Thankful

Sometimes colors just come together in an unexpected way at the moment you least expect it in the most unusual place.  #mynyc #mynewyork @onmywaytowork #manhattanskyline #ontheLIEWhen we were children, our parents always admonished us to say “Thank You” and “Please”.  Even now, I do the same to my 10-year-old.  And yet when you look at how we go about our day, there are many things that we don’t say “Thank you” for.  There are a lot of people we don’t get to say “Thank you” to. Sometimes, we crave to hear a simple word of appreciation and we get nary a thanks, when that would have made a world of difference.

This got me thinking the last couple of days and I’m deep into a “Thank You” project.  It’s still in the works so let me leave it at that.  I just find it to be one of those little acts of kindness that can literally mean so much and change the world.

Call it a means of paying forward the blessings I have and continue to be blessed with.  When the challenges seem to be piling up, the best remedy I have come to discover, is actually LITERALLY counting your blessings.  There is so much that we should be thankful for.  And yet as we go about our day, there is so much — and there are so many people — who go unappreciated.  More often than not, we do acknowledge the significance of whatever it is we ought to be thankful for, but we don’t always say it or express our appreciation outright.  How great would it be for someone to send us an unexpected “Thank you”!

I’m pulling together such a project, and I’ll write more about it when I have it in place.

My Thursday feels more like a Friday because of the Fourth of July weekend.  I am actually looking forward to recharging and getting things done — even if we’re not really going anywhere special.  I am also trying to do my Fourth of July weekend differently this year, because the past years have been non-events or days I would rather forget.  So between trying to make ‘new memories’ and trying to forget the bad, I’m trying to focus on other things.  (Like my “Thank You” project.)  Plus, Mother Nature has been pounding us with rain and pummelling us with nasty winds.

Last year was nice because my BFF Donna from Australia was in town.  And yet so many things happened, half of which I didn’t come to find out about until much later, which makes it one of the holidays I am not looking forward to.  So I try and count the positive — trying to keep my outlook bright and praying for the resolve not to give in to negativity.

If you ask me, I’d just like to be by some poolside or beach, sitting in the shade (I am not a sun lover), sipping a cocktail or two, and sleeping the day away.  It’s not even 11pm and I am already raring to hit the sack, so to speak.  Soon.

Still I wish you all a Happy Fourth of July — this great nation is celebrating it’s birthday and toasting the freedom we enjoy today.

Happy thought from Millet's wall

Another gem of a quote I picked up from my high school friend, Millet’s wall on FB today.  Posting it here for when I can add it to the happiness journal.

“In daily life we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful,but gratefulness that makes us happy.”

~ David Steindl Rast

I haven’t really had the chance to work on any of my journalling of late, but I have a plan in my head to create a page-to-page film clip about the progress of my altered book.  The only chance I’ve had to work on it was to repair a portion that opened up again, and tonight, I will try and paint another spread.  I’ve just been caught up with all the holiday preparations for Thanksgiving but I’m going to catch up soon.

Pecan Pie.. maybe next year

So Thanksgiving is officially over and we must now get busy preparing for the next big holiday — which, at least as far as my family and I are concerned happens to be Christmas. Funny that I should be writing about this exactly a month to the date.

My four-day weekend went rather well.  Quiet, eventful (meaning I accomplished a lot), but allow me to skip the “What I am Thankful” boiler plate post.  While I had done this in previous years, I am now taking on the mantra that we should be thankful all year round — and not more thankful on certain occasions than most.  Thanksgiving, after all, with all its trimmings, is a pagan holiday.  It is perhaps one of the only holiday besides the Fourth of July which is celebrated across all religions and races in this great country.  I do wish to declare that my next big project for Thanksgiving 2013 is to be able to bake Pecan Pie from scratch.  An absolute favorite of mine, I am trying to sparingly dive into a delicious full-sized pie delivered to me by FreshDirect today along with the rest of my groceries.  (Tip: Their Thanksgiving related goodies are all 50% off.  Grab your pie now!)

My signature leche flan gets better with each year, although I need to nail down the exact number of multipliers I need to do to produce enough llaneras of my famed flan.  I follow Nora Daza’s recipe with a slight twist, replacing the last cup of condensed milk with a cup of evaporated milk, and more lime zest than she recommends.  I actually went down to the city on Wednesday to drop off some with my former Millie, a Cuban by birth who swears by my flans as to-die-for.  Plus I had to get the usual haircut since my hair was literally getting all frumpy and out of control.

