The Art of Gift Giving

With the Christmas weekend behind us, we find ourselves finally settling down to deciding which gifts we will keep — and thanks to modern day technology which makes returns possible even without a gift receipt — which ones we will exchange for something we prefer.  Personally, I tend to stick to what I get no matter how outlandish a present I may receive.  It has always been my philosophy that the gift is as much a reflection of the person giving it as his or her regard for me — so as they always say, it’s the thought that counts.

I’m actually a very easy person to shop for — most people are aware of what my interests are (cooking, crafts, reading, music, my son, Angelo..).  I dress rather conventionally so picking out colors or styles is not that difficult a task.  While like most everyone else, I am wowed by extravagant gifts, the price and size of a gift does not matter to me as much as the thought that went into getting that present for me does.

So in giving, I hold the same philosophy.  I tend to be rather extravagant when giving gifts to my loved ones.  I try to see what that person likes, instead of what I would like to get for him or her.  At the end of the day, nothing makes me happier than to see the person receiving the present I gave smile with appreciation for the present in the box.  While budgetary constraints often make me settle for the “safer” gifts which are on the practical side, I often want to get something more personal although it would often entail a bigger expense.

Next year I hope to beat the holiday rush and start shopping for my presents as early as the middle of the year.  Correction:  I have already started shopping for Christmas 2005.  Alan and I were at IKEA last Monday shopping for a single seater lounge chair when we saw the holiday goodies on sale.  So like last year, I picked up 6 rolls of identical gold and silver giftwrappers selling at 50cents each (originally at $2.50).  Because I did the same in early 2004, for the first time in my 5 christmases here, save for the gifts for the kids, all our presents were in identical wrappers which, I think, was pretty neat.  I had actually bought gift tags from a Hallmark store but couldn’t find them in time.  (So I guess I’ll be using that in 2005.)

While “It’s the thought that counts” will do for someone like me, I guess we have to do more than just wrap our gifts with the thoughts we had in giving someone a present.  It pays to think of what would make that person happy, no matter how small a gift we want to give.  It doesn’t pay to give someone who doesn’t wear suits a tie, just because you think he doesn’t have enough ties.  If he’s the sporty type and he prefers to wear sweats, giving him a french cuff shirt might mean having your present land at the bottom of his closet floor where it will never see the light of day again.  And sometimes, the best thing to do is simply ask — because then you know what you’re giving is something the recipient wanted to get in the first place.



You've Got to be In it to Win It

We’ve all heard that famous line — “All it takes is a dollar and a dream..”  Well, dreams we have aplenty, and we know we give more than a dollar a week.  So I guess with the dollars and dreams combined, we stand a good chance of winning someday. 

My mother has been faithfully betting on 2 combinations each for the New York Lotto and the MegaLotto.  So far, she has won a couple of dollars from mini-wins.  She always waits for the results, even watching the 11PM draws the night of each lotto game, keeping her fingers crossed that her prayers will be answered and she will finally hit it big.  She summed it up ever so simply:  “He has always taken cared of me when I needed His help.”  Talk about having faith..

Games of chance such as the Lotto to me are no more than that: a game of chance.  Yet my husband and I indulge ourselves and have made plans on what to do with our winnings, whether it be the second prize pot of $175,000 for the MegaLotto, or any amount of the grand prize win. 

So what would we do?  We’d pay off our debts, and depending on whether or not we win the jackpot, we will stop working and just enjoy life with our son, Angelo.  We will make no grand announcements — just move into a house in our dream community and then invite everyone to our housewarming.  Then we will give our family their presents and share in our winnings, and treat our friends to a shower of presents as well.  We would choose the charities to benefit from our windfall, and then we will go on with our lives as before.

It seems such a simple plan but the trickiest part is really landing the prize.  “You’ve got to be in it to win it,” they said — well, I’ve got my dollar and I’m definitely in it.

Remembering a Pregnant Christmas (2003)

Last Saturday, Alan and I attended his company christmas party — where else but at his hotel. I kept hearing his colleagues say that they remember how I came to last year’s party very pregnant.  I was but four months pregnant then but had started to distinctively show.  I have a picture where I was holding my belly beside one of their christmas trees.  I was still small enough to get away with not wearing maternity clothes.

