Friday, January 19, 2018

Rewriting With Kindness

There's this guy I knew as a teenager. I loathed him. In fact, for most of my life, I referred to him as an a**hole. 

We knew each other from high school, but when we met again and moved in the same circles during our early college days, we never fully acknowledged each other, let alone have a conversation. It didn't matter whether we were left by ourselves in the same room, or walked past the other in the hallways, we simply ignored each other as if we were complete strangers. I waited for him to make the first move but he never did. He's not a shy person by any stretch and since I observed that he spoke with practically everyone but me, it was easy for me to conclude that he was simply a first class a**hole. 

There's another important piece to this story: I had a crush on him. No one understood why and all my friends knew I deserved so much better in terms of looks. But all I saw was that he was intelligent and confident. And now he was being mysterious by not talking to me, fueling my imagination and the pen as he became the perfect inspiration for countless essays and poems in my mid-teens. He became indispensable to my psyche. 

After a while, I realized I was getting tired of our script. Him ignoring me moved from being mysterious to boring, until I rationalized everything by one label—'a**shole'.

Boredom turned to anger, and then indifference. Before anyone knew it, I had replaced him as my muse and moved on to other intelligent, confident and (some) better looking objects of affection. My taste in men eventually improved. I grew older, but my narrative of him and all my convenient labels never changed.

But what would happen if I changed my mind? 

Recently, from out of nowhere, I had a dream about him. We were the same young people but what was different was that we spoke to each other. There was no suggestion of any romantic sentiments between us, just more maturity and peace. 

That's when the thought hit me: What if I rewrote this story? What if I just consider the alternative and approach the narrative with more kindness? 

As soon as I started doing that, I saw the possibility that he might have seen me as the a**hole. Why didn't I initiate conversation? Why wasn't I the one who just said 'hello' and smiled? I was so preoccupied with hiding my feelings—making sure I never gave any indication that I had a crush on him—that I went to the other extreme of acting so indifferently, maybe even rudely. I probably struck him as a hostile snob, for all I know. 

But I simply didn't know any better. I was too uptight and immature. And just as I can be kinder with him now and decide to free him of my odious label, I know I also need to be kind to myself. I could have been more mature, less uptight, but I wasn't and I have to respect that part of my evolution. However, it's quite liberating to realize my role in a deeply-entrenched story where I've always accepted my part as the martyred victim. Now I see that I could very well have been an aggressor myself. 

It's so easy for us to create convenient narratives where we're always the heroes, or the virtuous underdogs who eventually rise from the ashes. But plots and characters are never black or white. Our complex biographies shape equally complex motives that always lead to imperfect outcomes. We may find ourselves focused on the pains we endure, but the truth is that we wield that same power that causes others pain whether we intend it or not. None of us is ever an unstained hero. To me, what's important is that we find peace when our mind combs through our narratives. And what I know is that any story, no matter how bitter, can be digested easier and offer that sense of peace, when laced with kindness.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Gift of Misery

I hope you are having a wonderful new year so far! It's good to be writing again after stepping back for quite a while. Some of you may have noticed, while majority I'm sure didn't and couldn't care less. 

To be perfectly honest, I've been going through some sort of an existential crisis as a blogger or writer. (And yes, as soon as I typed those two labels, I've had to backspace several times, retype, backspace again, retype, and finally decided to leave it be). I wish I could say that the reason for my 'disappearance' is because I was writing my first novel, or memoir, earning more money and saving the world from lunatics, aliens and asteroids. In reality, I've been feeling like a loser and have been cleaning, organizing and decorating around the house to distract myself. There's no better elixir to mask your inner mess than having an organized surrounding. 

My deep-thought moments have been all about asking what this is all for, wondering if my words count, what my end game is, and not finding any clear answers except for the clear realization that comparing myself to other bloggers, vloggers, writers, brand owners and social media wizards only make the weight of my misery completely unbearable. I know, I know, I ought to be wise enough to know that comparisons never made anyone happy. Blame it on my being a middle child, or my spending too much time in the academe simmering myself in a culture of overachievement. The fact is, I've been feeling lost and depressed. 

