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Sunday, January 28, 2007

Lazy Weekend

The last few weeks at work have been incredibly draining. I’ve been spending 10-11 hours at work trying to get things done. And despite all that, my to-do list never seems to get any shorter. My hubby has been super busy at work too. This last week he has had to work overtime every single day and has even had to take home a project that is due this Monday. We both decided that this weekend would be a veg-out weekend. It would be a 2-day respite spent relaxing, eating well, sleeping and just plain old not doing anything other than the things we enjoy. In the spirit of total relaxation we vowed to ban out-of-town trips that are fun but still tiring, no watching of any movie that requires concentration and actual thinking, no housework (that’s still work), and saying “not this week” to any invitations that come our way.

Saturday was spent sleeping till almost noon and waking up to a delicious brunch of Chinese noodle soup (take out, of course!), I had an appointment with my eye doctor for new contact lenses (which was sort of an “obligation” but I had made the appointment two weeks ago and had to go), but right after we headed home and took another long nap. We woke up, spent the rest of the afternoon watching tv, downloading music, and making hot chocolate (the real kind not the instant kind where you just add hot water!). We met my brother for a late dinner at Palms (a fun Thai place in Hollywood where the food is really good and there is a live Thai Elvis serenading you as you enjoy spicy curries, sweet pad thais and really flavorful tom yang soup). We stopped by Barnes and Noble on our way home and picked up a couple of books. I spent the rest of the night reading Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (a little dragging in the beginning but really great once you get into it). Perfect night to spend reading in bed since it was raining and the weather was cool. Stayed up past midnight reading and woke up late the next day. We went to mass and had a quick lunch at Pollo Inca (a Peruvian place that serves awesome lomo saltado!). Got home, read some more, took a long leisurely soak in the tub, and am now lounging around in pajamas while reading emails. We are marinating steaks for dinner and have an evening of mindless reality tv ahead of us. Having no obligations, no stress, no work to do for a whole weekend is bliss!

I guess I wouldn’t stress about work so much if I could help it. Unfortunately I am not one of those people. I usually commit myself to things I can be 100% involved in and dedicated to. Obviously that goes both ways – it can be both good and bad. My dad’s advice is to separate my work life with my personal life. Be dedicated at work but at the end of the day, I need to switch off my “work-self” and turn on my “self-self”. It makes sense and must have worked well for my dad who is both a brilliant business man and a great family man too. But for me, the on and off switch is just not that easy to find. I get so emotionally involved at work that there are times I’ve had a hard time falling asleep and stay up worrying about projects and deadlines. My mom says not to worry too much and focus on the good things that are going for me. Again, wise advise coming from someone who has always embodied the epitome of calm. Nothing frazzles my mom – ever! But again, I’m cut from a different piece of cloth altogether. I worry a lot. In fact, there are days when I actually worry about being worried too much. Yup, that’s me.

I actually have thought of a couple of things that would make work less horrible. If I ever become a Chief People Officer and am asked by our CEO to come up with a list of things that would make work less stressful, this is what I would come up with:

1.) 4-day work weeks. Seriously. These days most people spend 5 days at work averaging about 8-9 hours a day at the office. I would gladly spend 10-12 hours at work from Monday to Thursday and get Friday off. Same amount of hours but in less days. It would save on travel time and cost, plus on other company resources too – such as people productivity!

2.) If that’s too radical, then we could keep the 5-day work week but employees get to pick one day to work at home. In this day and age of high technology – I am sure we could manage this. Afterall, there are some people I barely see emerge from their cubicles all week, it wouldn’t matter if they were in or not as long as they turned in their work.

3.) Flexible time. As long as we turn in at least 40 or even 50 hours a week working – it should not matter when we are at work, should it? As long as the work gets done on time and gets done well – who cares if we it was done on Monday at 9 AM or Monday at 9 PM? I mean apart from jobs that relate to customers – I guess those have to have regular hours.

4.) Work life balance. Work hours are for work and time after that is for one’s personal use! No weekend projects, no reports handed at 6 PM on Friday that are due first thing on Monday morning, no teleconferences scheduled on Saturdays.

5.) Meetings should be scheduled ahead of time (no surprises) so everyone comes prepared. Also, meetings should be timed – no meeting should exceed an hour (I don’t care how important they are – if everyone is prepared and focused on the topic at hand – there’s nothing that can not be decided in an hour). If need be, schedule another meeting since spending an extra 3 hours at the table arguing and going over the same things are absolutely pointless.

