Saturday, January 02, 2021

How Auld Lang Syne Sounds When Played on a Tongue Drum

Happy New Year, everyone! Since most of us preferred to usher in 2021 at home, I'm sure that like us, you also found various ways to keep yourselves entertained. 

Sometime in May 2019, I bought a tongue drum online to make music with. I originally wanted to have a hang drum that sounds so much better but found the prices way out of my budget. So I settled for this one and it's been nice playing it for fun. It has even become a conversation piece whenever we had (pre-pandemic) guests over. 

Anyhow, here's sharing a simple, non-professional rendition of Auld Lang Syne on a 10-inch 11-note tongue drum that my non-verbal son with special needs found entertaining. 

Whether it was simple or grand, I hope your New Year's celebration with the people you love was a joyous one :)

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Why 2020 is an Intermission Year for All of Us

It's the end of 2020! How excited are we to usher in a New Year filled with hope and better things to come? While the past months have been challenging and splattered with a lot of heartbreaks, those shouldn't prevent us from looking forward to the coming days! 

screencaptured, no copyright infringement intended

I'm currently watching a Korean drama series titled Thirty But Seventeen and a conversation between the two lead actors made me pause and contemplate. I had to rewind the clip to capture the words which I think would also resonate with many of you.

Woo Seo-ri: "You know what an intermission is, right?"

Gong Woo-jin: "A break time during a musical or a show?"

Seo-ri: "Yes. Whenever I went to concerts as a kid, I really loved intermissions. 'Thank goodness, it's not over yet. There's still more left. What kind of cool performances will they do now?' I feel like I'm in an intermission now. I'm taking a break for a moment while waiting for the next cool performance. The intermission of my life. That's why I'm okay. It's not over. I'm [just] taking a break. My heart's racing. I'm waiting for the cool stage to come. I'm just on pause right now."

The backstory is that Seo-ri, a violinist, was in a coma for more than 10 years and woke up as an adult instead of a teenager. She wasn't able to attend a prestigious music school abroad as planned and her hands can no longer play the violin like they used to.

Goodbye 2020!

I appreciate how writer Jo Sung-Hee was able to beautifully express this sentiment in words. I think many of us feel the same way about this year. We have been put on pause due to circumstances beyond our control. And yet, by merely surviving day to day, month after month, we're still here ready to face a new year with dreams of a brighter future.

So, as we leave 2020 behind, I hope you, too, can just consider this year as an intermission while waiting for the next cool performance of our lives. Happy New Year, everyone! :)

Thursday, October 15, 2020

8 Tips for Those Planning to Hike the Pumpkin Rock Trail

Halloween is almost here so it's not surprising that a lot of people suddenly want to see the Pumpkin Rock located in Norco, California. I actually didn't know about its existence until I came across several posts about it on Instagram a couple of weeks ago. Because it made me curious, I made plans to visit it with hubby and we were able to go there this past weekend. 

thankful for the lady who offered to take this photo of us

Here's sharing some tips to make your trip worthwhile:   

1. Plan to go there very early in the morning to avoid the crowds. I saw an IG post that said they had to wait two hours in line just to take a photo with the Pumpkin Rock! My husband and I left home at around 6:30AM and made it there a few minutes past 7AM. I wanted to catch the sun rise behind the rock but it was unfortunately cloudy that morning. Still, the cool air was nice as we hiked up. We were able to take photos with "Jack" after the two groups in front of us.

view of the Pumpkin Rock from the longer but not so steep trail route 

2. Check the weather forecast before going and wear an extra layer of clothing if it's going to be cold in the morning. A light jacket would be easy to take off and tie around one's waist in case you'll feel hot later on. 

what my pants and shoes looked like after the hike

3. Wear comfortable closed shoes with good sole traction. Also, if you don't want to get your legs all dusty, wear pants instead of shorts. I don't recommend following my husband's example of wearing slippers! Being a barefoot runner, he sometimes tend to not wear shoes when he knows we're just going for a short hike. I only became conscious of it when a few hikers pointed it out and marveled how he was able to move easily along the dusty trail.   

Crestview Drive as seen from higher up the steep trail near the fire hydrant

4. Park along Crestview Drive. It's a long curving street right beside one of the trail heads just up the Equestrian Center. Hubby and I found a spot a few yards from the yellow fire hydrant. Being first timers there, we mistakenly climbed the steeper trail near it but which surprisingly made for a faster hike up to the halfway point (around 10 instead of 25 minutes). I wouldn't recommend it though for rookie hikers. Going down, we chose the gentler route even though it was three times longer. 

