Tuesday, April 24, 2012

creative roots : my cousin's artwork

I might have mentioned in previous posts that I come from a creative family. I have shown samples of my mother's drawing and watercolor skills. I have also shared my sister's own unique art of monsters (a piece that I used to decorate my home).

Today I would like to share my cousin Jennie's art. She specializes in painting and she complains she can't draw people. But she paints really beautiful nature scenes.

Monday, April 23, 2012

i would just like to share...

... this wonderful array of books begging to be read for the summer! This photo was posted by Fully Booked to announce their Classics New Arrivals on their Facebook page. And now I want to go and hoard. I used to have copies of many of these titles but they have either long disintegrated, were borrowed and never returned, or they were part of previous personal fund-raising activities. 

rediscovering our hometown

When I was a child, I have always secretly regretted the fact that my family did not come from a provincial hometown. By that I meant a hometown situated in a farming or fishing village where the long days of summer are spent in idyllic abandon amidst the abundance of nature. Places that are not in the country's capital region. Places that you have to take long bus rides or plane rides to get to. Places near flowing rivers or shining seas or oceans of coconut trees.

My family, especially from my mother's side whom I am closest to, are natives of Pasig. It has been , in fact, a prominent family in the old days and it even boasted of the first and only photography studio in the early 1900s.

But the town of Pasig grew and developed fast and eventually became a city. Despite this though, the heart of the city somehow retains that old-world feel. The old church, now leveled up as a cathedral, remains at the key center, right across the town plaza, and along the same street that leads straight to the municipal hall and public market (where my sister and I get our hoard of crafting materials). There are a few commercial buildings but instead of transforming the place, the place transformed them into acquiring that vintage-y patina that made them look older than they actually are.

I have long come to terms with not having a field of gold or a sparkling sea to call my hometown. Now I savor the quaintness of my hometown and enjoy regular visits. A few days ago I went with my sister to visit my grandma and to meet up with my aunt to have a couple of dresses to be repaired.

Those two dresses are for some fixing. One needs a longer inner lining and the other needs to be fit for my size -- it's too large.
My grandma, as always, has her house primed for summer, complete with sunflower-trimmed windows with sunny curtains.

And my grandma, as always, insisted on cooking lunch for us even if it means opening a can of corned beef and saute-ing it in her own special way with garlic, onions, tomatoes, and potatoes.

When it was time for grandma's afternoon nap, my sister and I said our goodbyes and went with our cousin and her daughter to a nearby cafe. It's called Ingen Cafe and it's actually an internet shop with a cafe. But unlike other local internet cafes, this one is the real deal when it comes to being true to its name. There's a cake display and a whole range of hot and cold coffee concoctions.

Outside the window you can just make out the structure of the old houses from the 70s era. Many of those kinds of houses are still standing and in use, with shops on the first floor and homes on the second floor. The cafe itself is small but very cozy and relatively quiet.
A cold caramel drink sans coffee for my niece. 
A cup of freshly brewed for myself, my sister, and my cousin 

My lovely niece and her lovely cupcake
We had a good hour or two of happy conversation and I was particularly glad to have our cousin with us to relax and break away from the usual daily routine of home.

From the cafe we braved the scorching summer heat and walked to the town plaza, beside which the town museum was open to the public. It used to be the public library but we found out on that day that the library has long been moved to another part of town. We went inside and took a tour of historical Pasig.

We passed by the church and went inside the garden where we used to pick out the tiny santan flowers and suck the nectar while our parents heard Sunday mass.

The santan flower shrubs are gone and instead there is this ancient bell display, a mini park with benches, and lots of stray cats being fed by a nice lady.
We found the new library and it has been much improved with airconditioning, bigger desks, better lighting, cleaner shelves, and better organization. However I noted that it could use a lot more books. Especially new books. Many of those in the shelves go way back to the 70s but not much beyond 2000. But I did find a lot of interesting titles no longer in print or available in bookstores that could be useful sources for my various (personal) researches. I could already see myself spending some days there with a notebook, a pen, and a laptop.

