Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Farewell 2013, Hello 2014!

It had been a difficult year for Filipinos this 2013 as natural disasters - with floods, earthquakes and the biggest typhoon to ever hit the planet - and pork barrel scams but, it was also a year where our inner strength was tested and prevailed.

It was also a beautiful year with many Filipina candidates getting to the top five, if not, winning international beauty titles: Miss World, Miss International, Miss Universe, Miss Supranational, Miss Earth and the last one - held today, 31st December, the Miss Tourism International.

In my small corner of the world, I look back at 2013 and feel thankful that I was blessed with more good things than bad; enjoyed more happy moments than sad and had been healthier, richer and glad.  I only hope 2014 would be better and that my family and I continue to receive abundance, joy and good health this coming year.

I've bought the traditional 13 round fruits for our table and will assemble them when I get home.  I've got to prepare food for the Noche Buena tonight and I've got lots of round, meaty, rich things on our table.  Then there are the sweet stuff - to ensure life's sweetness, I guess - ready to be served after our meal.

The house has been vacuumed and new sheets are on the beds, pots and pans are ready to be banged to drive out evil spirits and welcome the new year in.  Even my car had gotten a full tank to make sure it is "full" as the new year arrives.  Meanwhile, my pre-teen is excited to jump at the beginning of the new year to ensure she grows a few inches more in the coming year.

A sweet bubbly is ready for the toast to our good health, and pockets have been filled with notes and coins to ensure prosperity as well as good fortune in 2014.

Tonight we will open the hopes and wishes we have sealed when 2013 came in to see if we have accomplished what we have planned out and write a new batch of wishes and targets for the new year.  This has been a tradition in our family and one we continue to do as it helps us evaluate the past and aim new plans for the future.  We always have a good laugh at what we had set out to do at the beginning of the year and the reality of whether we have indeed done it or not and why so.

I think of loved ones who have moved on or gone ahead and wish they are happy wherever they are.  I think of loved ones and friends in bad situations and pray they have better ones as the new year comes.  I think of loved ones who are in good places and wish they have more to share next year.  I remember friends from long ago and recent times and wish them and their families well.

Another year to get older, wiser, kinder.  Another chance to laugh more, read often, forgive.  Another time to meet new people, keep in touch with the old and learn new things.  I am afraid and excited of what the new year will be but I hope it will be a year with more celebrations of joy and love and peace all year-round.  Happy New Year to us all!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Christmas Traditions - Monito/Manita or Kris Kringle

Reading through my old blogs about Christmas, I’ve realized that I have not shared the many Christmas traditions we have in our family to the world wide web (not that it matters, but I just love to blab), and so here’s one of the many things we used to do as kids with our parents and grandparents:  The Monito/Monita with a twist.

Starting from 15th December, the day before Christmas officially starts in the Philippines with the Simbang Gabi (Dawn Mass for 9 days), we create code names for ourselves – my parents, my brothers, my grandmother and any house help we had at that time – using our dilapidated but in good working condition typewriter so there is no chance one would be able to guess the real person using their handwriting.

Names would be as silly a Snoopy, Knight Rider, Superman, Barbie, etc.   Based on past experiences, Barbie does not necessarily mean the real person behind the alias is a girl.  It could be someone trying hard to throw you off!  So on 15th December, mom or dad cuts an A4 paper in 8 equal parts and each one, in privacy with the typewriter types his or her codename/alias, rolls it and drops it on an empty fish bowl.  Then, when everyone else has done it, we all take out a rolled paper off the bowl and secretly read the name on it.  If one get his own name, he calls “again!” and everyone rolls their papers and drops it back in to pick a new one, until everyone has absolutely another alias not their own in their hands.  The key is not to reveal who it is you got so no one know anything.

Then a huge box, covered with colourful Christmas wrappers of old is brought in and placed by the landing on the stairs next to the altar and the Christmas tree.  Then a poster-sized paper is posted on the wall showing the kinds of gifts one would be giving their secret “monita or monito” (this was maybe from Spanish, monito means a small toy?) – the beneficiary of their presents.  Again to keep it more fun, never reveal your real alias as well as who is it that you picked so the surprise intensifies as Christmas day approaches.

So from 16th December to 24th December you give your “beneficiary” 9 gifts depending on the theme.  We usually start with “Something Red” and end up with “Something Big” for the 24th.  This means that on Christmas Eve, you have 9 presents waiting for you in the big box under the tree!  What could be more exciting than that?  Well the revelation of who you are and who your beneficiary is, of course!  By day 3 we would all be guessing who is who but no one would reveal anything.  So the mystery keeps everyone excited.

