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Monday, May 31, 2010

Three-Day Weekend

The Memorial Day weekend is almost over. Three days of no work. We didn't really have any plans this weekend. For starters, we figured that everyone would be going out of town and it would be extra crowded in most major vacation spots. We were right - we have been hearing horror stories of people stuck on the freeways going to and from Las Vegas, San Diego, San Francisco, etc, etc. Also, the weather was really warm this weekend. Of course, for me, that means staying indoors where it's nice and cool. Lastly, we thought we'd stay in this weekend since we spent last weekend in Temecula.

So, what did we do for the last three days? Well, we did run a few errands (getting the car checked, going to Costco, picking up dry cleaning, etc). We also did some stuff around the house (laundry, tidying up, and cleaning out the garage). But other than that, we just relaxed and took it easy. We slept in, spent most of the day in pajamas, watched movies, ate in local favorites, cooked together (we made adobo flakes!), got massages, went to the gym, and took long walks.

My 3-day weekend indulgence was curling up with two good books - "Falling Leaves" by Adeline Yen Mah and "The Calligrapher's Daughter" by Georgina Kim. Jojo's indulgence was buying two new Wii games (Ghost Squad and Mortal Combat) and playing to his heart's content. It was blissful luxury to just stay in and not have anything on the agenda.

It reminded me of my childhood and how my family chose to stay home during the 4-day Holy Week celebration. While most of our friends would vacation in Baguio, Hong Kong, Boracay, etc, we chose to have our very own "staycation". We would have lots of DVDs to watch, mom wold make good food, and we played endless games of Boggle or Scrabble. On Good Friday, we would go around to local churches and pray the Stations of the Cross. Afterwards, we would try to find a restaurant that was open. Since there are not a lot of places open during Holy Week, my family would end up eating in places we normally don't go. One year we found ourselves at Shakeys Pizza in Greenhills where we were served garlic cheese pizza, mojo potatoes and a big pitcher of rootbeer by Chuck. (Not only was it hard to find a place that was open, but we also could not eat meat on Good Friday which made eating out a little bit of a challenge!). These were simple times but I remember them fondly.

This Memorial Day weekend, everyone we knew had plans to go somewhere but Jojo and I chose to have our very own "staycation" - and frankly, I think it turned out pretty well. =)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Weekend in Temecula

Our weekend started with a pool party. It was my nephew, Jeremy's, 7th birthday and his parents threw him a pool party. They even rented a water slide! The weather was still quite cool and so we had to start the party at noon when the sun was at its brightest otherwise it was too chilly for the kids to go swimming!

Here's Maddie landing in the pool and after splashing everyone! The kids had an awesome time. The adults did too even if we just sat by the patio, eating and chatting, while watching the kids hoot and holler in the water!

There was also a pool set up where the kids could play. It was a great day for a swimming party.

We left Jeremy's party a little after two. We were on our way to Temecula when we stopped at the Lake Elsinore premium outlets. What is an out-of-town trip without a quick stop at the outlet mall? I stocked up on a few things at Bath and Body Works. We bought a belated birthday present for Jeremy. Jojo was debating on getting a pair of leather shoes at Bass while I found a great pair of shoes at Naturalizer ($40.00 for a really nice pair of high-heeled pumps - 50% off!).

The whole reason we were spending the weekend in Temecula was to watch the stand-up comedy performance of Ray Romano and Brad Garrett at the Pechanga Casino and Resort. I have been looking forward to this show for about a month! After checking in at a nearby hotel, we had a quick dinner at the Pechanga food court and headed to the theater to find our seats.

Jojo and I had great seats. Here we are taking pictures of ourselves before the show started.

The entire show lasted about an hour and forty minutes. Jojo and I (and the entire audience) were laughing the entire time. There were times when I laughed so hard, my jaw started to hurt and tears rolled down my cheeks. It is an understatement to say "it was truly a great evening". The show ended with Ray Romano and Brad Garrett coming on stage to answer a few questions from the audience. Also, they showed some never-before-seen clips of their hit tv show "Everybody Loves Raymond".

