Tree climber beats yogi in running

Yesterday, I brought Nico to the UP Campus for a morning jog. Before reaching the College of Music where we are to meet his dad, he asked if he could go to the College of Human Kinetics first so he can give the hanging obstacle course another go. I agreed (he loves that activity and would do anything to delay jogging), and he was so happy when I let him do it twice. We hopped back into the car and once we were parked at the College of Music, I got him to do running warm-ups with me. Surprisingly, he did all of them with very minimal resistance: sideways running, kick-lunge, squats! As soon as we were done with the routine, I led him to the oval and we started to jog and join the multitude of UP jogging crowd. He would go my pace the first two sets of jog-runs but by the time we reached Palma Hall he just won’t have any of it. He wanted us to go to Sunken Garden where he likes to play but I argued I still was not done with my round.So I said I would allow him to run across the Sunken Garden and then just wait for me on the other side on the condition that he would jog non-stop until he reached the end. He took on the challenge and boy, did he run! I can’t believe he could run that hard! By the time I met him on the other side, he already broke his sweat and he was catching his breath. After that, we brisk walked and the next plan was to start jogging from College of Engineering to College of Music where we started. He said he just wanted to walk. But I thought to myself I was so close to getting him to run at least half the oval for the first time! So what I did was to offer him to lead the jog this time but not in the oval where everyone’s running, but in the woods leading to the UP Lagoon. Without hesitation, he started jogging, at first leaning left to get into the woods and as soon as we hit the grass cover, we started running (it was inevitable, apparently, when you are on a trail as you have to keep your knees high). I have never in my life run on a trail but I discovered that it was exciting. I did not get tired while running, and the best part was I felt such a great sense of happiness that my 11-year old son is in front of me, running around trees, dodging branches, climbing mounds, crossing a creek on a fallen tree trunk, and pausing now and then to map the direction we should go. It was just the two of us for about 200m of that trail run and he did not seem to mind the distance. To him it was a game. We were playing! For the first time, he was running and having fun while doing it.

By the time we reached the lagoon, I was tired and I thought he would collapse on the ground but nope, he started climbing his favorite trees and swinging on them. He was laughing at me for getting tired so easily despite the fact that I am more into fitness than he is. I don’t mind that at all. We had so much fun.

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An evening in South Delhi

I knew I would be in for new surprises visiting our office in India as my female colleague from the UK, Alex, is also coming. She knows India just like any local does, but with just the right balance of caution and adventure.

Last night she brought me, Kenny Whitelaw-Jones and Steve Janes to what is called South Delhi for dinner and we used the metro (a first for Kenny and Steve) to get there. We were supposed to just walk from the Hauz Khas station to get to South Delhi but there was a major road construction going on and it was already late at night so our only option was to hire a tuk-tuk. After Alex haggled with the driver to get us there from INR 400 for just INR 100, we went into the vehicle one by one.

By the time our two 6-foot male companions were inside, it was clear there was space for just one person left and so Alex volunteered to let me sit on her lap (I was the smallest in the group). The ride went on for like 8 minutes and all I could think of was to hold on tight and to lift my bum up so I can keep my head from bumping the metal roof or knocking my knees on the wall when we’d go over a hump or a hole on the road. Alex also held on tightly to the rail beside us to make sure I don’t fall off the tuktuk when the driver swerves (which was often)! What a crazy ride! The three of them were squeezed like sardines at the back. I can’t remember everything but I heard “slow down”, “watch your head” and “this is better than the rides you get at Universal Studios”.

Anyway, we got to South Delhi and the place really reminded me of Vigan in Ilocos Norte but less regulated. Here, you will see restaurants that offer different cuisines – from Italian to Tibetan and even TexMex. There were boutiques too and there’s an area that is right next to the tombs (obviously one of the tourist attractions here). I saw a store selling old books and antique stuff. It was already closed for the night but it would be really interesting to see what’s inside and maybe I’ll find an old book or something for Nico.

