Monday, November 30, 2009


Around two weeks ago, I celebrated my 36th birthday.  I thought that there's no better way to mark the occasion than to reflect on the things I've learnt and finally took to heart just this past year....not a decade or a year ago, but just this past one.  Just as a fetus painstakingly develops inside the mother's womb, so should all of us each year within the caring wombs of our respective lives experience growth no matter how subtle.  I now believe that it is important that each year, each celebration of another year of life lived, brings us some added value and equip us further for future experiences.  It may not always be an enjoyable journey, just as I'm sure fetuses are not always having a grand time during gestation.  We may feel like drowning at certain points but the beauty of it all, is that each birthday we reach should also be a celebration of that first gasp for breath, that first cry of declaration to the world that we are here, we have arrived and equipped for what life throws our way no matter how objectively inadequate and subjectively insecure we are.

I have thought long and hard for those foremost salient lessons or realizations this past year and this is my list:

If you can't beat them, join them; If you can't (or refuse to) join them, go form your own!
I've been beating myself up for not finding enough friends I can be close to and have something real with here in the U.S.  I can't entirely say that I'm guilty of consciously isolating myself because I know in my heart I've taken steps to go out of my comfort zone just so I can meet new people and hopefully find what I'm looking for.  Unfortunately, and as expected, things weren't as easy as they seemed.  (Nothing ever is!).  It was difficult finding like-minded people who I can easily relate with.  At some point it felt as if I was either not American enough, or not even Filipino enough, if that makes sense.  

The thing that makes friendships difficult is that you need to have some common history, some common ground from which to start and spring.  And since I am fairly new to this society, having conversations most people find almost automatic and totally taken for granted just to break the ice actually need extra effort from me.  It's like entering a room for a quiz where everyone else was born with the required knowledge whereas I'm the only one that required some studying.  For instance, I'm not familiar with the schools and their reputation here when people converse about their alma matter.  Talking about geography and directions are even a bit alien to me sometimes.  Heck I did not even grow up being able to pinpoint in a flash where North, South, East or West is.  It's simply not how Filipinos orient themselves and give directions.  (This is also precisely why I am filled with puzzlement when the GPS unit in our car utters "head northwest"....Duh?!?)

On more than one occasion, I have felt sorry for myself for feeling left out.  I see other people around me forming cliques and I remained an outsider.  I've even reached a point where I started questioning myself, my own personality, likability, and ability to relate to people.  I kept asking myself if there was really something wrong with me or is it them.  Finally the zen in me kicked in and I realized that I was likely asking the wrong question; that I was wasting time figuring something that did not really matter.  Of course it's Me!....AND Them as well!  The combination just didn't work out.

So what was left for me to do after being cognizant of this?  I needed to start my own group of friends  instead of beg to be included in one.  This way, I knew I can filter better who I can really nurture worthwhile friendships with.  If something out there doesn't fit, why force it?  Go create one that suits you perfectly.  It will take serious hard work but in the end, the camaraderie is always worth it.  At this age, I feel I can do without further social rejection.  I think I've had enough of that in my teens!
Every opportunity for choice is a pill for my mental health.
This past year, one of my most valuable realizations was how my self-assertion skills were proportionate to my sense of fulfillment and mental health.  Given the unplanned and unexpected nature of my migration, at some point it felt as if things were just passing me by and that I was losing control over certain aspects of my life.  At times it also felt as if I was losing my sense of self, with all my previous statuses shed and new ones surfacing. The most effective remedy to this sense of unease (or more like 'dis-ease', to borrow a term from Lou Marinoff in his book Therapy for the Sane, 2003), as I've found, is to keep practicing choice.  You see, with every choice we make, we are actually making a statement and that statement is "This is me; this is who I am".  When we make choices, no matter how seemingly insignificant, we define our  boundaries.  With  every choice we make, we are saying "This is where I stand...not there, but here.  This is my preference and this shows who I am".  

It was priceless to realize that making choices strengthens one's sense of identity, and that lack of self-assertion can, in turn, make you miserable. Being a migrant who has had to shed much of her previous statuses, roles, constant contact with friends, family and basically everything that defined her and showed the world who she really is, the opportunity to make choices was all that was left for me.  I could no longer allow anybody or any circumstance to rob me of that.  At 36, you simply cannot undermine the importance of knowing who you are and letting the world see that.

Notwithstanding all my complaints and tendency for insatiability, I do like my life.
This past year was especially difficult for many families here in the U.S. due to the economic recession.  Financial insecurity felt overwhelming at times for no matter where you went, whoever you talked with, nobody could say for sure that they would still have a source of income the next day.  The most beautiful blessing amidst all this fear and anxiety was that everyone was forced to re-evaluate their values and experienced a deeper sense of gratitude for still having those that truly mattered in their lives---family, friends and the basic necessities most of us still had the privilege of possessing.  

