Juliana learns to rock

What do you want to be when you grow up?’ I asked my daughter Juliana one day. “I want to be a rock star!” she said emphatically with a toothless grin. That was three years ago. Now that she’s seven years old, that dream is still alive. She still wants to be a rock star. Like Avril Lavigne, she says.

I always thought she would want to have a big party, like the first two she had, but up until two weeks before her 7th birthday she did not want anything like that. In fact, she did not want anything close to a party at all. She said all she wanted was to blow her candles on a birthday cake and go to the mall and buy rock-star clothes.

A week before her special day she changed her mind. She said she had decided on a photo shoot instead — at Blow Up Babies in Serendra. She had it all figured out. Apparently, five of her closest friends also wanted to be rock stars and they wanted to live out their fantasy, if only for a day.

Two years ago she had a photo shoot at Blow Up Babies and they turned her into a flapper girl for one layout and a ballerina in the next. She loved the experience so much and at that moment I realized once again just how much little girls really love to play dress-up, perhaps even more than adults do.

I remembered how I loved to play dress-up myself and one of my fondest childhood memories was doing just that. Mommy and daddy had a party to go to and we were left under my late Tita Liclic’s care who was then visiting from Cebu with her daughter Johanna. Forever fun to be with, she was always the first to initiate playtime and we loved that she never had rules. We could stay up past our bedtime, we could use real cutlery when we played “cooking-cooking,” we could skip dinner and just gorge on junk food, hotdogs and candy, we could watch all the horror movies we wanted to and stay up till sunrise.

That was Tita Liclic: absolutely no rules. Your rule was the rule. That night she allowed us to play with real makeup. Well, it started that way but then she took over and made us up. Hours later — in blue eye shadow, pink blush and bright red lipstick —  my sister Caren, my cousin Johanna and I were in my mom’s high heels.

For clothes we had on mommy’s half-slips. I remember the plastic yellow gift ribbons that she snaked and crisscrossed around our arms and legs and the only photo we have of that night shows the three of us looking very much like Spartans/gladiators in the guest room of our home on Bonifacio St., smiling happily into the camera.

We were little girls believing with all our heart that dressing all grownup was enough to make us exactly that.

Anyway, that is another story altogether.

For now allow me to marvel about how times have changed. Our parties then were all about prim party dresses, lace-trimmed socks and shiny-as-nail-polish patent shoes. The cakes would either be simply square, round or rectangular, covered in butter cream icing and with a crude ceramic doll on top, and for giveaways we would have little bags of candies or an assortment of chocolate coins and little toys from the pabitin and piñatas.

Now the kids want gatherings with a theme. Before, it was a the-more-the-merrier kind of party; today it’s all about tight little circles where the giveaways are decidedly more elaborate but not necessarily more expensive.

“How many little girls will you bring along, Juliana?”

“Just five, mommy.”

But days before the Saturday when it was all going to happen, I found out that she had invited whoever she met or talked to in that week-long span so there was a total of about 20 kids on her list already. Everything had to be rushed because it was going to be quite a party after all!

The kids were asked to come in their rock star outfits and her Tita Cristalle took care of the giveaways, black bags that looked like guitars, stuffed with rock-star accessories like cocktail rings, necklaces and bracelets with black beads, rhinestone dangling and stud earrings, pearls (yes, rock stars wear pearls!), badges, lots of bling! All this they used as props.

I lined their eyes with thick black liner, rubbed pale pink lipstick on their lips, dabbed shimmer powder on their cheeks. Aside from what they had on, they had a blast going through the costumes and accessories at Blow Up Babies, going crazy with the outrageous wigs, hats, feather boas and a hodge-podge of bling available there.

At first they were a bit stiff, shy even, hesitant to shout or say “yo” or “yey” or whatever it is that rock stars say when they pose in front of the camera. But the staff at Blow Up Babies excellently dealt with their apprehensions and in no time at all the kids were rockin’. They had such a good time we practically had to drag them out of the studio to bring them down to Marta’s where they were going to be kids again, decorating mini cakes and cookies, while enjoying snacks and old-fashioned thick milkshakes served in chunky glasses.

