MANILA, Philippines – The heat is terrible. But in some twisted way I kind of like it, to the point that I cheer it on, if only because it makes me cross items off my daily to-do list faster. Unlike the cold weather that can trick me into thinking that all I want to do is curl up in bed with a good book with a cup of milk tea on a little table by my side, this heat has a weird way of making me increase my productivity. This heat also reminds me of Marcelo, our houseboy back in the ‘90s, and his iced tea. Marcelo was the nephew of my brother Jules’ yaya Hilda and he was very handy around the house. Plus, his iced tea was quite famous in our circle of family and friends. He would always make it in small batches, enough for two glasses at the most, and I think it all started when Daddy, an iced tea drinker, got him this stainless shaker. Marcelo would make the concoction in that perfectly ordinary-looking thing that always rendered such extraordinary iced tea. I don’t really remember anything special that he added into the potion, really, and I am not even sure if the base was one of those store-bought mixes that he just added somecalamansi or lemon to but whatever, it was good. He would shake it vigorously, as if to some tempo he probably only heard in his mind, and he’d pour the liquid ceremoniously into a glass, the froth on the rim making the whole thing look so professional.
I remember my cousin Johanna asking Marcelo why the iced tea he made was always so good, and Marcelo said something to the effect that he just did not mess around with an already perfectly good thing. He was faithful to the recipe as he knew it, maybe secure in the belief that for as long as he honored it by not altering it, even if doing so was with the intention of making it more special or more perfect (if the latter was at all possible) then his mix could measure up to any other cold drink just fine. Consistency. Simplicity. I think of that when I am tempted to complicate or layer over things and situations in the pursuit of making it better. I remember Marcelo and his iced tea and how perfect it was as is and I am able to restrain myself — yes, no matter how well-intentioned I was to begin with. Why fix something that is not broken?
This isn’t an article about iced tea, by the way. At best, I would say it seems to be shaping up to be one about the different things I learned from many different people, all of which have in one way or another helped me in my quest to be more present in the moment, to live life better, to be more efficient in managing my day, and maybe in the same breath, to also keep things simpler despite the many temptations that abound not to. There are many such lessons, so I will just shoot from the hip and think of the five that, for now, are top of mind.
1. Have a kit fully stocked with all your toiletry travel essentials always at the ready. And after each trip, re-stock and refill before putting it away so that by the time you travel again, all you need to do is get the already-prepared kit and toss it in your luggage.
This I learned from Ben Chan very early on when I was but a newlywed. And each time I find myself rushing things, tying up loose ends before a trip, I am grateful that filling up my toiletry kit is one less thing to worry about. Thank you, Ben. This tip has saved me valuable time on many, many occasions!
2. Make lists. Follow up. I always say that the Post-it must have been invented for my dad. I grew up in a home where making lists was the norm. Daddy trained us to write down things because we will not remember everything. Notes to self, the grocery list, to-do lists — just write them all down. There is a certain satisfaction that comes with being able to strike accomplished items off the list at the end of each day. Making lists is even easier now because we can encode it in our mobile phone, although frankly I still prefer the old-fashioned combo of pen and paper.
4. Don’t use your best anything only for special occasions. I was reminded of this countless times when Juliana was growing up. I would see her and her little pink friends, back when they were pint-sized and their idea of a meal meant milk and cookies, ice cream and chocolates. They would play wearing gowns, with crowns on their hands. Her playmates would come wearing all sorts of costumes, of cartoon characters and superheroes, and on very ordinary days at that, not even Halloween. They would wear their favorites, whether it was shoes or shirts or dresses, until they were faded and torn and distressed from constant use. And it made them happy. I loved that kind of detachment, that nonchalance about all things supposed precious. Kids have no sense of the trappings of a “special occasion.” They do not reserve gowns or pretty cups or their favorite things for when they have friends over. They use their beautiful things because it gives them pleasure, they do it for themselves, they celebrate life as they know it under their own terms. Think about that the next time you feel guilty about using your best china, your heirloom tablecloth, that exquisite top that has been hanging in your closet waiting for the perfect occasion. Why not use them all today if it will bring you some happy?
5. Keep photos. I learned that from Richard. He is not the type who will arrange them in albums or photo boxes, basically he just tosses them into bags. He had many big bags of photos that I have since transferred into photo boxes because there are just too many of them to sort through and categorize. But always keep photos. Because as you look through them you will realize that there are many moments you would not have remembered had it not been for the photo staring back at you.
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