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Friday, December 29, 2006

My Annual Xmas Letter

This Xmas letter was sent to all my dearest and bestest
friends. I try to send one every year since Xmas letters
are a great way to stay in touch - especially if you have
friends who live all over. Ideally, the letter should be
hand-delivered (when I come over and they hand me their
gifts!)or at least mailed with a lovely Xmas card - it
just seems a bit more personal that way. This year, though,
most of my friends will find it in their e-mailboxes instead.
BUT only because I wanted people to get it while it was
still the Holiday Season. Sorry. I'll try to do better next
year, I promise!

Thought I'd post it on my blog in case I missed anyone
and they just happen to be reading my blog ...


Dear Friends,

This letter is long overdue … emphasis on the words "long" and
"overdue". As a result, it begins with an
apology. I am so sorry
for not being better at
keeping in touch. No excuses –
just an apology.


Before I go any further, wishes for a Belated Merry Christmas
and a Wonderful New Year to everyone. I
hope, that as you
find yourselves in the midst of the
holiday season, you can
find it in your hearts to
forgive a friend who has been so
bad at keeping in
touch.

The past year has gone by in one big whoosh! Lots of things
have happened. For starters, I joined a new
company in July.
After working as an external
consultant for a consulting firm
for almost 3 years, I
decided to make the switch and move to
being an
internal consultant / trainer for an Asian financial
company.
At first, I asked myself – “What was I thinking”
– I know nothing about finance! My math skills are sadly
lacking. And despite being born
Chinese – my 13 years at
ICA has not taught me to
speak Chinese even if my life
depended on it! It’s
been a tough 5 months – but these days
I am slowly
able to catch my breath and am learning to "wing it".

Jojo started a new job as an IT Specialist last October. He no
longer works for an anime company (no
more free comics for
him – which is the only downer).
His new company manu-
factures and sells printers and
ink cartridges (yay! free ink!).
He does have a much shorter commute
though. I guess we are
THE lucky LA couple since we
both live 15 minutes away from
where we work. Unheard
of in LA. It’s sweet! What we save on
gas money we’ve
been able to pour into other more exciting
activities
… I’ll let you know when we have the time to come
up
with them!

The past year we have had many out of town visitors. Always a
good thing. The highlight was having my
entire family over last
May. All 7 Js. It was
awesome. Lots of people and only 3
bathrooms –
but awesome nonetheless! We also had lots of
friends
come visit. It's been great. There were times when we
had several groups overlap – which prompted my dad to
suggest
we hang up a whiteboard with a calendar to
make sure we didn’t
overbook our hotel/home. But,
Jojo and I don’t mind, it’s
always great to have
friends over :)

We didn’t get to do much traveling this year, since with new jobs,
we were trying to get adjusted before
taking any time off. But we
did have lots of time to
work on our home and grow a garden.
Okay, okay, so Jojo
did most of the garden work – but I “helped”
too!
Next year we are hopefully planning on taking a few much
needed and well deserved vacations!


More of our 2006 highs and lows: I’ve started a local bookclub
which is all about a group of great women and
getting to read
great books. I’ve had several dental
dilemmas (a crown, root
canal and lost filling all in
one year!). Jojo got a new car (since
we have no kids
or pets – we have started naming our cars!
Is that
sad?). We went to Las Vegas twice in 3 months (not to
gamble but to hang out in our hotel rooms – my kind of
vacation).
Had grand, grand reunions – with high
school friends and
friends from Jewelmer. Jojo’s
sister got married two weeks ago
– and it was just
beautiful. We’ve enjoyed our nieces and nephews
and are still the reigning
"cool aunt and uncle". We celebrated
my 31st
this year, and Jojo’s 38th, as well as our 2nd wedding
anniversary. Time flies! My brother, Jules graduated
from his
MBA and the twins are done with college. It
was great to celebrate
that with them too. I went
back to school earlier this year to get
certified in HR and my hubby is going thru self-schooling hoping
to get CISSP certified too.


More news: I went thru about 3 months of job searching which
was
a true test of patience and one’s self-confidence until finally
landing the job I now have. Then it was
tough saying good-bye to
my old job and leaving
familiar faces and friends. On the other
hand, my hubby found his new
job without even trying – after
one interview! And
had no trouble saying good-bye to his old job.
How
fair is that! My blog turned 1-year old this year. Our
backyard
orange tree turned two (sadly still no fruit!).

It’s
been a tiring, exciting, happy, wonderful, stressful, hectic,
super, great year.


And as for the question that I know is on everyone’s minds, the
answer is “NOPE, we are not pregnant yet”.
But we are hoping
that 2007 will be THE year.
Hopefully my next Xmas letter will
have some baby news
included. Wouldn’t that be great?

On that note, I hope you are all having the happiest of holidays.
God bless you and your families. Have a wonderful 2007. AND,
I am really looking forward to hearing
about what’s up with each
one of you!


Love,
Joanne and Jojo

Lists

Ten Reasons why I’ve been “missing in action”:

1. My SIL, Tracy, got married last Dec. 16th and we were all busy helping with the wedding.

2. My hubby’s family from out of town came for the wedding.

3. We celebrated our 2nd wedding anniversary last Dec. 18th – 2 years, can you believe it?!

4. Had to travel to Northern California for work last week – did training in three of our offices up there.

5. Last minute Xmas shopping – and wrapping – and shopping – and wrapping – and some more shopping!

6. Office Xmas party.

7. Having my cousin, Chris, over for the holidays.

8. Year-end stuff to finish for work.

9. Sending out Xmas cards – that are turning into Happy New Year cards instead.

10. Celebrating the holidays!


Ten Things I Loved About Christmas 2006:

1. Christmas mass and singing Christmas carols – literally gives me the chills! Especially when the choir broke out into “Ang Pasko Ay Sumapit” – It was a mixture of the Xmas spirit and homesickness all rolled into one :)

2. Watching my nieces and nephews opening their Xmas presents.

3. Noche Buena (a Filipino tradition my hubby and his family have taught me to appreciate).

4. Annual Xmas letters from friends that helps me catch up with the year that went by.

5. Our traditional Xmas Eve phone call to Manila – since it’s Xmas Day there, it’s the one time everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) is there. Got to talk to my guama (grandma) and hear her voice which is always nice.

6. Snuggling in bed with my hubby on Xmas morning.

7. My in-laws’ annual Bingo tournament.

8. Secret Santas (with my family and at work).

9. Catching up with neighbors and exchanging homemade goodies (we’re constantly rushing in and out of our homes during the year – this is the only time we get to slow down and actually talk to each other).

10. Yummy leftovers that last pretty much the whole week!


Ten Things That I Am Looking Forward to This Weekend:

1. Yesterday was my last day of work for 2006 – I have a 4-day weekend starting today!!!

2. Celebrating New Year’s at my SIL/BIL’s place in Cerritos.

3. Meeting up with my cousin, Leeanne, who I have not seen in more than 5 years!

4. Attending New Year’s Eve mass.

5. Sydney’s (my niece) 2nd birthday, my father in law’s birthday and my 32nd birthday – all coming up!

6. Our planned weekend trip to San Diego.

7. Using up all those gift cards we got for Xmas!

8. Attending 3 simultaneous baby showers for people at work.

9. Getting our Garmin Nuvi and going for long, adventurous drives :)

10. The start of 2007 – endless possibilities!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Holiday Home

Due to insistent public demand ... here are some pictures of our home decked out in holiday splendor. Since I'm not that great a photographer, I'll have to include very detailed captions to share each of the special pieces showcased.