I cannot believe it’s been a year since.. now I have a seven month old bundle of joy sleeping next to me each night.  Sometimes I still remember the difficulty of sleeping through the night, most specially towards the end of my pregnancy when just shifting from one side to the other was such a struggle.

Last year was a special christmas because I knew I had a life growing inside of me.  This year is even more special because now that life breathes and squeals with delight each time I throw a smile across his way.  It’s as if he knows he’s loved a hundredfold and more — with a love that grows with each passing day he and I face.

It's a Matter of Style

I came into this marraige knowing my better half came with a stepson. He was 10 years old when I arrived and is now 14. Up until 3 weeks ago when he moved in with us, he was with us during weekends and holidays only but had lived with his mom. I have seen him grow from an Old Navy kind of kid to his current phase of wanting everything oversized in ECCO, Phat Pharm, and “give me everything branded” which included the choice accessory of the moment: an IPOD. (No, Alan and I didn’t cough it up — my sister in law and brother in law gave it to him as a christmas present last year. We opted to give the $180 cellphone despite my vehement objection given the price of the cellphone and the age of the boy.)

He is basically an all-American boy. He understands a little but does not speak Filipino. He actually asked us once if he was American, as in, Caucasian, to which we amusedly remarked “No, you’re Filipino American”. He is surrounded by a good mix of kids of similarly mixed ethnic backgrounds — but they share the same language, thought stream, fashion sense, and to a point, attitude.

I have seen a myriad of fashion statements even among the grown ups in this great city. It is even more complex among the youth, particularly the teen agers. I am not pretending to be a fashionista nor an authority on this subject matter. I am just relating my observations about the matter.

I have always believed that fashion is defined by one’s individuality. Given the diversity of the population and the ethnic backgrounds of people in New York, that can mean a hundred thousand fashion statements embodied by the children in any high school. The teenager in the house has his own fashion sense. By way of respect for his individuality, his Dad and I have often given each other a knowing look telling each other “Don’t say a word” and then we take a deep breath and just ignore the way he has dressed. He gives me the sense he wants to look like an African-American hip hopper. Perhaps I am out of touch with what is in, but I have seen other teen agers both African American and otherwise dressed in a different manner be it in the malls or in the subways on their way to school. For all I know, they have a different fashion sense altogether downtown where he goes to high school.

I am tempted to give some constructive suggestions but I am prevented by an emotional conversation where he said my correcting him meant I was trying to change him. My intention was only to give constructive criticism, telling him his shirt was faded and he had other shirts he could wear, or perhaps that he had already outgrown his favorite shirt and I didn’t want his Aunt and Uncle to start snickering again about how he looked funny wearing it. Or that he could leave a button or two open when he wears his collared shirt or a polo shirt not just because I was afraid he would choke but because only geeks wore their shirts that way — of course, minus the reference to the geeks.

So these days, I try to ignore the bandana he wears on his head under his baseball cap. I tried to ignore the stares of the people one time we went to Montauk up north and dined in a restaurant where the conservative folk probably thought we were from some seedy part of the city. Am I being mean? I think not. I grew up being told there was a proper way of dress given the occasion and place. Perhaps it’s a matter of style — but style is something you acquire not just to establish your individuality, but as a channel of expressing yourself given your place in society.

The teenager says he doesn’t care what other people think. I applaud him for his integrity as far as his choices are concerned. But I wish he would also learn that sometimes, one needs to conform without sacrificing one’s identity or principles. We just really wish he’d dress up more conventionally. I guess it is a stigma of youth — and hopefully, just a phase. Who knows? Next summer might find him donning argyle sweaters with the preppy trend creeping back. Or perhaps he might want to be a rocker instead of a hip hopper. And at the end of the day, outlandish or dapper, Alan and I will grin and bear it — it’s just a matter of style.

The Colors of Autumn

Alan and I were in California over the weekend — our first ever vacation without Angel in tow.  It wasn’t an easy one in terms of missing our little tyke, but we both appreciated the time alone which has been difficult to find since Angel came along.

