Saturday, August 29, 2020

JOMO over FOMO?

"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 :)
    

Saturday, October 05, 2019

Shane's Inspiration: Los Angeles' Wonderful Inclusive Playground

Two weeks ago, my husband and I brought Gideon James to yet another park we haven't visited before. While it was nice to stroll around the winding pathways and enjoy the beauty of nature, we were once again disappointed that there's nothing in the playground that can cater to our young man's condition. Since James has very poor trunk and head control, a regular swing seat poses a lot of dangers for him.

James was all smiles at his first time to ride an accessible swing!
Frustrated, I posted a photo on Instagram asking for inclusive playground recommendations. As fairly new residents of Southern California, we are continuously exploring and looking for accessibility-friendly places. Thankfully, IG users @mely_furtado and @jenntmqz left comments on my post. They both suggested we check out @shanesplay so I excitedly researched about it and found out that Shane's Inspiration, located within Griffith Park, is approximately 29 miles away from our place. Since it's a bit far, I promised myself to find an opportunity soon to bring my son there.

this playground set has special features that kids of all abilities would love
The other day, our family attended a Conservatorship court appearance schedule in downtown Los Angeles. Hubby and our second son took the whole day off work so we could also visit the playground in the afternoon. We are sooooo happy we did! 

watch this video to see just how much fun James had!

I think James didn't quite know what to expect when his dad sat him down on the swing with protective harness because it took a while for him to realize what's going on. But once the swing got moving and he saw how happy we were, he started smiling and laughing with us! 

the playground floor is made of a soft padded material
that even babies can crawl on it without hurting their sensitive skin!
We also had James ride the awesome zip line seat that was likewise designed with safety features. His big grins told us how much he enjoyed the new experience.

making music with Daddy was so much fun!
Before we left, we also had James try playing the huge xylophone and hand drum. It was so great to also see other babies and children having a go at the many installations in this very special playground. I am beyond grateful to everyone who made this place possible. Thank you very, very much!

a basketball court for all ages
Read here how loving parents Catherine Curry-Williams and Scott Williams conceptualized this wonderful playground in honor of their son, Shane Alexander. You, too, can visit Shane's Inspiration at 4800 Crystal Springs Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90027.

Thank you, Shane's Inspiration! We'll visit again, soon!
Make sure to use Google Maps to get there because the playground can be quite challenging to find with some sharp turns that you might miss if you don't have specific driving directions. Enjoy! I hope fellow parents who also have differently-abled children would find this information useful :)  


Saturday, March 23, 2019

Best Day Foundation: Providing Fun Adventures for Kids and Young Adults with Special Needs

As a parent of a son with special needs, I have many dreams for him that I thought would remain just that -- dreams. But, through the years, God has shown our family that certain wishes could actually come true when we take the time to look for, and recognize, answers to our prayers.

In my wildest dreams, I never thought my son would get the chance to go surfing!
Honestly though, I didn't quite imagine receiving certain unexpected blessings that seemed so impossible to have many years ago. And yet, here we are, seeing James getting to enjoy life so much more because he's healthier and happier and is presented with opportunities that were not available when we were still living in the Philippines.

Last year, one of the best things that gave us so much joy was seeing James go surfing and do other fun water activities that we never thought existed!

Daddy and James on a paddleboard in Newport Beach
It was sometime in February 2018 when I chanced upon a blog post of Joyful Journey Mom who shared the list of special needs resources she compiled. Unfortunately, her website couldn't be found anymore because the domain seemed to have expired. Anyhow, I've read there about an organization called Ride A Wave that "enables kids with special needs to experience the thrill of riding a wave regardless of their challenges."

Curious, I visited their website and saw that they are based in Santa Cruz, California, which is 364 miles away from where we live. Still hopeful, I filled out their contact form and asked if there may be a chance for them to hold a beach camp nearer us. The next day, Don, a member of their advisory board, emailed back and suggested I check out their sister organization in Southern California instead. 

Best Day Foundation has the best volunteers and staff members! 
That was how I found Best Day Foundation, an organization that creates special days for kids and young adults ages 4 to 24+ who have Autism, Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Blindness, Cancer, Spinal Cord Injuries, and other physical and developmental challenges.

Eagerly, I visited their website, browsed the photos and videos, and got more excited when I found locations that are within reasonable driving distance. When I had James watch some of the videos and asked if he would like to go to the beach and ride a surfboard, his eyes lit up and he started smiling and laughing. In my heart of hearts, that was my affirmation that he should have that amazing experience!

Isn't that smile contagious?! :)
After discussing it with my husband, I signed James up for a slot for the May 20th activity in Seal Beach even though it was still three months away. In the meantime, we'd watch the videos on the website every now and then while I kept reminding James to patiently wait for a few more weeks. He would always answer me with a big smile.

