Dining outdoors during a fabulous musical evening

Music and fine dining – a fabulous mix.  That was a marvelous treat from a lovely couple, Linda and Dan, who invited me for outdoor dining at La Boheme in Palo Alto, California this week.  I hadn’t gone out much in the evenings during the pandemic times, except for the August weekend in Monterey with my son and his family, and dinner with my sister and her family at a Filipino restaurant in Milpitas.  So, that night was an exhilarating break for me. To boot were professional performers who sang opera, Neapolitan and Broadway numbers with vibrant accordion accompaniment.  Strong tenor and soprano voices pierced the mildly cool night air – and jubilantly rang out for the benefit of neighboring outdoor diners for sure.  I couldn’t resist mouthing some of the lyrics I knew, short of volunteering to go up front.  Much to my delight, the lady at the table to my right was softly crooning as well.

Seated under a canopy with subdued lights beamed from nearby street lamps was like basking in the moonlight. The atmosphere and surroundings were exquisite.

Superb climax of the dinner – rich chocolate fondant and mousse (Photo by Linda L. Yasukawa)

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Relishing Monterey with family

My 15th visit in Monterey, California since the ’70s, and it seemed like it was the first.  A fun and relaxing August weekend in Monterey with my son John, daughter-in-law Natasha and grandson Eliott flashed back fond memories of early visits when my children were younger, and my husband was the tour guide and driver to numerous relatives and friends visiting California. Monterey was our favorite go-to place for sightseeing, beach strolling, seafood dining, or just breathing in fresh ocean air.  Last weekend was not lacking in any of these pleasurable amenities and advantages.  It felt good to play tourist again.

Stunning Monterey (Photos by John S. Jacob)

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The audacity of asking – have you been vaccinated?

Very common question – have you been vaccinated?  Likely for some, the curiosity is audacious.  But the audacity has its purpose.  Since the trend leans toward striving to move toward a semblance of normalcy, it remains of importance that the pseudo-normalcy infers health precautions and pursuance of safety measures.  Just plain sensible and sensitive.

Admittedly, I find myself audacious – yes, because I tend to inquire of those I’d like to invite to a small gathering for a birthday celebration at home – have you been vaccinated?  Much as I desire more friends to attend, I bear in mind the wellbeing of my guests (and myself included).  But also imperative is the safety of those not yet vaccinated. Those of us who have been administered two doses of the vaccine wisely choose to be considerate of those who haven’t, specifically, not incur the possibility of carrying the virus strain to those not vaccinated (or vice versa as well).

Be it for a gathering indoors or outdoors, the audacious question pops up.

Fresh vegetables from an LA market remind me of what I need to get for the birthday celebration at home (Photo by Matt Rosenburg)

My cousin Monette’s family outing on the mountain slopes of Baao, Camarines Sur, Philippines – don’t we wish for something or more like this? (Photo by Monette Cruz Valencia)

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A simple lunch social in the new norm striving to be normal

After our first Pfizer vaccine shot, a Mexican friend, a Japanese friend and I enjoyed a dine-out last month.  Exuberant with that experience having gone through a year of pandemic restrictions and intermittent lockdowns, we decided to schedule meals together once a month, be it at a restaurant or here at home.  Today was our follow-up eating social. Having received both doses of the vaccine, we happily take the privilege of getting together, mindful, however, of continuing to follow safety guidelines when we go out.

Today was a most relaxing respite from my friends’ lab work and my remote work, a Saturday afternoon well spent in just leisurely enjoying spaghetti, salad, garlic bread, ice cream, cookies and a mound of sweet strawberries and grapes. The conversation was most delightful.  Some  catching up after minimal social meet-ups, and a little chat about work  And of course, food as usual emerged as the favored topic while eating.

Enticing fruits leftover from a simple lunch social (Photo by lpj)

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Greeting 2021 with a new book — and sending off 2020 with a Pollyannaish thank you

Sharing with you one of my many blessings of 2020, a strange year not without its positives.  Pollyannaish, you might think. I always like to say, blessings abound.  Maybe, some in the nooks, crannies and crevices. You may just have to search hard to find them,  And when you do, celebrate and be thankful.

