Week 50: Move House

Week 50: Move House

One morning two months ago, we woke up in a different city, a different street, a different house (but the same beds). We’d moved house; and it sounded like the enthusiastic birdsong concerto outside was welcoming us to our new neighborhood.

That morning was the result of weeks of frenzied packing and purging. It culminated in 17 hours and four trips of loading, driving, and then unloading. For nine years, we lived in an old house that we loved, in the city that W and I grew up in. And then we decided to leave all that was familiar and move to a place where it’s normal to stop the car to let chickens and the occasional cow cross the street.


Cow demonstrating to driver who the real king of the road is in these parts

It wasn’t that crazy. The city was getting too crowded, noisy, stressful, and polluted. We wanted to raise the kids in an environment that was none of those things.

When we passed through the roads where we would eventually find our new home, it felt as if we were in another world–there where no traffic noises and four turkeys waddled across the street, oblivious of humans. Later on, we also saw a grazing goat, befuddling our city-bred dogs.

One night, my family and I spent some wonderful minutes standing on the porch watching fireflies illuminate the darkness. It was the first time the kids saw those bugs and were awestruck for all of two minutes. City-bred kids. They each got a room of their own, they were being fed, and there was wi-fi. All was right in the world, fireflies or no fireflies.


Gloria getting to know grass

Our dogs, Max and Gloria, had a more challenging time adjusting. Our old house was a bungalow with only four steps to climb. Our new house has a staircase of about 20 steps. Long-legged Max took his cue from the kids and learned to climb and descend the stairs in about 10 minutes. Gloria, who is vertically challenged and also overweight, couldn’t manage the stairs. It took half a day of us carrying her up and down the stairs before she figured out that she wouldn’t fall off. She now barrels up and down the staircase like a boss with a jet pack.


A good morning

On that first morning, though, there were no dogs running on the stairs, and no sounds from YouTube videos. There was only birdsong. We picked our way around unpacked boxes, luggage, sleeping dogs, and the general mess of moving to ogle at the view of trees and hills. The sun was up, turning the sky pink. We had our brand new day.


Week 49: Spend a weekend in a forest


A jungle jaunt deep into Quezon, Philippines

B and R go to a small school with a very tight-knit community. So when one of their classmates decided to spend his 10th birthday weekend in a forest, the whole class went along.

It was a riot waiting to happen.

We were going to Lilim Forest Conservatory in the municipality of Real, the province of Quezon, about five hours south of Manila. “There will be some rough roads right before we get there,” warned our host. No truer words were said. If I had a cell signal right then, I would have called for a helicopter to airlift us out of our Honda and deliver us at Lilim’s doorstep. But since there was no signal (also, I didn’t own a helicopter), I drove on. In millimeters, the three vehicles in our convoy navigated the rocks, muddy pits, and the sections of the road that were so narrow that our wheels on both sides skimmed the edges of the road. A half inch in the wrong direction and our vehicles would have fallen a foot off the cemented path.

When we arrived at Lilim, the sky was gray, it was drizzling, but the forest was serene. You wouldn’t have been able to tell, though, with the amount of childish chatter we brought along with us, disrupting the tranquility.

From the three-car parking lot carved into the foot of a hill, we climbed 211 steps to the mess hall. B went ahead with her friends. R, the second youngest in our group, stuck with me and proceeded to update me and everyone within hearing distance of his physical abilities.

“I’m not tired at all,” he announced to the air in front of him. Of course, he couldn’t have been tired because all he was carrying was a pair of slippers while everyone else was loaded down with bags and pillows. It went on until the 198th step, at which time I convinced him to say his words inside his head instead.

All around us were trees and grass, shrubs and wood. We walked on a path flattened by feet that had gone before us. The drizzle made the ground slightly slippery. And the chilly air—we could tell that what we were breathing was completely uncontaminated by anything manmade.

We reached a clearing from which several paths diverged—paths to the colorful cottages we would be staying in. After depositing our bags, we went for a tour.

More than a decade ago, Lilim was almost barren, a denuded forest. But one guy saw its potential. He bought the land and turned it around. He started planting trees of various species, and today, Lilim is a protected forest. Because of his efforts and help from the local government, illegal logging in this part of Quezon eventually dried up. It’s now home to several endangered and indigenous species of trees.

