Thursday, December 25, 2008


The angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord."

Luke 2:10–11

May this blessed day fill your hearts with love and peace.
Happy Christmas!

Adoration of the Shepherds
Domenico Ghirlandaio, Florentine, 1449–1494
Image from the Web Gallery of Art

Monday, December 8, 2008

O Tannenbaum

Or, The Making of a Christmas Tree

One note before I begin: all Christmas trees here in the Philippines are synthetic. No fir trees. There are pine trees in certain places but they're huge and left to grow freely—no pine tree farms. So, synthetic it is.

The tree we have right now comes in three sections. Except for the main trunk, all the branches are flexible—a boon when storing the tree because they can be bent close to the trunk. It's five feet tall and I place it on a round side table both to make it look taller and also just to make sure that our dog doesn't decide to 'mark' it as part of his territory.

The bare, synthetic tree.

After it's set up, the first thing I put on the tree is the star topper. It has lights and needs to be plugged into the first string of lights. The cable's too long and I have to loop it several times around the top and make sure the plug ends where I want the lights to begin. The plug's white too, which is irritating. I nestle the plugs on the joints of branches and the trunk so they're more secure.

The star tree-topper. That white plug has to be covered up later. Notice the mess of light strings—sure looks awful up close.

Then comes the most tedious part of the process: the strings of light. Just looping the strings around the tree creates line patterns which I don't like. So I use the 'in-and-out' technique, using green twist-ties to anchor the string where needed. This technique ensures that there are lights on the tips and the inner sections of the branches. It's tiring though. This five-footer uses four 100-bulb strings. So I don't waste time and energy, I test each string out of the box. When I plug a new string into the previous string, I test it again. When I'm done placing the string on the branches, I test it a third time. Have you ever experienced stringing lights on a tree just to find out when you're done that they don't work? It's enough to make a Grinch out of anyone.

A note about the lights: the Philippines is a big importer of very inexpensive lights made in China. I stopped using them several years ago for many reasons, which all boil down to the fact that the quality is terrible. The brand I use is quadruple the price but I don't get scratches from poorly molded plastic and even after being turned on for several hours, I don't feel heat from the bulbs. Oh, and I only use steady, clear lights. No colors, no movement, no music.

The final light test. I adjusted some of the branches after this shot to fill in those holes.

After a break to rest my poor triceps, I begin the fun part: the ornaments. I always use a very limited color palette and most of our ornaments are very simple too. Much as I love the many designs available in the market, I avoid ornaments that are easy to crush (and therefore difficult to store) or those that can rot (like our native ornaments made of twigs, rattan, abaca and other natural materials). I have silver, white, clear, red and gold ornaments in storage. Last year's tree was all gold and I didn't feel like having a white Christmas, so I decided on red and gold.

What our ornaments lack in shape, they make up for in texture. There's matte, shiny and glittery.

The problem with using mostly ornaments on strings is that the tops of some branches can look bare. This happens when the ornaments hanging from the branch above don't quite reach the branch below. For those bald spots, I have silk flowers on plastic stems which I just lay down on the branch.

Et voilà!

The unlit Christmas tree on the round table. The tree skirt will hide the stand, the switch of the extension cord and the table.

Hmmm… some of those branches need more adjusting. But all in all, I'm satisfied with this year's Christmas tree.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Squeak, squeak, squeak

Help! How can I get rid of the squeaking of leather shoes with rubber soles? It's so embarrassing! Especially when I'm walking across a quiet room full of people working.

Sigh. Maybe it was an instance like this that inspired Marc Jacobs.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Creating hope

I just learned about World Challenge this morning and I've just spent quite some time reading through almost their entire website. If you are despairing of the world, your government or your circumstances, then I suggest you spend some time there too. The stories are uplifting but I also found them personally challenging. There are so many ways to make a difference—and what am I doing?

While you're there, and if you read about all the projects, please vote for the one you like best. This is a competition and the winner will receive US$20,000 to plow back into the project. That's a lot. Voting will end on Sunday, November 22. I've summarized the twelve finalists below—a teaser to encourage you to go to the site.

All images and information are from the World Challenge website.

World Challenge 2008
A global competition aimed at finding projects or small businesses from around the world that have shown enterprise and innovation at a grass roots level.

