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Friday, December 28, 2007

Iron Chef - Couples Edition

The last couple of dinners at our place have been really fun. I came up with a contest that we’ve dubbed “Iron Chef - Couples Edition”, where each couple is in charge of making dinner. The contest pits my sisters and I (partnered with our significant others) against each other. Armed with mom’s recipes and our limited but somewhat worthy culinary abilities we did our best. Our mantra has been “passion makes up for skill”. Surprisingly the results have been quite good. For starters the food is well-prepared and delicious (and the presentation has been pretty awesome too). But more than that, it has made dinners something to look forward to and has really tested how well each couple works together and complements each other.

First Night:
Contenders: Joy and Marc
Culinary Theme: East meets West
Dishes: Salpicao (beef tenderloin with lots of garlic), Broccoli with oyster sauce, Nido soup with scallops
Overall comments: Really tasted home-cooked (mom would have been proud!), nice touch – using scallops in the soup, the beef was so tender, and the broccoli cooked well (and not wilted), loved all that garlic!

Second Night:
Contenders: Joanne and Jojo
Culinary Theme: A Little Taste of Italy
Dishes: Spaghetti with meatballs and sundried tomatoes, fresh tomato and cucumber salad with balsamic vinegar and feta cheese, sourdough bread
Overall comments: The salad was so refreshing and light, spaghetti cooked al dente, meatballs were really good, the spaghetti sauce was just right, and the bread was hot and crusty.

Third Night:
Contenders: Jenny and Mark
Culinary Theme: Mexican Fiesta
Dishes: Tostadas with all the fixings – ground turkey, refried beans, tomatoes, lettuce, onions, cheese, two kinds of taco sauce, avocadoes and sour cream
Overall comments: We can’t believe it’s turkey and “no fat” refried beans (so healthy!), really good and interactive too, the buffet was well presented and all the ingredients for a good tostada were complete.

Results:
After a secret voting process, where all the participants cast their secret ballots, the winners of Iron Chef Couples (Part 1) is …. Couple number 2: my hubby and I! Woohoo!

Winner’s Speech:
We’d like to thank our worthy competitors – good job everyone!!! We’d like to thank our mom (the original Iron Chef) for her guidance and support. We’d like to thank Dad, Jim, Jules, and everyone else who’s reading this blog – even if they really had nothing to do with this contest!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Joys of Sisterhood

I cannot begin to describe how happy I am to have my sisters here with me. I’ve always been close to both of them and despite our age gaps – they are both my “bestest” friends. After they arrived yesterday and we’ve spent just one night re-connecting, I am so thankful I have them both here. I couldn’t take the day off from work and hoped that my sisters would find some way to amuse themselves while I was tied up. They did go shopping with Mark (Atsi’s fiancé) – but the rest of the day they kept pretty busy here at home too.

So many pleasant surprises were waiting for me when I got home. To begin with, it was GREAT coming home to family. Such perfect timing too since tonight Jojo is staying late for their company Xmas party and ordinarily it would have been meant a night home alone for me. Then, I was greeted by a delicious home-cooked dinner. My baby sister, Joy, had made gambas (my mom’s special recipe too) and garlic rice. Super duper yummy! They also prepared herb-roasted chicken and baked lasagna (okay these last two items were store bought and “heated” at home). Mark had also baked a pan of “No Tomorrows” – a dessert that’s so good, people eat them up like there are “no tomorrows”. And yes, it was good – hot out of the oven and full of chocolate-y goodness.

Then I was given the grand tour around the house where my sisters proudly showed off what else they had been busy with. Atsi had cleaned up my kitchen – it was spic and span to the max! So clean, you could probably eat off the floor! Everything was in place (even the dishes I always leave drying in the dishwasher!). So spotless I almost felt like I was in someone else’s home. Next I walked into our room and was proudly shown how Joy fixed up my entire closet (all 4 sections) and my bureau. Not a small feat since it is a large and very disorganized space. Our laundry (both Jojo’s and mine) had been done – and even a laundry basket full of clean clothes, (freshly washed and waiting to be folded) was washed a second time by my over-zealous sisters! Our room is so clean and made-up it’s almost like walking into a hotel suite. Jojo will have the shock of his life when he gets home tonight!

That’s not all. My shoes were dusted and have been arranged in their proper racks. The floors have been swept, the counters wiped clean and everything is in the right place. It just keeps getting better … they even bought a new Xmas mantle for my buffet table. It is truly AMAZING! My very own pre-Xmas miracle. Even without all this, I think my sisters are the BEST, but after all this, I am pretty sure anyone would agree too.


Here are pictures as proof: (Mom - your crash course in home economics clearly were a success!)

Home-cooked dinner (from top to bottom: garlic fried rice, gambas, baked lasagna, roast chicken).


My closet.


My bureau.


My shoe racks.


My new Xmas mantle.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Mini Reviews

I. PIZZERIA MOZZA

Before my parents left, we had lunch at Mario Batali’s restaurant, Pizzeria Mozza, located on the corner of Highland and Melrose. We stopped by for a late lunch and were lucky enough to be seated right away despite not having made reservations. It was a Thursday afternoon but the place was full and it was shortly after we were seated at the bar that we noticed the lines of walk-ins grew longer by the minute.

Mozza is an intimate, medium-sized restaurant done in neutral but warm colors and decorated in a casual yet refined way. It is a far cry from traditional Italian restaurants that are dimly lit and decorated with empty chianti bottles and red and white checkered tablecloths stained with pizza sauce while attentive Italian waiters hover over you. But one thing they do have in common is Mozza is a bustling place (the noise level was definitely high) and with a pizza bar (and a woodfire stove) in plain view.

We started off with a salad, the tricolore with parmigiano reggiano & anchovy dressing. It was nice and light – the sweet fresh greens, the bitter radicchio, and the slightly salty dressing were a nice balance. We were served long, crunchy breadsticks to nibble on while we waited for our main course. My dad had the Thursday special – fennel sausages, with garlic fried potatoes and sautéed rapini (a bitter spinach-like vegetable). It was very good. My mom really liked her Pizza Bianca with three types of white cheese (fontina, mozarella and one that escapes my mind) topped with fresh sage leaves. But I think I was the one who enjoyed my meal the most. I had the Salumi salami pizza with mozzarella, tomato and Fresno chilies. I had ordered it because I loved the salami we had at Mario Batali’s dad’s deli, Salumi, in Seattle and our server told me it was from the same place. He was right – the salami was less salty than many American-variety salamis I’ve had before and was great with the tart tomatoes, salty cheese and spicy chilies. But the best part was the crust. It was light, crispy, airy and chewy all at the same time. A little piece of pizza heaven! I later wrote in the restaurant’s comment card that it was possibly the best pizza I have ever had in my life.

There is much hype about Mozza, being Mario’s first LA restaurant and all. But the hype is worth it! I would gladly drive all the way to LA, brave the traffic, pay $10.00 for valet parking, wait in line, and sit at the bar just to have that pizza!


II. ENCHANTED

The first night after my parents left, Jojo took me to watch a movie to get our minds off feeling a little bit lonely. We went to the Del Amo AMC and decided to watch “Enchanted”. I picked the movie because it seemed like a nice, light, no-need-to-think-about–the-plot kind of movie while Jojo agreed because nothing better was playing. We settled in not expecting too much. While the movie did live up to our expectations about being nice and light, it exceeded our expectations about being not “too much”.

The movie is a mix of animation and real-life actors. It is a story of how an animated princess named Giselle was banished to the real world of New York by the evil Queen Nerissa. Giselle was sent to New York to keep her from marrying Prince Edward (Nerissa’s stepson) to keep Giselle from taking Nerissa’s throne. In New York, Giselle’s “Disney Princess Persona”, complete with breaking into song and dance, doing household chores with the help of animals (including city rats!), and her almost-childlike belief in true love and happy ever afters, create chaos and mayhem in the life of the staid and cynical divorce lawyer played by Patrick Dempsey. Of course in the end and in true Disney fashion, there is true love and a happy ever after, but with drama and plot twists throughout.

Enchanted is a charming movie, nicely done and manages to hold the audience's attention as it cleverly blurs the fine line between fantasy and reality. It has its moments of true greatness and a strong cast of characters. Amy Adams, in particular who plays Giselle, is a breakout star. I thought she was marvelous and really brought the iconic image of a Disney Princess alive. James Marsden, as Prince Edward, was a joy to watch as well. Disney’s “Enchanted” truly lives up to its name.


III. THE STREET OF A THOUSAND BLOSSOMS

The last few days I’ve been reading Gail Tsukiyama’s novel “The Street of a Thousand Blossoms”. It is an exquisite and heartwarming story of two brothers, Hiroshi and Kenji Matsumoto, set in Japan before, during and after World War II. The brothers’ lives are vastly different - one climbs the ladder to becoming a yokozuna (grand champion of sumo) – strong, tough, resilient. While the other becomes a master mask maker for the Noh theater – artistic, quiet, sensitive. Their lives are shaped by their obochan and ojichan (the grandparents that took them in when they were orphaned as young children), their individual paths of destiny, the women they love and the struggles and triumphs they face.