Mine, I found while staying home during this pandemic guidelines-dominated era.  Beyond some remote work hours, I found time to squeeze considerable bits of creative writing.  With encouraging suggestions and feedback from my 11-year-old grandson Eliott, a fairy tale was born, “Something Curious, Book 3: Stratucopia, a starry tale”.  This book, third in the “Something Curious” series, just came off the press, literally speaking.  The story aims to interest both the youthful and adult readers.  Ninety-page “Stratucopia” features vibrant illustrations, including one drawn by my grandson just before he turned 11 in July 2020.  He also is the creator of the abstract artwork used as cover for all of the books in the series.

As a teaser, I include in this blog the Prologue of the book.

PROLOGUE

A land not so far away, floating atop a heavy mass of white billowy clouds, enjoying the same blue ceiling of a sky as the earth below, is Stratucopia.   Stratucopia is as real and vibrant as the cosmic earth, as lovely as the forest and rivers of the Amazon.  It can be as peaceful as the pastures of Montana, or as turbulent as the erupting volcanic craters of Hawaii.  Stratucopia sits solidly on thick billows of clouds.  It is just there, gliding above and holding lives of inhabitants unperturbed by earth’s current events, because it, too, has its own current events. It has no connection to the earth below.  But its residents are like earth’s people, with the same looks, same needs, embroiled in life’s daily demands, drawn by the same magnetism for relationships and lo, strapped by the same rules for survival.

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Thankful for Christmas and the New Year

Thanking God for all the blessings now, and looking forward with great hope:

Merry, Merry Christmas  —  let’s celebrate the birthday of all birthdays, the birth of Jesus Christ the King!

A Wonderful, Joyful New Year to All!

❤❤❤

Linda P. Jacob

Surprises spice up birthdays – but birthday itself is the message that life is a gift

“Happy Birthday!” is like the “sound of music” ringing joyfully in the celebrant’s ear.  The greeting is a powerful reminder that the birthday itself comes from life, a gift from the Almighty God.  The deeper message of birthdays is that life is precious.  We live wisely according to the purpose that God has given us on this earth.  Especially in these times and age, we momentarily forget that despite being mired in uncertainty, and striving through the risks of pandemic threat and consequential changes to lifestyle and livelihood, life continues, and we commemorate birthdays with much gratitude.

On the lighthearted side, birthdays give ample reason and avenues to celebrate.  Mine was special.  I started to receive scores and scores of greetings the day before, on the 17th in the Philippines.  I was a day older in that part of the world, but didn’t mind at all.  The fact is, I thoroughly enjoyed my baby boomer milestone celebrated with myriad wishes for more and abundant blessings for me.  I love blessings, and I will take every bit of blessing I can get – of course, from the will of a super generous giver, God.

An interesting pattern I’ve observed – my birthdays are sprinkled with elements of surprise.  This year, while my daughter Joy sent her early greeting on facetime, I didn’t expect to receive a lovely and extraordinary vase of mixed flowers with a colorful balloon floating on top.  What I was waiting for that evening was my Amazon delivery of chicken chicharron (crispy fried skin) which my mouth was salivating for.  When I opened the door after two rings, I discovered an  even better surprise!  Flowers and balloon for my birthday, from my daughter Joy and her husband Matt.  Forget the chicharron.  I’ll take this beautiful surprise anytime.

Another surprise that day.  From my son John, my daughter-in-law Natasha and my grandson Eliott – in the mail came a most impressive 2021 calendar that John designed with interesting family pictures and several photos of Eliott with his long, thick hair moussed for a comical and delightfully raised  tousle – absolutely lovable.  Usually the calendar arrives before the end of the year, but this time, the timing was perfect for a surprise birthday gift.  I have a collection of the yearly calendars, precious memorabilia.

A semi-surprise was my sister Susan’s gourmet renditions  of various food offerings dropped off before lunch by her husband Mario.

Flowers from my daughter and her husband for my birthday (photo by Linda PJ)

Calendar 2021 from my son and his family (photo by Linda PJ)

Superfluous birthday lunch from my sister (photo by Susan P. Veloro)

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Savoring my Christmas wish list – what’s yours?

