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Monday, August 31, 2009

Dreaming Lofty Dreams

If I had a million dollars to spare ... I would buy a 3,000-square foot loft in Newport Beach. One overlooking the ocean and located in a trendy but quiet neighborhood. For some time now, I have been obsessing with living in a loft. It's been driving Jojo crazy because I have been pouring over loft design magazines, have been visiting loft living websites, and have actually gone to a couple of open houses. Of course, right now, this is just me doing a lot of wishful dreaming! =)

What I love about lofts is all the open space. I really like how there is one big room with high ceilings that can be designed and sectioned off however the owner wants. I also like the "industrial" feel of most lofts - exposed bricks on the walls, stone floors, tall and wide windows, exposed wooden beams on the ceilings, pillars in the middle of the room, that sort of thing.

Here are some of my favorites elements of loft living (pictures are from several different lofts):

Not loving the furniture but I do like how the space is sectioned off into compartmentalized areas - living room, library, and dining area (or in my case I'd use it as office space). I definitely need floor-to-ceiling bookshelves to house my books. And how gorgeous are the bricks on the wall and the beams in the ceiling?

Isn't it great how the kitchen is tucked under the second floor leaving the living room with almost 24-foot ceilings? Also check out how bright the place is with enormous windows to one side. I like how the space just seems to flow from one section to the other.

Who says you can't have a gourmet kitchen in a loft? I really like the granite counter tops, the tiled backsplash, the ambient under-the-cabinet lighting, the rich dark wood, and stainless steel appliances. Best of all, I like how the kitchen is open to the rest of the living area (that way you are part of the party even when you are stuck doing the cooking!)

I love this bedroom. Not the furniture per se but the room's layout and interior. I like how warm and cozy it feels - like it is some secret haven tucked away in the attic. Great floor to ceiling windows on one side (not seen in the picture). And a huge walk-in closet (partially seen in the picture). That is an absolute must for me.

Check out this bathroom ... I would love to have one as luxurious as this! It does not even have to be in a loft =)

And even if I love, love, love our current home, who knows maybe one day we'll get to live in a loft?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Holed Up at Home

It’s Sunday night and I realize that it’s been three days since my last blog entry. I decided I’ll write about our weekend. Okay … here goes … hmm … well … I guess I’m stuck! The problem is we did absolutely nothing worthy of a blog entry. Jojo had Friday off and we spent the last 3 days literally just bumming around.

We didn’t go anywhere interesting, other than going shopping for groceries and making a quick stop at Marshall’s to buy note cards. We didn’t visit with any friends or see my in-laws other than bumping into them at Sunday mass. We didn’t try any new restaurants – actually we ate out only once - a quick lunch at Red Lobster. Now the Red Lobster is definitely not one our favorite places - we think it is way overrated. But since Jojo received a $25.00 Red Lobster gift card at work, (he got it because he has a perfect safety record), we decided to go, after all a free meal is a free meal. We didn’t do any major home improvement project unless you count doing two weeks worth of laundry as a home improvement project. We didn’t entertain either.

One of the reasons we decided to just stay in is the weather. These last couple of days it has been so H-O-T. In Torrance, our temperatures have reached the upper nineties - very close to triple digits! I know it’s still relatively cool compared to the Valleys and the Inland Empire or Manila … but it’s bad enough that you just want to stay indoors and turn on the air conditioner! Plus, the heat has caused so many Southern California wildfires. Late last week the Rancho Palos Verdes area had its share of brush fire burning down at least 6 homes. That is scary since that is only about 15 miles from where we live. It’s gotten so bad that the air is a hazy gray and we have been receiving a steady ash fall in our area. With the temps searing hot and the air so thick with smoke, nothing beats just staying at home. So that’s what we did. We just watched movies, played games (lately we are addicted to computer-based puzzles and brainteasers), read, got massages, and slept.

So it was basically a lazy weekend for us (that is a complete understatement!). And while I thought I would have nothing to write about – it turns out the fact that we did nothing is actually something to write about =)

Hope your weekends were far more interesting than ours!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

I Am Who My Bag Says I Am

Speaking of bags, I came across a magazine article today. According to the article, today’s modern woman carries more stuff in her handbag compared to a woman from 5 years ago. Today, the average weight of a woman’s purse is about 5.5 pounds. The ideal weight should be around 2.2 pounds. This means we are carrying a lot more stuff that we don’t really need. Interestingly enough, all the extra stuff we bring around reveals a lot about our personalities. The article listed several possible personality types but for the purpose of this blog let me share three types that I think we can all identify with.

First are the minimalists who carry small, compact purses that contain only the basic necessities. They are the ones who have mastered the art of organization, who can make everything they need fit into a tiny evening bag, and who are practical enough to carry only the absolute essentials. Their purses usually contain just their wallet, keys, cellphone and glasses.

Next are the ultra-prepared gals who like to be ready for any eventuality. These ladies (who were probably girl scouts at one point in their lives, hence the need to be always prepared,) can still be quite organized in their own way. They tend to adhere to the notion that it is better to "overbring" stuff whether it is actually needed or not.

Last are the pack rats who bring everything but the kitchen sink. These ladies carry large purses filled to overflowing with everything the minimalists and the ultra-prepared gals have and much more. These ladies are known to fill their bags with food, magazines/books, numerous gadgets that they should probably leave at home. They are also known hoarders who keep old receipts, expired coupons and even empty candy wrappers.

Of course, once I got home, I had to weigh my bag. Whoa! I tipped the scales at 8.5 pounds. In my defense I have a big and bulky bag. After weighing just the contents of my bag, the scale read a little over 4.5 pounds – (okay, okay, so maybe it's not just the bag). I guess that makes me an “ultra-prepared gal” bordering on becoming a “pack rat” cause everything in my purse is absolutely essential to me. I can't imagine not having all my stuff with me at all times =)

Here's all the stuff I lug around - not counting receipts, coupons, magazine cut-outs, and a million other little pieces of paper that I just threw out (no matter how often I clean out my bag, I always have bits and pieces lying around ...)

