Books, coffee and milk tea

It’s been raining hard the whole day.
There is something about a rainy day that brings to my mind books, and hot drinks in pretty cups, and watching (again) classic love stories I have already seen. I do not know why it is so, it just is. I see/hear rain and I just want to spend the whole day in bed with my books and the sound of little feet padding around, knowing too that any other room in our home my husband would happen to be in, chances are, he would have before him good coffee or a pot of tea.

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The happiness list

Stuck in traffic on a rainy day with only a notebook and pen to keep me sane, I share with you the happy list I came up with in the 47 minutes it took me to get to my destination… I hope you enjoy it and are encouraged to make your own, sometime soon, with the rainy weather as your perfect backdrop.

Happiness is:

• Enjoying a bowl of lomi on a rainy day;

• Waking up to a child’s chubby arms and legs entangled with yours;

• Secretly watching your daughter play dress up;

• At 32, having a dad who still finds time and reason to leave a bowl of your favorite fruits on your work table the way he always did while you were growing up;

• Parents who still call you by that little nickname you grew up with;

• Treating myself to Nestlé Premium Full Cream Milk after a hard day’s work;

• The low-fat version after a lazy, slow day;

• Eavesdropping on an innocent conversation between toddlers;

• Handwritten letters received by snail mail;

• Classic pancakes from Pancake House, mocha cake from Goldilocks, and Bread Pan from Oishi, Jack & Jill Chippy and Potato Chips forever in your pantry;

• Candid photos that capture a moment in time perfectly;

• A great love story;

• Orlando Bloom cast in the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy (a fourth, fifth, sixth still with him in it… please…);

• Great onscreen romances and kisses;

• Holding hands with the one you love while watching the news;

• Chai latte from Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf;

• A man’s strong legs;

• Mashing your face against the crook of a child’s neck, knowing that she smells like cookies and rain at any time of the day;

• Waking up to find the one you love staring at you;

• Watching him as he sleeps;

• Finding a pair of shoes you adore and, upon buying them, realizing they are on sale!

• Walking out of a bookstore armed with a pack of books picked at random, not because they came highly recommended or had great reviews, but simply because the title spoke to you, the cover design reminded you of that great summer, a beautiful time in your past, or a secret hope for your future;

• Balancing your checkbook;

• Knowing you have an extra 15 minutes before you really have to get up from bed;

• Lingering in bed on Sundays;

• Waking up to the sound of rain, falling asleep again, and finally waking up to find out that, yes, it still is raining out there;

• A tomato sandwich — yes, just buttered toast and fat slices of fresh tomatoes sprinkled with salt and pepper;

• Staying up till dawn and knowing that you do not have to be up early the following day;

• Being able to laugh or smile about something that once made you cry;

• Baby pictures;

• A new box of crayons and sharp scissors;

• Friends who pass the bar;

• Waiting for the next baby to come;

• An unexpected kiss from your husband in the middle of the day;

• Watching the one you love walk across the room;

• Lighting a scented candle;

• Receiving a rosary as pasalubong from out of nowhere;

• Having a mother with a great sense of humor who laughs hard and prays even harder;

• Having priests and nuns for friends;

• Crazy girlfriends who make you laugh, who cry with you, who cheer you on;

• Grilled cheese sandwich and chocolate chip cookies from Gretchen’s Kitchen;

• Dinners with Ben and Miguel, Tito Ver and Tita Ne, and Keren Pascual;

• Knowing that your parents are still crazy about each other even after 34 years together;

• Running into a classmate from elementary whom you have not seen since grade school (hello, Pereger Canin!);

• Almost nine years after graduation, finding the classmate in college you always meant to thank for helping you pass your math subjects (thank you, Gligorick Garupa!);

• Instant noodles;

• Knowing that I will never outgrow parlor games, fairy tales and cartoons and books about Amelia Bedelia;

• High school pictures and yearbooks;

• Witnessing how your younger brothers fall in love;

• Doodling on paper;

• Lysol Spray in Linen Scent;

• Having an older sister who loves you in many funny ways and days;

• The first happy thought after your heart has been broken;

• Househelp who stay with you forever and ever and become like family;

• The smell of garlic being sautéed when you’re hungry;

• Al dente pasta anytime;

• Having a husband who touches your face after kissing you hello;

• All four CDs of Rod Stewart’s “Great American Songbook”;

• Staring at the Boracay sunset, enjoying its many pastel hues;

• Building sandcastles;

• Dancing the rumba;

• A child’s drawing;

• Finding a cheap pen that makes your handwriting look oh-so-nice;

• Pressing the “Send” button on the computer and knowing that you have met yet another deadline;

• Getting the call you have long been waiting for;