In the midst of these trees, there’s an ampitheater, a grotto with 15-foot statues of Jesus and Mary, an obstacle course, a swimming pool, and a viewing deck that looks out across a neighboring mountain of forests.

Halfway through dinner, the lights went out so we decided to retire to our cottages. Now, our cottage was designed to accommodate five people. That was just the right fit for me, another mom (N) and our children. However, we discovered that utter disregard for the rules took place that night. Our cottage ended up housing three moms and eight kids.

The moment those neanderthals children saw the mattresses lined up on the floor of the one-room cottage, they lost all manner of civility. Someone must have programmed their brains to use “beddings on the floor” as cue for “manic pillow fight.” The fact that they were doing it in near darkness (one candle provided light) added to their dementia. For an hour, they wrestled, pushed, pulled, sat on, piled on, and had a grand time.

At around 8:30, N and I almost managed to trick the kids into going to sleep. We just lay down and the children took it as a sign that they should go to sleep, too. We blew out the candle. And then a diabolical voice piped up in the darkness: “It’s just 8:30. It’s too early to go to sleep!” Up went eight heads simultaneously, and the candle was lit once again. They proceeded to play cards in the dark until they all passed out close to midnight.

The next day was still wet, cold, and gray, but we went ahead with our planned activity: walking into the forest and swimming in the river. After a 20-minute walk into the “wilderness,” we arrived at a field with a couple of football goals and an obstacle course. B, who normally abhors any activity that puts dirt on any part of her body, immediately climbed up the structure of horizontal logs and shimmied down the rope ladder on the other side, landing on mud in her bare feet. And then she did it again. And again. Happiness.


The musical river at the foot of the mountain

R fell sick halfway through our jungle jaunt so he and I had to go back to our cottage early. But B stayed on and, with her friends, jumped into the river. Nevermind that they had to walk 30 minutes back to the cottages. Nevermind that they did it in their wet clothes. Nevermind that it was so cold they “felt like ice cubes.” Nature has a way of making people love life to its most basic level.

And on that note, the weekend was over almost as soon as it began.  Lilim Forest Conservatory is a gem. We intend to visit it again, but this time with a moratorium on wrestling matches pillow fights.

Week 48: Kayak


Photo by Winston Baltasar

It was the perfect day for B to paddle her first kayak. The sun was out and was gently touching the earth–the harsh rays would come later. Our one-minute walk to the river took us through a grove of trees, a foot path that cut across an organic mini farm, and under a canopy of purple flowers that looked like fireworks in fauna form.

Our two guides had picked the tandem kayak that B and I would ride and were carrying it down to the river–Bancal river in Iba, Zambales (northern Luzon in the Philippines). We were spending the weekend at the Mango Grove at Bancal River and after a yummy organic breakfast of grilled dried fish, tomatoes, eggs, and fried rice, we were ready to sweat it out.

R was supposed to join us, but he took one look at the kayaks and decided he didn’t want to have anything to do with them. So he and W stayed on the riverbank and played with rocks. Meanwhile, B and I got into our life vests and did some practice paddle strokes.

“What if we drown?” B likes to get right to the point.

“We won’t,” I said.

“But what if we do?”

“Then you won’t have to have an early bedtime ever again.”

This comforted her, apparently, because she went straight to her seat and plunked down. We chose a good river for B’s first kayak ride. Bancal river is quiet and calm; none of that whitewater adrenaline rush, thank you. (I’m saving that for when B turns 13.) Upstream, as is the norm in provincial rivers, were a few locals washing clothes–Sunday was laundry day. Right across from us was a kid, about 6 years old, buck naked and swimming happily with his dog.

Our guides were on another tandem right beside us, in case our vests, natural buoyancy, and common sense would fail and bring us to peril. They pushed us into the river to get us going. The moment my paddle sliced through the water, I was transported back to the last time I’d been on a kayak. It was for a travel assignment and I was alone on a kayak in a cove early in the morning. It was one of the most peaceful moments I’ve ever felt.


Photo by Winston Baltasar

I started paddling. So did B, who was sitting in front of me. In two strokes, she had managed to soak my shorts. In four, she’d sprayed water all over my face.