It’s Christmas in my home.  This started when I put out my tree, trimmed it with colorful and shimmering balls, then lights, and voila!  Next, I hung the evergreen wreath on the door (really ever, ever green because the large ornament is a lovely replica of pine leaves and branches glued to a ring).  Replaced the batteries, and voila, twinkling lights!  The Christmas spirit is rife in the air.  And I love it.

A Christmas tree mirrored on the glass wall, and a sparkly wreath on the door (photos by Linda PJ)

With the Christmas spirit comes my Christmas wish ,list.  Do you have one?  For the fun of it, I’m going to whip out mine and share it with you.

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What turns a goodbye party into a happy party

Wonder why goodbye parties become happy parties?

Within a week of each other, I attended interesting and fun (but supposedly goodbye) parties. One was for a retiree; the other, for someone moving to another state. The gatherings were graced with delicious food, lively conversation, incessant chatter and spiced with lighthearted jokes and teasing. All the necessary ingredients for a great party, the kind that after all the consumption and laughter, you come away declaring – hmmm, that was so much fun.

Ironical, isn’t it, that supposedly the gathering is for “mourning” the loss of one whose company you had learned to appreciate – as one retiring or moving away. Yet, the goodbyes turn out to be moments of merrymaking. Amazing that during the party for the honoree, no tears are shed, just joyous reminiscing. The gathering morphs into a delectable journey through memory lane. And believe me, the memories tend to be all so funny.
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Highlights of my vacation

Taal Volcano in Tagaytay, Philippines erupted during my vacation. Grave concern is for communities lying on the volcano’s rim. Total evacuation of those areas has happened, and there is outpouring of help for affected families.

I was traveling with relatives from La Union back to Manila and Los Banos a few hours after the eruption. The roads were fogged up with ashfall, especially around Santa Rosa where drivers struggled with 0 visibility. Los Banos roads were clearer, much to our relief.

I’m on the tail end of my vacation in the Philippines. It felt like a tail spin. So fast.

The ocean and the sky at Rabon in Rosario, La Union, Philippines (photos by Rorie Pandes)

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A rowdy night before Christmas – until the baby drowses to sleep

It is Noche Buena in my sister’s household. A small evenly brown roasted pig (from Sir Dodong’s Lechon in Los Banos) sits in the middle of the large round dining table designed along a carriage wheel motif. A beautifully cooked lechon that I had ever seen – a rich gloss of brown skin (balat) tightly chiseled all over the small pig’s body; a thin tail stiffly perked upwards; an elongated head featuring a tranquil face that seems to denote contentment in the outcome of its process. A most delectable object.

The urge to pick on the crispy skin is hard to resist. My fingers feel the itch, and my brother-in-law notices my eyes furtively focused hungrily on the lechon skin. He cuts a piece and the crunch pierces the quiet in the room. It is a sound that waters the mouth and tempts. So my sister asks for a piece, and her husband carefully shoves it in her mouth. Heavenly crunch, crunch. Merry Christmas!

Sir Dodong’s Lechon — Wonder about the patches?  Someone or two couldn’t resist picking on the crunchy skin. And what happened to the tail? Hmmm …



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Caught in the joyful frenzy of Christmas

It is the 23rd of December as I write this piece. Almost Christmas! It’s been a while since my last blog. The weeks since zoomed by so quickly. Necessities of work grabbed time with preparations for my vacation trip before the holidays. Like a whirlwind.  Now I’m in the Philippines enjoying a rather hectic schedule of get-togethers with family, relatives and friends. A happy whirlwind. Fortunately, no jet lag … yet.

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Indelible lessons and flashbacks from a game

Mahjong. Learning it was an adventure. More than that, it was humbling. Totally ignorant of the game, I was, however, very curious. Mustering patience and genuine interest, I listened to instructions from a Chinese friend who quite obviously struggled to find words to explain the game’s basic steps, nuances and intricacies. While I kept in rein the nasty urge to fill in the gaps in his pauses as he searched for right words, I admit, I was more engrossed in my fascination with the sparkly heavy cubes teal-colored on the top, creamy white on two narrow sides, and with images and characters distinctly embossed on the main surface.

