Monday, May 31, 2010

Fun Love

It was Memorial Day weekend and it's these long weekends that truly show me the 'work hard, play hard' culture here in the States.  I'm not saying it's exclusive to this part of the world but I am admitting that I never saw it taken this seriously and practiced this much compared to when I was in the Philippines.  I could attribute this to the fact that corporate America is really more intense and more serious about getting their money's worth when it comes to their expectations of their workers.  From personal experience, observations and conversations with others, I have come to the conclusion that work here is more compartmentalized.  By that, I mean 'work' is work and it does not really merge much with the other facets of their lives.  In the Philippines, work days can include multiple breaks (instead of just the official ones allowed by the company), extended breaks, and relations tend to be more personal.  Filipino workers are accustomed to experiencing their work sphere merge with their family sphere and other aspects of their lives.  Co-workers often mingle and go out at the end of work days and they also become genuine friends, with some even becoming godparents of one's children, and practically family.  Such things are just part of our taken-for-granted reality back home.

Here, however, work is expected to remain in the realm of the 'professional', therefore, inclined to be more impersonal.  Week days or work days are really WORK days.  I think it is this spirit that makes Americans 'play', and play hardER and makes weekends and holidays really about family and loved ones.  

Before I scare any of you into thinking that this has become a Sociological lecture on work cultures, I just want to clarify that I was merely attempting to preface our 'play hard' weekend.  We were invited by my sister-in-law and her family to their lake house in Wisconsin and all of my husband's immediate family came (save for one brother and his wife who reside in Colorado).



Suffice it to say that it was a fun weekend, especially for the kids!  It was a weekend of food, LOTS of food, and a ton of sun and water!  My SIL's family own a pontoon boat and we spent a significant part of both Saturday and Sunday on that boat, just chilling and enjoying the water with different activities for the kids (and kids at heart)!

There was fun on land among cousins who just love to run around, play and be the happy children that they are...
















Even the tractor became a source of entertainment...






Surprisingly, sand became fun too even for the boy who has always proclaimed how much he hates it getting all over him...



Can you really blame him though when his Mommy refuses to get sand on her feet too???  


And then of course, all the water fun came...









And what is it about the water that just calms and soothes?  How is it that just dipping your legs in the cool water during a hot day instantly cools you down, and brings out the child in you?


Though I did not swim (don't know how to swim, really), and my calves were pretty much the only parts of me that got a taste of the lake, it was enough that I shared in the thrills and shrills of my son, nieces and nephews as I watched them have fun in the water.  
***
Going to the lake house and all that boating fun are but icing on the cake. The most priceless thing indeed is the fact that families came together and beautiful memories were yet again created. We can only pray that such Memorial Day weekends will indeed be memorable to the younger ones and that their memories do justice to all the thought and care and love put into these family gatherings.  For if they do, these children will never really need much in the future to make them truly live hard and love harder.  




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*Special thanks to my niece Francesca for letting me use some of her fabulous photos on here.*

Friday, May 28, 2010

Fortune Friday



“Confucius say:  Show-off always shown up in showdown.”

Let me begin by saying that I hate show-offs.  I think it's immature and pathetic for anyone to explicitly crave attention and recognition.  I said explicitly because I think deep down all of us want recognition but it's an altogether different matter when you do or say things for the single obvious reason of merely wanting praise, or worse,  to one-up another.  And that's the sad thing about show-offs.  For the most part, these are people who seem to just want affirmation even when it's coming from people who don't really matter.  To me, it's acceptable to brag about our accomplishments and demonstrate our exceptional skills to family, close friends and other significant others.  (Unless of course you're in some sort of competition where you do need to impress even a faceless audience).  However when it gets to a point when you are just consumed with displaying how 'great' you are and in the process becoming a bit abrasive, then that's just plain sad.  


I've always believed that you cannot deny something when it truly exists, just as you cannot force it when it doesn't.  I feel the same way about skills, capabilities and giftedness, in general.  If you have 'it', you don't really need to flaunt it and brag about it.  'It' will show and people will take notice.  More importantly, the mere fact that you have 'it' kind of makes it unnecessary for people to take notice.  Whether they do or don't should not really matter because YOU know and it should be enough.  That sounds pretty ideal but in the real world, I'll say a few compliments and some recognition never hurt anyone!  