The first restaurant choice was Yeti (a few floors from the old books shop) which offers Tibetan cuisine but the place was full and we would not get a seat until after 30 minutes so we looked somewhere else. It was a nice walk, with Kenny taking photos of interesting signs along the way, and the guys wanting to attempt to break into the chained gates to see the tombs.  The Delhi elections will be taking place in a few days too, and restaurants and shops are banned from selling alcohol (they call it “Dry Day”).

Walking the streets of Hauz Khas
Walking the streets of Hauz Khas

We’ve reached the end of the main road and did not find anything so we headed back. I noticed a small alley on the left that had a restaurant so I asked Alex if we could try exploring there. I was expecting we’d turn around as soon as we saw that all shops were closed the rest of the way but Alex went on ahead and would take turns here and there. It was like following Harry Potter in Diagon Alley.

I thought the turns would lead us back to the main road but we came up to a dead end (Kenny took a photo of another interesting sign he saw there of an internet cafe). There was a vacant lot on the left and on the right was an old apartment. Alex went inside and up the stairs and told us she used to come to the higher floor where they served Southern Indian food. I wondered if she is sure this is the place! She seemed to know so, so I imagined it would look like one of those houses in the UP “Area” who open their dining rooms to UP students.

We stopped at the third floor, I think, Alex came to a big door and through the glass window I could see there is definitely a restaurant inside. When I went to Taj Mahal two years ago with Alex, I was convinced I can backpack with this lady wherever in the world because she was so sensible. Its just been affirmed when she brought us to this place.

It was a beautiful restaurant with huge mirrors framed in what looks like antique bronze (?) that had simple patterns on them. There was an Indian music softly playing in the background and the guests were Indians but they conversed in English (and at an academic level at that). I later found out that the place is called Golconda Bowl.

Alex and I agreed to share just one order of the chicken biryani (the bestseller) and mutton stew but the men had a go at it probably because we were all very hungry already. Steve had this chicken in spinach sauce and Kenny ordered a non-veg dish that had red sauce plus two types of bread and a vegetable biryani.

All that took less than 5 minutes for the waiter to note. But the lime drink was the most difficult one. Alex made it clear it is fresh lime with soda water. “With sugar or salt?” the waiter asks. “No sugar, no salt. Just fresh lime and soda water.” The waiter repeats the question twice, I think, and then finally nods/shakes his head the Indian way and respectfully leaves. Alex says he would probably serve it with sugar or salt just to be sure. When our drinks arrived, I was the first to give it a taste and declared that mine definitely needs sugar! Apparently they served lime juice with water. We decided to wait until all the food arrived before we asked the waiter to replace our drinks, explaining that Alex clearly said soda water earlier. And we finally had the lime juice just the way Alex wanted it.

The food took a while but it was really delicious – everything was served hot and just the right of saltiness and spiciness in all of them. The breads were also really delicious (I could eat the roti on its own). We ended up with a lot of leftovers and then I realized, after having had Indian meals the past two days I can really just take 4 tablespoons of spiced rice, 2 pieces of their round bread, and 1 piece of meat. In the Philippines I can easily eat two cups of rice but the food is soooooo rich here I will have indigestion if I did that here.

When we stepped out of the restaurant it was much colder, it felt like 9C. Steve helped haggle with the tuktuk driver this time (it was late and might charge up to INR 500) and even used the “walking away” strategy so we successfully got the ride for just INR100.

The driver on our way back to Hauz Khas was worst! He was driving so so fast (felt like 80 km/h to me) and swerving left and right. There were two instances when I felt like we were really going to tip over. Alex, adventurous as she is, found it dangerous, too so she was calling out to him from the back “slow down!” in Indian and the driver said “Theek Hai” (which means okay). But he just went on driving in that fashion! Kenny was red in the face laughing. Steve was laughing too but he was saying “Stop laughing, it will encourage him!”. My god, I thought we were going to crash into something at some point in that ride.

