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Monday, June 30, 2008

An Indian Food Find

Yesterday while running across home improvement stores (Lowes and Home Depot), Jojo and I stumbled upon a small, unassuming Indian restaurant called Angara. We had both talked about having Indian food the day before but could not think of a suitable place to visit. In the past we often lunched at Gaylord (along the Restaurant Row in La Cienega). Other favorites include Bombay (in Torrance, along PCH) and Kabab House of Curry (by the Rolling Hills Estates). But since Gaylord is quite a drive, Bombay has closed down and Kabab has changed its menu, we have been looking around for a good Indian place. So it was serendipitous to have been driving along Torrance Blvd and coming across the small but colorfully decorated eatery.

Angara is a smallish looking establishment from the outside, but opens up to a quite spacious interior. The decor is muted and pretty nondescript. And although we sat at a table with linens and silverware, it would be a stretch to call this place fine dining especially with plastic plants and flowers on their walls, very colorful murals and textiles strewn around and loud Indian disco/techno music in the background. Angara serves a lunch buffet for $11.25 on weekends. The buffet included several dishes, soda and iced tea, as well as a small salad and dessert bar.

Our server was an Indian man who was very gracious, offering us drinks, discussing the buffet dishes, and making sure we were comfortable. Later on his wife hovered over us making sure our glasses and naan basket were constantly filled. And even later still, we saw their young child running around in her pigtails. Several of the other customers seemed like regulars and were greeted as such. It was nice. I actually enjoyed having that atmosphere since it seemed as if we were guests joining their Sunday family meal.

The food was reminiscent of a family meal too. Everything tasted more home-cooked than mass prepared. I particularly enjoyed the basmati rice (the long-grained, fluffy and quite aromatic), the lamb vindaloo (the meat was very tender, the gravy mildly hot and peppery but not so much as they assault your senses), the Vegetable Korma (a savory and sweet veggie stew with carrots, potatoes, green beans and onions), and the pakora (stir fried onion strings). Jojo enjoyed the chicken tandoori (marinated to perfection, grilled till fall-off-the-bone tender, and lathered with cool yogurt and spices), the chicken masala (chicken stew with a tomato paste base that is slightly sweet and slightly tangy) and the saag aloo (a pureed spinach with slices of potato and cheese - for some reason it reminded me of laing a local Filipino delicacy made with gabi leaves and coconut milk). Also, rather than the rice, Jojo was in heaven sopping up the sauces with the warm and crusty naan bread fresh from the oven. The meal ended with Kheer (rice pudding with almonds and raisins).

I truly enjoy Indian food. Whenever I am asked to name my favorite ethnic cuisine, indian food is always at the top of my list. And unlike other cuisine that I enjoy (like Chinese, Japanese, Italian, Thai, etc) indian food is pretty hard and complicated to prepare, which makes finding a good Indian restaurant even more special. This time with our visit to Angara, Jojo and I know that we have come across a winner.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

What's in a Name?

When I got married I never got around to changing my last name to my hubby's last name. It wasn't really an act of feminism on my part. It was just a bunch of little things like I didn't want to go through the trouble of renewing all my identification cards and paperwork, I was pretty used to using my last name (which is much shorter and so much easier to spell), and everyone I knew already knew me by my last name (both personally and professionally). Again it was by no means a salute to the feminist movement but rather a giving in to the laziness movement.

So for the past 3 years and a half of married life, I've had the same IDs (passport, CA ID, driver's license, and social security card). And because all my IDs have not been changed, consequently all my other pre-marriage documents remained the same as well: bills (car, mortgage and credit card payments) and records (medical and dental and payroll).

The only time I encountered a problem was during a trip to New York last year. My assistant booked my flight using my married name (which I overlooked) and when I got to the airport - all my IDs had my maiden name. So it took me more than an hour of extra pre-flight security checks to convince the FSA that I was not a terrorist with two different aliases. But other than that one time, I haven't really had any concerns - and so switching over to Jojo's last name has not been a priority. Until now ...

A few weeks ago, we received Jojo's green card (I can't believe I had not blogged about that yet!). But YES, we finally got his green card! Anyway, since Jojo got his permanent residency, it automatically means that I (as his spouse) would be getting mine too. Well, assuming everything goes well and there are no unfortunate hitches, of course. It's now just a matter of time (people are saying between 2 weeks to 2 months). As I wait to hear from INS, our immigration attorney suggested that as a precaution, I should make sure that all my IDs have my married name (since the name on my green card will be my married name - after all I got the green card as a direct result of being married to Jojo). Having a green card with a last name different from all my other IDs would just be a cause for confusion and major headache later on.