It's really much like this...Do you ever find yourself thinking that someone is 'trying too hard' to look rich and that that person probably isn't genuinely rich when you see that he/she is dressed too much, or perhaps wearing too much jewelry to the point of looking gaudy?  And do you notice how the truly wealthy, those who do have 'it', never wear too much and always seem so effortlessly stylish yet looking ever so simple?  It's pretty much  the same thing with talent or intelligence or any other kind of skill.  Those who talk too much, say too much, brag too much, not only turn other people off but give themselves away as trying too hard but not having enough of the chops, so to speak.  The most intelligent people I personally know are also some of the most quiet ones, to be honest.  These three I now have in mind hardly say a word in social gatherings unless they're spoken to.  They don't one-up anyone in conversations and don't really compete in group discussions even when someone else, (most likely someone less 'worthy'), hogs the spotlight. They just listen, process and when it's time for them to speak, you just can't help but listen, be impressed and respect their minds.      


I'm reminded of something a high school teacher of mine used to always say to our class whenever we got a bit rowdy:  "Ang latang walang laman, maingay." ("Empty cans make the most noise").  And isn't it true too that 'silent waters run deep'?  I rest my case.


How about you?  Have you recently had an encounter with a 'show-off'?  How did you handle it?


             

Monday, May 24, 2010

Sun-Thirsty

This past weekend felt like summer.  Needless to say, I was not too ecstatic about the heat.  I've said it before and I'll say it again...The sun and its heat hold no novelty for me as I've had my dose of those back in the Philippines. So while most Midwesterners bask in the sun and delight in the heat, you'd probably find me either complaining of how sticky it feels outdoors or insisting on staying indoors where the air conditioner and I are bonding just fine!  

I can say with much certainty though that there is one species on this planet that will always enjoy the sun and the outdoors....Homo Toddlerus



AJ had some time and energy to spare to mow our lawn this weekend and do some gardening.  And of course his 'shadow' had to follow him outside.  He can't be stopped, no way!  He will grab every opportunity, every lame excuse, just to go outdoors and run around.  I guess that's what kids do, right?



He just ran back and forth, from the grassy part to the patio area where I stood, and just like that, it seemed like heaven to him.  He did not need any toys or anyone to run around with.  He just ran by himself with the noise of the lawn mower in the background.  


I watched him intently as he ran back and forth, back and forth, pausing only to catch his breath....






....Or to fix his sandals....





No wonder very few young children are obese.  As I watched Noah in propeller mode, I was reminded of the fact that humans are built to move. Our ancestors were always on the move, hunting and gathering, and consuming only what their bodies needed.  This is our evolutionary inclination.  Sadly, while all this was happening, I was more inclined to stand in the shade and just watch, rather than run around with my little energizer bunny. 



I kept wondering how long he could keep up with this and noticed that his pauses, his 'freezes' became longer and longer.







Finally, after close to 10 full minutes of running back and forth, he stopped, looked straight at me with his flushed cheeks and let me snap a photo of him up-close.



Oh the joys of being outdoors!  Well, at least some of us are having fun!...




Friday, May 21, 2010

Fortune Friday

“You will soon be involved in many gatherings and parties.”

Now THAT's what I call prophetic, although I should've probably gotten this one when I first got involved with AJ six years ago.  This fortune is very timely considering that I just posted on my Facebook wall that I'm looking forward to family gatherings, parties and a movie night with my two sisters-in-law and a good friend.

Trust me when I say that this is something new for me.  It wasn't always like this...me looking forward to family parties or gatherings and going out.  When my husband and I became a couple and all throughout the earlier years in our marriage, attending the numerous clan gatherings was always a point of friction, a battlefield.  I enjoyed them once I got there, but the thought of attending all of them, almost every weekend, was something I had a very hard time accepting.  It wasn't because I did not like the family.  Not at all.  It was more because of two  main factors:  I simply was not used to this routine given that I came from a comparatively smaller family and I felt that the decision to attend was never up to me, thus challenging my sense of autonomy, my boundaries, and ultimately, my sense of self.


It took me quite a while to fully acknowledge all that but with the help of (self) therapy, I did not only achieve the realization but also the key to mitigating my woes.  The bottom line really was that my 'self', my 'ego' (in the psychoanalytic sense) was screaming to be seen and recognized.  With my sudden migration, I lost everything familiar to me and lost all the statuses and roles associated with me for the most part of my life.  From being 'somebody' I became 'nobody'.  And it did not help that nobody in my husband's family really knew me or who I was, am, how my mind works, my character, my world, where I came from.  It's not like our families were long-time friends and shared common histories.  I was an unknown and being suddenly thrust into my husband's world with his strong family ties made me all the more feel like a mere appendage.  