Well, we did not, but while we came to a stop (we had to counter-flow to get to the other side of the road – this was the scariest part of the ride because we were looking at vehicles going the opposite the direction at 60-80km/h, against the tuktuk we were in!), the compact Honda car in front of us suddenly backed up without looking at his side mirror and hit our tuktuk. We were not harmed, the car was scratched a bit but the right front side of the tuktuk was bashed. Drivers talked to each other and after 10 minutes the private motorist handed our driver what looked like INR200 and that was it.

The ticket booths in the metro station were already empty when we got there (it was almost 11pm). The guys went ahead to the platform while Alex and I went through the inspection area meant for women. Our bags were “thoroughly inspected” and I was expecting that Alex would be right behind me after I went through the flap gates. But they stopped working for some reason and she had to try all the flap gates and get assistance from the guard nearby. The train was already coming in and Alex and I were still upstairs so as soon as she went through we were running down the stairs, the two men in sight just waiting right outside the train doors for us. I remember seeing Steve holding the door, similar to what we do when we try to keep the elevator doors open. We made it inside just a few seconds before the doors closed.

I love cooking. But eating out is so much better!

That was my mantra in 2014 when I would eat out almost everyday. Even my son’s snacks and lunch for school would be a take-out or delivery! Since we live in Maginhawa Street, I just have to walk to get cream puffs from Sancho, chicken burger and milkshake at Burger Project, fried rice at Pakibalot, puto from Marciana’s, banana oat smoothie or pasta at Hillcrest, tapsilog or waffle at Ally’s, spicy chicken katsu at Crazy Katsu, capuccino muffins at Cool Beans, and lechon kawali at Kalan. (That’s not the complete list – I also bring my work to Starbucks where I indulge in their Macadamia chocolate chip cookies, fruit cup, and oatmeal breakfast, and Seattle’s Best for their salads and Java Chip frapuccino at least once a week!)

My son was never a fan of eating out. He has a hard time deciding what to order because he is always looking at the price! When I tell him to get dressed because we’re eating out for dinner (my excuse: I still have work and no time to cook) he would blurt out “Again?”. To me, I was busy and the only way for me to finish all my tasks as a mother, full-time work-at-home-mom, and still have time to exercise, is to save time on cooking.

I like that we get to catch up and talk while waiting for our order in a nice, air-conditioned place and that there are other people around us (it makes me feel alive to be in a place where there are people). And that after dinner I could jump back to my desk and work instead of having to wash dishes.

But the example I was setting for my son could have long-term negative effects. Eating out almost everyday to say the least is excessive (I admit that now). I had no willpower to manage my time and showed indecisiveness and impulsiveness.

Looking back, I cannot believe how much money I spent just on food alone.

The turnaround came when we spent the past holiday at my mother in law’s home in Bicol. Life is not rustic (some rooms are air-conditioned in case guests want to use it) but the way of life is really stripped to the basics. I cooked meals everyday since my mother in law is busy with her church and community duties. I saw how she practices frugality and I wanted to be like that, too. I saw how my husband – despite the fact that it is a holiday break – established a routine with my son so he would give math exercises everyday, remind my son to brush his teeth after dinner, wash up and be ready for bed by 9:30pm. I liked the routine. It was good for all of us.

My husband and mother in law did not know I was observing and slowly building a resolution within me that I would continue the habit of frugality even after the holidays and I am back in my comfort zone. So I continued to cook and resisted the urge to eat out.

The results? My son enjoyed his meals and his appetite improved. I never realized I already forgot how good my luto (“cooking” in English) tastes, to be honest. I was really surprised that they were delicious! I got so fired up that I invited my siblings over to share a dinner of fresh lumpia and buffalo wings. It was fun because everyone had a part in preparing the dinner.