Others in the group attempted to translate my teacher’s instructions, but I wasn’t lost in the translation. Guess what, I quickly learned the play!Read More »

Favorite games spur fun-spiced bonding and friendships

Do you ever wonder back to the games you loved to play during your childhood, your youth and on to your adult years? I do, and then I realize … wow! Times have changed. Either those games are no longer popular, or have changed in mechanics and structure, or they no longer exist. Take for example jackstone.

Jackstone was my favorite game in the primary grades. A small group of friends would sit in circular formation on the cement floor in front of our classroom during recess in the all-girls’ school. We played with crisscrossed light metal bars, each about an inch long, painted with bright colors. Two bars glued together looked like a star. Each glued pair was called a jackstone. There were ten jackstones, scattered randomly on the floor and individually picked up each time the small rubber ball about an inch in diameter was tossed in the air and bounced off the floor. Precision and speed were key to the game. The goal was to pick up all ten. I remember the nuns and teachers striving to make clear the path on the corridor amidst groups of players on the floor. My secret fear was that a teacher in high-heels would inadvertently slip over a jackstone gone astray from the huddles. Or that a nun’s hurried steps would unknowingly kick a renegade jackstone to the far end of the corridor.Read More »

Good food and lively social chats in the brew for a successful party

Animated conversation stirs up energy in any gathering. The party in my home last Sunday was full of zest, not to mention two 4-year-old girls and one 2-year-old boy romping up and down the stairs and dodging between chairs. It was a lovely chaos, the kind that makes you feel you’re in a fiesta or a rigorous birthday celebration without a singular celebrant. We were all celebrants, loudly exchanging notes on how we cooked our potluck dish, and urging everyone to pick a portion of our delicacy on to their plate. The buffet spread was enormous and impressive, and before anyone could touch any of the items on the food line, cameras busily clicked. I still am waiting for copies to be sent to me.

Four languages were represented in this gathering: Chinese, Japanese, Tagalog and English. I didn’t mind at all that Chinese was predominant in conversations. After all, majority were Chinese. And being usually active in the exchange and interaction, this Lola often steered the conversation to English which to a few, was a bit of a struggle. For those few, cell phones clicked open for English words to complete the sentences. Funny, the English speakers were saintly patient. We wanted to hear those full sentences. And ah — such victory when they were completed. Somehow, we all understood one another – but importantly, it was enough that everyone was clearly having a great time. Even the children were having a blast in their spontaneous squabbles.

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A celebration of roots – Santiagenians of the USA 45th anniversary

Another sentimental journey last weekend, the 45th anniversary of the Santiagenians of the USA (SUSA) held in Stockton, California. SUSA is my late husband’s hometown organization made up of members who either originated from Santiago, Ilocos Sur, Philippines, or are children or relatives of those who did. As to be expected, the common medium for communication or conversation was Ilocano, a language so different from Pilipino or Tagalog, and seasoned with rich guttural sounds that create a consistently accented pattern of speech. I can pick up some words, a few that I learned from my husband who claimed he wasn’t really adept in Ilocano since he and his family moved to Manila when he was a little boy. Nonetheless, he could speak good conversational Ilocano. So, all throughout this two-day event, there was this rich language floating around me. Totally fascinated by it and teasing myself, I reflected this was one of the times when I listened so much more than I spoke. A great feat, I dare say.  But of course, English was the common fallback for a universal and inclusive form of communication.

At that anniversary weekend, there was a myriad to celebrate and enjoy.  An event much looked forward to now has become a gold medal on the club’s wall of memories and fame.Read More »

Food and music, excuses or background for a mini-reunion

Food is the magnet for gatherings. Don’t you agree? An amusing phenomenon hard to deny and easy to accept, I dare say. Often, a common remark to someone you hadn’t seen in a while – let’s get together for coffee or lunch. I said just that to relatives from Daly City whom I had not seen in over three years. A mini-reunion, one might consider. It was so delightful to see my 92-year-old auntie, and her children. A cousin from Union City and her family and I met them at one of the best buffet seafood restaurants I’d been to. At past 1 p.m., my group was starved, so we started to eat before the Daly City folks arrived. That was quite all right, since we ended up indulging in that restaurant for nearly two hours, just leisurely savoring every dish our eyes could take fancy on. Eyes are usually “greedier” than the stomach, and for some reason, we give in to our eyes. Did that happen to me? Kind of, I admit. I particularly fancied the boiled clams, baked salmon and spiced crab dish. I ravished them all; none wasted. Though my gut hesitated with the steak flanks.

