What is it about “all you can eat” that just draws folks to restaurants that pitch that on the menu. I admit, I’m a sucker for it, aren’t you? When I’m with a group and we struggle with the very important decision of where to have lunch or dinner, and someone interjects, there’s an “all you can eat” seafood place – no need to push me. I’ll push everyone else. It’s a mindset that can be deceiving. Can make you think you can eat as much as you want, with no consideration at all for the capacity of the stomach, nor its ability to digest large and mixed portions. Darn the advertising draw that’s so powerful. I go anyway.
So, last weekend, I attended a church fundraiser in Palo Alto, an event I always look forward to every year – an “all you can eat” crab dinner. It was no surprise that 90% of attendees were baby boomers or older. Is it this generation that falls easy prey to “all you can eat” offers? Or, is it this generation that worries less about calories? Or, is it this generation that scrimps on meals every day for health or other reasons, that a big break is so welcome. I’m glad I went. The crabs were meaty, plentiful and free flowing. The heads and legs kept coming. I wondered if the sponsor cornered the entire supply of the Bay Area. I was afraid to ask – didn’t want to jinx the table service.
But first, there were hors d’oeuvres — a long table filled with platters of cheese, crackers, purple and green olives, chips, salami slices and small cups of miniature shrimps swimming in rich, spicy red cocktail sauce. I was hungry at 6 p.m., and I observed, so were the crowds who lingered around the table and who kept ambling back for more. Now, wait a minute – this was “all you can eat” appetizers. A double whopper, I thought. Unwittingly, I filled up. The auction table was a useful distraction, or I’d be continually munching on the salami and shrimp cocktails.
The music DJ asked that we be all seated because salad would be served soon. I convinced myself, some green leaves and tomatoes in olive oil and vinegar dressing would be refreshing to the palate, and not heavy to the stomach. Those near me agreed. My group of six emptied the entire big salad bowl of lettuce and arugula. Then came the pasta. Big one-inch noodles immersed in sauce cooked perfectly with mild spiciness, a little peppery bite, the Italian touch of the evening, along with the crunchy garlic bread that someone said was very popular at Safeway. Couldn’t refuse those and regret it later. So I scooped the spoon underneath the tempting mound of warm carbs, gave myself four big spoon-fulls, and reached for the strongly aromatic bread. I consumed half of both. Delicious! But my gastro started to grumble, so I stopped. Suddenly, I remembered what I came for – the crabs! O darn! I need to walk around the block, or around the auction table ten times at least, I mumbled to myself. None of the items interested me; they weren’t as attractive as last year’s. I decided, I’ll walk around the table, anyway. People may just think I couldn’t make up my mind. So, I heavily stood from my chair and moseyed on – to the restroom instead.
I took my sweet time to come back to the dinner table. And there they were, steaming fat legs, claws and pompous heads, with everyone smiling over them, oohing and aahing but not endeavoring to reach first, just as if the crab pieces would melt if anyone dared touch. The crabs tantalizingly smelled like the sea. I solemnly sat in royal fashion, straight back and head held high, prim and proper – before I attacked. Hey, I wasn’t going to wait for the others, though my sister beside me went first. I clutched at two heads and a big fat leg. No ceremonials here. Cracked the thin head shells and started to pull white meat from the enclaves and shoved it to my watering mouth. I almost forgot the bottle of organic apple cider vinegar I brought; opened it and poured some into a small cup, before passing the bottle around. My neighbors thankfully accepted the vinegar and drizzled it directly on their crab pieces. Our table reeked of the sweet-sour aroma of vinegar. No one cared. With that, we ate more crabs, bowls were quickly emptied, and more filled bowls came. The mindless chatter before the crabs came quieted down to grunts of satisfaction and soft gripes of “I’m so full, but I want some more”. The heads and claws kept coming.