Aside from rekindling my passion for cooking, I also saved a lot of money in the process. This whole week, I drove in and out of our building to bring and pick up my son from school but never thought of stopping by any of the eating places in our street. I did not venture to Matalino Street either to get my usual breakfast and newspaper. I never picked up the phone to order food (almost did last night but decided I can still cook dinner in time – and I did!).

The best part? My son also rekindled his own interest in cooking. He calls himself the fry cook now. He could not help me in the morning to cook breakfast and packed lunch; but at night, once I stand up from my desk and get busy in the kitchen, he would come, inspect, and resume what I am doing. He would always put a twist to whatever dish I had in mind and would throw in a spice or vegetable here and there. And I have to say, the kid’s got intuition. He started to document his recipes and has a pad dedicated just for that.

This week, even if I cooked twice a day, I was still able to stay on top of my son’s school work (he also seemed more cooperative) and get more things done at work. I felt that I was more calm and in control of how my day would go. I was less impulsive and aspired for meaning in all my actions. Before my son stepped out the door, he stopped and remembered the things he had to do in school. He’s never done that before and I have a feeling my consciousness is rubbing off on him.

Will I still eat out? Yes. My goal is not to do it on a daily basis. It would be nice to completely reverse the frequency, though (if eating out started only as a way of celebrating special occasions that then turned into monthly/payday indulgences and daily routines, then I can try to do that backwards until it is only done on special occasions).

I just have to remind myself that the money I save on eating out everyday could fund the Tao Expedition I am dreaming of, or a sewing machine, or a full archery class for my son. In the end, however little time I have to cook, as long as the fridge is well-stocked, there is always something I can whip up for me and my family. Even if it means having scrambled eggs for dinner!

The Happiness Journal

We started a daily practice of gratitude by writing down 3 things that we’re thankful for at the end of the day.  But since Nico loves to draw (and gets tired easily with writing), I let him doodle his instead.

Last night, he struggled to put anything on his journal because he was trying to make an entry for an event that happened the day before. We went on a trip to Makati then and by the time we got home it was already late at night.

For a lot of kids, it would probably be easy to pick one or two things that they enjoyed about a trip or answer quickly about their favorite food or color or animal, etc. But with Nico it is different. His mind seems to be filled with so many choices he has a hard time to isolate them and just pick one or a few. So he asked me to help him remember the things he was happy about during that day.

When I was taking Comm I and II in UPOU, we were taught that it is always best to write down ideas as they come and just “pour them on paper”. So that is what I did – I wrote the particular moments down as I recalled them. This trick is something Nico could use because he seems to do the picking mentally which could be overwhelming sometimes.

So I had 15 things in the end because I included even the moments when he would shriek in delight or would exclaim “Woohoo!”. (What can I say? I’m a mother and a very sentimental one at that!) This took a good hour to do because recalling those moments led me and my son to chat about the experience in detail which we both enjoyed. To sum it up, there were essentially 6 things that he really loved about the Makati trip:

  1. Visiting the Ayala Museum.
  2. Reading books at the Filipinas Heritage Library.
  3. Reading more books at Fully Booked in Taguig – only the biggest bookstore we’ve ever been to and we rarely get to visit.
  4. Seeing a historical statue – that of Gabriela Silang – in the middle of busy streets of Makati.
  5. Having Japanese food for lunch – his favorite California maki and potato balls at Tokyo Tokyo.
  6. Visiting his uncle. Actually, it was The Making of Jurassic Park book which his dad left in that apartment which he was really excited about. His dad has been talking to him about it for years and we were finally bringing it home!

After going through the list, he thought for a while, picked up the pen and opened his gratitude journal. To my surprise, he drew himself lying down on our bed, smiling. He drew a window on top of the bed and finished it off with raindrops outside the window.

He said it was him relaxing in our bedroom earlier that afternoon.  He was thankful for it because the breeze was cool.

