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Friday, May 30, 2008

One Big Fight - Winner Still Undecided

Jojo and I got into a huge argument last night. It started out innocently enough. We had just finished dinner and were relaxing infront of the tv when the preview for the "Sex and the City" movie came on. I commented that this was a great movie to watch with a couple of girlfriends but since my girlfriends weren't here, I asked Jojo if he would watch the movie with me instead. Jojo (who was sitting across from me) answered that this wasn't his type of movie so he most likely would not watch it. The rest of the conversation went like this:

Joanne: You wouldn't watch it with me even if you knew I really wanted to see it?
Jojo: Well, it's not my type of movie. I didn't even like it when it was on tv. Why don't you watch it with your girlfriends at work or with my sisters?
Joanne: But for argument's sake, let's say I had no one to go with, would you watch it with me?
Jojo: Well, if you really wanted to, I guess I could go with you but I wouldn't watch it.
Joanne: Not watch it? We'll be in a movie theater, what else would you be doing other than watch it?
Jojo: I don't know ... take a nap, listen to my Ipod, play with my cellphone.
Joanne: You mean you would go to the movie just for the sake of going with me but make sure you let me know you really didn't want to be there?
Jojo: The point is I'm going with you because you asked me to.
Joanne: How am I suppose to enjoy the film knowing you would much rather be anywhere else than there with me?
Jojo: That's the point, I don't want to be there but I'm going anyway.

This is where things were starting to HEAT UP.
Joanne: How many times have I gone to see a movie you wanted to see and never made you feel like I was doing you such an enormous favor?
Jojo: Like what?
Joanne: Like Lord of the Rings (all 3 movies!). I didn't want to see that but I knew you did so I went.
Jojo: But you said you liked it too.
Joanne: I liked it because I gave it a shot ... because I wasn't so negative about it ... because I tried to see it from your point of view.
Jojo: So you liked it ... then it's not the same thing.
Joanne: What about Hellboy? I didn't sleep through it or do something else while watching it. I saw the
whole thing and hated it but I didn't make you guilty about asking me to watch it with you.
Jojo: That's my point. I'll watch the movie with you but I know I'll hate it too.
Joanne: You won't even try to give the movie a chance plus you'll make me feel guilty about asking you to go!

I was getting angrier by the minute and couldn't understand why he was getting so angry too.
Joanne: You know what? Forget it! If you don't want to watch the movie, then don't! Honestly, I don't really want to see it, I was just testing you. And you failed the test. So don't worry about me bringing it up again.
Jojo: This is impossible. If I tell you I don't want to watch it, you get upset. If I tell you, I'll go just to make you happy, you get upset. I can't pretend to like it when I don't. Wouldn't it better to go with someone who wants to see it instead of making me go. You are being so unreasonable.

WHOA!!! ME? UNREASONABLE???!!! That was the straw that broke the camel's back. We did not discuss it again the rest of the night. Well, since then, we have resolved our differences and we've kissed and made up. But ...

We need your help to please put this argument to rest - to all my readers out there - please cast your unbiased vote - who has the more valid point here? Me? or Jojo? Politically Correct answers (like "you both have a point" are acceptable too) but I'd rather get a headcount on who's on my side and who's on his! We promise that the results of this poll will not ignite World War 3 in our household ... results will only used by the winner for purely gloating purposes.

Voting deadline is next Monday (June 8). Please post your vote on this blog's comment section. You can do that by simply clicking on the comments line at the bottom of this post. Thank you in advance!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

It's All in the Mind ...

It’s the day after Memorial day and I am home sick with a terrible cold. There’s no need to ask how we spent our last 3-day weekend since it was pretty much just resting and trying to get better. We did enjoy a family barbecue and got to see the new Indiana Jones movie (which was terrific) but other than that there was a lot of sneezing, coughing, nose-blowing and endless napping. This year has been a terrible year for me in terms of my health. I’ve seen my doctor so many times that the receptionist no longer asks for my name and social security number (she probably has it memorized). I’ve been on anti-biotics so many times that Dr. Fuster is afraid I am developing an immunity to it already. It’s so sad but most of the last few months I’ve been on the verge of, suffering through, or getting over the cold/flu.