At what point does one make the decision to stop eating? The temptation of food is strong, especially if it’s right in front of you. The mind is willing to continue to eat, but the body gives up. At this point, the body forces the decision. Everyone at my table stopped practically the same time. Contentedly smiling at each other, we relaxed and sat back on our chairs — and I imagined, we were smug, shy of scratching our bloated bellies and dozing off for a quick nap. We all snubbed the dessert, a yellow cake with cream filling in between layers. The piece looked sweet and pretty in a saucer, but the attraction was for naught. We were awefully stuffed. Except a young man in his late 20’s seated almost across from me. He stopped eating an hour before we did. We suspected he was trying to stay slim for his groom’s attire for a wedding scheduled next month. That, or he didn’t want to shock his bride to-be with extra pounds and puffy cheeks when he travels to the Philippines in a few weeks to be with her. Or, he just wasn’t as crazy about crabs as we were. That was just fine with us – more crabs for us to finger pick.
The surprise of the evening – no leftover crabs to sell by the bags, unlike in previous years. Someone yelled from the kitchen to a line of eager customers –“Sorry, no more crabs!”
Guess what! I wasn’t sorry at all. There’s another “all you can eat” crab dinner in three weeks to be sponsored by my brother-in-law’s Knights of Columbus council. I told my sister, pass by for me please, I’m going!
This Lola still works, part-time, three days a week. I appreciate the chance to get up earlier than usual in the morning, pick an attire appropriate for the office, prim my hair and prep my face, fix a quick breakfast, take the vitamins and scheduled meds, wash the cup and plate I used, bag my baon (packed food) for lunch, check the stove, then out the door. That’s the routine for work days which, I admit, I’ve gotten the hang of and which I miss during prolonged vacations. This routine could all flow in a rush or in a slow, pleasurable progression. Either way, it’s rooted in my system.
What I’m saying here is, partial retirement seems best for this baby boomer. While having some days off is necessary for errands, appointments, personal chores and rest, maintaining a regular work schedule on other days provides variety and challenge, two ingredients to sustaining vigor, interest, positive outlook and the excitement of anticipation. Work can be a motivation to stay healthy, for what good is determination if the body is not able or lazy. But knowing there are urgent matters to complete or deadlines to meet can goad the body to move and overlook the pain or the tiredness, even the laziness. Work is good for the soul, mind, body — and yes, the pocket.
When full retirement happens, and there will come a time for that (though just not yet), I will find activities – mainly volunteering, I expect. Already, I’m thinking of the community library and the church nearby, essentially office kind of work, or perhaps, newsletter writing or writing correspondences. But volunteering is not the only way to occupy time. There, of course, are myriad chores that I can attend to at home, and which I have postponed for quite a while now. I’m not embarrassed to say that closets need to be tidied up, old clothes need to be sorted and some to be donated, or skirts to be hemmed, or kitchen cabinets to be straightened out, or the garage cleared of junk. There are old picture albums to be completed, and digital photos to be organized.
On the creative side, stories half written are waiting to be continued, learning to play the piano and ardent practice I vowed I’d go back to when I retire, studying gourmet recipes and cooking them with my own artistic flair, more blogs to be done for Babyboomerlola.com, and surely – my musical that I abandoned last year when I received a long constructive critique from a professional New York critic. Ah, that’s what I would love to do – back to my script, music and songs … a very amateur musical writer on the rise, I’d like to think of myself … or rather, I dream of becoming (when I fully retire?).
So, what’s the verdict? Continue on with my part-time job? A few years back I retired from full-time work and soon after, took a part-time job. My relatives in the Philippines would like to know. They hope I spend long vacations with them, for us to travel to far provinces to tour beauty spots before they’re commercialized, to restaurant and department store hop, to visit kins we hadn’t seen in years, to attend and hold frivolous parties, to try each other’s clothes, or together roll out the nights with strange or funny stories and bubbly catching up — that really is the intent of the question. Bless their hearts (said in a good way). I thank them for thinking that I need the good times and the rest. I try to explain to them that retirement is not really rest. It’s just switching from one kind of activity to another, or even, to more kinds or variety of activity. But come to think of it, their idea of retirement for me sounds fabulous and groovy (loved that word when I was younger).