(For my female readers), try weighing your own handbags and take a look at the stuff you bring with you every day. It really does say a lot about who you really are! =)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Summer Totes

I love bags and these days I am really into summer-print totes. I like them because of their bright designs and because totes can carry all the things I bring with me every day.

Here are some of my favorites:

Kate Spade New York Hibiscus Island Stevie Tote, $245.00

Cole Haan Biscayne Tote, $228.00

(Longchamp Le Pliage) the plain ones are cool and the printed ones are nice too. LM Nylon $130.00

One more! (Longchamp Le Pliage) Sergent Colonel $155.00

LeSportsac Lexie Tote, $138.00

Marc by Marc Jacobs Pretty Nylon Little Tate Tote, $168.00

Tory Burch Jaden Tote $250.00

Anne Klein Logo Print TOTE, $108.00

British Brand called Cath Kidston. Bucket Bags, $90.00

One more Cath Kidston. Tote, $90.00

Cute patterns, right? And they are all price-friendly too (everything below $250.00!).

Veggie Bin and Bean Soup

After our delicious Korean dinner last Saturday, our delectable merienda last Sunday, and finishing up leftovers on Monday, I was craving something light and healthy for dinner yesterday. I didn't really have a recipe in mind when I scrounged around our fridge searching for inspiration. I found several vegetables in our fridge's veggie bin and thought I would make a one-dish meal with it.

I ended up chopping and dicing celery, red bell peppers, Italian squash, zucchini, carrots, garlic and onions. I also drained a can of cannellini beans (white kidney beans) - so we could have some protein. It is kind of therapeutic to chop veggies while listening to music!

Then I started the soup by heating some extra virgin olive oil in a Dutch Oven. I sautéd garlic and mirepoix (that's French for onions, carrots and celery) for about 3-4 minutes. Then added in all the other veggies. Poured in my low-sodium, free-range chicken stock and added the cannellini beans. Last are my secret spices: a teaspoon of Italian seasoning and a teaspoon of paprika. Simmered everything for about 45 minutes.

And voila, here is the finished product. While the veggies give off a certain sweetness, the paprika makes it somewhat smoky, and coupled with the chicken stock - there are just so many layers of flavor going on. I also love how the beans have broken down and made the soup a bit thick (almost but not quite the consistency of a stew). You can eat it as is (like we did) or serve it with a warm, crusty bread and some whipped butter. I am calling it "Vegetable Bin and Bean Soup" cause you literally throw in whatever your can find from your veggie bin and add your favorite beans! The soup is so easy to make and I find it is such a comfort food (reminds me of soups my mom used to make!). I enjoyed it immensely and surprisingly my meat-loving husband liked it a whole lot too!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Celebrating Dad

Today is the 100th day since dad went to heaven and we threw a small gathering yesterday to remember him and to be thankful he was part of our lives. I wanted it to be a happy affair since I know that's what dad would have wanted. Everyone reminisced about the happy events of dad's life and the positive way he has touched each of our lives. I felt really good about how everything turned out and I am sure dad did too.

My theme for the day was white. While it is the color of mourning in the Chinese tradition, it is also the color of holiness and peace.

A week before the event, I sent out white invitations for a pre-dinner party (aka "merienda"):

On the day of the party, I dressed the buffet in a white table cloth, used my white serving platters and had vases of fresh white flowers:

We lighted a white candle for dad and we all gathered to say a prayer of thanksgiving for his life and a novena for him to be at peace:

And in keeping with the "white" theme, everyone came dressed in something white:

Now for the food. I had a mix of home-made and store-bought stuff. Isn't that very Sandra Lee of me? =) I made a spaghetti salad - my mom's recipe which is a hit back home. It was a hit here too! How can it not be when it's made with cheddar cheese, spam, pineapple, pimiento and a creamy special dressing?

I also made chicken salad sandwiches on toasted wheat bread. My version uses rotisserie chicken (which adds a ton of flavor rather than using boiled chicken). Then I add mayonnaise, sweet pickle relish, celery, dried cranberries and almond slivers.

My other home-made items were two bowls of fresh fruit salad and pitchers of ice-cold lemonade. (You can see most of the food in the buffet picture posted above).

My store-bought stuff included mini corndogs with a bbq ketchup dipping sauce and buffalo chicken wings with ranch dip (Both dishes I just had to heat and serve). I also had delicious cream cheese rolls and this tower of vanilla and chocolate cupcakes that we bought at a local bakery:

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Lee and Edel's Anniversary Dinner

Tonight we celebrated Lee and Edel's, 11th wedding anniversary. They treated us to a really good Korean dinner. Here are some scenes from tonight:

First and foremost, this was the grill I shared with Jojo and his youngest brother, Jay.

Jojo and me, taking a break in between courses. It was really hard to stick to our diet at dinner tonight! But we managed to be somewhat good ...

Here is a shot of me and some of my nieces and nephews. There are 9 of them here (ages ranging from 11 to 1) so it's almost impossible to get everyone in one shot.

This is most of us (yes, it's a BIG family) outside, right after dinner. The good thing about Korean barbecue is the food is so good. The bad thing is everyone smells like bulgogi afterwards.

Happy Anniversary, Lee and Edel! Here's wishing you many more to come =)

Perfect Little World?

I was at the mall the other day and a display at the Brookstone store caught my eye. (Something at that store always catches my eye – they have such cool stuff!). This time they had a display of water tanks with tiny, living frogs. I have never seen them sell anything quite like this before. They called it a Frog-O-Sphere Ecosystem and it is suppose to be a little “ecosystem” in a 10” x 10” tank.