This is the first book of Tsukiyama’s that I have read but I like her storytelling style. She takes her time in telling the saga of the Matsumoto brothers – a story that spans over 30 years. Her style is deliberate, precise and never seems rushed. The story is very descriptive and you can almost feel that you are amidst the exciting sumo tournaments and in the dramatic setting of Noh theater. Tsukiyama brings to life the beauty and artistry of Japanese culture.

The characters are well-defined despite their complexities. The story highlights the men as strong and dominant while the women soft and resilient as they live in a time where traditional and modern Japan collide. The narration focuses on finding one’s place in this world amidst the backdrop of one’s love for family, filial piety, love for country and pride in culture.

Probably not the best book I’ve read this year but one that I would highly recommend to someone who has the time and who thinks that a cold, rainy day means snuggling in bed with a good book and a cup of hot cocoa.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

See You Soon

Last night I took my parents to the airport where they would be catching a plane back to Manila. It's hard to believe that 4 weeks have passed already. I promised myself that I wouldn't be sad about their leaving since I know I will be seeing them again really soon. After all they would be back next year for sure for my sister's wedding. And not only that, Jojo and I are planning to visit to Manila the first half of next year as well. I tried to convince myself that their leaving was for the best after all I was starting to feel guilty since during the latter part of their stay here, I had to go back to work and couldn't take too much time off. My mom spent those days ferociously cleaning the house from top to bottom and cooking up a storm while my dad was getting somewhat restless at home and would while away the time taking walks to local stores running errands for my mom. This was not the kind of "vacation" I wanted them to have so I tried to tell myself that their leaving would be better in the long run. I was very close to convincing myself ... but just as they had to enter the walkway that would take them to the boarding gates, I couldn't help but cry and wish I could beg my folks to take me with them or better yet to stay just a little bit longer.

It was hard to drive home from the airport by myself (my mellow-dramatic mood was heightened by the heavy downpour and the gray skies across LA). I tried to think of happy thoughts and focus on the positive but it was tough. When I got home, I was glad that Jojo was back from work since it would have been unbearable to be home alone at that time. It's so weird to come home and to see all the stuff my folks have left - which made me sad all over again. I know this sounds so overly dramatic but it's true. This morning, I woke up half expecting to find my dad sitting in the family room ready to greet me "good morning" and my mom bustling in the kitchen making breakfast. Instead the room was cold and empty. I was kind of glad I had to go to the office (on a Saturday!) just to get out of the house.

I guess some things never change. I can be all of 32 years, I've lived away from home for almost 7 years, have a successful career, have a family and home of my own, and have a busy and active life - but deep inside I am still very much attached to my mom and dad. The last few days were a pleasant reminder of how well my parents take care of us and in some ways how we in turn take care of them. It's so easy to get used to it and so hard to adjust once they have to leave for home. My dad says that saying good-bye is part of life since without good-bye's there can never be a chance to meet again. But in my mind, I'd rather say "see you soon" than end by saying "good-bye".

To Father-Bear and Ju-delicious, thank you so much for coming to stay with us. Thank you for making this your second home. Thank you, mom, for all the home-cooked meals (and all the food you left behind), for making our home look better and more livable (I will do my best and keep it as clean as you left it ... but I can't make any promises!). Thanks for taking care of all the little details we overlook and making sure we have all that we need. Thank you, dad, for your lively stories and funny jokes that always brighten my day. Thanks for everything you have bought for us, all the meals you treated us out too, and your very generous Xmas present. Thank you both for reminding me once again how lucky I am to have parents like you. The last 4 weeks were so special to me and even if seeing you leave was tough, I would never trade your visit for the world!

Yes, I am still a little sad that you have left but happy to know we'll be together again soon and for now I am consoled by the fact that in 10 days Atsi and Joy will be here and that is definitely something to look forward to!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Pamanhikan

Yesterday, M. came over to our home with his mom. The purpose of his visit was for him to ask my parents’ permission to marry my sister. This is what is known in the Filipino culture as “pamanhikan” (although M., being Caucasian, probably did not know this). It started off a little awkward but turned into a really special and significant event. M. was clearly very nervous but his heartfelt sincerity came through. He was so serious and earnest but later on was practically beaming when my parents consented. I was on the edge of my seat since I knew it was a bittersweet event. Of course, we are thrilled since M. is a great guy and has proven his genuine feelings and commitment towards my sister. Plus the fact that my sister is happy (I mean really happy) and this is a wonderful time for her. But on the other hand, I can not begin to imagine how torn up my parents must be. I know they are honestly happy for M. and my sister and comforted that M.’s family has expressed such a warm welcome and has extended staunch promises to take care of my sister. But as parents, I know they are also sad to be “losing a daughter” and quite worried that everything will turn out okay. I know the hardest thing for them is having my sister leave home to come stay here and experience a totally different way of life.

But my folks have proven once again that they have our best interests at heart. So even if they must have heavy hearts, they have put aside their personal feelings and are totally supportive and encouraging. My dad has optimistically said that he doesn’t look at this time as one where he is losing a daughter but instead is happy to be gaining a son. While my mom has been practical about the whole matter while saying that there is a reason for everything and that they only want my sister to be happy in the end. I tried to lighten the mood and reassure my folks that since my sister will be living here, I will do my best to make sure I look out for her and be there for her if and when she needs me. Since we are naturally close, I know my sister and I will be there for each other. But my reassurance is also because I feel some pangs of guilt – since for starters I was the first to leave home (and now it seems most of my siblings are following in my footsteps).

I guess it is a natural course in life that kids eventually leave home. I know that parents look forward to this day but at the same time also wish this day would never come. I know that they must be happy yet worried, thrilled but anxious, hopeful and scared. And for us kids too, the mixed feelings are there, we are also happy and sad, excited yet nervous, and despite our adult-like bravado, we also find ourselves wishing we could stay with mom and dad forever. The only consolation I can think of is that in our case, my parents have done exceptional jobs at raising us and that their love, guidance, support and encouragement has prepared us to move on and live our lives for ourselves. I think that at the end of the day, the true test of parenthood is letting your kids go, confidently knowing that you have done all you can and now you have to trust them to go their own way.

I am so, so happy for M. and my sister, knowing that they have each other. It’s not always easy to find the right person to spend the rest of your life with and even when you do, every relationship still faces ups and downs. In all honestly, it may be a little bit tougher for us, since we grew up with such high standards of marriage, after all we have our parents’ almost-perfect relationship to look up to. But on the bright side, having my folks show us that a contented and blissful marriage is one filled with compromise, understanding and commitment, means we have something to guide us along the way. I wish my sister and M. that same kind of contentment and bliss.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Temecula

Since my parents have been here, there have been many things going on. Many new wonderful places we've discovered and many old favorites we've revisited. Many good meals at restaurants we've shared and many awesome home-cooked meals we've savored. Many long conversations and much laughter. Several shopping sprees and sightseeing excursions. And of course, even if I could not take every day off from the office, there's the wonderful anticipation of coming home to my mom and dad after a long day at work.

Because of all that has been happening, I've been a little remiss at recounting our adventures in my blog. But in order to share what's been going on, here are some highlights:

Last Saturday, my parents, Jules, Jojo and I spent the day exploring Temecula. We started the day off with a long drive through the city proper and along Rancho California Road to explore the wine region. It was a really nice, cool day and as we coasted along, my mom and I agreed that Temecula is such a wonderful place and one where we both would not mind settling down. Maybe one day when Jojo and I have enough money to retire in luxury! Our first stop was at a flea market located on the grounds of the Maurice Car'rie vineyards. Next stop was the gift and wine shop which is a great place for wine tasting, browsing for knick-knacks and even shopping for a picnic. It was pretty crowded though so after picking up some souvenir wine stoppers we headed three vineyards down the road to the Ponte Family Winery. Our plan was to have lunch at their patio restaurant called The Smokehouse. I love this place because of the food but moreso because of the ambiance. However, when we found out there was a 90-minute wait, we decided to go somewhere else. After picking up some homemade bottles of porcini/parmesan pesto at Ponte's wine shop, we drove 6-miles to Old Town Temecula.

Old Town is an interesting place with a small town feel. The streets are lined with antique shops, quaint restaurants and lovely Xmas decor right on the streetlamps and sidewalks. We had lunch at a Texas barbecue cafe which was completely taken over by a bunch of little league players and their families. The place was crowded and noisy and the food that was served in huge portions was typical American fare (my chili cheese burger was bland and a bit of a disappointment though). After lunch we walked down Main street and stopped by a Xmas shop called Harmony (I loved this place!) where I bought snowflake garlands for my Xmas tree. We browsed the Temecula Cheese Shop next door and then walked over to the Temecula Olive Oil Company where mom and Jules sampled various varities of the oil (and buying several bottles of the best ones). Our day in Temecula was capped off with rootbeer floats at the Rootbeer Company (where they sold over 300 varieties of soda!).