• The arrival of your magazine subscriptions;

• Reading and re-reading Gilda Cordero-Fernando’s The Last Full Moon;

• Finding notes and letters you forgot you had;

• Love letters my Lolo Julio wrote to my Lola Carmen, kept in a tin box;

• Crocheted and embroidered linens and things;

• Milk and honey;

• A freshly made bed and the sun’s rays making the room bright;

• The sound of music, ocean waves, and a child’s giggles;

• Peanuts with Coke;

• Buttered popcorn;

• Watching The Notebook and reading The Bridges of Madison County over and over again;

• A long embrace;

• Books by Ruth Reichl;

• Fresh flowers in a nice vase in your home even when there is no occasion;

• Baroque pearls and finding the perfect pair of jeans;

• Wearing a dress;

• Guiltlessly daydreaming;

• Praying to God that His will be done and meaning it;

• Five nights in Hong Kong;

• New notebooks with crisp pages;

• Ube ice cream;

• Being able to laugh at myself;

• Realizing that, slowly but surely, many of my little dreams are coming true;

• Loving my work so much it feels more like play;

• Loving the people I work with even more;

• Marrying the one I have loved since I was 13 years old;

• Knowing that there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that you cannot pray for and talk to God about;

• Knowing that He always listens;

• The gift of family and real friends;

• Making wishes and finding out that, more often than not, they do come true;

• Wrapping presents thoughtfully, lovingly;

• Learning to ride a bike, falling, and getting up again;

• The feel of baby oil and lotion on my skin after a hot shower;

• Wearing beautiful under-wear;

• Saved text messages;

• Little presents packaged in many pretty ways from my Tita Inday;

• Afternoon siestas;

• The summers you spent as a child;

• Falling asleep in the spoon position;

• Knowing that you are entitled to your one last cry;

• Listening to the iPod uploaded with inspirational audio books that Kris gave me;

• Knowing that you are loved and appreciated;

• Walking in the rain;

• Buying school supplies;

• Having your heart broken into pieces and knowing that this, too, will pass;

• David beating Goliath;

• Laughing until tears fall from my eyes;

• Dreaming big dreams and believing that they can come true;

• The first time I tried bagels with cream cheese;

• Eating in a restaurant with your one great love and hearing your song being played on the piano;

• OPM;

• Knowing that I can call a wise man like Tito Dougs any time of the day;

• Making lists like this and knowing that even when I have already filled 10 notebooks with entries about what makes me happy, there will always be reason to fill up 10, even 20 more.

Happiness is the beginning of joy. Go on, make your own list too, and find yourself smiling along the way. Happy Sunday everyone and to all the dads out there, Happy Father’s Day! To my dad, thank you for being the kind of dad that you are, have been, always will be to me; Caren, Matt and Jules, even to Mommy. You are one of our greatest blessings and we love you very much. To my husband Richard, I only have to see how you spend and make time with Juliana to understand how much she adores you. You are her hero, and I say mine, too. Thank you for so much.

* * *

Announcement: On June 16 and 30, July 14 and 28, there will be an information seminar about migrating to Australia. For those interested, you may call 744-5893 or 0918-9037200, or e-mail for more details.

Remembrance of glorious food past

It has been a few weeks since I got back from Ormoc where I spent the holidays and still my body clock is on provincial and vacation mode. By that I mean I still am traipsing on what others might call an idyllic pace – languishing just a bit longer under the sheets when it is obviously time to get up in the morning, savoring my meals leisurely, burying my nose in the pages of a good book, staying home and doing my chores while listening to music, watching Barefoot Contessa, Sweet Dreams, and Molto Mario on the Lifestyle Channel, picking up a little crafting activity here and there, or just smelling the roses, so to speak. Of course, the pace is 10 notches below the ideal because I am back in the hustle and bustle of my life here in Manila, once again busy as a bee, but a shot of restfulness still flows through my veins.

I love the quiet charm of the rural setting. Somehow, I always feel that the pace it offers just gracefully pulls us back to where things matter the most – the present. That is where life is meant to be lived and savored.

Living life in the present moment – yes, that perhaps is the greatest bit of wisdom I have learned to appreciate from centering prayer and my Aunt Fergie last year, and I wish I could share with all of you just how that came to be. Maybe one day, in the distant future, I will tell you about it, but not just yet. I want it to be all mine for now.

Idyllic in Ormoc: that is how it was for me, I guess that is how it always will be. It will forever be my shelter, my place of healing, where I will recharge and fill my cup once more when life in the big city has already emptied out so much from it. It is my celestial territory, my heaven on earth (aside from my husband’s arms and Juliana’s smile).