Marta made a guitar shaped pound cake (the best pound cake I have tried in my life!) that my daughter adored. She was happy, her guests were happy and Richard and I were happy that everybody was happy.

At home that night, I ate more of the pound cake. And almost every other week thereafter I would ask the driver to buy me pound cake from Marta’s. He comes home with the cupcake version. Whenever Richard goes to Makati he knows I will be doubly happy to see him back home with a pound cake from Marta’s as pasalubong. That is my favorite for now. As I write this I am again craving for pound cake and I know I will ask the driver to get me some tomorrow. You must try it yourself. It is delicious.

Meanwhile, my seven-year-old rock-star daughter who dreams of being a rock star when she grows up still talks about the party she had at Blow Up Babies.

She says that when she turns 18 she wants to have another rock star party there.

Tricks and treats

I don’t think Halloween is celebrated as much anywhere in the Philippines as it is here in Manila. I lived all of 23 years not being aware that trick-or-treating was not exclusive to the US. Having grown up in a place where we did not make merry once October 31 or the nearest weekend before it rolled by, I was more than a little surprised that it was a big to-do here. In terms of intensity, I think it matched my bewilderment upon discovering how bananas and coconuts were actually bought here in this big city for quite a high price (they are practically free where I’m from, maybe because they grow most everywhere in abundance)!

So on my first Halloween in Manila as a new bride, Richard and I were passive participants in the colorful party that zoomed by the streets in the village where we live. While the gates and doors of our neighbor’s houses were trimmed in what I would call gothic cheer, we gave in to the demands of the season by simply getting several sacks full of treats and giving them away. For nine years running now, it is always the candies and popcorn from Bench Bytes, nuggets of the always delicious Chocnut, and Oishi.

We would sit by the gate and give them all away, to little kids and tweeners, mommies and daddies too, who were dressed either as witches, superheroes, monsters or some famous candy bar. That was enough then.

But then, like yawning, the whole activity became contagious and pretty soon we were sprucing up our own Halloween décor, a little bit more with each passing year. I remembered the hideous masks my younger brothers had as little boys, the same ones they, together with our Tito Gabby and Tito Rico (mommy’s brothers), used to frighten and torment the help and relatives alike. They had outgrown it by then but my mom, being a pack rat, had saved the leathery things — still in tip-top shape — in a drawer in Ormoc. My sister mailed them to me and our drivers here made bodies for them out of sticks that crisscrossed here and there. Clothed in denim and wearing shirts stuffed with plastic-wrapped bundles of crushed newspaper, the monsters were life-size and would either sit or stand or crouch intermittently along the perimeter of our gate.

On a trip to the States a long, long time ago when he was still single, Richard had also bought a huge mask that was the size of maybe eight heads. He had actually bought two of them, but we could find only one. It does not have a scary face but looks enchanted in a dwarfish kind of way — like a wise something, neither bad or good, and he sits there as if he is the master of them all.

When Juliana was two years old, which was year four of our marriage, we went around the village trick or treating too, pushing Juliana who was dressed as a little Chinese girl in her stroller. I lined her upper lash line with black liner, turned up on the sides with a flourish to make her round eyes look more Chinese, and rubbed some bright red lipstick on her lips. I was dressed sort of Chinese-like, too, while Richard was decked out as a soldier. What we were supposed to represent as a family, I do not know, but individually we were dressed like that. I remember going home that day with almost enough candy to fill a traveling bag. And since Juliana was too young to desire candy, Richard and I ate more than just a few until we felt sick and decided that that much candy is indeed for the little ones, literally. At a certain point, you just plain outgrow it, the way you would outgrow thumb-sucking or drinking milk from a feeding bottle.

For a couple of years after that Juliana was some princess or the other until she turned five and she wanted to be Darna while her best friend was Wonder Woman. They wore their sexy costumes with their black Barbie boots and romped around with long hair and round bellies, believing and proclaiming to one and all that they really had superpowers. They were the only ones brave enough to wear that kind of costume then: it actually looked like swimwear if not for the stars and the headpiece and the thick, glittery arm bands and I personally think that was their cutest costume to date. I always just let them be, allowing them to be whoever they wanted to be; allowing them (to their obvious delight) to gorge on as much candy as they wanted until the sun went down and the festivities dwindled.