After much painful honesty with myself and with my husband, the healing began.  I had to turn to re-establishing and strengthening my identity.  The key was self-assertion and to this day (and possibly forever), I will be indebted to my one wise friend who pointed that out for me, so gently.  I had to let my self resurface, be fearless in being seen and heard, and accept the consequences whether it be acceptance or rejection from the people around me.  In the process, I did find deeper intimacy with my husband, in the truest sense.  For intimacy is really the ability to be emotionally naked with another person while risking everything that matters to both of you in the process. Amidst this sense of risk though is also a deep sense that in the end, everything will turn out fine.  Whether this emotional transparency is risky to your relationship or not, you know that in the end, you and the other person will be better off than when you first started.


So how did I end up practicing self-assertion and how did that help my situation with feeling like an appendage?  Well, I turned to writing...a lot.  You have no idea how this blog, for instance, has been a lifeline for me.  By writing and letting any reader know my thoughts and feelings, I am able to define my self.  I've also made the conscious effort to be more vocal about my thoughts and preferences, even if it means getting into a nasty argument with my husband.  I practiced saying 'no' when I felt like it.  I made it known that I do have the right to decline when I simply did not feel like showing up to a family gathering and that no justifications are necessary.  It is anybody's right and I had to claim that right for my self.  I had to make it clear that in my marriage, our partnership, I had as much say as my husband does.  It does not matter that I'm new to his world.  It does not matter that he's earning more than I am.  It does not matter that I'm not working outside the home.  All that matters is that we are in a partnership.  


The most important thing is for me to always stay true even if it means hurting AJ's sensibilities.  Taking care of my self, my sanity, my peace of mind, giving my self the oxygen mask first, became of utmost importance.  In all these things, slowly, I've felt less of an appendage.  More and more I felt that my self was re-emerging, with my boundaries getting more defined.


Not too long after, people, even members of AJ's family, started taking notice of my writing, reading them, even appreciating them.  It was not my main objective but it sure accomplished much since it affirmed to me that when I showed up, I was acknowledged.  When I let them see more of me, they knew more of me and that made me feel less invisible, less inconsequential, more empowered.  This also allowed me to open myself more to them and what each of them genuinely had to offer.  I allowed myself to discover who they are as individuals and not just as part of the clan.  It did not take long for me to realize that I had more in common with some of them than I had previously thought.  Surely everyone's not the same and a lot of differences still exist between me and some family members.  But it's just like that in any family, anywhere.  The more important insight is that truly, they are now my family.    


Like I've said, I still say no when I need or want to say no to any family gathering.  But now the fact is that I've come to get excited about certain gatherings and it has become less of a burden or not at all.  It is no longer a battlefield for me and AJ, but an opportunity for love, respect and a lot of give-and-take.  


So, fortune cookie, bring it on!  Let the gatherings and parties begin!        







Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Mega Blender

This day has so far been about testing our new 'toy'.  Last night, during our bimonthly trip to Costco, we stumbled upon the Vitamix 5200.  We've seen this product demonstration before but never cared to stop since it was always either too crowded or we simply didn't have time.  Well, that and the price scared us away.  Last night though, Noah was behaving well, we had time to spare and Costco was comparatively empty given that it was a Monday night.  We listened to the lady as she stuffed the blender with a gazillion fruits and a few vegetable leaves.  I honestly thought she was out of her mind since there was practically no space for the ice cubes when she added them towards the end but lo and behold....She turned the motor on, pushed everything down with the blender stick and in a few seconds, everything was perfectly blended and effortlessly at that!  Needless, to say, about 3 minutes into the demonstration, I was sold!

Now I'm a gullible person, but not so much when it involves something quite pricey.  This was (is) pricey.But still I was sold!I loved how powerful the motor is and loved the idea of having the chance to eat healthier (and cheaper)!  This morning, AJ and I had the 'Everything Smoothie' and one hardboiled egg each.  That was it and we felt VERY satisfied.  And this is all coming from a carbohydrate addict who loves bread beyond words and thinks breakfast is not breakfast without it.  But I survived.  I went beyond 'survived' because I really, seriously loved my breakfast and felt satisfied for quite a long time.  I did not have any craving for more carbs after that meal.  


In the smoothie, I put 1/2 cup of half and half, 1 tbsp of honey and practically threw in what produce we had in our house:  banana, pineapple, orange, celery, carrot, lettuce, frozen strawberries and frozen blueberries.  All three of us drank the smoothie and loved it...Noah included!  Now this is a great way of sneaking in all those vegetables for Noah!  

 

After lunch, I decided to make a 'treat'...homemade ice cream.  Yes, the machine can make ice cream for you and you can control the cream and sugar content.  Granted the outcome was not Ben and Jerry's but again, the convenience and health factors made up for what you might miss from store-bought brands.
  


The feature that makes this so impressive is the 2+ horsepower motor, while most other blenders only have a quarter hp.  And as Alton Brown once recommended on Good Eats (Foodnetwork), the best blenders are square at the bottom, not round.  This one is square and blends pretty dang well!

