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.

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.

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.

Running into a former student

Funny, unexpected situations can occur at any moment when a teacher is out in public. One of the most random things that happened to me was running into a student’s parent at a club, and the father had no I idea I was his daughter’s English teacher. Long story short, I graciously declined his offer for a night cap. Then there as another time I was at a grocery store at 2:00 AM, and I ran into a group of students who barely recognized me because I wasn’t in my “teacher clothes.” Instead of my usual cardigan and knee length skirt, I was wearing my club outfit which included a strapless top and platform shoes. I slurred my words and mascara was smeared underneath my eyes. Again, it was 2:00 AM; obviously I was just getting back from a bar/ club and needed a snack on my way home. Both events happened early in my teacher career- back when I was 25 years-old, single and living by myself in a one-bedroom apartment. Life was different then. Because of these experiences, I vowed that I would never live in the same city I worked in. I didn’t want to “run” into students on my personal time; I needed to separate my private life from my professional life, and for the past 15+ I’ve managed to do just that. I haven’t run into a student in over a decade.

But…

Today, at Sports Basement, as I was sliding my debit card in the registrar and the cashier saw my name flash across the screen, I heard the familiar phrase: “Ms. Navarro? Do you remember me?” We were both wearing a mask, and I had on my sunglasses, and it took me a moment to take in his face, but when I read his name badge- Aldrin, it didn’t take me long to remember him. Aldrin happened to be one of the few Filipinos I taught in Pittsburg, and I even though I didn’t have vivid memories of him as a student, I did remember him fondly in overt details like that he was over-all athletic and liked to offer his help. It made sense that he now works at Sports Basement. Even though his mouth was covered with a mask, I sensed that he was smiling when I said “Yes, I remember you!”

There as an awkward pause because it had been about 13 years since I last saw him, so I needed to do a temperature check before I dove right in to ask him questions about his life. I broke the ice with: “How cool is it to work here! Adventure all around you” as I pointed to the hiking boots and skis on display. He chuckled and agreed. He massaged his curved chin and relaxed his shoulders. He shared that he was living about 15 minutes away and his roommate was another student in my class. They were best friends and finishing up school. Because of sports basement he went on a lot of adventurous meetups and trips but because of COVID many things were put on pause. He hoped things will get better when it was safer and the company would be ready and prepared, not rush into things for the sake of adventure and when he broke eye contact and folded his arms against his chest, I genuinely felt his concern. He asked about my life and I was surprised how much in depth I went: I said I just moved here from South San Francisco and was no longer teaching but coaching teachers. I shared that I was going camping this weekend at Kirby Cove and that I was bringing an air mattress because I’m first world problem and didn’t want to sleep in a sleeping bag. He chuckled again, and then I introduced him to my sister and my niece who handed him a hand warmer as some sort of peace offering. He politely took it and pretended to ring it up. I appreciated his jovial spirit.

When I reflect about this serendipitous moment, I recall how different I was 13 years ago. Back then I would have avoided the confrontation and probably would have hid in fear of small talk and making connections. Now, I welcome them and was even disappointed that I hadn’t bought more things to prolong our conversation at the cash register. Thirteen years ago I was timid of revealing my personal life with my students in very real ways, now here I was conversing with a student, taking my time and not feeling ashamed about the way I was dressed or how I carried myself. Sure, some of this is greatly due to maturity but more than that, I’m in a different part of my life where seeing former students thriving in life and willingly offering pieces of their life with me I know are gifts that many people don’t have the luxury to experience. Do I regret avoiding this the last decade of my life? No. I’m older; I’m wiser and I like Aldrin I know when not to force something that isn’t ready.

bay area’s orange sky

For the past few days, when you step outside, the entire bay area has smelled like a camp fire– coal, smoke, and wood. It’s as if everyone has decided to chop wood and set them all on fire, letting it flare up and blaze. Today, not only did it smell like fire, but the whole bay area looked like fire– the entire sky was deep red and burnt orange. I have never seen anything this mysterious in my life.

For the entire month it’s been one mystery after the other. Lightning in August. Fires the following week. And now a red and orange sky in September. Maybe it’ll snow tomorrow. Better yet, how about a sand storm. I know I shouldn’t make light of the situation; Mother Earth probably needs deep healing right now, and the way we’re taking care of Her and each other is nothing to laugh and joke about. Honestly ya’ll I try to keep the vibe on my blog positive, but lately it’s been so hard to keep it together. I’m really struggling with all these changes, and I’m starting to feel my positivity slowly fade away. Everyday, I’m putting more and more effort to remain loving and positive because I know there’s no room for negativity, especially when the state of the world needs lifting, not sinking.