This is our formal living room. The ornament-shaped candleholders that I mentioned my mom and I both have is on the side table (barely seen here) and on the nesting tables (not seen here at all!). The snowman platter that Auntie Carrie gave is behind the coffeetable books (again barely seen here). I guess what can be seen are the Xmas teddy bear, Santa Clauses and colorful Xmas pillows on the couch and loveseat.





This is the little spot between the formal living room and the formal dining area. Normally we stash our mail, keys and other last minute stuff on that little table (which my dad and I assembled!). For Xmas we have the Nativity figurines that Jojo and I bought and some gold colored pillar candles. The Xmas baskets (with holly and red ribbons) were made by my mom for my wedding give-aways 2 years ago).




Here is our formal dining area. Usually our cabinets are filled with our wedding china and glassware, treasured gifts from special friends, and the usual knick-knacks we've collected from here and there. For Xmas I've added deep red poinsettias, my three Xmas Santas up on top (sort of like the 3 wise men), my santa and snowman candy jars, and my Xmas dishes (given by Uncle Raniel). My centerpiece (barely seen) includes the crystal snowmen and santa figurines my parents got us from Sausalito. I'll be adding Xmas balls to surround them later on. Check out my new tablecloth and runner - Xmas theme this year is red and gold!


Last but not the least, our 6-foot Xmas tree! I am so excited and so proud of our tree. It may not look like much - but in person, it is absolutely gorgeous! The camera flash does not show the beautiful twinkling lights and the red and gold Xmas ornaments. I love it and I love how Jojo and I worked on decorating this together. On the right is the snowmen figurines (climbing a fiber-optic mini-tree) that Uncle Junior and Auntie Lillian gave us last year. And on the right is the "Seasons Greeting" sign that Auntie Lilian cross-stitched herself and was our present the Xmas before.

I would have posted the decors in the family room - but the place is a mess since I'm in the middle of wrapping Xmas presents. And the Xmas stockings in the hallway are great too - but because of the angle of the hallway, I could not get a good shot. Also, each of the doorknobs have Xmas ornaments hanging on them that jingle every time a door is opened. But I thought it would be odd to take pictures of all our doors. So suffice it to say, and you'll have to take my word for it, our home is ready for the holidays :)

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

2006 Wish List

I went to another dentist who performed a root canal procedure on me today. I went for a second opinion, hoping not to have to go see a specialist. But mid-way thru my root canal she finds that one of the roots of my tooth is blocked and it turns out I do have to go see a specialist. There’s just no getting around it. I’m bummed since even with dental insurance the cost is pretty high and not only that I’ll have to take another afternoon off from work. And last but not the least, I will have to go thru the whole ordeal all over again. On the bright side, my tooth has not been hurting lately and the procedure today was not too bad. At least not as bad as I had feared.

To cheer me up I’ve decided to work on my annual wish list. I had fun putting my wish list together last year that I though what better way to forget my dental dilemma than to go on-line and catalogue shopping! So, here it is – my 2006 holiday wish list.

Above $150.00
1. Michael Kors or Ellen Tracy large leather satchel style bags (white or tan).
2. Anne Klein Herringbone Toggle Winter Coat.
3. Tumi messenger bag / laptop carrier – (Elements style in copper color)
4. Aquamarine leverback earrings (rectangular cut) set in white gold
5. Garmin Streetpilot (with at least a 3”x3” screen)
6. Fieldcrest 400-Thread Count, Egyptian Cotton Sheet Set from Target

$50.00 - $150.00
1. Shu Uemura Moisture Recovery Cream and Recharging Night Cream
2. Multi-gem, Semi-precious, lauriat necklaces from Necklaces So Chic
3. Cuisinart Ice Cream Machine
4. Stainless Steel Chaffing Dishes from Crate and Barrel
5. Ann Taylor Cashmere Wrap (Silver)
6. Sunbeam Queen-sized electric blanket

Below $50.00
1. Whitebarn Wallflowers Home Frangance Kits and Refills (Bartlett Pear or Lavender)
2. TV Tray Tables from Target
3. Coupon for a Manicure, Pedicure and Facial
4. Barnes and Noble Gift Card
5. Old Navy, Dark Chocolate, Faux Fur-Lined Hooded Vest
6. Hamilton Beach Electric Carving Knife (the one with a carving fork in a stainless steel case).

I realize this list is both frivolous and extravagant. But in the spirit of creating “wish lists” these are definitely things that are “nice to have” but definitely not “must haves”. And by the way, I do feel better after putting this together :)

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Decorating Our Home for the Holidays

I don’t think I’ve been remiss in writing about how much I love the holidays. One of the things I love is decorating our home for Xmas. This is largely attributed to my growing up in a home that was always considered a Xmas wonderland. Every year, around September, for as long as I can remember, I would wake up and go to school not suspecting anything. After class, I would come home and the house would magically be transformed. There would be beautiful Xmas decors everywhere (and I mean EVERYWHERE!). But the best and most glorious decor of all would be a beautiful Christmas tree in the center of our living room. My mom and our helpers would spend the better part of the day taking things from storage and beautifying our home. I’ve always been so proud of our home, most especially during the holiday season. Every year, I would invite different groups of friends to come for dinner (evenings were even more special because of all the lights) and every year everyone would compliment my mom on a job well done.

Since moving to the States and having my own home, I’ve done my best in trying to recreate that special holiday magic. It’s a tough act to follow since I don’t have the time, budget and creativity. But I’d like to think I’ve inherited some of my mom’s talent since I’ve managed to make my apartment in Berkeley, the two in LA, and now our home in Torrance, a little bit more special for the season.

This year also marks our 2nd Xmas as a married couple and my hubby and I have found another tradition that we hope to keep for many more years. Decorating our home for the holidays together. We chose today a really nice and lazy Sunday afternoon to do the job. The weather was cool and the house was surprisingly quiet. For once, Jojo and I had the whole place all to ourselves. It’s always nice having out-of town guests and family and friends over. But there are days when it’s nice to just rewind and relax alone.

To set the mood, I made a home-cooked dinner that would be our reward after we got the job done. I turned on some Xmas music and we got to work. Jojo took down the boxes from the garage and while he opened up the boxes and took our wrapped decors out, I started putting things around the house. In the short time we’ve lived here, I was surprised and touched at how many happy memories our Xmas decors brought. My favorites include a framed and cross-stitched “Seasons Greeting” banner that my Auntie Lillian gave us and a pair of stuffed snowmen figurines climbing a lighted Xmas tree that she and Uncle Junior sent from Modesto. There’s the beautiful ceramic snowman-shaped serving platter that Auntie Carrie’s family sent last year and the tiny snowmen and Santa Clause ornaments that my mom and dad bought us from Sausalito. There’s the poinsettia-wreath that my hubby and I bought for my first apartment in LA and the Snowman and Santa Clause Candy Jar that last year was filled with chocolate wrapped in Xmas foil that my nieces and nephews loved. There’s the Xmas-ornament shaped candleholders my mom and I bought at Kohls. She brought hers home to Manila last year while mine are displayed in my living room (I love how I have the exact same ones since it makes me feel we’re somewhat cosmically connected!). There’s the Xmas dishes my Uncle Raniel gave us last year that I’ve set up in our dining room and the nativity set with the Holy Family that Jojo and I bought three Xmases ago. There’s the cuddly stuffed teddy bears with santa hats and colorful Xmas pillows strewn around our living room and family room.

