You are what you are willing to sacrifice for

I just finished a cold, wet, rainy morning run. For no particular reason, except perhaps that classes have been suspended on account of typhoon Luis, I was up at 4am and had finished my omelette and coffee by 5:30. Dad and my brother were up, too, so my early morning conversation with them must’ve fired up my adrenaline. So by 6am, I had laced up my shoes, and was out the door in a jacket and hoodie, ready to brave the wet run.

I felt alive. Wet runs, contrary to popular opinion, are the most fun. Yes, they can be cold and slippery, but your body burns enough fuel to keep warm anyway (at least that’s how it is in tropical Manila). While out on the road, I also noticed a few things: people in a queue, under an umbrella, waiting for their hot pan de sal (literally “bread of salt,” the Filipinos’ iconic breakfast choice). The sweet, inviting smell of warm bread baking was just intensified by the clean, crisp, rainy atmosphere. Perhaps it was why people were out there, standing in the rain under their flimsy umbrellas, waiting in line.

Then I thought, if these people could wait under the rain for a few minutes for some fresh-baked, warm pan de sal, then I could spend a few minutes running under the rain at 6am as well. It was, after all, only a matter of choice: wait for pan de sal, or run for my health and well-being. Personally, in this kind of weather, I wouldn’t wait for anything under the rain, especially at 6am on a cold day. I’d rather have a few eggs, or oatmeal, or a cup of coffee or hot chocolate. This is not to say that pan de sal is the unhealthy choice, or even the wrong choice. I just realized, on a very personal level, how our sacrifices become who we are. Pan de sal or running.

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Collage from photos taken from pinoysrecipesonline.blogspot.com.es/2012/08/filipino-pandesal.html?m=1 and http://www.fitsugar.com/Spring-Rain-Running-Tips-14948360

A Child’s Prayer

I do not know who wrote this prayer, but it is one I memorized on my own, many years ago, and one which I still remember by heart. I love it for its simplicity, especially on days when I want nothing more than to crawl into bed and know that all is well.

“Dear God,

Before I go to sleep
And end another day
I’m happy that you’re always here
To listen while I pray.

Please bless my special family, Lord,
Whom I love as much as You.
Please help me to be good to them
The way you want me to.

So God, please watch me as I sleep.
But Lord before I do,
It’s good to know you’re loving me,
As much as I love you.

Goodnight, God.”

Book Review: The Kite Runner

Like I told my Tita (and Kumare— I am godmother to her eldest boy!) Meikah, I always want to do book reviews. But maybe because they take too much time to read AND write, I often forget to do them.

One of the most poignant books I have read in the past decade or so is the Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini. I love this book because it allows many of us a peek into the old glory of the country Afghanistan, and allows us to see its people—not from the news reports and the videos and the political commentaries— but from the heart and soul of one who lived his childhood there.

Reading this book gave me a glimpse of a world so different from mine —with its mountains and food and street culture and regional clothing and language— yet also very similar in that we are bound forever to the people whom we love, no matter the distance and circumstance.

This is a hearbreaking and frankly, shocking novel, but I really recommend that you read it. It will change your perspective on so many concepts: sacrifice, family, responsibility, loyalty, friendship, and nationhood.

The following is the summary I wrote about The Kite Runner, at the request of Tita Meikah:

The Kite Runner is a story of weakness, of human failure, and how circumstances and time allow for the process of redemption.

Set in Afghanistan some twenty years ago, the story revolves around a storyteller, a writer named Amir who is so loved by his friend, companion, and servant —a lowly Hazara— that the boy would do things for him “A thousand times over.” Over the course of the tumultuous history of old Afghanistan that spanned the boys’ childhood, Amir would discover just what sacrifices his friend who do for him—and why.

Twenty years later, Amir, having fled to the United States, gets a chance at redemption, and the heartbreaking history that binds him and his childhood Hazara friend unfolds into the present.

Kadayawan in Manila (with a Durian Shake Recipe)

I missed the Kadayawan Festival in Davao by a week. I still have classes to teach, and making up for missed classes near the end of the term is just impractical, so I had to give up a trip to Davao and just enjoy the pasalubong I would receive afterwards.