My mom and dad have been encouraging me to take better care of myself (eat healthier, get some exercise, get plenty of rest). All of which I am trying to fit in my already hectic day. I think deep down I know that is the root of my problem. I’ve been too busy and the stress of work, home, and fitting everything in is getting to me too. While my Uncle Jeff was here, we had several eye-opening conversations. I had shared that I usually have a very hard time falling asleep since my mind is constantly thinking about work and deadlines and projects, etc. I’ve become one of those people that too structured and organized at the expense of leaving me bordering on being obsessive about it. Talking about it with Uncle Jeff and actually saying the words out loud was surreal – sort of like me admitting to something that I had subconsciously known all along. My mom rationalized that it is probably a result of my living alone that had caused me to developed into someone who likes things planned, likes order and hates having to face the unexpected. I pride myself of being organized but have to admit that living alone has made me a fanatic about to-do lists, tight schedules, and making sure everything falls into the plan.

It’s become so ingrained in me that I find joy in planning vacations that follow a schedule, with a strict itinerary and set activities. It’s hard for me to just go with the flow and enjoy the moment. Admittedly, I take on too much – I find it hard to say no. And that manifests itself in all aspects of my life. I take on projects at work that no one else will do, I commit to impossible deadlines and kill myself trying to reach them, I have an assistant and yet still find myself doing all the little administrative tasks that I should not be doing anymore. I like being the one people call on whether it’s to help with my older sister’s wedding, or to helps with Joy’s application to FIDM, and even to plan Jules’ birthday party. I can’t say no to my in-laws if I’m asked to babysit or to host a get-together. I almost never turn down having friends and family over for visits even if it kills me to play tour guide and juggle my busy schedule. I work full-time and indulge my guests with every minute of spare time I have left over. And yes, I worry too much. I worry about everything and everyone. Not in a crazy, fanatical kind of way, but rather I worry that everyone is ok, that projects are on track, that the house is taken care of, that guests are having a good time, that everyone is happy. I guess it’s a little bit crazy too.

And even knowing this about myself, it’s tough to try to become more detached. After all, how can I stop and wean myself from … being myself? It’s much easier said than done. I know I have to start laying boundaries and thinking about myself. I need to be more conscious of what I am capable of doing and what my limitations are. In addition, I need to start thinking about finding time for myself rather than trying to make sure everyone else is ok. I guess this realization and actually verbalizing this is a start. We’ll see how things go.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Family Ties

Our guests left for Manila the other night. After returning from dropping Uncle Jeff, Auntie Kathy and Isabelle at the airport, our home took on the usual stillness and silence that is typically the case when guests have just left. I was a little sad for a moment but at the same time very glad to have had a week with them and the chance to rebuild relationships. During the drive to LAX, I was telling Auntie Kathy that what I would remember most fondly about their stay were the little things: like grilling steaks in the backyard with Uncle Jeff, late night chats over green tea, Auntie Kathy making us breakfast every morning before work, and watching the finals of American Idol with Isabelle. Little things that seem so ordinary but for me helped me reconnect with each one of them.

Strange as it may seem, I grew up very close and at the same time quite distant to my relatives (my mom and dad’s parents, siblings and their kids). We were close because we saw each other quite frequently on special occasions, most major holidays, and even on weekends just to have lunch or dinner at my grandparents’ homes. We were close because we knew what was going on with each other and because relatives living in Manila just naturally gathered together often. But at the same time, I did feel there was a distance as well. Yes, we did gather together all the time, but because meals were hurried and people had things to do, all we normally had time for was a quick “hello” and then it would be time to move on. Because I had so many relatives, conversations were usually just general chatting. There never seemed to be enough time to really sit down with each one and talk. Of course, when I was much younger, playing with my cousins was top priority and then when I became a teenager, I was preoccupied with my friends. When I passed my teen years, it just seemed like that’s how it was with everyone coming over and leaving all together. So we were resigned to polite “hi’s” and “see you next time’s”. I didn’t really get to know much about my relatives back home.

