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.

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.

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.

Happy New Year

When I think and reflect about this past year, there are many moments that resonate with me. A ritual I have for New Year’s Eve is to list the months of the year and write down a special moment or experience that happened in that month.

Out of all things I wrote, I wanted to share an experience that occurred in April. Obviously this was a month into shelter in place and it seemed like the entire world was grieving, mourning or processing what the pandemic was ultimately changing us, mentally, physically and emotionally. As always, I turn to writing when I need to process extreme emotions, so I joined a virtual poetry class offered by Rachelle Cruz. The class had about 30 attendees from all over the world. The first prompt was to write down what we needed; what was it that we wanted fulfilled in our lives. Later, rachelle gave each of us a response from an individual and we had to offer them, in writing, what they needed . My recipient was named Krysten and she wanted the following:

The sun, connection and friends

We had 5 minutes to respond.

I wrote the following:

The fickle weather in the mid west reminds me of the unrelenting fog and haze here in South San Francisco. At times, I’m immersed in the golden sun, yet most of the time, the days are cool, cold with a steady breeze.

I encourage you to close your eyes and recall a warm memory, one that illicts a summer day, a glowing heat a toasty hug.

If you cannot think of one, know that when the weather in California creates flush trees and flowers, I will think of you and take a walk, bask in the memory of you and I virtually together gently burning our pens on the mighty page.

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?

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.

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 #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.

My top five Holiday movies// Blogmas #2

If you’re like me, then this time of the year, nothing sparks the holiday spirit than getting cozy on the couch, sipping on hot chocolate, wearing thick wool socks, putting my hair in a bun and watching a cheesy holiday movie. To me, this is the epitome of relaxation! Watching romance with holiday glee is a recipe for pulling my heart strings. Although the holiday season just started, I was fortunate to get a head start on watching new holiday movies. Below are my top for now:

On the Hallmark Channel

  1. Jingle Bell Bride – I enjoyed this movie because of the leading characters- both people of color. The main character is a work driven Latina New Yorker who unexpectedly finds herself in a small town where the people and relationships inadvertently spark her to reexamine the most important aspects of her life.

2. Never Kiss a Man in a Christmas Sweater

When it comes to movies, especially Holiday movies, it’s often difficult to balance romance and comedy; often times, most holiday movies tend to be more romantic than they are funny. What I loved about “Never Kiss a Man in a Christmas Sweater” is that it offers the balance of both- love and comedy! Just the title alone is a little obscure and enticing!

On lifetime:

3. The Christmas Aunt

Who doesn’t remember Rudy? I always wondered what happened to Keisha Knight Pullam. I assumed she continued to act, but I pondered if being time casted hindered her from furthering her career. She shined in this movie! Very memorable!!!

4. Feliz NaviDAD

Of course I am not the one to change the channel when Mario Lopez plays a doting single father and a high school principal who also delivers packages on the weekends to make extra money for the holidays. I’m an educator, so I appreciate any movie that offers a small semblance of my life. I may not be a parent, but I know what it’s like to be work with high school kids and be in the need of a second income. Plus, who doesn’t enjoy staring at Lopez’s dimples?!?

5. Merry Liddle Christmas Wedding

I’m watching this tonight, but I already know it’s going to be a home run. Two words: Kelly Roland! If the 1/3 of Destiny’s Child is involved, then chances are it’ll be a success.

I hope you enjoy these movies as much as I did. And let me know any movies you recommend!

Happy holidays!

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.

Building and opening doors

In one of my previous posts, I wrote about my tradition of creating a piece of art for any place I move into. I usually allow the dust to settle and let the home speak to me before I start creating or begin the creative process. It’s important to me to create something for my new abode because I see it as a peace offering– a way to suggest that I appreciate this new space and will take care of it. I also see this opportunity as a way to set the tone — to allow art to speak volumes of the type of energy and spirit I want to cultivate and preserve.

We moved into our duplex in early September, about two and half months ago, and I have yet to create a piece of art for our new place. However, over the weekend, my husband and I worked together to install a barn yard door for his DJ room. this experience brought us many first; it was the first time he and I actually used a drill gun together; it was the first piece of “fixture” we built and it was the first time we installed something that required measuring, screwing and drilling. Although what we created wasn’t a piece of art, the door reflected what I had hoped to accomplish with any art project-to create memories, to contribute to the home, to bring us together.

I’m reminded that every once in a while, it’s okay to break traditions as long as other traditions are made. In this case, I’m don’t mind that I’m not creating art independently. I have replaced it something better: My husband and I created a very practical and beautiful piece of craftsmanship for our new place. I couldn’t me more proud of us.

Four teachers affected by COVID

I was facilitating a training on zoom today, and when the last teacher we were waiting on joined the call, although we could only see her face virtually, it was very clear that she was under distress. The other teacher asked her if she was ok and without hesitation, she immediately began crying. I didn’t know the teacher very well, unlike the other two teachers, so I just listened as they carefully broached her. It was then that the teacher revealed that she just found out that both of her parents tested positive for COVID. What was worse about the situation was that the father had contracted it at work, where eight people also became effected.

The teacher went into details that included why the father was still working, that they lived in a small town in a different state and before the positive results, months ago, had already decided that they weren’t traveling to the Bay Area for the holidays– it was too risky.

Some time during the conversation it dawned on me how each of us on the call had been affected by COVID. While we weren’t tested positive, our lives, though vastly different were suffering in some ways.

