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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.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Dinnertime

One of the things I remember most fondly are lively and fun family dinners we had every evening. What do I love about those dinners? Well, for starters, it was the one time in the entire day when my whole family would converge in our dining room and spend time regaling each other on our day’s adventures and mishaps. Everyone had their own thing going so this was the only time for storytelling, laughing and teasing. Admittedly, most of the airtime was dominated by yours truly, Joy would be a close second, and trailing not far behind was our dear dad (aka “Babbling Brook”). My mom, Atsi, Jules and Jim were a great audience, but believe me, they had their moments too!

Another thing I loved about family dinners, was , well … the food. Where do I begin? My mom is a big believer in well-balanced meals. So on a given night, we would have a representation of all major food groups – we’d have a meat dish, a veggie dish, a seafood dish, soup, and carbs (rice, pasta, potatoes or bread). For dessert, there was always an array of fresh fruits and something homemade like my mom’s apple cake, banana bread, brownies, food for the gods, cream puffs or some other thing she’d have baking in the oven. My mom is also a believer in theme dinners – so not only were our dinners well-balanced – they were coordinated too. We had Mexican night, and Italian night, and Chinese night, and so on … it was a regular United Nations convention at our place. We also had backyard barbecues, or a soup and salad buffet, or sometimes as a treat we’d have homemade pizza (where each one could top their own pie with their favorite toppings). Dinner at our home is never reheated leftovers or a dish where the ingredients are thrown together into a pot after cleaning out the fridge.

Sometimes I’d wonder what it was that really drew us to that table … was it the company or the food? I’d like to think it was a little bit of both. It also drew many others to join us for dinner - school friends, co-workers, cousins staying over, out of town guests, and stray people we took home. My parents are big believers that hospitality means feeding guests well and making them welcome at the table. Many of our friends would often ask if this is how we normally had dinner or if they were lucky enough to be invited to a party. It always made me laugh because to us, this is what a family dinner was all about!

When I moved to Berkeley, dinners were not as lavish but still gatherings around the table. I lived in an apartment complex with my fellow students and every night we would gather for dinner (and study sessions) in someone’s kitchen. My roommate was Turkish and a great cook so I got to try yummy Turkish delicacies. Inevitably it became my turn to host a dinner and I had promised my friends I would make adobo (most likely the Philippine national dish). That afternoon, standing in the kitchen, I discovered that culinary genius is not hereditary and apparently eating good food all these years does not automatically make one a good cook. I guess the upside to having a gourmet for a mom is eating well and appreciating fine cuisine. The downside to having Judy (aka “the Domestic Diva”) in the kitchen is none of us ever had to lift a finger when it came to cooking – which meant I grew up not knowing a mortar from a pestle. The first time I made adobo, I was so grossed out by holding raw chicken, I dumped the entire contents of the tray into a hot frying pan – chicken parts and the plastic mat at the bottom of the tray included! I consequently burned the chicken, melted the plastic and ruined the pan – not to mention bathed our tiny kitchen in the aroma of burned rubber for a couple of days.

When I moved to LA and lived all by my lonesome, I had to give up on having dinner with family and friends but was determined I would not compromise the quality of my meals. Armed with my mom’s recipes and advice from my favorite Food Network stars, I ventured into the culinary universe. I must admit my first forays were dismal and sometimes frightening (for the unlucky diners), but little by little I gained confidence in the kitchen. I was finally cooking, preparing meals, hosting dinners and contributing to potlucks. Of course, my early culinary experiences were mostly a hit or miss so I always had a take out menu on hand as a back-up. I can’t really say this was the start of my becoming a self-taught chef. As much as I tried to prepare good meals, there were times when even if the mind and spirit were willing – the flesh was just too tired, stressed out and weak. I had my share of meals that I know would make my mom cringe – “student meals” that were fast, cheap and tasty – never mind if they were unhealthy or eaten straight out of a can. Every time I had one of those meals, like microwaved spam and day-old rice, I could hear my mom’s voice, which would prompt me to eat an orange to compromise.

Now that I’m married, I’m finding myself looking forward to doing more cooking and entertaining. I guess it’s easier for me since now I get some help in the kitchen. Plus it’s always nice cooking for someone – especially someone like Jojo, who is so easy to please and who is so generous with praise. These days, I pride myself on having my own specialties and can be counted on to prepare a good meal from start to finish (just ask those who’ve been lucky enough to have dinner at our place!). Of course, with our busy schedules and depending on the time of the week (where our fridge could be empty or full), there are still hit or miss dinners – but honestly, more hits than misses now. But what matters more, is that Jojo and I have taken the tradition of sitting down to dinner every night, catching up on each other’s day, and enjoying the quiet time whether it’s a well-prepared home-cooked dinner or a hastily heated bowl of canned chili and hotdogs.