6.) E-mail should only be used as a last resort. These days we email people for everything. I’ve gotten emails from people who sit right next to me. It’s just so impersonal. And so many things get lost in translation too.

7.) The office can be fun too. I really think there should be more “fun” at work. I mean school used to be fun even if we had to sit in class and study all day, even with homework and grades, and even with tests! Work should be fun too – honestly, everyone should just lighten up!

That’s pretty much all I have so far. I could go on but I should stop now and start psyching myself up for the coming work week.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Birthday Weekend

This weekend marked my last day as a 31-year old and my first day as a 32-year old. Let me share how I celebrated both days through some pictures ...

We deliberated long and hard about what to do for the weekend but because of the cold weather, our options were limited. So we spent Saturday sleeping in, waking up leisurely, then driving to downtown LA for a historic walking tour of the city. Before moving to Torrance, I lived in LA for 3 years but have never really explored downtown. It is a fascinating place and many of the buildings are historical in architecture. Of course the diversity of people is quite fascinating too.

We had an early lunch at the Grand Central Market - (see below). It is an indoor farmers market with fresh and dried produce, bakeries, fruit stands and food stalls of every kind.

Here is a look inside. There were a number of interesting stalls serving all kinds of food - Chinese, Mexican , Japanese, Indian, Peruvian, Middle Eastern, etc., etc. All of them seemed authentic too. The food promised to be fresh as well since there were vegetable and fruit stands, spice stores, and bread stalls all over.

After careful deliberation, we decided to go for Middle Eastern food since it's one thing that's hard to find in Torrance. My hubby had the beef kebab and I had the chicken (seen here). The grilled meat in Middle Eastern food is not much different from other grilled meats I've had before - but what I love best is the long-grained, extra fluffy rice, the grilled tomato and the soft, warm pita bread.

We burned off our lunch by walking around Broadway and exploring small stalls selling a little of everything. When we got to 6th St. my hubby surprised me by telling me to go pick out my birthday present from one of the stores in the Jewelry District of LA. I could pick out anything I wanted from any store (and there are several blocks of them!) selling fine jewelry - if that's not a girl's dream come true, I don't know what is! Here is one of the stores we went into (see below).
After about 2 hours and about 300 stores/stalls, I chose a ring with 15 multi-color semi-precious stones (purple amethysts, green peridots, red garnets, yellow citrines, blue topazes, and a light blue aquamarine) set in white gold. It is very elegant looking and perfect since it came in just my size! I love my new ring - tried taking a picture but none of it came out well so you'll have to imagine what it looks like for now.

After exploring the city, we went home and dressed for dinner. We then met up with the family for my birthday dinner at Lucille's (one of my all-time favorite restaurants). The wait was long because it was a Saturday night and also because we had 16 people in our party. While waiting, we browsed the Barnes & Noble next door. We finally got seated past 8, but it was well worth the wait. Here is one of our appetizers - the appetizer platter for those who can't decide what they want (see below) with chicken wings, quesadillas, jalapeno poppers, chicken tenders, southwestern eggrolls, onion rings, and fried green tomatoes. YUM!
We had baby back ribs and barbecued chicken for dinner plus garlic mashed potatoes, shoestring fries, macaroni and cheese, baked beans and lots of fluffy biscuits with apple butter. Sorry I have no pictures since I got so excited eating I forgot to take one.

Here we are after the meal and after I blew out the candle on my birthday sundae. (Our server took the picture and apparently did not take a good one since it's so blurred!)
After dinner we went to in-laws' place where I opened my birthday presents. Again no pictures cause I was too excited over all my presents :)

On Sunday, my hubby and I drove to the Temecula vineyards to celebrate my actual birthday. Temecula is only an hour and a half away from Torrance but it seems like a world away. I love Temecula (city) and thought the vineyards (which were close by to downtown) were just as lovely as Napa and Sonoma.

Our first stop was the Maurice Car'rie vineyards (see below). I loved the charming buildings.

Inside, they had a lovely wine and gift shop. They also had a tasting counter where you could taste their house specialties. We bought my dad a bottle of Riesling (his favorite) and we also treated ourselves to a huge loaf of sourdough bread (fresh out of the oven!). The place was not that busy and it was great chatting with the staff who were all really friendly.

