Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Philippine Islands: Part I - Land of Hospitality

I just spent the last twelve days in the Philippines and I can't shake the spell that the country has case over me. Despite the sophistication of the major cities, there was no denying that I was in a third world country. I was face to face with people from (seemingly) another era. Face to face (from the semi-comfort of a jeepney, more on that later) with poverty. And face to face with the most overwhelming hospitality I could ever imagine and most certainly would never expect from anyone in America.

Many Philippine people have very little, and yet it was abundantly clear that everyone we encountered would give whatever little they had for the comfort of the American chapter of their family. And when I say they have very little... well, let me elaborate on that. On our first full day in the Philippines, we went to a giant shopping mall in Manila with two "aunties." We treated our aunties to a Starbucks coffee. They seemed unsure of what to order so I asked if they had ever had Starbucks before. One auntie said, "It's too expensive. One or two coffees would feed a family for a week." To which my jaw nearly dropped and I suddenly felt a sickening in my stomach as I clutched my "groceries-for-one-week" vanilla latte. I'm not sure if they enjoyed the drink we helped them select, but you can bet that they swallowed every little drop.

The third worldness of the Philippines was apparent in every glimpse I stole into the everyday lives of its people. Sure, everyone we were with had a cell phone and a Facebook account. They wore clothes that said "GAP" and "Nike." Other than the fact that they spoke a different language (or two), these were people that could have been pulled from any street in America. But then we were blessed enough to be invited into their homes. Everyone wanted to host us. Everyone wanted the opportunity to bestow their kindness and generosity upon us. Over the course of 12 days, we had three meals in our Philippine relatives' homes. Each meal and home visit revealed a different strata of life and culture and economic status. While I enjoyed snorkeling and sunbathing on white, sandy beached (another post), it was the home visits that I looked forward to and treasured the most.

After a day or two in Manila, we flew to Roxas City, near the ancestral home of my late mother-in-law (it was her funeral and burial that brought us to the Philippines in the first place). We were met at the airport by a jeepney. The Filipino people are very resourceful and ingenius and the jeepney is just one example of that. After WWII, the Filipino people repurposed American army jeeps for everyday transportation. Now jeepneys are manufactured as an actual design and are one of the most common vehicles seen on the roads outside the big cities, second only to "tricycles" which are motorcycles with a side car that are packed to the brim with passengers.

While jeepneys do not have glass windows and are not air-conditioned, they are perfect for sight-seeing. And we had plenty of time to do that in the 2 hour drive to our first home visit out in the country.

The ride to the country proved to be the first eye-opening part of the trip. Along the way we passed schools with children receiving their lessons outside in large courtyards as teachers wrote on two gigantic chalkboards riddled with holes.

We passed row after row of run-down cement buildings with tin-roofs which served as dental clinics, businesses, and shops with a family home in the back or on top.

Here's a dental clinic (the green part).

Out of the city we passed scores of nipa huts nestled between rice fields where farmers plowed their crops by the power of water buffalos. Nipa huts are homes which are nothing more than bamboo sticks tied together with tin roofs. These homes did not appear to have any electricity or running water. And I imagine that it is a very common way to live outside of the cities and its "suburbs." I read that 50% of the population lives rurally, that's a lot of people living in nipa huts! We passed hundreds of these homes over the course of an hour and while I saw people and children inside their homes doing chores, hanging hand-washed laundry on a line, cooking, or just sitting on the side of the road waiting for customers to buy their goods (many people live off the income derived from "sari-sari" stores that are directly in front of their homes- many of these stores are nothing more than a collection of random goods and foods for sale). And while I could almost look directly into several of the homes and passed children playing in the streets, I saw not a single toy.

A nipa hut in a "town."

A school. There is no air-conditioning in the country (and in most places, actually). Which explain why school is held outside. We were there in the beginning of the fall season and it was in the 90s every day with high humidity!

Rice fields.

A typical road. They were very narrow. One lane in each direction. Yet, people swerved and passed each other all the time. There appeared to be no traffic rules (though I'm sure there are written traffic laws) and yet everything moved along smoothly, if not a little bit frighteningly.

Three sari-sari stores. The stores and the homes abutted right up against each other pretty much everywhere but the rural countryside.

View from the back of the jeepney. More nipa huts.

Before we arrived at our uncle's house in the country, the jeepney stopped on the side of the road in front of a bamboo structure which featured random, cooked pig body parts. I was puzzed at first. Then our uncle got out and purchased a hunk or two of pig parts. This was clearly to be our dinner. Gulp.