They say life has a funny way of calling your attention to things you need to realize and I can't help but feel that life has been calling me to take Gratitude more seriously. Because you know what? I really don't have a crappy life! In spite of my complaints and feeling lost and unworthy, and never knowing what to do next, I really OUGHT to be happy. And the real reason why I can't seem to allow myself to be happy is because I keep forcing myself to want 'more' only because of what I see people around me are doing, and because of what I assume I should be doing based on what I assume is expected of me. 

Too many assumptions, don't you think? 

Should any one person really live and measure her life based on assumptions? I think not. Neither do any of us deserve to live a life in a perpetual state of unworthiness. 

I'm tired of feeling unworthy only because I haven't accomplished things others already have. When I look at my life as a mother and a stay-at-home parent, I really am happy and content. For the longest time, I have denied that because I believed that those should never be enough. I believed that no one can (or should) be happy staying home to engage in the drudgery of housework. I believed that I'm a disappointment and a waste of space for choosing this life in spite of my master's degree and others saying how smart I am (as if only stupid people deserve to be stay-at-home parents). 

The truth is, I AM HAPPY staying home to take care of my family. 

I'm happy that my daily stress levels have been manageable and that I don't have to deal with social anxiety every day.

I am happy being who I am now, doing what I do. And just being 'Me' should be good enough for each of us. We all deserve that. Besides, the reality is that I am not 'more'—the way the material world defines 'more'—simply because it's probably not what I truly desire for myself. It's just not where my heart is.

The greatest gift I received from the Universe this New Year is this new mantra:

I will focus on being HAPPY, not on being special.

From now on, in everything that I do, the focus will be to find happiness in it, instead of craving to stand out, excel, be perfect and be recognized. Too much happiness has already been stolen from me through my fixation on wanting to be different from the rest, be 'special' and remarkable in everything that I do, that nothing seems ever good enough. I am tired. I'm tired of feeling miserable, tired of trying and ending up always disappointed with myself because I imagine the world's eyes glaring at me in judgment. I'm tired of obsessing over what the next course of action should be so that I can stand out, instead of simply choosing to do what I enjoy and makes me happy, no matter how ordinary it might seem to others. And you know what dawned on me?There is absolutely nothing wrong with being ordinary! And if being ordinary is my ticket to happiness, then I will choose it any day over wanting to be special yet staying miserable and depleted. 

We always say life is too short, and it really is. Make the most of it by focusing on seeing the abundance in you. I know now this is what I need to do. 

Friday, December 15, 2017

It's Not a Bubble, It's a Lens

Yesterday, my social media feeds were bombarded with anti-Taylor Swift posts as people called her out for saying that she "couldn't have asked for a better year".

The nation and their pets lost their minds. They said, 'How could she?', 'Does she live in a bubble?', 'She's clueless', 'She's insensitive to the rest of the world', and other comments alluding to either how self-centered she is or just plain stupid.

Society can't seem to make up its mind about her. One minute she's a bad-ass feministbreaking her silence on her sexual assault experience with David Mueller, hence standing up not only for herself but other vulnerable artists and women in generaland the next, a fickle-minded, entitled drama queen who only cares about herself. 

I say, just leave her alone. I'm not here to come to Taylor Swift's defense. I'm certain she doesn't need it, nor does she care what you or I think (which is why she's Taylor-freakin'-awesome-Swift and you and I are...well...just us). And that's the thing about all this controversy. I find it extremely petty, completely unnecessary and certainly not doing any of us any good. 

Maybe we should just all stop caring so much about how other people choose to live their lives. We certainly have to stop being so judgmental, so self-righteous. It's one thing to stand up to someone who's being oppressive. It's another to be just annoyingly opinionated.

Day after day I see impassioned posts about every inconsequential thing that someone else chose to do or say, what someone wore, ate, who they married, what work they do or don't do. It's almost impossible these days to post anything on social media where no one will say anything negative about you or your beliefs when in fact they hardly really know anything about your life or the real context you're coming from. What's sad is that they don't care to know. They only want to express themselves. This world has become too noisy with too many talkers and not enough listeners. It's exhausting! Aren't YOU exhausted? 

When someone says they couldn't have asked for a better year, we don't know each and every struggle that person has gone through, and how he/she has triumphed over them. Maybe in spite of all the poverty in the world, they found more generosity in themselves.  Maybe in spite of unending news about women being abused, they're focusing on how many more women are now finding their voice and are choosing to not be defeated by shame. Maybe that person is grateful because a dear loved one is finally recovering from a serious illness. Perhaps they found a solid anchor that can pull them out of depression. Or maybe finally they've realized that in spite of anything, an expression of one's sense of gratitudesaying that you couldn't have asked for a better yearis the real key to inner peace and doesn't equate to being oblivious. 