They are a happy bunch. The kids of our old maids who have since left to start families of their own and our labandera’s many grandchildren join in the fun and they move around in a whole pack, a merry mix of little people dressed as big people or animals.  Last year Juliana decided to be a Bratz doll-cum-cheerleader and this year I am quite sure she will want to be a rock star. All signs say a rock star she will be.

One particular Halloween, as the crowd of trick-or-treaters peaked late in the afternoon, Richard wore a mask, wrapped a big blanket around his shoulders, and sat on a chair beside the non-living monsters, staring into space, very still. Or so it seemed. But soon as the bigger kids came by to ask for treats he would spring from his chair quickly and practically frighten the unsuspecting bunch out of their costumes and wits. He did the same to not just a few adults, too. That was just for that one year because I was seriously scared someone would faint on our doorstep out of sheer fright. It was delightfully funny to watch, though, and we would all have mirthful tears running down our cheeks. If not for the potential hazard it poses I would ask him to do it — please, please — every year. But for the fainthearted, it is not.

Last week I actually asked someone where I could get gourds — to scatter around the garden — but yesterday my husband-who-loves-to-do-the-grocering (he would go every other day if he had the time and come home after each visit with just as much stuff as the first day!) bought me and Juliana the next best thing which he found in S&R — five big pumpkins! Since I was out of the house when he arrived and our excited daughter could not wait, they carved out faces on three and left two for me to do. It was a lot of fun doing it, experiencing it especially for the first time and through Juliana’s eyes. He taught me how to cut the head at an angle so we can put it back on snugly like a lid and together we scooped out enough flesh and all of the pumpkin seeds inside to create a neat space. He leveled the bottom where the candle would sit and Juliana did the honors by lighting the wick with a torch gun.

The monsters sitting on our gate seem happy with the new company they keep.

Who knows what we will add next year?

Getting rid of life’s clutter

My body is now paying for my hectic schedule over the past three weeks. It is Day 2 of my stay-in-the-room-and-just-get-some-rest schedule. My throat doctor, Dr. Pacio, says it is a viral thing and I should be okay in three to five days.

There were moments during that hectic period when I was given time to breathe, thankfully, but these were few and far between — never long enough for me or my body to feel that I/it actually had a break, some form of quiet respite. Not that I’m complaining. Work is always a blessing, especially if you enjoy it so much that it motivates you to jump out of bed in the morning, looking happily forward to what surprises the day may bring. They say if you truly love what you do, you never have to work a day in your life.

Of the maybe 50 and one ways there are to relax, my top three would have to include sleeping, reading and marathon DVD viewing on my laptop while wearing earplugs. As such, I have been watching seasons one to three of Grey’s Anatomy, and old movies like Terms of Endearment, Same Time Next Year, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Somewhere In Time. I am eyeing Lovers in Paris and Winter Love Song next — a series of Koreanovelas that my Tita Monette from Cebu swears by. She stays up till 4 a.m., watching their “reel” lives unfold, crying, falling in love with guys named Bae Yong Joon and Lee Dong Gun in real life. I’m curious, plus I am a sucker for love stories, so I, too, will watch. Soon. Plus those Korean guys look cute in their DVD cover photos.

I would include puttering around the house doing household chores as a close fourth but I always end up feeling tired in a happy kind of way at the end of that — tired after all the physical activity, happy knowing that things are as they should be, where they should be.  Orderly cabinets in orderly rooms in an orderly house always make for a kind of peace only housewives/mothers can fully comprehend.  But despite that pleasing end, cleaning/organizing is something I must not do just yet. I need to rest and that is what I should do now.  Practical wisdom dictates that. I do not know if staring guiltlessly into space, catching myself smiling at happy thoughts, frowning at and shooing away bothersome ones if and when they do come, and generally just making my mind wander where it wants to go counts as a fluid form of R&R, but I try not to indulge in that too much.  Daydreaming is a privilege teenagers have during summer break. It is no longer mine to always have as I please.

