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

Girls Trip to Las Vegas

Well, we did it. A group of 40 year old gals, who have been friends for over two decades, made a voyage to Sin City (Las Vegas) for four days during the pandemic.We know this was a risky trip; the Delta variant has spread across the country and has become rampant in metropolitan places like Las Vegas. In fact, a week before the trip, we talked reconsidered going– analyzing the pros and cons of going on vacation during this time. In the end, we decided to move forward with our original plans, partly due to a financial investment we probably would never see again but also because it had been well over 1.5 years since we has seen each other, or even travelled together, and there was something about making a maiden voyage to the dessert that seemed alluring to our mental health. Days later we all packed our bags, boarded our separate flights and finally met at the time share. One after the other, with each arrival, we hugged, taking inventory of each other’s body, hair, face, realizing how much time had passed among us.

The trip was not your average one. We didn’t go to any clubs or pool parties. We didn’t attend any after hours or buffets. We tried to steer away from the usual party scene and stuck to our loose itinerary of lazy mornings, quick trips to get coffee, excursions in the water, and girl talk in the living room accompanied with Tito’s Vodka, fresh fruit and vegan oatmeal raisin cookies. With the exception of the kayaking trip, everything we did could have been easily been done at the comfort of our homes. We really didn’t need to be in Vegas to do any of the simple activities we participated it. But it was the idea of being together that you couldn’t put a price on.

I don’t know when we’ll be together again. Who knows if it’ll be next week, next month, next year? Maybe we’ll meet again in Las Vegas or maybe we’ll head to the ocean. What ever the destination, I’ll be thankful for the company. Even if it’s sitting in the living room of a fancy hotel and doing absolutely nothing but talking.

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! 

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.

Valentine’s Weekend

My husband and I usually don’t participate in celebrating Valentine’s Day the traditional way. But we do like to keep up with our traditions, namely because it gives us something to look forward to the beginning of the year. Over the years, January has been a difficult month because a lot of people we love have passed away this time of the year. In February, we like to reflect on life and appreciate our blessings. On Valentine’s Day we honor our traditional love languages: we gift each other with food and things that we think will make us stronger- individually and together. This year I asked my hubby to join me on a hike, even though I know this is not the kind of activity he prefers. He often complains and makes excuses like his ankles hurt or that his fingers hurt. But this weekend, he joined me on a hike and what was more thoughtful was that he didn’t hesitate. He understands that my love language isn’t material things but offering support. In turn, I gifted my husband a pair of ipods. I know this is isn’t the most romantic gift, but I know my hubby is looking for motivation to jump rope consistently, and I know music helps him achieve this, so it was worth the investment.

After the hike, we drove to Oakland and picked up a combo meal from Vegan Mob.

I know this isn’t’ the typical way to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Or maybe it is. What ever the case, happy Valentine’s Day, no matter if you celebrate it or how you celebrate it. Continue to do the things that are meaningful for you, every day.

Blogmas #8 // Unforgettable Christmas Gifts

Holiday retail in over $700 Billion industry. The average American “will spend nearly $1,050 on holiday gifts, goodies, and travel this year, the National Retail Federation estimates. This is up slightly from last year’s estimate of about $1,000.” Consumerism, especially during the holiday season, continues to rise, yet if I look back on the gifts I received in the past years, not to sound ungrateful, but most of them were given based on obligation, not meaning. A few years ago, my husband and I made the commitment to gift each other with experiences rather than products. So my advice, when it comes to gift giving, is to gift that special person with an experience they will remember forever. Here are some ideas:

  1. a picnic- if you need help arranging this contact Soiree by the Bay. They set up the entire picnic for you, just bring yourself and some food.
  • a class- why not encourage the creative in your life with a class to channel their creative impulse. My favorite places are sfworkshop and verolocal. They offer classes ranging from macrame, painting, cooking, soap, candle, wood working, etc. They even offer digital classes now!
  • cooking – while this falls under the category above, I decided to make this its own category because there’s so many options. Learn how to make sushi, homemade pasta, ramen, thai food, even from the comfort of your home, as many places are offering virtual classes. There are even cooking classes that will deliver the ingredients for you!
  • concert – more and more artists are offering virtual concerts. Justin Beiber is offering a NewYears Eve concert for $25 or free for Tmobile users. Celebs such as Monica and Brandy did a Versus stream on instagram and DJs are streaming on Twitch. Make it even more special by printing out homemade tickets, making concert food like popcorn and nachos and maybe even buy a shirt of the singer. It’ll feel like a real concert! Turn the lights off and flick those lighters!!!
  • virtual trip – pack a bag and go on a virtual trip. Make an itinerary of all the places. monuments you want to see and order cuisine from the place you’re visiting virtually. It you’re visiting Italy, order Italian food and wine. If you’re in Japan, order sushi, if you’re going to NYC, order pizza. Get all these things delivered at home!