On our way home, we could not resist stopping by the Lake Elsinore shopping outlets. The night was cool and the place was brightly lit (it was their tree lighting ceremony) and so it was pleasant to walk around and get a headstart on Xmas shopping. There weren't that many stores with slashed prices but the biggest surprise of the night was the outrageous sale at Bath and Body Works. They were selling their lotions and creams (normally priced at $10.50) for less than $3.50 and their travel sized bottles (normally prices at $4.00) for $.99! And since I love Bath & Body, I went a little crazy in there! It was a quiet drive after that since we were all tired but happy on our way home.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Living the Highlife

Monday's High point: Our vacation begins ... and we had a gorgeous hotel!
Low point: Leaving my hubby in LA
Weather: Cloudy but no rain

Our week-long vacation started on Monday when my parents, Jules and I flew to Seattle. Everything proceeded smoothly, from our shuttle pick-up in LA, to the 2-hour and 11-minute flight, all the way to our shuttle ride to the hotel in Seattle. Since we arrived half-an-hour before check in, we passed the time with soup, chips and cocktails at a nearby Mexican cantina called Guaymas. Later on, we walked over to the Inn at Harbor Steps and checked in. I was extremely delighted with the Inn. First of all, it is so conveniently located to everything and there are so many shops and restaurants nearby. The Inn is a boutique hotel with only 30 rooms located on the first 2 floors of an apartment high-rise. All the rooms are elegantly done in muted colors, rich wood furniture, and Laura Ashley prints. Jules, (and later Jojo), plus myself were booked in a double room with a balcony that overlooked Elliot Bay, while my parents were in another wing of the Inn in a room that had a cozy hearth and fireplace. The Inn was a great blend of five-star hotel accommodations (great customer service and luxurious amenities) but was intimate enough to give us a bed-and-breakfast-like experience – complete with a continental breakfast spread every morning, wine and cheese before dinner, and an assortment of sodas and cookies throughout the day. Because of our wonderful accommodations, my brother dubbed this trip as “Living the Highlife” (which is true of any vacation you take with my parents) - and so “Living the Highlife” kind of became our mantra the whole time we were on vacation.


Tuesday Highlights: The Seafest dinner at The Crab Pot
Low point: Discovering that shops are closed by 6:00 PM everywhere in Seattle
Weather: Cloudy but no rain

On Tuesday, we explored Pioneer Square which is a section of downtown that houses countless coffee shops, boutiques, and art galleries. My three favorite stores include:
1.) The Elliot Bay Book Co. (an independently owned bookstore complete with creaking wooden floors, brick walls, cozy nooks for reading, and a wonderfully quaint ambience). I was so inspired by the place that I actually told my dad I’d like to own a shop like this one day – it must be wonderful to be in such a charming place surrounded by books and book-lovers all day!
2.) The Glass House which showcased such beautiful pieces of glass-blown art. We got to see a demo of glass-blowing (which was literally pretty hot).
3.) Fireworks an interesting store with a little something of everything (where my mom indulged in her shopping for Xmas tree ornaments and amusing knick-knacks).

After shopping we lined up at Salumi, a local deli owned by Armandino Batali, (the father of the famous Iron Chef and restauranteur Mario Batali). We picnicked at the Waterfall Garden Park and shared a salami platter (different varities of salami, cheeses, olives and bread). After lunch we headed to the Pike Market where I discovered that it was not nearly as big as I thought it would be. Even the fishstalls where the famous fish-throwing was pretty small. But it was a bustling place nonetheless with lots to see, hear, feel, taste and experience. We enjoyed freshly-baked piroshkys (which quickly became a family favorite). Piroshkys are a Ukranian treat somewhat similar to the Latin American empanada, the American chicken pie, the Chinese bbq pork bun, and the Indian samosa. It is a bread filled with either savory or sweet ingredients. My favorites were the beef and cheese, and the marzipan (made with creamy almond paste). After much walking around, and discovering that most stores in Seattle close by 6 PM, we headed to the Waterfront and had a clam/mussel/shrimp/crab-bake dinner at The Crab Pot. I loved that dinner – all that boiled seafood (dumped in a steaming pile in the center of our table) was so good, tasted so fresh, and was actually sort of creamy. The red potatoes, spicy sausages and corn were great side dishes too. We were a happy bunch with bibs around our necks, mallets in our hands, happily pounding on crab and mussels, working our way through the mound of seafood.


Wednesday Highlights: Jojo’s here and he got to join us for a vineyard and waterfall tour
Low-Point: not enough chocolate samples at the Chocolate factory
Weather: Cloudy with scattered showers (luckily most of the rain happened while we were in the tourbus)

Our whole-day tour started when our tour guide (John) and his wife (Renee) picked us up at 9:30 in front of the Inn. Along with about a dozen other passengers we headed for the outskirts of the city and enjoyed serene and picturesque views of hills, waterfronts, and wildlife. Our first stop was the Columbia Winery in Woodinville where we got to tour their wine cellars and got to taste their award winning wines. We liked the Gewurztraminer (a dessert wine similar to Riesling) so much that we bought four bottles for our upcoming Thanksgiving dinner. Next door we also made a quick stop at the Chateu St. Michelle (another local vineyard with lovely grounds and is the oldest one in Washington state) and sampled their wines as well. We made a quick pitstop lunch at a local Texas bbq place for beef brisket and pulled pork sandwiches. Then it was off to see the Snoqualmie Falls ( a 250-feet waterfall) in Isaquah, Washington. The falls were nice to see but the weather was getting chilly for me so I spent more time in the giftshop than in the viewing platform. Our last stop of the day was Boehm’s Chocolate Factory where we got a tour of Joseph Boehm’s chalet, tasted his Belgian chocolates and purchased a few more for the road. We got back to Seattle past 5 and had a quiet dinner at Ivar’s (a fine-dining waterfront eatery that served so-so seafood).


Thursday Highlights: Ride the Ducks Tour
Low-Point: Not going up on the Space Needle since it was way too foggy to see anything
Weather: Cloudy and very foggy

We got to the Space Needle at around 10 but found it was too foggy to see anything so we headed across the street to the Ride the Ducks tour. The tour is on an amphibious vehicle (that runs about 30-miles an hour on land and even slower on water). We took the 90-minute tour with the hilarious Captain (Rocky Bottom) and got to see Seattle City and tour Lake Union (where we saw the famous houseboats – including the one featured in Sleepless in Seattle). By the time the tour was over, we were hungry and walked over to the Experience Music Project (EMP) and had sandwiches at the Revolution Café. Since it was still foggy after lunch, we took the Monorail over to the Westlake Center Mall and the Nordstrom flagship store. We spent the afternoon exploring the shopping sights of downtown Seattle. My folks headed back to the hotel while Jojo, Jules and I visited to the First Starbucks retail store and picked up piroshlys for dinner back at the hotel.


Friday Highlights: Dimsum at O Asian
Low-Point: Long walk from Chinatown
Weather: Cloudy

We decided to take the Metro and head to Chinatown to explore that part of the city. Somewhat surprising, Seattle’s Chinatown is very low-key and quite deserted - a far cry from most Chinatowns’ that are noisy, vibrant and busy. We explored Uwajimaya (the largest Japanese foodstore in the Northwest) and walked 8 long, agonizing blocks to O Asian for dimsum. The food at O Asian was very good (I especially liked their steamed spareribs and the spinach noodles). The place was located close to the financial district so it was a bit subdued and more fine-dining compared to most dimsum houses. On our walk back to our hotel we stopped by huge and very modern structure that housed the Seattle Central Public Library. We then walked down to Rainier Square (or what I call the fancy part of town) to browse the Louis Vuitton and Coach shops and to find the Newhaus Chocolatier on Fourth Street. My friend, Ayesha, who used to live in Seattle said a visit to this chocolate boutique was a must and so we did (purchasing Belgian chocolates and enjoying hot chocolate drinks). The walk back to the hotel although long was much easier since it was all downhill!


Saturday Highlights: Meeting Auntie Edna and Deanna and my cousins Darren and Heather for the first time
Low Point: the inauthentic Native American meal at Tillicum Village
Weather: Drizzled in the early morning but it actually became sunny the rest of the day

On Saturday, we boarded the Argosy Cruise line for a 45-minute ride to Tillicum Village on Blake Island. The ride was pleasant enough and the views were really amazing (I liked seeing the Seattle skyline from the water on one side and the views of mountain ranges and wildlife on the other). We arrived on the island and were greeted with steaming bowls of clams in sweet broth (great way to ward off the cold). We lined up for a salmon buffet lunch supposedly cooked the Native American way (on alderwood planks secured with spikes). But it was not very authentic because the salmon was farm raised (not wild) and brushed with lemon butter (which Native Americans probably did not use). The rest of the buffet was ok (long grain wild rice, dark brown sweet bread, red potatoes and leafy green salad veggies). After our meal we watched a tribal dance that told the story of Chief Seattle and his band of Indians and their tribe’s ties with nature. It was interesting (and so timely since I just finished Jim Ferguson’s novel about the Cheyenne Indians). We had half an hour to walk around Blake Island (but it was so cold that we stayed close to the lodge and our ship). At around 4 we boarded the ship and cruised back to Seattle.