Here is how it is described on their website:
The Frog-O-Sphere includes 2 aquatic mini frogs, a snail, Living Gravel and a bamboo plant. The frogs won’t outgrow the tank and live for up to 4 years provided you feed it 2 pellets, 2 times a week and change the water 2 times a year. The snail, also known as the janitor, feeds itself and keeps the tank clean of algae and excess food. Living Gravel acts as a biological filter, converting excess food and waste into a soluble form that can be used by the bamboo plant. The bamboo absorbs liquid and gaseous elements and releases oxygen, which helps the frogs and snail thrive.

How ideal does that sound? Everything thrives and co-exists with and because of each other. It is like a perfect little circle of life. While I thought it was fascinating to watch the little frogs frolicking in the water, and while the snail, rocks and bamboo were soothing to the eye … I also thought it was kind of sad that they were limited to that confined space, in their perfect little world.

Think about it. On the one hand, it would be nice to be in a safe, pristine and familiar environment all your life. They go about their life without a care in the world. They are not hunted by predators and they in turn don't have to worry about having to hunt for food. But on the other the other hand, it’s also a small, unexciting and limiting space. They basically go around in circles all day and they can't do the other things normal frogs do ... like catch flies, or have baby tadpoles, or get kissed by fair princesses looking for their Prince Charmings, or whatever else they do. You get the picture.

What do you think? Interesting perspectives, right? I wonder what the frogs and the snail would say if anyone asked them. Or maybe it helps that they don’t know what they’re missing.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Emerging Entrepreneurs

Looks like a couple of us are following my dad’s footsteps. Dad was an entrepreneur in his own right since he took the reigns from his father and expanded the family’s insurance company. My brother, Jim, while working full-time, owns a Zagu stand (selling powdered shakes with tapioca balls) at a local department store. His second Zagu stand is opening in another location in a couple of weeks. My sister, Joy, started a buy-and-sell clothing business and has been regularly joins bazaars. She also owns a food stand, Dipped Banana on a Stick, (selling, you guessed it … frozen bananas dipped in a variety of flavors). Her stand opens this September.

I am also planning a small business. It is still in the very preliminary stages. I am partnering with my mom’s good friend, Tita Monsie, and we are looking at exporting fresh and south sea pearl jewelry from the Philippines to the U.S. Tita Monsie has a lot of jewelry contacts in the Philippines and I will be her contact here in the States. We really want to do this the right way so I am trying to figure out the tax and importation laws. (These are so complicated!). I’m also looking at what business permits are needed and any other possible sales venues that we can consider. Hopefully we can work this all out soon.

In the mean time, I have several pieces that I want to show a select few. I’m hosting a small soiree here at our home in 2 weeks and am inviting some friends (and friends of friends) who want to preview the pieces. The goal is to see if people are interested and if there is a potential market here. Also, to find out what they like and what they don’t like. That way I can relay to Tita Monsie what pieces we should consider exporting when we’re ready.

I’m kind of excited since I have always liked jewelry – especially South Sea Pearl jewelry. I used to work for a company that produced the best quality Philippine pearls and manufactured exceptional fine jewelry. I learned so much in my 4 years there and was lucky enough to be part of production, merchandising, marketing and sales. I got to attend a lot of functions and was able to travel abroad where I saw some truly beautiful, million dollar, world-class pieces. I also got such great training that I now can really appreciate good quality and fine craftsmanship. Of course, the pieces we want to bring in are less grand and are more geared to every day use. But they will be just as beautiful. Anyway, hopefully we can find a way to help expand exposure for Philippine pearls in the U.S.

If you know of anyone who would be interested to attend my little “Pearl Soiree”, please let me know! I would really appreciate the referrals. =)

P.S. I wanted to post pictures of the pieces I have so readers can appreciate the beauty of the pearls, but my photos came out so amateurish that I think they do more harm than good!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Decade Together

Yesterday marked Jojo’s and my 10th year as a couple. It’s hard to imagine how fast 10 years just seems to have flown right by. We have been through so many things together and have grown so much from when it all began.

We met in January 1999 through my younger sister. Jojo and Joy met in an on-line chat room. Joy accidentally clicked on Jojo’s name and slapped him with a trout (I’m still not 100% clear on what that means). They started chatting and when I found out about it, I thought it sounded kind of strange. After all, he was a 31-year old man and my sister was a 16-year old girl. I strongly suggested to Joy to end their online friendship. Joy suggested instead that it would probably be more appropriate if Jojo and I became friends (since he and I were much closer in age).

Back then, I was working for a fine jewelry company and was managing all the local showrooms. I had gotten a letter from our site managers stating our shops located in hotel premises were required to have working fire extinguishers. It was at that time Jojo gave me a call to introduce himself. It turns out his family was a distributor of fire extinguishers. (Tell me that’s not fate!). We arranged for him to give us an estimate.

We decided to meet at a local coffee shop. I didn’t want him to know where I worked in case he turned out to be a psycho. I brought two of my co-workers with me just to make sure. Jojo arrived right on time and as he was walking towards us the first thing that popped in my mind was “Hmm, he sort of looks like my dad when my dad was younger”. (By the way, everyone says that about him now). In the end, we did not order fire extinguishers from him since we got a better deal elsewhere. But I did think he was really nice and I thought to myself he would be perfect for another good friend of mine.

So we started going out as a group - Jojo, my friend (the one I was fixing him up with), me, and a bunch of other people. My girlfriends and I would go out every Saturday after work and Jojo would join us on a pretty regular basis. A couple of months later, my girlfriends planned a weekend trip to Tagaytay. We were taking our boss’ nephew who was visiting from France. We needed another guy to room with the French nephew and since Jojo was already considered a regular in our group, we invited him to come along. He did and it was on that trip we realized we liked each other. Good thing my friend (the one I tried to set Jojo up with, started dating someone else). So 8 months after we met, we became a couple on August 18, 1999.

