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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Who's Surprised Now?

A few nights ago Jojo and I had an argument over my claim that he no longer surprises me with anything.

Here are the excerpts of our argument:
Joanne: You know you haven't surprised me with anything in the last few months.
Jojo: That's because you are the world's most difficult person to surprise ... you can smell a secret a mile away.
Joanne: Seriously, even my last birthday and Christmas gifts were presents I had known about in advance.
Jojo: That's because you like giving "not so subtle" hints about what you want to get weeks before special occassions (and may I say they are very specific hints down to the shoe size, color and where I can buy them).
Joanne: Okay, then how about the fact that you never plan any new things for us to do.
Jojo: That's because I know how you like to make plans so I just naturally give in.
Joanne: Well, irregardless, you should still make an effort. Surprises are how girls know their husbands still love them.
Jojo: You know the other way to look at this is how some couples love each other so much and are so comfortable with each other they don't need surprises to show their love.
Joanne: No, I like my argument better ... the one where surprises show us that our husbands still love us.

In all honesty, Jojo has a whole list of wonderful traits but he's never really been big on spur of the moment events. Even when we were dating, he was very reliable and rarely did things I did not expect. But there were times when I would get an unexpected note or a small token, once in a while I'd get flowers out of the blue, or sometimes he'd make plans for us to try some place new. But these days those rare surprises have become even fewer and more far between! Of course I would gladly take a a guy who is reliable and practical over one who is unpredictable and volatile. But at the same time, believe me when I say this, every girl wants some spontaneity in a relationship. Some little unexpected extra step that makes us feel we're still worth the time and the effort.

So anyway, the end of our conversation goes a little something like this:

Jojo: Okay, okay if it's a surprise you want ... then it's a surprise you'll get ...
Joanne: I want you to want to do it too.
Jojo: Of course, I want to do it.
Joanne: Okay ... so when should I expect the surprise?
Jojo: This is why I don't plan surprises.
Joanne: Sorry, I'll back off. But the surprise you're planning has to have some parameters.
Jojo: Like what?
Joanne: Like a time limit. I can't wait a whole year for the surprise. Maybe something in the next few days. I know, you could plan how we'll spend our Memorial Day weekend.
Jojo: Memorial Day Weekend? Okay I'll think of something to do.
Joanne: Maybe an out of town trip?
Jojo: Sure. I'll plan a trip to Catalina Island.
Joanne: Wait! Don't tell me! I want it to be a surprise ... but now that you mentioned it, Catalina would be horribly overpriced and overcrowded cause we'd be going on a long weekend.
Jojo: That's true. How about Yosemite?
Joanne: It doesn't count as a surprise if I know about it.
Jojo: Okay. Got it. I'll take care of it.
Joanne: How about a trip to Sacramento? We've never been there ... it's far away enough for a vacation get-away but near enough for a 3-day weekend, you know what I mean?
Jojo: I don't know ... who goes to Sacramento for vacation? Don't know of any attractions or any really fun things to do over there.
Joanne: No, it'll be fun. I have a classmate from high school who lives there and I could write her and ask for suggestions on what to do and places to visit.
Jojo: Okay if you really want to then I'm okay with it too.
Joanne: Great. Leave it to me ... I'll make the plans ....

Okay, okay. I guess some things never change - there are some people that are not good at planning surprises and there are others that are not good at letting others plan surprises ...

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

HGTV Home Makeover

I'm crossing my fingers! I signed up on the Home and Garden Television (HGTV) website to get a room makeover for our home. I've applied with a couple of my favorite designers/shows: Kim Myles' "Myles of Style", Vern Yip's "Deserving Design", and the new show launching Genevieve Gorder on HGTV (she is one of my favorite designers on Trading Spaces over at TLC).

I love these design shows where a professional designer and a team of carpenters, contractors and productions assistants come to your home and re-design and makeover your space. Basically, the shows start out with the designer meeting the homeowners to get ideas and to find out what the owner likes/dislikes. In some of the shows the homeowner helps out with some renovation projects but leaves before the room is put together. In other shows the owner is sent away leaving the professionals to do all the work. In the end, my favorite part is the surprise reveal when the homeowners first see the renovated space. I love how the owners gush, get teary-eyed and breathless over their new rooms. In rare occasions, there have been shows where the homeowners appear disappointed (and even absolutely horrified!). But not on the shows I signed up for. Kim, Vern and Genevieve are known for their good taste, great designs and working well with their homeowners. I HOPE, HOPE, HOPE we get picked. I know these shows have a long waiting list but you never know!