FYI, there's a smaller pumpkin rock further to the right of the big one
5. Bring a trekking pole / hiking stick (or two) if you have one. I regretted that I didn't bring mine because there are some steep and slippery areas along the trail. Even though the ground was very dry, a lot of small loose rocks and pebbles can make you lose your footing. We've seen a lady fall and slide down on her bottom when she slipped. Thankfully, she wasn't hurt and was still able to laugh about it. 

Don't forget to bring something to hydrate with!

6. Carry your water in a REUSABLE bottle and bring a bag so you can dispose of your trash when you get home. Please don't leave anything behind. I found it sad how some people felt it was okay to leave their beer bottles and other garbage strewn all over the place! 

Scorched by the sun but still beautiful up close 

7. Explore the surrounding areas beyond the Pumpkin Rock. Don't make that climb without maximizing your time up there. Enjoy the nice views, clamber up some of those big rocks, feel the cool breeze, and admire the pretty plants that survived summer's scorching heat.

the one and only graffiti I found nice among all the ugly ones 

8. Take nothing but pictures and leave only your footprints. I know this is cliche but there are irresponsible people who need to be reminded of it because the atrocious amount of bad graffiti shows that there are those who hike up the trail armed with spray paint to vandalize the environment. The Pumpkin Rock itself looks really dirty so I opted to "clean" the writings using a photo editing app as you can see in my pictures.  

Can you see the beer bottles on the ground? 😕

Lastly, don't forget to wear a mask and be mindful of social distancing protocols. Let's help each other make California's hiking trails safe and enjoyable for everyone. 

pretty flowers along the hiking trail

If this blog post encouraged you to visit the Pumpkin Rock and if found these tips useful, please leave a comment below and let me know. Thank you and happy hiking! 😊

Saturday, August 29, 2020


"We should learn to savor some moments to let time feel worth existing." 
~ Munia Khan

I recently came across the acronym JOMO. It's supposed to mean "Joy Of Missing Out," the exact opposite of the more famous FOMO or Fear of Missing Out.

I was happy to be reminded that we shouldn't rush or be anxious about accomplishing so many things all at once like a lot of people believe we should.

Yes, I'm looking forward to doing more stuff in the coming days, weeks, and years but I try my best to be patient as I wait for things to fall into place. Meanwhile, I'm making an effort to enjoy the learnings along my journey.

This is me literally stopping to "smell the flowers" and savoring what life has to offer at this particular moment. Despite the heartaches that 2020 continues to bring, there are still silver linings on many corners. Let's make time to notice and appreciate them 💚

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

Thursday, July 02, 2020

Can You Grow Malunggay / Moringa in a Pot? Yes You Can!

In the Philippines, malunggay are staple greens that we often use for cooking. When we lived in Alabang, we had a huge tree beside the house where it's very convenient to cut stalks upon stalks without worrying about running out of leaves.

August 2018

It was a very different story when we moved to Southern California almost three years ago. When we wanted to cook Tinola, a few stalks of malunggay at the Filipino supermarket would cost the same as, or even more than, two pounds (about a kilo) of chicken. I'm serious! So we'd resort to buying spinach instead because they're cheaper. 

from small to big pot

In late November 2017, my mother-in-law bought us a malunggay seedling for $5.00 at a swap meet where some fellow Pinoys were selling plants. By winter, the leaves were all gone and we were left with just a stick in a pot. Because I could still see some green parts on the main stem, I diligently watered the pot every two days. 

May 2018

Come spring, I was rewarded with tiny buds that eventually grew into branches with leaves. By August 2018 (see topmost photo), we were able to harvest a batch which we happily added to home-cooked Chicken Tinola.    

March vs. May 2020

Fast-forward to my family's move from my sister-in-law's townhouse to our own apartment in November 2018 where we brought the big pot of malunggay with us. Again, it hibernated during the winter but bloomed once more come spring and summer and we were able to harvest two or three times before it stopped growing new leaves in the fall.

It's 2020 now and I'm happy to report that our malunggay tree is still healthy and thriving. We actually had the first harvest recently and the main trunk is slowly recovering to bring out more leaves. Someday, when we finally get to buy a house of our own, I pray that this tree, the very first plant I took care of here in the U.S. would have its own spot in a nice garden and finally planted on the ground :)

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Making Memories in the Month of May

So, were you able to #MakeMayMatter? It's the end of a seemingly longer than usual month but, instead of thinking about the things that continue to go wrong in this planet, I'd like to express gratitude instead for the things that went right:

nature appreciation :)
🎂 I turned a year older
🌳 Hubby and I got to explore new hiking trails and started a new habit of communing with nature at least once a week
🌺 I had a ball taking pictures of a wide variety of flowers (even weeds!) and lots of beautiful sceneries
👩‍🍳 I got to prepare many homecooked meals for my family
🍊 We have easy access to buying fresh fruits and vegetables in various stores nearby
♿ While not being to go outside, our #GideonJamesJourney remains happy and healthy
💵 God continues to provide for our financial needs and we were able to share some of our blessings to those who needed them
🖥️ Thanks to technology, we are able to communicate regularly with family and friends living halfway around the world
🌱 My tiny garden of potted plants are doing well and bringing me much joy

There are more to this list but these are the top ones I am most thankful for. If you're also making a similar list, what would be in there? 😉

Saturday, December 28, 2019

14 Tips for People Who are Migrating to Another Country

Since moving to the United States two years ago, I have been asked for tips and reminders by friends who were also planning to push their reset buttons and start a new life outside the Philippines.