Next door to the gift shop was The Plantation House, a lovely restaurant with beautiful wood floors and furnishings, bright white shutters and a very laid back "southern style" decor. We met Larry Leonard, the owner, who congratulated us for being the last customers to order brunch (it was almost noon when we walked in). Here is my hubby's Salmon Eggs Benedict and potato pancake. I had eggs over easy, home-made sausage, fruit, and multi-grain toast (not as fancy looking).

Outside, the day was GORGEOUS (sunny but cool at 65-degrees). Most of the vineyards were barren (see below) because it is winter here! But you can imagine how lush they will be once Spring comes. I loved the orange groves too (to the left of the picture). Everything looked so postcard-worthy! And the view of the mountains ... just breathtaking!

Our next stop was the Ponte Winery (about half a mile away). See picture below. This was my favorite of all the wineries we went to. I loved how charming the place was especially the beautiful gardens behind the front structure. I could not take a picture since a wedding was going on and I didn't want to seem intrusive. But it was so beautiful - I actually wished I was still planning my own wedding since I would have loved to have celebrated it at the Ponte Winery gardens. Jojo said we'll just have to celebrate our future "daughter's" wedding there.

Ponte Winery had a great deli too with so many wonderful looking spreads, dips, jams, preserves, cheeses, breads. I was awestruck. We bought a jar of arugula and pine nut pesto and a jar of lime and mint marinade to take home.

We went to two other wineries (Wiens and Thornton and both were newish and not as expansive as the first two) before calling it a day. Our last stop was The Olive Oil Company which was in Old Town Temecula (another collection of charming, small town-looking shops). The Olive Oil Company boasted of fresh olive oil and everything you can imagine making with olive oil. They also had an olive oil tasting bar (we passed on that) but we did get a bottle of oil seeped with garlic cloves and a jar of sun-dried tomatoes with olive oil.

After a lovely day in Temecula and two great days of celebrating, my hubby and I ended the weekend by going to mass at, St. Philomena, our parish.

It was a great birthday and I thank everyone for the greetings, emails, text messages, gifts and phone calls. THANK YOU for remembering. Hope you guys enjoy these pictures and somehow get to share this special time with me too.

P.S. Belated happy birthday to my dear friends Karen (the 17th), Jogs (the 18th), and Tash (the 20th) and advanced happy anniversary to my mom and dad (the 22nd)!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Resolutions

I’ve never been one to make resolutions for the new year. It’s just never struck me as something to do and besides I think the “pressure” of setting a new year’s resolution adds to the anxiety of trying to keep the resolution. I read somewhere that most people stress over keeping their resolutions and as a result break them within a few days or weeks after setting them. So, to clarify, this is not a list of new year’s resolutions, but just things I am going to try to work on for the coming year.

1.) I am going to try to start eating healthier. This goes for my hubby too. We are not getting any younger and I think it’s time to start thinking about the kind of things we eat and drink. For the record, I am not swearing off everything. I mean, what would be the point of living if one could not have the occasional caramel macchiato, tortilla chips and salsa, buffalo wings and that second helping of pizza? But I do see the point in making wiser choices and keeping things in moderation. At this point, we are lucky to have the luxury of making changes because we want to rather than because we have to (which would just make me feel deprived!).

Lately, because of busy schedules and because of our love for culinary pursuits – our eating habits have been … quite challenged … to say the least. I had a conversation with my mom a few days ago and her advise was eating healthier does not have to be more work but it does take a little bit more of planning. So, this weekend, Jojo and I came up with a sort of eating plan and went to Costco to stock up on ingredients for that plan. Hopefully, as mom said, this planning will keep us away from frozen dinners, canned soup, junk food, and take out meals!

2.) Exercise. Yes, I’ve thrown the “e” word out there! No major promises here – but we have taken our exercise machine out of the garage and parked it in front of the tv (blocking the view from the sofa). Now if that’s not an incentive to start using that thing, I don’t know what is! We’ve also made plans to go on afternoon walks during the weekend (does walking around the mall count?) and maybe on weekdays too when the weather gets a bit warmer and the daylight lasts longer. But since our work schedules are really bad, we’ve added housework to our exercise regime as well.

3.) Relax and take mini-vacations. My hubby and I have not been on a vacation in ages. Our home is the vacation destination for many of our friends and family (which is great too!) – but we ourselves have not been on one since … well … not in a very long time. Although we still do not have the time and luxury of dropping work and jetting off to Europe for a month, we are certainly going to try planning a few weekend or week-long getaways whenever we can.