Not to forget, the company was outstanding. Spending time with kins is truly heartwarming, especially when memories of old times resurge, stories of past funny incidents bring joyous laughter, and kind banter ricochets  around the table for comical moments – and as the teasing and story-telling grow, so does the eating.

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Capturing the charm of Atlanta, Scarlett O’Hara’s heartland

Atlanta, Georgia has always fascinated me. It was the setting for Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone with the Wind”, an epic story set around America’s Civil War. Atlanta today is far from the Atlanta of Mitchell’s 1936 novel, but somehow, the city exudes that esoteric charm and classic sophistication mingled with the cutting edge and contemporary … and a cryptic tinge of the southern ways.

I visited Atlanta, the second in two years, spent a week’s vacation with my daughter, her husband and their three big German Shepherd dogs. This time, Atlanta held a new fascination for me. It’s called the BeltLine.

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A quirky morning at a breakfast place in Atlanta

Have you ever walked to a glass wall thinking it’s the exit, and bumped your head to full alertness and chagrin? I have, just yesterday. Luckily, the glass didn’t break – and I was not hurt.

That happened after a hearty breakfast at the bakery in a market across from my daughter’s Atlanta home. Slowly walking the vicinity and checking out adjacent stores and food take-outs, I recounted the little incidents that happened as I leisurely munched on egg and ham sandwich and sipped mocha latte richly topped with cream. What seemed like an uneventful morning turned out to be a very interesting hodgepodge of amusing occurrences. Proof that nothing is uninteresting or dull. Trivial, maybe, but with quirky significance.

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To Union City on a food craving whim

The itch to cook good Filipino food led me and three friends to drive to Union City (California) last weekend. The goal was to grocery shop for ingredients at Island Pacific, an Asian market. But first, we had to satisfy our craving for a Filipino lunch, so we stopped at Lechon Manila.

The dishes were not spectacular or elaborate, but simple and authentic – the criteria for food craved by four very hungry people. Explaining to our Japanese friend that we were going the “turo-turo” cafeteria style, we demonstrated the pointing system of indicating to the servers choices from an array of food offerings laid behind the counter. The challenge was describing to the non-Filipino what the dishes were or what they contained. How could we possibly soft pedal describing “dinuguan” (meat cooked in pork blood), to entice the Japanese friend who had never seen nor eaten it before?

(Photo below: from top to bottom – pancit, dinuguan, binagoongan pork and rice)

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Joy and Love to All

The spirit of Christmas is joy and love for/to all.

A very Merry Christmas, and a Blessed New Year, one and all!

Enjoy the holidays with family, loved ones and friends.

And ever keep gratitude in your heart.

Baby Boomer Lola

Starting to celebrate Christmas before Thanksgiving

I prided myself for getting Christmas decorations early on, before Thanksgiving. Following my daughter’s suggestion, I chose the pre-lit Christmas wreath and tree. The boxes arrived a few days ago, before my daughter flew back to Georgia. Figglesticks! I wanted her to set them up for me. Now, I have to figure it all out: assembly, electrical connections and all. Knowing that I hide behind my baby boomer age and tend to shy from mechanical or technical stuff, I won’t be surprised if she thought, this would be a test for me. Hmmm …. I must pass this test.

So, I opened the boxes this afternoon, resolutely bent on assembling the parts and working out the battery and electrical connections. Gave myself a huge pat on the back – I figured out putting together the wreathe and installing the batteries for the colored lights to turn on. Voila! All lit in the right places, lovely and enchanting. But wait a minute – it’s supposed to be hung on the front door. The truth is, I’m stuck – trying to solve this hanger stick-on to work. I decided to work on the tree package instead. The hanging of the wreathe can wait.

Uh-oh! I can’t even pull the tree out of the slender box. So tightly packed. I ‘m afraid to break the branches. Should that wait for later too?  No, that didn’t wait — I was on a roll!