One time, my secret giver was dad and he didn’t put any gift in the box until the very end.  I was so worried as I checked each day for a present for me, but of course no one knew it was me, and found that all the presents there were for someone else.  I didn’t know dad was trying to find out who was “Hulk Hogan”, my alias that year because he wanted to know the real gender and was figuring out who was looking sad when they looked in the box and not finding any present for themselves.  But everyone got so good at secret-keeping and acting that on Christmas Eve we are usually fairly surprised about the true identities of our family members.  Imagine my grandmother had been “Spiderman” and my youngest brother, who would usually go for a popular cartoon or Disney character, was “Frank Sinatra” whom we all thought was dad!  One time, everyone thought I was “Charlie Brown” (being a Snoopy fan) when it was actually mom!  We had fun thinking up common enough names but not too common that we would easily be identified with it.   Often when we watch TV shows or movies and a cool name comes up, we’d all laugh and say that could be a good alias and usually it does get used by one of us: Homer Simpson, Alf, Michael Jackson…even Chuck Norris!  These names and many more have all been used through the years.

The gifts are usually everyday practical things that a guy or girl could use.  It could be anything from 20 pesos up to 50 pesos.  Usually at the last, the “Something Big”, we could splurge a little to make it more special.  

Some ideas for the “somethings” are:
  •  Something Red:  anything red like a hairbrush, comb, t-shirt, face-towel…silly one would be a huge bottle of ketchup or a can of tomato or spaghetti sauce!
  •  Something Green: same as red but of course in green; green bath soaps or towels, stationery sets in green, etc.
  • Something White: cotton buds, a huge roll of kitchen or toilet tissue, a pillow (usually can also be used for something soft)
  •  Something Hard: can openers, book ends, paper-weights (can also be used for something heavy)
  • Something Soft: face towels, stuffed toys, socks…I once got a huge pack of marshmallows!
  • Something Shiny: metallic things like key chains, stationery sets with glitters, penlights, flashlights, anything that shines really.
  • Something Heavy: dumb bells, packets of pasta (from the same person who gave spaghetti sauce!), an atlas or dictionary (days before the Internet), big bottles of shampoos or baby powder (that are usually also something big)
  • Something Round: soaps, balls, bath products, I got a magic-eight ball one year J
  • Something Big: huge pillows, huge plush toys, bath products in big bottles or jars, once I got a huge cassette player!

Some years we’d change the game a bit and thrown in Something Long or Something Pointy or Something Sticky in the list.  You've got to be creative and come up with gifts that could be used by both genders as well as meet the 'required "something"' from the list.

For me and my brothers, we have to also be creative in earning some cash for December.  We usually sell ice-candies during summer or sell our old newspapers and used bottles, as well as save a percentage off our daily allowances to have enough for our Monito/Monita at home.  Mom and dad would also give us a bit of extra cash to help us with our presents.  But no matter what you get or what you give, it is such a joy to open your presents together being your very own Santa Claus to one another.   We spend the hours just after midnight revealing who we are, opening our presents and laughing at what we got or what we gave away.

My grandmother and dad have both passed on and my mom and brothers live in different homes with their own families but the memories of those Christmases and the joy we had in giving and receiving continue to warm my Christmases up to this day.

It is not too late to start your own Christmas traditions with your family or the tribe that you live with.  Why not start your own kind of traditions today.  Happy Christmas and a blessed New Year to all.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Santacruzan in Al Ain

May in the desert leaves you feeling the heat of the summer to come but for a while, we forgot that and set it aside to celebrate the first ever Flores de Mayo also known as Santacruzan in St. Mary's Church here in Al Ain, The United Arab Emirates.  As expected, parents were more excited than their children, as many of them kids were born and raised here, and have no idea how big a deal it is to be chosen as one of the reynas or sagalas in a Flores de Mayo parade.  Even my daughter, who just told me she was asked to be one of the girls for a parade; so matter-of-fact.

Early on, she decided that she would wear her Filipiniana dress (actually, a baro at saya) - the one she wore during the UAE National Day parade last December.  Each year, when we go home to the Philippines, I always make it a point to buy her a baro't saya just in case there would be school events like National Day, United Nations or Philippine Independence Day celebrated at her school.  For a few years now, she's always been asked to wear a Filipino costume either for the United Nations month or the UAE National Day as they paraded in school or one time, all over Al Ain.  I asked her if she wanted me to add colour/designs on her communion dress (more like a gown, meaning more elaborate!) and wear that instead but she insisted on her simple Filipiniana terno.  Fine.  One can only be a stage mother up to a certain point. Jeesh!  But I respect my daughter's level-headedness and in many ways, thankful that she is an equalizer to my flighty, outlandish ways.

