Hard to refuse an “all you can eat” meal – especially if it pitches crabs

What is it about “all you can eat” that just draws folks to restaurants that pitch that on the menu. I admit, I’m a sucker for it, aren’t you? When I’m with a group and we struggle with the very important decision of where to have lunch or dinner, and someone interjects, there’s an “all you can eat” seafood place – no need to push me. I’ll push everyone else. It’s a mindset that can be deceiving. Can make you think you can eat as much as you want, with no consideration at all for the capacity of the stomach, nor its ability to digest large and mixed portions. Darn the advertising draw that’s so powerful. I go anyway.

So, last weekend, I attended a church fundraiser in Palo Alto, an event I always look forward to every year – an “all you can eat” crab dinner. It was no surprise that 90% of attendees were baby boomers or older. Is it this generation that falls easy prey to “all you can eat” offers? Or, is it this generation that worries less about calories? Or, is it this generation that scrimps on meals every day for health or other reasons, that a big break is so welcome. I’m glad I went. The crabs were meaty, plentiful and free flowing. The heads and legs kept coming. I wondered if the sponsor cornered the entire supply of the Bay Area. I was afraid to ask – didn’t want to jinx the table service.

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The mystic about retirement

This Lola still works, part-time, three days a week. I appreciate the chance to get up earlier than usual in the morning, pick an attire appropriate for the office, prim my hair and prep my face, fix a quick breakfast, take the vitamins and scheduled meds, wash the cup and plate I used, bag my baon (packed food) for lunch, check the stove, then out the door. That’s the routine for work days which, I admit, I’ve gotten the hang of and which I miss during prolonged vacations. This routine could all flow in a rush or in a slow, pleasurable progression. Either way, it’s rooted in my system.

What I’m saying here is, partial retirement seems best for this baby boomer. While having some days off is necessary for errands, appointments, personal chores and rest, maintaining a regular work schedule on other days provides variety and challenge, two ingredients to sustaining vigor, interest, positive outlook and the excitement of anticipation. Work can be a motivation to stay healthy, for what good is determination if the body is not able or lazy. But knowing there are urgent matters to complete or deadlines to meet can goad the body to move and overlook the pain or the tiredness, even the laziness. Work is good for the soul, mind, body — and yes, the pocket.

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Traveling back in time on a Chopin waltz

Last night, I heard an energetic rendition of a waltz by Chopin. I stopped working on my computer and immersed myself in the piano music by my house guest. It was moving in the sense that it made me stand up and perform fancy footwork on the floor to the rhythm of the piece. Suddenly, I stopped my swaying and sycophantic moves and sat down. A memory so vivid crossed my mind. I allowed it to float fully into my consciousness.

I was a young girl, lying on my thin pillow, ready for sleep at around nine in the evening. Something kept me awake, however. It was that same piece by Chopin played over and over again in hopes of perfecting it, perhaps. I remember the music came from a beige-painted 2-story house across the river, just almost the opposite side of ours. Our house stood around 12 meters from the river bank that was dotted with a few banana plants and a couple of sampaloc trees with branches often laden with lumpy fruit pods. Sampaloc pods contain seeds embedded in fibrous substance which, when ripe, are sucked for their tangy sweet and sour flavor. Thinking of that river reminds me of sampaloc.

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A pat on the back for my cooking talent, at times elusive

I ask myself why I don’t engage in cooking my favorites often anymore. For one, my children are grown and married and living away from home. I would have loved to cook for my grandson, but he, my son and his wife are an hour’s drive away. My husband had gone to the beyond two years ago. He loved the few cuisines that I mastered, though he really was the master chef at home. He had such talent, creative skill and speed in cooking, he never failed to amaze me. Cooking was not his profession; it was a hobby and a passion.  The man of the house often was the toast of the party, and I was very proud of him. Adding here, that I always cleaned up plenty after him. Small pay for the gourmet dishes laid out on the table. So, cook for myself? Hmmm … not much motivation there. Unless there’s a party to prepare for at home … or a potluck to contribute to … or, I’m craving my own favorites, like now.

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Griping about a dry spell … or is it?

I’m sitting in front of my laptop, searching my brain for what I can write about this moment. So, I think about today. A lot of happenings, true, but so little to write about. There mustn’t have been anything that interesting to share. OK, what about what I ate for lunch. That came from my sister who now and then gives me samplings of her cooking. I can’t say much about the food, except that it was a delicious dish of bitter melon sautéed with eggs and tomatoes; I gobbled it all up. So, what about my dinner tonight? That was good, too. Oops, too bad, I didn’t cook that either. I bought it from an expensive high-end grocery store in the neighborhood. Can’t tell you how that was made either, except that it was one of the best stuffed cabbage I’ve eaten. Think, there must be something!

