Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Childless In Chelan, Night 2

I usually love being alone. It's my favorite thing ever. Sometimes I fantasize about dropping the kids off at school/childcare and taking a vacation day to stay home and do WHATEVER I WANT.

But here I am at a nice lake resort with private sandy beaches and pools and hot tubs right on the waterfront and all I can think is that I wish I had someone to enjoy it all with. Am I crazy? Have I gone nuts? Or have my kids finally pulled this loner out of her shell?

I love to explore and be adventurous on trips. I seem to be in the minority around here. And for some weird reason, I feel lonely. It's an odd and unfamiliar feeling. Because usually I am my favorite company.

After my conferences, I enjoyed my first ever massage. Yes, I am a 31 year old woman who, before today, had never had a massage in her life. It was pretty amazing. But I don't know if it was $90 amazing, which is what I paid. The jury's out on whether I will do it again.

After my massage, I went for a run. Yes, I know that is probably backwards. But, hey, I'm kidfree. I'll do what I want to do when I want to do it. The run was gorgeous. Five miles over desert and lake.

There was even a biplane spotting.

I tried to see if anyone was interested in meeting up for dinner, but I couldn't find anyone. So I stopped at the hotel bitro, grabbed a pub burger to go, and ate on the beautiful patio of my room.

Still a little bored, I walked the lake beach and rented a kayak. An hour kayak rental sounded perfect. But 20 minutes in, my arms burned from the strong current and I was ready to head in. But not before snapping a couple photos to document my adventurism.

When I returned the kayak just 1/3 of the way into my rental time, the rental guy just shook his head and laughed at me. I waddled my soaking wet backside to the room, sprawled out onto my king size bed and....



Did two hours of work. What? I have lots of deadlines coming up. I was feeling responsible. For the records, I worked while eating chocolate, sipping wine, and watching a Dateline murder special (I'm never going to sleep tonight). So it's only like 50% work. Once night fell, I began to enjoy my solitude a LOT more.

I decided to do something TOTALLY crazy and rent a movie online. Although I was tempted to finish Season 6 of the Good Wife (best show ever), I settled on Magic Mike. Went in with low expectations and surprisingly enjoyed it. A lot. And not ONLY because of Channing Tatum. But he helped. I might actually see Magic Mike 2. This is what happens when you let a mom loose for a few days. The wildness just cannot be contained.

Hours later, I'm still sprawled on my King Size bed, enjoying and laying across every single amazing millimeter of springy-freedom. I almost forgot what it's like to have to haul three screaming, over-tired kids to bed. Shhh, don't tell them this but....I'm actually kinda starting to miss them!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Taste of Summer (And Wine)!

I am several CLE credits and one glorious sunburn richer than I was on Wednesday. On Wednesday I left for Lake Chelan for a CLE conference. It was 80-90+ degrees outside which pretty much meant that I got to travel to a hot place just to spend all my time freezing indoors. A/C is my enemy and is the reason I packed as if I was about to endure three chilly days of fall weather despite being in a sunny, warm location. Despite my chattering teeth and grasping cup after cup of piping hot tea to stay warm, I managed to learn lots of new things AND fill up several note pages of ball-point doodles.

My husband and kids joined me Thursday evening to make a vacation out of it and we ended up staying in Lake Chelan all weekend. We stayed at the most amazing resort on the lake (which is where the CLE is every year). I've been to this CLE for several years now but this is the first time I got to bring my family....and it was amazing! Well, I'm not gonna lie...."vacations" with kids are not vacations. A vacation with kids is pretty much just paying a lot of money to watch your kids throw tantrums in new places. And tantrums there were:

Not happy because I won't let him go in the pool by himself:

This place is awful! Seriously!

Water park torture:

But I'm getting ahead of myself here. Before my family joined me, I enjoyed almost two full days of me-time (and CLE time). In between talks I went on as many runs as my runner's heart desired whenever I wanted. I logged six miles on Wednesday and five miles on Thursday. And five more again Friday. This was my view:

It was perfect.

My conference ended Friday. I tossed my CLE materials into my room and immediately joined my family down by one of the several lake view pools. Where Jon promptly had a meltdown.

We then moved to the beach where my husband and I got to chill in lounger chairs and "supervise" the kids playing in sand.

Water my feet, slaves!