Keystone Foundation
Keeping the ancient and sustainable tradition of the Adivasi people of Southern India, who collect honey from wild bee colonies on cliffs, alive by creating markets for wild honey

The Leakey Collection
Gives Maasai women a sustainable income, making jewelry from an abundant native grass, without interrupting their traditional way of life

Hashoo Foundation
Processes, packages and sells the honey of women beekeepers in Gilgit, one of the poorest and most isolated regions in Pakistan, to high-end shops and hotels of Islamabad

UniquEco Designs Ltd.
Cleaning the coast of East Africa from the thousands of flip-flops which wash up on shore and providing an alternative source of income for coastal communities

Oro Verde
Producing gold without harming the rainforests of Chocó, a treasure house of biodiversity, and paying the miners fairly

Yurt Kindergartens
Carrying classrooms on horses and donkeys to follow the children of Kyrgyz herders and give them the chance of education

Heiveld Co-operative
South Africa
Banding together to give the small-scale farmers of Koysan a fair price for their organic, caffeine-free Roobios tea

Shanti Sewa Griha
Building self-sufficient communities with workshops, a school and a free health clinic for leprosy victims and other social outcasts

She Hope Society
Bringing dignity and independence to the disabled in war-torn Kashmir through physiotherapy, corrective surgery, basic education and micro-loans

Escuela Agricola
Educating the smallholder-farmers of Paraguay, one of the poorest countries in Latin America where two-thirds of the land belongs to two percent of the population, about the latest organic techniques and general life skills such as literacy, numeracy, sexual health and saving money

Hawkers Market Girl Centre
Providing education and income-generating skills to girls from Nairobi's slums

Oficinas Querô
A film academy which gives the young people in the slums of Santos have a shot at a better future

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

October 2008: Happy elsewhere

One whole week with my sister and three nieces! I think I did more eating and shopping (alright, my sister shopped, I walked with her) in that one week than I did in the previous six months. I loved baby-sitting the girls so my sister could spend some undisturbed time with family and friends. I hope they can come back next year, and for a longer period!

Before they arrived, I squeezed in five performances in three weekends. Hubby-dear had to watch more. Much more.

La Bohème
Philippine Opera Company
Music by Giacomo Puccini • Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Helen Quach • Directed by Floy Quintos

Disney's Mulan Jr.
Repertory Philippines
Directed by Joy Virata • Choreographed by Denisa Reyes

Piaf: Love Conquers All
Written by Roger Peace • Director, Designer, Actor: Naomi Emmerson • Piano Accompaniment by Carmela Buencamino-Sinco

New Beginnings
Ballet Philippines
Night Creature
Choreography by Alvin Ailey • Restaged by Elizabeth Roxas-Dobrish • Music by Duke Ellington
The Hurt We Embrace
Choreography by Max Luna III • Music by Jan Ap Kaczmarek
Mga Awit
Choreography by Max Luna III • Music by Michael Dadap • Lyrics by Nelson Navarro
Thresholds II
Choreography by Alan Hineline • Music by Jerome Begin

Master Class
Philippine Opera Company
Written by Terrence McNally • Directed by Michael Williams

Saturday, November 8, 2008

September 2008: Happy elsewhere

My very late chronicle of what I watched in September.

West Side Story
Stages Production
Book by Arthur Laurents • Music by Leonard Bernstein • Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim • Stage Direction by Menchu Lauchengco-Yulo • Musical Direction by Gerard Salonga

Isang Panaginip na Fili
Dulaang U.P.
Written & Directed by Floy Quintos • Music by CJ Javier • Choreographed by Van Manalo
Photograph by Joel Reyes

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's The Magic Flute
Philippine Opera Company
Directed by Kokoy Jimenez

La Revolucion Filipina
Ballet Philippines
Music by Ryan Cayabyab • Choreographed by Agnes Locsin
Photograph by Victor Ursabia

September is also when I met with blogger friends Cheyenne and Christine. Chey came to Manila for a week and we met for lunch at the People's Palace restaurant, where we had a Thai curry overload. It was great meeting you, girls!

Also during this month, I learned a lot about the inner workings of online and cellphone payments—much, much more than I ever wanted to know.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Of blogs, time, and family

First of all, I would like to apologize for not logging in for a couple of weeks. When my sister told me around mid-October that she and my three nieces were coming to Manila for a week-long visit, I decided that I wanted to spend all that time with them and I asked for a vacation leave from work. Which meant that I had to make sure that I tied as many loose ends as I could before my leave started. Then I also had to have the bathrooms in the house repaired—something I'd been putting off for some time—which meant going out to buy all the materials and fixtures needed then scheduling the plumber.