Besides the usual bunch of photos we took, I tried to capture the essence of Autumn through some random pictures I am posting here.  Where did Autumn go?  Here in New York, most of the trees are now bare.  I tried to capture the essence of Autumn by collecting leaves for Angel’s first autumn scrapbook.  I managed to get a few but fell short of what I had hoped to collect.  It was much easier when I could take a leisurely stroll through the leaf-strewn streets as Fall came and went my first Autumn here.

There is a beauty in the brightening of colors in the landscape as winter rears its head. It’s a constant reminder of change as we live each day.  It’s a mark of the passing of time, and how we cannot hold to it try as we might.

But I do not see the sadness of bare trees — I see the promise of spring up ahead after the winter passes.

A Weekend in California away from Angel

I have an unrefundable ticket I meant to use on a trip to Paris but which, due to lack of time to procure the appropriate visa, had to be postponed.  Since Alan was heading to Los Angeles a month later (which was this previous week), we thought we’d take our first ever holiday away from our bundle of joy, now 7 month old Angel.

I thought it would be a breeze because I have my mother at home doting and taking care of her grandson.  I was wrong..

I was scheduled to fly out Thursday afternoon because I had hoped to minimize my time away from the office, hoping to go to work and just leave at around 2PM to make it to the airport in time for my 4PM flight.  The Wednesday before I was beginning to have cold feet and rethinking the idea of going on a 3-night vacation away from this little tyke.  I was actually seriously considering calling American Airlines and inquiring about how I could get him on the flight manifest, since I knew I didn’t need a ticket for him being that he was just an infant.  Then again I thought about lugging his basket, the stroller and half the house with all his stuff — I was overwhelmed by the herculean task of uprooting him for the same length of time I was afraid to be away from him, and I guess I just gave up.

The night before I didn’t want to let go of him and kept assuring him I will be back soon.  Later on I realized I was reassuring myself more than him.. he didn’t really care I guess, except that he would wonder why he was sleeping in his grandma’s bed instead of our huge bed, sandwiched between his Dad and I.

The morning of my flight we played a lot.. I postponed last minute errands to just before I had to leave so that I would have an excuse to pry myself away.  When it was time to go, he was fussing and the car service had already called.. my mom was busy caring for him and I just upped and left afraid to pick him up again and delay and miss my flight altogether. 

I survived the past 2 nights.. one more night and I’ll be home.  Alan’s and my conversations are punctuated with references to him.  I went into a Ralph’s supermarket here to grab a few things and came out carrying a small stuffed cat for him.  Every time we call to check up on him and grandma, his grandma gives him the phone and he lights up and starts cooing back.  I guess he’s figured out that I’m not inside the contraption, because I’ve seen him start getting googly-eyed whenever I did that with his Dad on the other end of the line.

I just find it so amazing that at 7 months, he has me wrapped around his little finger and he can actually commmunicate with us in his primitive yet obvious way.  I cannot wait til he can actually speak and ask his thousand questions and give his nonsensical comments about things.  I miss my baby.. can’t wait to get home tomorrow.

Reaching Out Across the Miles

Yesterday I received a return e-mail from MY SOLDIER giving me a contact person to whom I am to send my first correspondence and any care package I can put together for my adopted soldier.  It was a long e-mail thanking me for my interest and giving guidelines about what to do, what to expect and what I can send. 

The first letter was to be addressed “Dear Soldier” if not “Dear Friend”.  A response was not guaranteed, but was encouraged by sending some blank stationery, a pen, and an addressed envelope.  The recipient would be someone stationed at a hardship post — and that can be Iraq, Africa, Korea or Afghanistan.  Wherever my letter lands, I know I wouldn’t want to be in their place, in the situation they are in.  I have no idea whether or not “my soldier” would be a man or a woman, only that they serve under the American Flag.

I am busy preparing for the holidays and I can only imagine what kind of a holiday they are anticipating to have given their situation.  We worry about decorations and banquets, dressing up for the office Christmas party, getting presents for the friends and family on our list.  Yet we don’t know how it is to worry for our safety as we try to be brave for the people we left behind. 