Even though what he put down on the journal was not about the Makati trip which involved a lot of time, energy and some expenses, I was happy. It is enough that he enjoyed recalling them with me. I already have great memories to cherish, after all: his laughter, excitement, cheerfulness, and the never-ending ten chu‘s that day (he couldn’t pronounce the “k” sound clearly yet so that’s how his “Thank you!” sounds like): when I got him the Lola Basyang book from the Filipinas Heritage library or his dad let him visit the diorama exhibit for the second time in the museum, or learning that he gets to drink iced tea along with his favorite Japanese meal, he would flash those smiling eyes, that wide grin, and would blurt out “TEN CHU!’. Wouldn’t you agree that is already a a piece of heaven in itself?

I guess my son thinks it is enough that he and I savored recollecting the Makati trip moments together which I believe is a complete gratitude practice in itself. To me personally, it effectively etched the experience in my memory, which I think is one of the benefits of keeping a happiness journal.

As for the doodle that made it to the journal, I was surprised that I was surprised about it! I mean, we do not go on trips frequently and so the things he is thankful for are really the daily happenings that we grown ups would otherwise call as “ordinary”. I guess the surprise comes from the fact that he enjoyed the same thing that I enjoy, too: relaxing in bed one cool and rainy afternoon, lending an ear to the sound of the raindrops that fall on the leaves, roof and the ground, and not wishing for anything else but for that moment to never end.

Cake decorating expo in Manila!

I found out about this exciting event a week before it was held. I was thrilled because Heny Sison will be lecturing and I’m such a fan! But I could only get in if I won the essay contest.  I submitted my entry and got my ticket!

It was held at the SMX Convention Center.  That place is huge! Anyway,  I loved that the Expo had a playground where kids (accompanied by their dads or lolas) could exhaust their energy while the moms toured the booths and learned cake decorating techniques.  This allowed me to roam free and get the best out of the exhibits.

Vietnamese chef Long wowed the audience as he piped one figure after another in amazing speed and accuracy – a puppy, a dragon, or Santa Claus on his sleigh!  Enthusiasts also got hands-on training on how to pipe a rose, which is by far the most intimidating skill for beginners. Whipping cream used in all cake decorating during the event was sponsored by Avocet.  That was a LOT of whipped cream!

The experience was worth the trip to Manila and I look forward to attending the 2nd expo next year.

Nico and the Giant Cake
"Mars" on chiffon cake by Nico
Figure-piped dragon using whipped cream
Figure-piped puppy
My FIRST piped rose. I was so proud!
Marshmallow-covered tiered cake
Different Lambeth decorations - this requires piping royal icing in several layers to build up height.

I have about a hundred pictures more but they’re all different cake decorations for weddings and birthdays.  They’ll come in handy when looking for designs. Send me your email address if you would like a copy. Enjoy!

26 Random Things About Me

This is something I wrote  a long time ago in response to a friend’s invitation at Facebook. I’d like to know what are the 26 Random Things you could think of about yourself.  I’d be glad to read about it! :)

1. I always go beyond the budget when it comes to groceries. I can count with my fingers the number of times I was able to stick with my list. Other than that, I’m a penny pincher. And I haven’t purchased anything from ebay. If I ever would, it will be something for my business or a car booster seat for Nico to give me peace of mind whenever he rides with us in the car.

2. Right now, I’m saving up for the Rolls Royce of all mixers – Kitchen Aid (27K) and seminars from the cake lady herself for mycake decorating business.

2. Everything about me now is home-based. Homeschooling my son, working from home, and running my food business from home.

3. Whenever I’m in a romantic mood, I hear music in my head. Reggae and classics are the usual ones (my husband would tease that I’m actually 70 years old because I know almost all the love songs from the 50’s!).

4. At the end of a crazy day I dream of retiring to a 5-star hotel room with its plump pillows and crisp sheets and soft mattress and air-conditioned room when I’m stressed and painfully tired. It helps me go to sleep faster.

5. I miss running. My good old Adidas shoes are still reliable even if the reflectors have peeled off here and there but can’t use them anymore – doctor’s orders.

