Midnight whispers

I find it uncanny that I am suddenly bombarded by these ideas I want to write about, just as I am getting ready to sleep.

So there I am, brushing my teeth, not particularly looking at myself as I face the bathroom mirror, and an idea hits me. Or, as I am putting away the things I tinkered with just before I decided it was time to heed the call of my pillows— I feel this deep urge to write. I am usually good at ignoring it, but sometimes it just keeps eating at me.

I want to write about the gorgeous sunsets I have witnessed the last couple of days.. of celebrations and the ones you choose to do it with.. of taking the time to let others know how you feel.. of missing Sydney and the warm feelings those memories bring to my heart… and how, while the daily struggle can sometimes be overwhelming, my best friend up there always manages to tap me on the shoulder and remind me I am in a very good place.. or some simple gesture reminds me I am cherished and special.

Then I missed out on my original draft by not saving it before the app could auto save— and I had to redo half the post and now I must turn in and bid the world goodnight.. but not before I share one of those glorious sunsets I want to write about with you.

Sunsets of New York

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My Happy Place

A few weekends ago, I visited with a girlfriend I hardly get to see because of the distance.  I haven’t seen her in ages and it’s really because (1) I don’t drive, and (2), getting her to the city or getting me to Long Island can be quite the journey.

She asked me a question which was simple yet a tad complicated to answer:  How do I manage to stay happy?

Happiness, for me, is a continuing journey.  I think that as we get older, we have to seek or find that “happy place” in order that we may not get buried by the day-to-day hassles of our toil.  It is THAT place we can retreat to — even if only in our minds — to bask in some happy memory or thought or even just a snapshot, that brings us that feeling of bliss.  Brief, though, it may be.

I have not always been as positive or happy as I am now.  Even now, I still find myself succumbing to moments of sadness or those blah times when  life overtakes me.  But I know better now to stand up or wiggle free of the weight of negativity, and not let myself slide deeper into that abyss of sadness.  I deal with it in a way that works for me.

One thing I’ve learned is that you have to consciously seek to be happy, or you will find yourself sinking or wallowing in the opposite.  Happiness is not automatic.  How many times have you heard it said, “Happiness is a choice.”  I’m still not quite comfortable with that whole concept because I think what people label as “happiness” is relative to what they consider it to be.  As we get older, the word takes on a bigger meaning but we start defining it in simpler terms.

Each person defines happiness a different way, and I think much of the frustration or sadness about life in general is brought about by how difficult or unreachable that definition of “happy” is.  When people ask me for advice, I come back with a simple question: “What is it that will make YOU happy?  Without worrying about everyone else around you, the other people depending on you for their own happiness, just thinking about YOU and YOU alone — what would make you happy?”

I have no formula for happiness.  I envy those people who can authoritatively declare that their personal default setting is “happy”.   Is that at all possible?  Or are these people just deluding themselves about how happy they are.  Are they really happy?

I had asked myself that question many times — and I found my answer.  But the answer to my question is personal to me.  That question is answered a million different ways by the millions of other people out there.  You would answer that question your way.

I still ask myself that question when faced with a dilemma where I have to make a choice.  We have been wired to think of “what’s good for the majority”, or “whats good for all.”  But when that answer clashes with “what’s good for us” or “what’s good for me”, there arises a frustration that leads to sadness and discontent.  It leads to sacrifice — mostly on our part.  And sacrifice, no matter how noble, always hurts.

There’s nothing wrong with sacrificing or doing what’s best for others.  But it is more difficult to swallow when we ourselves, are, in general, not happy.  It all starts with ourselves.  So you need to find your happy place and go there when everything else seems to be crumbling down.

So how can you find that happy place?

Memorialize “happy” in words.  I read somewhere not too long ago, that a gratitude journal is precisely for these times when we feel at our lowest.  We need to remind ourselves that there were things that made us feel grateful, and collectively, these are the things that contribute to our happiness.  That worked for me for a while and I just don’t know where my gratitude journal is right now, but that is a good idea that might work for those who do journaling or blogging or some form of record keeping.  I haven’t posted in ages, but I used to have a “Five Things to be happy about” list here– simple things that make me feel grateful at any given point in time.

The point is to have something filled with positive thoughts that you can go back to over and over again, more so during those times when you need a major pick me up.