In 2001, I moved to Berkeley to attend an international marketing program. Jojo followed a few months later but he moved to Los Angeles to visit his sisters. We met only a handful of times that year but burned the phone lines almost every night. In 2002, I moved to L.A. to attend graduate school and by some stroke of luck Jojo found a job also in L.A. We started seeing each other more regularly. Then on Christmas Eve 2003, after dating for over 4 years, Jojo proposed to me, after asking my mom and dad’s permission via a long distance phone call.

We were engaged for a year, planned our wedding ourselves, and finally got married on December 18, 2004 in Long Beach. It was a small and intimate affair but it was a very special wedding and I loved every part of it. We honeymooned in a Palm Springs resort with my entire family, plus extended family, and my good friends. Our 5th year wedding anniversary is coming up in 4 months.

It’s been a decade since we became a couple and even after ten years together, I can still say that I am so blessed to be with a truly wonderful person, a loving partner, and my best friend.

I love you, Ni.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Can You Spell DIET?

Notice how the word “diet” starts with the letters D, I, E? It’s because every time you go on a diet, you feel there’s a little part of you that dies as well. In our effort to become healthier and because we anticipate going on a total binge-fest on our upcoming Manila vacation, Jojo and I are on a low-fat, low-sugar and low-cholesterol diet. We started last Friday and so far it’s been quite ... interesting. It helps that we are in this together because as they say misery loves company. But seriously though, everyone who has been on a diet can commiserate that the first few days are the hardest, so it helps that we can give and receive support from each other.

Over the weekend, we got a lot of exercise. Okay, okay, I am throwing the words “a lot of exercise” very loosely here. We played an hour of basketball at the park on Friday. Again “played basketball” is being rather vague, what we really did was miss a lot of shots and spend lots of time running after the ball. We went for a long walk on Saturday. And on Sunday, we went to the gym to use the cardio machines and work with lightweights. Side note: Sunday afternoons at our gym is when most senior citizens go work out. Therefore, Jojo and I did not look too out of our league.

Then there was the eating. We had all of our meals at home. I figured that would be the easiest way to resist temptation and easier to choose food more wisely. We ate a lot of fresh fruits and had vegetables at every meal. Breakfast was either egg whites, granola or oatmeal. We had chicken or turkey for lunch and salmon or tuna for dinner. We snacked on brown rice cakes, almonds and cashews. We had roasted sweet potatoes for merienda. We drank a lot of water, green tea and soy milk.

Now that I am typing this, I realize we had a lot of food. And in truth there really is a lot of good, healthy food choices out there. The problem is none of them are the things you want to eat when you are on a diet. It’s the food that you shouldn’t be eating that you really want. Don’t you find it strange that when you are not suppose to eat something, that’s when that something becomes the most desirable thing ever?

As a Catholic, we are required to abstain from eating meat every Friday during Lent. It's not asking too much when you think about it. But in my experience, those are the days when I have severe carnivorous cravings. It’s when I don’t just want a Papa John’s pizza but I want the Meat Lovers Supreme. I crave for mom’s adobo sa achuete with garlic rice for breakfast, I want an In-N-Out Double Burger for lunch and I dream of Lawry’s Diamond Jim Brady cut prime rib for dinner! Then on the other days of the week when I can have meat, well, I’m happy with having fish or maybe even a salad.

My good friend, Gail, sent me an email yesterday, which I found encouraging. She understands exactly what I mean. Gail had to give up eating sushi when she was pregnant. I remember how hard it was for her and in hindsight it didn’t help that Jojo and I took them out to Onami for dinner when they came to visit. (Oops! Very belatedly - sorry about that). BTW - thanks for your email, Gail – it could not have come at a better time.

I am sure everyone has their own stories about going on a diet and the trauma that comes with it. Of course there are those freakish people who can totally give up fat, carbs, and sugar on a daily basis without batting their eyes … but then again, this post only applies to the normal segment of society for whom dieting is a true test of willpower and a trial of determination.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Eating My Way Through LA - ON HOLD (for now)

How timely that my last post was about eating my way through LA (with all the food on the list being high in fat and/or not great for one's cholesterol). Then the very next day, Jojo and I got our annual physical exam results (we went in for tests earlier this week). While the results are not horrible, it goes without saying that we certainly could do more to become healthier.

Jojo has a high sugar level and his cholesterol levels are a little out of whack. His good cholesterol is low and his bad cholesterol is high. In my case, I have to watch cholesterol too but my main problem is I have a very poor immune system. For starters, I am recovering from a fungal infection (which I wrote about a few days ago) and I also have the pre-stages of a urinary tract infection. Also, I am being tested for possibly having a overly active thyroid (the results of that test are out next week). Our doctor said that all of our "issues" can be treated through the proper diet and exercise.

So, our plans to go through numbers 4-10 of my "Eating My Way Through LA" list are on hold for now. Instead, we are going to eat more healthy food for the next 4 weeks. We are going to be re-tested then. After that, well, we'll have to try and be more balanced. We can still once in a while indulge in an "unhealthy meal" (we can not totally give those up, after all what would be the point of living?!) but I guess we'll have to have more healthy meals in-between.

Today we visited our local Farmer's Market. I love Farmer's Markets because even if the produce is slightly more expensive than supermarket produce, they are a lot fresher and taste better too. The market we go to is at the Charles Wilson park and is held every Saturday morning. This is when farmers from around Southern and Central California bring in their freshly harvested produce for city-dwellers to buy.

Of course there were lots of fresh fruit and tasting stations in front of every booth.

There was a beautiful spread of fresh veggies! I was tempted to get artichokes but other than eating them with melted butter or dipped in mayonnaise, I don't know how else to serve them.

I thought about planting my own herb garden (wouldn't it be amazing to have them fresh and ready when you need them?). But who am I kidding? My gardening ability is not exactly high on my list of strong points.

I love summer flower arrangements. They look so festive and can really brighten up a room.

How gorgeous are these heirloom tomatoes? Mom makes a salad with just these tomatoes and her own home-made dressing which is just delish!