We met my mom’s cousins Auntie Edna and Auntie Deanna for dinner along with Auntie Edna’s son Darren and his wife Heather. It was really nice meeting them – considering my mom has not seen Auntie Edna in 40 years (and I’ve never met any of them before). We had dinner at Anthony’s on Pier 66 (another fancy place where the food was good but nothing great). I had the grilled wild salmon over a butternut squash risotto and shared a wild berry something for dessert. Over dinner there was a lot of catching up and exchanging of stories, so while the food was nothing memorable, the company certainly was.


Sunday’s Highlights: No highlight since it was the end of our vacation
Low Point: Our flight was delayed for 5 hours!
Weather: Cloudy up till our drive to the airport then it started to rain (while we were in the shuttle)

Sunday we went to mass at the St. James Cathedral (a really beautiful church in downtown Seattle). Our family was even chosen to participate in the mass by offering the collection and the bread and wine. After mass, we walked back to do some last minute packing and to check out of the Inn. We had a quick lunch at Ipanema, a Brazilian place next to the Inn, while waiting for the shuttle to take us to the airport. Our flight was suppose to leave at 5:05 pm but because of a delay, we left Seattle at 7 pm. We were suppose to arrive at 7 pm, but instead were re-routed to the Ontario Airport at around 9:30 pm (there was too much fog over LA and the plane could not land in LAX). We waited 3 hours (inside the plane because we were not allowed to disembark in Ontario) and finally took off for LA at about 12:30. We arrived in LA, at almost 1 AM and by the time we got our luggage and drove home, it was just past 2 AM. So far that was the only bummer to an otherwise “Living the Highlife” vacation.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Christmas in October

We took Auntie Julie and Uncle Raniel out for lunch today and spent the afternoon browsing the mall. While at Marshalls, I found a really beautiful pair of candle lamps – made from white porcelain and trimmed with gold. The lamps that were about a foot and a half tall, had a simple pattern of red and green holly both on the lamp base and around the lamp shade. I found it so elegantly jolly that I just had to get the pair! I could not believe what a bargain they were too ($45.00 for the pair - and they were Lennox pieces too!).

When we got home, I was so excited with our find that I looked around to see where the lamps would look best. I decided that they looked festive flanking a tray of white and red candles. The set was perfect as our dining table centerpiece. As I admired our dining table, I found that I had been bitten by the “Xmas Spirit bug” and decided that today was as good a day as any to start with the Christmas decorating! I cajoled Jojo into climbing the rafters in our garage to retrieve the boxes that hold the rest of our Xmas trinkets. We dusted off the boxes and retrieved our treasures (mostly wrapped in tissue and bubblewrap), opened the windows to air the room, while turning the lights down low to get into the "decorating spirit". While my aunt and uncle ran errands, my hubby and I worked on decorating our home.

We got a lot done this afternoon (of course everything is out yet … that would certainly take more than a couple of hours!). But it was a nice surprise for Auntie Julie and Uncle Raniel when they walked in the door to find the holiday spirit liberally spread across our living room. Never mind that Halloween is in two days and that the Thanksgiving holidays are just around the corner. In our home, we’ve skipped ahead and are almost ready for the Yuletide season!

Let me be the first to wish everyone "HAPPY HOLIDAYS!".

Saturday, October 27, 2007

October

It’ s been so long since I last blogged. I think this is probably the longest I have gone without updating my site. I do hope I still have one or two straggling readers that will still find the time to check my blog out. If not, then I am writing this for the sake of posterity … so I will remember that October was a busy month. So busy that inspite of much news to share, I’ve had no time to put my thoughts to paper.

Let me give a rundown of some things that have been happening:

  • The BIG project for work (the one that’s kept me working LONG hours and put me under a great deal of pressure … was finally due on the 22nd. I can breathe a great big sigh of relief … well, maybe a little sigh of relief cause I now have another BIG project due in December. So far the jury is out as to whether the BIG project due in October has turned out well. Fingers remained crossed …
  • I finally got my work permit. I can now work without the need for sponsorship. So long anticipated! Ironically, even if I’ve been promising myself I would find a “better” job once I got it … I’m still where I am and strangely so, things here seem to be working out better. Life is strange that way. But it does relieve a lot of pressure and it does make things much easier. So although I have not quite taken advantage of it … I am immensely thankful.
  • My brother, Jules, moved to a new job – a much bigger company with a much better position (and great pay too). I’m so happy for him since he’s been on the lookout for quite some time. And it is a testament to how good my bro is to have landed this job especially since these days, the job market has been not so hot. Of course the first few months are always trying and I hope things work out well for him. Incidentally, he’s also moved to a new apartment (today was moving day!) that’s much closer to work (and still about an hour from where we live). I’m so glad he has not moved too far away since I really enjoy having my brother close by!
  • So many things to look forward to. My parents are coming on Friday. It’s been almost a year and a half since I last saw them. I can’t wait to see my mom and dad. I am sooo thrilled they are staying a whole month (it’s still too short a visit, if you ask me, but I’ll take four weeks over three!). Also looking forward to our vacation in Seattle. Everyone thinks we’re insane for visiting the Emerald City in November – but even if the weather will be cold and rainy, I am sure my family will find fun things to do and cool places to explore. And then just as my parents leave for Manila (which will make me SAD), in a week’s time, my sisters will be here! And so my sadness won’t last too long. I am sooo excited that both Atsi and Joy will be spending the holidays here. It’s going to be awesome to have my sisters (who also happen to be my bestest friends) here for Xmas AND New Year’s. Of course, their special friends … Mark and Marc will be here too.
  • My Auntie Julie and Uncle Raniel are here with us this weekend. We feel a little guilty that they arrived last night and today was my brother’s move to he new apartment. So rather than taking my aunt and uncle out, they spent their first day in LA helping with the move. They are such good sports about it though and were really tons of help. We couldn’t have gotten everything done without them. Treating them to lunch was the least Jules could do :)
  • This Tuesday is my brother-in-law, Lee’s, birthday. We celebrated tonight with dinner at Golden Pheasant with the whole family. I love family dinners because it’s a chance for everyone to catch up and for me to spend time with my nieces and nephews too.
  • The month has not been all good things … I lost a really good friend at work (she moved to another company). It’s strange to go to work and see an empty cubicle across mine. And then there are the problems we’ve been having with our water softener unit (it’s been working and not working, then working, then not working … today, it’s not working!). Our GPS system has been on the fritz too. What’s up with technology??? Oh and this month … there have been those terrible Southern California wildfires. I’m so saddened by all the loss and destruction … I really feel for those families whose homes have been destroyed. Not to mention the landscapes that have been ravaged. The sky has been a smoggy shade of gray these days (almost overcast) even if the temperatures have been warm and we’ve had little flecks of ash fall on our cars. And of course, the air quality is quite horrible. But I really can’t complain after so many have been through so much worse conditions. My thoughts and prayers are with them all.

I guess the month of October has gone by so fast. So many things (mostly good) have happened. I can’t wait to see what November holds in store. And I promise, to do my best, to blog a little more regularly in the future!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Pushing Daisies

These days because of my hectic work schedule and the many other things I have to do, my TV viewing is limited to watching a few choice shows. I rarely watch a show from start to finish and my TV-viewing habit usually finds me constantly channel surfing or switching back and forth between two (or more) shows in one sitting. There are very few TV programs that I will actually watch without switching the channel in-between or without doing other activities (like talk on the phone, surf the net, eat, read, work on bills, etc.).

Last night, as I previewed some of primetime TV's new line-up of Fall pilots, I came across a show called Pushing Daisies on ABC. The show was good, the premise intriguing, the plot quite novel, and the actors really well casted. It was interesting enough to hold my attention (and my hubby's too!) from beginning till end (okay, okay, we did switch channels during commercials ). But good enough for me to actually look forward to watching it again.

Here is the show's plot summary from Wikipedia:

Pushing Daisies
is a "forensic fairy tale" that focuses on Ned, a piemaker with a mysterious ability to make the dead live again. The gift is not without its complications, however — if he touches this being a second time, they'll be dead permanently. If they live for more than 60 seconds, somebody else nearby will die. ("It's a random proximity thing") It's a gift that he puts to good use to help a private investigator friend, Emerson Cod and his childhood sweetheart, the once-dead Charlotte "Chuck" Charles.

I love the description "a forensic fairy-tale" - because it is exactly that - it's told in fairy-tale format (contemporary times, of course) and it does have to do with using "forensics" to solve mysteries. Such a unique concept - surprising in this age where most TV programs seem to be a spin-off of something we've seen or watched before.