The year is about to end and this is my wish: That, in spite of our wounds and the ugliness we see outside of us, we could still find beauty in our continued ability to grow, learn and offer love and hope to others, enabling us to say that we couldn't have asked for a better year. 

Friday, November 17, 2017

It Wasn't Just Another Day

It was just another day. I got up and knew I needed to be in the kitchen to fix breakfast for my family.

It was just another day, rushing for school drop-off, a quick trip to the post office and then drive back home for my daily date with the treadmill.

It was just another day, bathroom cleaning day, which meant scrubbing toilets, sinks, shower stalls and tubs. It's not fun, I wish I could take a day off, but everyone else shows up for work so why shouldn't I?

It really almost felt like 'just another day' if not for the bouquet of red roses sitting on the kitchen island, with presents thoughtfully wrapped, a card, a note and an origami crane masterfully created by my son.

It really almost felt like 'just another day' if not for the early international and local calls and messages from my parents, siblings, cousins, nephews, nieces, and  friends. 

A birthday could be just another day but why keep it that way? I celebrated mine early this week and though the mundane still occupied much of that day, having the special things peppered all throughout set it apart. It's not about expensive gifts and treats for me. It's the knowledge that I am seen and loved by those who are dear to my heart. It's to have certainty that no matter the chaos in my universe, I can still find my center because I am loved not for what I can accomplish, but for simply being me.

To know you are loved back by those you love, that your existence there really anything else that could weigh more? 

Having awareness of how blessed your life is, in spite of its imperfections, makes any day not just another day. 

Friday, November 10, 2017

Strange (but spot on) Life Lessons from Stranger Things

*The post below does not contain any spoilers. Please be mindful as well if you are leaving a comment.*

Original Image via Wikimedia Commons

My family is a huge fan of the Netflix series Stranger Things. We came late to the party and only started binge-watching last month but all three of us are hooked. I think the creators are brilliant for attracting at least two generations: mine (who's about the same age as the main characters in the '80s) and the youth now who can also somewhat relate to the young actors. Both generations are able to enjoy and the element of nostalgia makes watching the show doubly addictive. Netflix is actually upfront about the fact that the show pays homage to a lot of the '80s sci-fi classics a lot of us grew up with and love. 

Apart from excitement from the story line, it's worth noting that there are a few remarkable life lessons we can all latch on to. The beauty of it is that these are lessons presented simply that our young children can understand, and also ones that can further be elaborated on so that our kids can learn more deeply about relationships. In a way, I think the show can be a soft start, a friend to hold their hand, prior to the real rude awakening, if you will. After all, nothing is as simple as they seem, especially with life lessons!

Here's my take on the Stranger Things truth nuggets:


In one episode, this concept was explained in simple terms by saying it means  both parties settle for 'half-happy'. 'Com' does mean 'together' so I guess one can look at it as being half-happy / half-unhappy together. I honestly thought that was brilliant! Then this got me thinking about how as grown-ups we always say relationships are all about compromise. And no relationship is immune to this reality, from mere acquaintances to our most intimate, truly significant ties. This then implies that in all of our relationships, we are in a state of 'half-happiness'. I'm not saying we are unhappy or perpetually unfulfilled. I think along the way we learn to adjust our expectations depending on how much we value a relationship, and realize that an acceptable supply of 'half-happiness' makes us happy overall and keeps us afloat. What I'm saying though is that anyone who says they are 100%, completely happy, ALL THE TIME, is lying. And if they are, then they're not your friend because....

Friends don't lie

Any fan of the show knows the weight of this line. It's a pact made among the young main characters that solidifies their friendship. It's really one of the core definitions used on the show to explain what a friendship means and what it alludes to, more than anything, is the element of trust; that to be a true friend is to learn to trust and be trustworthy in return. However, maturity has also taught us that trust is earned. You don't earn nor give it away so quickly and fully to anyone you've just met. It takes time. In reality, when you first develop friendships, you do need to trust a little...and then some more, until you can trust fully depending on how much you have given and taken, to and from each other. You don't give away all your truths in one go. But withholding some things doesn't necessarily mean you are lying. You are still being honest and being a friend even though you are rationing your truths. It's true that friends don't lie. Just know that it also takes time and effort to be fully taken at your word. 


