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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Finding a Job

One of the things I’ve been attempting to do since I got home is find a job. Admittedly it has not been easy. With the economy the way it is, the job market has been extremely sluggish. Obviously as jobs become scarcer, the competition becomes much tougher too. I haven’t felt too badly about this since I have been quite halfhearted in my attempts to find work. I have not really found anything that I think would be extremely worthwhile.

I think I have set such a high bar for my next job and as a result have become so much more selective. Since my last job was so stressful, I have learned what it is I don’t want in my next job. I definitely do not want having to take sleeping pills every night just to get some sleep. I don’t want to get sick so often that I ended up being on a first name basis with my doctor’s receptionist and with the CVS pharmacist. I don’t want to spend hours working overtime and compromising on time I should have for myself, my family and friends. I don’t like second guessing myself and having my self-confidence affected. Back then, I held on because the pay was great, the benefits were generous, and the bonuses made it worthwhile. I kept going because I thought that’s what was expected of me and that’s what it took to be part of the corporate culture.

But at the end of the day, I realized it was not what I wanted and certainly not what made me happy. I decided to leave and have not regretted that decision even if it meant we had to tighten our belts since we were down from two incomes to one. Also after taking care of my dad, I have also come to value my life even more. I realize that life is so short that we should never have to settle and do things that make us unhappy. I know it’s easier said than done and many times practicality wins over idealism. Many of us have to work at crappy jobs in order to put food on the table. I understand that completely and I sympathize with people who have to do that. But I know too that in all situations, there is a choice. People may have to suffer through a crappy job now because they need the money. But there will always be an opportunity to do something else, something better later on. We may have to help ourselves find that opportunity or give up things in order to gain what it is we really want.

In my case, I am willing to give up some of the pay and some of the prestige, in order to find a job that makes me feel challenged, motivated and happy. I am willing to work hard and exert the effort but I want a job that makes me excited to get up and head off to work. I know it can’t always be perfect and there will be some bad days, just as there are bad days in any situation. I am realistic about that. But at the same time I am idealistic in wanting a job where I am valued and where I find value in what I do. I want to do something I am good at and where I find satisfaction in doing what I do. I want a job where earning money does not have to be at the expense of being happy and where I don’t have to compromise what I believe in. It’s not impossible! My dad had that kind of “job” for over 40 years.

I guess what I am trying to say is I don’t want to settle anymore. Life is so fleeting that it is wasted when we spend so much time doing something we don’t want to do and then complaining about it afterwards. But at the same time, life also means having to grow up and facing the fact that we need to accept responsibility and sometimes be practical in order to survive. I guess my bottomline is we owe it to ourselves to find a balance between meeting responsibilities but doing it in a way that makes us feel happy and complete. Now if I can only find a job that does that.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

How We Spent Our Weekend

Guess what we did this weekend. Here's a clue:

Yup, we had a garage sale. We decided it would be a great idea to find new owners for all the stuff we have outgrown, gotten tired of and no longer need ... plus it definitely doesn't hurt to make some extra cash too. We posted several of these signs around our neighborhood and I even posted online ads.

In preparation for this sale, I scoured our garage, attic, closets, cabinets and every nook and cranny in our home to find suitable things to sell. We made sure we were selling quality stuff. Not junk. I came up with quite a haul. Clothes, shoes, bags, dinnerware, books, bead jewelry, small appliances, decorative knick-knacks, pillows, towels, candles, and even some furniture pieces. Jojo even threw in a couple of computer parts and accessories. We set up the driveway leading to the garage this way:

On Saturday, Jojo, Atsi (who was here for a week), and I manned the sale. On Sunday, my brother-in-law, Mark, came over to help too. We came up with a pricing system so we didn't have to keep answering the same questions regarding price. Here is our pricing system:

The night before we stuck stickers with the corresponding colors to each item. On the day of the sale, this proved really helpful since people could figure out for themselves how much each item cost. They all said it was very efficient. Our individual tasks were clear. I was in charge of greeting and mingling with customers and giving additional discounts (you can not imagine how cut-throat garage sale negotiations can be - you could literally make or break a sale by giving an additional 25-cent discount!). When I had a buyer, I would turn him/her over to Atsi. She was in charge of taking their money and giving them the right change. Lastly she would turn the customer over to Jojo and Mark. They would bag the item and help carry packages to their car. I think it worked well since we had no complaints and lots of happy customers. Many of them would even stay and chat. Especially those Filipinos who would find out we were Filipinos too.