On the night before the parade, which was to be held on a Friday (the weekend here), parents came to church to decorate each of their kid's arch.  I have no idea how to do this!  Many parents bought plastic flowers and vines from the shops to decorate their kid's arches but I used paper and the art origami to make flowers and butterflies to decorate Amber's arch.  It became our "family project" with both Amber and my husband Oliver helping.  Amber, the scotch tape human dispenser and Oliver the staple-gun toting (and trigger happy!) securer of the flowers and butterflies onto the bamboo arch.  It was actually fun in a way and we used the time to bond as a family.

To view how to make origami flowers, here's a link: http://www.origami-instructions.com/origami-daisy.html
And here's a video on how to make butterflies: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X4L5nDDgEEk

The next day, the actual day of the parade, it was literally a hair and make-up frenzy as parents and relatives brushed, teased, gelled and sprayed hairs in place, applied foundation and eye shadows, gloss and lipstick to the girls, even pinned tiaras and attached wings!  I watched amazed but the general feeling is jovial and fun.  Fit for a fiesta, if only there had been lechon!  My daughter was late and missing - as after Catechism, there follows a children's mass.  Almost everyone who are part of the Santacruzan was pulled out right after the Catechism but Amber was not aware so she proceeded to children's mass.  I was feeling stressed about the time, seeing many little sagalas already made-up and ready.  I sat, sans my child, watching in earnest the scene that is unfolding in front of me transforming little girls into angels and some into princesses and queens.

As soon as Amber was free, the dressing up and the making up was like a blur as we worked as automatons unaware of everything around us, only the fact that she had to be ready in the fastest time possible.  If there was any competition for fastest dressed and made up reyna, it would be her/us, for as soon as we were done (I think they were just waiting for us to get done!) everyone was ushered onto a queue in the order that they appear, ready to march to the Hail Mary song.

A couple of guys helped carry her arch and so march they went inside the small compound inside St. Mary's Church.  The heat endured for a few minutes to highlight our faith (maybe) but moreso, our culture (definitely) as Filipinos in a foreign land.  Had this been held in the Philippines, the parade would have lasted for hours with crowds gathering and many people marching along with lighted candles.  The walk from church and back again, a challenge to young feet in heels.  Luckily for those girls in heels, it only took a few minutes.  Amber wisely wore a comfortable bakya (sandals) that matched her Filipiniana terno.  One I would advise future sagalas to do.  The gowns are long so even rubber shoes would work!

And yes, although Santacruzan reynas wore gowns, the norm is that it features the Philippine-ness of the gowns so traditionally a terno (imagine Imelda Marcos and her butterfly-shouldered gowns) and not prom dresses.  Yes, Amber was right in her decision to use her baro't saya.  Santacruzan Reynas should look classy, respectable; not like slutty prom girls, excuse me!  But that's just me.  Apologies to those who might feel offended.

Below are some photos of our little Amber Declan who paraded as Reyna Caridad (Queen of Charity).  My phones were both on low battery mode so my shots were limited.  My husband who had his Canon took many more photos but will take time to convert them from raw to jpeg then even longer to upload them.  I recall my own childhood days in a similar Santacruzan scenario, even my brother, Alvin was a consorte on one of the many Santacruzans of our childhood...and despite being far away, we have a slice of Filipino in our midst to share with fellow Pinoy families. and perhaps, even faith - to keep us not so homesick as well as hopeful.  Viva Reyna Elena, Viva Flores de Mayo!

Read more about Flores de Mayo from these links below:

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Keep Calm And Enjoy The Silence

It's the second week of the Spring Break and it is eerily quiet here in the Library.  Aside from my daughter, who likes coming to work with me, there's just, well, me!  My colleague Iftikhar had gone for some training in Dubai and I am all to my lonesome self here.  But wait, I'm not really lonely.  I'm alone but quite happy to be alone.  For now.

I can hear the fluorescent lights buzzing at intervals.  I look out the huge library windows and I can see the college cat, pregnant, lazing by the shade of a palm tree.  My daughter is busy watching Hetalia, an anime about countries being people.  I decide to blog.  But what to write?

Blogger and I have this on again, off again relationship for some time now.  When blogging was new, I was at it almost everyday, creating posts like I would in the pages of a diary or personal journal.  But as the years went on the novelty or recording everything I thought about, felt, even ate, lost its allure.  Also, with some malicious people trying to invade your security/private spaces, it's considered a major faux pas to post anything personal in your blogs.  There are just too many con artists and now, the throng of cyber con artists is growing that posting anything personal could lead to your loss of identity or your credit cards being maxed out.  Besides, who would want to know about what you had for breakfast and why would that knowledge be any useful to anyone but yourself?