My sister and I requested for library ID applications and when we return we'll definitely be staying longer.

From the library we found ourselves still reluctant to go home so we ended up eating halo-halo in a nearby Chowking to battle the summer heat.

Halo-halo is a local dessert made of crushed ice, lots of milk, some sugar and a medley mix of sweetened fruits, jelly, tapioca pearls, ube jam, custard, and a scoop of cream
We finally headed for home at around 4PM. I stayed in my parents' house until dinner and went home after the traffic rush hour. As I was leaving the old balut vendor was passing by and I bought everyone in the house a balut (and two for me). That old man has been making the rounds of the village every night and he is bent and old and clearly should be retired but is probably going to starve if he stops working. So every time he passes by my sister and I buy when we can and we always give him a little extra change to keep. He is almost deaf but his voice is big and strong when he calls out "Baluuuuuut!" and he is ready to smile at everyone. That night we are happy to have helped him out.

Balut : a local delicacy of duck eggs cooked a special way. It is a challenge to eat because when opened you see a tiny duck embryo surrounded by the yellow yolk (you eat both, dipped lightly in salt). The trick is not to look and not to think. Just chew and swallow. This food is believed to be full of vitamins and can help improve strength and stamina. Newly-weds, especially the males,  are often teased to eat as much balut as they can before they go off on their honeymoon.
Thus concludes a very happy day (which was last Thursday) full of little surprises and lots of joys and adventures.


Friday, April 20, 2012

bits of the new (and re-newed) in my daily life

I'm training myself to sleep early and wake up early. I am also trying to complete 8 hours of sleep so I would not feel so easily tired and always craving for a nap in the middle of the day. My sleep patterns, according to the Sleep Cycle app, leave much to be desired. I find it very difficult to fall asleep and I keep on waking up at 2-3AM regardless of what time I went to sleep. This is one of the better nights:

But in the past few days I have been already able to get up at 6am from a routine of getting up at 8-9am. Next target is to get up at 5am.

I now swim everyday. Except when the pool is being cleaned or when there are noisy rowdy kids in the pool. I like swimming in the very early morning, right before breakfast, around 7:30 or 8AM. By that time I would have had my first cup of coffee, written my morning pages, cleared the work email inbox, reviewed my to-do list, made up the bed, fed the cat, and gotten the breakfast food ready for cooking.

I stay in the water for 30-45 minutes. I do laps until I'm out of breath and my arms are aching. I also do some yoga poses in the water -- standing poses in the middle of the pool and some sitting poses by the stairs of the pool. I use the fountain faucets as water massage on my back and shoulders.

I eat a full breakfast almost everyday now. Since I wake up early I do not feel the need to rush. I also try to eat fruit as often as I can. Fresh fruits are bit expensive but I get lucky sometimes and find fresh fruit packs at a discount or like the other day, a friend sent me a bagful of fresh sweet mangoes in season.

I go out of my way to buy and include vegetables in every meal. I love vegetables. But they wilt and spoil quickly and making frequent trips to the store is not efficient either. However, the fresher the vegetables, the longer time they will keep. So now I make a special trip once a week to another, farther, supermarket that sells much fresher vegetables and even offers organic vegetables. I turn the long walk into an exercise and also a chance to do a walking meditation.

my quick-to-prepare chicken and vegetable noodle stir-fry
I use public transport or walk whenever I can to save on gas. I also save on parking fees.

I have further distilled my possessions down to the essential. Even my home decor is down to the essential -- I only kept those that really make me happy and that really mean so much to me. I have put out for selling a good portion of my stuff -- anything that I am ambivalent about, haven't used for months, forgotten, postponed/ put aside too many times, all the extra extras and just-in-cases that escaped previous de-clutterings. Since I have become clear on what I exactly want I will also be less susceptible to impulse purchases and the lure of retail therapy.

I have reduced my entertainment collection (movie, anime and TV series DVDs, music CDs, and video games) to these two Muji towers. Before there used to be an equivalent of about double that. I expect to reduce that collection further.