I also cooked the leche flan a while longer than usual to toast the top, and while I had hoped to make some calamansi ice cream (experimenting with some vanilla ice cream flavored by honey calamansi concentrate), I was too exhausted by the time I got on the bus for the trip home to stop by the grocery to pick up the pint of ice cream I had planned to get.  (Next time..)

I cooked through Thanksgiving preparing my usual Foolproof Standing Rib Roast courtesy of Paula Deen — never fails!  The great thing was that Angelo insisted and cooked the Apple Sausage stuffing I did from scratch which resulted in semi-cooked onions and a slight burn or two which my young chef took in stride.  Steamed veggies, potatoes au gratin (just the boxed variety) plus my macaroni salad and we were all set.  The wine was a perfect pairing to the beef and we sat down to have our feast.

The highlight of my weekend, though, was the trip into the city with my little guy on Black Friday.

He obliged me with my stop at Victoria’s Secret  on 34th street (free tote with qualifying purchase.. I couldn’t let THAT go by!) and then we walked to the Toys R’Us flagship store on Broadway and 44th in Times Square.  We spent a good hour or so there as he browsed the racks of action figures, and the unbelievable deals.   By the time we walked out, we were carrying a huge bag thanks to a two-box set at a total bargain price of $20 (and each box was priced regularly at between $30-40 each) — but my office was just a short walk away.  We deposited our things there and headed for our usual date at McDonald’s for lunch, but only because STK Out was closed.  I was looking forward to having Angelo sample their savory burger and absolutely heavenly truffle cheese fries — but that it was closed wasn’t a complete surprise considering half the city was on holiday.  (Well, the other half went to work like those working in the service industry like Alan.)

The Empire State BuildingFrom the office on 42nd, we walked to 36th, and then Angelo said, “It’s too early to go home.  I want to do something fun.”  We went back to Bryant Park 42nd and walked around to check out the Holiday Shops at Bryant Park.  There’s also the skating rink at Citi Pond (the ice skating rink running through to March 3 next year),  and while I knew he was itching to try and skate, I wasn’t.  I told him we’d have to wait for when his Dad was available to go with him because he wouldn’t be able to catch me if I fell.  My personal choice is to stay by the sidelines and watch and click away.  Besides, there was  a long line of would-be renters.  Entrance to the pond is free you’re okay if you have your own skates, or you can rent from the organizers.  There are also coaches available for those who want to learn (although I don’t know if coaching is for a fee), and a portion of the pond towards the center is cordoned off for younger and novice skaters.  The rink moves in a single direction and is policed by skate guards.  (What else?)

It was midday and I was really (for once) hoping he would tire of walking and tell me he wanted to go home.  Instead, he came up with the bright idea of heading out to Central Park.  “I haven’t been there for so long!” — and while I was afraid he’d give in to fatigue before we could head back to the bus stop to take the ride home, I thought the worst thing that could happen was I’d have to grab a cab.  So off we went.  Took the M7 up to the 80s and then walked.  And walked.  And walked.

My feet were ready to give in before the tyke’s, but I wasn’t about to be cowed.  He wanted to climb EVERY rock we came across, and it took some stern warnings to prevent him from walking up the taller and seemingly more steeply inclined rock formations — but I felt like I had to let him go and do it.   More so when we got to the Gill in the Ramble, a mini-forest in the forest that is Central Park.  We had been looking for the Conservatory Water hoping to rent a remote-controlled model sailboat, but alas I figured out on the way home we were on the wrong side of the park.  (I have always been more familiar with the attractions on the West Side than the far side.)

Where the stream flows through: Central Park, The Gill

We must’ve gone into three playgrounds in all as we went walking through the various areas, climbed atop a dozen rock formations, but we spent the longest time in this meandering rock formation with an actual flowing stream.  There were many children here when we arrived so I felt it was safe to let him go up.  Plus one of the Dads was actually going up and down — playing along with kids who were Angelo’s age as they went through their bit of forest in this concrete jungle.  And when everyone else had left, my boy begged me to stay a while longer, even trading it for the quest to find the rent-a-remote-controlled-model-sailboat portion of the park.  So I relented.

The view was magical.  They had stone benches at the foot of the stream as it joined the lake, and while I tried not to take my eyes off Angelo as he walked up and down the rocks holding a twig in one hand, I couldn’t help but be captivated by the view below.