Find that picture that will never fail to make you smile.  I have pictures that remind me of a million emotions that wrapped together bring a smile to my face.  I love taking selfies with my boy, and even before the age of smart phones and all, I trained myself to take photos with my point and shoot camera facing us, at arms’ length.  People used to wonder how I could do that and come up with perfect framing– I simply say, “Practice.”  Of all the probably thousands of selfies I’ve taken, I have a favorite one when he was probably 4 or 5.  I love that photograph because he was still small enough to sit on my lap, rest his head on my chest, and he smiled this happy smile that proclaims to everyone around “This is my girl.”  (He will probably cringe now at almost 13 if he reads I wrote that.). I have a copy of that picture in a frame on my desk.  Some place I can always see it.  And when I see that picture, I find myself in my happy place.

Create a happy space in your mind you can retreat to just by closing your eyes.  Remember how, as a kid, you would imagine a world where you were the princess or the super hero?  Or how you had such fun vacations with the family?  A special trip with friends perhaps?  Or a time and place where you get a tight embrace, where there was so much laughter you found yourself shaking uncontrollably until you had to take a deep breath before you started tearing up?  I have my favorite happy moments I loop in a repeating video in my mind, and I go there when I feel like things are going grey.

Carry a small memento of a happy moment with you.  Some people have keychains, a matchbook, a bookmark, a table napkin — tucked in your purse or wallet – or a note from a favorite relative, a word of encouragement.  Nondescript items that symbolize a happy moment in our lives, whenever that may have been, wherever they may be.  It might be a business card, a rewards card, or some other plastic with someone’s name which brings you happy thoughts.  Have it within reach so that each time you feel you need a boost, you can fish for it wherever it may be.

Do not feel guilty about reaching out for a favorite snack or comfort food that might give you a much-needed sugar boost!  It might not be so bad to actually give in to a craving for something that absolutely bring you a piece of heaven, even if it is spelled in calories.  For me, it’s that chocolate treat, or a pint of my favorite butter pecan ice cream.  The thing is, it shouldn’t become an excuse to overindulge or overeat.  It should be enough that you satisfy the craving, smile and move on from there.  A taste is different from gorging on something you absolutely love.  Just enough to make it to “happy” and nudge you awake to do something about your state of mind.

Or it can be a reward for something you need a pat on the back for.  I know most people will disagree with this but life is too short for us to continually deprive ourselves of those things that put a smile on our face just because the rest of the world dictates that we have to be a certain dress size.

These things have helped me to stand up when I was at my lowest and even on an everyday basis.  Perhaps the shorter answer to my friend’s question about how I stay happy is that I keep my happy thoughts and happy items near.  Even on an ordinary day, I go to that happy place tucked in the corners of my mind and I visit and breathe in my bit of happy.

 I choose “happy”.  That’s how I manage to get past the pain and the chaos and the obstacles that life has made a habit of throwing my way.  

Flowers at the Grounds of Alexandria

Pre weekend

UntitledI’m really looking forward to the weekend, beyond doing my laundry and hopefully getting a few pieces done to post in the shop.  Saturdays, most specially, are sleep in days when I don’t have to worry about the alarm clock ringing before 6am. I actually set it for 9am, only because I’m afraid I will sleep through to noon. Almost impossible, but I would hate to waste half a day literally snoozing away. Plus at my age, the rest of the day tends to go by ever so slowly when I wake up way too late. I feel lethargic even with all that extra rest.  Counter productive.  (Maybe just because I’m older.)

I’m just hoping I can get down to starting to publish my poetry online over at my site dedicated to this which I’ve entitled “This Life In Verse.”  Pretty straightforward, and something I’m pulling together to have all my poetry from age 9 on in one place.  I had brought as much of my work as I can find to New York in the course of several trips to Manila over the years.  

After a creative drought of 15 (!) years, I’ve started writing again.  That, in itself, is reason enough to find the inspiration to try and organize my work into a single compilation.  It’s as if my voice was silenced and awakened from a deep sleep after so long.  Although the writing has been sparse in the last 2 years, the mere fact that I have actually started writing and completing pieces has roused me from that slumber.  
I used to sit and be able to write poem after poem about anything under the sun.  I wrote about friendship, love, joy and happiness.  Then the words stopped coming.  I didn’t even realize it that I had stopped writing.  

But I am writing again.. and that part of me came Alice and is no longer silent.  

So this weekend, I begin yet another journey in words.

Jetlagged

So I spent the last first two weeks of September traipsing around down under, and stopping in Manila on the way to and from.  Manila is 12 hours ahead, and Sydney, 14.  While I managed to spend the night in Manila, breaking the already long trip back to New York into a longer two-segment 30-something-hour sojourn, recovering from jet lag continues to be a challenge.