“I think my paddle is too small for me,” she announced, unaware of the soaking efficiency of her paddle.

“That’s the perfect size for your hands and arms,” I told her. Our guides had given her a child-size paddle. It was yellow.

“Can we switch, just so I can check?” she asked me, her mother, who was, last time I checked, bigger than her. So was my paddle. We almost tipped ourselves over exchanging paddles mid-river. Our guides must have had the word “idiots” running through their head.

It was a little difficult paddling for two using a kiddie paddle, but it worked. B paddled when she felt like it. When she didn’t feel like it, she leaned back to an almost prone position, with her fingers skimming the water on both sides of the kayak. I was torn between continuing to paddle to give her this precious experience with nature and wanting to splash her on the face and tell her to pull her own weight. I compromised and splashed her hair, and only when our load got too heavy.

The sun’s rays got steadily hot. Despite that, our kayak run was a pretty one. We passed under a dark cluster of trees whose drooping branches formed an umbrella of leaves over the deeper part of the river, in the opposite bank. In the shallower areas, we could see the river floor, with its pebbles dotting the sand.

We–or rather, I–paddled about three-quarters of a kilometer downstream which was a bad, bad idea because that meant I would have to paddle a kilometer upstream, back to W and R. With every stroke upstream, it felt like B and I were paddling through mud–wearing 20-kilo wetsuits.

Finally, we made it back. By then, W had beaten R at bato-bato-pick (rock-paper-scissors). The consequence was that R had to go kayaking, too. So he took the place of B and off we went, back downstream.

If B was concerned about drowning, R was curious about what kind of monsters lived in the river.

“Do you think the monsters that live here have just one or two heads? Will they eat us or maybe just play with us, like pet fish? What if a river dragon came out of the water? You know what I would do? I would throw my paddle in his mouth so he can’t chew on us.”

It was good to know that we had an escape plan in place. It was also nice to experience the river with constant chattering in the background. The lilting little voice kept the kayak run from becoming too much of a metaphysical jaunt.

Because I was already tired, R’s and my kayak run was a short one, but he didn’t mind. I brought him to the deep part of the river, where the trees bent over protectively. While we were there, R was giddy with a mixture of fear (“I think this is where the monsters live.”) and excitement (“If they come out, I’m going to jump and shout to distract them.”).

Even though hours later, I could still feel the soreness in my arms and abs, those two kayak runs were among the best ones for me. They were full of kids, sun, water, chatter, and peace.

Week 47: Let the fibro in


iPhone pics 290

They call it the “Fibro Fog.” It manifests in different levels of intensity for each person with fibromyalgia, but there’s a common denominator–when the fog hits, you become forgetful and disorganized, among other things. And for someone who was already disorganized to begin with, the fog makes me resemble a headless chicken, especially when I have children to feed and deadlines to meet.

I make jokes about it now. But late at night, the questions nudge through the wall of courage I put up every day and some of them manage to poke through. How do I raise my kids to be happy, self-confident human beings when I sometimes can’t help but ping pong between Mary Poppins and Godzilla? What happens when I become so out of it that I can’t even work anymore? What happens when I’m a grandma and the fog triggers dementia or Alzheimer’s disease? (I don’t even know if that can happen, but darkness has a way of letting in all kinds of fears, especially the irrational ones.)

To silence these impostors in my head, I work with my hands. I’ve discovered that making things with my hands is therapeutic for me. Right now, typing this helps me deal with the fog. It clears my head (as clear as it can get, at least), distracts me from aching limbs, drives away depression. My hands provide a portal to a world where I know what the next step is. When I restore a piece of forgotten furniture, or turn an old thingamajig into something useful again, I break away from the fog clawing at me. It is my natural medication: turning a broken, dusty bed into a bookshelf; filling a blank screen with words and stringing them into sentences and paragraphs that make sense; sitting at the piano and making some sort of music.

But sometimes, I get too bogged down, too fenced in by this fog that I can’t do anything to fight it. My kids don’t start school until two weeks from now, so yesterday, they couldn’t believe at first that I was letting them spend practically the whole day in front of screens. They bounced from tablets to the TV to computers, totally oblivious to the fact that I had no choice but to let them. And while they basked in digital euphoria, I just sat. It was time for the random. It was time to stop pushing against the onslaught and just let it come. (It was time to be a pathetic, melodramatic whiner.)