We finally pulled up in front of a bright (paint-chipped) cement home surrounded by large plants of unknown variety and wandering chickens and dogs. We were here! And, oh man. We were told that this was the ancestral home of my mother-in-law. That it had been a nipa hut some 15 years ago, before my mother-in-law sent money back home to help pay for the new concrete block construction. There were small windows, but they did not have any glass panes. The floor was concrete. In fact, nearly everything about the home itself was concrete.

Front of the home

It was adorned with ornately carved wood furniture, bright drapes, religious statutes, and a couple pieces of small wall art. My eyes were immediately drawn to the wood furniture. Which seemed alarmingly out of place, casting visual warmth into an otherwise dark and cool-feeling room.

There were two bedrooms. Each had a mattress on the floor and a wooden bed against the wall (no mattress). Jon was tuckered our from our drive so a room was offered for him to finish up his nap. This is where I placed him. It's the room shared by our uncle's two teenage daughters. Stickers on the wall revealed the play and treasure of children many years ago.

I came out of the bedroom to find that my mother-in-law's Sacred Heart of Jesus urn had been placed at the front of the room, in front of a Mother Mary statute nestled between two sets of white flower blooms. It was the perfect place for her to rest. The table seemed calm, holy, and sacred next to the turned-down tv.

My older boys and I giggled and delighted at the lizards that moved along the wall of the house. I marveled at the tin roof and the unfinished quality of the home. This house would certainly be declared uninhabitable in America. And yet, it was a very decent (perhaps one of the better) home in the rural Philippines.
When I joined the rest of the family outside (it was too hot to stay indoors), my uncle smiled and handed me a chicken. Chickens freely roamed near homes, I learned. The only time they were bounded was when a single leg would be tied, ensuring that that night's dinner they wouldn't roam too far. 

It wasn't long before the table in the front yard was piled with food. This may not look like a feast by American standards but I learned that it WAS a feast by Filipino standards. Usually only one dish would be served with rice or pancit (noodles) for dinner. And here we had crab, TWO chickens, pork, clams, and rice. Just one example of the infamous Philippine hospitality.


I'm generally not very brave at all when it comes to eating new foods. I stick to my favorites and you'll rarely see me try anything unconventional. In the Philippines I discovered a very courageous foodie within myself. And OH the things I ate! That is a separate post all in itself, but I promise the stories WILL be told.

They had a star fruit tree in their front yard!

They tasted like sour crab apples. Jon was a fan.

As we were chatting, a roaming chicken joined our conversation. I didn't notice him/her at all until I felt a sharp peck on my toes. The chicken was trying to eat me!

Our uncle picks up passengers and gives them rides in his tricycle for a living. This is the primary source of this particular family's income. He was kind enough to give us a ride down to the family's old rice field, which was sold to another family many years ago.
Here is the tricycle, the rice field (not really pictured) is to the left. There is my uncle in the yellow shirt holding Jon.
I rode in the cab with Jon on my lap and my sister-in-law with Ryan on her lap. Yep. All four of us fit in the cab. Three more rode on the side and/or standing up on the back. That's pretty typical of how people get around. No carseats. No seatbelts. Gives you a whole new perspective on how much we perhaps over worry and over protect ourselves in our own overly sterile first world environment.

I mean, you can't really put a seat belt on a water buffalo. 


 We rode like this for a little site-seeing of the country. I have to crash into bed now so I'll have to tell you all about the open market we went to and our other adventures in my next post. Stay tuned!


Sunday, June 19, 2016

Diagnosis For Cat And International Travel

Rewind to Friday morning (Jacob's last day of school), I was still sleeping comfortably in my warm cozy bed, when Jacob pops his head into my face and asks "Hey mom, do I have a tux?"

What? I'm sorry I was just dreaming about falling down a hole. Come again.

"Do I have a tux? You know, like to wear?"

Apparently, Jacob's teacher told the kids to dress nicely out of respect for the fifth graders who were graduating. Jacob, like always, took it too far and determined he HAD to show up to school in a full-up three piece.

"Um no. We don't own things like that. Maybe you can tape a strip of construction paper to one of your shirts so people will think you have a good mom and that you own a collared shirt?"

Jacob snuck away mumbling under his breath and then I heard him rummaging around in his closet. I closed my eyes really tight to try to return to dreamland, preferably not falling down a hole, when Ryan bounded up next to my bed. His playful eyes bore holes right through my eyelids.