I clean and clear as I go all the time. Even when I am very tired especially in the evenings. The kitchen has to be clean. The dishes have to be washed. Everything must be put away in their proper places. Believe me, the joy in the morning when you are greeted by a bright clean home!

I make time to read everyday. I love books. I have always had a passion for reading and gaining all those tidbits of trivia and knowledge that eventually become contextual reference points for various situations in real life later on. My weird habit is to read multiple books at the same time. Don't ask me how I can keep up with all the plots and stories, I just do. This week I added a few more to my current reading list and I am absolutely happy about it. I used to put off reading because of work. Now I give time to reading, not just work.

I make time to write everyday. In addition to my morning pages, I scribble into my notebook or type into my Evernote all my thoughts and ideas and feelings. Later on I process some of them to see if anything needs to be resolved. Ideas are weighed and stored in a file where it will be used, not forgotten. Writing is very cathartic for me and my one ultimate dream job is to be a writer. So if I will somehow make that dream come true in some way I guess I should get as much practice as I can. Like reading, I used to put off writing for doing work. Now I use my work as an excuse to do more writing. I brainstorm with myself by writing. I thresh out ideas in writing. When I started writing more I noticed that it became easier to handle stress. When I am starting to feel stressed (I get stressed so easily!) I start to write. Sometimes writing a blog post helps calm me down. Like right now.

I now have a stricter work schedule. Being clear with where I want to take my life (that will be shared in the next few posts), I make sure that the work I do in the meantime does not overwhelm nor take more than its share of fair time and effort for each day. So I have allotted time for work in the early morning until 3PM only. If there is a need to do "overtime" work then I extend until 5PM. This means that future projects will have to take this into consideration. With this strict schedule and a clearer image in my head of the boundaries of work in my day, I have also succeeded in controlling my procrastination to a much, much better degree.

These are just some that are more firmly in place. They were much easier to do when I became clear with my life goals because every little bit of these daily habits contribute to the bigger goals. As I recalibrate my day-to-day I am able to comprehend better how the little things matter and I also learn to be more patient while trusting that all the effort will amount to something significant.

What new habits are you trying to learn?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

a catch-up and then off i go

Hello! I must say that life has taken some subtle but significant turns for me these past couple of weeks. Most of it were triggered by me and my decisions to take charge of my life and to pull myself out of unhelpful default modes.

I am glad to say that I have overhauled the foundations of my life (I even took a two-day personal retreat to really ponder and plan on things) and while the house isn't finished, I know that I am standing on solid ground. I will write more about this particular journey in my next posts but for now I would like to share the peace of mind I have gained in simply making decisions and taking time to have clear strategies of executing them.

What are the decisions I have made? Many of these will sound so normal or ordinary, and some may even say ask why am I only thinking of these things now? Believe me, I have been plagued by these matters throughout my life but I have just always resorted to band-aid (short-term) solutions -- most of the time I never realized that I was just masking things and not really resolving them.

What made me make the decisions in the first place? Call it metaphysical unease. Call it life dissatisfaction. Call it fears about the future. Call it a hotpot of all plus more (maybe even throw in a scoop of midlife crisis). I found myself generally feeling like I should and could be doing more and making more happen. I also felt that I have not been operating at full potential. There were things I wanted but then I already knew they would not be enough because I used to have them before and my happinesses were often short-lived.

I found myself gravitating towards "inspirational" and "self-help" books that I would not have probably given a second glance before. I found myself re-reading books that once gave me useful directions but are now giving me new, more challenging tasks and at a deeper level. It was both a new experience and also a humbling one to learn/ re-learn the basics of everyday life. I thought I always knew what to do and most importantly I thought I always knew what I wanted. Maybe I did but I had forgotten quite early in my life, especially when society applauded me so much for being such a team player for doing what was expected and retail therapy masqueraded as my best friend.