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Mayon, the sleeping beauty is roused – what prince kissed her?

It was a sleeping beauty then – in December 2017 when I was on tour with my relatives in Legazpi, Albay of the Bicol Region some 330 kilometers south of Manila, Philippines.  Mayon Volcano, as in my other past visits, hid her face behind low cottony clouds. She is said to be bashful. My opinion is she’s veritably private, what with streams of visitors from various parts of the country and the world, eager to see her, waiting for the cloud cover to lift so they can view her alluring face.

Romantic legends tout Mayon as a timid maiden known as Maganda (meaning beautiful). Maganda captivates numerous suitors that lie frustrated on her slopes, because the elusive lady is imperious and difficult to please. And when she concedes to occasional outbursts, suiters scramble down her slopes away from the fuming maiden. Almost untouchable, but imperial in a mysterious way – poised proudly with a perfect cone magnificently pointed to the sky, and graceful slopes shaped by eruptions of the past, the latest of which was in 2013, and then now. And now, what audacious, impertinent prince kissed her that she is roused?

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Snippets, teasers and cliffhangers

Jet lag – for me, it happens not upon arrival at the destination but upon arrival back at the place of origin. Why is that? When traveling through different time zones, the destination gets no jet lag. The body clock doesn’t seem to need any adjustment. Doesn’t the body recognize the difference there? But upon return to the place of origin, the body stresses over the time difference when, in fact, that’s always been what it had been used to before. Or, is the body just tired from all that traveling. Hmmm … the jet lag lags.
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I opened my refrigerator to reach for a snack and settled on cold spaghetti. I teetered between microwave or stove heating – but decided to eat it cold, with the rich tomato sauce curdled around the noodles. It was really good! Didn’t need any heating. The coldness gave it a fresh snack-like zing. I ate it all. The problem is, that was my dinner – not my snack. Oh well, I looked at it as early dinner, or, I simply skipped dinner. I got peachy full anyway.

Try cold spaghetti – it’s awesome!
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Recalling the first three days in America

“The Acropolis!” Several of us in the bus chorused as we passed lighted houses on the hillsides on our way from San Francisco Airport to the Peninsula. Obviously, several of us high school students remembered our Greek studies. Those that didn’t simply exclaimed “Wow” multiple times at the lovely sight. We were all very excited. For some twenty high school students from the Philippines, this was our first day in America. From the first step off Pan American Airlines, I could hardly contain myself. I knew, the rest in my young group were like me, eager, happy and anxious.

I was in Palo Alto, California for a three-day orientation along with other American Field Service (AFS) scholars from Asian countries, several decades ago. We stayed at Stanford dorms in Escondido, two tall structures a few stories high – a rarity since at that time there were few (if at all) buildings in Palo Alto that were more than a story high — two buildings that stood like twins easy to spot even from El Camino Real, the same that stand even now on campus, stalwart through the decades.

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The frivolity of youth

Ever wonder why boys and girls seem frivolous? They’re quick to giggle or laugh, quick to find something funny, quick to react, quick with their wits, quick to emote, and quick to forget. I know, because they’re young. A 26-year old, who’s not much older than the teens in the party, steered my attention to the three girls obviously enjoying themselves and finding amusement in reading each other’s cell phone messages and viewing each other’s pictures. The girls acted giddy, without the alcohol, but with just plain entertaining tete-a-tete and banter between them. Girls in their late teens, squirming and laughing as they exchanged cell phones and indulged in such hilarity enough to make everyone else around jealous.

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Surprise birthday parties never get old

My sister in Palo Alto did it again. She arranged a surprise birthday party almost a month after my birthday. She‘s very good at it – always manages to pick a day when I don’t suspect there’ll be anything special happening. It happened last Sunday, when I scheduled a regular visit with my pasalubongs (gifts/treats upon arrival from a trip) from the Philippines. I looked forward to a chat over merienda (snacks) or perhaps soup, and regale her and my brother-in-law with stories about my vacation and updates on family and relatives there.