There was a time when I thought I could not live in the province anymore after being in Manila and enjoying its amenities for so long. But after almost two weeks in Ormoc, I know I can. And I will be just as happy, just as content.

I really do love the simple life. I love the multiplicity of home industries that seem to be attached to every province. I love the close-knit community (it can be both a boon and a bane, although I still think the former still reigns supreme over the latter), the genuine warmth, and the lack of pretenses.

Growing up, the many sukis we had were never just nameless faces. The fruit vendor was a plump old lady with a perpetual, toothless smile and shiny, ruddy cheeks: Her name was Manang Feliza. I have not seen her in a long time, I heard she has really gotten on in years, thus her children have already taken over the business. The manicurista was Belen (my grand dream when I was all of five years old was to be a manicurista because I so envied the bag she carried with all the wonderful shiny, thin tools and bottles of colorful polish that made my mom’s nails look so pretty), and when she passed away at a relatively young age, Nita took over. We never called her just Nita. There were many other Nitas we knew, so she was always referred to as Nita Manicurista, as if that were her family name. Ironically, after Nita came another Belen, actually short for Evelyn. Beauty salons and barbershops were practically unheard of and everyone availed of sukis who earned their keep doing home service.

When we needed clothes, we went to Tita Jeanette who owned and operated Dressmaking Etc. Manang Pedam was her master cutter and she always made such darling dresses for me, my sister, my mom, and the rest of Ormoc. Tita Jeanette and her girls made the nicest embroidery, and it made every piece of clothing look extra special.

Our tailor was Manoy Nestor, a quiet man with a small frame, who spoke softly and moved gently. He sewed impeccably and made the best-fitting trousers. We never bought ready-to-wear because the fit always paled in comparison to the ones Manoy Nestor made. Sadly, he passed away a few years back, and now Manoy Billy, a robust, perennially smiling man, has taken his place. He sews just as well. Pilar is the one who makes everyone’s curtains and in true provincial fashion, she operates not from a shop but from her own home.

I remember that growing up, everyone in the family loved to eat sha-e (or chicharon bulaklak as it is more popularly known) and Tonio Bungi always delivered a freshly cooked batch at least twice a month. If you must know, he also sold odds and ends of stuff, including spare parts for motor vehicles, and my father always bought from him simply because he was entertained, plus my brother Jules was endlessly fascinated with how Tonio Bungi animatedly talked.

Freshly made bibingka was peddled by another old man, Manoy Tusong, and the kesong puti was delivered weekly by a mild-mannered man from Valencia, one of the neighboring towns. I forget his name.

The sweepstakes my mother bought weekly from a blind lady, accompanied by her young daughter Mardi. Mardi is now a masahista also, and I heard her mother now lives in Australia with one of her children.

A bunch of happy characters they all were, and they peppered my childhood with many happy memories.

Often, Daddy would come home from a tennis game, balut vendor in tow, and right by the front door we would enjoy several rounds of the savory treat. With salt, of course, and cold soda: my favorite then was Mirinda. My sister and I so loved going to the tennis court to watch Mommy and Daddy play tennis, not because we really understood the game, but because we wanted to indulge in the chips, chocolate mallows, and chicken sandwiches that were just so, so deliciously prepared at the Boy Scout Canteen, which was located adjacent to the courts. The canteen was operated by Tita Glenda Yrastorza, who was the mother of Jimmy, one of my classmates from kinder all the way to high school. From her, you could also order pot roast with mashed potatoes on the side that to this day I still remember and salivate over for its unmatched delicious taste. The canteen and the tennis courts no longer exist, but my sister and I spent many happy afternoons there.

Daisy’s was the corner convenience store where everyone went, and Tita Daisy made the most delicious chocolate fudge bars. Her daughter Tina now has a dainty pastry shop called Tina’s Sweets, and she still makes the fudge plus to-die-for ube cake and fruitcake, of course, among a wealth of other desserts, each just as delicious as the next.

From the Pongos women came the most delightful treats. Tita Fe made yummy masapodrida, empanaditas, and pili bonbons, Tita Precy had the most delicious fresh lumpia (her daughter-in-law Faith now makes really delicious carrot cake that is moist and addicting), while Tita Ining whipped up the most heavenly sans rival and food for the gods. We always bought homemade mango ice candy from Manoy Pantang’s sari-sari store down Bonifacio St. where we lived before the flood. The best bodbod was from Lola Tuwang, who was the grandmother of two other good childhood friends and classmates, Benedict Tugonon and Eunice Malazarte.