We did pretty ok too. Almost $300.00. Plus another $250.00 if and when the guy who is getting some computer stuff from Jojo comes back with the cash on Monday. He was really interested since he spent more than an hour talking to Jojo. I guess he just wasn't planning to spend that kind of money at a garage sale. What can I say? My hubby is a born salesman!

So it turned out to be a pretty good weekend. We all had a good time, made new neighborhood friends, got rid of things we had lying around the house, and made some money while not really having to work too hard. We also convinced some of our neighbors to join us next year. Our plan is to make this an annual block-wide garage sale. Hopefully then we'll double the fun and the money too. =)

Friday, June 26, 2009

Berkeley Class Reunion

I got an email today from a friend I have not heard from in ages. It's quite exciting news. She and a group of our good friends from Berkeley are planning a 10-year school reunion. Let me backtrack a bit here. In 2001, I attended a year-long Marketing program at UC Berkeley. It was an international program which meant I was in a class of about 20 people who came from all over the world. Marketing was just one of the courses - there were several others - so we also got to hang out with other people who were there to study other courses such as Finance, IT, Business Administration, etc. It was a chaotic and fun time since there were close to a hundred of us from all walks of life and all sorts of backgrounds.

Living in Berkeley was an experience. That city will always hold very fond memories for me. It was an exciting place to be. There was always something happening and new things to see, taste, hear and explore. Plus meeting these friends was wonderful as well. We had such different personalities but were able to form real friendships pretty quickly. That year is probably one of the best I have had in my life. It was my first time to live away from home. I shared a 2-bedroom apartment with a roommate. Our unit was situated in a building that housed other student apartments as well. Since we were all foreigners and were all away from home, we studied, lived and did almost everything together. Even after the program, we've tried our best to keep in touch.

I can't believe we are now planning a 10-year reunion. Actually we graduated in 2001 - so technically the reunion is not till Spring 2011. But since these guys are now located all over the world, I'm guessing planning this reunion will need a 2-year headstart.

Here are some pictures from that year. (Please note this was taken in 2001 - when I was younger and thinner! Haha.)

(UC Berkeley - Marketing Class - 2001. This shot was taken the day we were getting our yearbook pictures taken. We asked the school photographer to get an impromptu group shot.)

(My 3 closest friends: Jin, Ilkben (my roommate) and Carolina. I spent the most time with these 3 and really thought of them almost as my sisters. We have made a pact to visit each other and to keep in touch. This shot was taken in 4th Street. We were going to have lunch and Ilkben surprised us by getting us all flowers.)

(My closest guy friends Marco and Giacommo with Ilkben and our professor Mr. Prost - the guy in white. We just finished our Strategic Marketing presentation here. BTW, we got an "A".)

(Our neighbors Bashak, Mike, Irem and Andreas. This shot was taken in an ice cream shop in Tiburon. We were thinking of getting ice cream but the day had turned cold so we settled for coffee instead.)