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My last Davao trip in 2012. Of course I posed with the durian. ♥

Davao is a city I love (aside from my Iloilo) because it is small enough to still retain that provincial vibe, yet it is also dynamic and filled with modern-day city amenities. Davao city itself is also hub to many outdoor destinations in Southern Philippines. But above all these reasons, my love for Davao stems from the fact that the durian fruit is sold there in large and hugely affordable prices.

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Mangosteen, santol, and lanzones! Sweet fruits from Southern Philippines!

Last time I was in Davao, the cheapest we could get durian for was php80.00/kilo. In Manila, that would amount to about php280.00/kilo. During the Kadayawan Festival, I heard first hand reports that durian in Davao was being sold for as low as php20.00 (that’s less than half a dollar)! Because of its availability, this exotic fruit is consumed daily, in various permutations: in cakes, shakes, candies, coffee, or just plain as is.

Yes, durian is pungent. Verily so. It’s taste is acquired. When I was first introduced to durian by my Auntie Elizabeth the first time I visited Davao decades ago, I was told, “It smells like hell but it tastes like heaven.” And oh how true this is! After my initial taste (with fingers clamped over my nose), durian became one of my favorites, if not my favorite fruit. And because it is so rare and expensive (never mind that it doesn’t taste as sweet) in Manila, having kilos and kilos of durian here at home feels like Kadayawan in Manila. And to celebrate, I am sharing my creamy durian shake recipe:

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Such a creamy, ice-cream like consistency for durian shake!

Ingredients

2-3 handfuls of durian meat, seeded
3-4 cups of ice
1 small can evaporated milk
1/4 cup water
3-5 teaspoons muscovado or coco sugar

Instructions

Fill blender with ice, durian meat, and evaporated milk. Blend until creamy, adding water when blender slows down. Add sugar to taste. Fill shallow glasses with shake. Add a teaspoon for those (like me) who prefer to consume it like ice cream. Share the pungent, creamy taste! Hehehe.

Ten Things I Learned from Cleaning and Purging

I have been cleaning and purging and giving away many of my accumulated belongings for about two months now. While I regularly purge and toss away many of my papers, clothes, and various knick-knacks, this most recent purge coupled with my MILK TEA EXCHANGE PROJECT has truly been an awakening exercise. Here are some of the things I have learned:

1) Cleaning out my belongings has truly given meaning to the song that goes, “So blessed I can’t contain it; so much I gotta give it away.” I used to think that was a metaphor of sorts, but in the weeks that I have been cleaning out and sorting through my stuff, I find that I have many things I can give away to people who truly have a need for them, since it seems I no longer do. I cannot believe how much stuff (and that really is the best term here) I have accumulated and how much money all these must have cost. Gotta give them away!

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Bags packed and ready to give away!

2) I do not need multiples of everything. I was running out of space, that was clear. No matter how organized I try to be with my things (each has its proper place or bin), having multiples of things in excess meant that I do not get to see or use about 50% of those multiples: jackets, summer boleros, shoes, hair trinkets, earrings, English and language books, Bible study manuals…the list goes on. While I may still have multiples of most things, I have chosen to keep only those that get most use on a daily basis, or keep a few of those that are seasonal. The rest, I have given away or sold. Yay.

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Multiples of magazines collected over the years, a decade, perhaps. And they all look brand new!

3) Stocking up on so many things was sort of, kind of a sign of selfishness.Okay, fine. It was selfish. It was like small-scale doomsday prepping. Having multiples in stock meant that someone else could have benefited from the things I had amassed if I had given them away. But I kept them, I hung on to them “in case” I would need them. Which rarely did happen, if at all. So yes, I had to decide to give away many of my books, some of my still wearable or almost unused clothes, accessories, etc. There was some of emotional attachment in collecting these things, but I had to be ruthless and practice the act of giving away on a larger, more personal scale. It was easier to give when I buy things from a store, but this practice of giving felt more real because I was giving from what had been mine.

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Tine and her beautiful thank you card. I enjoyed our conversations so much during the two hours or so of exchange.

4) Time does indeed erase all manner of sin, at least from a human perspective. Going through my stuff, I was afraid of opening sealed boxes filled with letters from old loves, from people who used to be part of my life, from friends who were no longer part of my circle. I was afraid I might cry, break down, be sucked down a timewarp (just kidding). After years of storage though (some even decades), it was difficult to recall what exactly had hurt me then. Throwing away these letters, photos, and memorabilia from people who are no longer part of my life was so much easier than trying to recall what happened and who hurt who. Case closed.