Jacob's happy place

My three beach amigos

This is the gorgeous lakefront. The buildings in the back are part of our hotel. In fact, I can see our balcony!

We might as well have been in Hawaii. The weather was hot, the beach was amazing, and the amenities were so pampery. The only thing NOT Hawaii about this place was the water. The lake was freaking cold. But that didn't stop the kids. In fact, every morning we woke up to the same scene--kids ready and anxious to hit the beach/pool (except for Jon who, you will notice, is having a tantrum):

On Saturday we went to a water slide park.There were slides for all ages and abilities, a GIANT hot tub, kiddie pools with splash park toys, and a lazy river. The kids were in heaven.

I mostly tended to a crabby, under-napped toddler while the big boys played. My incentive for taking baby duty was that we were going to head up to my favorite winery/restaurant for dinner. I had been wine tasting there earlier in the week and had sampled ALL of their white wines- a peachy pinot, a bubble gum colored rose, and so many other delicious white wines (my favorite! I don't have a taste for red yet, despite my best efforts). I was dreaming of peachy pinot and their perfection meatballs all day. And when we drove up there later in the day to discover that they had a strict "reservation only" policy on Saturdays, I may have shed a tiny tear, or two.

We made the best of it by hanging out in their tasting room, touring the GORGEOUS grounds, and feeding the fish in the koi pond. If I could go back in time and re-do my wedding, I'd get married there in a heart beat. GORGEOUS. That's the only word that went through my mind for the hour we were there.

But I still haven't recovered from missing out on a second serving of their meatballs. It was just ..... GORGEOUS. I can't think of any other word to describe this heavenly piece of real estate. The fact that wine grapes are grown here only makes it more perfect.

And then we had to leave because our children started a body-slamming wrestling match inside the tasting room.

We made it home later than hoped tonight thanks to hellish traffic which turned our 3.5 hour drive into a 5.5 hour drive. My body may be in Seattle, but my heart is still in Chelan....eating meatballs and drinking pinot grigio.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Love & Fear & Trial

I'm so high right now. I'm high on a wave of confidence, relief, and exhaustion.

I'm shaken up from an odd mix of complete and utter fear and the immense thrill of giving my first ever closing argument in a trial.

I just finished a four day trial. It was my first entirely solo trial. I've co-chaired trials before. In fact earlier this year, I was third chair in a six week trial where I was  primarily the motion bitch.

This time was entirely different. Not only was this my first solo trial, it was my first criminal trial. I am a civil litigator. I don't know the slightest thing about prosecuting a criminal case. In fact, one of my struggles during the trial was to remember to refer to myself as the "State" or the "prosecution" rather than the defense. At the end of the case, I nearly declared "defense rests!" Oops. Funny story....on the first day of trial, I referred to myself as a "prostitutor" instead of "prosecutor." It was not my most shining-star moment.

Let's go back to Monday. In advance of this trial, I was given a trial binder and told, "here you go, trial's next week." As I said, I'm a civil litigator. The world of criminal law is a dark and scary place for me. In criminal law, trials are "speedy" rather than 5 years in the making. You have no clue what the other side's argument will be until they start their case. You don't get 5 days notice to respond to motions. And, witnesses are rarely deposed in advance.

Nonetheless, I agreed to do a criminal trial to get more trial experience under my belt. I immediately regretted it. The day before trial, my stomach was in knots, I had serious questions about the adequacy of my opening argument, and the thought of talking and interacting with a room full of strange people made me want to vomit.

As I walked into Court Room 271 on Monday, I played Eminem in my head on repeat and tried not to cry:

His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy
There's vomit on his sweater already, mom's spaghetti
He's nervous, but on the surface he looks calm and ready
To drop bombs, but he keeps on forgettin'
What he wrote down, the whole crowd goes so loud
He opens his mouth, but the words won't come out

Those lyrics were me.

When it was my time to start voir dire, I stood up, looked into a room of 40 blank stranger faces, took a deep breath, and forged onward, despite the stomach knots, the shaking hands, and the violent wave of adrenaline coursing through my body. After the jury was impaneled, it was time for opening statements. I simply repeated the process: stand up, look forward, deep breath, go.