After shopping, I was so happy with our day's haul that I had to get a group picture. We got avocados, bok choy, white corn, Italian squash, zucchini, bitter melon, cherry tomatoes, red bell peppers, strawberries, fresh peanuts, blueberries, sweet potatoes, mango-nectarines (it's a hybrid fruit) and emerald plums.

We got all these (plus a few more that could not fit on the table). Not bad for a little over $40.00, right?

And so, that's how we spent our Saturday morning.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Eating My Way Through LA

I came across an interesting list of food/places that every visitor must eat/visit while in Los Angeles. This list was put together by some Food Network stars and have been featured on their shows. These include Rachael Ray ($40 Dollars a Day), Giada de Laurentiis (Weekend Get-Aways), Guy Fieri (Diners, Drive-ins and Dives), and Bobby and Jaime Deen (Road Tasted).

Here's the list:

1. Hotdogs at Pinks in West Los Angeles.
(I've had these and to be honest they are good but I'm not so sure what all the fuss is about! I think it's more about the "institution" rather than the actual food. Hey, before I get into any trouble I have to clarify that this is just my opinion).

2. Pancakes at The Griddle Cafe in Hollywood.
(Had them as well - they are yummy and incredibly H-U-G-E. Imagine each order has 3 pancakes each the size of a dinner plate, each about half an inch thick and loaded with your choice of toppings. We took my parents there a few years ago and had so many take-out containers we were eating pancakes for a week!).

3. Corned beef and pastrami sandwiches from Canter's Deli near the Mid-Wilshire area.
(I've been there before but am not a huge fan of corned beef so I had the bagels and lox instead ... they were pretty good).

4. Gourmet sandwiches from Joan's on Third near The Grove in LA.
(Have driven past this place so many times but have never gone in since there is never enough parking ...)

5. French dipped sandwiches from Philippe's in Downtown LA.
(Sounds really good).

6. Chicken and waffles at Roscoe's House of Chicken & Waffles in LA.
(I like fried chicken but am not too crazy about waffles so we'll see ...)

7. New York style pizza at Mulberry Street Pizzeria in Beverly Hills.
(I had the "real" NY pizza in NY City and I liked it).

8. Barbecued ribs at Baby Blues in Venice.
(Most excited to try this one!)

9. "The Mess" - a breakfast special with everything in it - at Schooner or Later in Long Beach. (We are going this weekend ... will let you know the verdict ...)

10. Sprinkles cupcakes from Beverly Hills.
(Someone brought them in at work once but sadly I was too late to grab one. The Red Velvet cupcake with cream cheese frosting sounds yummy).

My goal is to eat numbers 4 thru 10 by the end of the year. It's not going to be too good for my waistline so I'm going to have to pace myself! But if I'm serious about opening that B&B with a tour operation of LA on the side, I gotta do what I gotta do =)

What's for Dinner?

These days, with the weather being so warm, I find I don't particularly enjoy working in a hot kitchen. Also, Jojo and I are rarely in the mood for hot and heavy dinners. So the last couple of nights, we've been having mostly sandwiches and salads for dinner.

Salads are easy especially with all the fresh produce here in California. I love how there are so many different types of lettuce you can find these days. When I was younger, all I knew were icebergs and romaines (which was pretty much what my mom could find back then in Manila). These days, there is so much variety for salad greens - from lettuce varieties like butterhead, green leaf and red leaf, to other salad veggies like radicchio, arugula, baby spinach, watercress, microgreens and mesclun. Then there are so many other possible salad add-ons too. We favor mixing up a couple of these at a time: avocados, black beans, cheese, grilled chicken, fresh corn, red peppers, tomatoes, croutons, and olives. And then there are the endless salad dressing choices, please don't get me started on that.

It's also pretty easy to slap two pieces of bread on deli meats and call it a sandwich. But since I am officially a "housewife" now - I try to jazz up our sandwiches a little bit. I've taken down my panini press (a wedding present I have not used in ages) and try to come up with more imaginative sandwiches. Last night, we had this:It is a panini made with whole wheat sourdough bread, oven roasted turkey breast, basil pesto and provolone cheese. (You need to click on the picture to see it up close). Does that not look scrumptious? I swear, 5 minutes with a panini press and you have yourself a gourmet sandwich!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Flight Finding Frustrations (Triple F)

I've been busy looking for airline tickets for our upcoming trip to Manila. Because we are going home in December (the peak-est of all peak seasons), the ticket prices are just so exorbitant!

Our first choice is always to fly PAL (Philippine Airlines). I'm incredibly loyal and honestly enjoy flying our national carrier. For one thing, PAL is a direct flight (which means travel time is shorter and not having to stop-over mid-way is less of a hassle). Also, PAL's departure and arrival times are so convenient. PAL departs LA at 10 PM (after dinner and a movie, it's time to go to bed) and arrives in Manila at 6 AM (after sleep and breakfast, you ready to start the day). On the return trip, PAL leaves Manila at 9 PM (which is again perfect for sleeping through most of the flight) then arrives in LA at 7 PM (in this case, I take a sleeping pill, sleep through the night and am ready for the next day). These schedules really me avoid jet-lag.

Also, PAL has really improved the food they serve. The meals are actually pretty good. My favorite is the Filipino breakfast that is served just before landing. On my last flight, I had daing na bangus (and it was still crispy!) with garlic rice, fried eggs, chopped tomatoes and hot chocolate (so yummy). Plus, you can not argue with the Pinoy service that our flight attendants lavish on guests. I've flown in economy class, business class and was once even upgraded to business elite (first class) and can attest that service is great in all sections of the plane. And lastly, how awesome are Pinoy pilots when they land the plane? You can barely feel the descent and there hardly is any impact when the wheels hit the tarmac. It's truly an art form they have perfected!