The week that they were here was wonderful! At least, for me. I can only hope that 'my' girls had a great time too.

I'm back at work now, and of course I'm having to catch up with everything.

And not just at work, but also at home. My clothes are just stacked up on a dresser and I have yet to store the mattresses properly (I wrap them up in black plastic to keep them safe from pests, dust and humidity—perennial problems in Manila). I've also just realized that it's already November and I better start giving away the early Christmas presents which I bought back in February (gosh, how time flies!).

Finally, I also have to catch up with my blogs and those of my friends.

I've been pretty faithful in posting to My Manila (though I haven't been able to respond to any of the comments there these past couple of weeks either), which is now part of the City Daily Photo portal, but I've slowed down quite terribly with Happy at Home. I've never considered myself a writer and I actually started Happy at Home as a challenge to myself, aside from wanting—no, needing—to share what I've learned over the years. But generating ideas for blog topics can be time-consuming, sometimes I need to research, and I still don't find writing any easier even after a year of semi-regular writing. A photo blog is so much easier to maintain. The text can be minimal and it won't matter much, and the photo itself gives my writing focus.

Anyway, I hope I can get back on track soon—with all aspects of my life, not just my blogs. I seriously have to rethink how to spend the limited time I have to myself. I guess it's something we all have to go through every now and then. And that's good.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Excellent Excellence

In November of last year, I wrote about my preferred brand of hair color, Revlon's ColorSilk, in "My whites are showing." I've recently just changed brand loyalties. Now, my hair color of choice is L'Oreal's Excellence Creme.

What made me switch? The number one reason is the fact that it is a cream, not a liquid. No dripping! It's wonderful! That alone would have been enough reason to make me switch. The second reason is the conditioners that it comes with. Note that I used the plural. It comes with a pre-color conditioner aside from the regular after-color conditioner. It's an additional step and makes the process a little longer, but for someone like me who always struggles with dry hair, it's a very welcome step. And the after-color conditioner: L'Oreal has packaged Excellence with a small bottle of its Color Vive hair conditioner, enough for two or three applications. The applicator bottle also comes with two nozzles, the regular one-hole kind and this small comb where each tooth has holes in the sides, not the tips.

I love this new discovery. I've already bought my second bottle and it's waiting in the toiletry cabinet for my next application, about two months from now—just in time for the Christmas parties.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Sweet chili shrimp

How do you explain to someone who doesn't cook, or who can cook only with a recipe, what goes on through your mind when you're deciding on what to whip up?

Take this dish, for example. I had one kilo of shelled, deveined shrimp thawing in the refrigerator. I had moisturizing gunk on my hair and scalp and wanted to keep it on the whole day so I didn't want to have to go out to buy ingredients. So I was running through both the refrigerator and the pantry in my mind (I was reading blogs at the time and didn't want to get up to check). When my mind got to the bottle of sweet chili sauce, it stopped. Ah ha! Okay, shrimp sautéed in sweet chili sauce. But a kilo of shrimp isn't a lot—what can I use to extend it? Ooh, I still have a pack of fish tofu in the freezer. So I get up, take it out of the freezer and put it in the refrigerator to thaw. And as I do that, I see the carton of quail eggs—that'll do. Better boil those now so they'll have plenty of time to cool—I hate peeling hot hard-boiled eggs and scorching my fingertips. Much later, when the eggs have been boiled, cooled and peeled and it was almost dinner—I expected the cooking time to be less than 30 minutes—I bring out the shrimp, tofu and sweet chili sauce from the refrigerator. My eye gets caught by another bottle of sauce, chili garlic this time. Ooh, that'll add a little more kick to the dish—the sweet chili sauce hardly has any. So there, ingredients complete and all I have to do now is cook everything.

I think almost everyone here can follow the thought process, but I don't think I'll ever be able to describe how I know that one ingredient will taste good with another. Will "You have to imagine how they'll taste like together" help?

Anyway, let's cook the dish now.