So what decisions have I made?  I decided on what I really wanted. Without guilt. Without fears. I matched that with my desire for everlastingness -- my mark in the world, how I want to be remembered when I die. Surely I do not want a eulogy that goes something like "she was so smart she helped sell a billion packs of fruit juice."

I followed my heart in a meditative journey and we swam through the sludge of my history and past decisions. I encountered moments of epiphanies that fell by the wayside, hit and run casualties by the devil of distraction. I saw beggar dreams from my childhood hungry and ignored looking up at me expectantly. I saw the gravestones of lost opportunities, massacred by fear. I saw a wasteland choked with procrastination, discouragement, regret, distrust, anger. And fear. So much of the stuff is floating around, cloaked in so many colors and called by so many names.

But my heart knows what it wants and all I had to do was listen to it. And I must not judge it. And I must let go of my fears. I must not say "That's ridiculous, it's too difficult to do! It's not going to happen" or "Is that even possible?" or the worst of all "But what would other people say?"

So we mapped my history, rescued some dreams, cleaned up as best we could. We made note of what could still be changed and made peace with what could not. The hardest part was self-forgiveness. My heart did most of that. My mind was all sharp logic and skepticism.

Then we took out a fresh new piece of blank paper. This time, for the first time, I let my heart handle the cartography of my present and my future. So much unfamiliar territory yet also so much of what's familiar with new paths. So many tasks and challenges. So many commitments. So much faith required. And yet, I find myself starting to feel... better. So much better. And more certain. Clarity and purpose that are true to one's nature and attuned to one's heart are blessed things to have.

So that's where I am right now and what's been filling up my days on top of, beneath, and through the daily (new and improved) routines. No roller-coaster rides like the fleeting feelings of falling in love. Instead, a lively-enough pace that fills me with serenity, gratitude, and sprinkles of (rediscovered) magic.

Have a great day everyone!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

syrupy slow

That is how today is. The day is bright and hot. The air is thick with heat and humidity. I managed to finish a number of to-dos in the morning (except for swimming because the pool was scheduled to be cleaned today), But after lunch I was caught up in a languid spiral towards sleep. I was seeing dream-images even before my eyes were fully closed or even before I could fully rest my head.

I woke up half an hour later, still heavy with sleep but starting to recover some sense of reality. I was thirsty, as if I've trekked through a desert, although my dreams were mostly about running around a small office that looked like a cliche from the 70s. I gulped down a glass of cold water, then I settled by the window with two fresh cold oranges (bought already peeled at a discount -- it's the supermarket's way of selling fresh fruits that only have a few days left in them).

the cold sweet-tangy juice burst into my mouth as i bite. cold pulp bits soothe my tongue and throat. orange scent mist around my face.
When the oranges were gone I made myself finish up the chores so I would have absolutely nothing to do until dinner.

As for work, I still have one more document to finish but I made a firm decision to finish it early tomorrow morning. The heat would not let me work in peace. And the sun kept on shimmering outside, distracting me. So rather than trap myself in front of the laptop for the rest of the beautiful day trying to complete a document that my mind could not focus on, I decided to let it rest. Looking at my to-do-list, I have about 2/3 done. The rest are due for this evening, and a couple have been bumped forward to tomorrow.

After this post I will lose myself in my books. Somehow I find myself in a very intense reading mode. I actually want to just read for days, only pausing to eat, swim, bathe, and maybe a little sleep. In the daytime I want to be by the open window, reading, with endless cups of coffee alternating with endless glasses of ice-cold fruit juice. In the nighttime I want to be in bed, my feet cushioned in a blanket, my back and head propped up by pillows, reading, while very soft music faintly plays beneath the silence of the night (maybe the soundtrack from the likes of Il Postino and Chocolat).

I want more oranges.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

a solo morning swim and a full breakfast

I've been trying to wake up earlier for the past few days. I want to get a very good working system in place before the two simultaneous work projects start on the hard parts (i.e. fieldwork and analysis).

So far what has been consistent is that I do my best work in the mornings, before lunch. And then I could sustain it after lunch until about 3PM. And then it all starts to go downhill. So if I have a lot to do I am better off waking up early so I can have the big chunk of the morning available to me.