But for this trip, PAL is just so cost-prohibitive. For our trip in early Dec. our tickets cost $1,350++ each and Jojo's ticket (he leaves mid-Dec) is $1,750++. Mind you these are economy class tickets. I wouldn't mind paying these prices for business class (what a deal!) but certainly not for coach. Even if our tickets for this trip are my mom's super-generous Xmas present to us (and not coming from our pockets), I can not in good faith enjoy the flight at these prices!

My second choice is usually Cathay Pacific because I love the Hong-Kong airport (especially their food court) and wouldn't mind a lay-over there. In fact, I wouldn't mind a day or two lay-over in HK. But Cathay's prices are even higher than PAL. Of course, Singapore Airlines is completely out of the question because it is the highest of all three. We are down to other Asian carriers like Korean, Japan, China and Eva Airlines. So far, Eva Air is most promising but the travel dates are getting full pretty quickly. So while we continue to look around for better possibilities, we also need to act pretty quickly because flights are filling up. I've also enlisted the help of my Tita Cynthia (who is a whiz at finding great bargains). We should be close to making a choice in the next few days.

In this day and age of technology, I wish they could find a way to make air travel much quicker and much cheaper. Oh and not harmful to the environment too. I just read an article that shows how much pollution is emitted by planes (especially jumbo 747s). But it's probably asking too much to ask for all these conditions to be met. Naturally a quicker mode of transportation will be more expensive and will emit more fuel that's bad for the environment. Sigh. As with all things, there are always trade offs. Like right now, I have to give up flying direct to Manila for a flight that won't break the bank!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Seriously, A Bed and Breakfast?!

When Uncle Junior and Auntie Lillian came to visit, they came up with a brilliant business idea for me. They suggested I open a “bed and breakfast” here in our home. To take it a step further, they said I should couple that with my very own tour guide operation. They agreed that it made sense since there is an endless stream of out-of-town visitors that come to stay with us (and many more that want to but we just cannot accommodate). It’s true. In the last two months we have had 14 people stay in our place at different times. There were several overlaps too but luckily everything worked out fine. Some guests stayed overnight, some stayed a couple of days, and others stayed a week or three. Some guests needed a place to sleep and a good home-cooked meal, some needed a weekend of activities, while others needed the whole “touring-LA-for-the-first-time” experience.

I gave this suggestion some thought. There are certainly reasons why it could work. For starters, it helps that our home is configured in such a way that it can accommodate guests. We have two guest bedrooms and a guest bath located in a totally separate section of the house. Since it is a designated space just for guests, it makes it easy for people to feel at home here. Our house is also “visitor friendly” – as my cousin Ches (who recently stayed with us) said, he doesn’t get bored on days we just stay in. Our home has wireless, high-speed internet and (thanks to my husband) we have several spare PCs and Macs all around the house. We have cable t.v. with over 500 channels (plus the Filipino channels too). My husband has an ample collection of anime and Marvel superhero comic books (which apparently guys of all ages like) and I have a very extensive book and magazine collection (which the ladies find more appealing). We have computer gaming systems. We have a state of the art massage chair (that is almost as good as having a personal masseuse). We also have a tiny garden (everyone gets a kick out of our lemon and fig trees) and a patio ideal for outdoor barbecues. We even have a separate refrigerator for guests to use. Not only that, we have a finished garage that makes packing balikbayan boxes (a must for our Pinoy visitors) really convenient!

Another plus is we live in Torrance, a quiet suburb of LA. And as we know, everyone likes visiting LA. Of course it helps that SoCal weather is relatively mild all year round and that our home is always breezy given that we live so close to the ocean. For our guests that don’t drive, our home is within walking distance to several stores and restaurants. And for those that do drive, we are right off the freeway exit, and somewhat centrally located. Torrance is accessible to most major LA tourist attractions. We are pretty close to beaches, parks, outlets, theme parks, shopping malls, and many other tourist destinations. We are also located just 20 minutes away from the airport.

But the biggest factor that makes this idea feasible is I enjoy having people over. No matter what the other conditions were if I didn’t like entertaining, I don’t see how this could happen. Luckily, I take after my parents and like having people in our home. It's great that Jojo is okay with it too. I like fixing up our home and making sure our guests have everything they need. I like cooking for guests, entertaining them, driving for them, and showing them around. Of course, I can’t lie and say I like having guests all the time and of course there are certain people I like having as guests more than others (I won't name names!). But overall, I enjoy having people come spend their vacation with us.

I also enjoy putting together vacation itineraries. Whenever I have guests coming, I get excited thinking of things for them to do. I have my list of places that are “musts” to visit, shop, and eat in while in LA. I am happy to put together an itinerary for those who have been to LA and are looking for more out-of-the-ordinary-and-less-touristy activities. And I am equally excited for those that are visiting for the first time and want to do all the kitschy things that LA is known for. I like guests that enjoy shopping because obviously I do too. I like guests who enjoy out-of-town day trips because there are so many beautiful places to visit. But, honestly, my favorite kind of guest, is the guest who likes to eat and is willing to try something new because there are just so many wonderful places to eat in here in LA.

Anyway, it’s nice to daydream about this business idea. Our very own bed and breakfast. Who knows, maybe one day I will get it started, and I may find that this is indeed that dream job I have been waiting for!

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Sunday Lunch with Friends

Today we drove to Shoreline Village in Long Beach. Here is a shot of the Aquarium of the Pacific (one of the attractions there), which is right across several restaurants.

One of those restaurants is Bubba Gump, where we were meeting friends for lunch.

Here we are with our friends, Karen, Kelvin, and their son, Robinson. Karen was one of my closest friends in graduate school. I always enjoy talking to her since we share a lot of the same values and have similar ways of looking at things. She also gives great advice! After graduate school, we tried to keep in touch, but it got harder after I moved to Torrance and after she had a baby. I'm so glad we have reconnected since Jojo and I consider her and Kelvin to be good friends of ours. Plus it was a joy to see how big Robinson has gotten!

For lunch, Jojo and I split the Shrimp New Orleans which was a tasty shrimp dish with a spicy tomato-based sauce. It was served with white rice and slice of toasted french bread to sop up the Cajun seasonings.