As you know, for me, COVID and the pandemic, affected me two months into sheltering in place. My husband was furloughed and eventually let go and because we were down to one income, we made the decision to move to the east bay. If I have to return to work, my previous 2 mile commute will now change to a 45 mile commute. On a good day, I’ll be lucky if the travel to and from work will be under two hours. There is the other possibility of me getting a different job, something closer to home. While this may be an exciting opportunity, it really saddens me because working in South San Francisco has been my dream job.

Then there’s teacher #2 who has to manage working and providing child care for her two boys. She and her husband both have very demanding jobs and between the two of them, they have to schedule meetings, find quiet spaces in the house, arrange time to share the working computer all while feeding, disciplining, watching, and playing with their sons. She confessed to me at the end of the school year in distance learning that she felt she was failing. She shared tears on that call too. I managed to tell her that we know she’s doing the best she can do. Still, there was something in her voice that let me know that she felt like she needed to more, even though I reassured her that we are all adjusting, and that what she was doing at work and at home was more than what anyone could expect during this very complicated time.

The other teacher brought up how not seeing her students has greatly affected her. She also confessed that for some people, sheltering in place in isolation is too much for a single person. Going months without talking to another individual, in person, including her students made her feel more alone.

There we were, on the zoom call, through our computer screens, four women, talking about the different ways COVID had affected our lives. In that moment, I had never felt more connected with a group of people I barely even knew.

COVID Corona Virus

When I reflect on this year, I can’t help but ponder how much COVID has greatly impacted my life. Like many households, my husband and I are down to one income- mine. He was furloughed and eventually let go in June- three months into the entire country going into shelter in place. We could have stayed in our condo in South San Francisco, but we knew that the smart decision that would finance our goals of owning a house would be to move to a more affordable place. Hence why we moved to Concord California- a suburban city in the east bay.

This decision didn’t come easy.

One favorable aspect about living in South San Francisco was that I was 3/4 of a mile from my job. It took me less than five minutes from me leaving my front door to arriving at my office door. I never imagined living and working in the same city, but I had finally achieved a goal I never thought could be a reality. I left home with ease, not having to worry about being late or eating my breakfast on the go. Sometimes, I even had time to exercise and meditate before work. I could also come home and unwind and not arrive in a grumpy mood because of traffic or be pooped out because of a long commute.

I also worked on being part of the community. I joined a facebook group of the residents of South San Francisco, I registered my husband and I for a Catholic church, I made an attempt to introduce and exchange pleasantries with my neighbors. We even volunteered for a Filipino Organization- PBRC. Over the summer, I coordinated a visit to the historical society just to learn more about the city’s past and unique history. I definitely made more of an effort to be a more involved resident.

Lastly, I miss being around my people. South San Francisco is a city with a high population of Filipinos and with Daly City as a neighboring city, Filipinos are abundant. Everywhere I went, I heard words and phrases of Tagalog– a lost language I don’t often hear daily since living with my parents. Filipino restaurants are plentiful. I had a go to restaurant for pancit, lumpia, cassava cake, and even had a favorite plant based Filipino restaurant. I’d go to Serramonte Mall and I’d see so many people who reminded me of my own family- buying chicharone and lottery tickets at the stand up store or manongs huddled and congregated at the center of the mall wearing Navy and Air force hats that often reminded me of my grandfather.

“Living in South San Francisco was a very special time in my life. I saw so much representation in my culture, identify and goals in life”

So when we made the decision to leave, it painstakingly difficult that I didn’t allow myself to really sit with the pain and decision because I know I would have probably changed my mind.

Yes, I miss South City, but when I consider my life in Concord now, I have no regrets. I know I’ll find joy and purpose in this new place. Like with all new chapters in life, it’s only the beginning.

1,000 words or less

Today I had the great privilege to attend a virtual writing session with the great Veronica Montes, author of Benedicta Takes Wing and Other Stories, a collection of short fiction. Ms. Monsters opened the class with a quick introduction and then an overview on flash fiction. I always find flash fiction to be difficult; I love words- the more, the merrier. So it’s always a challenge when I have to write with a word count restriction. In this case, flash fiction is usually 1,000 words or less and it must be a full story, meaning a beginning, middle and end– and with an arc.

Our first prompt was to write one sentence that tells a character, setting and conflict. We had 10 minutes to write. Here is one sentence I wrote:

In the bathroom, Joyce saw a thin strand of blond hair tangled in her husband’s hair brush, even though everyone in the family had dark hair. 

Our second prompt was to take a character from any of our sentences and write more about the character. This time we had to take three consecutive letters or numbers and write no more than three sentences that explains why each letter or number is significant to the character.

This was our example:

This is what I wrote:

1 is the number of abortions Joyce had. Even though it was 20 years ago, she could still remember the crushed velvet curtains hanging in the waiting room and the surgeon saying “sweet dreams” before the anesthesia kicked in.  

2 is the number of times she made the dean’s list in college. To celebrate, she got her right nipple pierced. To this day, she still can’t drive with a seat belt over her chest without getting aroused. 

3 is the number of times she performed CPR on someone. Once on a student in the middle of her class. The second one to a man who collapsed at the gas station. The third one was her father, who she never was able to resuscitate. 

I definitely need more practice with writing flash fiction, but I’m thankful for the experience today with Ms. Montes and I look forward to improving in the craft. 

Special thanks for PAWA for hosting!