DSCF9601
Kiama Blowhole, Australia

I have been used to the long haul flights to the other side of the world, having done approximately 10 trips home back to Manila in the 16 years I’ve been away.  I’ve even managed to get the seat choice down pat, opting for the two-seater rows at the back of the airplane. Perfect for when the boy and I are traveling together, or even when it’s just me as was the case this time.  I know to use one of those neck pillows which I had resisted for the longest time, to pack the right set of toiletries in what case and where, and not to fight sleep when I start getting hit by the urge to catch some shut eye.

My first night back was not a problem except that despite the lack of sleep, I didn’t go to bed until 2am.  I woke up at around 6am, put my suitcases away, then slept again by 7am.  I was awakened at noon when my little guy walked into my room to hug me, and that was that for sleep.  I went about my day as if it was another ordinary weekend where I slept in, and plopped down to bed a few minutes after midnight.  Sleep found me and I was knocked out until 6am.  Perfect start of the week!

I wasn’t quite as lucky last night, waking up twice — and eventually deciding to stop fighting it by getting out of bed by 4am.  Yes, I’ve been up since.  And surprisingly, I’m going about my day as regularly as I do, except that I have a slight (and very slight, at that) buzz in my head.

I really shouldn’t be surprised anymore.  This happens to me each time.  And while I struggle with jetlag when I am at my destination, it is worse when I get back to my home turf and try to get back into the swing of things.

I have finally embraced the fact that fighting it won’t do me any good.  Caffeinating goes both ways — helping to keep me up when I need to be up, but also keeping me up when I need to sleep.  So I try not to overdo it.  There is the temptation to go overboard with the coffee, but I have discovered that being on my feet — even just taking a short walk around the floor or the building — helps to bring my energy levels up when I sense a yawn coming.

When my brain refuses to rest and keeps me up, I now choose to take advantage of the extra energy and do something productive.  This morning, I went through one headpin tray and sorted the beads out and the headpins that had wandered into other bins.  (I know this is Greek to most people.. imagine sorting multi-colored and vari-sized paper clips.)

During those moments when keeping my eyes open is too much of a struggle, a short powernap can rejuvenate me, whether it’s 5 or 10 or 20 minutes.  Even if I am unable to sleep, for as long as I am able to close my eyes and sit quietly in a room, my body seems to get the message that it has rested and allows me to keep going after.

We humans are creatures of habit.  Breaking our usual patterns of sleep and activity wreaks havoc on our system, but we can certainly guide our bodies to settle back down to what it had been used to.  It’s like a cold, you just have to ride it out and do what works best for you.

So much for being here

I’m griping again.  I hate neglecting this space, and yet work, motherhood and life in general always get in the way.  What can I say?  I try.

Not even having the app on my phone has helped regularize the posting, but I try to sneak in some writing whenever I can.  It is always top of mind, but translating thoughts into action don’t always happen automatically.

There is just so much that goes into blogging beyond writing that it isn’t always that easy.  You think, you write.  You try to come up with an appropriate graphic where applicable.  You edit, you write some more, then you hope you finish your post.  Then there is that sense of accomplishment when you finally see what you wrote as a live post on your corner of the web.

One of my dream jobs is to just write and write without having to worry about other things.  (Like the laundry, what to cook for dinner, and if my little guy is doing his homework.)  But writing is a luxury I have been fortunate to occasionally retire to in the midst of my everyday toil.  The good news is, I’ve started writing poetry again (yay!), and that in itself is a feat.  After more than a decade of a creative drought, the words are coming again, even if in small doses.

I have been rather busy beyond whipping up pancake breakfasts and have been up and about.  Adjustments at work, travel down under (!) complete with a layover on the way and back in Manila, and projects to be started and completed make for quite the list of future posts, but there is never enough time to write.

So I will try and restart this whole “write more regularly” bit by hitting “send” now. 

 

 

 

Weekend breakfast = “ME” time

Weekend breakfast: cheese pancakes
I’m writing this as I’m enjoying that stack of cheese pancakes I whipped up for brunch this Sunday.  I save the big breakfasts for the weekends when I have the time to actually cook one, and because I like to eat lightly during the week when I’m watching what I’m eating.  Breakfast then would be my regular iced coffee and a quarter cup of high fiber oat bran, mixed in with a third cup of warm skim milk and a dash of sweetener.  I let it sit for a few minutes to thicken and I end up with almost a half cup of my version of an oat meal breakfast.  Or I would occasionally pick up a bread pudding muffin from my favorite stop on my way up to work these days: Eli Zabar’s over at Grand Central Market.

Weekends, though, are different.  I wake up when I want to (unless my thirteen year old wakes up before me and requests for a special breakfast which is rare!  — waking up earlier and asking for a special breakfast, that is!). I would know what I was having the Friday before when I would make a “bread run” through my favorite bakeries in the city — say when I feel like whipping up some French toast (give me some real challah bread!) .. this time, I only picked up some tomatoes (craving my tomato scrambled eggs), and I knew I would have pancakes for Sunday.