We also shared the Yin-Yang salad with grilled shrimp, mixed greens, sliced mangoes, crunchy wonton strips and a tangy Asian wasabi dressing.

After our meal, as our server hands us our bill, he tells us we can bring our water glasses home with us. Earlier he had asked us if, instead of regular water glasses, we wanted "party glasses" - which are tumblers with flashing lights attached to its base - see photo and imagine that the lights at the bottom are flashing. We said "sure, why not?" and thought nothing of it. Imagine our surprise when it showed up on the bill - at $5 dollars EACH! ($25 dollars for 5 plastic party glasses!) Karen and I agreed that adding it to the bill was not fair especially since we were never told we would have to pay for them. Luckily our server was accommodating and agreed to take it off the bill.

Right after eating, we enjoyed a brief stroll on the deck overlooking the waterfront. It was a great day - sunny but cool. We would have loved to spend more time with Karen and her family but unfortunately we had to go. Jojo is in the middle of a home improvement project that involves stripping and re-painting our front doorway. So after thanking our hosts, we said our good-byes.

It was really great seeing them again - and as I told Karen before we parted, we definitely have to do this again soon. And next time, it'll be our treat! =)

Friday, August 07, 2009

Home for the Holidays

I am so happy to write that we are DEFINITELY going to be home for the holidays! Jojo and Mark have both gotten time off from work. And Atsi and I, well, we are pretty much off from work the whole time anyway. It's going to be one memorable family reunion. I am so sure dad will be there with us too. He could never resist family gatherings =)

The plan is for my mom, Jim and Joy to come over to the States for a vacation in Nov. While Jim and mom will be leaving by the 4th week of Nov., Joy will be staying on for 1 more week. Then early in Dec., Joy, Atsi and I will be flying home to Manila. Just us girls! Our devoted husbands will follow two weeks later (since they can not take that much time off). Then the 4 of us all fly back to the States in January. This means I get to stay in Manila for over a month!

I am so excited!!! While, I enjoy my life here in Torrance and really have to admit there are perks to living abroad, I am still really looking forward to a trip back home. I can't wait to see my family and friends. I look forward to dinners with my girlfriends and catching up with everyone. I am even excited to get started on shopping for pasalubong since I love handing them out! I can't wait for home-cooked meals, NOT having to do any housework and NOT having to have to drive. I am so excited to get pampered - manicures, pedicures, massages AT HOME! I can't wait to go shopping with my sisters and to eat in all my favorite places. It is 9:00 in the morning and I am seriously craving for some Green Maris hotpot right about now. I am so excited to spend time at home (movie nights in the movie room comes to mind!) and just hanging out. I look forward to all the gatherings that will surely happen since our home is always where everyone seems to congregate! And the best part is spending the holidays back home. There is nothing like Christmas and New Year's in Manila =)

I am literally counting the days till then =)

Thursday, August 06, 2009

And Yet Another Pleasant Surprise

They say good things come in threes - and apparently that goes for surprises too! First, it was flowers, then the journal, and now ...

When I got home today, I found in the mail a package from my sister-in-law, Marik. In it was an inspirational book written by Robin McGraw (better known as Dr. Phil's wife) entitled "From My Heart to Yours: Life Lessons on Faith, Family and Friendships".

While waiting for the book's picture to load on my blog, I came across this line: "Bad stuff happens to good people and there's not much any of us can do about it except choose how to respond - whether to respond with faith in God's goodness, or with an attitude of giving up."

I think it means something that I received this book today and that I come across this particular line while flipping through the pages. Today (of all days) this line totally makes sense. Today was my second day at the Center and today I met a lady who had all the odds stacked against her. She was deaf (I helped translate for her), homeless, had no job and was going through a divorce as well as losing custody of her two kids. Despite that, she held herself up with a quiet dignity and with a sense of purpose. Not once did she talk about giving up or allow herself to sink into self-pity. We helped her make a list of the things she needed to do and she promised to get them done. She shared that she did not want to live on charity forever but acknowledged that she needed some help at this time in her life. She was very gracious and calm. It was inspiring to meet someone like that.

Thank you so much for sending me the book, Marik. I truly appreciate the gesture. I am so sure there will be many more lines from this book that I will come to appreciate.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

An Honest to Goodness Eye-Opener

Yesterday was my first day of volunteer work. It started with a brief orientation with the center director. She told me that the center provides assistance for people who live in the South Bay. They have a food pantry where they accept food donations and give out food baskets to the needy. They also provide temporary transitional housing for families. In addition, they provide job placement and skills training services for parents as well as childcare and tutorial services for the kids. Their mission is to help the needy get back on their feet.

My role is to man the front desk. I welcome new and existing clients to the center. After helping them fill in an application form, I find out what they need and assign them to one of the caseworkers on staff. In addition, I also meet with people who come in to make donations – whether money, food, clothes, or household items. I take note of these items and issue a receipt. Lastly, I help keep those waiting "entertained", point out the restrooms, play with the kids, and hand out cups of water.

I thought it would be easy-peasy. After all, how busy could it get? Well, in the 4 hours I worked there, we had 22 clients (individuals and families) that came in. Case workers typically meet with each client for about 30-45 minutes so there was plenty of waiting time for the walk-ins. I also had 3 people come in to make donations. One donation was a bag of baked goods, which was easy. But another was a trunkload of clothes and shoes that had to be sorted.

Not only was I caught off-guard by how busy it was (Later I was told I was lucky because I came on a “slow” day!), but I was also a bit flustered because I could not tell the clients apart from the donors. I know this will sound very prejudiced. But I sort of expected that the clients would look like the homeless people you see in the streets, or would be immigrants who spoke no English, or people high drugs or drunks. But they were not all like that.