So anyway, long story short (or maybe in this case long story still long since I did go through the entire long story) - I have to get all my paperwork straightened out. This means going to the Philippine consulate to get my passport changed, going to the social security office to get my SS card changed, and then to the DMV for my license and CA card. The rest can follow later on but these 4 are pretty imperative.

What joy to have to use a day off from work and to spend it lining up at these government agencies. I can hardly wait! Despite being able to make an appointment at the DMV, I just know I will have to spend a good amount of time filling out forms, lining in endless queues and waiting for the processing. What's worse the Social Security Administration and the Philippine consultate have no such things as setting appointments. Which means an even longer wait.

So that's basically what I'll be doing this Friday. I'm hoping I can take care of everything in one day ... but knowing how notorious government agencies are about taking forever to get things done and how the system works ... well, I'm not holding my breath!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Reading to My Heart's Content

Two of my greatest pleasures include the anticipation of starting a new book and savoring a good story that I’ve just read. Often when I have a new book, I don’t dive right in and read randomly. I have to set the mood. I usually wait till I know I’ll have enough time to really get into the story and time to enjoy reading. Most often I start a good book early Saturday morning just when the weekend starts. I like reading in bed with a mound of fluffy pillows behind me, a cold or warm drink (depending on the weather) by my side, my hubby in the next room tinkering with his computer (which means at least an hour or two of uninterrupted reading!), and a leisurely day ahead with no obligations whatsoever. I can literally spend the whole morning reading and probably the entire day too (if not for my hubby wanting to have lunch or something else needing my attention). But for those few hours, I can get completely lost in a book.

And then, when I am down to the last few pages of a good story, I deliberately slow down and relish what I’ve just read. I go back and read my favorite parts, look at any appendixes, epilogues, prologues, etc. – in a way sort of trying to prolong finishing the story. I often go online and only then do I read other readers’ reviews and editors’ comments. I also particularly enjoy going on the author’s website to try and see what he or she was thinking (feeling or going through) when the story was written.

I know what I am about to admit may make me sound geeky but I've been known to prefer browsing a bookstore than shopping for clothes and shoes. I've been known to spend my allowance and hard-earned money on pocketbooks and novels. I've spent vacations simply enjoying a good book and would think nothing of spending my coming time-off from work indulging in a good book and staying at home. Is that TMI (too much information!?) Here's one more, there have been several times I've actually picked reading a book over attending a party or going clubbing with friends. HUH! GASP! WHAT???!!! (I know, I know, this now means I no longer just sound geeky but have officially crossed over to the geek-side! =) Well, if it makes me one then I'm proud to be one =) Haha.

I’ve been lucky that the last few books I’ve read have all been pretty good (with the exception of a few). I’m not a particularly picky reader and I don’t really have very high standards. My only standards would include a good story, a well written novel, and an author that knows how to keep his/her audience wanting more. I think that a book that is not written well and that drags on forever would be a poor seller even if the story starts off as good. And that a mediocre story can be sold with good writing and the audience anticipating more. Therefore all 3 of my criteria would have to go hand-in-hand.

Just to share a few recent books I’ve read and what I thought of them:

FIVE STARS (Loved them! Definitely going on my all-time favorites list! - which means they would be read and re-read countless times.)

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson - *****

The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini - *****

Between Two Worlds by Zainab Salbi - *****

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini - *****

FOUR STARS (Really enjoyed them and would definitely read them again! )

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen - ****

Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl - ****

Leaving Microsoft to Change the World by John Wood - ****

The Fortune Cookie Chronicles by Jennifer Lee - ****

THREE STARS (Pleasantly entertained but not blown away ... would probably read them again if I were bored and in-between books)

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger - ***

The Jane Austen Bookclub by Karen Joy Fowler - ***

The Difference a Day Makes by Karen Jones - ***

Wicked by Gregory Maguire - ***

The Good Earth by Pearl Buck - ***

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert - ***

It Must have Been Something I Ate by Jeffrey Steingarten - ***

TWO STARS (So-so. Will only read them again if I am ever stuck on a deserted island and have nothing else to read).

The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd - **

Suite Francaise by Irene Nemerovsky - **

As Luck Would have it by Joshua Piven - **

The Rule of Four by Ian Caldwell - **

Miranda Blue Calling by Michelle Wright - **

ONE STAR (Hours of my life I will never get back again!)

There are a couple 1-star books ... but they are really hardly worth mentioning!