Weekend breakfast: tomato scrambled eggs and iced coffee

And there are the weekends when I’m on my own, and I get to structure the whole weekend around me.  (Laundry time included.)

I love the complete pancake mixes.  (I don’t know what I would do without dear Aunt Jemima!) While I don’t mind having them as is, slathered in syrup and heavy cream, I make a fancier version by adding something along the way.  I grew up on Maya hotcake mixes, and I remember happily making pancakes for merienda (afternoon snack) for the entire family.  Of course back then, I used a carajay (our Filipino version of a wok) and had to mix the egg and water in and cook the pancakes using a touch of oil or butter.  Fast forward to now in New York where I’m a mom and after I actually discovered I could cook!  We have Aunt Jemima and our old reliable non stick pans for those gorgeous pancakes..

My favorite version is a decadent caramel pancake where I sandwiched sliced bits of caramel squares in between, or put a good layer on top and microwave to melt..  I had tried mixing in the caramel as slivers in the batter, but the caramel would melt and stick to my turner. Messy.  When you are simply adding the caramel, there is no adjustment to the recipe.  I follow the 1cup mix: 3/4cup water as prescribed by Aunt Jemima.  

It gets a little trickier when you are adding dry ingredients like shredded cheese or mashed bananas, because the consistency of the batter changes.  How much you add of your extra flavoring ingredient depends largely on how much you want to have that flavor present in your pancakes.  I go by the simple rule of thumb that if I’m adding something to flavor up my pancakes, I don’t want a hint of it, I want it present and adding oomph.

For cheese, I usually end up putting in a quarter cup to each cup of mix, and then I up the water to a full cup.  I use shredded cheese that comes in those packets and when I’m out of that, I would usually do two tablespoons of the grated Parmesan which is stronger in flavor.  Just a heads up that the cheese can add pungency to the pancakes, so sensitive noses beware!  Personally, I prefer cheese pancakes with corn syrup, and I do them with a generous bath of heavy cream.

Weekend. Real fast: cheese pancakes
Another nice addition to pancakes is bananas which will give you a banana bread-like flavor.  I mash up half a ripe banana to each cup of mix and again, up the water from 3/4 cup to 1 cup.  You want your pancakes to flow and settle on the pan and not be chunky and all clumpy.  Mashing the bananas will give you clumps, but you also need those to incorporate into the pancake mix seamlessly.  I try not to mash my bananas to too smooth a consistency because I like biting into my bananas as I eat my pancakes.  If you want only the flavor without the banana bits, then mash away to a smooth paste and watch it disappear into your batter.
Weekend breakfast: Banana pancakes
Finally, how about some red velvet pancakes?  There was a time I had left over red velvet cake which I needed to disappear quick before it started showing in my middle portion. Again, rule of thumb to add around a quarter cup of crumbled cake bits to every cup of mix, but with this one, no adjustment necessary for the water.  The cake comes moist and literally extends the batter without adding more dry ingredients that would stretch the liquid portion of the recipe. At least that’s how it worked for me.

There are so many ways to make breakfast for one a special treat to celebrate you.  We often get caught up making special meals for others that we forget we deserve the special treatment, too.  On weekends when all is quiet and I only have me to worry about, I give it the extra effort to create a special treat and take care of me.

Unofficial but officially proud

I think it was through Facebook that I first bumped into this, as related to a controversy involving the Department of Tourism in Manila and McCann-Erickson. But that has been written about to death and I don’t see any added value to weighing in, so instead I’m focusing on the good thing that came out of this brouhaha.  That controversy sparked this video which is touted as the unofficial tourism video of the Philippines.

I have watched it many times over and will keep watching it because it moves me in so many ways as a Filipino.  I will always call the Philippines my home.  Like I wrote on my FB wall:

I’ve watched this over and over again and I am always moved with pride. This is us.. this is what and who we are. When you feel disillusioned by things around you, this will remind you what we are about as a people.

If you’re a Filipino, you will understand what I mean.  If you are just someone who strayed into this space or heard about this video, let me introduce you to the land of my birth.  Hardly any words, hardly any people except for tiny specks in the bigger scenery, but all Filipino in torrents.

I cannot ever hope to capture all the emotion and thoughts it stirs up in me in writing.  But I can sum it up in one word: Wow.

So true.  More often than not, it’s harder not to fall in love with its land and its people.

It’s More Fun in the Philippines from Creatives of Manila on Vimeo.