"...Promise!" This is an oft-repeated line between Eleven and the other characters. As a viewer, young or old, every time you hear this word uttered on the show, you know that there's a crucial subtext: It's that though one's intentions are pure, when you say 'Promise', you are really only hoping for the best. It's more an expression of intent than a guarantee that things will turn out as planned. When you're young and brimming with naivete, your view of reality is still narrow, lacking in understanding that there are variables no one person can possibly control all the time and there there is such a thing as unintended consequence. However, it's this quality of youth that makes the show's characters endearing and have us all coming back for more episode after episode. 

So there you have it, my 'adult' and somewhat cynical elaborations on some of my favorite Stranger Things words of wisdom. I hope they made sense whether you're a viewer of the show or not. It's the most I could do without giving away too many details. You just have to take my word for it that the show is good and worth your time. I promise! 

Friday, November 3, 2017

Lifestyle Vlogs I Love to Hate

I love YouTube. It's a reliable and extremely entertaining and informative social media network. I turn to it for so many needs several times a week that they should probably bill me. (Please don't get any evil ideas, YouTube. I really only love you 'cos you're free.)

I use it for instructional videos, music, movie trailers, recipes, beauty tips, and of course, the mind-numbing yet visually enticing lifestyle vlogs. There's something soothing about watching people just go about their days, either traveling or just hanging in their houses to clean, organize, and decorate. What can I say? It satiates my voyeuristic tendencies. Plus, of course who doesn't like looking at charming homes and their farmhouse interiors, right? 

But there have been a handful who have successfully lured me into clicking on their videos, only for me to get annoyed in the end. And I'm mostly annoyed because they were either unrealistic or they heighten my sense of inadequacy. Yes, I know, I media is supposed to do that. But I'm especially sensitive to this on YouTube because I primarily go there for videos that would make me feel more normal, if not, better about my life. If I just wanted to feel inadequate, I'd just go to Pinterest and Facebook. 

Below are the types of vlogs I hate and I'll tell you why...

Fridge and freezer organization videos where the fridge has uniform-sized containers for teeny-tiny amounts of food 

I mean, of course your fridge looks good and spacious! There's hardly any food in there! I'm just going to be real. We're Asian and love to cook and eat. I can't fit all my condiments in one small basket in the fridge. While most people probably just have ketchup, mustard and mayo, we have soy sauce (and three or more different types), chili sauce, sesame oil, wasabi, shrimp paste, some pickled vegetable of some sort and other exotic stuff. 

We're also not traditionally big salad eaters so no thanks to those cutesy mason jar salad kits that have become an annoying trend this past year. And why must everything be contained in mason jars anyway? 

As for leftovers kept in small stackable glass containers that are Pinterest-worthy, no I'm afraid that won't work for us either. We're fond of cooking too much to feed a lot of people that sometimes we just refrigerate entire pots of dishes. I've recently gotten better at cooking less and storing in smaller containers but I don't always succeed. And when I'm super lazy, I also just stick the rice cooker pan in there instead of storing our leftover cooked rice in smaller bowls. So yeah, my fridge is clearly not YouTube material and these hyperorganized vloggers who, by the way, only have all organic stuff in their fridges and freezers, make me roll my eyes until my head hurts.

Speed-Cleaning / Cleaning Motivation / Clean-With-Me videos that insist cleaning your entire home is a quick and easy task if you just do it regularly

I clean regularly. I've even bought into the idea peddled by these cleaning experts that I need to assign each day of my week to a certain zone in my house so I'm never overwhelmed. But when you keep telling me that I can clean my entire house in a little over an hour, you just make me want to press the B.S. button. I've even watched a few vloggers say that cleaning the bathrooms should not take more than 20 minutes. Well, I cleaned our 2.5 baths and it took me more than one hour. It wasn't even deep cleaning. I cleaned my kitchen and that alone took me close to two hours. Did I misunderstand 'kitchen cleaning' when I opted to clear my sink of dirty dishes, wipe all my counters and the table, clean my stove and microwave, wipe down the fronts of my kitchen cabinets, and sweep, then mop the floor? You tell me. 