The view from the Gill as the sun begins to set

By the time he agreed to leave, I was running after the last vestiges of light as the sun began to set.  The tricky thing being that the sun can run down and disappear on certain days, and there we were in the midst of a the Ramble.. The lights hadn’t turned on yet, but for all the boasting about the safety of NYC and its parks these days, there are still those one-off incidents when someone bumps into some bad luck, and I wasn’t about to risk that with an 8-year-old in tow.

We walked again and climbed more rocks and took more beautiful pictures.

Central Park as the sun was setting

The boy was exhausted but beaming, and still begging to stay.  Even when the sun was already in the horizon, ready to bid the city goodnight, and the lamp posts of Central Park turned on in unison.

My boy amazed by the rocks of Central Park

It was well worth all the walking and the time in the cold.  This on a day when I decided to forego the leggings under the jeans thinking I wasn’t going to stay outdoors long anyway.  Lesson learned: never brave the cold under-dressed.

I finally get to chalk off one of my “to-dos” on my list — Central Park, and I actually intend to go back, hopefully before the last hints of fall disappears into winter.  I am sure Angelo will insist on going with me.  There aren’t many opportunities to do this — but I have promised to bring him back to Central Park in the spring.

It was a most heartwarming date with my little guy.  He’s grown so much.  I could see the priceless smile on his face — I felt like a real rock star in his eyes.  I wanted to write there and then — to capture the moment in words.  But that would’ve distracted me from enjoying watching him figure out ways and means to go up and down the rocks.. and see him flash me a smile every now and then.  So I folded my arms and hugged myself, tucked my scarf as high up my neck as I could, and I didn’t let the cold get to me.

He napped on the bus ride from the park to my street Midtown.  By the time we got off to grab what we had left in the office, he was re-energized.  I got some treats from the shops in the park and he tried some Kettle Corn NYC, then we hopped on the bus home.  I hugged him close to me as he dozed off again.. smiling.

It was, indeed, a happy, happy Thanksgiving.

Some "Happy" from Friends and Journaling

I have a “love-hate” relationship with Facebook these days.  I am hardly there, and when I do log in, I pop in and go out quicker than quick.  I browse the updates which isn’t much considering that I now have a few hundred friends (which isn’t so cool when you look at how the feeds go), so I am seriously considering trimming down that friend list.  I’m sure a lot of people also don’t appreciate getting nonsensical updates from me.  I wouldn’t be too surprised to find out that many of them have unsubscribed from my feeds, although there isn’t much going on on my own page.

From time to time, I do come across some gems, like today, I picked this quote up from a friend, co-paulinian and colleague of my sister at work,  Edlynn.  I had to go back and grab the line, post it here, and will be putting it in my happiness journal at a later time.

“The secret of happiness is: Find something more important than you are and dedicate your life to it.” — Dan Dennett

And I got a pleasant surprise when BFF Pia K popped out on the chat — which was quite serendipitous by itself.  (As you can see, I’m still hooked on “serendipity” as I am continuing to work on my Artist Trading Card Mega Swap.)

Pia and I have known each other since the second grade, which is 39 years worth of the Pinay New Yorker on this earth.  I’ve written about it here a while back that we used to be mistaken for sisters back in grade school.  We went to the same high school and landed together most of our four years with the nuns — I think we managed to do it for 3 of 4.  She went to the other branch of the same University I went to and we completely lost touch.  We sort of “got back together” the last 4-5 years which was literally thanks to the post offices on both sides of the world.  And for that, I am eternally grateful to every mailman I see.  Our friendship, you see, was rekindled and kept alive by snail mail.  And I am still trying.

Though I don’t write her quite as often, I continue to try.   Despite the technology all around us, I still believe that the written word on hard copy carries a different kind of magic all its own.

So we had a good chat about how age makes you wake up at odd hours, and how, even if you crave sleep, you end up doing so little of it. (I told her it was age.)  We talked about our kids — which, we agreed, was one of the best accomplishments we can claim in our lifetime.  (Unfortunately, Pia beats me with 4 of her own against my unico hijo.)  And we traded light banter and then FB conked out on us and I had to go back to work.

Somewhere there, though, we talked about journaling.

I told her to just write whatever, whenever.  Journaling should be spontaneous.  The first thought, the first word, the feeling that comes to mind at that very moment.  That is the essence of capturing the moment in words just as you would want to do it with a picture.  I thought I’d come up with some journaling prompts for Pia as she starts this new journey.

1. There’s always a sticky, a tape receipt, a paper napkin handy where you can scribble the date, the time and place, and even a single word like “Thanks.”