I do hope to make other interesting things with this blender and hopefully lose some weight in the process.  Wish me luck!  Oh and yes, it comes with a mega recipe book as well!



*This is not a paid review of this product and the author has no affiliation with the maker of Vitamix or Costco.*

Monday, May 17, 2010

Kitchen Experiments: Mussels and Crostata

If I had my way today, I'd be on a kitchen strike.  I feel like I'm all 'cooked out'. The weekend was all about experimenting with some interesting recipes and just the usual meal preparation the rest of the time.  I can't complain much though because the great thing about cooking is you do get to enjoy the fruits of your labor.  My real problem is enjoying it too much, thus punishing my body in the process.  Actually my emotions get punished too, somehow, for feeling all that remorse for eating and enjoying all  the food too much.  Oh well...

Anyway, I'm here to share with you those 'interesting' recipes.  They're not original ones.  One I got online from Allrecipes.com and the other, I got from watching Ina Garten on the Food Network.  But I'm always willing to try and review them for you!

Let's start with the savory dish first and work our way through dessert.  I found an easy but wonderfully authentic Thai Steamed Mussels recipe.  My husband and I love Thai food but I've always been intimidated by them and felt they're too complicated for me to make.  This one is manageable, I promise you, and truly captures the spicy-salty-sour-sweet balance that is so characteristic of Thai cuisine.  The ingredients are not a lot so you don't even have to go out and look for a specialty store.  The only place you need to go to is the Asian aisle of your local supermarket to grab your coconut milk (unsweetened), fish sauce, and Thai red curry paste.  The rest you can get from the produce section and your pantry.  Here's a link to the recipe:


I do need to mention though that as usual, I made some modifications to the recipe.  I used only 2lbs of mussels instead of 5lbs the recipe requires, but kept all the other ingredients the same.  This turned out better for us because we ended up with a lot more sauce than what we would have had if I had stuck with the 5lbs of mussels. There was more than enough to slurp and pour over our steamed rice.  If you want to be partially 'Western' in serving and eating this dish, I bet it would also work well with nice, crusty bread dipped into that oh-so-yummy sauce.  

Another modification I made was to increase the amount of the Thai curry paste.  The recipe calls for 1 1/2tbsp of this ingredient but I found that it was not spicy enough for my taste.  (And I don't even consider myself to have a really high threshold for spice).  I ended up using 2 1/2 tbsp instead, but in keeping with the balanced characteristic of Thai dishes, I ended up doubling the fish sauce amount, and added 1/2 a tsp more of sugar.  This ended up perfect for our taste.  I suggest you follow the recipe and then taste it first. You can always add the flavors little by little until it suits your palate.  

main ingredients of the sauce (the Thai Kitchen brand for the curry paste is what my supermarket carries)



the succulent mussels swimming in this absolutely addictive creamy coconut curry sauce


Now for dessert, I made Ina Garten's Summer Fruit Crostata recipe.  Again, I've always been intimidated by Ina Garten and I think she's one of the more 'serious' chefs at the Food Network who come up with comparatively complex recipes.  I followed this one just because I already have a food processor and thought the idea of making my own dough seemed pretty cool.  That and of course the dough recipe was very simple.  I'm really more of a cook than a baker so if I can make it, YOU can! 

This recipe is not very sweet although it does call for quite a bit of butter.  It's all that butter though that makes the dough flaky yet moist and tasty.  Make sure your butter is cold (but not frozen) and that you don't handle your dough too much to the point of warming it, because according to Ina, keeping this as cold as you can helps the  flakiness in the end.  Here's the link to the recipe.


I did not have any peaches and ended up using plums and strawberries instead.  I realized that I'm not a big plum fan so next time, I think I'll just use peaches and strawberries, or perhaps blueberries if I have some on hand.  I suppose you can experiment with your other favorite fruits as well.

One thing to note about this recipe is that this is a rustic looking one, although the flavors do have a level of sophistication to them.  When you fold the edges of your dough, don't expect everything to look seamless.  And once your crostata is done, expect that transferring from your baking pan to a serving dish could be a challenge and you could end up with some cracked parts.  To me that is fine.  It's all part of the homemade charm, so I say don't sweat it.




So, those are the two successful experiments I had over the weekend and I hope you can enjoy them in your own households too!  When you do, come back and let me know how it all turned out.  If you think about it, you can actually serve both dishes in one meal and that would be amazing!  In order for you to not be too exhausted, remember that you can prepare the crostata dough way ahead of time.  In my opinion, finishing the dough is more than half of the labor required for the recipe, so after that is a breeze.

I do hope you enjoy these recipes as much as our family did!  Bon appetit!