May 20th turned out to be a little cold and cloudy though so I became a bit concerned about how chilly the water would be. Thankfully, aside from the helmets and life jackets, Best Day provided all participants with wetsuits to keep them warm. Everyone was so friendly when we got to the site. James was paired with his beach buddies, Heather and Bryan, who took great care of him while hubby, myself, and our son Gab, took photos and videos to preserve the precious moments.


When it was finally James' turn to ride the specially designed surf chair, I felt nervous but still excited at the same time especially seeing how far he and his surfer buddy were from the shore. Once they caught a wave and we saw them coming closer, everyone could see the big grin my son had. It was such an emotional moment for us to see James experiencing something that didn't even cross our minds to be a possibility!

Needless to say, the day was a huge success. Our young man was smiling all throughout that morning, in the car while going home, and up until he fell asleep that night. It felt so good to see him thoroughly enjoy that unique experience that I wish other kids like him could also get to have.

happy family at the beach
Since then, every time we show him photos of him surfing and being on the beach, he would express excitement and happiness at the memory. So I checked if there would still be other activities in SoCal in the coming months and fortunately found a slot for October 7th at Seal Beach. There, he was taken good care of volunteer Eddie, his assigned beach buddy for the day.

I am blogging about this now because I'd like to encourage other parents with special needs kids to likewise sign their children up to upcoming 2019 activities that start next month and will be happening in Florida, California (San Diego, Orange County, LA County, Ventura, Sta. Barbara), North Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland

Best Day at the beach with new friends
Volunteers are also welcome to share their time! Please visit bestdayfoundation.org/volunteer to sign up and read the FAQs. Donors, please consider sharing your resources at bestdayfoundation.org/donate to help subsidize participants whose parents may not be able to shoulder even the minimal registration fee. 

Dear readers, if you know of families who may benefit from this information, please do share it with them. I hope, one of these days, I'll be able to hear about a kid who was brought to a Best Day event because their mom or dad happened to read this blog post. It would be awesome to find out how more young people with special needs were able to experience one of their best days like our James had :) 


Thursday, January 24, 2019

Today, My Son "Walked" For the Very First Time With the Help of Trexo Robotics!

Those who have been following this blog and have read my book, Embracing Disability This Ability, already know that James, my son with cerebral palsy, could not talk nor walk and can't even sit up by himself without the seat belts and harnesses of his wheelchair and car seat. But, despite James' limitations, our family continues to find ways in making his life better. We also keep praying and hoping for further signs of development on how he communicates and moves. 

seeing James walk used to be just a dream
Since we moved to California in November 2017, James is still yet to have physical and occupational therapy services due to several factors, one of which is his transition from child to adult under the state's health care services system after he turned 21 last September. While we patiently wait for things to fall into place, I actively seek connections with organizations and caring individuals who have the heart to help the special needs community.  

Last week, Canadian-based Trexo Robotics announced that they will be coming to Los Angeles for two days to allow mobility-challenged kids try their awesome device. I have been following their posts on Instagram for quite a while now and find inspiration in the stories of children who are being helped to walk using Trexo's enabling technology.

Thank you so much, Manmeet, Rahul, and Dina for
giving James a chance to try the Trexo!
Without knowing where exactly they will be in LA, I resolved to bring James to them if they could give him a slot for a trial. I reached out to the Trexo team via direct messaging and got a call from COO Dina Nikitina on the phone who asked me a few questions. She then informed me the next day that they can accommodate us for January 24th at 10AM.

Early this morning, my husband, James, and I traveled 34 miles to Hawthorne where NAPA (Neurological and Physical Abilitation) Center is located. There, we met Dina as well as Trexo Robotics founders Manmeet Raggu and Rahul Udasi (read the wonderful story on how they started Trexo, here) who patiently helped James get comfortable in the walker with the robotic attachments before they got him "walking" using controls on a tablet.


For the first time in his life, James was able to move by himself with the help of technology and, while I focused on taking pictures and videos, it took me a lot of effort not to start crying upon seeing my son beaming big smiles while he took 199 steps in less than 10 minutes!

In individuals like James who hadn't experience how to walk independently and whose legs most likely do not know the correct motions needed to do this activity, I believe Trexo's innovative technology would be a big help in training the muscles and the brain to remember stepping movements through practice and repetition.

cherishing this new milestone in #gideonjamesjourney
After this Trexo trial, my husband and I plan to look for ways on how we could lease, if not buy, the device so James could practice walking more until such time he could, hopefully, graduate to a simple walker. We'd sincerely appreciate it if you could help us pray about this. Just like in the very beginning when we started in this special needs parenting journey, my family and I will keep on dreaming more dreams for this young man who never fails to give us immense joy each and every day.