It was the same thing witness after witness. Deep breaths became my center of gravity. If you're taking a deep breath, you can't fumble over your words. My most challenging witnesses took nearly 2 hours to examine on the stand. But it felt like 15 minutes. Time flies when the pressure's on, when everyone's looking at you, watching you walk, watching you glance at your notes, watching you pause to think about your next question, watching you handle exhibits, watching you expectantly after every loud "objection!." They're watching the witness too, of course. But I felt like I constantly had the spot light.

Talking all day and interacting with people for hours at a time in a high-pressure setting is pretty much a nightmare for an introvert like me. I came home every night exhausted. Almost physically unable to string together coherent words. My brain was operating on fumes. But there was no rest during trial. Each night I was up late preparing witness outlines and my closing argument.

All the stress, all the anxiety, all the exhaustion, and all the emotions grew and grew as everything culminated into the final magic trick, the closing argument. I nearly had a panic attack at the thought of giving a closing argument. I just wanted the stress and the exhaustion to end as soon as possible. But there would be no rest until this one final terrifying act was behind me. When it came time for closing, I stood up, took my deep breath, and forged onward, trying desperately to ignore the desire to combust into thin air.

I can't even describe how terrified I was. I don't remember ever being that terrified in my life. I arrived at the court room 30 minutes before the proceedings were to start that final day. All the staff and counsel were chatting away in light conversation. I didn't hear a single word. I was zoned. I could hear my heart beat pounding in my ears. I made three nervous but completely unnecessary runs to the ladies room. How the hell had I gotten to this scary precipice. All I could imagine was me standing in front of an expectant jury, fumbling over my words until utter nonsense spilled out of my mouth. Why had I said yes to this again?

The jury was called in. The judge turned the floor over to me. I stood up, looked directly into the eyes of 13 complete strangers and forged onward. I was totally faking it. I know I spoke calmly and carefully. I know I sounded loud and sure. But it was 100% an act. At least at first. Then somehow, ten minutes in, I found my groove. This wasn't so bad. The things coming out of my mouth were pretty darn convincing, in fact. I sat down while the defense gave its closing statement. And as I listened to the defense's argument, I began to furiously plot my rebuttal.

By the time it was my turn again I was rearing to go, like a race dog waiting for the gate to drop. I started my rebuttal with a reference to 50 Shades of Gray (how many lawyer points do I get for that?!). I even got a chuckle from the ladies in the front of the jury box. And then I was completely unleashed. I tackled topic after topic, rebutting each of defense counsel's arguments. It felt good. It felt SO GOOD. And, to top it all off, in a room full of jurors and court staff, and judge, I confidently uttered the words "blowjob" and "handjob" without EVEN blushing. (I swear it was relevant to the non-sex crime case).

When I was done and had nothing more to say, I walked back to my table. As I exhaled I released all the stress and the tension from my body. Let it all drip down to my toes and onto the floor. I hadn't slept well in days. I was starving. I was exhausted. My brain was temporarily broken. But I had never felt so good. (which is a good thing because then I had to jump straight into a 4 hour deposition). And I didn't even know the verdict yet.

You know what I love about being a lawyer, and particularly, being a litigator? Being a lawyer presents endless opportunities to grow. At least for a shy introvert like me. Being a lawyer requires me to confront my weaknesses, face my fears, and to embrace new challenges on a nearly daily basis. I'm constantly placed in positions that fall far beyond my comfort zone. I don't always rise to the challenge, but most of the time I do. And succeed or fail, I always grow. Each new scary experience brings me that much closer to being a stronger, smarter, and more experienced me. It's absolutely terrifying. It's terrifying beyond measure. But I love it.

This trial is going to be a thing that defines who I am for a while. You know how after you become a mom for the first time, you want to run around and tell everyone you meet that you're a mom? I remember thinking that I needed to wear a badge that said "mom" on it. When it's your first kid, going from not-a-mom to being a mom is kind of a big deal. You completely change the way you see and define yourself. That is exactly how I feel right now having completed my first solo trial. It's going to be a little while before I stop thinking of myself in terms of "attorney who has done a trial solo." And I'm totally ok with that! :)

Friday, June 9, 2017

Second Class Mom

Physically, I'm standing in a tiny hallway plastered in primary colors and two dozen construction paper flowers. A sea of little heads bob up and down, excitedly greeting each other. Parents chat leisurely, yoga pants on and coffee in hand. We crowd around a heavy wooden door, waiting for it to open signaling the beginning of preschool. My two year old hugs my leg while my five year old chatters away with his friend.