So here I am in bed feeling sluggish even after 10 hours of sleep, with hardly any appetite, my sore throat bugging me, my thoughts to keep me company, and despite all that I harbor still a strong urge to make this forced downtime productive. Oh, the things I could do, want to do, with five straight free days plus a long weekend at my disposal! I would happily not know where to begin. I know the room adjacent to the basement could use some work. I had removed the ugly blue cabinets that used to be there. It was not ugly at the beginning but after some time it became so and I do not know why it took me so many years to see that. It was much too big for the space it was in and because the doors would not open fully as they should, they did not even serve their purpose well. I had them removed two weeks ago and when I checked just yesterday the newly empty space was already filled (again!) with collapsible tables and chairs, some storage boxes, sacks of pretty but empty bottles and a bag full of extra hangers… it drives me crazy. Not the fact that they are there, but that they are there when they shouldn’t be.

I think what exasperates me more is how easy it is for my girls and/or drivers to fill an empty space. Like it is a mortal sin to have an empty space to begin with. Outside our bedroom door, alongside the wall lined with bookshelves I placed a beautiful wooden bench so we could have a place to sit on when we put on our shoes. And what do you know? It has become the official bagsakan, a depot of sorts for stuff we need to carry when we leave the house or stuff we bring when we get home. Ironically, there is hardly an inch of space for anyone to sit on while putting on shoes. Remember, that was the reason I placed it there in the first place. Why, I ask myself — the house girls, my daughter, my husband — is this bench always chock-full of odds and ends? Because there is space for it, we all resignedly agree.

Truly, it does not take a genius to figure that out. Come to think of it, that is the case with any empty space, whether it is a bookshelf, a room, a toiletry kit, or a person’s heart, even. Shouldn’t there be more careful thought given to the act of filling? A self-imposed decree of thoughtfulness, applied to all things big and small? In fact, before you buy that new sofa, order two more sets of tableware, get one more jacket, three more pairs of shoes shouldn’t the question after “Do I really need it?” be “Do I have the space for it?” And in matters of the heart or life, shouldn’t the question be “Will I feel better, will I be happier with this person, this thought, that new hobby, that dream?”

I remember what I read in one of my books, about how God cannot have a place in your life because all the spaces are filled to the brim with everything else but Him. So perhaps every day, in little bits and pieces, we must learn to empty out — the many drawers and rooms in our homes, the far-too-many entries in the calendar, the dark pockets in our hearts, making space for not only what we choose to have in our lives but also that which will make life more positive and beautiful in every way. Letting go has its sweet rewards.

In a wedding I attended recently the priest in his beautiful sermon said that what fascinates you, what captures your imagination, is what motivates you to get up from bed in the morning. Joel Osteen says it is important to always think the right thoughts because your thoughts direct your actions.

Why am I feeling under the weather in the first place? I took on too much. I cluttered my days with far too many things. Even if I knew I had to be up early the following day for work I would stay up late finishing the book I could not put down, I would squeeze in one tiny chore that would lead to yet another. I did not realize I was acting like I was superwoman even if I obviously wasn’t. I said “yes” to too many things, and I topped all that with more activities that I felt would relax me from the toll the former had taken. Not a very bright idea, really. Ultimately, I just ended up with a very exhausted me.

I am thinking about all that as I stay in bed, still debating whether or not to fight my fatigue and give in to my restless need to do something, anything, more productive than just lying down doing nothing. I listen to my body and try to remind myself that I owe myself this downtime, that I need not do anything more than just enjoy the calm space. Even if there is still that room adjacent to the basement to fix, Juliana’s bookshelves to sort through, the clothes she has outgrown to put away. Never mind if I have to really start organizing my Christmas list (we only have about 70 days to go before Christmas!), find my missing address book, update the paperwork piling up on my desk.

When I do not have “me time” I desire it, feeling it is a rare delight; but when it is finally there, why do I feel guilty about enjoying it?  That thought clutters my mind. Here I am, holding a chunk of time I can truly call my own and yes, oh yes, that should give me pleasure.  It does and I should not fight it. That gives me pleasure despite my sore throat, my tired joints and my wandering, cluttered mind. It is a pleasure I will, this very minute, start enjoying guiltlessly.