Since the tofu pieces were pretty big, I cut each piece into quarters. I also cooked it first because it's not pure tofu and is actually a little starchy so I figured it would need to be cooked longer than the shrimp. In a wok, heat a teaspoon of sesame oil, add a teaspoon of chili garlic sauce, stir until mixed well. Add the tofu and sauté until the pale sides are a bit brown, adding a tablespoon of sweet chili sauce sometime during the sautéing. Set aside.

Add more sesame oil and chili garlic sauce to the wok and sauté the shrimp, with one and a half teaspoons of salt. Add sweet chili sauce during the sautéing. When the shrimp's more than halfway done (that is, it's losing its transparency), add the tofu and continue sautéing. When the shrimp's cooked, add the quail eggs. Toss—lightly, so the eggs won't break—to mix the three main ingredients well and to coat the eggs in the chili sauce (add more chili sauce if necessary).

Sunday, September 28, 2008

August 2008: Happy elsewhere

Noli at Fili: Dekada 2000 (Dos Mil)
Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA)
Written by Nicanor G. Tiongson • Directed by Soxie Topacio

Otelo: Ang Moro ng Venecia
Tanghalang Ateneo
Written by William Shakespeare • Translated by Rogelio Sicat and Luna Sicat-Cleto • Directed by Dr. Ricardo G. Abad

The Golden Child
Tanghalang Pilipino
Written by David Henry Hwang • Directed by Loy Arcenas

August was also the month we spent a long weekend in Baguio City, which calls itself the Philippines' summer capital because of its cooler climate. I posted some pictures in my other blog and if you'd care to see them, click here.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Dracula meets Sweet Valley High

Twilight by Stephenie MeyerI just got suckered into reading Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight." Blame two of my college girlfriends. One has a grade school-age daughter whose friends were all so into it, my friend decided to read it just to find out what it was about. And got hooked. The other one has a more convoluted story involving her older sister, the sister's colleague from a large Philippine corporation, and the colleague's daughter. Anyway, she got hooked too. And so did all the moms who read the book their young daughters were reading. In my case, my friends told me about the book series on Sunday and the first said she'll lend me her daughter's copy if she and her girlfriends were done with it. And the very next day, she came by the office to drop it off!

My regular reading fare is science fiction, fantasy, history and historical fiction, with a smattering of contemporary fiction, the classics and all other genres. I also happen to like young adult fiction. About the only thing not included in my reading list is romance. "Twilight" is young adult, fantasy and romance. Two out of three. So I read it. And in the middle of reading another novel too—something I rarely do, but this is a borrowed book and I wanted to be able to return it quickly in case any of the young girls still haven't read it.

I really hate to say this, but I thoroughly enjoyed the book! I wasn't kidding about the title of this post. "Twilight" really is Bram Stoker's "Dracula" meets Sweet Valley High. (I was actually a little too old for the latter when it came out, but my younger sister had a few and I read a couple.) In Tagalog, we have a word for what I felt while reading it: kilig. I have no idea how to translate it to English. But you know the nice little shivers which run up your spine during romantic scenes in movies and books? That's it.

It was fun feeling like a high school kid again. But I think I'll quit while I'm ahead. There are three other books in the series and my friend said she'll lend them to me one by one. Thanks, Ces, but I think I'll pass on the offer. I might end up feeling like I did after I read Dan Brown's other books—I should have stopped after "The Da Vinci Code." Well, except maybe for the last book. I would like to know if Edward gives Bella what she's asking for and how.

Looking for an image of the book's front cover (which I found in Stephenie Meyer's website), I discovered that it's being made into a movie. None of the cast is familiar to me, and I've never heard of the director or producers either. But I think I'll brave the hordes of giggly pre-teens who are sure to watch it. It's coming out this November. I doubt very much if my husband will watch it with me, so Ces, Beng: it's a date?

Friday, August 29, 2008

From wet decks to wet streets

I think I just found the perfect shoe for the Philippines' rainy season: Sebago's Performance Marine series.

This is the Wave Ariel, and it is probably the most comfortable shoe I have ever put my feet in. There is not a single stiff piece in the uppers—everything is meant to move with your feet. Imagine yourself trying to move around on the deck of a sailboat in rough waters—you'd want your shoes to move with you and that's precisely what Sebago made this shoe to do. The materials are made to get wet and to dry quickly.

But what clinched the sale was this:

I thought it looked like an octopus' suckers, and sure enough, Sebago calls it the OctoPod. The traction is awesome! Unless I step on a slimy leaf or some litterbug's plastic trash, I am never going to slip while walking in the rain ever again.