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Royal treatment at a movie theater doubled enjoyment of the Nutcracker adventure

Just got back from watching The Nutcracker movie with my daughter. I didn’t read the reviews or film version before watching, so I expected the story to be similar to the stage version. Well, I was surprised – it’s far from the stage version. Yet, I liked it. I really enjoyed the spectacular fairyland production; was enthralled by the music and pompous palace sceneries, and thoroughly entertained by the animation of little animals and transformation of inanimate to living beings, all like magic unfolding on the screen.

I’m a sucker for fairytales.

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The pleasures and favors of a visit

When the children are grown and on their own, or married and living with their spouse or family, it is a huge treat when they visit. Every visit is like fireworks, and when the hoopla is gone, you want some more. It’s like Christmas in the fall or summer or spring. It’s like a celebratory feast each day of the visit, and you want to max your fill. Because this isn’t a perfect world, if or when any disagreement pops up in the interaction, the undercurrent is always love. The visit is still a gift. Many fellow baby boomers or parents would agree, I’m sure.

My daughter visited this week. Not to sound selfish or seem like I just wanted her home for pragmatic reasons, I am grateful that she was most helpful in driving me to far places that I normally would not drive to, for very important errands. Quite a “handy woman”, she even fixed the broken latch of the shower door. Since I shy away from freeway driving, she also took me, as on other visits, to my son and his family’s place to engage in family times with them, and attend church with them on the Cal Berkeley campus.

When all the errands were accomplished, my son treated my daughter and me to an afternoon at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. My first visit at that highly rated and popular museum that contains a rain forest, aquarium and planetarium. My surprise was that the Philippines figured prominently – on exhibit were rare forest trees, plants, butterflies, fish from that tropical country. It was breathtaking to watch fish of various sizes and colors swim over and around the spectacular Philippine coral reefs in the grand aquarium. The umbrella-structured jellyfish fascinated me. In the magical rain forest, Philippine yellow winged butterflies fluttered beside striped and big blue butterflies the size of my palm, often, whizzing by just above our heads or before our faces. A sign posted on the wall says, do not try to catch the butterflies; shake them off your hair or clothing, in case any alights on you. They’re so fetching that the urge to touch them is so tempting. Funny, I didn’t care to look at the slithering mammals. My son took the pictures shown here.

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Relishing the magic of the outdoors at Shoreline Park in Mountain View, CA

Mountain View city, adjacent to Palo Alto, California holds one of the best lake parks I’ve seen, just around a 15-minute drive from my place. The park is located on a landfill beside the bay, a wide expanse that contains a man-made lake of around 2.4 acres, a golf course, a lakeside bistro fronting a line of sailboats, canoes, paddleboats and kayaks available for rent, and a path leading to the reclaimed bay lands for bikers, runners, joggers and walkers.

That Saturday, the hilly picnic area was fenced off for re-grassing. When the project’s all done, I’d like to go back there just to sit or lie down on the lush grass and feel the cool blades against my skin, or watch gleeful children recklessly roll on the low hills, or listen to picnickers’ laughter as they carouse over their food and games, or just look out to the lake where white sails and colorful windsurfs speckle the surface of the water over shimmers of sunbeams.

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An impromptu birthday party started without the celebrant

Totally unplanned. A surprise, you might say. Last Wednesday was the birthday of my Japanese friend that I shall call M. We intended to celebrate with lunch by the lakeside two weekends from now, when our Chinese friend, whom I shall call Y, returns from her Seattle trip. However that day, unknown to me, Y decided to pick up a lemon cake from the bakery and set it on my dining room table for M who was coming later that night. And unknown to Y, from the farmer’s market, I picked up some big red strawberries and plump figs which I arranged on an orange plate set beside Y’s lemon cake. A simple, surprise celebration was quickly concocted that night. Though that was far from our intent, we just went with the flow.

Y decided to whip up some soup recipe of rice noodles and large bok choy (leafy cabbage). After setting the delectables on the table, ready for M, I thought of practicing my newly learned skill of taking pictures with my smart phone (Y taught me how). Then I emailed the pictures to my laptop for me to post on my website.

Voila! The email attachment was sent, and the photo was stored on my laptop — a great feat for this Lola who’s always happy to learn new technology (my nine-year-old grandson may find this funny; he creates short films on his iPod). There’s beauty in simplicity, I always maintain. Just look at this picture – isn’t there beauty in this simple surprise birthday dinner?