What's more, I love how Pushing Daisies is the kind of show you can watch with a friend, your spouse, your mother-in-law, a next door neighbor, a stranger off the street, and your kids all in the same room. It's certainly family-friendly but with quirky twists - supernatural powers, solving crimes, dramatic comedy, a little bit of romance - to keep every one interested. Touted as "the Fall show with the most Spring buzz", I hope the show lives up to the promise of it's publicity buzz and the positive praise over it's pilot, (and my rave reviews too). I hope so since it's been awhile since I've been excited over something on TV.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Weekend 9/29-9/30

Last week Jojo caught the flu and had to miss work to get over a really bad cold. I did my best to take care of him but at the same time was taking extra precautions to immunize myself from catching the flu. Between Jojo and me, I’m the one with a weaker immune system and have never been able to avoid getting sick right after he does. This time, with extra doses of Airbone, eating healthier meals, and trying to get more rest, I actually was on my way to avoiding catching the virus. Last Friday night, as I was talking to my mom, I was pre-maturely congratulating myself. As always, it was a classic case of speaking too soon. I woke up Saturday morning with sore throat, a runny nose and aching joints. I couldn’t believe it. Apparently my “taking extra precautions” spared me from catching the cold for two whole days … but beyond that … well, I still caught it.

Getting sick during the weekend is both a good and bad thing. Good, because, you don’t miss work and are able to relax with your hubby there to take care of you. But bad, because, you are stuck at home on a perfectly good weekend where you could be out doing so many other things! As was the case, I spent most of Saturday and Sunday sleeping, resting, and trying to get rid of my cold.

Since we don’t have a t.v. it our room (something that our fung shui-approved-room-layout discouraged), I would lie in bed and alternate between states of being asleep and awake. During my awake times, I indulged in catching up on my reading. I finally got to read the two books I bought last week. The first book “The Jane Austen Book Club” by Karen Joy Fowler was enjoyable. Based on the lives of 6 individuals who gather together to read and discuss Austen’s works … they find their lives parallel that of the fictional characters they discuss. It is a light, summer-reading type of book. Nothing too intriguing and is the type of book you would read just to while away the time. Perfect book to read in between naps.

The second book I read was “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini which was the exact opposite (of the Jane Austen Book Club). It was extremely powerful, rich, intriguing and really an eye-opener. It is an incredible book. Hard to put down (which is why I read the whole novel all Sunday without stopping to do anything else!). The book is the first Afghan novel written in English it tells the tale of two very different men as they come of age during the years of Afghanistan’s political turmoil. The story tells us of how their lives changed from being carefree boys to men who have to go their separate ways to follow their destiny only to be reunited in the most unexpected way in the end. Throughout the story, the backdrop showcases the societal, political, and economic struggles the Afghan people went through and are still enduring. This was the author’s first published novel but despite that Mr. Hosseini’s writing style and storyline kept me captivated with every page. And even beyond reading the book, I found myself so drawn to the plight of Amir and Hassan that I would spend much time thinking of their story. It is truly one of the best books I have ever read.

I remember an article I read a couple of weeks ago where the author was talking about how Americans do not read enough books. There are many who have not read a book (outside school and work) in years. And of those that do read, the average number of books read is 1 or 2 (a year!). This is a sad, sad state to be in. There are so many fascinating and wonderful stories out there … and I think we should all make an effort to turn off the t.v., shut down the computer, put away the Playstations/Wii/X-Box, and pick up a book again. And for those who are trying to decide what book to start with … I would really strongly recommend The Kite Runner.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Wicked

Most of us have seen or heard the story of The Wizard of Oz. Wicked is a prequel to that classic tale and gives us a glimpse of what happened before Dorothy and Toto landed in Oz. The main characters of the story are the Wicked Witch of the West and Glinda the Good Witch of the North. Wicked draws the audience into understanding that these women became who they are because of the circumstances they were born into and the lives they led. In truth, no one is born wholly “good” or “bad” but their actions, the events in their lives, the people around them, these shape who they are and who they become.

In the case of the Wicked Witch of the West, Elphaba Thorpp was born with green skin and spent most of her life ostracized and ridiculed because of it. Her father despised her and she lived in the shadow of her beautiful sister, Nessarose. Elphaba is sent to Shiz University for the sole purpose of looking after her sister. Glinda Upland, on the other hand, was a pretty but spoiled rich girl whose life is perfect because she got everything she wanted. She is popular and obsessed with the finer things in life. Their worlds come together when they become roommates. In the beginning they dislike each other but soon come to an understanding, admiration, and eventually a deep friendship.

Their friendship is tested when they both fall in love with Fiyero and when they take opposite stands to an issue that is plaguing the land. Elphaba decides to go against the norm and to fight for what she believes. Thus she is branded “evil” because she is passionate and different. While Glinda decides to stay, maintain her popularity, and be viewed as “good”. In the end, these choices prove to be their destiny.

Although the story left several questions unanswered and would prove confusing to the original story if you really thought about it (but I won’t get into them anymore), the play was extremely entertaining and the characters very vivid and full of life. I think the crowd favorite were the powerful song numbers that really left you breathless and all goose-bumpy. My personal favorites are Glinda’s light and cheery performance of the song “Popular” and Elphaba’s powerful rendition of “Defying Gravity”. Such wonderful performances all around. The play was dramatic (with poignant scenes and climatic revelations), exciting (as there were plot twists and turns), hilarious (as the characters played their comedic roles to the hilt), and just overall a wonderful three hours of entertainment.

The sets were fabulous. There must have been a dozen different scenes – all so magically done – that you felt transported to the halls of Shiz, the grandeurs of the forest, the picturesque Munchkinland, and the glamour of the Emerald City. It was absolutely flawless. The costumes were amazing too. Everyone, from the star of the show, to the ensemble, were dressed to the nines. The effects were thrilling – with the flying monkeys, Elphaba soaring to the sky, the effects of rain, the wonder of meeting the Wizard for the first time, and the startling green glow when they first enter Oz. All of it combined, the songs, choreography, set, effects and performers really made it easy to see why Wicked is such a phenomenal hit.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Avenue Q

Although I love Broadway musicals and grew up watching Sesame Street, I was hesitant to watch Avenue Q since I really could not fathom how musical theater could be portrayed well by puppets. I envisioned it to be a full-blown puppet show complete with high-pitched sing-song voices and Muppets-esque storylines. Boy was I wrong! And am I ever glad that Jeff talked us into watching the show.

In a nutshell, Avenue Q is about a struggling group of twenty-somethings who live in an apartment complex in a rundown but very affordable outer borough of New York – right on Avenue Q. The cast of puppet characters are lead by Princeton, a recent graduate who struggles to make ends meet as he tries to find his “purpose” in life; Kate Monster, a homely teaching assistant who one day dreams of opening her own school; Rod, a stoic investment banker who is in denial about coming out of the closet and who harbors a secret crush on his straight roommate, Nicky; Nicky, on the other hand, is an aimless, happy-go-lucky guy with no real sense of direction in life. Then there’s Lucy the Slut, a vampy nightclub singer who comes between Princeton and Kate's budding romance. And finally, there’s Trekkie Monster, the upstairs weirdo who surfs the internet all day for porn.

As for the human characters, there is Gary Coleman (yes, the Gary Coleman), a down on his luck former child actor who now manages the building; Rob, a comedian who can’t get a decent job and has fears of commitment; and his fiancée, Christmas Eve, a Japanese therapist with two masters degrees but no patients to work with.

It does parody Sesame Street in using cartoons, songs and short skits (shown on the monitor) to teach lessons - and of course there are the puppets... But the similarities end there. The story revolves around these 9 characters as they share their life drama on stage. It’s quite fascinating watching the human characters interact with their puppet co-stars – rather seamlessly done as there are times when you forget which actors are real and which ones are inanimate. The performers displayed an amazing balancing act as they danced, sang, acted and worked with the puppets. The puppeteers were clearly visible working their puppets the whole time – but rather than being distracting, their presence actually heightens the actions and expressions the puppets try to portray.

Avenue Q can be described in three words: fresh, smart and feisty. It gets away with being raunchy and risqué as it tackles such controversial issues like racism, homosexuality, relationships (and one night stands), pornography, careers, and how sometimes it’s ok to take pleasure at the expense of someone’s pain. Because most of the characters are puppets, they manage being brutally honest without appearing crass and impudent. It is definitely an R-rated version of Sesame Street complete with full frontal puppet nudity. But even as they manage to shock and poke fun at such sensitive issues, even breaking into song about such taboo topics – they do so without triviliazing them or without resorting to bawdy slapstick routines.

The brilliant writers of Avenue Q sticks to making the audience laugh at the issues by drawing on irrefutable truths. For example, Kate and Princeton’s discussion about racism (and their singing “Everybody’s a Little Bit Racist”) – is hilarious because there’s some truth to it – and we know it. No one can claim to be a total non-racist – because we live in a society where stereotypes and assumptions are everywhere. It’s human nature to have opinions and sometimes those opinions may stem from being prejudiced. It’s not wrong … it’s just how it is. It becomes wrong when you perpetuate it and start acting on it. But as Kate and Princeton sing and dance to the idea that everyone is a little bit racist, everyone in the audience finds it funny because we all know what that means – we’ve all been there and done that. It’s funny because it’s sort of, kind of true.