So anyway, the reunion agenda is to meet in 2011 in Berkeley and to spend a few days there reliving the good old days - and then the reunion continues around the world where some of my good friends are hosting mini-reunions in their home countries: Brazil, Germany, Turkey, Japan and Italy. This is a group of people who really know how to have a good time. I am thinking we will need more than 2 years to plan for all this!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Confessions of a Bargain-holic

I have to confess ... I love a good bargain. And today, I was in bargain heaven! I got a flyer in the mail a few days ago advertising a huge pre-4th of July Sale at Kohl's Department Store. What caught my eye was a Black & Decker 6-slice oven toaster going on sale for $39.99. My mom has told me that they need a new oven toaster and that I should keep my eye open for a good deal. The Kohl's price was an extremely good deal since the same toaster was selling for $99.99 before the sale started. The sale starts today so this morning I called our local Kohl's and found out they only had 4 toasters to sell. I dragged my sister to Kohls as soon as we finished lunch.

While at Kohl's, I couldn't resist. Not only did I get the toaster, I also got a few other items that were on sale too. New pillows for Jojo and myself, a turquoise Elle blouse, and Buy-ology environmentally friendly bags (the kinds that are great for traveling cause when folded they can fit in your purse but when opened up they are the size of a regular tote).

Today's shopping spree: (2 of the 4 Queen pillows, my Elle blouse, the Buy-ology bag (see how it opens up?), and the Black & Decker toaster that is now packed in a balikbayan box on its way to Manila!)

Original Prices:
Toaster - $99.00
Pillows - $9.99 each (I got 4)
Elle blouse - $36.00
Buy-ology Bags - $1.99 each (I got 2)
My total should have been: $179.93

THEN on Sale the prices dropped to:
Toaster - $39.99
Pillows - $3.49 each
Elle blouse - $18.00
Buy-ology Bags - $1.69 each
So my total (before tax) was $75.33

THEN I whipped out my Kohl's card and find out that all Kohls members get an additional 15% discount. My total goes down to $64.03.

THEN the clerk tells me they have a special promo today. For every $50.00 I spend, I get a coupon for $10.00 to use on my next purchase.

Is this a great bargain or what??? I love it!


My mom has shared with me that going to mass every day and spending time in the church prayer room has helped her these last few days. I tried that today. I went to mass this morning with my hubby and sister then tried to spend some quiet time alone in the prayer room at St. Philomena Church. I don’t know if it’s just me, but it didn’t really help me all that much. I find that going to mass and just sitting by myself makes me gloomier. It makes me think about things I would rather not think about. As I sat in alone in the prayer room, I was a little unnerved by the silence and was not quite sure where to start. I went through my prayers, tried to reflect a bit but found my mind wandering several times. I skimmed some books there hoping to find inspiration but started feeling restless. I tried to spend time just remembering the good times I had with my dad and how we all took care of him when he was sick. But I find that dwelling on it just makes me sadder. I tried to reflect about how he is now in a better place but it didn’t really help either. I was sure I sat there for over an hour but when I looked at my watch only 20 minutes had passed. I left shortly after that.

I am envious when my mom tells me her quiet time helps her reflect and gives her an inner peace. While I am happy for her, I wish I could find that too. But for me, my coping mechanism is quite the opposite. Instead of quiet introspection, I find that keeping busy helps me get through my day better. Instead of quiet time, I need to be constantly doing something. It’s not that I have to be with people all the time because I am now actually comfortable being alone. But I just have to be working on something or focusing my thoughts on getting a task done. Even if it’s just surfing the Internet, making dinner, or taking a walk. In some way, it seems like a cop out to keep myself busy with things so I don’t have to think, feel or be sad. But it’s what gets me through the day. I guess people just cope differently and we just have to do what works for us.

How do you deal with being sad?