I'm physically there, but just barely. My dark grey pencil skirt, smart patent leather heels, and blue blouse paint the illusion of someone who is put together. My outfit and carefully straightened dirty blonde hair are unintentionally deceiving. They hide the frustrations of trying to get three children out of bed, fed, dressed, and packed for school within a whirlwind of arguments, whining, crying, and back talking while also trying to pull together my own outfit, breakfast, lunch, and laptop. You wouldn't know that, earlier, I locked myself in the bathroom for two minutes to avoid punching a wall, or that I had to physically drag my two year old to the car, or that I had to run back into the house three times to grab forgotten items. (Side note: I simply don't understand how the urgency of mornings can be lost on people who believe that ranch Corn Nuts and marshmallows constitute an acceptable breakfast choice.)

While I'm there in the hallway in body, my mind is in an entirely different location. I'm miles away. Twenty miles. At my desk. Drafting emails and organizing my thoughts on the pressing litigation fires that sprung up over night. I check my phone and see five unread "urgent" messages. My head spins with all the deadlines I need to meet for the day. A notice pops up onto my screen to remind me that I have a meeting in 30 minutes. And here I am, still 20 miles away, waiting for that dang preschool door to open.

When the door finally creaks open, my attention jolts away from my mental to-do list. I hand a $60 bag of carefully selected "healthy" snacks to the teacher. I had painstakingly selected a snack for each day of the week, as required when it is your designated snack week. Paying $60 for preschool snacks nearly killed me. But I would have paid twice that to avoid the disapproving gaze I received last time. Last time I had snack duty, the teacher held up my large container of air-puffed cheese balls in front of all the other parents and loudly declared them "unhealthy." My explanation that the offending snack only contained 1 gram of sugar compared to the 25 grams of sugar in the raisins on the "approved" list was largely ignored in favor of the ambiguous and unilaterally set "school standards."

The teacher reviewed my snacks carefully. I anxiously looked down at my feet. "Is this all??" She finally asked. "This is for the entire week? We have 17 kids in our class. One bag of Veggie Straws is not going to be enough for all the kids." My blood boiled with both anger and embarrassment. "I can bring another bag in tomorrow," I assured. Sure, I thought. I'll just run into a store tonight after work...hmmm, right after I pick my kids up from the nanny's house. I think I can squeeze that in around 6:00 before I have to rush home and make dinner and meet my oldest son and my husband at a little league ball game. Yeah, no sweat.

The teacher smiled, apparently satisfied. "Don't forget that tomorrow is Disney dress-up day. And next week is the end-of the year party. And I need all parents to bring in a picture of their kid for a special project," she shouted to the rest of the parents in the hall.

And in that seven second announcement, my to-do list grew by four tasks. Buy another bag of Veggie Straws, find a quick Disney outfit for tomorrow, figure out who will be able to attend the end of year party (because I have a pre-arranged deposition that same time), and find time to stop by the print shop to print out a photo (we still don't own a printer). My heart fell. I already knew I could not manage to do all of this. There was going to be disappointment somewhere. And, as most often is the case, it was likely going to be on the faces of my children. Just like last week when I had to pass up my oldest son's school assembly. And when I forgot to order year books. And when I had to leave early for Mother's Day preschool tea.

After my preschooler took his place in class, I ran out to the parking lot to drop my two year old off with the nanny. On the way out the door I heard a group of moms planning a park play date after class. I smiled and walked passed them.

I then walked past two other moms talking about they never let their elementary school children order school lunch because it's so horrible. I raised my eyebrow and realized that I had never even batted an eye at the fact that my elementary school child ordered school lunch every day for the past two years. With school lunch costing a mere $2.50 and requiring zero prep time for me, there was never even a question.

I'm an outsider. The mom who always sends a nanny to pick up her son. The mom who doesn't show up for school events. The mom that despises school dress-up days and special school events because it means squeezing more tasks and obligations into an already overflowing schedule. I'm the mom who doesn't get to go to afternoon play dates or spontaneous trips to the zoo. I'm the mom who doesn't volunteer in the classroom. I'm the mom who doesn't take her toddler to mommy and me classes. And while I'm sure the other moms barely notice and actually care even less, I notice it. I'm always a step behind. A minute too late. A second-class mom.