Avenue Q is a refreshing second look at life today and the struggles that many of us are facing. I am sure every person who has seen it can find themselves relating in some way to the angst, hopes, struggles and dreams of at least one of the characters. And as the play ends, there is no magic wand that makes each one’s life instantly better … since after all it is a story about real life – and so the message is, we make do with where we are for now, discover ourselves and our purpose in the process, get by with the help of friends and just take it one day at a time.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Weekend 9/22-9/23

Last Saturday morning, Jojo and I stopped by my BILs place to greet Roy a “happy birthday”. Since we could not make it to his birthday dinner that night, we decided to pop by early and bring him his present. We spent a good part of the morning catching up with my in-laws and visiting with my nieces. After that, we swung by the house to pick Jeff and Yam up for a quick lunch at Chipotle. Jules met us there. We headed over to downtown LA after lunch since we had tickets to see Avenue Q.

Of all the theaters in LA, I think the Ahmanson Theater is my favorite. Located in Downtown LA amidst the complex that houses the Mark Taper Forum and the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the theater is a stone’s throw from the Walt Disney Music Hall. Ahmanson is a modern theater without the usual modern attributes of starkness or austerity. Parking is convenient, the lobby and theater décor is muted yet functional, seating is quite spacious, and the restrooms are ample enough for a full house. The actual theater is neither cavernous nor cramped – and feels like an intimate concert hall. We got there right as the show was starting and sat back to enjoy the performance. I’ll reserve my Avenue Q review for my next blog post. The play is simply too marvelous to limit to a one-paragraph description.

After the show, we drove over to visit with Ray, Janice and baby Colin. As we sat chatting with his folks, Colin slept soundly in his mom’s arms. He was a well-behaved baby and even though he was mostly swaddled in a baby blanket, you could see he was an adorable baby. Kudos to Ray and Janice, who are first-time parents, but made parenting a 3-week old baby look natural and easy. We stayed for about an hour before heading to The Grove over at Fairfax.

We had reservations at Maggianos and were being joined for dinner by someone we literally did not know. Yes, you read right. We were meeting a guy named Adrian and his cousin, Christina - none of us knew either of them nor did they know us. I know that sounds strange so let me explain. My best friend Les works with Adrian back in Manila. She is constantly telling Adrian about me and how she thought he and I would click should we ever get the chance to meet. When Les was here last year, she told me countless Adrian stories and convinced me that I would absolutely find him fun to be with and extremely likeable. Little did I know, Adrian would be in LA this weekend – till he actually texted me and asked if we could meet up. How could I say no? I asked him to join us for dinner that night. Luckily he could make it. As we sat at the Maggiano’s bar waiting for him to arrive, Jojo asked me how I would recognize Adrian (since we never met and had no idea what each other looked like). I admit that I was a bit stumped. We spent the early part of the evening calling out “Adrian” to every Filipino-looking guy who walked into the place. Finally at 5 past 7, Adrian walks in and we immediately just knew each other. By the way, Les was absolutely right – Adrian and I did click and we were chatting away like old friends. He also got along really well with Jojo, Jules, Jeff and Yam – and we all thought his cousin, Christina, was nice to hang out with too.

Dinner at Maggianos is usually a sure thing. The place is really nice, the food is very good and the service is really impeccable. But that Saturday night – sadly they struck out on all 3. The place was so crowded and we were kept waiting for almost an hour till eventually being seated by the kitchen. Service was incredibly slow (strange since all the servers seemed to be rushing to and fro but none of them could stop and take our orders – this went on for about 15 minutes). When we finally gave our orders – our server got them wrong too (Jeff’s Coke never arrived, we got a chicken salad rather than a steak and arugula salad, and our side order of onion rings never arrived). But the worst part was the food. The Rigatoni D (a cream-based chicken marsala dish served with caramelized onions over penne pasta – which is Jojo’s and my favorite dish) – was bland and too way too watery. The garlic shrimp linguine had overcooked noodles. And the spinach and artichoke dip was a tad too salty. The meal’s saving grace were the crabcakes (which were good) and the calamari rings (but really who can mess up deep fried squid rings!). We passed on dessert. Adrian told us they had to meet with some of his other cousins and had to go. The rest of us walked around The Grove (outdoor shopping area), enjoying the cool night air, browsing Barnes and Noble, window shopping and hanging out at the Apple store while waiting for a table to clear up at The Cheesecake Factory. Of course since Jeff and Yam were visiting we had to give in and had to “force” ourselves to have cheesecake and coffee drinks for dessert with our guests.

Sunday was sleep in day and then lunch at Lucille’s Southern Barbecue (now that place is consistently good). We made a quick stop at Costco for Jeff’s pasalubong shopping – I picked up two books The Kite Runner (by Khaled Hosseini) and The Jane Austen Book Club (by Karen Joy Fowler) - both good books I’ve been looking forward to reading … now all I have to figure out is when I’ll have time to read them! Then it was off to Hollywood for our second “Broadway” experience of the week. We had tickets to see “Wicked”.

In stark contrast to the Ahmanson Theater, the Pantages Theater located on Hollywood Blvd., is the anti-thesis to modern. Instead it is a throwback to the Hollywood era of glamorous art deco but sadly with hints of architectural wear and tear. The theater which is a historical institution has decor that can be described as rather heavy and very dramatic complete with velvet curtains, intricate carved walls and ceilings, dark wood and brass décor and dim-lighting. Also, as with many older establishments the place had a severe bathroom shortage – especially for the ladies. Again, my review for Wicked will follow in another post – as the show deserves much more space on my blog. After the show, we were hungry but since it was late an the next day was a work day, we decided to head home to leftovers, hit the sack and call it a weekend.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Housewives ...

This morning as I drove myself to work, I spent some time daydreaming about what my day would be like if I were a stay-at-home-wife. For starters I’d get to the many things I have not gotten done around the house because I have no time. I’d schedule for the work on our master bathroom to get started and I’d call for the installation of our water softener unit. I’d get started on putting away the two huge baskets of laundry at the foot of our bed. I’d prune our lavender and rose bushes and re-plant our empty flowerboxes with autumn-hued blooms. I’d make my hubby a healthy, well-balanced, home-cooked meal. It’s been ages since we’ve had a meal that was not take-out, frozen or from a can.

I’d do my errands like visit the bank, drop off stuff at the post office and the cleaners, handle the bills online. I’d visit Mrs. Chong and get Jojo’s pants hemmed and have the zipper on one of my jackets replaced. It would leave my hubby and I time for more luxurious weekends. I’d browse the aisles of Costco, Trader Joe’s and Albertsons just to see what’s new and what’s fresh. Take my time instead of my usual rushing in and out of the supermarket with a grocery list in my hand and a mental map guiding me as I zigzag thru the aisles getting only what we need. I’d take some time to shop for new sheets, matching towels for the guest bathroom and throwpillows for our family room couch.

I’d clear out our overflowing closets and donate to Goodwill. I’d help out in our parish by joining the committee that collects children’s toys and books and brings them over to homes and shelters. I’ve always wanted to but can’t since they meet Wednesday mornings. I’d restart my bookclub and find time to meet with smart women and have intelligent conversations about good books. Hmm … speaking of books … I’d read a lot more, visit local libraries and volunteer in one of those after-school “storytelling for kids” programs. I’d take cooking classes – something exotic like Thai cooking – at our local community center. I’d take beading classes at Michaels and maybe a literature or child psychology class at the Torrance Community College.

I would have family and friends over – maybe a barbecue or even a dinner party. We haven’t had that in a while since just the thought of preparing for a party, cooking and after-party clean up is exhausting. I’d invite a girlfriend over for an afternoon of tea and gossip. Or prepare an “inuman” night for my hubby and his colleagues. I’d visit people I haven’t seen in a while, like my grad school classmates and professors. Or I’d spend the afternoon babysitting my nieces and nephews and make them Ghirardelli brownies. I’d spend time sitting on the porch with June (our elderly neighbor) who always has a warm smile and wave for me when I drive up.

It does sound idyllic … and I think it would totally work for me … at least for some time. I know myself and I have to admit that if I had this kind of lifestyle, it would be nice for a while and then it would drive me crazy. I’d have to have a part-time job … maybe something half day or three full days a week. Something to balance the “domesticity” of my idyllic life. No offense to housewives – but I need to have some sort of career where I interact with my peers, am challenged by projects and deadlines, and am still part of the working world. Not to say that housewives have none of that – since in their own way they work hard, smart and under lots of pressure too. Both my grandmothers, my mom and even my mother-in-law are examples of successful but very accomplished housewives. They are the perfect examples of domesticated divas who managed to have rich, busy and fulfilling lives.