Anyone of these experiences will surely be memorable. So before you buy that pair of socks, scarf or piece of jewelry, consider how excited your recipient will be when she/ he opens up your gift and considers the thoughtfulness and time you put to execute it. Remember success is in the details, and with a though-out experience, the details will surely resonate.

Which gift resonates with you?

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.

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

A class with Tony Robles – “The People’s Poet”

Today, I had another great opportunity to take a virtual writing class with Tony Robles,”The People’s Poet”, the author of the poetry and short story collections, Cool Don’t Live Here No More–A letter to San Francisco and Fingerprints of a Hunger Strike. He is the current writer in residence at the Carl Sandburg Historic Home in Flat Rock North Carolina.” More information taken from his website states that “his works have been widely published in anthologies and journals including, Where are you From?, Endangered Species, Your Golden Sun Still Shines, Born and Raised in Frisco and Growing up Filipino Volume II. He was shortlist nominated for Poet Laureate of San Francisco in 2018 and a recipient of the San Francisco Arts Commission Individual Literary Artist Grant in 2018. He is a housing justice advocate and the nephew of the late Filipino-American poet and historian Al Robles.

This is my second class with Tony, and I have to say his classes are life changing. He holds space and provides craft talk while providing ample time to write, share and receive encouragement and feedback. It was a two hour class but because it was so engaging, it felt like 30 minutes.

I’m not a poet; I’m more of a prose writer but, here is one piece I wrote today during class:

Christmas smelled like sizzling garlic and roasted pig

A white ceramic place greeted me – filled with bright greens leaves

cold orange wedges

noodles shaped like the letter S

soft and sinewy, salted with soy and ginger.

Your feet worked in this kitchen

Your belly rested above the plaid waist apron

You pushed the meaty flesh of your skin against the counter,

Pushing the rolling pin covered in white speckled dust like new fallen snow

Good news!

Part of my job requires me to administer Statewide tests to students and notify parents of the outcome. Today, I had the pleasure of notifying parents that their child met all the requirements for RFEP- which basically means that the student “routinely demonstrates fluent English proficiency in order to access grade-level content instruction delivered in English with minimal linguistic support.” Many students who speak another language rarely achieve this accomplishment, so it was particularly heart-warming to bear good news, especially in a time when many parents and children have been affected by distance learning. I know some cases where students are hanging up in the middle of zoom class because they’re confused by the lecture or assignment or families having spotty internet because they are living out of a friend’s garage, or many families relying on the school’s free lunch so that at least the children are fed daily. Many of these inequalities have occurred long before COVID, but surely the pandemic has exacerbated the disproportion of resources for many of our vulnerable families.  So, although my conversion with families today didn’t necessarily provide an extra form of income, an extra meal or even a house, the news did bring temporary relief– that despite all the economical, social and academic challenges, their child is excelling and being recognized by their mastery level. I hope hearing this triumphant recognition was a much needed respite that so many families are in desperate need of hearing.

My Monday

Today I attended an impromptu dinner party at my sister’s house; this is actually one of the reasons why we moved–to be closer to family and create memories. I can’t tell you the last time I attended a dinner party, on a MONDAY. Living away from close friends and family didn’t give us the opportunity to experience much spontaneity. But today, when my sister sent a text around 12:00 non and invited us over for 6:30 PM that same day, we didn’t hesitate to accept the invitation.

Dinner wasn’t complicated: my sister made a hearty pasta with plant based meatballs. I brought over a salad with ingredients from my refrigerator– spinach, broccoli, shredded carrots and toasted pine nuts. We drank wine and played with my niece before she took a bath. We sat around and watched Shark Tank and somehow we ended up talking about identify theft.

Sometimes it doesn’t take much to make a lasting memory; sure we could have made it more elaborate and complex but there was something about the uncomplicated, impulsive, and relaxed night that made everything easy and different.

I didn’t take a single picture tonight, so here’s one from the net. LOL

Photo by fauxels on Pexels.com

Camping in COVID

On Saturday, my siblings, partners and friends went to Kirby Cove to camp for one night. I haven’t camped in about four years, and never with my siblings or with this group of people so naturally, I was a little anxious about how the experience would be since this was going to be a new surrounding, a new set of people to interact with and new restrictions that would complicate the experience. 

No fire: Because of the recent fires, there was a state mandate that didn’t allow open flames. This meant that we would have to camp with no campfire, which meant no wood, no s’mores, no huddling around the fire with hot chocolate. One of the reasons why so many people are fond of camping in the first place is because of this experience. No fire obviously also meant no cooking and no warmth.

Primitive bathroom: There was no place to shower and the bathroom consisted of a hole in the ground in a very murky, smelly and fly laden public restroom. There was no running water, so campers had to bring their own supply of water and hand soap. 

COVID and physical distancing: California is still experiencing aspects of sheltering in place. While many businesses are opening up, with safety precautions, health officials are still encouraging people to physically distance with face coverings. How would this look while we were camping? Would it be possible to relax in the company of potentially infected people as we spent time together enjoying the outdoors?