I walk to my van, check the clock, and debate whether I have time to stop for a much-coveted cup of coffee. I decide that I don't and end up speeding ten miles over the limit to get to work in time for my meeting. Someone carelessly parked in my designated spot so I have to circle the block to find an alternate. I finally find one far away, grab my laptop bag, purse, lunch, and case binder and struggle to make it to my office building by 10:00am.

I arrive. I sigh and suddenly realize that I hadn't taken a full deep breath in hours. My work day has just begun and I already feel haggard. I've already lived an entire full day. I walk past several coworkers who have already put in two hours of work. I switch on my office light and hope that no one is judging the time of my arrival.

I cringe as I check my inbox. The number of unread emails has grown exponentially since I last checked them in the hallway of preschool. But I can't address any of them at that moment because I have to duck into a meeting. I reluctantly accept the fact that next time I return to my office, the unopened email list will surely have doubled... or tripled.

And that is what it is like. Day in. Day out.

The most frequent comment/question that I get from my friends and new acquaintances is "wow, how do you do it all?" To that comment, I always respond with, "I don't. I don't do it all." I usually stop there. But on a particularly mouthy day, I might be a little more elaborate. I might say instead:

I don't do it all. I simply do all things part way. I kill myself to barely fulfil the minimum requirements of being a mom. I kill myself to barely accomplish the basic tasks required of an employee. And at each step, I feel criticized and judged. People only see how far my actions fall from their expectations. They do not see what I have given up and how I struggle to accomplish what I do. It is very hard to be a full time mom and a full time employee. And I have accepted the fact that I will never be fantastic at both.

When I express my struggles as a mom, people are always quick to reassure me that I am so great. I appreciate it. I truly do. But it's not the truth and I feel like I need people to know that I'm NOT perfect. I'm NOT great. Because it's ok to not be the gold standard. The bubble needs to be popped. People need to know that I yell at my kids. A lot. That instead of standing my ground in the face of a tantrum like the pediatrician told me to do, I sometimes give in. My kids DO eat school lunches every day. Often (like right now), my clean laundry sits in the laundry basket for two weeks before it gets folded. I'm impatient with my kids and do things for them when they are taking too long doing it themselves. Instead of teaching my son to tie his shoes, I bought him tie-less shoe laces. And after dinner every night, I rush to get my kids to bed because I'm dying for down time. This is what it looks like people. THIS.

And if a kind soul smiles at me and tells me that I'm doing amazingly, I will 100% appreciate their kindness. Because, whether they go to work or work at home, all moms need other moms for support. But we also need the freedom to express our shortcoming and be in solidarity with each other on our imperfections. We need the freedom to not be perfect. We need to set a new standard- that being imperfect is totally acceptable.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017


We waited so long for her to take her last breath. A full day of uncomfortable hospital chairs and awkward silences. Each time her chest fell we wondered, "was that her last?" before another wave of respiration would take her and we would all resume our own breathing.

Her breaths were mechanical, not intended. Her lungs refused to give up their muscle memory even after her mind and heart had long resigned their watchful posts. I wondered what it was like, to wait for the end. To say a final farewell to your own body. The body that you healed and fed and dressed and cleaned with great care for 90 years. The body that grew your children. That loved your husband. The body that slowly began to fail beyond control in your later years.

The body in the bed was Grandma, but not really. As I held her hands and lingered over the same long fingers (with knobby knuckles that resembled my own) that had taught me how to roll out fruit square dough to a precise and perfect thickness, I felt like I was holding a relic of a person long gone. They felt cold. And when I squeezed them, they did not squeeze back. Not like they did the night before, when I spooned red jello between her chapped lips as she delighted at the taste. She had only accepted two small bites, which stained her lips a healthy and vibrant red. The color looked odd and out of place on her pale and colorless body. It was, perhaps, the last thing she ever ate.

She still occupied her body, but only in the way a ghost occupies a haunted house. Her body seemed hollow. A presence would occasionally pass across her otherwise glassy eyes, like a ghost flitting past a dark, empty window.

Where was she at that moment? What did she see and feel? All the unanswered questions of the afterlife where there with me, with Grandma, in that hospital room. But I had no means to unlock them.