The Ariel is the only Wave model that didn't look like running shoes and the color I chose was a chocolate brown (but I couldn't find the color in the website so it's probably last season's). I can actually wear them to work and not be accused of not looking 'professional.'

Sunday, August 24, 2008


Bath and Body Works Gentle Foaming Hand SoapBath & Body Works has some of the most fabulously delicious scented products ever. Unfortunately, I find them a little too expensive for everyday use. So you can imagine my delight when a college girlfriend came home for a visit last Christmas and one of the items she gave us was a bottle of its liquid hand soap.

Since I follow the FIFO policy even for household products, I only opened the bottle this past week. Another delight: the soap came out foamy! Silly me didn't read the label. Turns out that it was the Gentle Foaming variant. I love it! I've been like a little kid—I have to stop myself from pumping out more than what I need. And I was wondering why the pump was so thick.

I'm fascinated by that pump—it's obviously why the soap is coming out foamy. Much as I love the soap (and the scent—it's Exotic Coconut), I can't wait until the bottle's empty. I want to take it apart to find out how it works. Hey! That's what I did to find out how those child-proof caps work!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Magical blooms

The best thing about the rainy season here in the Philippines is how everything turns lush and green seemingly all of a sudden after a dry, brown summer. Our garden at home is now full of flowers and to me, it's all magical because I have no idea where most of them came from or what they're called.

Some of you may already know that I'm an absolute doofus when it comes to plants and flowers. I like them, but I usually don't bother learning their names or how to care for them. I'll buy flower seeds, stick them in the ground, and by the time they've grown and bloomed—after a few weeks, months, or even years—I've forgotten the name written on the packet. One of our friends works at a property development company and would sometimes give us plants left over after the landscaping is done. Our maid likes puttering around in the garden and our neighbor's maid is her sister—I think they share plants because I see some of ours suddenly growing in their garden and I see plants in our garden that I've never seen before.

Anyway, here are a dozen flowers that I saw in our garden over the weekend. I know we have several more, but they're not in bloom right now. I'm afraid I only know the names of two of them (pathetic!) so feel free to educate me if you know what they are.

Winged. The plant is a woody shrub and these yellow flowers only grow at the tips of the branches. I love those long white petals—they look like wings.

Sampaguita-like. Except for the fuchsia centers, these little flowers remind me of Sampaguita (Jasmine), the Philippines' national flower. These grow in clusters on the tips of the branches of a shrub.

Feathers. Whatever this is, I love it's delicate wave and the wispy petals.

Tiny. Perfect as ground cover, this plant's flowers are less than half a centimeter in diameter.

Help. This poor thing's leaves don't look healthy and the flowers lack their usual vibrant color. I have no idea what's wrong or what to do to help it. I see some at my neighbor's front yard and they're beautiful and healthy. It can't be too much rain, because hers are fully exposed too. Maybe they need richer soil than what we have?

Santan. This is one plant I actually have a name for. Santan is what we call it in Tagalog and it's a shrub that is commonly used to line paths, walls and fences. They come in different colors and the flowers grow in clusters. They like being in full sunlight so now that it's the rainy season, they don't have as many blooms. When we were kids, we'd pull out the pistils to suck on them—sweet!

Red fir. Somehow, that's what this flower reminds me of. And even without the flowers, its leaves are so extravagantly round and lush, they always look great.

Everyday. Thanks to a blogger friend from India, I now know that this small, simple flower is a Madagascar Periwinkle. Here in the Philippines, it's called Chichirica or Araw-araw (everyday). It grows everywhere and anywhere, even between the cracks of the pavement. Its roots are very shallow and can be pulled out with a gentle tug, but the strongest of storms won't uproot it because it will just bend down with the wind.

Sleepyhead. This sweet flower attracts all the bees in the neighborhood during the daytime. Then it shrivels up into almost nothing when the sun goes down.

Fuzzy. Like an orange umbrella on fuzzy grains of wheat.

Yellow tongue. This grew from a packet of seeds and the blooms remind me of Orchids, but they're only one centimeter wide.

Open wide. I keep thinking that this flower looks like it has a mouth. Is it just me? The plant's leaves look like a Lily's and the stamen reminds me of a Lily's too—probably a relative.