Thursday, July 26, 2018

I Went on My First Cruise and Made These Mistakes.

This space has been very quiet for several weeks now. There's a lot of reasons involved but mainly, I became extremely busy preparing for our big summer vacation. 

Last week, we went on a 6-day, 5-night cruise to the Western Carribean with my mother-in-law, two aunts, and my husband's siblings and their families. Prior to our cruise, we also spent the weekend exploring New Orleans.


I'm a first-time cruiser. I did extensive research for a little over a month prior to our sail date just to minimize my unknown variables. (I function best that way). However, as expected in life, you can't control everything and the best you can do is plow through the negatives and learn from them. Perhaps the next time will be closer to perfection, IF there is a next time.

Cruise vacations are fun. That's what I kept hearing prior to actually being on one. I tried to focus on that thought because being the anxious person that I am, I knew I needed as many loud positive voices as I could gather in order to drown out my worrier, kill-joy side; the side that only believes that nothing pleasant could come out of putting together thousands of people in a confined space over an ocean, for close to a week. And did I mention that I can't swim, am a germaphobe, and have increasingly become claustrophobic in the past few years? Oh by the way, I'm introverted too and can get quite moody when feeling overwhelmed by crowds and noise. 

Given that I am not the easiest to please and assume that a number of you reading this are fellow introverts, I'd like to share a few lessons learned from my cruise last week. We were on a Carnival Triumph ship, in case you were wondering. 


Stateroom Choice

Experts say that you should book a room midship and farther from the engines so that you won't hear the engine noise and feel less of the ship's movement. This is especially important if you are prone to seasickness. (Thankfully, none of us got seasick). Other tips I read said not to book close to the Lido deck or below dance floors so that you won't have much of the noise either. The other thing was to avoid being close to elevators. 

I'm not sure what happened with our booking but for some reason, the room we ended up with (cabin 8263) was really close to elevators, and worse, was located near the balconies opening up to the Atrium where there's a bar and where various games are played and singers perform. 

I'm not a party-goer. I like retreating to my room fairly early either to read, watch t.v. or try to sleep. I couldn't do any of that prior to midnight as I could hear every song and scream around the damn ship. It was horrible! 

The lesson here is book really early and be very specific with your travel agent about your requirements. I think our group booked quite late and it was probably difficult to accommodate all our requests given that there were 22 of us and needed to book 8 different rooms. 


Self-Serve Laundry

If you're on a short cruise, or if you are a really efficient packer, you'd probably not need to do your laundry. However, you may find that ironing certain outfits might be necessary, especially for formal nights. Make sure you iron your wrinkly clothes prior to the day when formal night is set, or go VERY early during that day. For our cruise, Tuesday was our formal night and by around 4:30 p.m. that day, there were seven people waiting in line for that one sad iron on our deck. All the three washers and dryers were also taken / occupied. 


Shower Essentials

I believe most, if not all, cruise ships have the shampoo/shower gel combo dispensers in their shower stalls. They're okay. It's nothing fancy although I don't think they're the most efficient cleaners either. So if you're picky about such things, make sure you bring your own shampoo, soap or body wash, AND don't forget your conditioner if you need that silky, soft feeling for your strands. You won't find them in your cabin.




Seriously, that's the dryer???

Yes, that was my initial reaction. I thought for a moment it was a vacuum cleaner but then it didn't make sense as it was hung on the bathroom wall. Duh! Anyway, the point is that this thing did not work for me. It hardly blew any air until eventually my husband discovered that the one we had in our bathroom had a whole or slit on the tubing, hence the crappy performance. It's a good thing I brought my own hair dryer and didn't have to deal with this contraption.



Don't Wait Until the End for Room Service

Everyone who's gone on a cruise before kept telling us that we should absolutely take advantage of room service as it was included in our fees. Frankly, the other hot food options on board were far more attractive than the free items on the room service menu so we didn't really find much need to pick up the phone. However, after our Thursday excursion to Progreso, Mexico, we found ourselves too exhausted that we just wanted to chill in our room before our time in the dining room. We then decided to call Room Service and order a couple of sandwiches and desserts. It was quick and easy. Wow! 