So I ponder on what I should write about.  Why blog?  About.com gives the top 10 reasons why people blog.  I'm for helping people, sharing information, connecting with friends and family and also satisfying my creativity so I guess, that's why I do blog.  To make money? Yeah, I'd probably like that but I've never figured out how to blog for money.  Blogger is free.  That in itself it already a perk for me!  For fame?  Read this post about mom bloggers, and you can see some of the hidden reasons why many of us blog.  To change the world?  Wow, that's right out there with world peace and keeping the planet green...totally superhero stuff but really, how does that work if no one ever reads your blog?

But it's out there.  My words.  Something old, something new, something borrowed, and maybe some things are blue (blue as in, sad; not the colour).  Like a graffiti on walls, silently screaming "I was here!"  they exist.  Out on the World Wide Web, for anyone to read.  I exist! I live! My blog proves it.

A student arrives, breaking my blog thoughts as he asks for help with his printing.  I tell him he ought to be enjoying himself at home or taking a short trip somewhere now that it is Spring break but he just smiles adding that he's got a million other stuff to do with his project and other assignments.  I ask him, "Do you blog?"  He looks puzzled and shakes his head.  But he tells me he's on Instagram and shows me some photos from his phone.

Words, pictures, recommended songs. wall posts, likes and pokes, tweets and comments.  They may be in different forms but they do seem to show one thing: I'm here!

If aliens from other planets do exists, our years of broadcasting, now add to that pod-casting, online postings, and what nots should have alerted them that, "Hey Martians, we're here!  We exist."  The fluorescent lights' buzzing seem to be like Morse codes, sending signals out to universe, supporting my thoughts as I kill time by keeping calm and blogging on.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Sunshine on a Cloudy Day

The song "My Girl" plays in my head as Amber and I gaze up at beautiful looking clouds on the way to school this morning.  Mind you, driving while gaping at the heavens isn't really advisable due to obvious road safety reasons; but gape we did with Amber recalling her types of clouds knowledge and so did I.  For the life of me, I still couldn't figure out why we were arguing about the different types and hers didn't really sound like mine, or what I do remember of mine back in the days when types of clouds are necessary knowledge.

She began with high-level, mid-level and low-level clouds which sparked my irk saying, "But those aren't proper names of clouds you know, like cumulus, nimbus, cirrus..?!" (Mind you these were the only names of clouds I remembered and nimbus particularly because I liked their huge, puffy, cottony shapes.  Perhaps the same types that inspired Joni Mitchell to write her song about clouds.

My daughter diffused my growing irritation before I could lament on the state of education these days by kidding, "What about the Nimbus 2000, mom?"

So this morning, as soon as I got off the car I took pictures of the lovely clouds blanketed all over Al Ain and went and Googled the different types of clouds.

I discovered we were both right.  Clouds are classified according to height and also have the names, ringing familiar like an old friend I have not seen in ages.  Amber is right and my faith in education is restored...for the time being.

Here's the photo of the clouds I've taken - most likely cumulus and mid-level :)

And here's a link to an older (but sooo much better) Joni, singing her famous clouds song, "Both Sides Now".

I may not know much about clouds still, but oh how I just love them!

Happy cloud-gazing day to you!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

20th January and it's 2013!

How time flies!  I have been ruminating about my New Year's resolutions and now the first month of the year is almost over.  I missed my high school's 25th year reunion but I'm not so updet about it.  The friends I've made in high school are still very much my friends now and though we have been living in different parts of the world, thanks to social sites, we're still in touch and do see one another from time to time.

Some of the things I want to do this year would be:

1. Find the time to Read More Books.

So I'm currently reading Casual Vacancy and The City of Ashes, I am also reading this manga book Death Note with my daughter Amber as well as re-reading The Hobbit with her too.   My dad used to read 203 books at a time and would get the plots and characters mixed up when we talked about them.  I miss him especially round the holidays when I'd get depressed and miss loved ones so far away or long gone.

2. Finish a Quilt Project.

I've cut up pieces of clothing from Amber's baby clothes, the ones that were not too nice to give away, with tears of stains, intending to make a quilt.  I've been procrastinating on this one for ages, I must complete it this year!

3. Return to Blogging.

Somehow things piled up and my blog has truly suffered for it.  So new year, new start, new promise to blog more.  Watch this space!

4. Teach Amber to swim.

I failed at teaching her to ride a bike.  I've thrown in the towel on that one, opting to let her ride on a trike.  But I intend for her to learn to swim.  It could save her life in crazy situations.  But the weather is just so brrrr lately that I'll wait for warmer climes before I launch this project with her.

5. Learn Photography

Hubby is now quite adept but I'm still the novice and so my promise is to learn how this works - lighting, shutter speed, everything!  Mostly I tune off when he's teaching me.  This time, I will try to pay attention.  I mean, REALLY pay attention.

There you go.  Five items already on my 2013 TO DO List!  I would keep saying watch this space for blogs on these projects.   Yeah, do watch this space!