Take my mom - she always has an impeccable home, good food on the table, is the perfect hostess, and is the personification of grace and charm. She is just as comfortable in a table surrounded by girlfriends gabbing about recipes and raising kids as she is in the company of my dad’s colleagues talking about finances and state of world affairs. But she also works on community livelihood projects, started a local school for the hearing impaired, was on every parent council committee in our schools, is on our company’s board of directors, and manages to raise 5 kids all at the same time. That’s the kind of “housewife” I want to be – and even more. Not just some lady of leisure who spends the day in country clubs, lunching with friends, shopping, getting massages and manicures. I want to be one that runs a happy household but still have purpose and meaning in my life. I still want to earn my own money and share in our household budget. I don’t want to be my husband’s servant – but I do want to take care of him. And sometimes, I want to be taken care of as well. I want to be a good mom – not by being a maid to my children – but by being there for them and being someone they can be proud of too. It’s a tall order. It’s idyllic. But possible … definitely possible.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Weekend (9/8-9/9)

Last Saturday we had dinner at The Stinking Rose over in La Cienega. The restaurant’s claim to fame is its prominent use of garlic in all its dishes. It was evidently so in every part of our meal – from appetizers, our main course and even dessert. The ambience of the place was somewhat elegant –in a dimly-lit-lounge-meets-a-Roman -amphitheater kind of way. The décor was old world Italy with muted lighting and stone and marble décor, velvet drapes and cozy booths. We started dinner off with warm garlic rolls and the bagna calda (the restaurant’s signature appetizer, “spreadable” roasted garlic cloves, in olive oil with a slight trace of anchovy).

Since I was having dinner with 4 guys (Jojo, Jules and my good friends Jeff and Ray), our meal was a carnivore’s dream. We shared large servings of the Forty Garlic Clove Roasted Chicken, the Garlic Encrusted Full Rack of Ribs, and Garlic Roasted Prime Rib – a 20 ounce piece known as “The Slab”. Each dish came with creamy garlic mashed potatoes (which were really good – my favorite part of the meal actually). And our only attempt at a healthy respite to this rich meal was the sautéed spinach which was more of a garnish rather than a side. For dessert, we shared garlic infused ice cream with caramel sauce. It was actually quite good and yes, you could savor the mild garlic aftertaste with every bite.

It was an interesting dinner to say the least and really nice catching up with Jeff and congratulating Ray – he and his wife (Janice) just had a baby. Too bad she couldn’t join us for dinner though.

(Jojo, me, Ray, Jeff and Jules at The Stinking Rose - after this meal, we all needed after-dinner-mints!)

Also on Saturday, we finally got TFC (The Filipino Channel) on cable. My hubby finally gave in and agreed to get access to 5 tv channels from back home. We have ABS-CBC (Channel 2), GMA-7, one channel that shows Tagalog movies, and two others that I don’t recognize. I spent Sunday afternoon watching “The Buzz” and “Showbiz Central” (entertainment news programs similar to E News, Access Hollywood, and The Insider). It was strangely comforting to watch these shows and to see familiar showbiz faces (although there are so many new faces and names I hardly recognize at all).

I remember when I was back home in Manila, Sunday afternoons were spent with my sisters watching “Showbiz Lingo” before we would head over to my grandparents’ place for dinner. My mom, dad and brothers would be napping while Atsi Jen, sometimes Joy, and I would avidly watch and react to all the entertainment gossip. This time, while I was watching these shows, I sort of felt like I was back home, in my parents’ room, on a Sunday afternoon, with my sisters.

(A snapshot of "The Buzz" on our tv set!)

Monday, September 03, 2007

Labor Day Weekend

The 3-day weekend could not come soon enough for me. I’ve been counting the week down till Labor Day weekend. Ironically I needed Labor Day to rest from my "labors" at work - haha :)

Highlights of our weekend include: Spending Saturday morning indulging myself at the Eden Spa in Redondo Beach. After my extremely stressful week, I decided to treat myself to a facial, body massage, manicure and pedicure. I spent the morning with Irene, a wonderful Chinese lady, who massaged the tension out of my muscles and soothed my face with scrubs while Andy, a Vietnamese guy pampered my fingernails and toenails. It was a little strange having a guy do my nails but he was really good and very professional). While Andy was pretty quiet, Irene was very talkative and chatted about everything and nothing all through my facial – luckily she kept the chatter to a minimum while I had my massage. I totally immersed myself in the soothing zen-like music, the cool room and the scented oils while she smoothed away the knots in my back, arms, legs, and scalp. It was the best three hours of the week and I totally felt incredibly relaxed and stress-free. I left the spa feeling pretty awesome. I told Irene that I would definitely be back.

On Sunday, we joined Jojo’s family for a two-hour drive to Solvang. The drive itself was pleasant enough (especially cruising the Santa Barbara coastline) and when we got there we were all charmed by the picturesque Danish village. Jojo and I have been there before but we still enjoyed exploring the quaint shops and colorful sights. After some sightseeing, we all ordered sandwiches and salads from a local delicatessen and had lunch in a shaded patio across a giant windmill. I had a really good salad (mixed greens and a light lemony-vinaigrette dressing topped with sundried tomatoes, roasted red peppers, crumbled feta cheese, red onions and toasted flatbread). Jojo enjoyed his cold roast beef with a mild horseradish dressing. After lunch, the kids enjoyed freshly made ice cream while my sisters-in-law and I stopped at a local bakery to pick out Danish pastries for everyone to share. The only thing that marred the perfect day was the weather. It turned really hot towards mid-day. By noon, temperatures were in the high 90’s and even hit triple digits as we drove past some of the Santa Ynez vineyards.

We left Solvang when the weather turned unbearable and the kids were getting antsy. On our way back we stopped at the Camarillo Shopping Outlets for a couple of hours. The place was so crowded that parking was pretty bad. What was worse was walking into stores and seeing incredibly long lines - you really had to want something pretty bad to line up for almost half an hour to buy it. It was so outrageous that the Coach store even had a long line of people waiting to get in the actual store. It was crazy. I ended up with two shirts from Ann Taylor after almost 3 hours of shopping since I didn’t want to line up anywhere else. I spent most of the time playing with my nieces while their mom tried to shop. Jojo finally got the Oakley sunglasses that he’s been wanting and a couple of shirts from Eddie Bauer. After that, we all met up and decided to go home.

Monday was our day to get stuff done around the house and relax in preparation for the week ahead. We did stop over at Sears this morning to get a water softening unit (since our old one was busted). Even with the 15% Labor Day sale it cost over $500 (including warranty, tax and delivery). I was pretty surprised it cost so much. But having soft water is a luxury – it’s really better for the skin, for washing clothes and for maintaining our plumbing. So the cost is minimal when you think of it that way. We also stopped by Carters store to get some baby presents for our friends (Ray and Janice) who just had a baby boy - Colin Adrian. :)

So that was our Labor Day weekend. I can’t believe the 3 days went by so quickly. I guess now I have to start a countdown for the upcoming Columbus Day weekend!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

It's All About Work

It’s been more than two weeks since I last posted anything. Mainly it’s because I have not done anything really worth posting about. Lately, it’s just been work, work, and even more work! I’ve been putting in about 10-12 hours at the office, taking home work at night, and even spending part of my weekends finishing up projects. I’m usually exhausted by the time we turn in for the night – but even then, sleep eludes me since my mind is racing with thoughts of deadlines and meetings and things that still need to get done. What’s worse is after I finally doze off, I wake up in the middle of the night for no apparent reason and start thinking of unfinished projects and go through the “super-tired-but-can’t-fall-asleep” routine all over again. Of course by the time the alarm goes off at 7 AM, that’s when I’m in deep sleep and find it almost impossible to get out off bed.

I know this workload is unhealthy (not to mention the hastily prepared meals bordering on junkfood that we’ve been eating). Plus the stress and pressure can’t be good for me. I’ve been trying to wean off this schedule but somehow it’s not as easy as it sounds. My dad keeps telling me to do my best but to set boundaries – meaning leave work at a reasonable time and not to bring work home. I’ve tried that. It’s just that I seem to be getting more and more behind on my deadlines. That in itself is bad enough but sometimes there are people and projects that depend on me getting my work done on time. It’s not so much that I’m super important and indispensable at work – but rather my job is a huge part of a puzzle. Which means if I don’t finish my part then there’s a huge and distinct gaping hole and the puzzle is incomplete.

Last week I got a mid-year bonus but I also lost my assistant. She was transferred to work on another project (since we lost one of our teammates there). It’s ironic how we get paid more but the work increases exponentially too. So now, I’m working double time making sure my work is done but also covering for my assistant and the projects she left uncompleted. I’m not complaining … well, okay, maybe a little … but rather I’m voicing my frustrations. I can’t really blame anyone for this … the company is growing and heading in a different direction and everyone is just having to perform at a much higher standard and at a faster pace. It’s just the way it is.

Instead of dwelling on the downside, I’m trying to focus on the things that I’m looking forward to most. Things like the coming 3-day Memorial Day weekend, my parents’ trip here, our week-long vacation in Seattle this November, having my sisters and cousins spend the holidays with us this year, and getting our papers hopefully by the first quarter of 2008. Until these good things come about, I’m just going to have to keep going one day at a time.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Mixed Signals

Jojo and I spent a good portion of the morning at Best Buy shopping for a Vonage VOIP router. I still don’t know exactly what it does or how it works. Jojo has surrendered trying to explain it to me and I’ve given up trying to understand it. When it comes to high tech stuff, I’ll just have to trust by techie husband.

