVID, we weren’t able to take our annual trip, but we still made the most of the occasion. Hopefully these are tips that can help you with your December birthday.

  1. Make food or order food that is special for the celebrant

My mom loves fried chicken, so we ordered a bucket of chicken wings, legs and thighs from a local restaurant. You don’t need to have an expensive dinner to show your appreciation for someone. Knowing what they like, whether it’s a particular dessert, drink or appetizer from a restaurant, and having it as a part of the meal can make any person feel special, even it’s something as simple as a chicken wing. My mom loved it!

2. Meaningful gift

Also, a meaningful gift, often not very expensive, can go a long way. For my mom, my sister had the idea of creating a cook book filled with my mom’s recipes. We printed out a cover of what the cookbook would look like and arranged for us to cook with my mom every month to add a recipe to the cookbook. If your celebrant loves to garden maybe give them planting seeds or a framed picture of them in their garden. Or if the birthday person loves music, why not give them virtual music lessons or a dance lessons. If the person loves to read, make them a bookmark or make them a no-sew fleece blanket to wrap themselves up with when they’re reading.

3. Tradition

It may be difficult to get together for the holidays during a pandemic, so a zoom party might be your only option. Keeping traditions going, even virtually, maintains some normalcy and semblance during this time. I’d encourage you to try to incorporate your traditions in the virtual celebration. If you normally eat a cake, try having a cake delivered. If you open gifts, try mailing them or dropping them off. We normally have a cake, so I went out to a special bakery to get a very decadent cake for our dessert. Also, this could also be a time to create new traditions. One that I would like to try is for everyone can share one great memory with the birthday person this year.

Christmas at the mall// Blogmas #3

This evening I visited a mall for the first time in over a year. My purpose for the visit was to return some gifts I bought online- my preferred method of shopping these days, but I needed to make the returns in person due to sizing. The trip to the mall was actually very somber. On my way there, a former student notified me that she is moving to Las Vegas this weekend with her partner. She’s nearing 30 and moving to LV will allow her and her partner live comfortably. Right now she’s living with her mom and doesn’t want to further depend on her. Although I haven’t seen the student in over 8 years, her news of moving saddened me. We have kept in touch over the years and I even stopped by her prom and high school graduation. We celebrated her 18h birthday together and I visited her when she used to work at a club. One time she called me in desperate need of a ride, so picked her up in Vallejo to take her back to Pittsburg. Recently she invited me to her certification graduation, but I had to decline due to COVID. And I can’t forget about the time, years ago, we went to San Francisco and ate at the Cheesecake Factory. Then we went to Coach where I bought her a small purse as a graduation gift. She also visited me when I lived in Pittsburg then in Hercules. As I said, I haven’t seen her in over 8 years, but there was something comforting knowing she lived in Pittsburg- about 20 miles from where I currently live. Not knowing how to take the news, I told her that I would do a drive -by visit for her going away party on Saturday. I plan to stop by and visit from the safety of my car. I also offered to give her some of my stored furniture – like my dining table, chairs, bar stools and bar cart. It pains me to know that she is moving, but rather than dwell on it, at least I can help her.

While I was in line in the mall, I over heard the person in front of me say that this was his first visit to the mall in over a year. He said that it felt strange, wearing jeans as opposed to sweats, seeing people in person rather than on a screen and that he didn’t realize that baseball hats were two dollars more expensive. The sales person blamed it on COVID. “Business has been slow,” he said as he shrugged his shoulders and bit his lower lip. “I understand” was the other man’s response as he adjusted his face mask. I stood there, feeling more forlorn as I thought about the news of my former student moving, possibly because of COVID and now these strangers in front of me were confessing how COVID had altered their lives- one afraid to be in public, the other afraid of losing his business.

It’s December 3rd. Usually a visit to the mall seems more joyous; you hear Christmas music, take pictures with Santa, have a cup of coffee or hot chocolate as you peruse sales for gift giving. But none of that occurred today. In fact, I think I may have experienced something better. The trip to the mall was a gentle reminder that people are making brave choices all around us- moving during a pandemic , stepping foot in public for the first time , making hard but necessary business decisions, or even me -accepting that a very special person in my life is moving away. It may not feel like the typical Christmas but there are certainly moments of joy and celebration if we look and listen hard enough.

Fur and tequila

Some of you might recall the post I wrote about my neighbor, Julieta. Today, we planned to have an outdoor dinner at a local restaurant. My husband and I met Julietta outside of our door and she wore black furry boots with a Kangol bucket hat and her fingernails were painted a blush pink. Julietta could be old enough to be my mother.

During dinner I learned a lot about her: she believes, at a certain age, eat all the sugar and sweets you want, especially if you’re old. Her exact words were: “if you’ve lived this long, might as well indulge. Just take a shot if you’re diabetic.” She was not joking. She truly meant what she said. I also learned that she taught her children to never accept food from strangers, even from family. If they were served food, they would have to get permission from her first- usually indicated by a slow and stern nod. Julieta also shared that it was a culture shock when she and her sons immigrated to Los Angeles from the Philippine in 1990. Her sons cried almost everyday, homesick and longed to be reunited with their grandparents and cousins. They were 11 -years old at the time and just started public school for the first time. They couldn’t believe how the girls dressed-tank tops with spaghetti straps, skirts and shorts high above the knees. “They couldn’t handle it” Julieta said. Then she licked the salt from the rim of her strawberry margarita.

This is the first time my husband and I broke bread with Julieta. In addition to the time she came over unannounced with a bottle of wine in September, this is the second time we spent a substantial amount of time together. It’s too early to determine what kind of friendship we’ll have- a fleeting or lasting one. I can say that I’m enjoying the company, especially learning about the life of a remarkable woman who lets me believe that eating the second helping of dessert is good for the soul, that accepting food from strangers isn’t dangerous but mildly rude and that no matter what age you are you should can dress in faux fur and don pink fingernails, while sipping on expensive tequila. Her stories may be wild, but like her adage about age- if you’ve lived this long, might as well indulge- fur, tequila and all.

Photo by Alexander Dummer on Pexels.com

My Christmas tree is not pinterest worthy

My Christmas tree is not pinterest worthy. It doesn’t have a color coordinated theme or have big cascading ribbons running down it or have vintage ornaments or glass glittered balls. Yet my tree is still very special.

A few years ago my husband and I started the tradition of collecting tree ornaments for all the places we visited. So far we have over 30 pieces which include memories from New York Public Library, Iceland, South Africa, the Oregon Shakespearean festival and even the State capital– Sacramento. However, the most special ornament is the personalized pineapple we purchased in Hawaii. I remember the trip vividly because it was the first time I had visited Hawaii in over 15 years and we were celebrating our two years of marriage. It was 2018 and I had just started a new job, my sister was about 7 months pregnant, and I was planning her baby shower, and Mel and I had just moved into our new condo in South San Francisco. There were many reasons to celebrate that particular year. I can recall all the dishes, places and beaches we enjoyed during that trip in Hawaii, yet every year, when I take out all my Christmas tree ornaments, it the pineapple ornament I enjoy unwrapping and hanging first. I also make sure that I place it in the front center of the tree, eye level to the couch so that when I’m watching TV or relaxing in our living room, it’s within my visual reach with an unobstructed view. Sure, throughout the year, I have the advantage of looking at my digital photos on my phone and reminiscing about our memorable trip, but there’s something about the tradition of holding the ceramic piece in my hand and running my fingers on the scripted engraving and rubbing the smooth edges of the pineapple green leaves and yellow skin that take me back to paradise.