Monday, June 22, 2009

To Switch or Not To Switch

Jojo has been asking me lately if I want a Kindle. For those of you that don’t know what a Kindle is … it is a wireless reading device that allows you to read books, magazines and newspapers right at the palm of your hand. Since I LOVE to read, Jojo thinks this makes the perfect gift for me. Especially since I can go through an entire book in a couple of hours and am always on the lookout for new books to read. Also because I don't have that much space to house my growing collection.
This is what a Kindle looks like:
Why switching to a Kindle makes sense:
• It is 1/3 of an inch thick (almost as thin as most magazines) and is small at 8” x 5.3”.
• It is very light (10.2 ounces) so I can take it anywhere.
• It is wireless and allows you to download books anytime and anywhere.
• No monthly fees or service plans.
• Books can be delivered in less than 60 seconds.
• The screen reads like paper and text can be adjusted to become larger or smaller.
• Long battery life (you can read for days without recharging).
• Holds over 1,500 books at a time. You can delete books and add books anytime.
• There is a large selection of books to choose from. Over 285,000 and counting.
• Has a new text-to-speech feature which means it can read aloud to you.
• It can hold a whole library of books in one device (think of all the space I would be saving!).

But switching is not that simple:
• Aside from just “reading” what I love most is browsing bookstores and shopping for books.
• I like holding a new book in my hands and running my fingers across the pages.
• I like the smell of a new book. I love breathing in the smell of printed paper.
• I like the feel of holding the page corners between my fingers as I turn the page.
• Sometimes I like to highlight a good line or a good idea.
• I like having my books on display and seeing the colors and the artwork on bookcovers.
• I like the lightweight feel of paperbacks and the heaviness of a hardcover on my hands.
• I like my copies of long time favorites dog-eared and creased from being read too many times.
• I like receiving them from family and friends.
• And I also like being able to share a good book with someone who I think would enjoy it too.

I am so torn between switching to a modern, sleek and high-tech Kindle and leaving the familiarity, comfort and reliability of having actual books. What do you guys think?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Mediterranean Chicken

For Sunday dinner, I try to make something a little bit more special than usual. Since Jules, Atsi, and Mark were staying for dinner, I decided to make Mediterranean Chicken. It's a super easy recipe I found on Food Network and decided to modify a little bit to suit our taste. It's super easy to make and can be prepared ahead of time so the whole house smells great while it is simmering on the stove.

This is a surefire meal to serve when you want to impress people by saying you slaved over a hot stove all day (in fact it takes less than 20 minutes to prepare).

Here are the ingredients:
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. salt
8-10 pieces chicken thighs (skinless)
2 tsp. olive oil
1 large onion (sliced)
3 Roma tomatoes (diced)
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup Marsala or any dry red wine
1/4 cup parsley (roughly chopped)
1/2 cup olives (pitted)
3 tbs. capers
1/2 cup prunes

What I did differently:
1.) I did not add prunes (which I hate).
2.) Instead of Roma tomatoes and Chicken stock, I added 2 cans of diced tomatoes with Italian seasoning.
3.) I also added 4 cloves of chopped garlic, 1 green pepper (sliced), 1 yellow pepper (sliced), 1 zucchini (diced), and 1 Italian squash (diced). I wanted to make it a one-dish meal so I added lots of extra veggies.
4.) I did not follow the measurements strictly ... I just eyeballed it most of the time =)

Dredge chicken in flour, oregano, black pepper and salt.
Heat olive oil in a large saucepan and brown chicken on all sides. Remove and set aside.
Add onions, garlic to the pan. Saute.
Add wine to deglaze the pan.
Add diced tomatoes, green and yellow pepper, zucchini, Italian squash, capers and olives.
Return chicken to the pan.
Reduce heat and simmer till you are ready to eat (ideally about an hour).
Salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with chopped parsley.

I served this dish with toasted foccacia bread and we had a tiny (not home-made) cheesecake for dessert. I received rave reviews! It was so good that by the time I thought about taking a picture, the dish was wiped out! I'm posting a picture I found online that kinda, sorta looks like what we had tonight.
Try this recipe. Trust me, if I can do it, so can you!

Dad's Day

Today we celebrated the 40th day since my dad's passing. Technically my dad's 40th day is not till Wed, (the 24th). But we wanted to celebrate with all of us present and with a mass - so we agreed to do it the Sunday before the actual day. Coincidentally today is also Father's Day. So there are two reasons to celebrate my dad today.