I picked up some Wet Ones travel packs and some mint gum at Target this afternoon.  I am going to pack a roll of soft toilet paper.  (Soft was specified, given that military issue must be coarse and a little rough on the skin.. so I’m taking a roll from the supply at thome.)  I’ll probably get some Trail mix, some beef jerky (if I can find some), and I’m trying to find a suitable size of sanitizer or no-water hand soap.  I would have loved to add some disposable razor but I don’t know if I ought to buy for a man or a woman.  (Makes me wonder if the women find any use for disposable razors given that they are always wearing pants.) 

It is advised that the packages be kept below 5 lbs so that they can be shipped easily, and so that the recipient won’t have difficulty lugging them around. 

I wrote a first draft but I’m not quite happy with what I wrote.  How do you convey support without sounding overly dramatic and cheesy?  And at the back of my head, I wonder in what kind of shape my new friend will be when he or she opens my package.

I pray he or she be well.. and that whatever I send brings a smile to his or her face.  I pray that they have a semblance of the holidays wherever they may be.

Watching an Angel as he Sleeps

My son, Angelo, turns 7 months tomorrow.. everyone says he looks more like a one-year-old than the 7 month old baby he is.  When he starts interacting with the people who talk to him, it is lost on us that he is but a baby.  You actually see a person behind the eyes aglow and that bewitching smile. 

I have high hopes for Angel but it is too early to put my bets down.  Every day, I pray that he remain healthy.  I pray that he has a giving heart like his mom and dad, and the generations before us.  I pray that he be gentle and kind.. I hope that I can nurture him to be loving of people in general..

I remember someone used to remind me that we can only give that which we have, so I will give him the love to shower others in return.  I will give him an abundance of hope to help him prevail through life’s challenges.  I will let him know I believe in him so that he will have the confidence to keep trying. 

So when he looks at me with that beautiful smile of his, I whisper I love you and hold him tighter.. I know that if he knows he is loved by all those around him, he will grow up to be a happy and content man in time.  And hopefully when he has his own children to hold, he will also be able to give the love we gave to him as a child.

I have always been good “learning” things through books, magazines, research and actual demonstration.  Always a believer that anything can be learned, I even discovered I could cook well after I decided I needed to learn as a matter of survival.  But parenting is something that cannot be simply picked up from an expert — every child is unique in his own way, and at the same time, every parent is unique as well.  One thing I know is that I picked up the loving and caring from my parents — who, while they may not be perfect, tried their darnedest to be the best parents they could be to my siblings and me.



It's one of those days..

There are just days when Murphy’s Law seems to be asserting itself right and left.  Yes, if anything can go wrong, it will go wrong.  Today has been one of those days when you think pulling the plug and just disappearing is such an easy way out.  Wouldn’t it be convenient to be able to just disappear into an invisible bubble at the flick of a switch?  There are days when I wish I could freeze time and go about my business as the rest of the world is frozen in suspended animation.

I woke up with my tonsils screaming but Fisherman’s Friend was my friend today.  I managed to hang on to my rain hat and my umbrella through the wind and rain during the morning’s commute, and I safely got to work although I was a tad bit late.  I had difficulty talking and answering the phone, and for a time, I couldn’t hear quite well because of the congestion in my head.  I seriously considered asking to leave for home early, but I didn’t want to waste a personal day on a whim, being that the company I work for doesn’t have sick days — just vacation days.

The boss, for some reason or other, was short on patience.  Being on the front line, I naturally got a bigger than normal slice of the fall out from her frustration about whatever it is that’s eating her up, and I find myself wondering if I ought to start rehashing my resume.  It’s 5:13 and I wish I could scoot out of here quickly to do the errand I had hoped to do yesterday.  I am half an hour away from some place I have to be in before 6PM. 

Being that I couldn’t do much besides gripe and bite my nails here, I decided to just write the grief away and maybe successfully extricate myself from this crazy day here at the office.  Shall I flick the switch and disappear?