Maybe, I’ll channel the bay area energy and remain resilient. Even when scarred and burned, she fights through the haze, only to come out changed and transformed, in light and in color.

courtesy of TMZ.com

Bloggers vs. Writers

On Sunday, August  30, I had the great privilege of taking a writing class with the People’s Poet Tony Robles. For those who don’t know, Tony Robles is a poet from San Francisco who is now the Carl Sandburg Home Writer in Residence & Resistance. On Sunday, he offered a virtual class titled “Writing out of Quarantine.”

I consider it a privilege to write and study with literary role models whose work I have admired and looked up to. In my short time as a budding writer, I have been fortunate to be in the company of writers such a Tony Robles, ZZ Packer, Kristen Valdez Quade, Patricia Powell, and so many brilliant, creative minds, that it is humbling to ponder on the luck and fortune that has shaped my writing trajectory. 

On Sunday, I was expecting Tony’s class to be an opportunity in which I honed my poetry skills, since poetry isn’t my strongest genre. I know that writing poetry inherently improves literary craft techniques such as imagery, rhyme, metaphor, simile, etc. My prose writing could benefit from this experience. Instead of learning lessons about poetry, I actually learned a more valuable lesson about writing. 

In the beginning of class, Tony asked us how the quarantine affected us. There were about a dozen people on the call and for the most part we all expressed the same feelings- we couldn’t write. We felt it took more time to accomplish tasks. There was an overall sentiment of despair. Many expressed grief- from the loss of a life to the loss of motivation of the things they once loved to do like paint, write, hug. It was sobering but empowering to relate to complete strangers.

When it was my turn to share, I expressed that I had felt the same sentiments and that I have had lingering feelings about the direction of my writing. Lately I have been investing more time and dedication to my blog, that I have neglected my other writing projects, specifically the short stories I have been writing for the last four years. But that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been writing. In fact, on my blog, I’m writing 4-5 times a week, about 30 minutes to an one hour, sometimes more depending on the topic. While I’m not actively writing my short stories, I’m still actively writing- on my blog. Does this make me less of a writer? I know blog writing is not the same as literary writing, but it’s still writing. I still put in the time to craft sentences, phrases, and I’m particular about certain words and details. I apply the same craft elements as I would in literary fiction such as developing imagery, tone, theme and sometimes character and setting. And while I’m not publishing a book, I hit a little button 3-5 times a week that says “publish.” I share my work with others and sometimes, if I’m lucky, I’ll get encouraging phrases like a “like” or a comment. With all that is going on in the world, on my blog I try to write about the positive aspects in my life, and this is done intentionally because I need an escape from the pain and sorrow I’m feeling every day. This blog is saving me. 

I know one day I will return to my short stories. I haven’t abandoned them completely, but for now my blog is what I need. It’s a place that I can simply write and be proud to be in the company of bloggers, readers and writers. While some might argue and suggest that blogging is not writing, I will respectfully disagree and say writing is writing. Like breathing is breathing. Like walking is walking. Sure we all do it a little differently, but at the end of the day, we all exhale and inhale, take step by step, put words together, one by one, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, page by page. Am I a blogger? Am I a writer? Maybe I’m lucky — I’m both.  

20 Things About Me

I was inspired from Mr. A’s blog about his “100 Things About Me.”  I couldn’t think of 100, but here’s 20…

  1. My favorite pizza is jalapeno, faux pepperoni (because I’m plant based) with extra pineapples.
  2. I grew up speaking Tagalog but forgot how to speak it growing up in the United States.
  3. I am a huge Janet Jackson fan (see #4).
  4. I have been to nine Janet Jackson concerts (see #3).
  5. I used to have my right nipple pierced. 
  6. Besides water, I like to drink unsweetened ice tea.
  7. I used to be able to recite the alphabet backwards.
  8. I can drive a stick shift.
  9. I always sleep on the right side of my body.
  10. I’m obsessed with teeth (read this blog).
  11. My favorite colors are black, white and purple.
  12. I was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism in 2008 but have been in remission since 2017.
  13. I am a middle child.
  14. One day I would love to own my own bookstore and sell stationary and local art. 
  15. I like nails that are shaped like almonds.
  16. My favorite scents are Ellington and Langston from the Harlem Candle Company.
  17. I hold a BA in English and an MFA in Creative Writing
  18. I’m a Napa Valley Writer Conference and Squaw Valley Community of Writers Fellow.
  19. The oddest job I had was when I was a house mom for a gentleman’s club in SF
  20.  I have a youtube video with over 6,000 views. 