The following night, Friday, and the last day of the cruise, I was feeling a bit under the weather and decided to just stay in the room and skip dinner with our group. I figured this would be the perfect time to take advantage of room service again. 

Wrong!

For more than 5 minutes, I kept getting a busy tone. After I waited and let 15 minutes pass, I dialed again and was happy the phone rang on the other end. Yesss! Or not really. No one picked up. I gave up and decided to message my husband to ask him to just bring me whatever food he could grab. 

I think a lot of people decided to stay in that evening since it was time to pack and prepare for disembarkation the next morning. Room Service most likely got slammed. How naive of me to think that Room Service meant guaranteed timely service. *sigh*


Be a Slacker For Disembarkation

The most important tip here is that you absolutely need to read your ship's disembarkation/debarkation instructions. On our ship, passengers were told we could leave suitcases that we wish to be taken out by crew between 9 and 11 p.m. the night prior to debarkation. Our family also chose a later debarkation time since we only drove to port and didn't need to catch any flights out to get back home.

You can still eat breakfast on the ship the morning of debarkation and we were given two options: Lido Deck for the buffet breakfast, or one of the dining rooms. We chose the dining room and it was the best decision! There were hardly any passengers there, compared to the crazy lines we would have endured at the Lido Deck. We had our last meal on the ship and it was a relaxed, stress-free experience.

We had until 10:30 to exit the ship. We took our time during breakfast at the dining room and by the time we left the ship, it was as close to 10:30 as we could get without panicking. Again, there were no lines as we were probably one of the very last ones to exit. By the time we got to the baggage area, it was easy breezy. We spotted our suitcases quickly and there were no mobs rushing and pushing around us. It was GREAT!

**********

There are a lot of Do's and Don'ts when it comes to cruising and I'm sure you can find an abundance of resources, whether articles or videos, that give valuable tips. As for my part, I simply wanted to share how you could learn from my mistakes that might help you on your next (or first) cruise.

Some people are serial cruisers. Some people are simply not interested or perhaps got traumatized and would never do it again. I think it's worth experiencing at least once. The price was good. The food was good. Service was amazing and friendly. 

Would I do it again? Maybe. I'm not sure. I'm definitely not dying to do it again anytime soon, and if I did decide to go on another one, I definitely want to try a different cruise ship or line altogether. I think Carnival is suited for party-goers and people who love people and don't mind the noise. I'm just not built that way. And no matter how beautiful and serene the views can get, I still think my feet are meant for land.




Friday, June 22, 2018

Ephemeral




"Life is too short".

I was watching something on television when one of the characters blurted those words.

A friend of mine recently died. Though I feel like I need to write about him to fully confront what happened, I don't think I'm quite ready. All I can think about right now are exactly those words: Life is too short. It was definitely too short for him.

We often say those words to preface things we waste time on. Life is too short to waste on anger; to waste on negative people; to waste on a job we hate; to worry about things we can't control, and so on and so forth. The subtext of course is that we don't want to be reckless with the limited time we have and more importantly, that we feel we don't have enough of it. 

But what if for some, life is just not short enough? With all the recent celebrity suicides and even for my friend who died suffering from cancer, death just could not come sooner. For some, they've had enough and couldn't take any more of life and everything it had to offer them. Maybe life offered them too much of what they didn't want and too little of what could have saved them and made them want to breathe longer. 

None of us are immune to complaints and darker shades of thought. On our more enlightened, grateful days, it's easier to see that life is too short and we're able to focus on what enriches us. But I'm certain there are days when everything just feels too exhausting and a faint voice awakens, saying that the only respite lies in a final surrender. It's a push and pull, seesaw struggle, and it's not always so easy to push against the ground to hoist ourselves toward happiness and contentment. But what might help, and what helps me, is precisely the idea that everything is ephemeral. Not one moment, whether of joy or sorrow, defines our lives. Make friends with 'This too, shall pass', and keep putting one foot in front of the other. Believe that everyone else is still just figuring things out no matter how put together they may seem. 

Everyone is on that seesaw ride and you just need to remind yourself of what the child in you has always known...that the most fun part of that ride is the push you can muster every time you hit rock bottom.