But my favorite has got to be the Xmas stocking my mom brought from Manila. There are 6 in all (one for Jojo, one for myself, and one each of my brothers and sisters), decorated with different designs and our names stitched across the top. Back home in Manila, my mom would hang our stockings in the banister and I remember how we would wake up early on Xmas mornings to dig into the stockings to find goodies “Santa” left us. This time, with no banister of our own (we live in a one-story home), Jojo and I hung the stockings in the hallway. Hopefully they’ll still be filled with Xmas goodies this Xmas morning!

Dental Dilemmas

Yesterday I was at my dentist’s office at 10:00 AM prepared to spend a good part of my Saturday getting a root canal. Not the best way to spend a weekend, but I had no choice. For the last 4 nights, I’ve been kept awake by a sharp pain on my upper right molar. When I stopped by the dental clinic after work on Thursday, the prognosis was not good. I needed a root canal and a crown. I knew it would hurt but after 4 nights of toothache-hell, I was ready for anything! I think compared to having a toothache every night, I would have taken a root canal procedure any day!

However, after getting x-rayed and prepped, my dentist tells me my nerves are not visible in the x-ray and therefore he would have to refer me to a root canal specialist. I would be given a 4-day respite and would have to come back on Wednesday to see Dr. Park. I was worried – 4 more days of pain??? Then and there I actually considered just getting my tooth extracted but Dr. Hameed read my mind and promised he would give me painkillers to help me get thru the wait. Aaah. Painkillers. Thank God for these little white pills. Because of them I got to spend the weekend relatively pain-free. And what a good weekend it was -- my niece’s first birthday on Saturday and shopping and decorating our home for the holidays with my hubby on Sunday.

Of course, my hubby spent a good part of the weekend teasing me about my dental dilemmas. In the last 3 or so years I have had my fillings replaced, gone for a crown, had one of my wisdom teeth extracted, got my chipped tooth re-shaped, went for several cleanings, and now am facing a root canal. It hardly seems fair since I religiously brush, floss and gargle twice a day. It is my hubby on the other hand who I have to remind, cajole, and nag to brush his teeth every night. But in the last three years, he has never had any dental issues. I mean it’s not that I want Jojo to have any dental problems, it’s just ironic that I’m the one who keeps getting them! I know there are a lot of other factors apart from daily brushing – like nutrition and heredity – that bring about problems like this - all I can say is it's also a lot of “dumb luck” !

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Thanksgiving Holiday

Our Thanksgiving dinner turned out really well. I have to say I was very impressed with Boston Market’s “reheat and serve” banquet dinner. Not counting the over one hour wait and the abrupt customer service we had to endure at the pick-up place, it was a pretty pleasant experience. I think the best part was not having to do any cooking and yet having a hot, delicious and traditional dinner! The meal came with an 11-pound roast turkey (that we reheated for almost 2 hours in a roasting bag), mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, corn bread and a pumpkin pie. The turkey was very moist and flavorful, the gravy was good, the mashed potatoes were lumpy enough for my liking and the corn bread was yummy. I also served steamed green beans with a dash of garlic salt and melted butter which was well received. The only thing that was barely touched was the stuffing. I guess it’s largely because my mom used to make stuffing with rice and mushrooms – and that’s the kind we grew up on. We never had stuffing made with bread – both its look and texture reminded me of mush and was not very appetizing. For dessert, my brother brought a chocolate chip cheesecake from the House of Pies in Los Feliz. It was very decadent and everyone had a slice to round off the meal. We all enjoyed the food for Thanksgiving dinner and even more so the next day when we reheated the leftovers.

But the best part of the Thanksgiving holiday is the Black Friday sales. The next day we all woke up at 4 AM to head over to the Citadel Outlets for shopping! It was a lot of fun. We arrived there a little past 5 and while it was still dark outside, the place was festive because of the lights and the crowds. We managed to find some pretty good deals. I bought shoes at Bass and several cashmere sweaters at Ann Taylor. My hubby got a winter coast for skiing – although I’m not really sure he’ll find much use for it since LA weather is so temperate and since we never really go skiing! We also got to buy Xmas presents for all our nieces and nephews. Jules got scarves, shirts and a sweater. While my aunt, uncle and cousin did their fair share of shopping too. By around noon, the sun was out and most of the sales were over (most stores were offering sale prices from 5 AM to 11 AM only), so after lunch, we headed home to take a nap.

Good food, family and friends, shopping, napping and snacking on leftovers – what could be a better way to spend the Thanksgiving holidays?!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanksgiving Thanks

Today is Thanksgiving and while this may sound cliché, I do have so many things I should be thankful for. Of course there are the big things – like a wonderful husband, an incredible family, great in-laws, true friends, a good home, stable jobs for me and Joj, good health (despite the occasional bouts of the flu), enough to live comfortably, and with savings in the bank too. I am truly blessed and truly fortunate.

And then there are the little things … I am thankful for the 4-day holiday off from work. I am thankful for Boston Market’s Roast Turkey Banquet for 12 that will allow me and our guests to enjoy a good dinner without having to labor over a hot stove. I am thankful for Costco’s Pumpkin Cheesecake – it is just scrumptious! I am thankful that Fall weather has finally come back to LA. I am thankful for Black Friday sales and a hubby who is willing to go shopping with me. I am thankful for my uncle, aunt and cousin who are arriving today to spend Thanksgiving with us. I am thankful that I am finally over that cough I’ve had for almost a month. I am thankful for my mom’s hot cider recipe that I will serve tonight (there will be at least one thing homemade for dinner tonight!). I am thankful for Macys, Kohls, and Crate and Barrel’s Xmas catalogue. I am thankful for having some free time to read emails and post blogs. I am thankful for upcoming holiday parties and get-togethers. I am thankful that I found the perfect pair of shoes to wear to my SIL’s upcoming wedding (finding silver sandals in stores during the Winter season is not as easy as we thought!).

The list goes on and on … but before I forget, I am very thankful for for those who take the time to read my blog. That means a lot to me :)

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Tis the Season for Giving

I love Xmas and I’m all for the idea of starting the Xmas season as early as possible and ending it as late as possible. In Manila, Xmas is celebrated as early as October and can last all the way till February. I remember how back home we used to have our Xmas decors up for almost 4 months. It was always so beautifully done, hats off to my mom for creating such a wonderland every year. Family and friends used to come over and take pictures in front of our Xmas tree – that’s how pretty it was!

I think having 4-month long Xmas holidays is just great! After all, Xmas is just too much fun and just too exciting to limit to just one day of the year. Who says it's just a holiday for kids? It's for everyone! And since it brings about good cheer, gift-giving, Xmas carols, beautiful decorations, days off from work, family gatherings and good food, I say we should stretch it out as long as we possibly can!

For my hubby and I, today was officially the start of our Xmas season. Our season officially begins when we can officially cross off the first name on our Xmas list. And today, we got to cross off a few dozen names. Yay for us!

While that may not be such a great accomplishment, it is for us! I know some people who start their shopping as soon as the “For Sale” signs from the previous Xmas go up. I admire folks who get their Xmas shopping done early and avoid the rush as the season draws closer. There are those who are done with Xmas shopping as early as November and spend the days before Xmas shaking their heads at the crazy folks who make mad dashes to the mall! Every year I promise myself that I will be one of those folks who will get my shopping done ahead of time. For starters, I tell myself that every time I see something that I know someone on my list would like, I am going to get it and set it aside for Xmas. If I see a great shirt I know would look good on my dad, I’ll get it even if it’s the middle of July! But somehow, as with many good intentions, that just never happens. I mean, yes, I could find something so perfect for someone and buy it then and there. But I’m usually so excited to see their reaction that there is no way I can last 7 more months before giving it to that person. I'll probably end up giving that person the gift as soon as I run into him just because I know they will love it. I've been guilty of ruining several surprises that way.