And of course my list of all-time favorites list:

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Little Women by Louisa Mae Alcott

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum

But more than just loving to read, one of my dreams is to one day have the time and luxury to write a book. I don’t think it would be an autobiography since I hardly think my life is all that interesting! But I’d like to give fiction writing a shot. Since I seem to have a knack for story-telling and can keep my nieces and nephews captivated with made-up fairytales, maybe I’ll start with a children’s book and work my way up!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

My Hubby's Birthday

Jojo’s 40th birthday is coming up. I know that may surprise a number of you since he seems so much younger than that. For starters my hubby is blessed with features that could easily pass for someone in their early to mid thirties. Plus the fact that he dresses so casually too. His weekend uniform is basically jeans, shirts with superhero logos, baseball caps and sneakers. There have been times when he would even be mistaken as a twenty-something. (Okay, okay, maybe that was once by someone very drunk, with poor eyesight, in some dark alley).

But the point is he does look younger than his real age and I think the biggest reason is his disposition and lifestyle. Disposition-wise, he’s very easy-going and lives a very stress-free life. That helps! Lifestyle-wise, he’s all about “clean living” – he’s never smoked, never did drugs, drinks maybe 5 beers a year (and only when forced to!), does not gamble, and does not like late night parties. The only things he indulges in are what I call his “5 C’s”: computers, cartoons, comics, cars and chocolates (cakes, cookies, candy, anything sweet!).

But anyway, back to the fact that my hubby is celebrating his ruby anniversary this year. I’m excited since I love planning parties. My favorites are planning surprise parties and making them theme events. But as usual, my hubby has asked for “no surprises”, “nothing fancy”, and “nothing too out of the ordinary”. So we tossed around a couple of ideas. I suggested a formal dinner at a hotel. He said “no” (way too fancy). I suggested a catered affair in our home. He said “no” (way too much work). I suggested an 80’s themed party with dancing afterwards. He said “no” (not his type of thing). I suggested a Chinese banquet. He said “I’ll think about it”. He suggested spending the money on a TV. I said “no” (we don’t need another one). He suggested spending the money on a new Mac Book. I said “no” (we have a notebook and he has a Mac). He suggested not doing anything and investing the money in stocks. I said “no” (we should celebrate his birthday!). He suggested spending the money on a luxury massage chair. I said “I’ll think about it”.

So we’ve compromised. I am throwing him a birthday dinner. It’s not a surprise party but at least it’s a theme party. We are having a Chinese banquet where guests have to come dressed in red. My sisters-in-law and I are decorating the private room too. I bought the perfect invitations and am now shopping for guest give-aways. Of course, I’ll be hosting games and handing out prizes. Maybe some karaoke singing or a presentation by my nieces and nephews? I like parties to be interactive. And there’s the menu, I’ve been working with the restaurant’s banquet manager to make sure each of the 12-course dishes are Jojo’s favorites. Not to mention trying to find the perfect birthday cake to satisfy my hubby’s sweet tooth!

And yes, Jojo is getting a massage chair. It’s something he’s always wanted and may help him with his lower back pains. We’ve been searching for one on-line that meets three main criteria: His criteria: that the chair provides the perfect massage. My criteria: that it matches with our room’s d├ęcor. Our criteria: That it doesn’t put us into debt when purchased!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Parentals

This year Father's Day and my mom's birthday sort of fell on the same day ... well, technically father's day was the 15th and my mom's birthday is on the 16th ... but because of time differences ... both these days were celebrated yesterday.

I've said it over and over again. One of the biggest drawbacks of living abroad is not getting to celebrate special occassions with loved ones back home. I would have loved to be home to greet my dad and mom in-person ... but had to settle for sending my dad a box of assorted gourmet cupcakes and my mom a beautiful arrangement of flowers and fruits.

Happy Father's Day, Dad! And Happy Birthday, Mom! I don't say it often enough but I love you both very much. I am extremely grateful for everything you have done (and continue to do for me). Your support, encouragement and guidance have gotten me to where I am today and continue to get me to where I am destined to be. I am so glad that living 10,000 miles away has not made us feel separated and distant but has in many ways brought us even closer than when I lived back home. I'd like to think that it is because today, we not only share a parent and daughter relationship, but a friendship as well.

I know that parents always want what is best for their kids. They work extra hard and make sacrifices just to give their kids happiness. But I have to say that you both went above and beyond that. You have not only provided us with everything we needed materially (take note the key word is "needed" not "wanted"!). But more than that we were never lacking in emotional, spiritual, mental and psychological gifts as well. It's true that we do not have a choice as to what family we are born into or who are parents will be. Which means I must have done something pretty fantastic in my past life to have been born into your family!

Thanks again, mom and dad, for showing us what a real family and love means. I am so excited for the day Jojo and I start our own family for two reasons: One because I'm so excited for us to become parents so I can start passing on all our traditions. And two, because I know you both will make awesome grandparents!


Me with the parentals in front of the Seattle Public Library (Nov. 2007)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

You are what you eat ... or are you?