I would like to be able to say that because of that “grand” gesture of acceptance yesterday, the fog dissipated. Of course it didn’t. But it taught me to open my eyes and my mind some more. There are some days that fighting the good fight is the thing to do in order to survive. On those days, you do whatever you can to stay afloat. And there are other days when you have to recognize that you need to just sit back, rest, and trust that the world will continue to turn, and that you can get back on it when you’re ready.

Week 46: Watch a Katy Perry concert

The One's souvenir from the Katy Perry concert: a headband with a cyclops eye

The One’s souvenir from the Katy Perry concert: a headband with a cyclops eye

B is a huge Katy Perry fan. She squeals every time she hears a Katy Perry song. She knows all the lyrics to most of the songs. She hasn’t asked yet to color her hair neon blue, but I’m thinking it’s just a matter of time.

So it was already a given that when Katy Perry came to Manila on May 7th as part of her Prismatic World Tour, B was going to be in that audience, come hell or high water. The concert was held in the Philippine Arena, supposedly the biggest indoor arena in Southeast Asia. It sat in a huge compound in Bocaue, Bulacan, about an hour’s drive north of Manila.

B and I arrived to a procession of vehicles snaking around the arena, toward the parking lot. As we turned into the lot, a male voice suddenly piped up from inside my bag: “You have arrived at your destination.” I almost ran over a parking attendant in my surprise–I’d forgotten that I’d turned on Waze to navigate us to the arena. The app snoozed the whole time we were on the highway and then decided to scare me out of my seat at the last minute.

There was an hour to kill so B and I strolled through the many hawker stalls scattered in front of the steps to the arena. Katy Perry’s songs played over and over on the speakers, as if to remind everyone who they came to see. One popular table sold overpriced Katy merchandise–T-shirts, trinkets, CDs, etc. Each item cost about 100 percent more than the usual price. But these “special” items had an excuse to charge people “extra” because they bore Katy Perry’s face.

After a dinner of donuts (the Krispy Kreme stall had the shortest queue because apparently, no one else wanted to eat donuts for dinner), we headed up the arena. B was so excited that she resorted to communicating in a series of squeals and tiny hops.

Our seats were close enough to the stage so that we could see the individual highlighted streaks on Katy’s hair…on the giant screen. We shared a row with two other mothers and their tween daughters (one wore a bubblegum pink wig). We must have sat in the most giggly and excited row in the entire arena.

Showtime. The house lights were turned off, the shrieks from the audience shook my eardrums, and Katy and her dancers came on with “Roar,” the first Katy Perry song The One learned by heart. As B looked at me, screaming her joy, her eyes overflowed with so much excitement I thought she would burst. Katy and her crew had on headdresses and costumes (and jump ropes) that lit up in the dark. It was mesmerizing. In fact, throughout the two-hour concert, they went through six costume changes (and not just for Katy but for the entire crew of dancers), a fake horse that moved like a real one, and, in one number, a mouse, a piece of cheese, a carton of milk, and some other strange things I forget, ran around the stage. To say that they put up production numbers would have been an understatement.

My favorite part was when Katy came out in a maxi dress with sunflowers on her boobs. After asking a member of the audience (who wore a perfect replica of Katy’s fish suit in one of her videos) to teach her some Tagalog words, she buckled down and sang “Unconditionally,” the closest to a ballad she could get. But before doing so, she requested that if anyone had a light, to please turn them on. Back when I was a teen, this meant piercing the night sky with lighters. But at Katy’s concert, the lighter-toting parents were drowned out by a sea of millenials and their flashlight apps. The arena instantly turned 10 shades brighter as thousands of people swiped on their lights and, together, brought down the stars from the sky. It must have looked fantastic from the stage. It definitely did from our seats.