2. Think of a happy memory.  Start with “Remember the time…”

3. Grab some words of wisdom.  They might not be your own, but the thought of wanting to share it with someone you love or care for makes it your gift.

4. Cut up a picture, or even a magazine ad or article that reminds you of something or someone and paste it onto the journal.

5. Even a simple “I love you” can fill a whole page with feelings.

Good luck on this new journey, P.  I have always believed you were a great writer — I have always worked hard to catch up with you but have never quite caught up.. =)   Take care, my dearest friend.

Serendipity

Serendipity Background 7: Skeleton Leaves and dried white flowers alternating with bits of woven cinnamay 2 (Upclose)

I am currently working on a serendipity background which is essentially a huge piece that one puts together with the intention of cutting up the original into smaller usable pieces.  So for Artist Trading Cards which measure 3.5″ x 2.5″, you essentially create one artwork to break up into the smaller cards.  I am working on two of my first ones, and the one pictured above is what I will use for the swap.  As I write this, I’m working on a tandem post in my craft blog, GothamChick.com, which should be up before the weekend is done.

So you see a snapshot of but a portion of the serendipity background which measures 12″ x 12″ above.  I had some pressed rose petals that came in handy, some dyed skeleton leaves and woven cinnamay if not abaca fiber.  The white flowers were bought here in the US already.  I’m all excited.

According to Wikipedia,  “Serendipity means a “happy accident” or “pleasant surprise”; specifically, the accident of finding something good or useful while not specifically searching for it.”  So we’re looking for whatever “happy” or “pleasant surprise” this layering of materials will produce.

We come across a lot of happy accidents on a day-to-day basis which we often only realize upon reflection at a later point in time.  And sadly, not all happy accidents end up being happy once all is said and done.  Sometimes, the universe just plays a mean joke on us and we find ourselves just plain surprised — not “pleasantly.”

I’d like to find more $5 or $10 bills tucked into my coat pocket but wouldn’t want to have to spend that to pay for some unplanned expense.  It just seems that often, the happy ends up being pulled down by something in the opposite direction.

I’ve grown cynical about the upside of things in life in general.  We often find ourselves growing wary of letting ourselves get carried away with what might, at first glance, appear to be an abundance of good fortune.  At the back of our minds, we wonder what price it will exact from us.  Perhaps it’s just age getting the better of me.

The past weeks have been very challenging for the communities and states around me.  I will say it again, I have been blessed.  We have always been fortunate where we live.  No matter how much snow falls, we have managed to stay warm and toasty in our home.

I am touched, though, at the outpouring of notes, text messages and e-mails from friends who asked about how we were doing.  I know the prayers for our safety reached the heavens because we fared pretty well.  I am no longer surprised at how the threat to life and limb can make even those most determined to stay invisible crawl out of the woodwork and reappear.  It is heartening to note that through it all, my well-being still matters somehow to so many others and it’s not because I owe them any sum of money that they are afraid will end up not getting paid if anything untoward happens to me.. HA!

So other than trying to hurry through walking under the huge trees lining our streets on the way home and praying that I don’t find myself under a fallen branch or worse, an uprooted tree, or that I don’t slip in the ice in my Helix-like snow boots, I can take the cold as it stings my face.  It’s hard to answer the queries beyond “We survived unscathed.”  I get a little emotional knowing that many are still suffering even if we have barely gone into winter.

I have to admit that I often ask myself what I’m doing in a place that can be so brutally cold in the winter, cursing  under my steaming breath, as I walk briskly home.  Then I open the door and Angelo greets me from the top of the stairs, walking down to kiss me, giving me a hug and checking out what I might have brought home for him.  (Usually more for the latter.. ha!)  And I’m literally warm all over — even if he suddenly gets me all riled up because of unfinished homework or a mess of toys that greet me as I walk up to the living room.

That one is not serendipitous.  It is a given– a true blessing — in my life.

Bob Carlisle sings it beautifully in Butterfly Kisses: “Oh with all that I’ve done wrong / I must have done something right/ To deserve a hug every mornin’ / And butterfly kisses at night.”

We have our usual Friday evening date tonight, and he’s still thinking about what he wants for dinner.  I told the boy to call me at 5pm so I can get it on the way home.  We’d normally sit shoulder to shoulder watching something in the living room, but our cable box is still out of commission, so we’ll probably sit side by side holding a tablet each, watching our own shows separately.  =)  (The cable service works when streaming on the iPad, but not through the cable box.  Go figure.)

Happy Friday indeed.

Just a little extra effort please

(Post drafted while on the bus home the previous night.)