The next day (Sunday) we walked over to Old Town Temecula which was exactly an 8-minute walk from out hotel. We've been to Old Town before and enjoy the atmosphere there. It was a gorgeous day! The sun was out but it was not too sunny (just the perfect degree of brightness for someone like me who doesn't care too much for sunshine!). The temps were very cool (upper sixties) and so the walk was pleasant. Old Town Temecula is made up of several streets lined with quaint shops, coffee houses and restaurants. We browsed some of our favorites like the gourmet cheese shop, the lavender store (which smells just divine!), the beautifully decorated boutique that sells gorgeous Christmas decors (where my mom bought me gorgeous tree ornaments the last time we visited), and my dad's favorite the Rootbeer shop (which sells every imaginable variety and brand of rootbeer).

Of course we had to stop at the Temecula Olive Oil Company. This is one of my mom's favorite gourmet shops. They make a variety of wonderfully fresh olive oils. It is so fresh that they actually have an olive oil tasting bar. I know it sounds kinda gross to be sipping olive oil - but theirs has such a wonderful, buttery taste. They also have a variety of other delicious products like spreads, vinegars, herb blends, sea salts, olives and more.

The goods at the Olive Oil Company are a bit pricey but definitely a luxury that is so worth it! After a lot of tasting and with the recommendation of the super friendly staff, we ended up buying two kinds of spreads. An asiago, parmesan, garlic spread that sounds as good as it tastes (it is wonderful with hot, crusty bread!). And a caramelized red onion and fig spread that we plan to slather over grilled fish or chicken. We also got ourselves olive oil and balsamic vinegar (not in the picture). In addition to our splurges, we got mom's birthday present - an assortment of the four varieties of the 2010 olive oil harvest - Olivum (original flavor), Roasted Garlic, Fresh Basil and Citrus Reserve. We're sending this via balikbayan box and it may get to Manila a few weeks after your birthday, Mom - but know that it's coming!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Chicken Inasal

I had to work late tonight and was dreading the thought of coming home to a sink full of dishes (I was running late this morning so our breakfast dishes were not done). Also, a late night at work usually means a hurried dinner of either sandwiches with a variety of cold cuts or a can of soup heated in the microwave.

Tonight, I got the shock of my life. As I pulled up our driveway, Jojo was standing on our porch already welcoming me home. I followed him into the house and saw he had tidied up. The mail had been put away. The sink was clear (not a dirty dish in sight) and he had dinner almost ready.

And by dinner, I don't mean the usual sandwiches and canned soup ... he had actually made one of my favorite dishes ever ... chicken inasal. Yes, CHICKEN INASAL! He had researched on the internet how to do it and had bought the ingredients the last time we were at the supermarket. All with the intention of springing this surprise the next time I had to stay late at work.

Jojo is amazing. He got home exactly 1 hour and 20 minutes before me but he managed to clean up, wash the dishes, cook the rice, marinate the chicken and was actually grilling it in our backyard when I arrived. I only had time to wash up and change into pajamas before he called me to dinner. This is what we had:

Let me tell you that even if that chicken tasted like cardboard, I would have eaten it up because (number one) I was starving and (number two) my husband went to so much trouble to prepare the meal. But the icing on the cake was the chicken tasted really good. And I'm not just saying that because Jojo is going to read this post. It really was good! Juicy, succulent and tasty. Not exactly like the original Chicken Inasal from Bacolod ... but definitely an original Chicken Inasal from Torrance =)

Today is our 5th year and 5th month wedding anniversary (and our 11th year and 9th month anniversary since we started dating) ... but he still manages to surprise me and make things interesting!

Thanks, Ni! You are AWESOME =)

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Odds and Ends

We had lunch with Atsi and Mark today. We decided that since they live so far away, it's hard for them to have to drive all the way to Torrance. We met them in Huntington Beach instead. There were several restaurants in the Bella Terra complex (where we decided to meet) but we settled on lunch at the California Pizza Kitchen. Even if I've lived in California for the last 9 years, this is only my second time to eat at CPK here (I've eaten in the CPK chains in Manila far more often!).