We went to the 11 AM mass at St. Margaret Mary in Lomita, then had lunch at Macaroni Grill. Here are some pictures right before we started eating.

Atsi and Mark

Jojo, me and Jules

Happy Father's Day to all my uncles, titos, in-laws and friends who are now proud members of the Dad Club!

Friday, June 19, 2009

I'm Hungry

Like my sister, Joy, I have an obsession with taking pictures of really good meals I've enjoyed. Which is why I found myself getting hungry while browsing through pictures on our camera. Let me share them here and I'm sure you'll find yourself getting hungry too:

This is the shrimp scampi I made the other night when we had Auntie Julie, Uncle Raniel and my cousin, Vince, over for dinner. Yes, I made this dish and it turned out very well (you can all get over your shock now).

Minced pork in lettuce cups (Jasmine Restaurant, San Diego). I love lettuce cups and have had some really good ones from all over. I think it's really the hoisin sauce that makes it so good though.

Thai Chicken Curry (Soho Fusion Restaurant in Lomita). So yummy cause it's spicy too.

Nachos (Cozymel Restaurant in El Segundo). Really good when shared with friends or not. =)

This is a chili overload - chili cheeseburger and chili fries. Surprisingly this was really good considering we had it at the cafeteria at the Reagan Library. Good food for a "museum" cafeteria is pretty surprising.

Tomato basil soup and grilled tomato and mozzarella sandwich (Panera in Sta. Monica). Mom's ultimate comfort food.

Our family favorite. Soon Tofu Soup (Tofu House in Torrance). Perfect on a cold and windy night. Just crack an egg in it and you're ready to go!

Paella from Cafe Cuba (down the block from where we live). But for even better paella, I love the Spanish version from La Espanola in Harbor City.

So, did I make you hungry or what???

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Junarakasa's Story Take Two

I have purposely not written anything for my blog during my dad’s illness, hospitalization and passing. It was a decision that stemmed from just being plain preoccupied with taking care of my dad. But more than that, I was simply waiting for my dad to get better before posting again. In many ways, this blog has always been largely about my dad and me. In fact for those that don't know or who are new readers to this blog, "Junarakasa" was my dad's nickname for me. That's why I decided to use that name for this blog.

Dad has been my biggest fan in everything I do. And this blog was no exception. He would visit my site more than once every day and would send me emails whenever a few days would pass and I would not have any new entries. On the days when I did have something to write about, he would never fail to post a comment, no matter how short, to let me know he had read what I had written. Not only that, my dad would “advertise” this blog to everyone he knew so they too could read my thoughts and experiences. We would have marathon phone conversations and even emails back and forth discussing a particular blog entry. It was in many ways one of the reasons why I felt so close to my dad even if I lived so far from home. Because of this, I wanted to wait till dad got well again before I resumed blogging, so he and I could go back to the way things were before he got sick.

When dad passed away 4 weeks ago, (dramatic as it may seem) I thought to myself that there was no way I would blog again. It was painful for me to even visit my own blog and revisit posts about dad and comments from him, much more continue posting my thoughts and feelings about him and other things. But the more I think about it and the more I remember the kind of person my dad was, the more I realize that I have to continue doing this. I know dad would not have wanted me to stop doing something I enjoyed and that was therapeutic for me. I know I owe it to him and to myself to continue writing and to move on with my life doing what I enjoy doing. But most of all, I know that even if dad is no longer with me physically, he is still reading this blog from up there and that in his own way he’ll find a way to “post a comment” and let me know what he thinks of the things I write. It still will be a way for me to be close to him.

So this blog continues … Junarakasa’s story goes on … and it is written in the memory of the man who inspired me to start this all almost 4 years ago.

