A vacation at home

Having a vacation or taking a break has many definitions, most of which I now know are relative. For some, it’s about going to a beautiful place far away, unfamiliar or otherwise, where not having a structured day is the only agenda of the day. For others, it’s more about quick little trips somewhere near, like little snacks schoolchildren are allowed to take right before the real lunch break, just enough for a shot of energy or a quick change of pace — a friend’s house two hours away, a local beach. But as it found me, my holiday happened right in the comfort of our home, here in Manila.

When most everyone had hied off to this or that place, taking advantage of the long Holy Week break, we opted to stay in town. The news says Manila was like a ghost town, a desert even, although I would never even have known because I hardly stepped out of our house. For the first three days in a row I lived in little else than pajamas, eating food that did not exactly have to appeal to anyone else other than me (ripe bananas with toyo and calamansi, anyone?) Or scoop after scoop of ice cream doused with puddles of full-cream milk for breakfast, lunch, dinner? Or Marty’s Cracklings, a vegetarian chicharon from Oishi that tastes like the real thing, good enough on its own but great with native suka, and can be eaten with rice and on a salad? Yum.) I have to tell you though, the latter appealed to everyone, the healthiest health buffs included.

I’ve been sidetracked by food again. Let me get back to my vacation. I was very productive. Other than little trips to church to pay tribute to the solemnity of the season, I pretty much stayed home. Those days, all that free time in one uninterrupted big chunk, were more precious than I would want to admit.

I have been on vacation many times without exactly feeling that I was on one. Does that make sense? But this one was different. The days actually felt long. Hot, yes, but thankfully long. There were many hours to do many things. I loved that, if only because they hardly feel that way anymore nowadays.

What did I do? I was on housewife and home-keeping mode, naturally, puttering here and there, keeping and putting things away. Again I sorted and simplified, giving away boxes of stuff — to Caritas, to cousins and friends. How much do we need, really?

Oh, I wrapped many gifts. I checked my desk calendar and saw names I had written there, with little stars beside them. Birthdays. Not being pressed for time, I put together presents, shopping from my gift closet. I listened to old music from the ‘60s that I love. And surrounded by ribbons and nice paper, scissors, tape and a glue gun, I wrapped slowly, carefully, taking my time and loving it. I attached hand-written notes.

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I even wrapped a box of iced tea. You know those brown boxes you buy straight from the grocery, as big as shoeboxes filled with mylar packs of powdered instant iced tea? I was sure my Uncle Bilbo and Aunt Fergie would enjoy them, because they taste so good and refreshing. So I passed them on as an Easter present, along with sugar-free chocolates, coffee, and Gretchen’s newly released second album, “Complicated.” They looked quite pretty, especially the box of iced tea, which I partly covered with blue handmade paper. I finished it off with a bright orange artificial sunflower that I had saved from a present I got last year. I always get some strange satisfaction in that, actually being able to make use of pretty little things I would have been tempted to just throw away at first sight. But instead I keep them, like I would a nice passing thought, and when I get to use them I feel validated and affirmed, feeling that it was blessed, predestined even.

I think I really like that I can make anything look pretty. I do not say that proudly, I just share that with you happily. One of my cheeriest, if far-fetched, fantasies involves Martha Stewart. In that bubble you will find me working for her. I do not know what she will be like as a boss but I do know I will be able to contribute significantly to her palate of ideas on the art of living — “good things” as she calls them. She will be happy to have me on her team although probably not as happy as I would to be there. I want to meet Martha one day.

For the first time also, I was able to finally use my staple gun, which I bought from DIY last year. I was organizing items inside this metal cabinet and realized it could use an extra shelf. I asked the driver to cut to size a scrap of plyboard I found in the garage and I covered it with an old but nice upholstery material that once gave life to our sofa set in Ormoc (I told you, Mommy saves everything). I showed the finished product to my mom, to Richard when he got home, and to Juliana who declared solemnly, “Mom, you are so stylish.” Heaven knows how a shelf equates to style but my heart blushed just the same. I really love my daughter, this little pink version of me.

I was able to put into albums the photos that have been piling up since the last quarter of 2007. I reinforced my dream of learning how to make jam. Maybe when the kitchen is done, two more weeks max. On that note, I made a note to myself to get a copper pot to make jam. I also want to bake cookies for all the cookie monsters I know. Whether there is an occasion or not, I will wrap them in pretty packages that will delight the recipients as much as the cookies they contain. Toffee, too. I’d love to learn how to make toffee. These are but some of the many delicious ideas I have running around my head like happy playmates. The idea of homemade gifts give me a good feeling, the way warm soup does on a cold day, or when I feel like I am coming down with a fever. It is reassuring and comforting.

One day, I will have in my repertoire at least a dozen recipes I can make really well, I promise myself that.

When I was not daydreaming or wrapping or eating, I organized. I found satisfaction in finding and employing smart storage solutions for the many things that ceaselessly find their way into the house. And when I got too tired I lolled in bed, reading and seeking solace from an army of books that set me off smiling and dreaming some more, spinning my thoughts into lovely fabrics of ideas that I in turn organized into lists, written in my yellow notebook, for fear they would slip away with the summer wind. When I say dreams, by the way, I do not mean the kind that happens when you sleep and have little control over. I mean the type that you think about and wish for, to take place in a future you can almost touch because you are so excited about it. It’s the kind you wield with wishbone, backbone and funny bone, and eyes that are not necessarily shut.

I rested, yet I have also accomplished much actually, although as the case always is, there is still more to be done. Of course, I stuffed myself with chocolate and cupcakes, something I do not quite apologize for especially after abstaining from sweets for 40 days.

I enjoyed many lovely, long meals in the backyard and in the lanai. And whether there were just four or 14 of us huddled around the wooden table, we always had a nice, warm time together.

So that’s how life was for me last week when half of Manila was away — simple and spontaneous, sort of just tossed together like a salad.

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