 What are 20 things about you? 

 

Finding a new home

Today my husband and I went on a search for a new home. It’s been a few years since we’ve had to do this, and now I remember why so many people complain about house hunting. It’s a very emotional process. The pictures online are very enticing but are often filtered, so when you actually see the place in real life, it’s very disappointing. The carpets are stained, the square footage is small, the yard is unkept, and the most glaringly common feature is that it just didn’t feel like home. Despite what the homes looked like, as soon as I entered,  I couldn’t picture my husband and I living there. They say that you have to see at least a dozen places before you find the one, and if that’s the case then we are halfway there. 

I know that this is not the time, nor is there ever an appropriate time to complain about a house. One should be grateful to have a roof and bed, regardless of how the roof looks or how the bed feels. There are many people who are houseless and will probably have no opportunity to own, rent or live in a home, permanently. The idea of complaining about the size of a closet or having laminate not granite counter tops pales in comparison to the real houseless issues people are facing all over the world. Just a city over, in San Francisco, I can tell you two streets that have become tent communities, meaning displaced people have congregated in public land and pitched tents to form a community.  This is common, not just in San Francisco, but as more and more people lose jobs and become unemployed and as the cost of living in the bay area continues to rise and as more and more resources become scarce, tent communities will be continue to increase. 

I need to put this into perspective the next time I visit a potential home. Sure, many of them will require me to use my imagination, which actually could be a fun experience, but if I think about the opposite– imagining the option of not having any home– then a quaint, humble, simple place to rest my head is nothing to complain about.

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?

 

Parents in the Philippines and COVID

In about a month, my parents will make the long 13 hour flight from Manila, Philippines to San Francisco, CA. They have been in the Philippines since December. They were supposed to return in May, but due to COVID they had to extend their stay. Because of the health precautions, Philippine airlines suspended all their flights to and from San Francisco. The health risks of flying in a plane is still high, and because both my parents and seniors and are health compromised, I know that the flight home has several risks. 

Even if the airline enforces masks and physical distance, these precautions don’t guarantee that it will be safe. Passengers will still be breathing recycled air, and people will need to take off their masks to eat. 

It was a difficult decision for my parents, one that they didn’t make lightly. My parents asked me if it was a good idea, and as much as I wanted to say “no” , I knew it was ultimately their decision. My parents want to come home. They miss their children and their only grandchild, Aiza. They want to be close to us after living far apart, halfway across the world, for eight months, the longest we’ve been apart. 

I used to have very judgmental opinions about people who traveled in the time of COVID. I wondered what was so important that people needed to fly. Yes there are folks who travel for recreational reasons, which is fine for some and unacceptable for others. In the case of my parents, who have been inside for 8 months with no sign of COVID, they simply want to come back home to see me and my siblings. How could I say no?

Thunder, lightning and rain in August

lightning

Lightning in South San Francisco. Photo taken by Mel Ellison

Just yesterday it was a dry and hot day; it almost reached 90 degrees in South San Francisco (see yesterday’s blog).  Twenty four hours later, it was the complete opposite: we woke up to thunder, lightning and heavy rain…all in the middle of August! For the bay area, going from one extreme to another in a matter of a day, is unheard of. Unlike the tropical islands or even the east coast, California rarely experiences such drastic, peculiar weather. 

People on social media jokingly said “it’s earthquake weather”or that “we are in the next level of Jumanji” or more seriously “it’s an effect of climate change.” No matter the cause, the extreme climate left many people perplexed.

Maybe that’s the beauty of mother nature. Things unfold in no particular pattern.  One moment you’re in one situation and then suddenly you’re in an environment completely different. I like this diversity. Ironically, it reminds me of California.

 

Sunsets in San Francisco

It was the hottest day in the summer in the City. For a city usually engulfed in fog, it was rare to see the clear sky, bright sun and experience the heat. At 2:00 PM it reached a rare 89 degrees, which is golden for South City. The temperature  here is normally cool so anything above 65 degrees is considered summer. Reaching 89 is considered uncomfortable, especially since we don’t have AC. I waited till the evening to take a walk. As I reached the Hillside Road and had a clear view of my neighborhood, I noticed the pastel colors in the sky. The glorious sun was setting and as the city was tucking in for the evening, I couldn’t help but capture this unique moment. I don’t know when we’ll get a clear and warm day like this again, but special balmy days are definitely embraced.  

Good night South San Francisco! 

img_20200815_201230img_20200815_201241