6. I can type 60 wpm, drive, float and dive in the water but not do butterfly or freestyle strokes, read a music score (I did study music for 4 years!), cook, bake, clean my house spotless, write, teach, make money by working in my kitchen.

7. The first cake I ever decorated was done with the help of my husband and son so it was a memorable first.

8. I want to believe that I was a chef in my previous life.

9. I still sob when I miss my mom who passed away four years ago.

10. I dream of signature bags, shoes, eyewear, iPods but can’t wrap my brain around spending for them.

11. I love Body Shop and Revlon products.

12. I love kids so a lot of people think I’m actually a teacher by profession.

13. My son is like my boyfriend. lol. He’d say things to me like I’m an A (adorable) and a composog (pretty), and many other nice things. hehehe.

14. I still can’t tell if my son looks like me or my husband. But why bother?

15. I believe that things happen for a reason. I would have met my husband when I was in college but I never did.. When we finally met we found out we had plenty of friends in common in UP which could have led us into each other in those four years that I was there – but God had plans for us and made it happen when the time was perfect for both of us.

16. My husband is my best friend. I’m confident that our son will be, too, when he’s grown up.

19. I hope my husband wins the lotto someday so he could buy his dream home at Portofino and go to Europe. :)

20. If I were a multi-millionaire, the first thing I would do is put up a school for underpriviledged women – mothers specifically so that they will be empowered and have more choices in life. And it would be dedicated to my mom.

21. I wish my sibs, dad and I could travel together once more. One of my sibs is in Australia on a contract, dad is getting really old, so it’s almost impossible to pull off and time is of the essence.

22. The first two countries I would want to visit are Hawaii and California to visit my aunties and uncles from both my parents’ lines.

23. I’m obssessed with Hawaiian Host macadamia nuts. Nothing beats it.

24. One of my life-long legacies would be to publish the genealogy of both my parents’ lines that I’ve been working on for years now.

25. I actually researched on pregnancy and parenting when I was still pregnant and followed expert advise to the dot. I still do now and it keeps me sane.

An Apple Cake (Or Half Of It) In Honor Of The Teachers

Last month we celebrated Teachers Day here in the Philippines.  I homeschooled my son from 2008-2009 so I can just imagine how difficult it is to be a teacher.  So to honor the teachers in my son’s school (I’ll make another post about the decision to immerse him in a classroom setup) I decided to bake and decorate a cake just for them – I would gladly make hundreds more for the other teachers I know but my budget is restricted for just one cake (whose isn’t anyway?).

As you have seen my cakes in my previous post, I lean towards 3D because I’m bad in piping figures.  Also, I wanted to go with something unique – not just something copied from pictures – and my son is very reliable when it comes to creativity, which I lack.  In my mind I was toying with the idea of making a chalkboard cake with the greeting Happy Teachers Day on it (yep, boring, and it’s not 3D at all!) but then I followed my instinct and asked my son what he has in mind.  And he said, “Like an apple. Remember, you give apples to teachers?”.  What a no-brainer! Where would I be in cake decorating without my son’s creativity?!!

Now, before you laugh at the side view of the cake (you will see that it’s just the upper half of the apple and the bottom is missing!), I’m happy to tell you that one of my son’s teachers actually recognized it to be an apple! lol! She also thanked me the other day for the cake and said she was touched by the message. But the part I liked the most is when she said “it was so yummy!”.  My heart swells with pride. What a sanguine I am!  I would be a poor soul without hearing a praise in a day!

If you’re familiar with the quote I wrote on the tray, I edited Christa McAuliffe’s and intended to put her name on the tray but I had very little space left (I still have to practice writing!!!).

If you happen to be a teacher or a teacher-mom like me who spends a good deal of the day with your kids or other people’s children, listening to and nurturing them, this cake is for you, too! May God bless you for doing an incredible mission in raising citizens of the future.  Happy teaching!