I came across a blog today where the writer posted an article entitled "How to Judge a Dude by His Food". Basically the article talks about a study on how you can tell a lot about a guy's personality based on the food he likes to eat and what he orders in restaurants. For example, guys who like steak show manliness and decisiveness, while those that order fish show that they are confident and secure with themselves. It was pretty funny how the writer generalized such things like ordering chicken fingers made a guy seem like a mama's boy, and an order of General Tso's chicken made a guy appear easygoing, while pad thai displayed a safe and conservative demeanor. I wonder what the writer would say about my hubby who, among other things, enjoys balut (duck embryo), dinuguan (pork blood stew), and nilagang bulalo (bone marrow soup). I guess that would make Jojo adventurous, open-minded and a sure contender for the reality show Fear Factor!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

And the Winner is ...

Here are the results of the recent poll:

Neutral votes ... 24%

Votes for Jojo ... 33%

Votes for Joanne ... 43%

Which means ... I win!!! Okay, okay, I'm going to be gracious about this and not gloat too much.

Because I won, Jojo has agreed to take me to see "The Last Night of Ballyhoo" at the La Mirada Performing Arts Center this Saturday.

And thank God, I won this poll - I've been spared ... just saw the movie trailer ... there is a sequel to Hellboy (yes, it's true, there is actually a Hellboy Part 2!!!).

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Mars, Venus and Everything Else in Between

First of all, I want to thank everyone who has shared their thoughts on the whole SATC issue. For those that still want to vote (please feel free to skip to the next post after this). Voting is open till June 8.

The score is pretty much tied. So far, three major groups have emerged:
1.) The MIDDLE MEN who think Jojo and I are both right, both winners, both pigheaded.
2.) The PRO JOJO Group who thinks that I shouldn't have provoked Jojo; that I should have respected his right to pass on watching SATC; that I shouldn' have said I "was testing him".
3.) The PRO JOANNE Group who thinks that Jojo should have given in; that Jojo could have handled it better; that Jojo could have been more gracious.

I have received lots of comments on my blog, thru email, by phone and even in-person. Strange how everyone who has ever been in a relationship has found themselves in that exact situation. Sure, there are variations here and there - but everyone knows exactly what I meant and exactly where Jojo stood. I guess the whole men versus women phenomena is universal - there are just some things that stand the test of time and are true every where. Interesting.

The main theme of everyone's comments:
1.) men are different from women ... could there be a truth more universal than that? Men are not like women - physically, emotionally, psychologically and mentally. But I like to think it is those differences that make us need each other. Think about it. While "birds of the same feather, flock together" (after all you are attracted to those that remind you of you), it is also true that "opposites that attract" and our partners "complete us" since our shortcomings are offset by their strengths (and vice versa).

I know that's true with me and my husband. We are similar where it matters (like family values and priorities in life) but we are definitely different too, so life is never boring. Our personalities balance each other and bring out our better sides. Where Jojo is quiet and introspective, I am outgoing and talkative. Where Jojo is calm under pressure and level-headed, I am emotional and sensitive. While I am very structured and organized, Jojo gets lost in the details and puts things off. While I like to boss people around and take charge, Jojo is very mellow and can step aside and let me have my way. Where I like watching romantic comedies, he likes movies with hobbits, wizards, and heroes from hell.

2.) misunderstandings are normal and healthy ... oh absolutely! I agree 100% that in order for a relationship to survive there should be a good amount of disagreement, argument, and voicing of differing opinions. Becoming part of a couple, does not mean giving up your individual identity - so it is inevitable that there is a constant amount of pushing and pulling. A mental and emotional tug-of-war, if you will. Having to share your life with another person is tough ... as it should be! I think people who say that relationships are always easy ... are lying. It can never be always easy but that's what makes them so worthwhile. Everything that is worth anything takes some "pain to gain". Everything that you work hard to attain, you learn to value and appreciate more.

3.) in order to survive relationships, compromise is a must ... And that my dear readers is what this all boils down to. We all know this by heart. We learn early in life that it's all about a balance between "give and take" and being truly happy is not about winning all the time. You can never experience the joys of winning if you've never felt the sorrow of defeat. And you can never enjoy the true meaning of loving someone until you've sacrificed something for that person (like watching 2 hours of Hellboy).

4.) most relationships have a fine line where the true test for couples often hinge on whether that line is crossed ... In our case it was a Sarah Jessica Parker movie ... actually there have been many fine lines ... and so far we have been lucky that we've crossed those lines back and forth and gotten through stronger and better. I can only wish all the couples I know the same degree of success as they cross their own fine lines.

Thanks again to everyone who shared their thoughts. It would seem that Jojo and I are equally right and equally to blame. And, it shows that I can count on you all to be totally objective and to tell us how it is (despite bribes and threats!). Haha.