And to further justify the madness, I think that one of the joys and traditions of Xmas is shopping for presents amidst the traffic, among the crowds, with the feeling of being rushed. That’s just what Xmas gift-giving is all about. Yes, it is absolutely the thought that counts – but I think, it’s largely the effort too! :)

Monday, November 13, 2006

Childhood Books

When I was much younger, Sunday afternoons meant a trip to National Bookstore with my dad. Together we would spend the afternoon reading books and magazines. We would literally spend hours crouched along the aisles browsing through page after page. At the end of the day, we would each get to choose a book to take home, to last us till our next bookstore expedition.

Those used to be such simple times. But they were times I truly looked forward to. Back then, they made my weekends complete. I strongly believe that it was those Sunday afternoons in National that forged my love for the written word, that paved the way for my overly active imagination, and that developed my appreciation for literature.

My dad was a big believer in books. He would strongly encourage our love for reading by allowing us to buy an unlimited number of books. We didn’t always get every toy we wanted nor did we get to buy all the outfits we thought looked great. But when it came to books – well the sky was the limit.

Through the years, my dad bought me a lot of books. Some of my very favorite books when I was younger include Louisa Mae Alcott’s Little Women. That book has gotten me thru some very tough times. Reading about the March sisters just reminds me of a simpler life and of the things that really matter – things like family, and traditions, and being there for each other. I always thought my sisters and I were very much like the March sisters. I was the Josephine March of my family – headstrong, willful, and ambitious. My sister Jenny was Beth March – kind, caring, and always there for us. Joy was little Amy March – carefree, high-spirited, and full of life. And my mom was a shoe-in for Marmee – the glue that binds us all together.

I also loved all those Ramona Quimby books by Beverly Cleary. I was a huge Judy Blume fan too. I grew up with Fudge and Peter and Sheila the Great. All my copies were were dog-eared from being read too many times. I loved “Are You There God, It’sMe Margaret” and “Blubber”. I loved the Berenstein Bears and Winnie the Pooh. I even enjoyed the Bunnicula series so much that today that’s one of my nicknames for my hubby. I adored the Nancy Drew and the Bobsey Twins series just as much as I enjoyed reading my dad’s old copies of The Hardy Boys.

I had a copy of Black Beauty, and a copy of The Little Prince, and one of Charlotte’s Web. I read my share of fairy tales and bible stories for kids. I had a copy of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table and a copy of Robin Hood and his band of merry men. And when I daydreamed about those stories, I was always Arthur or Lancelot or even Robin – but never Guinevere nor Maid Marian. I went thru my brother’s collection of Choose Your Own Adventure books and his Asterix and Obelix comic books. I went thru a Sweet Valley High and Sweet Dreams pocket books phase too.

I wasn’t limited to fiction books either. I had this one book on the Seven Wonders of the World that I spent many hours pouring over. I read our Children’s Encyclopedia series and our Childcraft series over and over. I even read books on Countries of the World and would challenge my brother to quiz me on naming countries and their capitals. (I was a little strange in my childhood, I guess).

I can’t believe that I remember so many of those titles even if it’s been close to twenty or so years since I’ve seen or even read most of them. But they were such a special time in my childhood that just the memory of reading them makes me smile. Very belatedly, I thank my dad for instilling in me the love of reading. It is definitely one thing that I will pass on to my kids some day. I can’t wait to sit my kids down and introduce them to the wonderful characters of my childhood. I can’t wait for their faces to light up and for them to get as excited as I did. I can’t wait to hear them ask me to read them a story. I think it is moments like these that will make up having to change poopy diapers and deal with temper tantrums. :)

Sunday, November 12, 2006

I'm Baaack

I’m back. My dad says that almost three weeks of no new posts is a record. I agree. It’s been a while. I guess I owe my loyal readers (or what’s left of them) some sort of explanation to explain my absence. But to be honest, I’m not so sure what to say. The usual excuse of being busy and having too many things to do seems so lame. The fact is the last few days, I’ve been a little bit out of it. Literally and figuratively. Literally, since I did get sick, and having the flu can take a lot out of you. But figuratively, I was not my usual self either. A combination of reasons, I guess.

I didn’t even realize I was out of it – until I had a good long talk with my folks last Friday. As always, my mom and dad were kind enough to help me see straight. I’ve been a bit sad and down lately – and did not even know I was sad and down. I think I did such a great job of hiding it because the people around me never really said anything. I was so convincing – I actually convinced myself that everything was okay. But there’s no fooling my folks! My dad pointed out that they know me so well that even with the thousand or so miles between us – they know when something is wrong. He said that because they care for me so much, they know me better than everyone else (better than myself even) that they knew I was not a-okay. Now, when faced with that kind of discussion, the first thing a normal person would do would be to deny these facts. And I did make a feeble attempt to say I was fine and it was just stress. But when I started being honest with them and myself, I guess I had to admit that they were right and I have been a bit down lately.

I've been trying to figure out what is/was wrong. Retrospection is not easy. Especially since there is no one real reason that is making me sad. Maybe I'm having a mid-life crisis (it could happen – I am in my thirties after all!). But honestly, it’s a lot of little things (work mostly, but also feelings of homesickness, frustration, anxiety). And then there was my attitude as well. I mean, think about it, everyone goes thru ups and downs. And in any situation (whether it’s an up or a down), there are two ways to look at things. You can choose to see the good in something or focus on the negative. In an “up” situation, you can look at the positive and make the already good situation better – or you could look at it negatively and make a good situation turn bad. On the flip side, you could look at a “down” situation with optimism and make it better or you could look at it pessimistically and wallow in the bad. The thing I learned from all this is that the ups and downs are inevitable – they happen whether we want them to or not – that’s just how life is. But the way we look at these situations – our reaction to them and how we handle them – now that’s something we have control over. That’s something we can actually consciously have power over.

It’s obviously a lot easier said then done. Most good advice is that way. But at least I’m making some headway by owning up to this and trying to focus on being more positive. I am going to do my best to think cheery thoughts and be more optimistic. I am going to try and rid my life of things that are getting me down and inhibiting my growth as a person. I am going to focus on the good things. I am going to work on living my life for me instead of trying so hard to please others. I am going to surround myself with my loving family, good friends and my favorite things to see and do. I am going to learn how to relax, to take things in stride and not take things too personally. I am going to do my very best and take it one day at a time. I am an incredibly blessed and an extremely fortunate person and I owe it (at the very least) to myself to be happy.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Weekend in San Diego

Despite living in Southern California, my hubby and I have only been down to the San Diego area a couple of times. Twice we went with family and friends to pay homage to San Diego’s main attractions, the world famous San Diego Zoo, Seaworld, and the Wild Safari Park. Another trip, with my parents and sisters, was spent in Carlsbad admiring the flower fields that showcased a breathtaking array of colorful foliage. All of our trips were weekend events and never included enough time to see the city and sample the local cuisine.

Last weekend, my friends Jeff, Yam and Valerie were visiting from out of town and we decided to spend part of the weekend exploring San Diego. We purposely skipped the theme parks and agreed to visit lesser-known tourist sites. We planned to leave Torrance bright and early on Saturday, but as with all big groups (there were 6 of us including Jules and Jojo), we ended up leaving past 10:30. We arrived at our hotel (Residence Inn in Scripps Ranch) shortly past noon. We checked in and ala Rachael Ray in her show $40 Dollars a Day, asked the front desk staff for their recommendations for lunch. The manager on dutry, Janelle, who happened to be Filipino too, recommended a small, local eatery that served authentic and very good Hawaiian food. Janelle claimed the place was fast becoming a local favorite and since it was hard to find (it was tucked away in the middle of an office complex), it was hardly tourist-infested.