What cracked me up (and grossed me out) was watching one vlogger clean her entire house with only one rag! She was dusting everywhere with the same rag. I almost threw up in my mouth when I watched her use that rag to wipe around the toilet bowl, and then she moved to wipe down her bathroom sinks AND counter top. Eeewwww....I guess one must do what one needs to do for speed cleaning on camera!

'Easy and Quick Kid-Friendly Meals'

I don't know what some of these YouTube vloggers are thinking but when I see 'kid-friendly' I don't expect to be taught how to serve quinoa, brown rice, or goat cheese to my picky eater. My kid eats white rice and is smart enough to detect when it's been replaced with brown, quinoa, or mushy cauliflower. He doesn't even like regular, mild American cheese so how am I supposed to give him brie, blue, or goat cheese? In an ideal world, my child will eat all the micronutrients this world has to offer through kale, salmon, eggs, berries and other hip grains Whole Foods has to offer. But in this world, his palate leaves much to be desired and I have to send thank you notes to some of these vloggers for driving me in the throes of depression for pinpointing how I'm a sucky parent. 

Travel vlogs that give you 'travel hacks' so you arrive fresh and relaxed at your destination

...then as soon as you start watching, you realize these jerks are travelling first class! 

How about you guys fly only Economy for 24+ hours from the east coast of the United States to somewhere in Asia? Let's see what hacks you can give me that I don't already know to keep one sane and relaxed until touchdown. 

I still love YouTube and will keep watching. But next time I see these annoying vlogs, I can't promise I won't be leaving a comment. Don't worry, I'll keep it short and sweet...and all organic!  

Friday, October 20, 2017

If You Wonder What Could Have Been...

As I was browsing shows to watch on Netflix the other day, I chanced upon this 2009 sci-fi, philosophical drama 'Mr. Nobody'. The only way I can describe this film in terms of feel and substance is that it's a combination of Cloud Atlas, The Matrix, Inception and Interstellar, peppered with the tone of the novels Einstein's Dreams (Alan Lightman) and Kafka on the Shore (Haruki Murakami). 

To say that it's an intriguing movie is an understatement, and the price you pay for having your metaphysical imagination tickled comes in the form of a tenacious attention span. 

I won't even try to explain here what the plot is. I will, however, say that it's a very non-linear story-telling and if you are the introspective kind, I am willing to bet that you will hear echoes of your own existential questions in much of how the main character's life (lives?) played out. 

Though several ideas struck me in the course of watching this film, there is one that continues to haunt me: 

“ Every path is the right path. 
Everything could've been anything else. 
And it would have just as much meaning.” 

Mr. Nobody
Photo Credit: posiblesvidasdemrnobody

To anyone who has wondered about roads not taken, multiverses, or have simply asked the question 'Did I make the right choice?', I hope the above quote brings some semblance of peace. 

Try to be present in this reality. There is meaning in every triumph, resolution, failure, pain and restlessness we may have, and we only need to focus on making the most of every choice that confronts us. If you find your equilibrium disturbed by the what ifs and what could've beens, find comfort in the idea that there is another version of you that's already present in that reality. Let that version deal with its journey as you deal with yours because the real tragedy is reaching the end of your road with the realization that you were never fully present, that your life never weighed more than just a half-conscious existence.

Friday, October 6, 2017

When Will Death Really Matter?

Yesterday, I was at my son's school for an event. All the students, teachers, staff and parents were in the gym until at some point, the principal had to dismiss all the second graders so they can prepare to go on their field trip. I watched from the side as these adorable 7- or 8-year old kids stood and quietly walked out the door in their color-coded shirts.

Then something happened to me, something I've never felt before given such a mundane situation. My breathing felt labored. Sadness first took over, as if I wanted to cry and hold all those children in my arms. And then the anxiety, as if feeling claustrophobic and needing to step outside. I had to force my brain to think rationally and calm myself down. Fortunately, the sensation left my body only after a few, manageable seconds. 

It was pure fear triggered by the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas59 dead and at least 500 injured.