Saturday, June 9, 2018

Beauty in Flow


We recently just got back from our Pacific Northwest vacation, hitting up Seattle, WA, Portland, OR, and Vancouver, Canada. One week was definitely not enough to explore this beautiful region. There were just far too many sights to visit and way too many good eats to reasonably cram in a week without going broke and suffering from indigestion. 

One of the most memorable sites we managed to visit was the Portland Japanese Garden. I love trees and bonsai, so I knew I would enjoy this place. We also had the most perfectly sunny yet cool weather the day we visited which made the whole experience even more delightful. The place wasn't crowded, it wasn't hot, there were no bugs flying around, and all this contributed to such a serene experience for me. 



My son was shocked to hear me say that I felt calm while we were at this garden. Yes, that's truly rare for me. To feel calm in a public place, while simultaneously feeling in awe of all the wonders that surrounded us. 

As I was walking around the garden, I couldn't help but notice the beautiful landscaping; how every greenery was intentionally planted yet still respecting the possibility of chaos that defines nature. I truly believe the internal calm I felt was a result of the palpable harmony that was everywhere in this paradise. 

Everywhere I looked, I did not find or feel 'resistance'. If there was an awkward slope, they worked with it and made it beautiful instead of flattening them or making them convenient. Trees stood where they stood not as an afterthought or to decorate bridges and pathways. These old creatures remained tall and magnificent while such bridges or pathways humbly weave in between wherever they were allowed. Where two trees had intertwined branches, a trellis was created to showcase the marriage of these graceful limbs. It was harmony everywhere and I knew my soul felt it. 

I felt refreshed, invigorated yet profoundly serene and I wanted to keep that state for as long as I could. Deep down, however, I knew that soon after stepping out of the garden, I would lose that feeling and would be left craving it. 







This desire to hold on to that inner space of peace led me to go back to my favorite definition of Peace, and how much the garden's landscape captured it so well:

"Whenever you deeply accept this moment as it is — no matter what form it takes — you are still, you are at peace." 

 Eckhart Tolle

I spend so much time of my daily life keeping things as neat as possible; expending countless amounts of energy trying to create order around me and within me, analyzing things, making sense of events, motives, the past, the present and making the future as predictable as possible. 

I resist. A LOT...though I have certainly improved in the area of acceptance as I've gotten older. 

There is much work to be done. But I thank Life for showing me that in those times when I did not resist, in those times when I accepted what was and just flowed with things beyond my control or sense of agency, I found harmony and order in the end. Putting aside hurt egos, broken aspirations, or unanswered questions, I'm still able to acknowledge that my life has been blessed and that I had been spared from even greater pain or a burden I would not have been able to survive. 

The path may be encumbered with stubborn roots, rocks and the path may be uneven at times. But if we keep on the journey with grace and flow with where life directs us (and it always does if we listen hard enough!), there is always peace. Beauty will be undeniable. 


 






Friday, May 4, 2018

Moms and Toilets


I go to the bathroom to pee.

Now, because I live with two males, naturally the toilet seat is up.

But before I even put the seat down, I notice a few pee marks and become overtaken by the compulsion to wipe this abomination first.

I reach for the toilet paper and find there's one sad, lame sheet left.

I walk to the cabinet to grab a fresh roll, replace the old one, tear a few sheets, wet them slightly with water from the sink and wipe the toilet hurriedly.

Then I drop the toilet seat and get ready.

Finally, then and only then, can I sit down to pee.

This, my friends, explains UTI prevalence among mothers. You're welcome CDC!




*The above information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content, including text, images and information on this page is for humor and entertainment purposes only.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

A Life Lesson Wrapped in a Car Crash


*Not the actual car crash



There was no traffic, just a lazy, mid-Sunday afternoon. We were starving and decided to drive to one of our son's favorite local pizza places.  My husband was focused on the road, when unexpectedly I saw a flash of something ahead of us. I saw it was a utility pole and it seemed as if something had exploded, a transformer blew perhaps, I thought. I saw the pole shake and assumed it was because of the explosion at the top. As we drove closer and could see better, my husband suddenly said, "Oh my God, there's a car!"