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Fiesta fever and fiesta fervor

Big fiesta right now in Naga City, the heart of the Bicol Region (south eastern part of Luzon Island), Philippines, old home of my youth. It’s the week-long feast of Mary, mother of Jesus, the revered Lady of Penafrancia, object of much adulation and fervor among the Catholics. I can imagine the flurry of activities. I can imagine the vibrant multitudes. I can imagine the cathedral and shrine tightly packed with devotees from far and near. I can imagine the abundance of food prepared in every home. I can imagine the joy in every home where college-age children and relatives come back to celebrate.

While the festivities ride on deep religious devotion that evokes prayer and attendance at masses, the atmosphere is electrified with robust events such as the “Traslacion”, the transfer of the image from the Penafrancia shrine to the Naga Cathedral the week before, and the fluvial procession the Saturday after, for the return of the Lady back to its permanent shrine. Those two major events book end all the celebrations and activities. The Penafrancia fiesta is embedded in the culture and hearts of  Catholics in the Bicol Region.

[“Naga Smiles to the World” Traslacion and Fluvial Procession photos]

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Getting international and savvy with food

Decisions – decisions! Where to go for dinner when you’re international with friends of different ethnic backgrounds: Japanese, Chinese and Filipino. I decided, since I played host and offered to treat. Thai it is. Everyone heartily agreed. I just wondered: if the choice was cuisine from any of our backgrounds, likely, a friendly argument would ensue. That would be utter waste of time, especially when we all were pitifully starving; some of us, having missed lunch in expectation of a huge dinner. Thus, we headed to Amarin, a pleasant Thai restaurant in Mountain View, CA.

Now, here’s the caveat, I warned my curious group.
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Soaking in the raw ambience of a live stream market on the street

(Repost from blog of Nov. 27, 2017)

Today, I’m in my brother and his wife’s home in a suburb in 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 bougainvillea bearing newly opened fuchsia, white, yellow and pink blooms. True to its reputation, the orange one is slow in flowering. 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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Drawn to a hometown organization celebration – for fun, friendships and nostalgia

Do you wonder sometimes how you can honor someone so special in your life and who’s now gone? I do, and I found one of many ways – I honored my late husband by attending his hometown organization’s annual anniversary event at Stockton, CA this past weekend.

The Santiagenians of the USA is a club founded in the Bay Area in 1974 by Filipinos from Santiago, Ilocos Sur, a province in the northern part of Luzon, Philippines. Since its inception, the association has grown to include members from various states and localities in the US. Those not from Santiago can join by affiliation. Spouses and children are included. Each year, communities represented in the organization take turns in hosting the annual two-day event: the dinner-dance on Saturday, and a picnic in the park on Sunday. The vibrant 44th anniversary was celebrated in Stockton, California — with a novelty, and I’ll tell you what that is later.

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Associating July 4th celebration in Palo Alto with chili

Chili on a warm summer day. Perfect for July 4th. Hadn’t done this in years – attending the chili cook-off on July 4th at Mitchell Park in Palo Alto. So, it felt like a novelty again: braving long lines of chili enthusiasts, savoring fresh made, delectable chili in small paper cups, basking in the sun and the music, watching impromptu dancers in the circle — a delightful and fun way of celebrating the 4th.
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Family bonding

It was a wonderful time of bonding with my daughter, my son, his wife and my grandson. No thought of work or household chores, no rushing on tight schedules, from me, not even a gentle nag about blogging. Just leisurely enjoying the time with family. Just letting the hours chug by with interesting conversation, a good deal of catching up, and lots and lots of eating.

We decided to pamper ourselves with staying at the hotel for the long weekend. My son and his family joined us at the Claremont at Berkeley, mainly for its swimming facilities and dining on the balcony-patio that overlooks a picturesque scene of the lower valley bordered on the horizon by the bay. The evening was most spectacular. The panoramic view from the restaurant’s patio or from windows of our sixth-floor room showed shimmers of lights  from the Bay Bridge, homes and industrial buildings in the distance. The night sky was clear that time, with Venus reigning bright amongst all other tiny sparkles above. Extraordinary location, weather and food – spokes in the wheel for mammoth fun that long weekend. But the driving force of that special moment was family bonding.
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The comedy is us

Now and then, we crave for comedy. We want to laugh, to feel lighthearted, to find amusement in the silly and even accept the foolish in hopes that there’s a lesson to be learned. Last weekend, on a whim, two seniors and I decided to watch a romance comedy. A bold decision. Spontaneity is not these seniors’ regular fare.