4.) Try not to take work too seriously. This one will probably be the hardest one of all. But I have to try put things in perspective. Life is too short and it is not worth stressing over things I have no control over. I will sincerely try to do this … or may have to find something else that is less stressful! We’ll see.

There are many other things that I can think of – but we’ll have to take this slowly. We’ll see how it goes with the first four and maybe I’ll make a few more mid-year “resolutions”.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Dad's Advice

Every Friday night I spend at least two hours on the phone with my mom and dad. We talk about everything that happened the past week. My parents share tidbits about what’s up with family and friends in Manila and what's going on in their lives. I talk about upcoming weekend plans and what's new on my end too. It’s our chance to catch up and reconnect. I look forward to these conversations since it’s also my week-end detoxification session where I unwind from the stress of my busy week and gripe about my work angst. These conversations are actually very therapeutic for me and my week is never complete without that phone call. Talking to them allows me to talk to two people who are never-ending in their support and encouragement for me. But believe me when I tell you, it’s definitely not all fluff and ego-boosting either. Since it’s a conversation with two people who know me inside out, our talks are peppered with good advice and doses of constructive criticism when needed.

Last Friday was no different, while I was moaning about not being able to do my best on a project I was working on, my dad shared with me this piece of advice. He said “it’s okay to make a mistake. We all make mistakes. What’s bad is making the same mistake twice”. He even shared with me that sometimes he tells his own employees to go ahead and “make a mistake” since as humans that’s what we do. No one is perfect and we all have to make mistakes some time. But, in the end, we should learn from that mistake and grow from that experience. What is sad and downright stupid is actually making the same mistake over and over again. The more I think about what he said – the more I agree and think that his advice is so simple yet so profoundly true – and in my case, right on the money.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

What Really Matters

The media has ruined romance for most of us. Because of romance books, love stories on the big screen, and glorified heroes rescuing fair heroines, most of us grow up with the wrong impression of what love is or what kind of love to expect. This is the 21st century and in real life, how many international movie stars fall in love with nobodies who manage bookstores in Notting Hill? Where are the dashing kings who willingly abdicate their throne to marry the women they love? How many of us have recently run into a prince who would slay a dragon to win the hand of a fair maiden? And honestly, has anyone recently heard of a fairy godmother who grants wishes and happily ever afters?

I don’t mean to be cynical, after all the magic of falling in love and being in love still happens each and every day. But I’m also being a bit more realistic. Love and romance isn’t all that it’s cut out to be. I, too, grew up with dreams of a guy sweeping me off my feet. Falling madly in love with a man who would give me the stars and the moon and everything my heart desired. A guy who would watch me in my sleep, draw my portrait from memory, write me poetry, and sing me love songs. Growing up, my girlfriends and I have giggled over debonair, successful, worldly, elegant, brilliant and perfect Prince Charmings who would have eyes only for us and whose world would revolve around making us happy.

But the realist in me says “wake up!”. True love like that would be boring. Diamond rings and bouquets of flowers lose their meaning. Love songs and poetry get trite. We need to look out for the little things that have the most meaning because they come from the heart. It’s easy to say you love someone – but having to show it on days where you are sad, stressed, overworked, homesick, exhausted and down is when it really counts. Romance should not only happen in big sporadic events – but in the day to day, little moments when no one is watching and when it is least anticipated.

I am lucky I am married to such a guy. He shows “romance” in the most unexpected and unconventional ways. He’s not big on major public displays of affection and on grandiose schemes contrived to woo me. But in many little ways his displays of affection are sweet, consistent and heartfelt. No, I didn’t get the moon and the stars for Xmas, but I did get a gorgeous pair of aquamarine earrings (that were on my wish list!). No, he does not watch me in my sleep, but he does call me every day at noon, on the dot, to make sure I’m doing ok at work. No, I don’t get my portrait drawn from memory, but I do have toothpaste on my toothbrush waiting for me every morning. No, I don’t get poems dedicated just for me, but I do get the last piece of pizza whenever we share a pie. No, he does not serenade me with songs composed just for me but he does burn CDs filled with my favorite sappy songs (even though his taste in music is very different). And, no, I don’t get everything my heart desires, but I do have someone who makes me laugh whenever I am down.

And in the long run, it’s the little every day things that matter. I’ll gladly take aquamarines over the moon and the stars. I’ll take that last piece of pizza over a poem just for me. I’ll take a CD filled with my favorite songs over a single song composed in my honor, especially if it means waking up next to someone who makes me smile.