If picked, I would ask that our room makeover be for our kitchen and adjoining family room. Jojo and I agree that our kitchen really needs a makeover since the cabinets and tiled countertops look dated (I would love dark mahogany cabinetry and granite countertops) and new slate flooring too. A new stainless steel fridge wouldn't hurt either! For our family room, it would be great if we could get a new entertainment center (with a bonus flat screen LCD TV!) and maybe a few design touches so the room does not look too plain. Since Jojo and I are sadly mechanically challenged and verging on design dyslexic, we would be totally psyched to have design teams over and would trust our home to their capable hands.

There are a couple of rules for homeowners to sign up. I think they are super reasonable. Here are the rules to sign up:

  • Be a homeowner or renter within 30 miles of our North Hollywood offices (LA zip code 91607). (We are!)
  • Be willing to let our design team have free reign over the design and execution of the room. (No problem!)
  • Be willing to contribute at least $1,000 to the design, and release complete control to the designer on how it best be spent on your room. ($1,000 for a room makeover by a professional design team? Can you say "bargain?")
  • Be willing to arrange and pay for a dumpster on site during filming. (Done!)
  • Be available, for shooting purposes, for approximately 4 full shoot days during the workweek. (We get to be on TV!)
  • Complete and submit application, then EMAIL PICTURES OF YOURSELF AND THE SPACE. Be sure to include your name and contact information. (Did the application am now working on the pictures!)

Wish us luck! We'll let you know when we get a call and when we'll be on TV.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

What Now???

I received an email from my friend Jeff this week. Haven’t heard from him in a while so we exchanged the usual pleasantries “How are you?, How’s life?, How’s work? What’s up? Anything new?”. Interestingly enough Jeff made a comment about me and my job, he said I haven’t been blogging much about it lately which could mean one of two things: either things were better (and I had no more “complaints”) OR I am now resigned to the fact that this is how things are and have “accepted my fate”. Hmmm … I guess it’s a bit of both. Things aren’t as bad and I’ve accepted that there are just some things beyond my control. "Am I still stressed?" Yes. "Am I getting used to it?" Yes. "Am I happy with what I do?" Well, that’s relative. I’m not exactly thrilled but neither am I unhappy. It’s just where I am right now.

Serendipitously I started reading a book last night authored by a man named John Wood. The book’s title says it all “Leaving Microsoft to Change the World”. John was a up-and-coming executive in Microsoft in the early to mid nineties. He lived a successful life (he was a highly paid, jet-setting, work hard-play hard kind of guy). He worked long stressful hours and was compensated well for his talents. But he was not happy. He felt that he missed out too much on life … couldn’t take time off to visit his family, bailed out on friends, and even on himself since he was too busy working. Bottomline, he was there for the company but not for every one else that mattered.

After a trip to the Himalayas, he had a conversation with a Nepali government worker who told him the plight of Nepali school children. Despite being one of the most beautiful countries in the world, Nepal was also one of the poorest and had the highest illiteracy rate (70%). John’s visit to a local school showed 450 students studying in shifts and sharing a 1-room schoolhouse. The school library had about 20 dog-eared books under lock and key (since they were considered too valuable to leave lying out). His heart went out to them especially when the headmaster asked him “please, sir, maybe someday you will come back with books”. That was the turning point in John’s life. He realized that at Microsoft, his leaving could be easily replaced by a long list of people waiting to take his job. But the kids in Nepal did not have a long list of people waiting to jump in and help them. He had to do it himself. Understandably, he had his doubts about quitting a successful job (his safety net) and venturing into the unknown world of starting a non-profit called Room to Read to help children 8,000 miles away. And of course he had his shares of critics who tried to dissuade him. But in the end he did it and has claimed he has never been happier.

The story is very reminiscent of a book I wrote about a couple of months ago (Greg Mortenson’s Three Cups of Tea that retells his plight helping kids in Pakistan). Both are equally inspiring and also thought-provoking. I stayed up almost all night last night. I started reading around 9, Jojo came to bed at 11:30, I was still reading. At 2:30 AM, I had to will myself to shut off the light and put the book down. I was awake an hour later still thinking about John’s story and asking myself what this means to me now that I’ve read it?