Right then, I realized an accident had just happened. The pole shaking wasn't caused by the transformer exploding but rather the car hitting the utility pole!

Two vehicles in front of us stopped toward the side of the road, as we did as well. I saw three people rush to the driver's side of the wrecked vehicle to try to help out. My husband turned our hazard lights on, left our vehicle to walk closer to the car that crashed, while I grabbed my phone to call 911. While waiting for my call to go through, I saw a teenage girl, with her Mom closer to the crash site, also on her phone and I assumed she was also on a 911 call like myself. Everyone had a distressed look on their faces, with a woman clutching her hands and closing her eyes, obviously in prayer. 

It was all so surreal to me at that point. I had never before witnessed a vehicular accident right after it happened and only prayed whoever was inside would survive. The front of the car was wrecked and it was obvious that the car had hit the utility pole and spun a 180. My husband and I made sure there were no live wires dangling on the ground and decided it was better to stand back. There were already four people trying to help and comfort the driver, without moving him. It was best not to move him. Eventually, we heard that the driver seemed seriously injured, had a broken arm with a bone sticking out, and per my husband's estimation, the man was probably in his 60's.

After about 10 minutes after I hung up from my 911 call, two police cars arrived and then shortly after, a fire truck and an ambulance came rushing to the scene. A woman claimed she had witnessed the actual accident and so the police officer requested that she stay while the rest of us leave the scene. 

I still don't know what happened. It was 3:30 in the afternoon. It wasn't dark, the roads were wide open. Could the man have had a stroke? Could he have fallen asleep? Did he try to avoid something? Did he lose his breaks? Was he distracted? None of us witnesses and bystanders knew, and most importantly, it did not matter.

That's what struck me most. None of the extraneous circumstances mattered. Everyone knew that the right thing to do was stop and try to help in whatever capacity, even if that meant simply being there to let the driver know he wasn't alone and that medical help was arriving soon. If the car was in any danger of exploding—and it was in everybody's mind given the impact—everyone of us who stood there knew we were prepared to pull the driver out of his vehicle to keep him alive. 

It was moving to witness such a level of concern from strangers and to feel the spirit of humanity in action. The injured driver's background did not matter...

His skin color did not matter. Nor did his political views, moral beliefs, life choices, achievements, socioeconomic class, sexual orientation, or anything that make any of us assign judgement or assumptions about others. All everyone saw was a human being who needed help and that was enough. 

There are so many things dividing us right now. If we let it, it really will tear us apart and destroy our humanity and that sacred part of us; that part that remains pure and innately connected to others. But if we just try harder at stripping ourselves of our prejudices and simply focus on kindness and our common humanity, it's easier to see that all of us are really just struggling and none of us can survive alone. Trust your heart. It will never waste time overthinking when you need to jump out and help someone in need. 




Tuesday, April 10, 2018

A Relationship Lesson From Electronics



Whenever I have electronic woes, my husband has one priceless advice that works like a charm every single time. It doesn't matter if it's my tablet screen suddenly becoming temperamental that it won't rotate when I rotate the device; my mobile phone's camera not working; or our Amazon Fire t.v. refusing to respond to commands...

Shut it down. Restart. Reboot.

This advice  has worked wonders for both my sanity and my devices, saving me from nervous breakdowns, and from said devices meeting their demise by inexplicably flying across the room and hitting the wall. 

Breathe. Power down. Restart. 

What I've realized is that the same principle can be applied when it comes to our social lives. Human relationships are complex and exhausting. It's inevitable that we sometimes encounter people who we have thresholds for. Or maybe our introversion gets the best of us and we just generally need to take a step back and recharge. It's also quite common that we sometimes have relationships where things can't seem to go your way but rather than just quit altogether, you  might realize that all you need is a brief respite to gain a fresh perspective. 

Whatever it may be, I'm a believer in powering down and rebooting. Sometimes, that may be all you need to make things work properly again. Just as our machines or electronics get heated up, run out of memory, or get stuck in a loop, human beings too don't make sense all the time, get exhausted, or stubborn and impatient. Sometimes, someone just needs to power it down, let it rest, and then restart. Give it a try!