When her chest descended for the last time, the finality was both a relief and a stab in the gut. We went home with puffy faces and red eyes. It was then that it hit me how little time I had spent with her. For years she had been just a phone call or a 45 minute drive away. I rarely took the time for either. Now we were separated by worlds, the physical and the spiritual, the transient and the eternal. Only now that it was impossible, I'd have dropped everything to enjoy one last chat over grapefruit tea and gingersnaps.

In the weeks that followed, we were left to sort through the sea of her possessions. Everything she had acquired and owned. Every earthly object that she treasured or put up with was left in our care. From the mugs in which she drank her coffee, the pressed edelweiss that hung on her wall, the goofy string of moose lights she left up in her kitchen year round, books, VHS tapes, spoons, refrigerator magnets, photo albums.

Us grandchildren were invited to sort through her things and select memorable tokens of Grandmas to take home with us. I scoured the cardboard boxes of her things, desperate to find something of meaning to me. One special object, that's all I wanted. Anything to unlock a memory or shine some light into the void left by Grandma. But, sitting in a room strewn with boxes destined for the local thrift shop, I could find nothing of any meaning.

So, I grasped helplessly to everything. I clasped dessert cups to my heart, dessert cups I had never even seen her use. I wrapped my arms around a pastel colored strainer, a flour sifter, a necklace that I knew nothing about. Did Grandma even wear it? It didn't matter. I was determined to fill my house with Grandma. To acquire possession after possession. As if I could summon her back to earth by merely filling my space with her things. The less meaning each object possessed, the less satisfied I became, the more new stuff I needed to collect from the thrift store boxes.

At long last, I saw the cold, dusty bottom of the very last box. The tempest of old tea cups and fishing hats and religious paraphernalia had subsided. My collection had grown to a ridiculous height of assorted odds and ends. Ordinary objects that I would have passed up in any one of thousands of garage sales. Disappointed, I got up and walked outside for some air, leaving my new treasures behind on Grandma's pergo wood floors.

My thoughts took over and I suddenly found myself strolling through Grandma's garden. She loved her garden. She toiled for many hours in it. A little bit like Grandma herself, the garden was eclectic. I passed a planter box, currently empty, with an odd porcelain rabbit perched on the edge. That led me to a three foot by three foot square area with soft, mossy ground cover. I recalled two decades ago when she had just planted the moss. She described to me, expectation in her voice, how the moss would soon grow to fill the entire ground and create a mossy floor. Her vision had certainly been fulfilled. The moss crept everywhere.

I nearly bypassed her giant bamboo plants without notice when a worm of a memory suddenly crept into my thoughts. I was about eight. Grandma was tending to her bamboo, just small little shoots back then, talking about panda bears as I watered her purple and pink petunias. I didn't know the names of many flowers. But I knew petunias. Grandma had just picked some up at the hardware store that day. She taught me how to gently pull the flowers from their flimsy plastic carriers, to pull and massage the roots, and to plant them in flower boxes so that the soil would hit them at just the right spot. That's the day that I learned to love the smell of topsoil. And to wear the lingering earth-stained creases of my hands like a badge. And to love the rain as water for thirsty plants.

When the spell broke, I finished my stroll around Grandma's garden. Said goodbye to her St. Francis of Assisi statute- she loved him. I took one last look at the swing set which hosted hundreds of hours of play time and walked back into Grandma's house, my steps a little bit lighter. I reassessed my pile of treasures and, one by one, began to put objects back into the boxes.

I didn't need a flour sifter or a porcelain plate to remember Grandma. Her memories were not tied to any objects. They were sewn within me. They could be conjured on command or, even better, could sprout without warning, like surprise buds popping from the ground after a rainfall.

After everything was tucked back into the thrift store-bound boxes, I pulled out the pastel colored strainer. "Perhaps," I thought, "this just might make a nice petunia planter."

Tuesday, May 30, 2017


I'm baaaaack! Yikes, I've been gone from the blogging world for almost a year. It was an unintended but nice little break. At one point I wasn't sure if the time spent writing posts was worth the payout (and the judgy internet trolls). But, hey, I have things to say! Posts coming soon. For now, I just wanted to peek my head out of my cave and say, "hi!"

Oh and I'm 33 today. At the age of 33, Jesus saved the world. Well, I've amassed an impressive collection of infinity scarves and learned how to make pasta from scratch. Hey, now.....who's comparing anyway?

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!