What I like about being here in LA, is having family come over to visit and stay a while. Starting with my immediate family (mom, dad, Jim, Joy, Atsi, Jules). And also my in-laws (there are too many to mention). I’ve had the pleasure of having Uncle Wash and Auntie Pizza visit. Auntie Scarl, Auntie Mimi and Auntie Christine were here too. Of course, Auntie Julie and Uncle Raniel have been here quite often. And even Uncle Junior and Auntie Lillian who came for my wedding. My cousins Jill, Chris, Notsky and even Leanne have also stopped by to stay a day or two. Each time, I am able to "reconnect that closeness” (or actually “discover it for the first time”), but more than that I am able to discover a new way to look at my relationship with each of them. This last visit from Uncle Jeff, Auntie Kathy and Isabelle was no different. At first, I was worried about their coming over since it’s been 7 years since we last saw them. What would we talk about? What would we have in common? Interestingly enough, things turned out very well, we did find things to talk about, we did find things we had in common, and we did have differences that made conversations far from boring. Their 7-day stay with us was over far too quickly which is why Jojo and I even encouraged them to extend their stay over the Memorial Day holiday. Too bad they could not.

I thought about why I now seem to have a “better” relationship with my visiting family. Perhaps it is because I am away from home and seeing them so infrequently has made me appreciate the time we have even more. Perhaps I am older and wiser which makes friends and family just so much more important. Perhaps I have come to value my relationships because life here is just so unbelievably hectic that I find comfort in looking back to what is familiar and safe. Regardless of what it may be, I am glad to have this chance to mend old bonds and hopefully build more lasting ties.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Celebrating Jules' Birthday

We celebrated my brother Jules' birthday twice this week. The first time was last Sunday (a day before his actual birthday). Together with Uncle Jeff, Auntie Kathy and Isabelle (who are visiting from Manila), we drove to Temecula. Partly to have lunch and partly to sightsee the beautiful local vineyards and wineries. Lunch was at The Smokehouse, the signature restaurant at the Ponte Winery. I've blogged about this restaurant and winery a couple of times before. The first time Jojo and I were at Ponte, I wrote about how lovely the grounds were and how charming the outdoor restaurant was. I love the landscaped grounds, the large wooden craftsman buildings (reminiscent of modern farmhouses), the vast expanse of vineyards that stretched as far as the eye can see. I had even wished I wasn't married yet just so I could plan my wedding there. Since I am married, Jojo and I conceded that we would plan our future daughter's wedding there someday. The second time we were there we took my folks and found the place packed with a 3-hour wait for a table. That's way too long, so after sighttseeing the grounds and browsing the gift shop we left to eat somewhere else. Third time's a charm since this time I made a reservation early and we found ourselves sitting down to Sunday brunch with a breathtaking view.

I wish I could say that the lunch was as good as the view. Maybe my expectations were too high or maybe the 100-degree temperature that day made me a little more critical than usual since I found the food just so-so. We shared the warm artichoke, spinach and cheese spread with toasted bread. I usually like this dish because of its creamy texture and the way all the ingredients blend together. Italiannis back in Manila had a great version and so does my mom. But this time, the spread lacked the usual creaminess and was actually quite dry which made it difficult to eat since the ingredients separated and fell off the bread. It was hardly "spreadable" and a tad on the salty side. I ordered the barbecue chicken pizza which was the size of a dinner plate and topped with chicken, cheese, basil, red onions, and barbecue sauce. The crust was good (chewy and crunchy at the same time), the sauce was a tad on the sweet side (more so than typical barbecue sauces), and the chicken pieces were finely shredded rather than the usual chunks. I usually prefer chunks of chicken just because finely shredded chicken has the consistency of mush. The good thing about it was the generous amount of mozarella cheese which I love. Jojo had the chef's omelette, Jules had the eggs benedict, Uncle Jeff and Isabelle each ordered the fresh trout risotto, while Auntie Kathy had the turkey sandwich. Everyone was satisfied but no one really raved about the food. A nice touch though was my brother getting an apple cinnamon bread pudding for dessert to celebrate his birthday.