It was late in the afternoon when darkness was starting to creep in. I knocked. She promptly opened the door. We hugged and lavishly exchanged new year greetings. The house was dark. She said she needed to open the lights. I walked to the receiving room. Total quiet. I looked to my left and considered imagining statues on the floor. I blinked. My jet lag and adjusting body clock must be playing tricks, I surmised. I turned to my left again and realized the bodies were frozen as they crouched on the floor. Then it hit me – they’re springing a surprise. But no one dared move for many seconds – just eyes staring at me. Very strange – shouldn’t they jump up and yell “surprise”? Then I heard my sister’s voice loudly greeting, “happy birthday!” Was that the cue? The bodies moved in a wave that began with the younger ones. The seniors slowly stretched and carefully got up. A very interesting and lovely mixed group, I should say. – late teens, middle-aged and seniors.

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Enjoying being pampered like a queen – for a period

I’m back in California, my home away from home as my youngest sister puts it. Seven weeks of vacationing in the Philippines around the holidays are enough to get pampered all over again – with “angels” (appreciative name for household help) in the house, who would refuse being served like a queen? I didn’t. I luxuriated and loved every minute of it. Having taken residence in the US for over 40 years, I realized I missed this kind of lifestyle – well, somewhat. And every time I went to visit, this was what I looked forward to … well, for a period and to a degree.

I most enjoyed my vacation in the Philippines especially due to frequent and close bonding with family members; visits of far places to see relatives I hadn’t seen or spoken to in years; touring new attractions that were undeveloped areas years before; seeing tall commercial establishments where there were barren fields and small sari-sari (mix or hodgepodge) stores before; and indulging in exquisite authentic Filipino cuisine. All these were what made my vacation remarkable – and will make me go back to visit again.

After five weeks of being away, of being pandered in comfortable ways by house “angels”, for some strange reasons, I started to be antsy. I longed for the “eat whatever I want days”, or “not eat until I’m hungry days”, or “wake up and get up late for breakfast days”, or “do my own thing” days.

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Greeting 2018 – and a toast to exiting 2017

I’m looking forward to fireworks in the neighborhood tonight. Though I hear that a fireworks ban was declared this year, many predict it won’t be widely followed — in the Philippines? It’s where over the decades, ushering in the New Year has been celebrated in the loudest fashion and with the most spectacular fireworks displays in the sky. But we’ll see tonight. I still look forward to witnessing the traditional, garish way of celebration.

So how has 2017 been to you? For me, it went by so fast, regardless of what the sage says that time goes by more quickly when you’re older. I heard some young folks claim it went by like a breeze.

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Feeling daunted, but refusing to be miserable

Battling the cold and cough is far too much of a struggle, especially when they linger past the one- or two-week scourge. More than a struggle, it’s an embarrassment trying to suppress a sneeze or a cough because of the perceived threat of contamination to those adjacent to you. When you burst out sneezing or coughing, you can’t help but get the furtive looks, or imagine you’re getting them, like darts thrown your way. Worse, people start walking away from you – or you imagine them walking away when in fact, there could be a perfect excuse for that, like the need to get a glass of water, or go to the restroom, or the conversation’s just plain boring. Even sadder is when folks who swear they’re fond of you turn their stiff back on you and walk away. You feel abandoned, like no one cares about your battle. Then you’re inclined to indulge in a one-person self-pity party. And just sulk away.

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The dilemma of packing for a trip

I have procrastinated too long. My suitcases are waiting to be packed, a task I need to do in preparation for my return trip to the US a week from now. The urgency of the chore is to make sure my heavy items purchased for pasalubongs (gifts to family members, friends upon arrival) can be accommodated within the weight restriction: 50 lbs. (or 30 kilos) for each of two check-in luggage. By the looks of it, I may have some excess weight. Now the question is – which do I leave behind? Perhaps, some clothes? Perhaps, some candies? Perhaps, some gifts from relatives here?

Now, see my dilemma? It’s best to procrastinate. I don’t need to make the decision now. But every “now” turns to a yesterday. I’m bushed, just thinking about this. Too much pressure … I’d rather nap over this.

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Naga is a splendor

Naga City in Camarines Sur, Philippines held a population of ~67,000 during my youth. Now, the booming metropolis is populated by some 196,000, according to the 2015 census. Around 167.3 miles south of Manila, Naga sits as the reigning queen in lush Bicol region touted for its perfect cone Mayon volcano in the province of Albay; Cagsawa Ruins, a bell tower and belfry emerging above ground while the rest of the church was buried underground during a massive earthquake in Daraga in the 16th century; the pink sand beach of Irosin, Sorsogon; the hot springs pools of Panicuason at the foot of Mt. Isarog in Naga, among many other wonders.