Excited to embark on this impulsive adventure, we three seniors abandoned our chores at home, dressed quickly and rushed to the movie house to catch a showing of Book Club. The film preview captured our interest, because the story runs a narrative about four elderly women’s escapades and eclectic experiences. Our bubble of expectation for a good watch burst when the ticket seller announced that tickets were sold out. Also for the next three days. Why … aha! It’s a holiday long weekend – we forgot about that, we remarked boisterously and simultaneously, as though we each had a light bulb switch on in our heads at the same time. Or, we surmised, maybe Book Club is a smash, not only with the young once but also with young ones, and that’s why all tickets had been taken.
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Buying fun with a few tokens … before marshaling restrain

Pa and Ma, if alive, would probably frown at this. I am joining a fundraising trip to Thunder Valley in early June. Thunder Valley is a casino close to Sacramento in California. To some, the word casino pipes a jaundiced, unsavory ring – that means gambling. I’m not a gambler, though I have experienced working the coin machine a few times, using just nickels and dimes — and many years ago when the casinos were a cacophony of tinkling coins, victory bells, screaming jackpot sirens, and the thud of sliding levers that pained the players’ stiffened arms. Well, this coming trip is worth $31, a fundraiser for my brother-in-law’s architects’ group in North CA. Not bad at all.

The cost includes a simple breakfast on the bus, a $12 coupon for an all-you-can-eat lunch, $20 worth of tokens for playing if desired, and of course, the round-trip bus transportation. Who can resist this offer? I didn’t, so I’m going with my sister and her husband and friends on this trip. Mind you, I’m not going to “gamble”. I’ll just “play my luck” with the $20 tokens. Is that OK?
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A celebration to remember with joy

I came out of a glorious Easter celebration last Sunday, feeling exhilarated. Remarkably, I felt blessed, and I like to think that I was not the only one. Never before did I hear so much applause during a church service, as I did that Sunday. A liveliness immersed in a sacred aura prevailed. Aggregate spontaneous appreciation was generously bestowed, and it was quite infectious, like a forceful wave that flowed – from the clapping hands to the smiling faces and to the hearts, and to the spirit. I couldn’t resist it. I clapped, and smiled, and teared up, and rejoiced.

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Birthday parties – and all that jazz … or some of it

I’m a sucker for birthday parties – other people’s birthday parties. The livelier, the better, rigged with balloons, glittering confetti, robust birthday greetings and singing, food in abundance, sweet cake with candles to blow, and all that jazz. For me, especially now that I’m a baby boomer, I’d rather have my birthday celebrated at a quiet dinner at home or a restaurant with family and/or close kins or friends. None of all that jazz – or, maybe, just a little bit of it. But that doesn’t mean I’m not grateful for full blown parties given for my birthday. Nor that I don’t enjoy the party. I really am not a party pooper. I just would prefer the other way … but that’s just for me. For other people’s celebration, I want all that jazz.

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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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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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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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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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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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The party that broke the spell

Papa gave me permission to attend a dance party! I didn’t have to ask. It was friends who asked him. I was 18 then, a very diligent student of an all-girls college, who chose poring over textbooks and novels than partying. But this particular one, I really wanted to attend. My secret crush (SC) was going to be there. Besides, I practiced the twist so many times before the mirror to ready for this shindig. Perhaps, Papa and Mama thought I was getting to be too much of an academic recluse, so they said yes. The boys were surprised. They expected a no.

It wasn’t all books for me. My extracurricular activities at school dominated my scholastic schedule as well. Theater/drama was my first love. Next was folk dancing. I was often on stage for one or the other. I even fantasized becoming a stage singer. That became reality when I was picked for the role of Laurie in Oklahoma, after a score of challenging singing lessons, of course. I was ecstatic. If my voice didn’t ring so awesomely broadwayish, my passion for drama kicked in the spice in my performance.

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