Once again, we find ourselves engaging in discussions about gun control. It's absolutely necessary though undeniably frustrating that we have to be in this situation yet again. Every time incidents of gun violence surface, we clamor for changes. We donate, sign petitions, call, text and tweet to our representatives hoping they would listen to perfectly rational arguments in support of commonsense gun control measures this nation desperately needs. Honestly though, part of me feels hopeless because I askIf they never listened when our innocent, beautiful children died in Sandy Hook Elementary, if they were not moved enough by the images of those powerless six and seven year old children being slaughteredthen what would? And what makes me think this time it would be different? 

What would it take for our lawmakers to stop selling their souls to the NRA?

Don't think for a second that the NRA is doing anything heroic this week by announcing its support for banning 'bump stocks': a gun attachment that converts a semiautomatic rifle into an automatic / machine gun, the same type used by Stephen Paddock, the Las Vegas shooter. Banning an attachment is not gun control by any means. To me, it's another a**hole move much like when someone thinks he's helping a 'country' that has no power, fuel and food by throwing paper towel to a desperate crowd. 

Yes, I hate the NRA with a passion. They would do anything and spend millions of dollars to block any legislation that would close loopholes in existing gun control laws. They have also asserted themselves in blocking research on gun violence which is of course necessary if any lawmaker is to push for new legislation with regard to gun ownership. 

I hate that the NRA preys on conservative gun owners by selling them the false idea that to push for stricter gun laws is the same as taking your guns away from you, even as you are a responsible gun owner. 

I hate that profit speaks louder than all the lives lost through senseless gun violence; that greed seems more important in our society than the gift of healing we can offer those who continue to suffer because they have lost loved ones in the hands of a mad man, a domestic terrorist.

I don't want school staff and students to carry guns in schools and campuses. 

I don't want guns in bars and restaurants. 

I don't want those on the terrorist watch list to have access to guns. 

I want everyone to go through a rigorous background check if they are to purchase guns. 

And I certainly don't want assault weapons to be sold to civilians. These types of weapons are solely meant for killing as many people as possible in the shortest amount of time. They are not necessary for recreation, nor simple self-defense. 

All of these beliefs I hold dear, the values I allude to in the aforementioned desires, are the same ones that the NRA have relentlessly attacked and worked hard to kill in Congress. 

So yes, I hate the NRA with a passion. And this is why this is an issue I will continue to fight for in spite of my humble means...because I cannot continue being hostage to my anxieties every time I see crowds...because I know my prayers are not enough to keep every child out there safe from trigger-happy monsters.  

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Air Travel Tips for the Neurotic

*This post contains affiliate links which means I may earn a small commission should you choose to use the provided links and purchase the products I endorse. All thoughts and opinions expressed herein are my own and I was not compensated in any way to express my views.

The past week was filled with a lot of travel. My parents flew back to the Philippines, my husband had a business trip, and then towards the end of said week, our family flew to Chicago for my father-in-law's first death anniversary. Two out of these three trips experienced major delays and caused serious distress.

There are only two things I like about air travel: (1) the shortened travel time (assuming my flight doesn't get delayed or canceled); and (2) the people-watching it affords me which amuses my imagination. I hate everything else especially the airport lines, the germs I have no choice but to inhale while being in a claustrophobia-inducing aircraft, and all the rules and restrictions I have to factor in when packing my stuff. 

Given how neurotic I can be during our family trips, I've found that doing these five things have helped me tremendously in keeping me sane and making air travel more manageable. Hopefully, they could also help you and your family on your next flight.

Travel with a hyper-organized suitcase.

Since I discovered the compression system when packing our suitcases, travel has been a lot more stress-free. It maximizes the space in our luggage and let's face it, they make it look prettier. You can purchase these compression/packing cubes from many retailers these days such as Ikea, TJ Maxx, Walmart or these packing organizers from Amazon and I promise you, you'll never go back to your old ways. If you don't want to spend the money, you can always upcycle those plastic packaging 'cubes' most sheet sets are sold in. The point is, this system makes it easy to locate things in your suitcase, which of course would be very useful in case you suddenly encounter problems with checking in your luggage or have issues with airport security. I once thought these cubes were just a gimmick but I can honestly attest to their usefulness and would never want to travel without them.

Designate a travel outfit. 