I met clients who were Asian, Caucasian, African-American, Latinos. They were from all walks of life. I met a man with a PhD in Physics but was living in his car because the bank had foreclosed on his home. I met a charming old couple that had no family to take care of them and were on welfare because they lost their life savings when the stock markets crashed. I met a young single mother with a college degree and who used to live in a home that overlooked the ocean but was now living in a shelter with her kids because they were running away from an abusive husband. I met kids who matter-of-factly told me they sometimes don’t have anything for dinner because their daddy lost his job. It was a bit strange to sit there and hear all these.

I don’t mean to sound so sheltered and pretend that I don’t know how much poverty there is out there. After all, I come from a third world country and have been exposed to the poor. I have volunteered for many organizations back home that help the underprivileged. When I was in college, I taught catechism for 4 years to kids who lived in squatter areas. I will never forget those days where we would teach kids about the bible amidst heaps and heaps of garbage. I have seen my fair share. So, it is not with any sort of naiveté on my part when I say I was surprised to see so many people who needed help.

I guess what surprised me is that there are so many people who live below the poverty line here in America. Isn’t this supposedly the land of milk and honey? The land of excess? The land where if you work hard, you can most certainly reap the rewards? It was depressing to read some of the statistics. For example: there are 23,000 families in the South Bay who lived below the poverty line. IN THE SOUTH BAY! This is the community where I live – where median home prices range in the upper $500K, where we have one of the best school districts, huge shopping malls, beautiful beaches, and well-kept parks. There are no squatter’s areas or shanties here. There are no homeless people roaming our streets. How could that many people, considered to be poor, live in this quiet, middle-class, suburban neighborhood? Another statistic: last year there were 12,000 people who regularly visited South Bay soup kitchens in order to have dinner. And: the average age of a homeless person is 6 years old! I cannot get over these facts.

Even now, 24 hours later, it still seems so surreal. Part of me is heartbroken to hear such sad stories and meet those people. Part of me is encouraged because even at their lowest points, I still saw a lot of laughter, hope and optimism. And part of me is so overwhelmingly grateful to be blessed with so much and to be given the chance to do my little part to help out.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Itch Not Funny

I went to the doctor today because I have this rash on my forearms. This started when I was in Manila but it went away after I arrived in the States. It started to recur the last couple of weeks. It is pretty much an on and off rash – some days it's there and other days there is no sign of it. I noticed it would act up whenever I was exposed to the sun (even for just a few minutes). When that happens, I have these break outs that seemed to get worse over time. It is incredibly ITCHY and super UNCOMFORTABLE. I tried everything ... cold showers, applying baby powder, smearing it with anti-itch lotions, even applying ice packs. All of which provide only temporary relief. I could not help scratching it which only made it worse. It would last for a few hours and often by the next day it would be gone ... that is, until the next bout. I would be happy to post pictures but figured that would be crossing the line between being informative and seriously sharing way too much information.

Anyway, my doctor says I have a fungal infection called tinea veriscolor (it sounds worse than it is). I have all the symptoms (scaly patches of skin that cluster into hives, very red and itchy, the patches actually appear to be glowing (or shimmering) when looked at under a magnified lens, and is caused by heat and/or sun exposure). It is fairly common in warm, humid areas (like Manila) but can recur anywhere when the weather gets too warm (like right here, right now). It can get progressively worse over time if it is not treated properly.

I’ve been prescribed Selenium Sulfide (a topical solution) that I need to apply to my skin whenever such breakouts occur. I did that tonight and the solution makes my skin really sticky. It also smells very chemical-y but it has helped get rid of some of the itch. I also have a prescription for Benadryl should the itchiness ever become unbearable (thankfully it has not yet). Also, I’ve been asked to avoid the sun and using any new cosmetics on my skin.

I am glad I went to see Dr. Tamhane today and he figured out what this was. I spent the weekend googling my symptoms and scared myself into thinking I had the early stages of melanoma, leprosy, shingles and lupus! I think the Internet is great and the amount of information on it is mind-boggling. But when you use it to self-diagnose and self-treat your health problems, you could probably get into a whole lot of trouble!

Sunday, August 02, 2009

A Day at the Beach

I come from a family of anti-beach goers. If I were asked to recall all the family vacations we have ever gone on, I can only recall two instances when we went to the beach. Both times were not very memorable either. Our vacations tend to favor metropolitan and (yes, even) suburban areas but with one thing in common: we like the COLD. We definitely shy away from the sun, the sand, and will only appreciate the view from a distance if there are activities that involve getting in touch with nature. With the exception of my brothers (who may on occasion try outdoors stuff), we are a family that believes a vacation is enjoying the modern comforts of a nice hotel, good restaurants, lots of shopping malls and outlets, and other similar tourist attractions.

Luckily, I married a guy who shares these sentiments. Just recently, when deciding where to go on a 3-day roadtrip, we both agreed on Monterey Bay because of its picturesque views, cooler climate and good food. Never mind that it is the middle of summer and we live in Southern California known for its beaches and national parks!

Yesterday, Jojo suggested a walk along Manhattan Beach. Of course for us that meant heading out to the pier (not the actual beach) and getting there by sunset! Here are some scenes from our walk:

The day was very nice. The sun was setting and the crowds at the beach (there was an international surfing competition) was starting to thin out. When we arrived, people were starting to pack up.

The Manhattan Beach Pier (about 900+ feet out in the ocean). At the end was an aquarium and cafe.

The Roadhouse Aquarium is not quite like the ones in Sea World. This is more of a conservation / research facility. No fee required to enter but they do accept donations.

There were a couple of aquariums inside, a shark tank, and a moray eel tank. (No pictures, though, cause the flash kept reflecting the glass). There was a shallow pool with starfish and rays (like this one) where you could touch stuff (but of course I didn't!)

A foggy view of the South Bay (that's where we live).

Lovely beachfront property ... which probably costs an arm and a leg!

Here we are, the "anti-beach goers" at the beach ...

All in all, a nice way to spend a Saturday evening.