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Old friends from an old love. =)

5) “I am not my house, my car, my songs,” crooned Paula Cole. And she was so right. In storage I found certificates, medals, manuscripts, notebooks, doodlebooks, artwork, photographs (the black and white kind I used to take with my SLR and develop in a darkroom), report cards, drawings, old electronics, diplomas. They all seemed like a mass of time and age markers that brought me to where I am now. I cannot take any of them with me when I go (and I mean this metaphorically). “…they are only stops along my way.”

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Tapes (does anyone else remember tapes?!) from my kindergarten musical concert.

6) The less stops, the faster you get to where you are headed. There is that cliche about letting go of baggage, right? Knowing that I have so many things and not knowing where to place them or store them in the event that I move out or leave the country was kind of a drag. It was also difficult to find the stuff I really need amidst EVERYTHING no matter how organized I am (I sort and label and store, yes) Many times, I wished I had less stuff, so I kept on purging, kept on cleaning. Now I have about thirty percent less stuff than I did before I did this purge. While I do not think I can further minimize my belongings at this point, I have resolved to purchase even less than what I already do. I like speed; I like swift decisions. Paring down my belongings will make it easier to find things, get dressed, work.

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Some things I still need to sort through.

7) The act of purchasing has been wired into my brain, our brains, but we can change that. While I am not and was never an impulsive buyer (thank you, Mommy!), I still find that the act of purchasing is something that can be difficult to avoid. There are ads everywhere and even without ads, people, friends, acquaintances, and even my psyche is always asking, suggesting that I purchase something. Especially when I don’t need it. Purchasing has become something of a symbol for being part of this world, and no wonder. Puchases make the economy go round (at least that’s what I remember from ECONOMICS class under Solita Monsod; she was a great teacher). But I refuse to buy (pun not intended) into that concept any longer. I have to purchase only what is consumable, to avoid amassing things, stuff. Nowadays, I find myself going through my day thinking that I will not purchase a non-consumable object (unlike food or toiletries). I have done this exercise periodically, and when I do, I find that it is possible NOT to buy anything, something new for weeks, months on end. And I survive. Now I want it to be on a larger and more intentional scale. (Update: Aug. 27, 2014 I am thinking of scaling down this project and doing a similar one of my own: http://www.forbes.com/sites/laurashin/2014/08/20/the-buy-nothing-year-how-two-roommates-saved-more-than-55000/?utm_campaign=forbesfbsf&utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social)

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Comic by Stephan Pastis. How does this make you feel?

8) The more you let go of things, the better it feels. Who hasn’t felt that sweet release of purging? Everything just feels lighter, fresher, cleaner after a purge. Purging can be addictive. The past few weeks, I would find myself walking around my room, rummaging for more things to let go of. Because it just felt soooo good. And judging from the bags of trash that still come out of my room each week despite the giving away and cleaning up, there’s still a lot of letting go to do.

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My thesis manuscript from 1997-1998. And a floppy disk. I finally let these go...I think.

9) When you give, it does come back to you. Not in the way you expect, perhaps, but there are surprisingly beautiful ways of giving coming back: a friend messaging you thanks over and over again, a cousin who so gleefully shows off her “new” clothes, dinner and tea with a friend, new friends, rekindled friendships. And this is just the beginning.

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From my Milk Tea Exchange with Ate Miles and Sam. Bonding talk and lots of hugs from our baby girl!

10) While I am not my things, they do represent the person I was, I am. I have 5 (or six or seven) times as many books as I have clothes. I have virtually no makeup (except for the ones in my tiny makeup bag, which is just a handful), but I have lots of pots and tubes and bottles of skin and body goop, and most of my other stuff is in the form of letters, memorabilia, papers. When I wear my clothes, shoes, bags; when I read my books and refer to my sources; how much or how little makeup I put on, the kinds of clutter I tend to buy, and the kind of things that surround me says a lot about who I am (and the people who give me gifts). You might want to think of what your next purchase says about you next time you are tempted to buy something on the fly.

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I want my things to represent me well.