"What?" I asked without even opening my eyes.

"Mommy, do I have a tux?"

For FOX sake. "NO!"

I gave up on sleeping an extra ten minutes and rolled out of bed. When I found my way to the kitchen to warm up some Last Day of School cinnamon rolls (in case you think I MAKE stuff from scratch-"yay Pillsbury!"), my two oldest kids were there waiting for me. Jacob found a collar shirt and a clip on tie and looked about five years older than I last saw him. Ryan...well....he was dressed like Ryan. I was suddenly overcome by one of those emotional mommy moments and had to rush them outside under my favorite tree to snap some photos.

Last day of Preschool 3s!

Last day of first grade!

And from there, the ridiculousness mounted over the course of the weekend.

I left my younger two in the capable hands of their grandma (who Jon affectionately calls "Meema"). And headed to work where I spent a ridiculous number of hours cranking out briefs.

As my husband and I were dolling out chores for the weekend, I drew the short straw and was given the wonderful responsibility of taking our cat to the vet. He's been randomly pooping in places that are NOT his litter box (he's never had this problem in his entire 9 years of life!) and we suspected maybe something was wrong.

Have you ever taken three children PLUS a freaked out animal to a veterinary office? Imagine .... no, you cannot imagine. There are no words. On the plus side, I discovered our vet has a kennel service. So now I know where to drop off the kids when I can't get a last minute sitter.

On a related note, I also discovered a new trick for using the HOV lanes during rush hour:

So, after a long, long wait in the waiting room, and an even longer wait in the exam room. The vet asked some questions, did an exam, then gave us the news. BTW, is it really horrible that I had to think twice when the vet asked me what our cat's name was...because we just call him Cat! I don't know what I was expecting? Maybe a bladder infection? Maybe a neurotic cat disorder. Maybe a failing butthole closing muscle? Is that a thing?

I did NOT expect what the vet laid on me, which went something like this:

"Maam, your cat has stress."

"Excuse me, what?"

"He is suffering from emotional turmoil or anxiety. He's stressed."

"My cat has stress?"

"Yes. The good news is that we don't have to give him anti-anxiety medication yet."

"Um, wha..."

"Yeah, all you have to do is hand feed him some wet cat food (no more of that dry stuff now), give him lavender oil massages, and I also recommend a catio."

"Lavender....Wha.... Hold it now.... What's a catio?"

The vet then handed me his phone, which had been bookmarked to a Pinterest page with this picture:

"A catio. It's a cat patio."

I laughed outrageously, packed up my cat and left the exam room, continuing to laugh outrageously. But the vet chased me down in the hallway, "maam, don't forget this!" (Also, I'm NOT EVEN a maam, thankyouverymuch.)

Yep. I just paid $150 for a photo session of my cat's bladder. For that much money, I was expecting department store quality! They didn't even show me the series of shots and let me pick the one I liked best or even try to tempt me with a collage of their chosing. At the very least I should have been allowed to pick the background. Sheesh.

But yeah. At $150, that's going into a frame. Fo' shizzle.

I came home in a cranky storm and made the kids fix their own lunches. Ryan opted for a self-inspired pepperoni, cheese, and mayo sandwich. Ok, then.

And then I caught Ryan feeding his stuffed puppy out of a baby bottle and wondered if I had stumbled upon the source of my cat's stress.

Other highlights of the weekend involved swinging in hammocks with my baby:

And getting in some trail runs at a new (to me) mountain bike park! So pretty! Inspired by the beauty around me, I squished in eight miles (I'm currently at my running goal of 7 minute miles!):

In between my running and hammocking, the cat could really learn some great de-stressing techniques from me.

I woke up Sunday morning to find that the big kids were already outside, running back and down the street "flying" kites they had each received from their schools as end of the year gifts. (Poor Ryan, I just realized that sometimes I group him as a "big kid" and sometimes as a "little kid." Such is the life of a middle child, I guess).

When I saw the kids running up and down the street giggling, kites semi-aloft, I had to run outside to watch. There's something so Quintessential Childhood about children running with kites (even if it's at 8am in the morning). I had to soak it all in in person.

Jacob has his sunglasses on :)

Back inside, Jacob handed his dad this Father's Day card, which I had not seen prior. It's....well.... It's the most phallic looking Father's Day card I've ever seen in my life. It's supposed to be a tie, obvi. But .... all I see is a big black..... (what would an inkblot counselor say about me? Yikes).