This coming 2020, I know of at least three families who are already scheduled to leave for the US. So, here’s sharing a list of tips that I have shared with them in case others may be able to find them useful as well. 

read our family's migration story, here, where we had to leave in batches 
1. Secure documents that would be very difficult to obtain once you’re no longer in the Philippines: birth certificates, transcript of records, diplomas, etc.

*Rule of thumb: Prioritize to bring things that are impossible to duplicate outside your home country, especially if you won't be able to return for a long time.

2. If you have a child with special needs like we do or a family member with chronic conditions: Bring clinical abstracts, hospitalization summaries, enough maintenance medications (at least good for 3 months) and small medical equipment (eg. nebulizer, suction machine, feeding pump, etc). Know that it takes a while to get into the medical and insurance systems and you can’t just buy a lot of medical stuff (at pharmacies or even online) without a doctor’s prescription. The files documenting your child’s condition would be helpful when you start applying for government benefits for disabled residents. 

* As per my mom-in-law’s advice, we also brought some over-the-counter (OTC) meds for fever, headaches, coughs, and colds. Those became very useful especially during our first winter here.

3. Instead of bulky and heavy photo albums, scan digital files of family pictures that you want to keep and might want to post as throwback photos in the future. Make sure to save them in a durable external hard drive. 

* I wish I knew about the HP Smart app before! It scans documents and photos quickly by just using my phone’s camera. As it was, I tried to scan as many photos as possible, especially those of my kids’ babyhood and school photos, using our bulky HP printer with scanner. 

** Plus, I brought three VHS tapes with me that contain footages of my kids’ baby and childhood years. Once here, I had them converted into digital files.

don't forget to have original copies!

4. Close extra bank accounts and retain one PH-issued credit card (for emergency purchases) and its linked savings account (so you can pay for those credit card bills and other obligations you may be leaving behind like remaining utility bills and life insurance premiums). 

* My hubby was able to use his PH-issued credit card for car repairs during the time we still don’t have a US-issued credit card. Months later, I cancelled both our credit cards on their anniversaries because the bank wouldn’t waive our annual fees anymore.

** As soon as you have extra funds, apply for a secured credit card (more about this on another blog post) to start building your credit score -- something immigrants should have as soon as they can.

5. If possible, try to arrange for your postpaid cellphone number to be discontinued a month or two after you leave the Philippines. You will still be able to receive messages but will be charged a lot if you use the text and call services. 

My advice is to just bring at least one GSM phone with a prepaid number that has roaming activated. Link it to your savings account for those transactions that need One-Time-PINs (OTPs) and for reloading just the minimum amount a month just to keep it active. 

When my family’s PH-based bank suddenly started requiring OTPs for all online transactions and all our PH-issued sims have already expired, I went through a lot of stress communicating with inefficient customer service reps for months before finding out that I needed to send a handwritten letter via snail mail (postage set me back $40 and it took a month to arrive!) to my branch in Alabang just to enroll my US-issued cellphone number to receive OTPs. Meanwhile, our life insurance policies almost lapsed from not being paid for more than half a year! 

* In the meantime, just to have something for communication purposes, it’s easy to buy a cheap phone with a prepaid sim in department stores like Walmart or Target here in case your PH phone (mine did) won’t work with US sims. You can also check if you’d qualify for a free government phone program, which is available in most states.

two of the bags we bought in Divisoria
6. Do NOT bring too many clothes! If you’re okay with shopping at thrift shops, you can find a lot of good stuff (some even have tags still attached!) for really low prices. To see if there are stores near where you’ll be living, just search online for “thrift stores (or Goodwill) in [your city of destination].” 

* After buying down jackets and some extra warm clothing for my boys, I didn't want to spend for myself anymore and just used a coat my sister gave me to travel in. Happily, in our first week in California, I found a lovely branded down jacket for just $14.99 in a thrift shop! 

7. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Avoid worrying about not bringing enough personal care items or even kitchen tools. Search Google Maps for “dollar stores in [city of destination]” and shop there for necessities once you get here.

8. If you’re trying to save money but don’t have enough bags for the whole family, don’t buy brand new and super expensive luggage from the malls. Check surplus stores first or even take a trip to Divisoria. You can buy new and better luggage here in the future when you need to take trips and already have the funds to buy good quality ones. Plus, you may have problems with storage if you have to keep all of them after the trip.