The second birthday celebration for Jules was last night (a day after his actual birthday). We had our first outdoor barbecue of the year. Usually we bring out our barbecue grill on Memorial Day weekend to commemorate the last few days of Spring and the start of Summer. This year, the warm weather came early so we thought we'd get a headstart on outdoor grilling and backyard dining. Of course by the time we started barbecuing the weather had turned chilly and we had to eat indoors. Oh well. I had marinated three types of steak (Porterhouse, T-Bone and Ribeye) and together with that Jojo grilled fresh ears of sweet corn. Auntie Kathy made a whole wheat pasta topped with pesto and heated some frozen baby peas and carrots. And Uncle Jeff popped open a bottle of Riesling to celebrate. The corn was sweet, the pasta good and the steaks really tender. Everyone had their favorite - Uncle Jeff and Jules liked the Porterhouse finding the thick cut of beef more juicy and succulent, Auntie Kathy and I enjoyed the T-Bone since the meat near the bone is usually more flavorful, Jojo liked the Ribeye since the marbling gives it a softer, almost creamier feel. I'm not sure which cut Isabelle liked best but the good thing is, like all of us, she did try them all. Dessert was good old Ben and Jerry's ice cream for some (but none for me since I've been plagued with a week-long cough/sore throat).

So that's how we celebrated by brother's special day. Happy Birthday, Jules!


Monday, May 12, 2008

Weekend (5/10-5/11)

Our weekend had three highlights:

First highlight, we discovered a new place to eat. It's a very hip, modern place in Manhattan Beach called "LA Food Show". From the same group that came up with the California Pizza Kitchen, this restaurant features California cuisine fused with Asian, Mediterranean and American flavors. Through their extensive menu and on their website, LA Food Show claims they are exploring the sensory universe that is Los Angeles. Since LA is a unique melting pot of cultures that is constantly in the process of re-inventing itself, the spirit of invention and cross-culture experimentation is at the heart of LA Food Show.

I loved the ambience of the place (clean, bright, modern decor - lots of steel and glass - featuring red, black and white colors). The food was good too. Jojo and I started with Asian lettuce wraps with a spicy-sweet peanut dipping sauce. Very good, light and refreshing. For my main entree I had chicken dan-dan noodles with cool cucumber slices. It was good - the spicy chicken perfect with the noodles and the cool cucumber. Jojo enjoyed his grilled chicken breast with ginger sauce, grilled asparagus over fragrant Jasmine rice. The servings were generous but certainly not ginormous like some other places. The servers were pretty attentive making sure our water glasses were constantly filled and coming by to ask us if everything was ok several times (without making use feel like they were breathing down our necks). Prices were good too (between $10-20.00 per dish). All in all a very good dining experience.

Second highlight, we saw "Ms. Saigon" at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center (RBPAC). Before I talk about the play, I have to say that the RBPAC might be my new favorite theater. The place is small and intimate (just a tad larger than the Repertory Theater back in Manila). Smaller theaters make the whole experience seem much more personal rather than huge stadium-like arenas where theater productions are almost like watching a movie. What I like about live theater is watching each actor up close and feeling like I am part of the show rather than a mere spectator. RBPAC had that intimate feel where it didn't even matter where you sat, since every seat had a great view of the stage. The smaller setting also brings about a better listening experience since you don't feel like any of the music quality is lost through the amplification of sound. And the best part is, Redondo Beach is less than 20 minutes away from home. The experience was so good we are considering signing up to be season ticket holders.

Ms. Saigon was breathtakingly good. I've seen the play before and absolutely loved it the first time I saw it. Of course then, Lea Salonga was playing the title role of Kim. Fresh from her London stint and her Tony win, the show was so highly anticipated with press reviews so lavish that naturally everyone wanted to get tickets. All that pizzaz plus having my mom play the soundtrack daily made me sure that I would love the show even before I saw it at the Meralco Theater in Manila. But this time, there was less hype and fanfare that I got to really sit back and enjoy the performers and the story. While the cast of actors were mostly unknown they were all SUPERB especially Jennifer Paz (another Filipina) who mesmerized us as Kim. Amazingly, the effects were awesome too. Despite the small stage, the show's highlights featured the climactic "fall of Saigon scene" complete with a working, life-sized helicopter and The Engineer presenting his "American Dream" with a real-life pink Cadillac. The stage sets seamlessly shifted and transported the audience back to the era of 1975 Saigon and 1978 Bangkok.