So our group headed over to Da Kitchen – which was indeed small, hard to find, and a gathering place for the locals. The menu was printed on a white board and featured a selection of grilled meats (kalbi style), breaded and fried meats (katsu style), and teriyaki dishes, all served over rice or noodles with a side serving of fresh greens. Our server explained that Hawaiian cuisine is pretty much a mix of island flavors fused with Japanese, Korean and Filipino influences from early immigrants. I ordered a combination dish (pork kalua and pork katsu over steamed rice). The pork kalua is a traditional Hawaiian recipe of pork slow-cooked with lots of herbs and spices. Once cooked, it is hand-shredded and then cooked again until it becomes incredibly tender and flavorful. The pork katsu is a breaded and fried piece of boneless porkchop that was served with a sweet Hoisin-like dipping sauce. It was not bad, served hot but no longer crisp – which means the dish was reheated and not made to order. Happy with our individual orders, we all sat down to enjoy our meal. And although we were all hungry, none of us could finish the humongous servings.

Our next stop was the Fashion Mall to do some shopping. I know mall-shopping while sightseeing is kind of a cop-out, but we voted that it was too sunny to stay outdoors and since my friends were from out-of-town and needed to get their prerequisite shopping for pasalubong done, we gave in. We did attempt to be disciplined and not spend our entire day at the mall, so we agreed to regroup in an hour and a half.

Our next destination was La Jolla to visit its legendary beaches. The drive was very pleasant and we cruised thru the beautiful and expansive UC, San Diego campus. Set close to the water, in lush surroundings, it is amazing how students can get any studying done. La Jolla Beach was surprisingly average. I was probably expecting too much. The beach is reminiscent of all other the other beaches along California’s coastline. There were a few dozen surfers trying to catch a wave, kids playing in the sand, teenagers tossing a Frisbee, and couples lying on the sand. The water was cold, there was a slight breeze, and the sunset in the horizon was quite dramatic. The view made up for the washed up seaweed on the beach that gave off a strong fishy smell. We spent about an hour walking around and admiring the beachfront property before heading over to Our Lady of Confidence church to hear mass.

After mass, we drove to Old Town San Diego and visited one of the local Mexican plazas called Plaza del Pasado. The plaza was brightly lit, and had several shops selling a variety of odds and ends from Mexican housewares, costumes, trinkets to ceramics, candies and toys. There were several restaurants making homemade Mexican goodies and the smells of roasting tortillas filled the air. There was a mariachi band playing fiesta music and a few men and women were garbed in traditional Mexican finery and large sombreros. The night air had turned cool and the place was festive and alive. While waiting for Val’s cousins to join us for dinner we strolled to the nearby Bazaar del Mundo to browse their beautiful terra cotta pots and wrought iron artwork. I was tempted to buy a few colorful ceramic pots for our patio but was shocked to find out the smallest pot cost $32.00.

We had a late dinner at an open-air Mexican restaurant and shared a meal of carne asada, chicken taquitos, and cheese anchiladas, all served with rice and beans. My favorite part was the tortilla soup with creamy avocado slices and the baskets of warm tortilla chips and fresh salsa that started the meal. Of course, we also had to have the fried ice cream for dessert.

After dinner, we drove around the Seaport Village and stopped by San Diego’s nightlife scene at the Gaslamp Quarter (several streets lined with boutiques, restaurants and clubs). Parking was terrible, Jojo was not feeling well, and we were tired, so soon after we headed back to our hotel.

The next day we had breakfast at the hotel coffeeshop and headed back to LA since my friends were leaving that night. Thus ending our 1-day tour of San Diego city. I know there is a lot more to see and do and I am looking forward to another visit soon.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Dumpling Heaven

As I predicted, our culinary adventure in the San Gabriel valley did not disappoint. My brother, hubby and I had lunch at Din Tai Fung Dumpling House in Arcadia. As the name implies, they serve dumplings. Not any ordinary dumplings but the BESTEST dumplings I’ve ever tasted – EVER!

The restaurant is fairly small and located along a strip mall. You could miss the place if you were driving by, if not for the horde of people waiting outside. The place is quite clean and the staff by the front door is surprisingly courteous. The wait is long but you can pass the time walking around the small shops next to it (there is a J&J Bakery right across that has really good pork sung buns – although not wanting to spoil our appetites we got them to go). We also stood in the restaurant’s tiny waiting area and watched 7 or 8 workers expertly making the dumplings through a glass plated window. The men expertly kneaded the doughy wrapper, stuffed the dough with different meat mixtures, and twisted them shut before shaking them in flour and steaming them. We waited almost 40 minutes for a table and heard from others that we were lucky we got in so quickly. I’ve heard some people had to wait up to an hour and a half to get in.

We ordered 3 varieties of dumplings: pork, pork and vegetable, pork and shrimp and an order of fried rice. While waiting you can work on your dipping sauce – ginger strips, black vinegar and soy sauce (mine had some chili sauce too). The dumplings arrive soon after. There are 10 pieces in each order. Each one is a little larger than the size of a quarter (or one peso coin in Manila). The way to eat it is to start with biting a small part of the chewy dough. You will find inside the dumpling is a little bit of broth (I’m not sure how they keep them in the dumpling and why it does not spill out). But it’s a surprise to get the hot broth with the first bite. You then drain the hot broth (believe me it’s very HOT!) and then pour a bit of your sauce into the dumpling and enjoy the rest of it (meat filling and dough). I guess another way to eat it is to pop the whole thing in your mouth and chew everything at the same time. Nothing wrong with that. But like eating an Oreo cookie, there is a art to it – you start with taking the two pieces of chocolate cookies apart and licking the icing center before eating the cookie covers. In the case ofthese dumplings, the way to enjoy them is the biting the wrapper / draining the soup / pouring the sauce / eating the rest of the dumpling method. Trust me, I’m not making it up - it says so in their menus.

At first I thought 30 dumplings would be too much for 3 people. But we were hungry and they were so good that when we were down to our last 5 pieces, we unanimously decided we just had to get one more order. Come to think of it, the small order of fried rice was good too (the rice was fluffy, very flavorful and had lots of large shrimp and vegetables). But really, the day was all about the dumplings.

Any time you find yourself in the Arcadia area. You absolutely need to try this place. It is worth the wait and the drive.

(p.s. I wanted to post a picture of the dumplings but could not. If you are curious - click here and it'll take you to the CitySearch site and they have a picture there).

Friday the 13th (although Blogger posted this on Saturday the 14th)

This morning I facilitated a seminar for work and started the presentation by calling to everyone’s attention that today is Friday the 13th. I said it mainly to break the ice and meant nothing by it. My audience had mixed reactions though. During the break, a couple of folks came up to me and greeted me “Happy Halloween” (I’m taking that as a good thing). But a few others had actually asked me why I scheduled a seminar today of all days. Didn’t I think it would be bad luck? These folks were serious!

To be honest, it didn’t really occur to me. I’m not nearly superstitious enough to believe in the curse of “Friday the 13th”. Considering the workshop went well, maybe I was right. Who knows?!

Anyway, I’ll play it safe. To ward off any bad luck, I’m going to think happy thoughts and list 13 things that make me happy today:

1.) Well, have I mentioned it’s Friday? That says it all.

2.) Wait, actually there’s more, today is pay day too!

3.) Dinner with my in-laws tonight at the Elephant Bar.

4.) I have a book club meeting tomorrow and am looking forward to discussing Ender’s Game – which was strangely interesting.