Besides being the center of the colorful, age-old tradition of the week-long and widely attended Penafrancia fiesta, Naga also is home to the old and charming Penafrancia shrine of the Lady of Penafrancia, and the handsomely renovated cathedral. The city grew and expanded the past decades. The presence of several prominent universities underscores the high quality of education in the community. What were small streets of modest residential areas are now commercial hot spots. The increase in restaurants, hotels, stores and shopping malls speaks to the buzzing business life of the city.

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Sending my grandson loving thoughts from over 7,000 miles away

I miss my 8-year-old grandson, who calls me Lola with a perfectly rounded “O”. He in California, and I in the Philippines, I watched him on facetime weeks ago as he very attentively rehearsed for a piano recital: a skippy Minuet and a winsome adagio that he was aiming to perform with perfection. Quite obedient to his father’s request, my grandson repeatedly practiced the pieces, as well as the introduction to his performance – of course, to my sheer delight, because I don’t tire watching this darling boy at all, playing music or just playing, or doing anything at all.

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Rainy day blues bring out food cravings

This is the rainiest December that I know in all my vacationing in the Philippines. December 2017 is not at all like last year’s when it was warm and feeling almost like summer. The upside is the temperature is definitely a bit cooler, perhaps much too colder for regular residents. The breeze is extra delightful, especially because the grown bamboo, mango, guava and citrus trees in the garden fan the air with a balmy freshness. Nearby is a small mountain of thick vegetation that further fans the breeze.

It has started to rain again just now. I enjoy the lulling pitter-patter on the ground and the tiled balcony floor outside. It makes me want to take a nap – but not just yet, lunch is almost to be served. I think I would love the champorrado (chocolate flavored thick and lightly sweetened porridge) from yesterday’s breakfast. It was a hit; so there mustn’t be any more left. And with the champorrado, I would have chosen the tuyo (salted dried herring) – that, too, all gone, a definite favorite with the champorrado.

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Soaking in the ambience of a live stream market on the street

Today, I’m in my brother and his wife’s home in a suburb of Las Pinas, Philippines, for a week’s staycation. I’m sitting in the patio converted receiving room. To my left is a tall and wide grilled window bordered with pots of bougainvillae bearing newly opened fuchsia, white, yellow and pink blooms. True to its reputation, the orange one is slow in flowering.  It is through this window that I peek through the curtain of vines and flowers to watch the spectacle outside.

Sitting on my favorite polished molave wooden chair, I savor the aura of a Philippine setting. An observation suddenly loomed. I’ve always assumed that roosters crow at the crack of dawn. Now, I realize that cock-a-doodle-doos sporadically toll all times of the day. Chicken calls echo from various distances like a continuous repartee, and at times, like choral refrains. The resonance doesn’t bother me at all. In fact, it delights me. After all, I don’t hear symphonies of cock-a-doodle-doos back home in Palo Alto. Perhaps, I should record them for nostalgia’s sake.

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Remembering Mama/Lola Nena

Heaven opened up to admit a sweet angel, and that’s my Mama, known to grand- and great grandchildren as Lola Nena.  She passed on November 7, 2017, 29 days shy of her 101st birthday (Dec. 6).  Her masses and funeral services in Los Banos, Laguna, Philippines memorialized death as a passage to life eternal with God, but they also celebrated the life God gave her on earth, a life anchored on family, love and faith.

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Memories of an old-fashioned girl’s prom

Jitters attacked me.  It was the night of the junior-senior prom at my American high school where I was an exchange student. The grand ball of the year, where high school seniors and juniors swept out of their ostentatiously decorated cars in their best gowns and tuxedos, where girls became ladies hanging on to the genteel arm of their handsome escorts, where boys turned gentlemen opening car doors and pulling chairs for their ladies.  It was a splendid night of putting on the ritz.  The opening event was a march of the voted homecoming king and queen and their royal court.  Having been voted by the school population as third runner-up for homecoming queen, I was thus designated as a princess of the court.  That night, I felt like a pampered princess in a lovely apple green machine-embroidered cotton gown sewn by my American host Mom.  My escort, blond, blue eyes, six-foot tall and all seemed like a prince.  The prince, however, was terribly shy and barely spoke 30 words that night.  He could have been a frog.  If he croaked, I would have jumped in sheer delight.  Bring two bashful youths together, and the game plan is a disaster … though now, quite quirky and funny to me.

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