We spent Father's Day shopping and planning for our trip to the Philippines. Oh yeah, by the way, we're going to the Philippines in two days. Which involves exactly one 11 hour flight to Seoul, Korea and one four hour flight to Manila. Did I mention we will be traveling with three children? Yep. Pretty much. My father-in-law has been in charge of this whole trip. It was his idea, his plan, and his execution. Basically, we're showing up at the airport and that's about all we know. I'm told an itinerary WAS in the works but I'm not sure what happened to that idea.

I'm not going to lie, all of this not-knowing-anything about a 12 day trip overseas to a country I've never been to before is making me slightly on edge. I mean, I'm a pretty go-with-the-flow type of person. In fact, firm plans tend to make me stabby. BUT I like to know that there IS a plan, just in case, you know? (So, who's gonna give ME a lavender oil massage?)

After trying to track down an extra compact flash drive for our SLR camera (apparently they don't use them for cameras anymore) without success, we decided to get one thing on our list accomplished: haircuts for the boys.

Despite loving his long, blonde hair, I decided to give in and get him a big boy haircut. He sat perfectly still on my lap eating his lollipop while the barber lady did her thing. We walked out of the barber shop with less hair on our heads, and more hair on our suckers. And now my baby is a little man!

Hair cuts are serious business.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Coming Down From A Weekend High

We just had a wonderful, glorious weekend and I don't have the slightest idea how I'm going to mentally prepare myself for tomorrow which will involve spending eight hours sitting at my desk. But at least I have a new (to me) work laptop because....hey, it's the little things. Unfortunately the new laptop came with the 2013 version of Microsoft, which makes me want to stab wooden skewers through the roof of my mouth and into my brain region.

The awesomeness of the past couple days actually starting while I was still at work on Friday. I finished and filed a brief that had been a nagging sore spot on my work calendar and a stressful item on my to-do list. Not only was the brief itself stressful but it was preventing me from tackling some FUN litigation tasks that I've been excited to get started on. We have a couple new cases filed against us and I can't wait to dig in. (Yes, nerd, I know).

Friday night we biked the bike trail near our house. There's a little shopping center at the 2.5 mile mark, and I always bribe the kids to go biking with me by promising to buy them Gatorade at the Bartells there. We saw our neighbor friends at the Bartells- they had just done the same thing! We rode back home together, us moms chatting furiously about important things, like wine and how to bake sourdough bread, while the kids rushed off ahead.

Saturday the kids had their cousins over for a sleepover. We started the party early and headed to our cute little downtown for their annual maritime festival. We're still new to this town and learning about all the events and activities. Luckily we have awesome neighbors that clue us in on the exciting stuff. We live in a city that's on the end of a big peninsula. It's surrounded by water on most sides. So, fittingly, the festival is a two-day maritime festival on the historic waterfront, with a large parade, food vendors, live music, and bouncy houses. On Sunday, the priest and clergy from our church process down to the marina, step into a little boat, drive around the harbor, and perform the traditional blessing of the fishing fleet. I thought that was pretty cool!

I love this picture of Jon trying to eat a snow cone. Ha ha!

Maritime festival festivities!

We didn't get to see the parade but Jacob went with his best friend/the neighbor kid and came home with a giant shopping bag full of candy and treats. I'm still eating, erg SORTING, all the candy he brought home.

When we got home from the festival, I took all the kids on a bike ride down the bike path that's only .5 miles from our house. They did great! I thought a 5 mile hilly bike ride would be a little too much for Ryan so I let him ride in the bike trailer with Jon. It was sunny and I felt like one of the kids. Oh, to be a kid again! We sped down the hills with our feet off the pedals and had one-handed biking contests.

With a train of kids biking behind me, I felt like I was in the Sound of Music. All that was missing was clothes sewn from curtain fabric. I even started singing the "Do Rey Mi" song.

I was excited to discover that it is much easier to bike the entire hilly path towing 60-70 pounds of kid and trailer behind me now than it was even just a month ago. I can do all the hills without having to stop. I've started to supplement my running workout with HIIT training workouts and I now have the quads of a beast. That just might have something to do with it.

When we finished up our bike ride, all the kids (even Jon!) went into the backyard to play while I prepared dinner. They played on the hammock (my husband set it up just recently). They organized a game of baseball. Then they played hide and seek. And I got to prepare dinner completely uninterrupted and totally un-stressed. It was exactly how I always imagined preparing dinner with multiple kids should be like. In our old house, we had a tiny yard that the kids didn't really enjoy and my kitchen window overlooked the neighbor's dilapidated deck so I always wondered and worried about what the kids were doing.