5.) The weather the last few days has been absolutely gorgeous! Balmy, dark, cool. Today as a bonus – it even rained too!

6.) My hubby is really enjoying his new job – and because of his much shorter commute, is home much earlier every night.

7.) I’m spearheading a newsletter for work and after more than 6 weeks of writing, drafting, editing, lay-outing and designing, I finally got approval to send it for printing.

8.) Tomorrow we’re meeting my brother for lunch in the San Gabriel area – I love discovering hole-in-the-wall places to eat (where they serve authentic Chinese food).

9.) Next week my hubby and I are joining some friends for an overnight trip to San Diego. I am so looking forward to that!

10.) I got an email from my parents last night. They are on a 10-day tour in China and it sounds like they are having a great time. My dad actually did some cave exploring! I can’t wait to hear all the details.

11.) I got an unexpected email from a long lost friend yesterday. He used to be a really good friend and we drifted apart after graduation. My sister ran into him at her new job and they figured out they had knowing me in common. Long story short – it was nice hearing from him after all these years.

12.) I got a coupon (that expires this weekend) for a free oil change from my car dealer – the same week Rave is due for an oil change.

13.) My BIL’s girlfriend told us that the Torrance YMCA has badminton courts and we’re planning to check them out this weekend. (Apparently badminton is not a major sport in the States since we’ve been having the toughest time finding a court to play in).

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

To be or not (yet)to be ... a parent!

Last night, I had a conversation with my SIL about parenthood. We philosophized about when one knows one is ready to become a mom. I’ve read somewhere that for most women the maternal instinct kicks in somewhere between her early to late thirties. Just about the same time her biological clock starts ticking. I guess for most this age makes sense too in terms of the natural progression of events.

By mid-thirties most women would be done with school (graduate degrees and all), would have already had (or are having) successful careers, would have had lots of time to find herself, would have had plenty of time for girlfriends and girls’ nights out, would have had her share of meaningful and meaningless relationships, would have had experienced being in love and getting over love, and is most probably close to (or already at) the stage of settling down. So, after the honeymoon and adjusting to married life, what’s next? For most, having kids is the next logical step, especially if we choose to follow society’s predetermined path.

I have been giving that a lot of thought. I have now had a year and a half to settle into my thirties and have pretty much had my share of living the single life before settling down with the love of my life. We have been married almost two years now. We are both the “right age”, pretty stable financially, have good jobs, a nice home, are decent human beings, belong to good families, go to church regularly, and have never been arrested for anything. Does that make us ready? What is “ready” anyway?

Lately the more I spend time with my nieces and nephews, the more I’m excited with the thought of having kids of my own. I’ve spent time coming up with baby names and enjoy browsing the children’s section in department stores planning my baby’s nursery and what adorable outfits to buy. I actually look forward to babysitting and getting to practice my parenting skills.

On the other hand, every time I talk to my SILs and my friends who have gone thru pregnancies, childbirth and the traumas of first-time motherhood, I am actually more than a little scared that maybe I’m not quite ready yet. Just thinking about it sometimes really unnerves me. I keep thinking what if I’m not a good enough mom, what if I never learn how to change a poopy diaper, what if my kids like their nanny more than they’ll like me, and a million other what ifs. I’m actually a little bit terrified when my baby niece starts crying and I’m at a loss as to why such a tiny thing can make such loud noises.

I mean, yes, I enjoy kids and can spend hours playing, talking, singing, and eating with them. But at the end of the day, I’m also a little relieved when their moms and dads take over when the crying and the tantrums start. Maybe I just want to be the “fun aunt” and not the “responsible mom”. Does that make sense? And is so, is that really very horrible of me?

How do you really know when you’re ready? Am I over-thinking this too much? And is there such a thing as “selective maternal instinct”? I think that’s what I have. There are days when I am sure I’m ready and I want to have kids. And then there are days when I think, life is good, maybe we should enjoy the peace and quiet a few years more? Is this normal? Am I normal? Thank god my hubby (though I know he wants to have kids already) has not added to my mental pressure!

My mom used to tease us that she grew grey hairs because we drove her crazy while we were growing up. In my case, I’m starting early and driving myself crazy worrying about my kids before I even conceive them!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Columbus Day

This is the first time I am getting Columbus Day off. I guess it’s not a major holiday here since my nephew who is in second grade had class today. Other than Columbus discovering America, I’m not really sure what else we’re supposed to be celebrating. The post office and banks are closed. But pretty much everything else is open. Not that I’m complaining, after all, a day off is a day off

I was all set to spend a day of leisure just reading “The Man Who Ate Everything” by Jeffrey Steingarten (who is pretty hilarious!) and gossip magazines from back home, lying in front of the tv, and catching up on emails and blogging. Aaah, bliss! Sometimes it’s great having the house all to yourself. You can eat whenever and whatever you want – chocolate cookies at 9:00 am in bed! You don’t have to get out of your pajamas and you don’t have to worry about brushing your teeth. Even the weather was cooperating. It was dark and gloomy and almost cold. Perfect for me! I started my day with a cup of steaming Tim Horton’s hot cocoa and while watching Still Standing reruns on Lifetime. Now that’s what I call a day off!

My hubby left for work at 8:40 am. Today is his first day. Actually, I’m getting ahead of news I have not had a chance to share. My hubby resigned from his former job at the anime company two weeks ago and is starting a new job at a computer company today. It’s major news and I can’t believe I have not posted about it. But lately, there are not enough hours in the day and so I’ve sort of put it off. Anyway, the new company is offering him better pay and better benefits … but the real clincher is the fact that they are located 15 minutes away from our place. Now, in LA, to find work 15 minutes away from where you live is almost unheard of … the fact that both of us work 15 minutes away is a downright miracle!

As I was saying, Jojo left at 8:40 am but less than two hours later is back home. He needed to take a drug test at a local clinic before starting work and the results won’t be in till tomorrow. So technically he did not have Columbus Day off, but he did get the day off from work.

So much for my day of just lazing around. Now don’t get me wrong. I love spending time with my hubby and he can be just as big a couch potato as I can be. But since we both had the day off, we figured today was probably a great day to get all our chores done. The ones that we didn’t have enough time over the weekend to do! We had a quick lunch at Pollo Loco and spent the afternoon going to the dry cleaners, had my pants altered at my favorite seamstress (Mrs. Chong is a genius!), bought a vacuum cleaner on sale at Kohls, and went shopping at Del Amo for a dress for my SIL’s upcoming wedding. It was a frustrating afternoon since a teal-colored evening dress in my size and in the style I like is not easy to find. After that, we went over to my other SIL’s place to pick her and my father in law up for an appointment with a family-friend. We ended up staying over for dinner. Afterwards we played around with my nieces and nephew who were as rambunctious as ever! :)

It’s almost 10:00 pm and we just got home. I’ve finished making lunch for tomorrow and my hubby is ironing his shirt for work. In about an hour we’re going to have to get ready for bed. Strange how my day of leisure turned into another jam-packed day like all the rest!

P.S. Yesterday we belatedly celebrated the Mooncake Festival with our annual dice game here at home. My BIL, Lee, won the grand prize ( a $50.00 Target gift card). We had about seven or eight rounds of rolling the 3 pairs of dice to win prizes. And we had a lot of really nice prizes (crystal chess set, roadside assistance kit, camping chairs, sports tumbler, Bath and Bodyworks spa set, swiss army knife, television remote caddy, crystal candy dish, picture frames, and lots more) - but all I won was a Nestle crunch bar. I'm not normally superstitious but I hope my lack of luck playing dice does not translate to my being unlucky in life :)

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Food Galore

The house is quiet now. After having 3 weeks of guests, reunions, out of town trips, it seems strangely so. It was really nice having my friends over. Even if they kept me up almost every night, even if I had to do a little bit more housework, even if it meant playing tour guide most weekends, it was indeed worth it. One of the main perks was having an excuse to eat out almost every night. We paid homage to our favorite restaurants and got the chance to try several new ones.