On our way home, I was half-serious and half-teasing when I told Jojo that I would probably understand “technology” more if he could clearly describe things in lay-man’s terms, instead of his usual “techie mumbo jumbo”. Jojo (being as brilliant as he is), not only describes things using hard-to-understand terminology, (he’s mind probably works so fast), he skips stuff normal people have to go through to understand the big picture. I illustrated what I meant with a “simplified” example, I told Jojo this is would be a typical conversation I could have with him:

(Remember this a “pretend” conversation to illustrate my point!)

Joanne: Ni, I was wondering can you tell me what a “dog” is?

Jojo: Dog? The Canis lupus familiaris is a domestic subspecies of the wolf, a mammal of the Canidae family of the order Carnivora.

Joanne: What does that mean? I just asked you what a dog is and you sound like an encyclopedia!

Jojo: You asked what a dog is and I’m telling you.

Joanne: Well, what does it do, what does it look like, sound like, smell like?

Jojo: That’s oversimplifying it – there are hundreds of dog breeds that I can’t describe just one for you!

Joanne: Well, where do dogs it come from? What does it eat?

Jojo: Again, it’s not that simple. The fact that dogs should eat bones is actually not entirely accurate. Bones are not all that good for them as there are changes in the chemical and physical properties of bones so that they cannot be chewed properly, also they splinter into jagged shards, and are really bad for a dog’s digestion.

Joanne: Who said anything about bones? I didn’t even know about bones! All I wanted to know what what a dog is!?

That is a typical conversation in our household … you would just have to substitute the word “dog” for words like torrent file, modem router, thingamajiggy, etc, etc.

Jojo countered that a conversation with me would be something like this (again, this is another “pretend” conversation):

Jojo: Hon, you know that new dog Sam got? It was pretty noisy last night, huh?

Joanne: What dog?

Jojo: The one he brought over to the picnic.

Joanne: I didn’t really notice … but now that I think about it I think it was a cat.

Jojo: No way, I was looking at it and it’s clearly a dog. Besides it was on a leash. You can’t walk a cat like that.

Joanne: You certainly could. Lions … tigers … those are cats.

Jojo: Yes. But Sam’s pet was a lot smaller and housecats are not walked with a leash around their necks.

Joanne: Whatever. I think it’s cute and cuddly.

Jojo: Yes, it is … all I’m saying is it’s a pretty noisy dog.

Joanne: Actually I still think it’s a cat.

Jojo: Hon, it’s a dog. I asked Sam and he told me it’s a dog.

Joanne: Yeah? Well, I knew it was a dog all along!

With conversations like these, it’s no wonder our marriage is anything but boring!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Rambling Thoughts

One of my good friends from work resigned last week and we threw her a good-bye party after work today. We were a big group (about 25 or so people) when we headed across the street to TGI Fridays for Happy Hour after work. It was nice to just hang out, talk, laugh, relax and have a couple of drinks. It reminded me of after-work events I had from back home and after-class events back in Berkeley.

Back home we used to go to this place called Il Ponticello (which was my absolute favorite place) after work. It was small restaurant/bar located in the heart of the Makati business district. Since it was on the 2nd floor of an office building and not visible or advertised from the street, not a lot of people knew where it was. I loved its dimly lit, cozy atmosphere. It was the kind of place you dressed up for but not in a pretentious kind of way. It wasn’t really the place to go to be “seen” but rather a great place to unwind with drinks and really good food. I loved their menu and there were many Friday nights we’d go over there for cocktails, dinner, and dessert. I wonder if that place is still open …

As I was talking to some of my colleagues I kept thinking to myself that it’s so strange how different people are when they are at work and when they are hanging out at a bar. You see such different sides of their personality that sometimes they don’t even seem like the same people. It’s nice to see a more “human” side to the people you work with every day. I think everyone felt the same way because we talked about doing this again sometime. I’d like that and I think it’d be good for us to get together after work, especially since our company culture is so distant and so “strictly business”.

I’m sorry to see my friend leave but I know she’s moving on to bigger and better things. I wish her well. It’s always kind of sad to say good-bye. We keep telling ourselves that it’s not “good-bye” – that we’ll only be a phone call, email, text message away. But then life happens and it gets harder and harder to stay in touch. I guess that’s life. I don’t mean to sound negative but rather realistic when I say relationships need work.

I’ve re-read what I just wrote and realized that there really isn’t a point to this post. I guess I’m just rambling and thinking out loud …

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Beauty and the Beast

Last night Jules, Jojo and I drove 53 miles (one way) to the Fred Kavli Theater in Thousand Oaks to watch the Broadway production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. I’ve been looking forward to this for over a month. I have to say the wait, the drive and the cost of the tickets were all worth it. This has got to be one of the best musical productions I have ever watched. I was in complete awe from the first scene all the way till the actors took their final bow. I’ve seen a lot of theater productions, plays and musicals, I’ve enjoyed many both here and back home. And I have to say Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” is easily in my top three.

For those who have lived in a cave all their lives and are not familiar with the fairytale, let me give a quick recap. Beauty and the Beast is about … well … a young beauty who falls in love with a beast (despite his hideous appearance and gruff nature). The beauty sees past the physical and falls in love with the beast’s soul and character. True love breaks the spell the beast is under, turning him back into the handsome prince he once was. He sheds his beastly appearance – which was a result of a curse placed on him by a fairy hoping to teach him about humility and prejudice. As with all fairy tales, they live happily ever after. Disney takes it a bit further and spins off the tale of Belle and the Beast with a cast of characters such as Gaston (Belle’s arrogant and obnoxious suitor); Lefou (Gaston's slow-witted side kick), and an array of the Beast's household servants turned into household objects as part of the curse - Lumiere (a candlestick), Cogsworth (as a self-winding mantle clock), Mrs. Potts (a teapot), and many more. The Disney version, as with all things Disney, is a musical extravaganza that makes every little girl dream of one day becoming a princess like Belle.

The Broadway production is the same way. From the first scene, where Belle sings of finding more to life than the provincial town she is from, to the finale where Belle admits she loves the dying Beast that breaks the spell which turns him back into the prince, I was glued to my seat and half wishing the play would go on and on. I loved how the musical took all the good parts of the Disney animated version, so all the familiar songs were performed: songs like “Belle” (which opened the show), “Gaston” (performed by the townsfolkin the tavern), “Be Our Guest” (performed by Lumiere and all the staff at the Beast’s castle), “Something There” (as Belle and the Beast start to see something more in each other), and the show’s classic and haunting song “Beauty and the Beast” (as the pair enjoy their first dance). The musical numbers were breathtaking and literally gave me chills down my spine. I was so excited to hear the recognizable tunes. But more than that, the musical had original songs as well, that helped tell the unfolding story. It was both familiar and new at the same time.

The cast was awesome! The young lady who played Belle (Ashley Moniz) was incredible. I thought she personified Belle in her every song, dance and with every line she uttered. The Beast/Prince (Chris Warren Gilbert) was intimidating and fascinating all at the same time. But my personal favorites of the night were Matt Merchant who gave a fantastic performance of Gaston. Despite being the show’s antagonist he was someone you looked forward to watching prance around the stage and break into song. I also loved Joshua Finkel, as the randy French candlestick, who was charming and brilliant in bringing his character, Lumiere, to life. Everyone else from Maurice (Belle’s dad) to Madame De La Grande Bouche (the opera singing bureau) were wonderful. The ensemble (both the adult and children group) all had great singing voices and performed such wonderful dance numbers and really brought such a classic story to life.

My favorite was the scene where the castle staff welcomed Belle to the castle through a dinner show entitled “Be Our Guest”. The song was catchy and the scene was really spectacular with dancing ladies (dressed as dishes) and handsome men (as cutlery), a salt and pepper shaker doing the whirling dervish dance, a human floormat tumbling across the stage, ladies as feather dusters doing the can-can, and candlesticks performing a cabaret. It was so well done I got goosebumps watching them thrill the crowd.

What I thought was the best part was the way the stage was set (there were different set backgrounds and props for almost every scene). The way they changed sets was so seamless you didn’t seem to notice as you found yourself transported to an enchanted forest, to Belle’s charming town, to the cavernous castle, and to the beautiful, sparkling grand ballroom. It was absolutely perfect. And the costumes were so good too. It was amazing how Lumiere really did look like a human candlestick, complete with glowing wax candles for his arms; Babbette was both a French maid and a feather duster, and on and on and on. I also loved how Belle’s and the Beast’s costumes were exact replicas of the dashing finery their animated characters had in the movie-version.

This was indeed a magical experience. I can not rave about it enough. If any of you ever have the chance to watch a touring performance of “Beauty and the Beast” in your city or find yourselves visiting the Broadway theater district in NY – you absolutely should go see this show!!! This is an incredible treat for the eyes, heart and soul - not just for kids but for adults too. Even my hubby who is a would rather watch a blockbuster movie than sit through live theater enjoyed himself. It’s truly a feast for the senses and a great way to spend 3 hours of your life.