Finding peace in the strangest things

The day begins a little off here and there. The beginnings of the faintest of headaches, a looming deadline for a project I have yet to start, a phone that will not stop making that sound when notices for this and that come in, the sound of workers chipping on the walls of the laundry area as they prep it for the tiles that need to be placed (too noisy!) — all these while I am still in that very soft, hazy state of sleepiness. But the morning has its rewards, too: strong arms I can snuggle in, crisp white sheets embroidered with blue roses, my favorite pillow, a cold room covered in misty gray because the blinds are down and whatever ray of sunshine has crept in comes as nothing more than a little crack of light. I take a deep breath. And ask the universe for five, 10, 15 more minutes before my day has to begin.

January was beautiful but a bit tough, or maybe I should choose to say it the other way around — a bit tough but beautiful. February promised to be gentler; I hope it continues that way as we go along. I have been quite good at counting my blessings, and latching on to happy thoughts, both of which are very good at making challenging/boring/frustrating situations easier to chew.

The past month and all the way till today, I have been happy with the thought of cake. Nothing fancy, just the kind that every child growing up in the province makes fast friends with each time his/her or a playmate’s birthday rolls by. No fondant icing, just white cake similar to what Costa Brava here in Manila makes. I long for it, and I dream of how it will taste in my mouth.

See, I went on a vegetable juice spree, substituting one meal each day with a big glass or two of freshly pressed, pure vegetable juice, sweetened only with a very small slice of fruit, usually an apple, pear or sugar beets. I thought it a nice and healthy way to reboot after all the delicious sins of December — all the sugar and fat, the decadence and over-indulgence. This has been going on for almost all of 40-plus days and I cannot wait for my first forkful of sweet. But then it is already Lent and yet another 40 days of fasting and abstinence has begun. White cake will have to wait.

I remember carefree days of my childhood when, if you cut me up in half I would most probably be made of Spam and Purefoods hotdogs and Maggi noodles. Somewhere in the mix would be orange Twin Popsies and full cream milk, too. It was that time of my life when calories need not be taken into consideration, and the world (parents and yayas included!) was more tolerant and forgiving of processed snacks, chocolates and candy. Oh, and let’s not forget afternoon naps. I hated how, to me then, it always meant time away from playing under the sun with my little friends — but, now that I am an adult, with real responsibilities and a daily workload, each chance to slip away from the crowd and take a quick nap feels like such a gift.

I am thankful for our cook Liza, and the way she makes perfectly scrambled or poached eggs, which I eat with toast. Then there is my favorite Vanilla Nut Milk from Juju, and the fresh mushrooms I love eating air-fried. It tastes so good, crispy outside but soft and plump inside, I can trick myself into thinking I am eating chicharon bulaklak. We have a gardener, Rafael, who should be cloned. He makes sure there are fresh flowers around the house, but efficient as he is, the tasks he takes on include that of messenger, dog trainer, driver. I have all these lovely, fancy vases, wedding gifts all. For the longest time they were just nesting in boxes, perfect and pristine, too beautiful to use. Or so I always felt. When we moved to our renovated home last year, I gave away practically half of all that we had in storage, unapologetically taking out into the sunshine and making use of all that I once upon a time thought too special for a daily basis.

Every day is beautiful. Not always perfect, but always there is some “special” in it to be had. I want to celebrate every day, to look around every corner of our home and find many things to take pleasure in.

Speaking of that, allow me a moment to remember more: favorite books I’ve read over and over again that make me smile when I see them on the bookshelf, as if they were old friends, white rice and bacon, breakfast food for dinner, the hot love between Olivia Pope and Fitz Grant and Olivia Pope and Jake Ballard, a fresh bar of finely-milled soap, gracious living as seen in Downton Abbey, brave friends who speak their minds and collapse in giggles over red wine and good food (hello Kimi, Susan, Q!), best friends like Denise that I can always count on. Then there are all those funny conversations between my teenager and her Daddy, little plans they make and keep from me until the very last minute when I have no choice but to sigh and laugh in resignation and say “Okay” (hello, field trips and competitions that will take them miles away from home). I guess I will have to live with the adventurous, sporty streak they both have so much of running in their veins.

Often, we find peace in the strangest of things — homemade hot soup, the perfection of scrambled eggs, stretching yourself to do something you don’t want to but have to simply because it is right, making an effort to not make a big deal out of anything uncomfortable and being rewarded with how things just fall into place ultimately, taking many leaps of faith, some just bigger than most, the kindness of strangers. There is much to be thankful for: Sam Smith’s Stay With Me, a rosary blessed by the Pope, wind blowing through the window as I write this, wine-colored lipstick, late nights in St. Marc’s Café with Salted Milk Croissant and Royal Milk Tea, the happiest of friends, my sister’s son Valiant running around the house or driving his little yellow truck, my wonderful family, my sturdy, reliable, loving husband.

Today’s happy thought comes in the shape of a round table, covered with fabric in blue gingham, which was a Christmas gift from Tita Meging. I had it set up under the beautiful mango tree by our backyard and there I will bring my pencils, or my notebook, and write and draw with both heart and hands. The day will end right.

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