About this time, two tall men and a woman arrived and took the seats right in front of us. Unfortunately, one of the men sat directly in front of B. We couldn’t ask him to switch with the others because they were all tall. (I briefly considered asking him to hunch over or just sit on his left buttock, but ultimately decided it would not work.) After about two minutes of this, B told me, “Did you know that if you rub your palms together really fast for a long time, you can get electricity?” While I considered my response to this apparently random thought, B started to furiously rub her hands together. She kept at it through one song. And then suddenly thrust her arms straight in front of her, palms facing forward–kind of like how Ironman does it when he blows someone away, but with two hands. The random thought turned out to be not so random. B was trying to blast the guy in front of her out of his seat with the powerful electricity emanating from her hands.

“Aw, I really thought it would work,” she said. I couldn’t believe her total trust in science (and her apparent disregard for murder). The problem was solved when I explained to Tall Guy that a little girl was sitting behind him and asked him if he could scoot to the left. Thankfully, he understood, scooted over, and B was able to enjoy the rest of the concert without a totem pole in the way. She started the concert just singing along in her seat, squealing every now and then. She ended it standing, dancing, and waving her hands in the air like she just did not care.

Katy Perry was a fun choice for B’s first concert. While Katy could have done more research on the country she was visiting and its people’s mastery of English (at one point, she said, “I know some of you can’t understand what I’m saying right now,” because she was speaking in English), she did deliver a heck of an impressive concert (says someone who watches concerts once every seven years).

B has already called dibs on the next Katy Perry concert, whenever that will be. And when I buy the tickets to that one, I’ll remember to ask the ticket seller not to give the seat in front of B to any tall person. Lest they get blasted out of their seat with electricity.

Week 45: Go paragliding

Cradling the wind with Airsports Adventure Philippines. Photo by Winston Baltasar

Cradling the wind with Airsports Adventure Philippines. Photo by Winston Baltasar

My feet left the ground and started running on air. And then I was being carried–pushed–forward. It was as if I was riding a conveyor belt going 30 mph, except that I was standing on nothing. Between me and the cows munching on grass in the field below was 300 feet of wide open space. All I could hear was the soft, but insistent, whistle of the wind. And there was screaming, too, which I eventually realized was coming from me.

To fly (outside of an airplane) was something I’d always wanted to do.

See, in the bowels of the storage shed at home is a small pink Hello Kitty backpack filled with all the things a little girl would hold dear. For example: a wooden tea set whose cups are as small as a baby’s fingertips, a dried rice stalk harvested from the Banaue rice terraces, a dirty white t-shirt covered with notes in ink from my friends in grade school.

But the most interesting of all those odd objects is a piece of brown paper, folded and unfolded many times. It’s the bucket list I wrote when I just started high school and referred to all through college. The list has some un-checked items that are a little difficult to do–“Drive an 18-wheeler truck.” “Ride to the sunset and touch the sun.”

And until a week ago, “Go hang-gliding” also stood un-checked. (I know hang-gliding is not paragliding but I’m willing to be flexible with the prefixes.)

Early on Sunday morning, The Hub and I packed the kids into the car and drove to Carmona, Cavite–easily a 40-minute drive from Manila without traffic–to the fly site of Airsports Adventure Philippines. The Hub was going to shoot them doing their cool thing while the kids and I hung out with the cows. The One with the Toilet Humor wanted close contact with the animals (“If I flick that cow’s butt, do you think he’ll kick me?”) and The Manipulator practiced his math (“There are 17 cow poops in this field”).

After half an hour of that, Buko and Albert–the main men of Airsports Adventure Philippines–came by in a truck to bring us up to the jump-off point at the top of a hill. There was no shortage of trees at the top. About 50 feet away from the edge of the grassy summit, under the shade of trees, was a small hut that served as the pre-departure area. Sitting on the bamboo benches, we had front-row seats. We watched Buko, Rolly–another paragliding enthusiast–and others from their group one by one lay out their paragliders, wait for the right wind conditions, get into the harness and strap their radio on, and run off the edge and into the wind. Albert–who The Hub dubbed The Wind Whisperer–stood by with his radio, murmuring instructions for whoever was in the air (“Veer left.” “Now swing around, it’s carrying you away.”) From the hut, we could hear the strong whoosh each glider made as it caught the wind and rose up, carrying the pilot away with it. It was exhilarating even to just watch.