*Almost all 11 pieces of luggage we used were damaged from mishandling (hubby and two of the boys’ stopover was in China). Only three pieces survived and had minor damages. I was able to use one again two years later when I went to the East Coast to visit relatives. 

**We didn’t know that checked-in mobility equipment are not counted as luggage! Hubby only had one large suitcase because he brought James’ jogger stroller. As it was, he could have brought another checked-in bag! 

mobility equipment are not counted as checked-in bag!
9. Save the luggage space (you can only bring two big ones as checked-in baggage per person) for stuff you feel like you will miss the most from home. In our case, I packed a lot of sachet mixes for sinigang, kaldereta, and panggisa; our preferred brand of instant noodles (promise, the same ones for export that can be bought here taste bland!); plus four bottles of our favorite concentrated calamansi juice. As new migrants who are not yet financially stable, you’d initially find them quite expensive in Filipino stores as we first did.

10. Bring reusable eco-bags that can be folded into small sizes and tucked inside your pocket or shoulder bag. I regretted leaving a lot of pretty eco-bags that I got from media events. Here, grocery plastic bags cost 10 cents each if you have nothing to put your purchases in and I’ve seen people discarding them later without any second thoughts, opting to just buy another bag the next time they shop. That’s practically throwing money away!

11. Since Filipinos tend to be madiskarte or mag-Mcgyver and plumbing services here are expensive, it is better to bring some basic handyman tools (and a roll of duct tape!) for quick-fix circumstances. This would help you avoid buying pricey items from home improvement stores while you’re still looking for a job or need to save more money. My husband’s tools came in real handy during our first few months when he attached a bidet to the toilet, among other things.

actual photo of hubby's tools we brought with us to the US
12. Sell off as many of your stuff as possible so you won’t get stressed about where to store them and leaving them in storage for several years. When you get here, you’ll realize soon enough that many of things you planned to come back for someday would have been put to better use by other people. Most likely, you’ll find the same or similar items here, some even better than what you used to have.

*I used Shopee to dispose of a lot of items and earned about P30,000 in just a few months from selling already heavily discounted second hand and never-been-used products. Some of the leftovers I gave away to relatives and neighbors while some were sold by my mom and sister in garage sales.

13. Visit your dentist and have as much dental work done as much as possible. Seriously, you will be frustrated at the exorbitant prices dentists charge here even WITH insurance! Also, they almost always refuse to do tooth fillings and want to perform root canals so they can charge you $1000 for the service. And that quote still doesn’t include dental veneers, tooth jackets, or dentures!

14. Pay for your green card processing while you’re still in the Philippines so that you can receive it in as little as two weeks after arriving in the US. According to the PDOS (Pre-Departure Orientation Seminar) speaker at the CFO (Commission on Filipinos Overseas), if you pay when you’re already here, it will take two months to arrive. I am not 100% sure about that timeline but we did the former and did receive our green cards in less than a month.

my and James' arrival at LAX
Please note that everything in this post are based on my family’s own experiences and are just here as guides. Some of the tips may not be applicable to your specific circumstances but I hope you were able to find some of them helpful. 

To fellow Filipinos who also migrated to another country, please feel free to share in the comments anything else you think should be included in this list. Thank you for reading! :) 

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Tips for Shooting Videos and Well-Lighted Photos at Home

FACT: Not all living spaces are designed with big windows that let in a lot of natural light. Unfortunately, this is not a good thing for those who need to shoot good photos and videos at home.

No more dark and shadowy photos and videos!

Last year, I had to send a taped message to be used during the launch of my book Embracing Disability This Ability in the Philippines since I wasn't able to fly back home and couldn't make it to the event.

At the time, hubby and I had difficulties finding a good spot in the townhouse we were living in. So we just settled for a place across the living room window to get the best illumination. Still, it wasn't as well-lighted as we wanted.

screenshot from last year's video

The thing is, poorly-lighted videos can distract viewers from understanding one's message fully but we didn't have time to figure out a solution. And no, cellphone flashlights didn't help! 

Fast forward to this year when I was requested to send another video for a Christmas outreach program to encourage fellow special needs parents who also have kids with cerebral palsy.

Thankfully, I found a very functional ring light online that can be mounted on a tripod and even comes with a tiny remote so users can easily stop and start recording whenever needed.

Needless to say, hubby and I were happy with the results. Aren't advances in technology awesome?! 

P.S. For those wondering, I bought the selfie right light here and the well-lighted photos were taken using hubby's Pixel 2 XL and my Pixel 3. 

Note: Google's NOT a sponsor of this blog although I wish it is! We are just really happy with our phones :)