I used to really like CPK but after today ... not so much. We ordered a pesto cream pasta with grilled chicken and sweet peppers. It was very so-so. Jojo told me I could probably cook a better version than what we had. We also had a pizza with "The Works" and while it was not terrible, it definitely tasted like DiGiorno frozen pizza. I definitely could not taste the difference when CPK's was supposedly baked in a wood-burning oven. The pizza and pasta dishes were a bit disappointing. The only saving grace was the salad. We ordered a miso salad which came with fresh chopped veggies, edemame, crisp wonton strips, daikon, and instead of crab and shrimp (which Atsi doesn't eat) we had cold chicken. It was yummy and very refreshing. We all liked it but Atsi did say mom's miso dressing is still much better!

We also had a chocolate, banana cake withh ice cream for dessert. This was pretty good too. But then again when has chocolate cake and ice cream ever been bad?

So, CPK was a bit of a disappointment ... but it was nice to catch up with Atsi while Jojo and Mark watched the NBA game at the restaurant's bar. After lunch we walked across the parking lot to Kohls department store before calling it a day and heading our separate ways.

In other news ... I don't think I've mentioned this in my blog just yet. But a few weeks ago, Jojo won a raffle. First of all, how lucky is that? I must have joined a hundred raffles in my life and have never won anything. Jojo was asked to participate in a raffle at the very last minute (he was literally the last contestant to be entered in the draw before they picked the winner). And he wins the grand prize. A Toshiba, 37-inch flat screen, high definition, LCD television. Talk about LUCKY. Anyway, we got the television last week and considered selling it so we could get the set we wanted. I thought it was too small for the family room but too big for our bedroom (our tv stand is right across our bed). But since we didn't have any interested buyers, we ended up keeping it. Last night Jojo and his brothers installed it in our family room. It turns out, it's just the right size. Now our old tv set is in the garage (where the kids use it to play Wii), we're keeping the same tv in our bedroom, and we have a brand, spankin' new tv in the family room! =)


Lastly, I've been sort of going through an "Asian Lit" phase these last few weeks. Not only have I re-read some of my favorite Asian authors (Lisa See, Gail Tsukiyama, Anchee Min, Shan Sa, Aravind Adiga, Amy Tan, and Mineko Iawasaki), I've also re-read several of my favorite Asian-themed books by non-Asian authors (Arthur Golden, Liza Dalby, Pearl Buck, etc). I don't know why but I go through these phases where I only read books from a certain genre at a given time. It's a quirk, I know. Recently Jojo got me a book entitled Falling Leaves by Adeline Yen Mah. It's Asian-themed and by an Asian author so I am super excited to start reading it. The thing with me and books, though, is I can not start reading a book if I don't have the time to finish it. I rarely start a new book unless I have a whole afternoon or better yet, a whole day with nothing else planned and the luxury of just reading. So even if I've had this beautiful book on my nightstand for the last few days, I've been re-reading my old books while waiting for the right time to start this new one. I am looking forward to the Memorial Day weekend to savor Falling Leaves. It's a 3-day weekend which will surely leave me with at least an afternoon of uninterrupted reading bliss! =)

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The First Year

Today is the first year anniversary of my dad's passing. Instead of being sad and depressed, we chose to be happy and to celebrate the day. I know my dad and he would never have wanted us to remember him in sadness but would rather we keep happy thoughts and fond memories of his life. Today was all about you, Dad. We hosted a small dinner at home with just family. We started the evening by lighting candles and saying prayers. Everyone was very solemn and participated in the simple ceremony. After prayers, we gathered together for dinner.

I was really extra busy this week, plus I had to work today. Even with everything I had going on, I wanted to make this as home-cooked as possible. After all, I was doing this for my dad (and I know how much he loved my mom's home-cooked parties at our place). So this whole week, every night after work, I would do a little preparation - a little bit of cleaning, cooking, shopping and decorating. Luckily everything came together rather well.

We started the meal with smoked salmon served on multi-grain crisps, topped with creamy tartar sauce and a dash of freshly squeezed lemon. One of my dad's favorite dishes! (pardon the picture ... it makes the fish look somewhat rubbery when in fact it was very fresh!).