Normally, Jojo and I eat out during weekends – as a way to treat ourselves for lasting yet another week! But we usually go to the same places and never really stray too far from home. Much like the qualities I love about him, my hubby is safe and dependable even when it comes to his food choices. :) Between the two of us, I am much more adventurous when it comes to culinary exploits, but it is hard to be daring when you are alone.

While my friends were here, we tried a lot of different places and varied cuisine. Towards their last night in LA, we had run out of gastronomic choices. We had had Japanese, Chinese, Chinese-American, Thai, Italian, Mexican, Hawaiian Brazilian, Traditional American, Barbecue, Korean, and Mediterranean. We had eaten in buffets, brunches, diners, five-star places, fast foods, steakhouses, and even take out. We visited coffee shops, doughnut shops, noodle houses, and ice cream parlors. And most of the types of cuisine we tried, we even did more than once. We literally ran out of choices, if that’s possible. Some nights we had to resort to home cooking just to try something new!

Of all the places we tried and enjoyed, two are worthy of actually mentioning here. These two join the ranks of becoming my favorite food haunts.

The first is Duke’s in Malibu. The restaurant is right on the Pacific Coast Highway and has a wonderful view of the Pacific Ocean. We had spent the day driving down PCH and were at the restaurant’s bar a little past six. The place was full and we were given the choice of waiting an hour for a dinner table or enjoying a more casual atmosphere (but the same menu) at Duke’s Barefoot Bar. We took the latter. Les, Ginger, Jamie, Jojo and I – and later my brother, Jules, sampled their cocktails (I had the margarita which was really refreshing). We had calamari strips and nachos for appetizers. The calamari was very tender and the nachos were really good (topped with cheese, beans, jalapenos, and pico de gallo). For our main course, Jojo and I shared the surf and turn platter (grilled steak and shrimp), Jules had the grilled mahi-mahi with mango salsa, while my friends shared the spicy scallops over rice and a huge order of Prime Rib. Everything was awesome. I liked the atmosphere of the place too. The Barefoot Bar had a tropical theme in keeping with Duke's Hawaiian style cuisine. It was very lively (there was a USC football game blaring from 2 huge tvs and you could hear the roar of the ocean waves as they rolled onto the shore).

My second favorite place is Lucille’s Barbecue. It’s a restaurant chain -- we went to the one at the Del Amo mall in Torrance. The place is so good that we went there twice in 3 nights! The first time, we went with Les and Ginger and shared the Backyard Feast and an order of jambalaya. The Backyard Feast came with tri-tip (super succulent), barbecue chicken (amazing flavor), and baby back ribs (so tender the meat was falling off the bone). The jambalaya was super too with andouille sausages, shrimps, bell peppers and onions. We rounded off the meal with homemade apple pie ala mode

The second time we went, we took Su, Mark and Jules. We ordered the Family Feast for 4 and an appetizer sampler. There was so much food – literally our table was filled from end to end! The Family Feast could have easily fed 6 extra hungry guys. Since there were only 5 of us and we had ate so much of the appetizets and biscuits, we had to take food home – we ended up with 5 cartons of leftovers (enough for lunch for all of us the next day!).

But it was worth it. The appetizer platter came with grilled veggie fajitas, steak tortilla rolls, fried green tomatoes, jalapeno poppers, chicken strips, barbecue wings, and onion rings. Our Feast was a huge platter of chicken and baby back ribs. It also came with 4 huge side servings – garlic mashed potatoes, shoestring fries, peanut coleslaw, and roasted corn. YUM! But what was really awesome was the barbecue sauce (which came in 3 varieties: regular, hot & spicy, and Memphis style – which was more tangy than sweet). We also loved, loved, loved the hot biscuits and the sweet honey butter.

It’s a true luxury to be able to eat food this good. But really too much of a good things can be bad too. After my friends left, Jojo and I have been sticking to soup and fruit for dinner. We’ve got to give our stomachs a rest – not to mention our waistlines too! It’s been a great 3 weeks though and I can’t wait for my friends to be back, for another chance to enjoy good company over good food too :)

Monday, September 25, 2006

The Rest of Our Vegas Trip

Okay, so where did I leave off? My last post was mid-way our Las Vegas trip. So here’s the second part of that. Saturday in Vegas was spent exploring the Strip and visiting the opulent shops at the Bellagio and Caesar’s Palace. We had a late lunch at The Cheesecake Factory, which is hardly original given Las Vegas’ multitude of eateries. But we were tired and hungry – and The Cheesecake Factory offers something for everyone and so it worked for our group. After lunch, there was more shopping and lots of time spent trying to regroup and find each other. Aaah, the perils of traveling with a big group! Yes, it is fun, but it can be a bit challenging too. All I can say is “thank god for cell phones and free weekend service”.

My friends decided to watch Cirque du Soleil’s “O” in two batches (there was a 7:30 pm group and a 10:30 pm group). Jojo and I decided to pass since we had planned meeting up with my other group of friends (Ence, Rich, Muri and Carl). Carl had promised us a crab and oyster dinner that would be worth the 4 and ½ drive from LA. I know it sounds strange to drive to the desert for seafood – but we were up for it! Plans changed though when Muri called us at around 8. They were still at the outlets waiting for Ence’s family get their shopping done. It seemed dinner would be very, very late and it might be better to postpone to another night instead.

So, since Jojo and I were left to ourselves, we walked around some more, drove down the Strip, played some slot machines, lost some money, and finally headed back to our hotel to kill some time. At around 9:30, we met up with my friends who came from watching “O” and had appetizers and drinks at TGI Fridays – again, another unoriginal choice – but it was close by and we just wanted a place to hang out. We called it a night past midnight.

Back in our hotel room, I had decided to revise my opinion about The Orleans hotel. Originally, I had found it to be a good deal for a three-star property. Yes, it was off-the-strip but the spacious rooms and neat appearances made up for that. It was a plus too that the hotel was not that crowded and there were hardly any lines at the registration desk or for the elevators. But on our second night, we came back to a room that was partially cleaned, a sink that was clogged, an air conditioner that was blowing out lukewarm air, and problems logging onto the internet even after we had paid $12.00 for it. Plus the staff was a bit abrupt when we called to find out what was wrong.

Sunday morning, Jojo and I checked out of our room before meeting up with Les, Su, Mark, Pam, Jamie and Ginger. We the drove to the Wynn Hotel and met up with the rest of the group (Mei, Ben, Thomas, Ahna and Kenny). Luckily the second half of our group arrived much earlier and reserved us seats for the brunch buffet. The lines were really long!

I have to say the Wynn Casino is gorgeous – yes, so much so that it held its own over it’s other 5-star counterparts. Even the casino floor – normally hazy with smoke and garishly designed – was tastefully done with plush carpets and leather chairs. The restaurant where the buffet was served was really bright and impressive too. It was decorated in bright yellows and greens, there were lots of foliage inside, glass windows and mirrors reflected bright sunlight, heavy brocade drapery were hung on the walls, and there was good quality silverware and china. It was reminiscent of having high tea at someone’s garden estate. I loved the ambience of the place and the way the buffet was arranged. It was not the run-of-the-mill buffet where food is heaped onto huge chaffing dishes under hot lamps. This one had the food on narrow but elongated ceramic platters, enclosed behind stained glass panels. The food was arranged by cuisine: Asian, Italian, American. And there was a salad bar, an omelet station, a shellfish bar and of course a two-sided dessert station. And although the serving dishes were not huge, the food never seemed to run out. The service was impeccable from the omelet chef, to the carving station chef, all the way to the servers who kept our coffee cups and juice glasses constantly filled.

I wish I could say that the food was as impressive as the décor. But sadly, there were not that many choices and the food that was there was nothing remarkable. Actually most of the dishes were bordering on ordinary. For breakfast there was eggs benedict, bacon, sausages, and frittatas. The Asian section had stir-fried squid, shiu-mai, flat rice noodles. Italian cuisine was represented by an array of pizzas, pasta, ravioli, and a baked fish. The usual American fare of barbecued ribs, fried chicken , mashed potatoes, was also present. There was also a lot of cold selections like shrimp cocktail and smoked salmon. There was lots more, of course, but these were basically the highlights. The one thing I will say, though, is that the carving station’s prime rib was excellent and that Jojo was in dessert heaven since there was a wide array of no-sugar pastries that could pass for the real thing.

The true highlights of the meal were really the ambience and the company. It made every penny worth it! But, as with all good things, this one had to come to an end. Jojo and I had to bid everyone good-bye and drive back to LA since we both had to go to work the next day. It was a great weekend, though, and I hope we get to see everyone again real soon.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Old Friends, New Memories

I have not blogged in the last few days an as a result my dad has been worried that I would lose the interest of my loyal blog readers. I assured him that I have a loyal base of readers and in the worst case scenario I can probably call all 5 of them and let them know I have a new post today! :)

The last couple of weeks have been very busy. Mainly because of work. It’s still a bit tough adjusting – what’s worse is to have so many deadlines looming while that adjusting is going on. But enough about that. This post was not intended to focus on my gripes about work.

The other reason I’ve been so busy is cause we have had so many guests the last couple of days. It started last week (Wed.) with the arrival of my cousin, Jill, from Toronto. Despite our 9-year age gap, Jilly-bean and I are very close and she grew up almost like my little sister. It was great seeing her even if she was here only for a few days. We spent all our free time catching up and bonding. She left last Tuesday.

Next was the arrival of my best friend of nearly 20 years (my god that makes us sound ancient!), Leslie, who was here for my wedding back in 2004 and is here for a 3-week vacation. With Les is her co-worker and friend Jaime, who in a span of 1 afternoon has become one of us! They both arrived on Sunday. The following day, my very dear friend from high school (Su-an) and her husband of two days (Mark) arrived. They are on their honeymoon and since I missed their wedding, it’s kinda sweet that they are sharing their honeymoon with us :) To welcome them all, we had a backyard bbq of chicken, sausages, ribs and corn together with three other friends Ginger, Heidi and Libby.

On Wednesday night, we met another long-time friend of mine (Mei and her husband, Ben, and son, Thomas) for dinner at Samba in Redondo Beach. It was really nice seeing Mei (who I have not seen in 13 year!!!). The next night I had them all over for dinner at home where I prepared baked chicken wings, garlic focacia bread and spaghettini with meatballs.

On Friday, we all drove to Las Vegas to meet up with still more friends. While my high school pals spent the afternoon at the Primm outlets, Jojo and I met up with two of my really good friends from work (from my first job in Manila). Ence and her hubby Rich who are here visiting from Connecticut, and Muri and her boyfriend, Carl who are based in Las Vegas. We had dinner at a really nice place called Bahama Breeze. I was so excited when they mentioned the place since Rachael Ray had featured it on her Food Network show $40 Dollars a Day.

So there we were dining on fiery hot wings, jerk chicken pasta, barbecue chicken with smashed sweet potato and plantains topped with chicken, cheese and salsa. The food was good, the mojitos were just right, the ambience took you to a tropical hideaway, but the best part was catching up with old friends. It was great seeing Ence who I last saw back in 2001 and Muri who was over very briefly to attend my wedding. These two were such good friends of mine and we’ve been thru so much together too. Great meeting Carl who was very funny and Rich who had not changed at all. After dinner and drinks we headed to Tuscany villas to say hello to Ence’s family (mom, dad, brother, in-laws). It was just nice to see familiar faces. We stayed till about 1 just talking and catching up.

Right now, it’s bright and early (well, 9 am is bright and early in Vegas) and while everyone is still asleep, I thought I’d post an update. We are booked here at The Orleans hotel. It’s off the strip but really a very nice hotel. I’m quite impressed. I actually think it rates much higher than Circus-Circus, were we stayed two months ago when I came with my in-laws.

Today, is another exciting day since another dear high-school friend, Pam is flying in from Boston. Along with another friend, Ahna who is arriving from New York. It’s all very exciting and so awesome seeing everyone and having a weekend just dedicated to having fun and getting reunited. This is one time where “what happens in Vegas, hopefully does not stay in Vegas” :)

Monday, September 04, 2006

Labor Day Weekend

My hubby and I have been known to spend three-day weekends out of town or at the very least exploring the town we live in. Since we live in Southern California, Labor Day weekend also means backyard barbecues with family and friends or trips to go shopping at the outlets. This weekend was a little bit different though.

The last three days were spent helping my brother, Jules, move to his new apartment in Pasadena. For the last 2 & 1/2 years, my brother has been my apartment/house-mate. He and I have both helped each other stave off feelings of homesickness as we both successfully recreated the happy home life we had in Manila. But since he got a job in Pasadena, his commute to and from Torrance has been pretty bad. He spends between 2 & ½ to 3 hours a day in traffic. And has really felt the pressure of getting up extra early and getting home late at night. So last month he decided to get a place closer to work.

While I’m happy for my brother, I have to admit I’m actually pretty sad about his being away from us as well. Jules and I grew up in a very close-knit family. So despite our three year age gap, we are pretty close and get along quite well. I first arrived here in the States in 2001 and when he followed three years later, it was understood that we would live together and help each other out. No questions asked and honestly, I do not think either one of us would have had it any other way. The last three years, we’ve stayed in an apartment and then moved to our home here in Torrance, Jules and I have been thru a lot. His quiet and steadfast nature has always complimented my more outgoing and spontaneous one. Believe it or not, we have lived here together for three years, as adults, but I can not recall a time we both got into a serious fight!

I know it may seem strange to think that my fully grown (but still my baby) brother is living alone for the first time. But as I said, my family is extremely close and we all choose to live together rather than live on our own. None of us has really ever wanted to move out (can’t even recall a time when any of us ran away from home even as kids!), and I know for a fact that if I were still in Manila, I would most likely have lived with my folks up till the day I got married :)

And even now that I am married, I am constantly urging my sisters and brothers to move to the States and come live with us (I've been urging my folks as well but that's another story!). Luckily I am blessed with a hubby that understands and actually feels the same way.

So, I guess it’s normal for me to be a little choked up now that Jules is gone. Tonight is his first night at his place, and even if I was there earlier, I’ve already called him just to ask if he’s had dinner already. And even if Jules has been on several out of town trips and has spent many nights away from here, his not being here tonight is such a marked difference that even my hubby has commented that the house is quieter and feels just a wee bit more empty. But despite that, I am proud and happy for my brother and his independence.

The funny thing is my brother is spending the night here this Thursday (since our cousin, Jill, is arriving from Toronto and staying for a few days). He has also said he will be spending most of his weekends here in Torrance. So I guess I’ll just have to be a bit sad for a few days :)