Happy housewife

I accomplished much this week. Somewhere between the rhythm of work and leisure I was able to make things happen, and I mean that in a purely housewife-y sense. As far as housekeeping is concerned, I find that it is better to just make a go of something — anything — as soon as the desire is felt. Better than putting it off for another day or a later hour, it is better to just attack as soon as you can. So when I randomly opened a cabinet under the buffet table as I walked by the dining room that one afternoon after I had picked up Juliana from school and saw my pretty tableware in happy disarray, I just dropped whatever it was I had set out to do just before that (finish the last few chapters of the book I was reading), got down on my knees and, with the help of two house girls, emptied out the two deep cabinets of all that they contained. I had taught the girls how I wanted it arranged in the past but the eyesore before me made me realize that each time something had been used, it was rarely returned to the exact same place after it was washed and dried. Though they had done a good job of keeping everything sparkling clean, items that belonged to one and the same set were not all together as they should be.

The work did not stop there because I saw dozens of cups and little plates that rightfully belonged to two other cabinets in the kitchen among the ones I had taken out from the cabinets under the buffet table, so I had to fix that as well. All in all we rearranged and organized the contents of four cabinets and 12 shelves and by the time we finished a couple of hours later, I was tired but happy.

Now, my plates and bowls and cups and saucers are organized in neat little piles and clusters, and it looks easier on the eyes. It always feels good when you know that things are where they should be, in your house as well as in your life.

Two days before that I had also emptied out the basement and walk-in pantry, ruthlessly weeding out stuff that I knew would be put to better use by someone else. That is something I learned from Richard who hardly gets attached to any one tangible thing while I get attached to almost everything, especially if it was a wedding gift. It is not always easy for me to let go and I get attached even to the punch bowl so ostentatiously ornate and gaudy that we have never used it and probably never will, because of its sentimental value. I found unused traveling bags and brand-new shoes, more plates and cutlery, three coffeemakers, strollers, blankets and frames, kitchen gadgets that I bought early in our marriage thinking it would make me a better cook (not!), pillows and the whole gamut of other odds and ends. I just decided to be ruthless about it all, giving most of it away, and our basement is all the better for it. There is space to move in there now and beginning this week I have high hopes it will cease to ever be the tambakan that it has been for a long time running. Adjacent to the basement is a smaller room that I still have to deal with, although that task is not as daunting as the bigger room.  Maybe I will do that over the weekend.

The slabs of cement in our garden have almost been completely removed and we have already planted Bermuda grass. The rain is making it grow fast and well.

Our Meralco bill is getting more exorbitant by the month, and I have made it my personal mission to lower it as much as I possibly can. We have installed ceiling fans in most of the rooms in the house and most recently our bedroom. When the days are cool and turning on the air conditioner is not necessary, I love staying under the ceiling fan while reading a book or checking my mail. I love the rhythmic whirring sound that reminds me so much of afternoon siestas back in the province. But at night when we sleep, until we all wake up and leave the house, it really has to be on.

For many years I also did not realize we were using halogen lights or that this was detrimental to the environment, so now we are switching to fluorescent. We had an aversion to fluorescent lighting before because it did not create a very nice ambience (I remember how Lola Carmen would always say that on a date every woman looks more lovely when illuminated by candlelight or any warm yellow light as opposed to the unforgiving fluorescent light that will make even the tiniest pore obvious); but even the more energy-efficient fluorescent bulbs now come in what they call a “warm white” luminescence. The electrician has promised me that when all the changes have been done we will still get the same effect, the same ambience, but for much less. And we will be doing the environment a favor as well. So yes, I’m excited to see how much lower our bill will be in time.

Speaking of our electrician, he has turned out to be such a blessing.  Compared to The-Electrician-Who-Never-Showed-Up or The-Electrician-Who-Was-Always-Late, he is very reliable and always does what he says he will do. He also does plumbing and is a walking human resource of painters, carpenters, even gardeners. Housekeeping becomes so much more the joy it was meant to be when there are efficient, reliable people always at the ready.

Also, about a month ago when I shot the Belo Essentials commercial together with Zsa Zsa Padilla and Regine Velasquez Cristalle Henares, Doc Vicki’s daughter, who is also O.C. about cleaning and organization, shared with me this cleaning solution called Goo Gone. I am so loving it because it just gets rid of every stubborn little thing! I use it to remove price stickers on all the books that come in from Amazon or the ones I get from Fully Booked, for stubborn dirt on metal doors, remote controls and just about anything. Between that, the LCD cleaning solution for laptops and computer screens, Lysol and Domex, Dyptique and Alice Blue candles, this housewife is a happy, less-stressed one.