I’m on my way home quite a bit before I usually do.  Parent-Teacher welcome tonight.

I rushed to the bus stop and actually caught a bus that had just closed its door but was still waiting for the light to go from red to green.  I knew he saw me running to his side, and I gently tapped on the door, but he ignored me.  I took a deep breath, stepped back and decided not to get all upset by it.  No sense in getting all riled up over something I couldn’t do anything about.  It’s just sad that sometimes, people don’t want to make nice.  So I waited for the next bus.

(Unbelievably, the heat is on in the bus.. airconditioning please!… looks like the driver heard me — cool air… finally!)

I have to admit I’m not always successful in going the extra mile when needed.  You know how sometimes you just don’t have the energy to expend the effort to wait a second more?  Or to bend down and pick up something?  Or when you rush past by when you could’ve slowed down a little… more so in years past.  These days, I try to give it a little more effort.  It’s often the little things that count in the course of your day.  And we find ourselves simply shrugging our shoulders and smiling when others don’t make the effort themselves.  I’d like to think that my giving it the effort will create some ripple effect.  Somewhere along the way, I’d like to believe I would’ve helped to make this world a kinder and better place.

Again, I am not always that successful.  Sometimes I give in to some evil thoughts lurking in my head about spreading chaos and cursing my (perceived) enemies or going on a monologue in my head just unloading what’s in my heart.  I try to stop myself when that happens because sometimes, it really gets to me.  It makes my heart tighten up and I get “distracted” and “derailed”.  And the feeling of my anger at myself creeps up from nowhere — and that makes me want to reach for my “happiness journal” for relief.

“Focus on the happy.”  I repeat that to myself over and over and over again.  And there are many things to be happy about. =)  (That thought literally made me smile.)

It just takes a little extra effort.  It doesn’t cost anything.

Scraps and My "Happiness" Journal: A Happy Life

I hate throwing away paper.  In fact I’ve been rather careful saving the bits and pieces of My Altered Book (a.k.a. My Happiness Journal) that I’ve been cutting out.  They might come in handy for “repairs” or do-overs, or I might need them for a totally unrelated layout.  Paper is paper.  When I like working with a certain “surface” or texture, I will save even the cut-outs.

I have painted flowers on such scrap papers with watercolor, drawn and defined them with a sign pen and then cut them out.  The idea is to use these flowers (most of them cartoon-like and whimsical) as embellishments for the “happy” pages of my book.  While I was doing these flowers, I was rather pleased with the way they came out and I am seriously thinking of doing a video of how I produced these embellishments.  Nothing so out of the ordinary, but rather a video for non-artists like myself to show that hey, we CAN do this, too, even if we don’t have the skill and talent of those artists whose works and layouts we drool over.

I even finished a card that is now on its way to my dear, dear friend P.  Watercolor background, and a collage of layered watercolored flowers.

Hand-painted card for P

One thing I’ve learned is that it helps to browse these great pages and look at the beautiful layouts of the real artists for inspiration.  While I cannot duplicate nor equal those masterpieces, they show me what colors I can look at working with, what styles I can try — and then render them in my own way, crude as it may be.  I try not to pressure myself about producing masterpieces — I just have fun.  (I know, it’s so cliche and sounds so “American Idol” like. LOL)  And I AM having fun.  Seeing my book progressing and the layouts taking shape one by one is very fulfilling, and that by itself helps to bring a smile to my face.

The Happiness Journal is a good way to force one’s self to look for optimism.  I end up browsing at least once a day for a happy or happiness quote I can add, and when I find one, I scribble it down or work on a layout that will represent it in my happy book.  At the end of the day, you find yourself remembering those positive thoughts and it actually stays with you.  No matter what happens that upsets that positive energy as your day unfolds, or when something allows frustration to creep into your heart, the “happy” exercise stays.  And at the end of the day, there is that time when I browse the pages yet again.  Even if it’s to paint another page a special color and do a certain layout, or just so I can see if the pages are holding up, the happy vibe stays with me.

I haven’t had the chance to do much today except “retouch” a few things I’ve already put in, and stamp one layout with a floral border.  I brought home a word art “block” I rendered in Microsoft Word with very elementary word art and I want to slap it on to one of the pages to get the journaling going.  Perhaps before the night is over.

Bits and pieces.

The pages are a work in progress simultaneously.  I am even skipping a whole set of pages to work on another layout first.  I have groups of pages all relating to one layout, and yet in those pages, you will find different entries.  (Eventually, that is.)  Time to sleep…