Friday, March 23, 2018

The Challenge of Trusting Our Children

My 10-year-old has been getting into the habit of uttering these two words to me lately: Trust me.

Whenever he wants to do something that he knows I'm predisposed to disagree with, he will say those words with his serious, assuring tone. Trust me.

"Noah, why don't you do your Reading homework now so that you can sleep early tonight?"

He'd say something like, "Don't worry, Mama. I just need to finish this round for now (a video game) and can still do all that before bedtime. Trust me."

Or anytime he senses I'm nervous about him being out, or him doing something that falls under my 'dangerous' category (which is most likely not really dangerous), he'd say those words. Trust me

Yesterday, he insisted on walking to school with his best friend. Since best friend lives about half a mile away, we compromised and agreed I'd drop him off at his friend's house and from there, they could walk to school together. Then the list of reminders: don't be oblivious, keep walking, and then send me a short text message as soon as you get to school. 

After about 30 minutes, I started wondering why he hadn't texted me yet. And then this...(P.S. the media file he sent me was a photo showing me that he and his friend stopped at a spot to 'hang out')...





I laughed with the 'they didn't get abducted' bit, as he justified how his two friends used to hang out exactly at that spot where they were, of course further illustrating my son's familiarity with my paranoia.

Did you notice how he said 'trust me' twice during our exchange?

Trusting someone, if you think about it, translates to mainly two things: trusting that the person is 'able' (trusting in his abilities), and trusting that person's judgment or nature. 

The ability component can further be broken down into two aspects. To trust someone is to trust that they know what they're doing and that they'll know what to do when something goes wrong, or that they can cope with the situation or mitigate a problem.

The nature or judgment component of trusting someone is about trusting that they won't do anything bad or that you can trust their moral compass or their capacity for discernment. 

Trust, as we all know, is built or earned. It's not something randomly deserved or haphazardly granted. 

If that is the case, there is only one way for anyone to know if someone can be trusted and that is by giving it slowly. You have to let go little by little in order to see if someone is worthy of your trust. You can't be like a job opening to new graduates requiring prior job experience in the field. If no one is willing to hire a newbie, how can said newbie ever get the experience required by everyone else?

How can someone show they can be trusted if they've never been let go before; if they've never been allowed to be in situations to prove their trustworthiness?

It's never easy for parents to let go of their children. And we can't say it's not them we don't trust, but everyone else around them. That's a crappy excuse because it still points to you not trusting your child's ability and discernment to deal with others. There really isn't any excuse. It's either you are willing to let go and trust, or you're not. 

My son is 10. I am realizing more and more each day that I have no other choice than to keep extending the leash and loosen the reins. Objectively speaking, he has given no prior indication of being irresponsible, undisciplined, and reckless. I know he can be trusted. I'm just not sure if I can trust myself as all this unfolds. Would I be able to calm my fears and honor this inevitable process? Will my heart be strong enough to let go?

I think that is the real crux of the matter. 







Friday, March 16, 2018

Watching Your Baby Grow: Excitement or Fear?



Fear and Excitement...Excitement and Fear...I've been vacillating between these two for a while now, and more often than before as I'm struck deeply by the realization that my only child is inching towards the teen years. 

Today, he's on a field trip to this interactive simulated town where students get hands on learning on how it is to be workers, entrepreneurs  and simply how it feels to be part of the economy. These kids had to learn financial literacy and apply for jobs in the week preceding this field trip so they all have roles to play and be equipped once they get to their 'town'. My son ended up being CEO of the UPS store. 

Excitement and Fear...I wonder how he'll be once he starts with his first real job. I'm happy he's slowly learning about the economy and the idea of applying for a position, managing employees and customers, depositing your earnings to the bank, getting health insurance and feeling exhausted at the end of a work day. When he's old enough to get a real job in the real world, will he handle his finances well? Will he find work that he enjoys and can be proud of? Will he have the grit required to keep showing up and exhibit good work ethic? 

Last night, our family attended an orientation for rising 6th graders at the Middle School he'll be transferring to next school year. I felt like pinching myself the whole two hours we were there. 