SPOILER ALERT (skip this paragraph if you haven't seen the show). What I love about Ms. Saigon aside from the wonderful music and lyrics, the lavish stage and effects, and the multi-talented cast of characters, is its poignant storyline. In a nutshell, the story is set during the end of the Vietnam War and is about Kim, a bar girl in Saigon, and Chris, an American sergeant. They meet by chance and fall in love. But on a fateful night, they are separated and Chris is forced to leave for the US. Three years later, Chris marries Ellen after believing that Kim has died, while across the world, Kim and her a son (by Chris) patiently wait for his return. The most touching scene is when Kim and Ellen meet face to face for the first time. Kim is heartbroken when realizes she has lost Chris but more than that she fears that her son, Tam, has lost his father and a chance for a better life. Kim tries to give away her son to Ellen who refuses saying she could never take a child from his mother. In the end, Kim ends her own life so Tam can join Chris and Ellen. There was not a dry eye in the theater and everyone watched with baited breath. Saying the play is wonderful is an understatement - even Jojo who is a Ms. Saigon first-timer thought so too! And while I usually like "happy ever afters", this show is a definite exception. While many look at Ms. Saigon as a tragic love story, I see it as a wonderful depiction of a mother's ultimate love for her child where she sacrifices her life for his.

Speaking of a mother's love, the third highlight of our weekend was celebrating Mother's Day. Since my mom is a half a world away, we celebrated by sending her a bouquet of flowers and calling to greet her on the special day. Then we took my mother-in-law for dimsum with the whole family. We had quite a wait since the place was full and seating 15 people in one table is almost impossible. But we did get seated almost an hour and a half later, turning our brunch into lunch, but making it a celebration nonetheless.

HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY to my mom, my mother-in-law, my sisters-in-law, my grandmothers, aunts and to all my friends that are currently enjoying motherhood!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

We're On Our Way Home ...

The last two weeks have gone by in a blur. Work has been so busy (as you can probably surmise given that I have not had any blog entries in that period). My blog readers can always tell what my load at work is like by the entries in my blog. The longer the time in between entries, the more stressed, harassed and overworked I am! Thank God that the weekend is finally here. Two blissful days of personal time. Not counting errands to run and chores to do ... but at least I can do it at my own pace and without a schedule to follow.

Some good news though. Jojo finally got his "Advanced Parole" documents. I got mine a few weeks ago. That sounds kind of sinister. "Advanced Parole". No, that does not mean my hubby and I were doing time in the slammer and are now out at large. Just that we are now no longer restricted from traveling outside the US. That still sounds sinister ... "restricted from traveling outside the US" ... does that sound like we're illegal immigrants that crossed the border in the middle of the night? Rather, it just means we are on our way to getting our greencard and foreign travel is now much easier and more relaxed.

We are so thrilled to have it. I've been dying to back to Manila. Can't wait to see my family and friends. Can't wait to visit my favorite spots. Can't wait to relish the comforts of home. Can't wait to go shopping in the tiangge (bazaars). Can't wait to eat my favorite foods. Bottom line is I can't wait to go home! After all this time, Manila is still home to me. Believe it or not, because of all the immigration complications and concerns, I have not been back in 7 years. SEVEN YEARS. Many times friends, family and our immigration attorneys have urged us to go home, after all, we are here legally and everything is being processed the right way. But because of the Sept. 11 tragedy, and the resulting stricter immigration laws, we just didn't want to risk it. So we've been patiently waiting and waiting and waiting.

Ironically, now that we can ... we are taking our time in planning the perfect time to go home. I used to think that as soon as I got the go-ahead ... I would take the first flight out to Manila! But practicality rules over excitement in this case. First, our current workloads are just killer ... Jojo is not allowed to take more than 3 days off at this time. In my case, I just got a new assistant and dumping everything on his shoulders is tempting but not feasible unless I want to lose him. Plus taking off for a month so soon after getting the "advanced parole" is not strongly encouraged. We've been advised not to take more than 10 days outside the US. Given these scenarios, the next couple of months are out of the question. Our next plan was to go home in Sept. or Oct. of this year. But my sister is getting married in late Oct., which means my whole family will be here around that time. Our last option is to go home for the Christmas holidays. Dec. is the best time to be in Manila anyway so it works out fine. The only concern is airfare is double (even triple the price) and my workload is even heavier towards yearend. But we'll definitely figure something out ... after all, this has been a homecoming that we've been planning and anticipating for the last 7 years!