Going through this purge has kept me thinking a lot about minimalism, and at first, I thought that minimalism was not for me. I have bins of papers, shelves and bags and chests of books, dolls and memorabilia; it would be tough being a minimalist. But after reading some people’s experiences on adapting a minimalist lifestyle, one of the things that stood out was this: minimalism can manifest differently in different people with different lifestyles. A single entrepreneur who travels with everything he owns will undoubtedly have a different minimalist experience compared to a minimalist who is raising five kids. What’s important is that if I wanted to embrace minimalism, I had to avoid amassing, purchasing, and storing things I didn’t need or things I think would need at a remote time in the future. While this can be a difficult mindset to overcome, I will try, I will keep trying. I will keep purging. On my own terms. Not from the minimalist perspective of some book or article, but on my own terms.

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Yes.

Cheers to less becoming more!

Like a well-oiled machine

I often find that engaging in the physical leads me to experience the spiritual. Today, I finally, truly understood what it meant to have a body and spirit like a well-oiled machine.

After weeks of rain coupled with a few weeks of recovery from flu-like symptoms, my body (and my bike) had surely seen better days. I knew that my bike chain (or the gears itself) needed adjustment because even when I took her on quick errands, my bike felt like it was having such a hard time on the road. My body felt the same way. We were both slow, sluggish, even creaky.

Because I had been sick for a few weeks and because the rains had kept me indoors for so many afternoons, my motivation to take my bike outdoors and to sweat it out on the road had also gone down. Both I and my bike needed a tune-up. So I took her out for a ride to the nearest bike shop and asked to mechanic to give my gears an alignment. In non-mechanic speak, I told the kuya that my bike gears took a while to change, even after I had clicked on the gear shift.

It took him about five minutes in total, but judging by what the mechanic did, my gears were still aligned. What my bike really needed was some oil on the bike chain. That was all it took to make my ride smoother, faster, and a bit more effortless. It felt like I was just gliding through the paved flat roads and my uphill routes felt much less difficult now that my bike has been oiled. My body too, felt the rush of air through my lungs, and the joy of producing sweat as my legs pedalled on. The farther I rode my bike, the more I felt my body loosening up and my muscles remembering the feel of exercise. Needless to say, I was humming happily on my bike ride home.

This made me think about my body and my spirit in terms of being a well-oiled machine. I already knew long ago how fitness experts and spiritual mentors would liken both the body and the spirit to well-oiled machines. But the reality of the metaphor never really kicked in like it did today. Well-oiled meant that the machine would perform faster, that there would be less effort needed from whoever used the machine. At all times. That the machine would perform smoothly, with no snags and problems, no hassles. Well-oiled meant that I could quickly shift gears at any moment, without the delays and creakiness.

The metaphor of being a well-oiled machine truly is a beautiful concept. Today, I found out just why. And it took my sparkly pink bike to show me that.

Flourless Pancakes

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: these flourless pancakes that the Internet has been raving about? Deeee-licious.

I used this recipe as reference, but you know me; I like to experiment.

Using just one overripe banana (finally, I have a use for those!), I mashed it up to a good runny consistency. I added about two tablespoons each of oat bran and flaxseed meal, and a teaspoon of chia seeds. I whipped in one large egg and sprinkled some coco sugar to taste. You may add a half a teaspoon of olive oil. Voila! Breakfast is ready! (Well, not really, but I’m so excited!)

^_^ Cook like you would a regular pancake. I still can’t believe how easy (and did I say delicious?) and filling and guilt-free this is.

Sorry, no photo as I finished off my pancakes so quickly! My version serves one…or two, if you’re able to share with someone. I ate these all on my own…BURP! ^_^

Update: adding a badly-taken photo, lol.

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These flourless pancakes are brown and sweet and aromatic, fiber-y, and sometimes crunchy (hello, chia seeds!).

Nutritious Pancakes

Yaaay! This is gonna be a quick post, as I’m quite hungry.

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Whole wheat pancakes made healthier!

How to make healthy, high-fiber, low-sugar, low-carb pancakes?

I used one package of my regular whole-wheat pancake mix (Thank you, Maya Kitchen!), then sprinkled in some flaxseed meal, oat bran, whole rolled oats, and some chia!