Surely it can not be a coincidence that I am at a crossroad in my career and I keep stumbling across stories like these. A week ago I wrote about my frustrations in life … one was that I was “stuck” in my job and two that I wanted to be part of something bigger than just living. And a few days ago I wrote about "The Last Lecture" and what I would do if I knew I had only a few months lefts to live … and I wrote that I wanted to make a difference in someone’s life. All these posts are random (just thoughts that pop into my mind at a given time … certainly not planned!). But they've got to mean something because now I really feel compelled to do something. But honestly I don’t know what. The statistics the book shared on poverty, illiteracy, health epidemics, were staggering. I had to re-read the numbers to understand how serious things are. John had a line in his book where he says that the lives of children are like a lottery. Your success in life depends on where you were born. Children born in poverty are doomed from the very start. I kept thinking how can there be such a huge discrepancy in the way humans live. How could some have so much while others none at all? And in the end, does having more not mean we should do our part in helping those that need help? Isn’t that what being truly human means? I think so.

I am so worked up about this. I am writing this post on only 4 hours of sleep (and on a Saturday morning too!) I don’t know where this thoughts and this feeling will lead me to and I need to pray, reflect and discuss with family and friends all these ideas I have in my head. Now that I’ve gotten all this out in writing … I’m not even sure how to end this post. After all, I myself don’t really know how all this will play itself out.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Last Lecture

This morning on Good Morning America they featured an extraordinary guy named Randy Pausch. Randy is a prominent Computer Science professor at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). In late 2006, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and underwent surgery and extensive chemotherapy. However, these treatments were not effective. In late 2007 he was told his cancer had metastasized and had spread to his liver and spleen. Randy was then told he would only have 3 to 6 months of good health left. Since that diagnosis, Randy delivered his "Last Lecture" titled "Really Achieving your Childhood Dreams" to colleagues and students at CMU. His lecture was very upbeat, humorous and full of life lessons. It earned him a standing ovation and inadvertedly brought him to the limelight. Randy has since given his "last lecture" in several other venues and it has since been downloaded countless times. It has even gone to publication and is now a bestseller that provides inspiration to many. But more than being just any other inspirational speaker what is truly admirable is how Randy continues to live his life. By living his life to the fullest, it is a true testament to how strong a person he really is. Randy continues to be a great husband to his wife, a loving dad to his three kids and a mentor to many of his students. Randy has also gone to fulfill his dreams - playing with the Pittsburgh Steelers for a day, having a cameo role on a Star Trek movie, even testifying before Congress in support of cancer research, and through his lectures and book continues to touch the lives of many.

While driving to work, I thought about how inspiring this man really was. Faced with a pending end to his mortality, he chooses to go on living and making each day matter. He spends it with the people he loves while at the same time inspiring so many others. He could just as easily have chosen to retreat in self-pity and depression or he could have wallowed in anger and resentment. But he rose above that. It made me think about how I would live my life if I were given a 3-6 month "deadline". Would I be like Randy and still live my life to the fullest? Would I remain positive? Would the same things still matter? Would I still be rushing to work to make a 9 AM meeting? Would I still put in 10-12 hour workdays and stress over work? Would I still care that I have 20 pounds to lose for my sister's wedding? Would I worry about what to make for dinner or that the laundry has piled up? Would it still matter that our garage has not yet been renovated and that our home equity has dipped? Would I still stress over sleepless nights and worry about oversleeping in the morning? Would I still postpone that European vacation that Jojo and I have talked of taking? Would I still turn off my cellphone and forget to check my voice and emails as I rush thru the day? Would I still only talk to my parents and sisters once a week instead of every day? Would I spend more time with my friends and loved ones instead of only meeting them only when it's convenient?