On the other hand, I also have to make sure that everything else is in place -- an exercise or fitness activity, a full breakfast for brainpower, and an organized (and doable) goals list to keep me on track for the rest of the day.

Today has been good so far. I got up at 7:30AM. Did some yoga stretches and then headed for the pool for a 30-minute swim (nonstop laps until right before the noisy kids start to arrive at the pool area). Then I cooked myself a full breakfast and instead of a newspaper I read articles from Zite - an iPad app that lets you customize web news and articles according to the topics you want. My favorite subjects are mostly on Productivity, Psychology, Happiness, and Writing. No use ruining the day with bad news and gossip from standard news websites.

coffee, egg, salami, honey oat bread, cream cheese
Work flowed smoothly after breakfast. Although the real test will be when fieldwork and analysis stage happens. Right now it's mostly preparation and getting a lot of details in place. It's demanding and time-consuming but it's made up of little bits of tasks that are easily divided and clustered. Fieldwork and analysis are huge tasks like tough meat that need extra work to be handled well. But I am optimistic.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

new, borrowed, and blue

I went to a new place today. First I went to the bank to update my records and then I decided to go someplace to read. I thought of Chatime but I didn't feel like milk tea today. Then I remembered the new place called Classic Confections which I've always wanted to check out but there was never time nor companion. Well, I could make time today but unfortunately I would have to go without companion --- how I miss the days when I could just throw out an invitation and there would be someone to catch it! Nowadays there seems to be a dearth of people who wants to or could afford to spend some nice quiet time in a cafe on a sunny afternoon on impulse.

I got myself a lemon torte and a cup of brewed coffee (They serve Illy!) which I paid for with money borrowed from one of my daily budgets (which means I would have to go without something in the near future). Then I settled into a corner table by the window and brought out my book to read (a real book, mind you, not the digital kind). It was so comforting, and also nostalgic. It threw me back to a time when I was much, much younger and I would sit in a cafe and write poetry and daydream. I suddenly missed certain people and certain times.

And there's my something blue. A blue frosted tiny butter cookie that accompanied the coffee.
The lemon torte which I finished all by myself. But do not be alarmed - it is only about the same diameter as my palm. The flavor was perfect though it could be more moist. 
Now that I am back home I feel like I could skip dinner for all that cake. I am also psyching myself that the work day is over -- which means stop stressing out already on the nitty-gritty of things that would hardly cause the downfall of empires. Instead I should focus on the non-work stuff. Like maybe working on that second curtain while watching Mad Men.

Watching Mad Men is not helping my slight confusion about wanting to be out in the "work world". I believe I only need some social stimulation and I doubt I would find it worth taking back the whole baggage of being employed. Still, I am finally starting to miss bits and pieces from my old employed life --- like really dressing up and eating in nice restaurants whenever I want and spending ridiculous amounts of money on coffee and books. I also miss very specific people and the intelligent conversations and the witty repartee and the sharing. I miss the relationships. The personal give-and-take in terms of time and secrets and attention and emotion. The consoling hugs in the midst of a really tough day.

Yes, I am pretty nostalgic today. Maybe it was the way the sun shone on everything, like everything was a memory.

What gets you travelling down memory lane?

Monday, April 9, 2012

dressed up and went on a mini-date

Just a date with myself and a meet-up with a good friend whom I haven't seen for a while. He is the same friend who sells books and high-quality notebooks for a living and I have known him for more than a decade! He has supplied my personal library through all those years as well as fed my fondness for Moleskine. (Do check out his online shop and blog at http://www.avalon.ph)

So first, I went to see my friend and in the process discovered a new yogurt/donut/coffee place that looks good enough for a second visit. The place is called J. Co and it's from Indonesia. I got a single-serve yogurt with fresh strawberries and it's pretty good. I will definitely return for a bigger serving!

Meanwhile, this is what my bookseller friend had for me:

We had a good chat and updated each other on business and books and also promised to meet up again soon.