Not so at our new place! This was my view during dinner prep:

The cousins stayed overnight and all the big kids slept downstairs in our basement. We're always getting Jacob to take his sleepovers down there but he insists it's too creepy. His older cousin must have helped pave the way and I anticipate many more crazy sleepovers down there. It was amazing to have them down there. We barely heard them and didn't have to worry about them waking Jon up. Instead of waking up to their chatter at 6am, I woke up the sun on my face at 8:30. I peered out the window and saw that they had already taken their boundless energy outside. Fenced backyards for the WIN!

This morning after church, we rushed to Jacob's final baseball game. The coaches announced all the kids' names at the beginning and had them run onto the field "just like they do in REAL baseball." Jacob was delegated to first base (his favorite position) and he made a double play and then got another kid out- to earn all of the three outs in the first inning. He scored a couple solid grounders as well. He loves playing baseball and it's been great watching him take it more seriously WHILE his love for the game grows. He LIVES for tagging people out and he is always excited to practice, knowing that's what it takes to hone this skill.

Last hit of the season

My four and one year olds are equally obsessed with baseball. Ryan joined a YMCA team this year and (to my amazement) is the only kid on his team who doesn't just pick grass or spin around in circles in the outfield. He's ON that ball.

And anyone who's ever been clocked in the face by a tennis ball at our house can tell you all about Jon's killer throwing arm. Jon can say a lot of words, but by far his favorite and longest is "baseball bat." He knows exactly what it is and what is means but, for some reason, just says it randomly out of the blue on the reg. I'll go into his room to pick him up from a nap and he'll look at me, smile, and exclaim, "Base. Ball. Bat!" in a sing-song voice. He says it in line at the check out stand. He says it in response to "would you like some milk?" He says it when the neighbor lady walks across the street to say hi. It totally cracks us up. Whenever we see Jon we always exclaim, "Base. Ball. Bat!" It's become his theme phrase.

Ok, back to the wonderful weekend. We came home and spent the rest of the afternoon leisurely hanging out at the house. It reached the mid-90's today, which is practically UNHEARD of for the Seattle-area in early June. It rarely gets that hot when summer is in full swing. Jacob went across the street and played in the neighbor's blow up pool-slide. Ryan spent ALL afternoon riding his bike back and forth in front of our house. Although he's been able to ride without training wheels for quite a while (he rides his friend's bike often), it was only this weekend that he let my husband take the training wheels off HIS bike. As soon as they were off, he grew bike wings and was free! He has spent every free second on his little Thomas the Train bike (a bike we got for free for Jacob long ago). So Ryan rode back and forth all day, while I sat in a lounge chair in our driveway catching some vitamin D.

My always messy third child. Because by the time you have three kids, you really stop caring if they have dirt on their clothes and food on their faces. Sorry Jon! Actually, NOT SORRY. I know you prefer it that way.

Another thing that I absolutely love about our new house is that we live on a quiet, private street that continues into two cul de sacs. It is PERFECT for bike riding. Between our fenced .3 acre lot and the private road, the kids get to be pretty independent in their activities and play while I still get to observe and be a "responsible parent." After eight years of living in a very urban setting with a small yard and busy streets, I can't even begin tell you how much joy this brings me.

Ryan's new BB8 helmet (that he picked out from Target today) is the best thing ever. Every time I see him whizzing by with a little antenna on his helmet I can't help but crack a grin at the ridiculousness.

Towards the end of the afternoon, while the kids were busy bike riding and playing with their various scooter and wagons, I brought my HIIT workout videos outside and did an hour of exercise surrounded by nature in the shade of our lovely fir trees. We live next to a heavily-trafficked bridge and a small airport (lots of small, private planes flying overhead!), but all I could hear all day was the sounds of my kids laughing (and occasionally screaming), the chirping of birds (seriously, where did all the birds come from?), and the sound of leaves and underbrush being swept aside by bunnies! I kept pinching myself and wondering what parent fantasy land I had fallen into.

When the kids went to bed, I crept outside to water my garden. From there, the hammock caught my gaze and I spent the rest of the daylight evening swinging in the hammock, watching squirrels and birds play in the yard, and getting a really intense ab workout from trying to keep the hammock in motion. Next time, I'll bring a book and a water bottle filled with wine :)

Trees! Squirrels! Nature!