After the flood, Ormoc became even more beautiful – The city has been named the cleanest and greenest not just once – but the warmth of the people and the raw charm of the city have remained the same. There are three hotels: Ormoc Villa, where my wedding reception was held, Don Felipe (I love their pizza), and Pongos Hotel. Tita Leny (Larrazabal) has beautiful plants and flowers; she operates Ormoc Petals, and last I heard, one of her daughters is going to open a restaurant in a garden setting. I cannot wait for that to happen. It would be lovely to have a place like that in the quiet of Ormoc.

There now also is a string of franchised establishments like Jollibee and Dunkin Donuts, but Mayongs, the local fast-food joint with the yummy schublig (my favorite) and the burgers sandwiched in homemade bread, still reigns supreme. They have a cult following that is as steady and sturdy as cement. There are also new local pizza joints there such as JCS’ (really yummy pizza dough), Tatta’s, and Chez Andre’s – all are delicious in their own special way. For lechon, there is Lorenzo’s and Songahid’s.

The best cassava cakes are from Ormoc’s Best, better known there as “cassava made by Flores,” and a version made with cheese and buko from a shop called Young Attitudes. I also love the cheese cupcakes from the Ormoc Ice Cream House, which my sister often sends me in bulk all the way here in Manila. Big Roy’s has yummy homemade food (their baboy sulop is delicious, and so are their crispy noodles, apple pie, and rum cake). Chito’s Chow, Sabin’s, Sal’s, and Zenaida’s also have consistently good, yummy comfort food.

The sweetest pineapples are from Ormoc, and you will not find a more delicious variety anywhere. The best are from Sabin, Poten, and Tito Ben Pongos. Somewhere down the street is always someone with the best chorizo, the best cassava cake, the best alfajores, the best chocolate cake, the best lumpiang shanghai. It is a city of many bests, we would always say. I guess every province is, and there lies its charm. Manang Virgie, the wife of Noy Delfin, made our tablea, or native chocolate, right at our backyard. By now, it will come as no surprise when I tell you that every time I am in Ormoc, I look forward to the many gustatory treats that all have sentimental appeal to me. The first thing I usually eat is Manang Resing’s perfect leche flan.

Our native suka comes from the farm. If marketed properly, it would make a killing in Manila. It is a grand treat as far as I am concerned. My sister sends me gallons of it by trucks that travel the Ormoc-Manila route.

As a new bride, we had barbecues almost every week in our backyard. Richard would instruct the cook to go to the wet market or the meat shop and tell the butcher to cut half-inch slabs of liempo that he would season oh-so-perfectly. I’m sure our guests had great-tasting sinugbang liempo at home, but they oohed and aahed over our version. I always said that was because the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Always, I would proudly teach them to eat it please with native suka from the farm in Ormoc. They oohed and aahed even more. I was so pleased I bought dozens of pretty bottles the first chance I got and they became instant giveaways. Lined on a tray on the countertop near the kitchen door leading to the main door, the native suka was there for the grabbing by anyone who fancied it before going home. And I would be the happiest to see the tray empty at the end of the evening.

My biggest culture shock in Manila was that bananas and coconuts were actually bought. In the province, they grew in abundance and were easily plucked from trees. In our backyard was a tree that gave us sweet santol. We also had tambis and mansanitas, which we used as bullets for our tirador and luthang (handcrafted crude weapons, local versions of David’s slingshot).

There were no big shops, so there were a lot of PX goods and odds and ends from the bigger neighboring cities, like Manila and Cebu, that were tossed into huge bags and peddled from house to house. There were many good business opportunities for the enterprising ones. Mommy bought tela by the dozen from Tita Glenda and Tita Betty, and these, of course, were fashioned into pretty clothes copied from thick catalogs by talented, local seamstresses. When Dressmaking etc. closed shop, we relied on the wives of our farmhands to make our clothes.

There was nothing our panday, Manoy Dadong and Manoy Susing, could not make. From functional, real furniture to the miniature ones I needed for my dolls while at play, Noy Dadong and Noy Susing made them all with the same dedication and attention to detail. If we needed bedsheets, we did not go to a department store. We went to a fabric store (like King’s, operated by Tita Anling) and bought bedsheet tela, and Manoy Nestor would then cut and sew them to size. Because there were many choices, our sheets were never just the plain, white ones. Instead, we had sheets to match whatever color the rooms were. Custom-made sheets at bargain prices, only in the province! Tell me, where can you find a better deal?

Ormoc is a community circled by real people living simple lives, quaint places, cottage industries, like colorful beads strung into a necklace. Living in Ormoc is like being in one of those villages from our childhood storybooks, where the butcher and the baker have names, lives and families you actually know, and the fish vendor just happens to be the father, brother, or grandfather of your househelp. Everyone practically knows everyone else. Things are simple, needs are simple, life is splendid!

It is a small happy world all unto itself.

And it always makes for such a delicious thought that I will always have the restful city that it is to retreat to.

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