After a filling lunch of pork chops and rice, it was my turn. I was riding tandem with Buko, who, incidentally, is an award-winning paraglider. Albert was giving me instructions while strapping me in but all I could think of was how high we’d be flying. Once the glider caught the wind, Buko and I took several running steps before we swooped off the hill. I felt like we were riding a giant swing that suddenly decided to take off from the playground. We steadily rose and all I could see were treetops and then, just sky and clouds. It was all so beautiful that I felt like crying.

We went in wide sweeps over the field and twice, went low enough to “walk” on the trees by the jump-off point. And for maybe 10 minutes, we were still. I have no idea how Buko did it, but we didn’t move–we were suspended in mid-air. We could have been watching TV, but 300 feet from the ground.

From where we were hovering, I could see the Makati skyline, a horse racetrack, rows of houses, grazing cows, our shadow on the field–all in dollhouse proportions. And, of course, I could see the sun. I guess birds didn’t want to have anything to do with this strange flying contraption so they stayed away. I was hoping to go eye-to-eye with them mid-flight.

I felt completely safe with Buko that several times, I let go of the straps and let my hands skim the wind. And there was no noise. The wind flapped in my ears but that was it. Everything else that made useless sound was far away. With a world like that, eagles must be the happiest creatures on earth.

All too soon, after about 20 minutes of euphoria, we were descending. We hit the ground running and the second we stopped moving, I got the urge to go up again. Paragliding took my breath away and right then, I wanted to hug everyone I could see and laugh until I cried. I felt so giddy with happiness.

Now, to find an 18-wheeler truck to drive.

*Huge thanks are in order for Buko, Rolly, and Albert and all of Airsports Adventure Philippines for this truly unforgettable experience. I will be back!

Week 44: Meditate


In late January, my sister-in-law L sent me a link to Faith Hunter’s 30-day Meditation Challenge on DoYouYoga.com. Until then, I had no idea who Faith Hunter was (turns out she’s a famous yoga teacher). Also, I thought my capacity for meditation was two seconds. Still, I went ahead and signed up because I felt like taking life by the horns that day.

The challenge began on the first day of February. For each day of February and a couple days of March, I receive via email a video featuring Faith Hunter walking me through 10 minutes of meditation. In some, she asks me to stretch my arms way up while working on my breathing; in other videos, she makes me cross my hands over my heart, close my eyes, and tell myself all things positive. Every video is focused on a specific goal: to teach me how to think positively, to be courageous, to know my worth, etc.

I could have begun this challenge with a better mindset. For starters, I crammed three videos in one day. I wasn’t able to begin on the first day of February, only got around to it on the third day because of all the noisy things in my life. Faith Hunter must have known this would happen. The day-2 video was on breathing meditation for stress relief; day 3 was on calming the mind. Yes, she definitely knew people would be procrastinating and cramming her videos.

For the first few days, I just went through the motions. It was me following meditation instructions from a video. But then, I was so surprised to realize later on that meditating was making me calmer and more present in the moment. Sure, I was still disorganized and tended to get into strange situations–for instance, today, I hurriedly dressed in the dark to begin my day only to discover hours later, in broad daylight, that I’d put on a thin white dress over a bright pink bra with black polka dots. I spent the morning looking like Julia Roberts before she became Pretty Woman. But anyway, I digress.

Meditation has been helping me, and I’m so bowled over by this discovery. I used to dismiss meditating as a hack job to brainwash people. But the breathing exercises have taught me how to breathe properly so even if sometimes I have a hard time catching my breath, I can talk myself through it and eventually find my rhythm again. And the brainwashing part? I’ve found it’s not really so bad if it brainwashes me to be braver, to be more positive, to be more chill.

Throughout every day, I often need to go off by myself even if just for a few minutes, just to be silent and still. But a couple of weeks after I began meditating, I realized that those periods when I was alone were still full of noise. Sure, I was quiet, but I had my phone in my hand and would lurk in Facebook. Or I would reread Stephen King and fill my mind with so many words and terror. Or I would eat chips to escape being referee in a fight downstairs about who gets to use the newer badminton racket.

Meditating makes everything outside and inside me quiet. I’m learning how to exhale stress, frustration, and anger. I’m learning to be right here, right now. And somehow, I’m learning to deal with the fibro pain like Batman deals with his fear: embrace it. Meditation. What a gift.