I also had a salad - which was a crowd favorite. Now I know this had to be good because Jojo's family normally doesn't like salads -- but tonight this was the first serving dish that was stripped bare! This is my mom's kani salad topped with Japanese mayo and a light dressing of balsamic vinegar and olive oil (served on the side). Easy to make and good for you too.

I served Bourbon Chicken. I didn't actually cook this dish. But I did bake it, garnish it, and serve it! Even with a very strict schedule and a very rigid to-do list, there is only so much I can do =) Thank God for Costco and the prepared food aisles!

It was mom's idea for me to serve baked spaghetti. She was right when she told me that this was a pasta dish I could pre-cook and heat on the day of the party. I didn't have time to make the bechamel topping though - luckily it was also good without it. Thanks for the recipe, mom!

For dessert, I prepared a do-it-yourself sundae bar. I had waffle bowls, two kinds of ice cream (French Vanilla and Dark Chocolate). Plus toppings galore (sprinkles, crushed oreo cookies, chopped nuts, mini marshmallows, chocolate syrup and whipped cream!). Yummy!

Everyone had a great time making their own sundaes. It seems the adults even more than the kids!

Here's everyone who came to remember dad! Thank you to my Ordinario family for honoring my dad's memory and for joining my family in celebrating my dad's life.


P.S. While we were reciting prayers, we all heard a strong gust of wind blow right outside the window. My brother in law, Lee, said that was dad making his presence felt. Yes, I know that was you, Pops. I don't need a loud gust of wind to tell me that you are here. I know you are with always with us and that our family is still complete. I love you very much, Dad. Now and always.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Today Was a Good Day

Today was a good day ... I got one of our students placed ... and I am thrilled. As I've posted before, my job is helping our students find employment. Doing that is not really as easy as it sounds. I basically have to work with a lot of students - help them write resumes, facilitate interview preparation workshops for them, teach them networking techniques and even assist them with picking their wardrobe when they go for their interviews. At the same time, I am also networking with local businesses - making presentations, sending emails, making phone calls, finding job opportunities, making sure they think of our school when they have vacancies.

Then, when the day comes and one of those companies does have a job opening, they send me a job order which basically lists all the job requirements. I then go through the database of all our graduates to see who is ready and who fits the requirements. I pick maybe 4 or 5 and send their information to the employer. Once the employer decides who they want to interview, I notify the students and work on coordinating everyone's schedules so they can meet. Before and after each interview, I meet with each and every student to make sure they are ready and to get feedback. I also speak regularly with the employer to make sure we are meeting their needs and to get their comments regarding the students they have met. There are a lot of hits and misses but sometimes, when all the i's are dotted and all the t's are crossed (and when the stars align and the heavens smile down on us), one of our students gets hired.

Believe me, it is a LOOOONG process and there is so much work done in between. There are countless forms to fill out, countless games of phone tag, and numerous emails going back and forth. I have to keep track of so many things - I have to-do lists within my to-do lists and I have both electronic and paper organizers! The thing is I have several groups of students, several employers, several job orders and several positions I am working on all at the same time. Many times, I have to listen to complaints or gripes and I have to soothe egos and tempers. Job searching and recruiting is not easy and both sides get frustrated. On top of that, well, as with any job, I also have goals (number of students employed, number of employers added to the career bank, number of job leads, number of classes taught or workshops given, etc., etc.). It is definitely busy and definitely challenging to say the least. But most of all, it is definitely rewarding especially when you are able to make a match between a good company and a good student.

My placing a student today was the result of a lot of work. But her smiling face, her note of thanks and her excitement at finding a job that will help her pay off her student loans, help her get off welfare and help her support her family - well that is reward enough to keep doing what I'm doing =)

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day to the best mom in the whole wide world - my dearest Mooder! And of course to all the other moms out there. To my mother-in-law, my sisters-in-law (Marik, Vange, Trace, Edel and Len). To my grandmothers (ama and guama). All my aunts and titas too. And of course, all my friends who are blessed to be called "moms".

