Growing up in the Philippines, we didn’t have a wealth of choices of pizza places. We had a favorite restaurant called The Italian Village, and we’d get to our table, order our food, grab a few breadsticks, then my brothers and I would rush to stand in front of a giant glass pane in front of their kitchen, watching the pizza guys fling the dough in the air. Forget about crayons and connecting the dots. The only thing that could pry us away from that sight was the wafting scent of our pizza as it arrived. Continue reading Friday Special Pizza
Itchy eyes. Endless sneezing. Scratchy throat. Irritated ears. Troubled breathing. And now, you can add “neglected blog” to my growing list of allergy symptoms.
I’ve been trying to figure out why this year’s allergy season is hitting me so hard. I can hardly remember having any difficulties last year! What’s going on this year? Has the weather really messed up the plants and trees so much that their pollen output is going haywire? Maybe the air has more impurities, making things that much worse for allergy sufferers. Could it be that my backyard is somehow suddenly hiding an invisible forest of the maples, oaks, and birches? Continue reading Newly-discovered Allergy Medication
It’s Friday! Time to get ready to bid the work week goodbye. (Haha. “Work week.” It almost sounds like I have a normal life, doesn’t it?)
In case you’ve had a hectic week (like I have), and need a bit of help unwinding (like I do), here’s what usually works for me:
First, I close my eyes, grab a nice refreshing glass of iced tea or lemonade, and then imagine that I’m in a place like—actually, wait. I should grab the nice refreshing drink first before closing my eyes. I’m clumsy enough as it is, without attempting to handle breakables with my eyes shut.
Let’s try this again.
Okay, now I’m just going to grab a beer (notice how I tried to slip that change in all nice and subtle-like), take a few sips, then set it on the nightstand for later. Then I lie down and close my eyes, take a few deep, relaxing breaths, and imagine that I’m in a place like this:
Resting in one of these:
Doing nothing but relaxing, until someone brings me this:
Is it working yet? Can you feel all that stress melt away? Is your mouth feeling a bit parched for a cold drink? Are you suddenly remembering the familiar scent of Tropicana suntan lotion?
Sometimes though, reminiscing about tropical vacations just isn’t enough. Some weeks are just that crazy. When that happens, I bring out the iPod and my headphones and pull out the ace up my sleeve that always ALWAYS works. No, it’s not a soothing classical piece, and it isn’t even one of those rock songs that can usually get me going. The ace up my sleeve is a 26-second recording of my niece Bianca when she a baby.
I’m telling you. For all the years I’ve been listening and re-listening to this, it never ever fails to put a smile on my face and start me giggling.
Which sometimes gets me into trouble, although frankly, it’s completely understandable. Because if I walked in on someone laying in bed with her eyes closed, headphones on, smiling and giggling like crazy, and then spotted the drink on the nightstand? I’d be asking for an explanation, too.
During my trip to the Philippines earlier this year, one of my most cherished moments was the day I spent the afternoon cooking with my beautiful Auntie Lou in her kitchen.
Auntie Lou is an amazing cook. When I showed up at her house, starving and waiting to be picked up by her daughters for lunch, she invited me to have a little bite to fight off the hunger. She apologized that all she had was leftovers, but I wasn’t complaining. Especially not when her leftovers look like this:
That ain’t meatloaf, darling. (Not that there’s anything wrong with meatloaf.) No, her leftover dish was shrimp sauteed in butter, olive oil, garlic, red peppers, maybe some wine in there … my stomach’s growling just thinking about it.
Auntie Lou was also the one who opened a whole new world of homemade yogurt, sweet lassis, and pandan-flavored simple syrup to me. (My inability to keep away from the lassi pitcher was also the reason I was too full to eat anything when we finally got to the Indian restaurant for lunch.) Her paella has effectively relegated all other paellas to “I guess I’ll settle for this if I can’t have Auntie Lou’s paella” status, and the recipes that she shared with me are so precious that I hand-carried them on my flight back. Oh yes, I put jewelry and vintage coins in my checked-in luggage, but her recipes? They were safely tucked inside my camera bag.
She also has amazing taste and a wonderful eye for decor, and no recipe—no matter how detailed—can ever teach me how to furnish and beautify my home the way she does.
Here is the study, done in a Mediterranean/Turkish theme. I swear, I don’t know how she does it. I wouldn’t even have thought of doing a Turkish theme if a turkey came and flew right at me screaming “HGTV!”