Follow usual instructions, adding about 1/4 cup more water for better consistency.

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Thank God Maya Kitchen provides this option now!

Prayer Exchange

Before going into grad school, I used to be a Sunday School teacher and Bible Study leader. Once a week, I had devoted myself to attending and sometimes leading Bible Study groups, involving young adults like myself in the study and meditation of God’s word. On Sundays, I was also a Sunday School teacher for the youth of our church (and briefly, for the kids’ church), a task which I later realized would prepare me in handling my college students.

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With students for the TRUE LOVE WAITS seminar-workshop, circa 2006

During those years (my twenties), I had unknowingly amassed a variety of manuals, journals, study guides and teaching instruments, many of which stayed in storage the minute I had enrolled in graduate school. I only recently took notice of them again, realizing that the potential of these materials to bless others had once again been put to waste during their years of storage….but not anymore.

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My last stint as Sunday school teacher was in 2011, and that time, it was for the cutest little kids.

Enter my Milk Tea Exchange Project. Day 2 of my project involved the new pastor of our church, as I felt so strongly that he, or the youth or young adults in our church would find an entire bag of Bible study and teaching materials useful. Right after service, I made the “surprise” exchange, expecting nothing in return, not even my “milk tea” (He was not aware of the project and its “rules”.)

For my exchange, I was pleasantly rewarded with an immediate moment of prayer, an item which I feel holds much more value than the books and materials I was more than willing to part with.

Cheers to Day 2 of the Milk Tea Exchange Project!

The Milk Tea Exchange Project

After a decade of teaching (which includes seven years of grad school), I was finally able to find huge chunks of time to sort and clean out my piles of books, readings, teaching materials, cds, and other personal paraphernalia. Although I often try to do a regular semestral purge, the past few days have truly been an eye-opener for me: purging is emotional. Posessions, no matter how insignificant-looking, often hold emotional value. We keep some possessions for the memory of days gone by, we keep some for fear of needing them later, and some we keep just to fill a physical void.

In one day of uncluttering alone, I was able to haul out four medium-sized plastic bags filled with stuff I didn’t need—useless trash. In that single day, I also realized I owned (and kept in eternal useless storage) a lot of books and materials that were still in mint condition, but better off given to someone who would actually use them. I felt guilty realizing that all those years, I kept these things to myself, just putting them in storage when someone else could’ve been blessed by reading them, by using them, or by sharing them. I didn’ want to throw these things away now that I needed space for uncluttering. Nor did I want to include them in a garage sale our family holds every few years. I figured, finding a good home for my very useful, but often neglected possessions would be a good opportunity to reconnect with my friends and to bless them as well.

Hence, I unofficially launched the Milk Tea Exchange Project.

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Milk Tea Exchange with Ate Miles and Sam

The rules are simple: I’m giving away books, cds, trinkets, and other still-useful paraphernalia. If interested, let me know which genres (or types of trinkets) you need and I will try to find some for you. Then, we decide where and when you can meet me for an exchange: a cup of matcha red bean milk tea for the bag of books/cds/toys-trinkets (or a combination thereof) that I will give you. The bonus: hours of catching up.

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Sam

Why milk tea? Because milk tea is less expensive than specialty coffee, and because milk tea sounds much more casual than coffee is. By doing a simple exchange, I hope to be able to lessen my stash of unused belongings, bless a friend, and spend time building relationships. Since I started announcing my project, I’ve repackaged six recyclable bags (to give away to six different groups and individuals) and tonight was my first successful Milk Tea Exchange. I haven’t been able to spend quality time with Ate Miles and her daughter Sam in months, and today was just the perfect opportunity to give her a book for a collection I know she is still trying to complete.

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Bags packed for future exchanges.

In spite of the torrential late afternoon rain, we huddled together in a quiet tea shop and spent hours talking, laughing, and catching up. Ate Miles got her Left Behind book for her collection (and then some), and I got my milk tea with a bonus of pepper tofu and a special chauffer-driven ride back home! That was just beyond what I imagined my Milk Tea Exchange to be.

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Photos courtesy of Ate Miles

Next Saturday, I already have another Milk Tea Exchange scheduled! It will be a different adventure. I just hope that my exchanges will bless my friends, and that the things I have kept in storage for so long will finally be put to good use.