The thought of traveling long hours is stressful enough. You wouldn't want to spend any more time figuring out what to wear every single time you have a flight (or a long drive for that matter). This is why I have one or two go-to outfits for every single long trip we have. If I know I would have a way to launder before I fly back, I don't pack a separate outfit for the return trip. I always go for a comfortable pair of jeans, my slip-on Vans to make it easy to go through airport security, and my trusty plaid roll-tab sleeve shirt. It's loose which allows for a lot of movement in case I need to raise my arms and carry multiple things. It's also long enough to cover my hips and butt in case I would need to bend down. The roll-tab sleeves are useful because in case I get cold on the plane, it can turn into a long-sleeved shirt. Give this tip a try and I'm sure you'll be happy you did. The less things for you to think about every time you travel, the better!

Pack a first-aid kit with these essentials, and make sure it's accessible to you during the flight.

I always make sure I have the following: (1) Advil or your choice of pain reliever; (2) a small tube of antibiotic ointment (e.g. Neosporin) and a few bandaids; (3) flushable wet wipes because staying clean and fresh during a long trip are priceless, especially if you are with kids who always find ways of ending up with sticky fingers; and lastbut absolutely necessary for me when I fly—(4) a tube of Ayr Saline Nasal Gel. My son and I tend to suffer through the aircraft's low humidity and I've found that applying a little bit of this all-natural nasal gel helps us tremendously. Don't forget to include a few cotton swabs to help apply that nasal gel.

Bring your own water container...(Keeping hydrated is key for comfort and health, especially during travel).

Because you can't go through airport security with liquids beyond 3.4oz, and buying bottled water at the airport isn't exactly cheap, the best solution is for you to travel with an empty water container which you can just refill using the airport's hydration stations. You can bring a recycled plastic water bottle, but I personally love using our collapsible silicone water bottle. It's very light and I love that I can roll it and put it away in my purse once it's empty. There is no fear of crushing or cracking plastic, unlike with traditional water bottles. 

Gear up for your inner world, and minimize the outside.

As an introvert and a paranoid, I need to make travel as relaxing as possible so as not to be hyper-aware of anxiety-inducing elements beyond my control (e.g. airborne illnesses, confined spaces, rude passengers). As such, I've found that bringing headphones and an eye mask help decompress me when needed. Headphones also come in handy for signalling to others that you're not interested in meaningless chitchat and would rather be left alone. I mostly use mine to listen to calming music and I highly recommend that you download Marconi Union's 'Weightless'. It's known as the most relaxing tune ever composed. Bringing with you a good travel pillow is also highly recommended especially on long trips. I've loved my convertible travel pillow and have tested its usefulness during our 22-hour trip to the Philippines last year. It was a lifesaver!

I know travel is always exhausting and we all wish we can travel first class to make the long hours more bearable. But since most of us don't have that kind of privilege, I want to mention one other thing you might find worth looking forward to—entertaining and pleasant flight attendants. On our most recent flight last week, one flight attendant left us with these wise words and I hope they stick to you as they have on me. After all, what it speaks of is the one thing we all need more of to make life bearable: 

Remember that there are still a lot of kind people in the world. 
If you don't know one, be one.

Friday, September 15, 2017

A Tale of Two Streps

Original Image: Guy H

It's never fun for me when I notice my son constantly clearing his throat or hear him sneeze. While most parents simply shrug those off, (or don't even notice), I go the opposite and obsess. It's not plain neuroticism on my part but because 8 out of 10 times, it's never 'just a cold', or 'just allergies' with my son.

On Thursday, August 31, his back-to-back sneezefest started. He also slept feeling very congested that night. He went to school the following day sounding very nasal but still behaviorally normal. He also didn't have a temperature. However, by the evening of September 1st, he developed a fever. This continued all weekend long and by Sunday morning, he started complaining of a slight sore throat and had a dry, 'croupy'/seal-barking cough. I thought, "Oh, it's an upper respiratory infection (URI). Ibuprofen and Mucinex should help."

I was glad that Monday, September 4, was Labor Day so at least he didn't have to miss school. He remained miserable, struggling with dry cough, fatigue, and a worsening sore throat. His fever was also not going away and kept hovering around 102F. By Tuesday morning, I decided to bring him to his pediatrician. I suspected he had Strep, although I was thrown off by his other upper respiratory symptoms. I prayed for a definitive result when his throat got swabbed.

The result came after a few minutes. He was positive for Strep and was prescribed with Augmentin for 10 days. 