Fear and Excitement...How can we be already here? Wasn't he just in pre-school yesterday? How is it that he will now have his own locker, choose a major and a minor and have the liberty to join any club he fancies or feels he's good at? Wasn't it just last week when our lives were simply all about Nickelodeon, snack time, nap time and build-my-Lego-ship time? Is he ready? Will he succeed the way I want him to? Is his self-esteem strong enough to survive greater challenges in the academe? Will he be able to forge deep and lasting friendships?

Fairly recently, he decided to start his own YouTube channel. He asked for our help in setting him up. We gave him a small filming space in our upstairs storage room. His Dad set up his computer, camera and created a sturdy frame out of PVC pipes on which we can hang curtains so that he has a decent backdrop. Then he started creating his own content, taught himself to edit and posted the videos himself. 

Excitement and Fear...t's amazing how fast he learns and how admirable it is that he did what he said he wanted to do. He didn't overthink and simply ran away with something he truly enjoys. But I hope he doesn't get discouraged even though he doesn't have a huge audience. I hope he doesn't give up so easily. I pray to God he doesn't get bullied online. I pray he understands his responsibility now that he has a social media platform. I pray he always finds the wisdom, even at his young age, to speak and behave with respect and integrity. 

This boy of 10 years has also been honest enough to admit that he now has a crush. I have been neutral about it, neither discouraging nor encouraging, but always reminding him that he is still too young to take these things seriously. 

Fear and Excitement...I'm eager to see what kind of person will capture his heart. Will he choose well? Will he find true love and be able to keep it? How will my 'baby' fare once he comes face-to-face with heartbreak? It's only a matter of time. Will he know how to survive it? Will he welcome it, knowing that he will only come out stronger and wiser? I can't wait to pass on to him what I know, although I'm afraid it might never be enough. 

Any parent knows what I'm going through. We watch these human beings who are our external hearts walk their own paths, and there is no stopping time. We do our best giving them what we have, hoping they'll be equipped for the world and be the best versions of our dreams. They have our hearts and our souls and yet they are different from us. That difference is not always easy to accept. The possibility of failure, as well as pain, are always looming in the background, causing us sleepless nights and infinite anxiety.

Fear and Excitement will continue to flow in our veins for as long as we are parents. They might feel the same at times but we must be discerning because one holds a person back, while the other sets free; one stunts the spirit, the other tends to nurture evolution.

Our children will break, fail, hurt and suffer. It's all on them to make their own choices and live through the consequences. And as their parents, it's on us to cheer them on, keep the faith, and keep loving them deeply so that we can always stay excited about the miracles they can blossom into.





Monday, March 5, 2018

Love is in the Details


Love in its early stages evokes only good feelings, making us giddy, ecstatic, energized. And perhaps it has to be that way so that it's enticing enough for us to pursue. Though any step towards Love takes courage, you can't deny that the thought of being able to possess the giddiness and a feeling of inspiration all but propel us even more to take the plunge.

But as we get more acquainted with Love, we realize that there is a lot of work involved. And it is hard work, don't let anyone fool you into thinking otherwise. It requires devotion and grit. It's not a mere feeling or thought but something that becomes infused into your identity. 

Love is in the details. 

It's in the way you talk, your tone, the kindness you show; the compassion and empathy your convey through your words; the assurance you give someone in times of doubt or insecurity; the words of comfort when the other person's in pain; the encouragement you offer when faith hides in the shadows.

It's in your touch. It's the relief and healing you offer just by holding the other close. Love finds its way out of your pores as you embrace your child and stroke their hair, or wounded flesh and sore muscles. The simplicity of the gesture offers unparalleled comfort. 

It's in your waking up in the morning to prepare meals for your family, or your surrender to the drudgery to earn a living.

It's in the quick phone calls to ask how the other is doing and in the never forgetting to say 'Take care, I love you' before you hang up. 

It's in the way your face lights up when you see the other person. It's in your smile or the peace in your eyes. 

Love cannot be denied, nor can you mistake something for love when you feel deep down it isn't. The lie cannot be sustained, the cruelty will show, the disdain and disrespect always eventually bleed out. The beauty of life is that you could never lose with love. The only way to really know it, is to keep experiencing it. And no matter how imperfect, Love is Love, and it never fails to change you.