I went back into the mall and deliberated on where to have a late lunch (it was 1:30pm by then). I felt like eating in a nice place as some sort of treat but then I thought, what if I opted for a cheaper lunch and use the extra money to buy myself something I could actually take home and keep? So I went to have chicken and salad at KFC while reading Jack Canfield's Success Principles -- yes, feeding the body and the mind and the spirit all at the same time! I had a few epiphanies and made a mental note to write in my journal when I get back home (which is what I will do next after this blog entry).

Next I went to get a fresh stock of contact lenses as I am on my last pair. I had to go through three stores before I found one carrying my brand and grade.

Then I went to a bookstore.

I haven't browsed in a bookstore for a seriously long time. Lately I've just been limited to browsing in Amazon and downloading samples. But despite my love for trees and desire to save paper, sometimes I just simply crave the feel of a solid book in my hands and the smell of printing ink. Before there were all these sites that give you recommendations and reviews, I relied on my good ol' instinct in picking out good reads. First a cover catches me, then the title would either dissuade or persuade me to pick the book and read through the summary at the back cover. Then I check the price if it's reasonable given what it promises. Favorite authors get extra points, or those associated with favorite authors. If the book is not sealed, I check the feel of the paper and the font and the layout of the text. I also scan through a few sentences to see if the writing echoes with me. If the book is sealed then I rely on gut-feel. I have rarely been disappointed. I believe I have this certain affinity with books and they speak to me.

So after a very long time of just buying Kindle books, I bought these through the old ways:

I'm a bit of a fairy tale fan and if you add Neil Gaiman to the mix then I'm pretty much sold. This book literally presented itself to my face as I rounded a corner to a shelf. It was not even in the proper section. It's like it schemed to be there to be seen by me. It was the only copy too.
I love discovering new authors to read and these two are new to me. I was also drawn to the exoticness of the settings and the stories. And of course, both have the fairy tale aspect going for them.

And the best part of it all -- the bookstore was having some sort of summer book sale so I got everything at a discount!

Yes, I am pretty happy with my loot. I have made up my mind to sell a few books from my library to make space for the new. So I have also convinced myself that buying these new books will be paid for by the old books. *grin*

Happy Easter everyone!

Friday, April 6, 2012

quiet good friday

I've been having peaceful quiet days since yesterday. I beat my procrastination and made myself pick up the paintbrush and start painting my walls. My home started to feel different as the colors emerged. After the originally planned turquoise walls, I followed my instinct and re-opened the cans of yellow-green and orange and started painting the edges of my kitchen. This morning I painted the wash area which I had converted into a kitchen extension.

In the process I found some clutter hiding in corners and rarely visited shelves. And out they went. It is amazing how we can accumulate clutter without realizing it! As my home starts to breathe and beat with its new summer mood I vowed to get rid of everything I no longer use. No just-in-cases. I will further reduce all my possessions to those that I use on a regular basis. Everything I take out will be sold in a garage sale so I can make a bit of extra money to help pay for a trip I will take next month.

I actually do have some project work to do but I have parked them for a while until I am done with the summer cleaning of my home. By the time Easter comes around I should have caught up with everything. That would be such a relief, to clean my inboxes and to-do lists and keep everything updated and current with no back logs.

Easter -- resurrection --- I could certainly use a good restart on many aspects of my life right now. I do what I can to help the energies along, like painting my walls and always, always clearing the old to make way for the new.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

painting my wall

I had a big client presentation last Tuesday and the couple of weeks before that was spent close to tearing my hair out trying to come up with a good one. Fortunately all that hard work paid off. :)

It's a 5-day holiday starting today -- and while most of the city has left to go to beaches, provinces, and churches, I am at home with a list of to-dos that have nothing to do with work.

My first task today was to paint my wall, finally, after buying the paint months ago. It's called turquoise bay. I love turquoise.

Took me most of the day, including all the dusting and sweeping and changing the bedsheets. Maybe I'll step out tonight and get myself one of these for dessert: