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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Time Management

Since it was raining last night and I had about an hour to kill while waiting for Jojo to get off from work, I found myself browsing at Borders on 3rd and La Cienega. There was a display right at the center of the store where they were selling 3 books for the price of 2. Since I am a sucker for promotions like this I had to check it out. There were a couple of interesting titles (Close Range by Annie Proulx; Snow Flower & the Secret Fan by Lisa See; Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini; The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd; and One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez). I stood there for about half an hour reading back covers and prologues, debating about which 3 books I would pick. After meticulously selecting 3 and getting in line to pay, I had to will myself to walk away from the line, return the books, and walk very quickly to my car. That my, dear readers, is EXTREME WILLPOWER! I realized I do not have time to read those books. And having them around would be too much of a temptation and a distraction from everything else I have to do.

Lately, I’ve been suffering from the “24-hours-in-a-day-is-not-enough” syndrome! (Maybe it’s not just me?).

Let’s see, 24 hours in a day. In my case, most (week) days are normally broken down into three equal parts: 8 hours work time (or rather time spent in the office since it’s not really all “work”), 8 hours sleep time, and 8 hours free-for-all time. Free-for-all time includes: 1 hour in the morning to schlep out of bed, shower, blow-dry, change and grab coffee; 2 hours stuck in traffic; 1 hour from when I get off work till I have to pick up Jojo, which I spend either walking (for exercise) or running errands; and 1 hour doing stuff around the house when I get home (making dinner, tidying up; reading mail; and a dozen other “little” things).

That leaves me (more or less) 3 hours for everything else. “Everything else” includes:
· Spending quality time with my hubby;
· Reading stuff and doing homework for my HRM class (not to mention that actual class itself, which is 3 hours every Wed. night and every other Sat. morning);
· Trying to review for the PHR certification exam (which I am hoping I will be ready for in December);
· Getting my reality tv fix (this is my one true guilty pleasure!). Just when one season ends (“Dancing with the Stars” and “Skating with Celebrities”), a new one begins (“The Apprentice” and “American Idol”). I’ve really tried to curb my reality tv viewing, but after I found out there are Filipino contestants on both Idol and Apprentice – how can I not watch??? (FYI: Cheryl Burke (Drew Lachey’s partner) – winners of Dancing with the Stars - is half-Pinoy too!;
· Job searching (am serious about this!!!);
· Posting on my blog (my solution to this is to do it during my lunchbreak at work!);
· Keeping in touch with family and friends – emails; phone calls; instant messenger;
· Reading for pleasure. I've started a “hope-to-read-someday” list;
· Joining extra curricular stuff – am contemplating on signing up for the Torrance Library’s local book club, Michael’s (craft store) jewelry beading class; and our parish’s Catholic Formation program;
· Working out on our home exercise machine (as you can see this is way down on my priorities list!).

To think my hubby and I have not yet been blessed with kids ...

So, unless I can find a way to cut down the time I spend at work (isn’t the Mega Lotto jackpot at $265 million?), find more innovative ways to multi-task, or survive on 4 hours of sleep a night, I think I’ll have to be much more disciplined and stick to prioritizing what I want and have to do!


P.S. I know it's ironic that I keep complaining about not having enough time and yet I manage to write these long posts on my blog. But lately I've come to view blogging as strangely therapeutic. Call it my emotional outlet if you will!

Monday, February 27, 2006

Here Come the Rains!

Looking out my office window, I see gray skies, a light but steady rain falling, and small puddles of water gathering in the parking lot. What wonderful weather! I absolutely love balmy, overcast days and rainy days are even better. I guess that makes me an atypical California-resident. After all, living in Southern California and not liking sunshine is almost sacrilegious! But really, 365 days of sunshine is too, too much. I’ve always been partial to dark and dreary days with strong winds, rain showers, thunder, lightning, and cool temperatures. In fact, if I were asked to choose between a hot summer day or a strong (signal number 3) typhoon – I’d most likely pick the latter. Well, depending on what I had planned for that day, I guess.

Of course today would be even more ideal if only I were home, in my flannel pajamas, curled up in bed with a good book, hot chocolate with mini marshmallows on the side, and my hubby beside me. But instead, I get to enjoy the rainy weather while sitting at my desk, drinking lukewarm green tea, going through client reports, and anticipating a horrendous heavy-traffic drive home. We really can’t have it all.

I remember typhoons back in Manila when classes and sometimes work would be cancelled, forcing everyone to stay home. Most times the electricity would go off and homes were quiet. My family would gather in our enclosed terrace listening to the rain pounding the roof and the winds blowing thru the trees. We would be enjoying the cool weather and sipping frothy melon shakes which for some reason my mom would always prepare. My dad would be reading the newspaper while the rest of us would bring out board games (Scrabble, Monopoly and Boggle most often!) or start making up silly mind games. Sometimes, if we could persuade her, my sister, Joy would play the piano. We would always have dinner early (so there was still some light out) but they eventually ended up as candlelight dinners since we would all linger around the table. The meals were not fancy since Manang Mercy, our cook, had no electricity and sometimes no water to prepare the food. But for some reason, it is those meals that I often miss the most. Sardines in tomato sauce, corned beef with diced potatoes, garlic fried rice, scrambled eggs with tomatoes, crispy adobo flakes, and Royco chicken noodle soup -- the powdered soup and dried noodles that came in those green packets that you added to boiling water (for some reason this was our favorite soup and I can still remember how we would closely watch whoever was ladling the bowls to make sure each one of us got our "fair share").

These days I don’t get to enjoy many rainy days. I think it is one of the disadvantages of living here in Los Angeles. But whenever we have them (like today), I really get homesick for my family and those rainy days back home.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

An Attempt to Review Brokeback Mountain

So, I watched that “gay cowboy movie” this weekend. After reading numerous reviews and hearing so much talk about the movie, I was not sure about what to expect when I watched Brokeback Mountain. Despite the media frenzy and public hype, the movie quite expectedly blew me away.

First of all, I must clarify, it is NOT just a “gay cowboy movie”. To oversimplify the poignancy of the story and to box the emotions that the movie evokes in those three words is insensitive and unfair. In my opinion, to get so caught up in the fact that the story revolves around two gay cowboys is but a narrow-minded generalization. The story of Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist is like all timeless stories -- a love story -- one of forbidden love, and this like many stories before it also transcends time and goes against the dictates of society. The fact that it is between two men is incidental.

Set in 1963, in rural Wyoming, the story unfolds in a time and place where feelings of love and passion most likely were not topics at the dinner table – most especially if the feelings of love and passion were between two men. Brokeback Mountain is about two young, brash, rough and uninformed men who work together one summer herding sheep. During that summer, the men find themselves drawn to each other and while trying to fight the attraction, fall in love. It is heartbreaking to watch them struggling to do what they are told is right and trying to come to grips with what they are feeling. Especially when they have no words to define what they are going thru and no hope of coming to terms with what it is they really want. I sympathize with Ennis and Jack as they go through various states of frustrating emotional turmoil.

Both men try to do what they are taught is right. They go their separate ways, marry, have children, and get jobs. After all, this is what men do. But, despite trying to fight their feelings, they are inexplicably drawn to the bond they shared that summer up in the mountains. Throughout the next 20 years of their lives, they meet every chance they get, although the encounters are few and far between, and each time they are together only brings them closer to the realization that what they truly want they can not have and that they are helpless to change their destiny. After all their choices are limited -- be happy together but face being ostracized by society or return to their families and jobs but face a lifetime of loneliness. It is actually not a choice at all. They go back to their families and try to make the best of it, but they live lives that are tormented and confused with only the memories and anticipation of being together to sustain them.

After watching the movie, I felt a number of emotions go through me. This is not an easy movie to walk away from. Something about the powerful performances, the beauty of the landscape featured in the film, the heartwrenching dialogue, and the emotional substance it tackles stays with you. Frustration for Jack and Ennis, sympathy for Alma and Lureen (their wives), and an overall sadness for societal stereotypes and biases. Thinking about this movie makes me realize that while many of us do not find ourselves in the exact same situations, we do find ourselves in quite similar ones. More often than not we find ourselves having to face tough choices of doing what we are told is right or doing something that we feel is right for us. Hopefully, if anything, this movie teaches us that while we need to take our responsibility towards society seriously, in the end, we are also ultimately responsible for creating our own happiness.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Valentine Scrooges

My hubby and I are officially boycotting Valentines Day. Yes, you read right. We have officially become Valentine Scrooges. February 14th? Bah humbug!

Important side note here: Don’t get me wrong. We are NOT boycotting the sentiment behind Valentines Day. Actually, the idea of having a special day devoted to spending time and making an effort for your special someone is kind of nice. One exclusive day to go all out -- flowers, gifts, chocolates, dinner, dancing, the works! I mean, yes, ideally every day should be that way – “every day should be Valentines Day”. But let’s be realistic here! True, we can show our partners we love them every day by doing the little stuff that matters – but once in a while, there needs to be an occasion to jazz things up! Women need that – and believe me, even if they don’t admit it, men need it just as much.

Think of it this way, we celebrate the birth of Christ every Christmas or His glorious resurrection on Easter Sunday, both happen once a year but that does not mean we don’t revere Him the rest of the year. Or birthdays for that matter. We love our family and friends every day (almost every day!)– but we only get them presents, sing to them, and celebrate with cake on their birthdays. In my opinion, we need these occasions to go all out. We need these occasions to have something to look forward to. We need these occasions to break up the monotony of every day life. We need a reason to justify having rich, calorie-laden, decadent desserts!

So, to sum up my side note, it is NOT the sentiment of spending one day in a year for our loved one that gets to me – but it is the commercialization of Feb. 14th that leaves me feeling very cynical.

What brought about this realization you might ask. Well, yesterday began quite beautifully with breakfast in bed – prepared quite lovingly by my hubby. If you knew Jojo well enough, you would know this was an act of supreme sacrifice. Suffice it to say my hubby is not a morning person, so to get up early, make my favorite breakfast (garlic rice, dried tuyo, sunny-side-up eggs, and tomatoes), and serve it to me – before I was up – was really an act of absolute selflessness and ultimate love! (Again, this is why I am not putting down the sentiment behind Valentines Day).

But later that day, the flowers Jojo ordered to be delivered to my office (which cost three times what they normally would) ended up getting lost. After following up with the florist, we found out they had a huge backlog of orders and, even after paying extra for normally free delivery, the flowers from the shop (on Wilshire Blvd.) did not make the half-mile trip to my office (also on Wilshire Blvd.).

Later that evening, we head out to my surprise dinner at Soho (Thai Fusion Bar & Grill), where Jojo had made dinner reservations. Well, to start with there was no parking. Then since there was a huge number of people, the restaurant had to cancel all reservations and gave us a choice of having to wait 45 minutes to an hour for a table or go somewhere else. We chose the latter and ended up driving around for about an hour at nearby “Valentines-approved” places to have dinner. It was full everywhere. No surprise there. By this time, Jojo was very hungry and I needed to use the restroom badly so we agreed to head home – which is how we ended up having dinner at one of our favorite places, BCD Tofu House (which is very near where we live). While the food is consistently good, it is probably the least romantic place to go – but it served our purposes well, Jojo got to eat and I got to use the restroom.

All in all, the day wasn’t a complete disaster. On the up side, my hubby and I got to exchange gifts (a polo shirt for him and a book for me) plus we got to celebrate together – even if it was probably not quite the way we had planned. So we came up with an agreement, from now on, we plan to celebrate our Hearts Day (our very own Valentines Day) on the first Saturday before Feb. 14th. Maybe by doing that, we still get to enjoy the feeling of the Valentines Day season (get to avail of pre-Valentines Day sales) but avoid all the commercial and money-making propaganda of the day itself.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Loser Inc.

I feel terrible about something that just happened at work. I’ve been blindsided by news from a client that totally left me feeling drained and upset. I’m not sure quite yet how to process this information and thought that by writing this post I could clear my head. I can’t quite digest the fact that a company (a reputable one – or so I thought) had put one over my company -- or me for that matter! Of all the immoral, indecent and unfair things to do!

Here’s the background that led to this incident:
I think I’ve mentioned that one of my company’s services is conducting on-site compliance training programs for other organizations. Last year, I was inundated with workshops towards the end of the year since many companies wanted to get their compliance programs done before year-end. I was dealing with several new companies in and around Los Angeles. Since these were companies we previously had not done business with, I would charge them 50% of our workshop fee a week before the workshop and 50% of the fee on the day of the workshop. This seemed fair and most of the clients agreed.

Then came this new company (which I will now refer to as Loser Inc. – since this is what they are and since the word “loser” is actually quite close to their real name!). Loser Inc.’s HR Director (initials M.R.) calls me on Dec. 29th and asks for a workshop for the 30th. Since I was down with a cold then and did not really want to facilitate a 4-hour workshop on the last working day of the year, I suggested having the workshop the first week of the year instead. M.R. said they needed it done on the 30th (to comply with the 2005 training requirements) and said it would be a workshop for two very small groups and could be done in less than 4 hours and that she would help me throughout the workshop.

So … big mistake # 1 … I AGREED.

Big mistake # 2 … I agreed to not getting 50% down payment prior to the workshop (since there was no time) and not getting 50% on the day of the workshop (since their Accounting Manager was already on vacation). We had agreed that the payment would be sent out the first week of January. Can you see where this is leading to?

Well, long story short, I do the workshops (and no it was NOT easy training) and I go home thinking that was it. Well, big mistake # 3 was “thinking that was it!”.

The first week of January came and went – no check in the mail. I call M.R. and do not get a call back. By mid-January I call M.R. every other day and leave her voice messages, sent her several emails, and re-sent the invoice – no response. The last week of January I actually go to their office and M.R. meets with me (after making me wait 20 minutes). She said she has now transferred our invoice to the Accounting Manager (initials E.R.) and I should follow up with E.R., who, of course, was not in that day.

So for the next 2 weeks, I call E.R. – almost daily now. Got a hold of E.R. the week before last and she said the check was in the mail. So, we wait. After a week, still no check. Tried getting in touch with her all of last week and kept getting her voice mail.

At this point, I am thinking something is wrong – maybe E.R. was on vacation or maybe the check was lost in the mail or maybe there was some mix-up with their Accounting system. I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt even if I was getting really frustrated.

Well, today, after 45 days of calling, following up and site visits, I finally hear the truth. I get E.R. on the phone and am told the company has filed CHAPTER 11!!! They are bankrupt and as a result (among other things) all their debts are cancelled. Am still having trouble getting around the concept that a company can totally mismanage its finances and resources and then one day just file chapter 11 and all their outstanding debt is wiped off and they get to start anew. How does that promote responsible business practices? How does that create accountability in the workplace? How is that morally correct and fair? Unbelievable!

I feel terrible to have trusted this company to honor its word. I feel deceived that these two people (M.R. and E.R.), who both probably knew what was going on, let all of this happen and refused to be upfront before and after the fact. I feel quite stupid for following up over 6 weeks and actually expected to still receive a check for full payment. I feel awful for letting my boss down (he’s taking it quite well though, but still …). I feel horrible knowing our company has to chalk this one up as a loss. But most of all, I feel bad knowing this company put one over me. I guess that’s the worst feeling of all.

M.B., one of my co-workers (and a good friend too) was trying to cheer me up earlier saying I should not feel that all this is my fault (actually, I don’t think ALL of it is my fault – but I can’t help feeling at least a little bit responsible for this!). He added that I should not blame myself (easier said than done) and that I should learn from this experience (boy am I ever going to!). His last piece of advice was (in his exact words) “Joanne, you should move on and forget this chapter”. Haha - literally, “this chapter”, that would be chapter 11!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Girlfriends

In the last couple of years that I’ve been here in LA, one of the things I miss most is having girlfriends. For my female readers out there, you know what I’m talking about. Having family friends, acquaintances, co-workers, neighbors, classmates, family members, in-laws and a husband is one thing. And yes, all those relationships that I now have are indeed great in their own way. But there is something to be said about girlfriends and the kind of bond these relationships have.

I miss hanging out with a bunch of ladies who support, encourage, understand, and empathize with me (and vice versa). I miss girl’s-nights-out –- dressed up dinners, cocktails, karaoke, coffee runs, and watching sappy, romantic, feel-good movies. I miss shoe shopping, getting facials, bargain hunting, and trying on make-up together. I miss sleepovers that really mean staying up all night gossiping about everything and nothing, laughing ourselves silly, and pouring our hearts out over every little heartache. I miss calling someone just to say hello and ending up talking on the phone for three hours. I miss spending time with ladies who know me inside out, who’ve seen me at my best and at my worst, and who’ve been thru the same emotional rollercoasters I’ve been thru as well.

I am blessed to have several really wonderful groups of girlfriends – my friends from high school, my college friends, friends from my first job at JIC, and my Berkeley friends. Most of them I’ve stayed in contact with and we’ve done our best to keep in touch. But e-mails, once in while phone calls, occasional text messages, instant messenger, and for several of them, rare visits that come too far apart -- well, it’s really not the same.

I am not sure why right now, where I am, there aren’t more of these same kinds of relationships. At first, I blamed it on living here. Life in the States, while fulfilling, is just too crazy busy and people always seem to be rushing off to live their lives. My friends from graduate school and I find it next to impossible to meet regularly - not with family, work, and personal commitments always coming up. And for some reason, people here keep moving away. (Side note: I think it’s ridiculous that the more advanced we become in communication technology – the harder it is to get a hold of someone or to have decent conversations). My co-workers and I seem to have different interests. So there’s also the fact that I do not seem to be meeting the “right” kind of people – (not that I have a disillusioned superiority complex or anything like that) – it’s more a case of not meeting women my age (or around my age), who like and dislike the same things I do, and who share a similar lifestyle/background with me. I guess it was easier when friendships were formed in high school and were bonded over homework, and study groups, and meeting guys. Or making friends at work where you had projects, and meetings, and mean bosses to gripe about.

But apart from that, in many ways, I think partly it’s me too. Living here has definitely changed me. I’ve become one of those women who has become so busy with adjusting to life here, getting used to being married, building my career, taking classes, fixing up my home, running around doing a million and one things, and trying to squeeze in some alone time as well. Again, not that any of that is so wrong, but I’ve really not had the time or the inclination to cultivate any girlfriend-relationships.

It’s easy to blame the fast pace of life, not meeting the right people, and the fact that I’m no longer the same person – but beyond that, writing this post has made me realize several things, one of which is that these kinds of relationships are so important to me and have significantly shaped who I am today. And while I still value and cherish my old (as in long-time and not “old” as in elderly!) girlfriends, I think I should make a more conscious attempt to find the time and to make the effort to nurture new ones. The big question now is “HOW?”. Hmmm ....

Monday, February 06, 2006

Lemonade

I’m pretty sure we’ve all had someone give us this piece of advice: “when life hands you lemons, make yourself some lemonade” (or some other variation). Well, these days, we’ve been quite busy making lemonade. Although there are many times I think the lemons would go better with a pinch of salt and a shot of tequila (but that’s another story!).

Lately, Jojo and I have had to tighten our belts somewhat. The first quarter of the year is always tough. You make the same amount of money but have double (even triple) the expenses! Even with careful planning and much saving, there are one or two (or seven) things that come up unexpectedly, which sort of screws with your budget! There are Roth IRAs, property taxes, car registrations, house and car insurance, tuition fees, lawyer fees, medical insurance, etc., etc., and on top of that there are the usual monthly expenses (don’t even get me started on that!).

Okay, it’s really not as bad as I am making it out to be. I know that we have so much to be thankful for and that compared to so many, we are really super blessed. It’s just me. I’m the kind of person who likes to worry. I come from a long line of worriers. I always think of the worst case scenario and constantly plague myself with “what ifs”. I am a firm believer of Murphy’s Law. I don’t think I’m a pessimist but I certainly like to overanalyze and overcomplicate things. Quite luckily, my hubby is just the opposite. He’s the epitome of level-headedness. Rarely gets rattled or stressed and worries only in the absolute direst of situations. Which leads me to think that God indeed has a sense of humor when it comes to relationships!

Back to the issue of tightening our belts, I was talking to my parents about this recently and they both were very supportive and right away offered to help. Both my hubby and I felt that this was a wonderful show of their support, but we agreed that this is a situation that we need to handle on our own. Have I mentioned that I’m pretty stubborn about doing things on our own? I think my top three worst faults are that I am stubborn, proud (too proud) and am a worrier. Not the best combination, I know. I am working on it though. My hubby, though not a worrier, can also be quite stubborn and proud. Let me just say, debates between us are intellectually stimulating to say the least! Again, we see God’s sense of humor at work here.

So, anyway, over the weekend, for my peace of mind, I thought up a bunch of things to do that would not cost us any (or at least not a lot of) money. Jojo who probably thought I was being overdramatic went along with my plans in an effort to humor me. I have to say, even with my self-imposed cost cutting measures, we had a pretty good weekend. There was some shopping (yay for Macys gift cards), some fine dining (FYI: Chipotle Mexican Grill is gourmet fastfood), some hanging out at Coffee Bean for coffee and studying, a trip to Costco to stock up on food since we agreed that we should eat at home more, and some hanging out with Jojo’s family Saturday night. Spending two hours playing with the kids (Maddie, Meredith and Jorel) is a great way to re-energize too! Also, Jojo and I re-discovered the joys of playing Scrabble. For some reason we were bitten pretty bad by the Scrabble bug and played 5 games over the course of the weekend. (every chance we got) It was fun and the only bad part was I only beat Jojo once! ONCE!!! Once in five times. Not good. Have I mentioned I’m very competitive too???

I guess the bottomline is we all get handed lemons at some point in our life. And we can choose to either wallow is lemon juice - all sour and sticky. Or we can choose to make our own version of lemonade. I've discovered that being a worrier, being too proud, and somewhat stubborn may not always produce the best lemonade - but being competitive does guarantee that I am not going to quit without trying!