The world is a better place because of moms. It starts when you are very young. Moms teach you to sings songs, tuck you into bed, soothe your aches and pains, bake you cookies, fix your hair, dress you in frilly dresses and take you to interesting places. When you get a bit older, moms attend all your open houses and sit through countless parent-teacher meetings, tutor you after school, cook dinner for your friends, go shopping with you and throw you fabulous birthday parties. When you become a teenager, moms listen when you tell them about your crushes, help you get over a broken heart, giggle with you over the silliest things, go shopping with you when you need a dress for the prom. And moms even love you enough to ground you when you get bad grades or when you get caught sneaking out of the house.

After college, when you get your first job, moms support you by attending all your trade shows, pack you lunch every single day, wait up for you even when you get home really late at night and they always want to know where you are going (even if you think you are old enough not to have to tell them!). When you move out of the house for the first time, moms help you get settled into your new apartment, teach you how to do household chores (like laundry, and cleaning, and cooking, and how to make the bed!). Moms even attend your graduate school orientation with you - even if you are the only 26 year-old with her mom in the room with her. When you get married, moms are there to help you pick your wedding dress, to shop for your wedding registry, to help you plan the menu, to make sure you have gorgeous wedding invitations and give-aways. Moms (and whole families) even go with you on your honeymoon and help make it a truly special event. And even when you are in your mid-thirties, moms come over for visits (that are MUCH TOO SHORT) and welcome you into their homes whenever you want some good home-cooking. Moms still give great advice, help you plan your dinner party menus, share tips on how to keep a good home, listen when you need to unburden and encourage you when you are feeling low.

I am truly blessed and very lucky to have a mom who did all these for me - and so much more. But the best part is she does it all so selflessly, never expecting anything in return. She does it so willingly, never needing to be asked. She does it so whole-heartedly, never giving less than a hundred percent. And she does it so naturally, never giving me reason to doubt that I have the best mom in the whole wide world. Thank you so much, mom - for all that you do, all that you say, all that that you give, all that you teach, and all that you are. Thank you for opening up to me, sharing your hopes and dreams, and letting me know when you need me too. Thank you for sometimes (and not nearly as often as I'd like), giving me the opportunity to give back to you too. And Mooder, even if I don't say it often enough, I hope you know that I love you very, very much and I am so grateful to have you in my life.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Theater

Last Saturday, we all went to watch a gala performance at the James Armstrong theater in Torrance. The reason we all were there was to see my two nieces, Meredith and Madeline, as they performed in their very first play. The play was actually a production of "The Wizard of Oz" by a local theater group. Since the group was encouraging young kids to join the theater, they have created special roles for the kids to play in their production. Both my nieces, along with several other kids, played the roles of Munchkins (those cute little folks that inhabit the land of Oz).

All in all, the play was very amusing. It was by no means a Broadway production. But the cast was talented, the sounds and lighting were good and the set was well done. Of course the highlight was seeing Merdie and Maddie singing "Ding-dong, the Witch is Dead" and joining the whole cast in singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow". Both my nieces were really quite good - not shy at all - and amazingly able to keep in tune and follow the steps. We were so proud! Both of them are so eager to sign up for the summer production (they are featuring "Annie" which would be perfect for them!). Luckily their parents are supportive of this and are open to letting their kids join these great opportunities.

I remember when we were younger, my parents enrolled us in all sorts of extra-curricular activities as well. In my case, I had taken ballet and piano lessons. I was enrolled in gymnastics, badminton and swimming. I even took speed reading, finger math and creative writing classes. I took up Public Speaking at Dale Carnegie and was even enrolled in a course for young women that taught us good manners, proper etiquette and how to be good homemakers! There was also that summer where Jules and I were enrolled in a Fookien speaking class.

My brothers and sisters had their share of classes too. Between the 4 of them there were tennis, golf, swimming, badminton, karate and taekwando classes. They have taken painting, photography, piano, and guitar lessons. There were summers of taking theater lessons at Repertory and of taking trips to China to learn Mandarin. There is probably more than I am forgetting. My parents were very big proponents of us getting a good education both in and out of school. They believed that it was always in a child's best interest to learn as much as they can and to be exposed to as many things that are beneficial to their development.

I will always be super grateful to my parents for giving me the opportunities I had while I was growing up. No matter how short-lived some of those classes were, they all have shaped me into who I am today.