I was oddly relieved when I heard this because knowing is better than guessing, and I'm sure the sense of hope I felt when antibiotics were prescribed is something any parent can deeply recognize.

As expected, my 10-year-old had digestive issues with the antibiotic. This was in spite of him taking it with food and amping up his probiotic intake. He had very loose stool for about a week, but fortunately there was no vomiting involved. 

I wish I could say this is the end of our ordeal. The fact is that my worries peaked when I noticed that his fever still didn't end in spite of being on the antibiotics for 48 hours. The evening of September 6 marked his fifth day of having a fever and it was not showing any signs of going away. I was completely losing my mind and couldn't help but utter that prayer every parent knows all too well: Please just let it be me and spare my child. I was deeply concerned and thought it was one of two things: Either he contracted a virus on top of his bacterial infection, or his Augmentin is not cutting it and may need something stronger.

I waited until Friday morning (September 8) to take him back to his doctor. By that day, he finally showed some improvement although he still had a low-grade fever (below 100.4). Nonetheless, I asked that he be re-tested for Strep, as well as be given a flu test. 

Both came back negative which was great news. The doctor said that it means the Augmentin is doing its job, and that judging by my son's appearance and the sound of his cough (wet/junky), she believes he does have a viral infection with his Strep throat. She simply told us to continue with the medication and return if his fever goes back to above 101 again.

Fortunately, he became fever-free all day that Friday and throughout the weekend, and was finally able to go back to school on September 11. To this day, he is still dealing with some cough but nothing too serious. 

As further proof of God's listening ear and sense of humor, I am here to report that just two days ago, September 13, I also tested positive for Strep. I guess it shouldn't come as a surprise considering I was with my son the whole time he was sick. I'm sure he must have coughed on me and breathed on my face when I slept by him.

I'm showing similar symptomsstarted with that throat tickle/itch, dry cough turning junky, tight chest, fever, chills, fatigue, and of course the sore throat. I'm now on Augmentin as well. I don't have the loose stool (just the rumbling stomach), but I do have the headache side effect. Oh yay! 

As PSA to other neurotic parents out there, here are some of my takeaways from this highly bacterial and viral past week:

1. Google, Dr. Sears, Dr. Greene and all the over virtual doctors your fingers have access to are never 100% accurate. Even when they say Strep almost never occurs with nasal drainage and coughing, don't rely on them too much. My son and I both started with mild URI symptoms and then felt the sore throat after two days. Go to the doctor and ask to be swabbed/tested. Don't rely on just a throat visual either. Only an actual Strep test (rapid and/or a throat culture) can confirm the diagnosis and make sure you are not taking antibiotics unnecessarily.

2. Don't underestimate the power of prayers and positive thoughts. I was so desperate on Wednesday night that I posted about my son's condition on Facebook and asked for prayers. Just the thought that people all over the world were praying for and with us, gave me comfort and faith that things will turn around. I felt the difference and I'm sure my son did too. I also had a doctor friend reach out to me, as well as other moms who have been through a similar situation, and I felt so blessed to have received both their support and wisdom. Thank you!

3. Outshine Fruit Bars are the bomb! No, this is not a sponsored post. This was recommended by my friend, Holly J., and now my son and I are hooked. It's non-dairy which makes it really great for strep throat, and is made from real fruits. My son hated the way his Augmentin tasted and Outshine bars saved the day...or 10 days, really. 

4. Never be afraid to ask doctors for tests and be as detailed as you can be with your concerns. You may not be as trained as they are, but you are the best advocate for your and your child's health. When I went to my doctor, I wasn't sure I had Strep. I didn't want to have it and can't even remember the last time I had this infection. But I had to say I needed to be tested, not only because of my sore throat, but also because my son just had it. It made sense to me and that's all that matters. 

5. I highly recommend keeping a 'sick journal'. I had written about this back in 2013 and continue to keep this system. It helps remind me of what is 'normal' for my son and helps me spot red flags more easily. It also helps me keep track of his responses to certain medications so I know not only what to expect, but also what may or may not work for him given certain symptoms. 

I'm just on day 2 of antibiotics and still feeling very fatigued. I think I'll lie down now and ignore the world for a while. I know I need to wash my sheets and sanitize everything, but frankly I don't have the energy yet. For now, walking around with a can of Lysol spray would have to do. Stay healthy, folks!