Every time I stepped back to 'take a look' at my life, all I felt was that sense of gratitude.  Everyone in  the family is healthy.  I have a husband who loves me and is an excellent and reliable partner and father to our son.  My son is developing normally and gives me joy every single day despite the constant exhaustion I feel.  We have a house that is just the right size for us and our lifestyle, and is affordable that we didn't have to worry so much about the mortgage crisis.  We are able to enjoy the simple comforts of life and really, how much more does one need....really need?  What I've been most grateful for is the fact that we have been able to survive with one salary.  Yes, we do wish we had more savings and maybe way more extra money for more 'stuff'.  But those are all just that....'stuff', 'things'.  All of those are peripheral.  The thing that matters to me most is that what we earn is enough to allow me to spend every single day with my son and witness every moment of his early life unfold.  Given my personality, I simply cannot picture it any other way.  Staying and working from home full time to raise one's child is a choice, and it was, and still is, a choice available to me.  For this, I will always be grateful, to both my husband and God.

There is nothing that touches my spirit most than acts of generosity.  
Whether it's my own or others extending themselves to me, nothing makes my spirit soar more than to witness generosity in action.  It's a deep joy that you know will forever change you and how you relate to the world.  Generosity can be a sharing of one's possessions, time or energy and which ever it is, it is simply a sharing of your self to others.  Noah recently asked me what our food donations were for and why we give.  The simplest answer I could give was "Because we can".  I think this is the essence of generosity.  It really does not matter how much you have, how much you can give or spare.  The only thing that counts is that you have the ability to give and there is always something to give to others.  We always CAN give.  Be it a sincere word of encouragement or praise, an expression of sympathy, kindness and support, an act of unexpected thoughtfulness, or actual material things that another person needs more than you, the intrinsic rewards of giving are priceless.  I suppose the reason I view generosity so highly is because it is an act that acknowledges our common humanity.  Any act of giving, to me, always invokes your higher self; that spirit of love and concern that governs our being.  When I see genuine acts of generosity, I simply cannot help but believe that we all have it in us to make life (and the world) better.  In other words, generosity plants in me such seeds of hope...and that brings me unfathomable joy.    

Monday, November 2, 2009

Pork Feast

For all you pork lovers out there, here's a good one!

I accidentally found this recipe online while I was searching for an interesting, but not too complicated, way of cooking pork shoulder.  You see, I've never dealt with this cut before but when I saw it on sale at the supermarket for 99 cents a pound, I couldn't resist purchasing this gigantic and intimidating-looking meat.  I just thought you can't go wrong with something that's bone-in and with a beautiful layer of fat on top.  I knew it was going to be flavorful and moist.  And did I mention that the skin that's left on this meat made me drool as it summoned images of freshly cooked 'chicharon' (fried pork skin) or 'lechon kawali' (crispy pan-fried roasted pork)?  

After taking this beauty home, I decided that I can cut a portion of it to use for other Filipino recipes like Batchoy Tagalog perhaps, and some more extra small pieces just for sauteing with some vegetables in the future.  All this went back in the freezer.  Money saved!

Then I was still left with a huge chunk of the shoulder and decided to cook it the Jamie Oliver way.  The ingredients are few and easy to find.  The only two difficult things about this recipe are (1) the scouring of the skin and fat layers for salting, as you need an extremely sharp and pointed knife; and (2) the long wait since the recipe takes 6 hours to cook....yes, you read it right....6 long hours.  I am telling you, though, it's worth the wait!  By the fourth hour, your kitchen will really start filling up with the aroma of the pork.  By the fifth hour, when you take it out of the oven to add the vegetables in the pan, you will be sorely tempted to just jump right in and start devouring it.  The pork is practically ready at this point and it will be extremely tender that you will see parts of it beginning to shred.  

When I took it out of the oven last night with one more hour to go, I admit I made some modifications to the recipe.  After roasting for 4 1/2 hours and spooning all of the fat out of the roasting pan (and saved it, of course!), I placed the pork back in the pan and broiled it on high for about 3 to 5 minutes.  I did this to make the skin more brown and crispy.  After this, the skin will look irresistible but be strong and try to look away.  Look away AND walk away to grab your vegetables and all the fat / drippings that you set aside.  Lift the pork shoulder out of the pan again and do this carefully as it may shred and break into pieces.  Place all the vegetables on the bottom of the pan and pour in all the fat.  I saw no need to save any liquids for the gravy since I wasn't intending on making it.  I felt the drippings and the vegetables were going to be fabulous enough to eat with rice, the Filipino way!  That's just me.  You can of course follow the recipe to a "T".  Finally, I let the pork sit on top of everything and placed the pan back in the oven for another hour, uncovered.   


After one more hour in the oven with the vegetables, I promise it will be heavenly.  When mine got done last night, the pork was so tender it was melting in my mouth.  The garlic cloves that roasted with their skins on became buttery and sweet.  There was just a hint of flavor from the laurel leaves that added an interesting depth of flavor to the dish.  The saltiness of the pork mostly rested on the crunchy top layer while the meaty parts just had a mellow flavor to them.  

Well, enough said.  Here's the link to the recipe and I hope you enjoy it as much as our family did!  I've gotten so hungry just describing it that I think I need to have more of it now.