P.S. I want to take this time to THANK everyone who helped my dad and my family during my dad’s illness. THANK YOU to all of you (you know who you are). Thanks to those who donated blood and platelets, those who helped us man the bloodbank and exhaust all means to find donors, those who helped us get supplies and buy hard to find medicines. Thanks to those who visited dad in the ICU, the private room and at home. Your presence no matter how brief made him so happy. Thank you to those who sent flowers, cards, balloons, food, and inspirational books and music. Thank you for your letters, emails, text messages and phone calls.They did help give us comfort. Thanks to those who prayed with us and celebrated mass with us. Thanks to those who stayed up late with us on nights when we needed someone to talk to, those who took us out when we needed a break, those who lent us a shoulder when we needed to unburden, and those who cried with us when we needed to let go. My dad and all of us are blessed to know who our real friends are and who we can really count on when the going gets tough. On behalf of the original 7 J's, thank you all very much.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

10 Gift Ideas I Love

1. Smartshopper Grocery List Assistant - voice-activated grocery list maker
Why I love it: I am the quintessential "to do" list person. Which means I also love making grocery lists! The only problem is I usually forget what needs to go on my list when I'm actually making them. This new gadget allows me to record what I need when I need them and come grocery day, I press "print" and an instant grocery list is printed for me (arranged by category too!).

2. Rishitea (Tea-on-the-go) - home-made, all-natural chilled tea with the shake of a bottle.
Why I love it: It has several flavors including my all time favorite genmai (roasted rice). Yummy, refreshing and good for you too!

3. Sunscreen wipes - easy to apply sunscreen protection
Why I love it: When you live in LA, which is sunny almost year-round, you need some type of sunscreen protection that's easy to bring along, doesn't take too much space, and that you can lather on in a hurry. Plus since I don't like staying under the sun more than I have to, these wipes provide me just enough protection from when I'm crossing the mall parking lot to get to my car!

4. Stemless wine glasses - the "non-goblet" glass.
Why I love it: I think it looks so modern and sleek. Plus it fits in the dishwasher too (unlike most wine glasses).

5. Edible Arrangements – fresh fruit bouquets for every occasion.
Why I love it: Well, it’s a beautiful bouquet … that you can eat … need I explain more??? BTW, it’s not as easy to make as it looks (believe me, I tried!).

6. Revashelf - pull-out stainless steel panel organizer with shelves and hooks to keep cookware organized and out of sight.
Why I love it: Anyone who has seen my cupboard for pots and pans will know why I need this!

7. Cuisipro Ice Cream Scoop and Stack - modern ice-cream scooper that allows you to stack ice cream.
Why I love it: For the non-bakers like me, this is a wonderful way to make desserts look like works of art.

8. Toastess Cordless Warming Tray - heats food for up to 60 minutes (after an 8-minute charge).
Why I love it: Whenever I have buffets at home, my food always tends to turn cold before the last guest has helped him/herself. I don't like the "clunkiness" of usual chafing dishes and I hate the tangled cords of traditional food warmers. This is both a sleek and tangle-proof option.

9. Bath Bees from Gianna Rose Atelier – bee-shaped bath capsules which contain a soothing blend of sunflower oils, extracts off bee balm, royal jelly and bee pollen.
Why I love it: It’s supposedly great for your skin and the little bee shapes are so darn cute too! I also love how this company markets their products as “couture soaps”.

10.. Tsp Spice – pre-measured herb and spice packets (30 varieties to choose from including coriander, fennel seed, cumin, thyme, allspice, turmeric, sage, etc). Each tin can has 12 one teaspoon packets.
Why I love it: Pre-measured spices that are kept fresh in individual packets. Every time I cook, many recipes require several “exotic” sounding ingredients. What’s worse, most dishes need a teaspoon or just a pinch of each ingredient. I have countless bottles of dried spices lying around my spice cabinet - most of which are still full. And whenever I need to use them again most of the spices have gone stale.
Can you think of anymore great gift ideas???

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

To My Mom!

Happy Birthday, Mom.

I know that heaven is shining down on you right now. Many thanks for being such a strong and calming presence in my life. I would be lost without you. Have a wonderful birthday as you celebrate your special day. You deserve to be happy today and always.

Love you lots!