I'd like to think I would live my last days as stress-free and happy as possible. I would quit my job, give up the pressure and instead experience things I've been putting off - like traveling, watching shows on Broadway, eating foods that I love, and reading to my heart's content. I would take leisurely walks and enjoy the day instead of staying in and watching too much tv. I would have more family and friends over instead of worrying that the house isn't clean enough. I would use our fine China and bring out the towels and bedlinens that have been saved only for special occasions. I would light the scented candles and use the decorative soap that are only for display. I would find time to make Jojo's favorite dishes instead of relying on take-out and give in to more of his requests (like watching Saturday morning cartoons instead of nagging him to help me with housework). I would read more stories to my nieces and build Science projects with my nephews. I would make an effort to keep in touch more - return phone calls, answer emails, keep lunchdates and write letters (no one writes letters anymore!). I would try to make a difference in someone's life - whether thru sharing myself and my experiences or at the very least donating the things that have brought me joy. I would give up my to do lists, stop being so regimented and just do things on the fly. I would surround myself with family, friends and those that are dear to me. I would right the wrongs I have caused and tell the people that I love how much they mean to me. I guess I would do many things quite differently. It's a little sad that I would give up and give in to so many things only if I knew I wouldn't have very long to live. I think many of us would find that our priorities change when faced with this situation. Hopefully, this realization helps us to continue dreaming and hoping as if we had many more days but living as if today were our last.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Frustrations

There are so many things in life that I am thankful for (I could not even list them all). To be honest, I really have been blessed tremendously and don't really have anything to complain about. So don't take this post as a list of complaints but rather a way for me to vent on some things I find somewhat frustrating in my life.

1.) Not being able to get a full night sleep. I 'm not sure when this sleeping problem started. I didn't use to have trouble going to bed (other than needing complete silence and pitch darkness). But these days (the last couple of months actually), I find myself tossing and turning in bed. Most nights, it's just really hard for my mind to settle down. I try to block out thoughts about unfinished projects, looming deadlines, my mental to-do lists, and anything else that will keep my mind active. I've cut down on caffeine and have minimized any stimulating activities right before bed. I tried reading, taking warm baths, hot milk, counting sheep, softer pillows, and even turning the temperature up and down. Nothing has worked except sleeping pills (which makes me even more anxious since I worry about getting hooked). Sometimes even after taking sleeping pills, I do fall asleep only to wake up in the middle of the night and then I can't fall back to sleep - then it's the whole anxiety of not being able to sleep all over again. The worst part is I finally get to sleep soundly just before the alarm starts to ring and the problem now shifts to getting out of bed.

2.) Not being disciplined enough to lose weight. I'm cursed with a slow matabolic rate and a body that is genetically programmed to maintain fat. It's easy to blame my DNA. But admittedly the rest of the problem is I have love to eat and I absolutely abhor exercising. (Would that be something I can blame on my genetic make-up as well?). Some people are lucky. They may have the tendency to become heavy but they like to eat healthy and love to exercise. Or there are others who eat a lot of junk and exercise minimally but have great matabolism. In my case, it's three for three which makes losing weight an uphill battle.

3.) Not having enough time to do everything I want to do ... but really who does?

4.) Not having kids. We consciously waited before working on starting a family. I wanted to be mentally, financially, physically and emotionally stable and ready before we brought kids into our life. Now that we are in a good place, Jojo and I are ready for kids, but we're certainly not at the stage where we are obsessed with becoming parents. We're okay with where we are now . I know that good things come in good time and I am prepared to wait to be blessed with kids. And if it does not happen, I think I can accept that as well. Sometimes what's tougher about not having kids is everyone's expectation that we should have them by now. Does that make sense?

5.) Being at a crossroad in my career. I used to know what I wanted but these days it seems my priorities are changing. I'm not exactly sure what it is I want to do with the rest of my professional life - much less whether this is the right path to getting there. But it's a good job to have and a good place to be for now so I guess I'm kind of taking it one day at a time.

6.) No spiritual growth. Lately my spiritual development is limited to attending mass once a week. And sometimes even that has started to feel obligatory. I miss having that "high" you get after a successful retreat, or after the Days With the Lord, or after those Ateneo Christian Life Community prayer meetings.

7.) I wish I could be involved in something that I truly believed in and felt passionate about. I used to be so active in organizations that helped the less fortunate. I found so much fulfillment in doing that. I used to have a bookclub - but got too busy to read the books on time. I used to be a member of different associations but those kind of fell on the wayside. Lately, my life has become an endless race to get things done that I've lost sight of doing things that go beyond just getting through life.

So there it is. My list of rants. Some of which I aim to try to do something about while othes are beyond my control. That's just the way things are, I guess. Life goes on.