It’s raining, it’s pouring

Talk about answered prayers. The past couple of weeks saw the whole nation gripped with fear of a drought, and in church after communion and before the final blessing, a special prayer for rain to come is sent heavenward.

The people knocked, and heaven answered, sending luscious, generous drops of rain here and there, admittedly maybe too much because classes have been suspended five times in two weeks because of it. Then again, maybe too much for us is just enough in God’s eyes. After all, He knows best. And the children are not complaining.  I see them everywhere, playing under the rain like it was a big, majestic shower made just for them.

* * *

It is raining in mid-August and already I am thinking and dreaming of Christmas. This always happens to me, at the same time every year. Back when I was in college, come August I would be playing Christmas songs on the car stereo, thinking up Christmas gifts and packages for my loved ones, wishing very prematurely for a fully trimmed Christmas tree. I always indulge myself, letting my mind go where it wants, if only because it is strangely beautiful, Christmas songs and thoughts on wet, gray August days.

* * *

It is a rainy night and I am curled under white sheets, sleepy, but I refuse to give in.  I just started on a new book I bought, Poet of the Appetites: The Lives and Loves of M.F.K. Fisher by Joan Reardon, and I cannot, will not, put it down. It is one of those books that I cannot seem to get enough of; as I go deeper and deeper into the story I cannot wait to finish it but that being so, I also feel sad that at some point I will get to the last page. Short of reading it all over again like I sometimes do with books I really love, I know the pleasure will end at some point. There will be other books to enjoy I know but it will be a different journey altogether. Yes, I am already sleepy but still I press on. I am enjoying the graceful voice of her words as she writes about the woman whose books and style of writing I so love. I am enjoying this book as much as I do the rhythmic murmur of rain as it falls down and splashes across our closed bedroom windows. I have drawn up the shades and I could not be in a better place — on my bed, with a great book, sandwiched between the daughter I adore and the man I love; where I do not only hear rain, I see it, too.

* * *

It is still raining at midnight and I’m craving a sandwich, any of the ones I have tried and grown to love over the years. The decadent Liberty Condensed Milk-in-pandesal and butter-and-sugar sandwiches of my childhood; the grilled cheese sandwiches I loved at first bite; the fried chicken from Max’s that Richard buys just so we can chop it up and pull apart the meat, then mix it with Ladies Choice sandwich spread and diced celery for the best chicken sandwich filling ever. I also am craving Marilu’s homemade cheese pimiento sandwich, the same one she serves in the canteen in the Bench head office, and Mommy Susan’s (the mom of Gelli and Janice de Belen) tuna with celery and mayonnaise sandwich filling.  I also desire the simple hard-boiled egg and mayonnaise sandwiches that Tita Liclic used to make into baon during picnics and trips via Sulpicio Lines back in the early ‘80s, the generous filling peeking naughtily from beneath the slabs of bread that always threatened to smear the corners of the mouth and drip down the chin with every hungry bite. And then there is the unassuming, underrated tomato sandwich: just four perfect slices of fat, juicy fresh tomatoes, sprinkled with rock salt and pepper on toasted bread — a testament to how something so simple can really be so great.

* * *

It is raining and we have started fixing our garden. We have removed the slabs of cement that punctuated the space in neat rows and have planted Bermuda grass in its place. Juliana and her friends will have more space to play and softer ground to fall on, and Richard and his friends can practice their baseball drills, pitching and catching to their heart’s content without any encumbrance. The landscape artist will start beautifying the space and in no time at all I will have the green space I have so wanted for quite some time now. Yes, soon it will be the green, lush carpet I dream it to be.

* * *

I know I will wake up to another rainy day tomorrow and already I think I will feel like enjoying cups of hot chocolate made with Alpine milk.  Somehow it tastes different when it is with Alpine milk. Oh, the sweet smell of rain. It is pouring but I’m not complaining. All the stories and memories it unleashes always make for a sentimental kind of happy.

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