I don’t know about you, but I can almost smell the spices and feel the silk and rich fabrics. Never mind that I’ve never been to Turkey. Or the Mediterranean. (Or have HGTV.)
Here is a section of the living room that adjoins the terrace. It’s dark, so you can’t really see that the terrace leads into the backyard. But the next photo shows a better view of the backyard, which slopes down and leads into the pool about 15 or so feet below.
I almost did all my scuba pool sessions in that pool.
The thing I love most about this house is that, as beautiful as it is, you’re never afraid to touch anything. It’s as warm and inviting as can be, and everyone knows that the instant they enter the house. Notice the collection of bags thrown on top of the seats and tables.
Even the kids know that it’s a place where they can just hang, plug in their games, rest their feet on the furniture and rearrange couches so they can all see the screen.
Not even the grand piano is off limits, and it’s not unusual to hear the first tentative strains of Hot Cross Buns spiral down into some heavy-handed Chopsticks-Blue Moon mashup, followed by uncontrolled giggling.
It’s also the place where we were treated to an impromptu talent show/program by the kids. It was a night of song and dance and gymnastics and witty emcee spiels and commentaries.
Ah. Lovely, warm memories, indeed.
Just the other day, I found out from my uncle that the tragic floods caused by Typhoon Ondoy (Ketsana) in the Philippines brought 5 feet of dirty flood water through their home. This home. This lovely, warm, beautiful home.
I can’t wrap my brain around that. Five feet of water? That’s almost the height of my cousin below, the one in pink, who is about 5’4″.
And as bad as that sounds, they are merely grateful that they’re safe, alive, and that things are not as bad as they could have been. There are so many others who have lost far more, and my heart goes out to all of them. Some have nothing left but the shirts on their back, and others, not even that. Many have had to evacuate to their rooftops and wait to be rescued. Some subdivisions are still flooded as we speak. And yet, again and again, I see news clips of people who still have the strength to smile, to give of themselves to help others, and who, secure in the thought that things will eventually get better, simply roll up their sleeves and get down to the business of cleaning up and moving on.
Things are ultimately replaceable. Not people, and not their spirit. Calamity may cause destruction, but in the long run, the things it destroys are overshadowed by the strength that it builds.
I do hope this portrait of Auntie Lou wasn’t destroyed, though. It’s one of my favorite things in her house.
My latest Pioneer Woman photography post is up now, and if you’ve been holding back from shooting at night, maybe I can encourage you to give it a try.
I probably wouldn’t have tried it myself if not for my love of taking sunset photos. I eventually noticed that, in the Philippines, night invariably came almost right after sunset. It took some getting used to, and it prompted me to try and figure out the reason behind it.
I know, I know. I’m a nerd like that.
Continue reading Night shots
Because I enjoy torturing myself, this is the second installment of my unofficial “they’re so cute they make me incredibly homesick, and no amount of cake can fix it right now” series.
Meet Mattia, or Mattie for short. She’s Brian’s younger sister, but don’t tell her that. She’s convinced she’s older, wiser, stronger, and tougher. And that she has super powers that are impervious to any big brother schemes.
She’s also a natural swimmer. I watched this little three-year-old swim more than 25 meters across, into the deep end of a pool, blow a few bubbles, then turn around and swim back. It was crazy. And she did it all afternoon, too.
At three, she has more than enough self-confidence for someone twice her age. Or even ten times her age. Her mom once tied her hair back, and Mattie started complaining. She said that the ponytail took away her curls, and plaintively cried, “I’m not me anymore, mommy.” Needless to say, the curls were set free.
She’s the only girl in her pre-school class, and all the boys take direction from her. She decides who sits where, depending on who she wants next to her that day. And, to a person, the boys quietly comply. I’m not sure if it’s because of the sheer force of her personality, or if they simply will do anything to please this adorable little girl.
Yeah. I bet her dad can’t wait for her teenage years.
For now, he can continue enjoying his little girl like this, when even her pouts are cute. And when the only man in her life is her poor, defenseless father who is putty in her hands. Talk about being wrapped around someone’s little finger. And a three-year-old finger at that.
Then again, who can blame him?
This photo was taken during our first night at Palm Beach Resort in Batangas, Philippines. I need to give a shout-out to my cousin Gerard, who dug his feet into the sand, squared up, and let me use his shoulder as a makeshift tripod. Continue reading Remembering night walks on the beach