Even though we were only camping for one night, we had to consider these implications because they would affect the way we spent the next 24 hours. In the end, we did what many seasoned campers did: make it work. We ate food the didn’t need much preparation like granola bars, crackers, sandwiches and later in the night when we saw other campers lighting fires, we did the same. We ate bowls of ramen and mac and cheese. Someone even brought bags of MREs. My brother managed to make us s’mores to go along with our wine. The weekend wasn’t the most gourmet, and we definitely got our fill of sodium, but the pleasure of eating simply and meaningfully despite the fire restriction made every bite of food more savory and sweet. 

Having decent amenities in a public restroom are ideal, especially when it’s dark, cold and you’re tired. The last thing anyone wants to do is struggle with is the smell and sanitation of the “toilet”. I wish there was an upside to the primitive bathroom at Kirby Cove, but I’m finding it very difficult to write one, let alone think of one. 

The physical distancing was challenging. We were outdoors, in the fresh air, so we definitely felt more relaxed. Although we didn’t hug or sit next to each other closely, the experience still felt intimate. We had the best campsite in the park, and it was very exclusive from the other areas. We had an unobstructed view of the Golden Gate Bridge, and we were away from the noise and heavy foot traffic. We had enough areas for people to retreat for alone time and other places for people to join in a conversation. Again, under other circumstances we probably would have played games, shared drinks, even hugged, but because of the present situation we had to do without what felt natural while camping. Still, we didn’t walk away from Kirby Cove with negative experiences; in fact, we’re already planning the next trip. Bathrooms and fires or not, we’ll be ready for whatever comes. 

We know there are more experienced campers who thrive and manage off much less conditions, and while I playfully referred to us a seasoned, we obviously are not, not even close. But for a day, eating out of bags of dry food, squatting with hungry buzzing flies and sleeping out doors with the private view of the most beautiful landmarks of mother nature, we surely felt seasoned.

Paulo’s 37th birthday

These days, it seems frivolous to celebrate birthdays, but we could all benefit from looking forward to something, especially celebrating life, which is what I did today– we went to Oakland to celebrate my younger brother’s 37th birthday. When the idea of having a bbq at his house was brought up by me and my sister, Paulo hesitated, saying that he wasn’t in the mood. In context, work has been overwhelming and he’s in the middle of purchasing a house, so the very last thing he wanted to do was plan a birthday bbq. At the recourse of my pleas, Paulo eventually contested, probably out of guilt. But later today, when we were sitting around the dining table, with our plates filled with a blend of traditional American food, like ribs and mac and cheese, and Filipino food like lumpia and pancit, as ambient music played in the back, and as my niece, dressed in her Hawaiian dress nibbled only the crispy edges of her lumpia, and as the Oakland sun set in and the soft light afforded a calm and peaceful evening, there was a mirth of gratitude felt by me and I suspect, everyone else, including my brother. Paulo, in his relaxed candor, signed and smiled, unknowingly unaware of how grateful I was for this Saturday, this moment, this birthday, and the best present- him. Love you, little bro. Happy birthday!

As a gift, one of his good friends Kirby, made his rice crispy cake. It was delicious!

Your top 3 in an emergency?

For the past few days, my hometown Fairfield, CA has been burning, literally. The LNU Lightning Complex Fire was caused by the thunder and lightning storm that occurred over the weekend. Many structures and homes were burned; I even heard a National Park in Santa Cruz was severely damaged. My parents’ neighborhood was evacuated and schools were closed for the rest of the week. My in-laws, although their neighborhood was not evacuated, but for safety precautions, stayed with me and my hubby for the last two nights. As I was helping my mother-in-law unload her car, I noticed the personal items and essentials she packed in a hurry. In one bag, she had her heirloom jewelry, another bag held a small statue of Mother Mary and another bag held medication and food. It dawned on me, if I were put in a similar situation, what would I bring? Here are my top three:

  1. My computer or journal because I need to write. Since I’ve revived this blog, I’ve had the urge to write more than I have ever felt compelled to. It doesn’t matter to me if people read, like or respond to my post. I like the idea that I can read my thoughts at any particular time in my life. It’s been great to share this public journal with y’all! 
  2. A book because besides writing, I enjoy reading. It’s my escape. Especially when I’m feeling a mood, and I need to be lifted by words, there’s nothing like sinking into a good book and circumventing reality. 
  3. Running shoes because no matter where I’m at, I need to physically escape. Sometimes we take for granted what a brisk walk or jog can do for the mind, body and soul. This is  something I’ve learned while sheltering in place. When I’m feeling overwhelmed and writing and reading won’t suffice, I’ll put on my shoes and hop on the treadmill or head outside. Getting the body to move, even for a little bit restores and revives the dormant energy in our bodies. 

I imagine that I’d pack more in my emergency bag. But if I had to choose three items, these would be my priority. Unlike my mother in law who packed crucial things like food and Mother Mary, my bag probably wouldn’t be as practical. I don’t know how long I’d last in an emergency situation with shoes, my blog and hella books in my backpack, but at least I’ll have all the things I love around me. 

What about you? What are your three essentials?