So, when I do fully retire – don’t expect me to be idle. This Lola will keep plugging away.
Last night, I heard an energetic rendition of a waltz by Chopin. I stopped working on my computer and immersed myself in the piano music by my house guest. It was moving in the sense that it made me stand up and perform fancy footwork on the floor to the rhythm of the piece. Suddenly, I stopped my swaying and sycophantic moves and sat down. A memory so vivid crossed my mind. I allowed it to float fully into my consciousness.
I was a young girl, lying on my thin pillow, ready for sleep at around nine in the evening. Something kept me awake, however. It was that same piece by Chopin played over and over again in hopes of perfecting it, perhaps. I remember the music came from a beige-painted 2-story house across the river, just almost the opposite side of ours. Our house stood around 12 meters from the river bank that was dotted with a few banana plants and a couple of sampaloc trees with branches often laden with lumpy fruit pods. Sampaloc pods contain seeds embedded in fibrous substance which, when ripe, are sucked for their tangy sweet and sour flavor. Thinking of that river reminds me of sampaloc.
Last night, riding on Chopin’s strains, I remembered the Bicol river that runs through the city of Naga and flows on to Lake Bato and then on to San Miguel Bay in the Philippines. And I thought of the waltz that wafted over the waters that were ominously dark on moonless nights, but enchantingly shimmering under a moonlit sky. The repetitive music drifted through the open windows. I recall, I didn’t mind not being able to sleep. While listening in bed, I almost could predict the crescendos, the legatos, staccatos and trills. I learned its movement by heart, hummed its melody, and imagined my fingers sliding over the ivory keys. Almost every night, the studious pianist across the river practiced that very same piece, and it did get better each time.
Last night, my guest’s playing was good, and my thoughts were of the river. In high tide, it was over 15 meters wide. In low tide, it was less than 10. In the hot summers, kids in the neighborhood would negotiate the shallow waters using poles as support to steady themselves in case the rocks on the river bed were slippery. It was in this river that my father tried to teach me to swim when I was a little girl. But I didn’t learn because fear deterred me. It was in this river where often my cutie three-year-old sister in her underwear boldly flailed her arms and kicked her little legs to swim in the midst of her watchful older playmates from the neighboring houses. She became an expert swimmer. It was at this river where my father practiced his lungs and released his deep baritone voice to belt out his favorite old songs. His amused audience were the few fishermen, and children squatting by the river bank pretending to fish with their long, slender tree branches denuded of leaves. It was this river that I looked out to from my veranda seat on balmy weekend afternoons, when Mama would quietly work on her lesson plan for the next chemistry classes, while my youngest brother and sister were playing jackstones on top of the stairs, and my teenage brother was entertaining a friend over a game of black jack. Gazing at gentle waves that never seemed to reach the shore or edge of the river’s banks, I daydreamed and imagined and created ideas until my eyes drooped from staring too hard and thinking too hard. I think I dozed with my head rested on the open balcony’s wide window sill.
Ah, it was on this river where every year, the spectacular fluvial procession celebrating the Lady of Penafranacia would slowly glide by with thousands of devotees in big and small boats shouting praises to the Virgin Mary, “Viva la Virgen – Viva!” The shouted praises reverberated in all the river banks, till echoes seemed to rebound from trees and soil and water and grass – and mouths of masses of onlookers and devotees. It was a grand pandemonium in a holy way. If sounds could be loud and hushed at the same time, that was how it was. The volume of voices was deafening, yet accompanied with a mysterious hush that hovered in an atmosphere of awe. It was like the river turned up the volume and the silencer to max at the same time. Sounds puzzlingly weird, but that’s how it was on the Bicol river during the Penafrancia fiesta.
Oh yes, Chopin’s waltz – my guest arrived at the last measures with full gusto, and that brought a halt to my travels on memory lane. The trip was pure pleasure. I love Chopin. But would you believe? I still haven’t gotten the title of that piece. Neither am I going to make myself go to the piano to peek at the music sheet. I’ll leave it at that – a Chopin waltz that floats me like a magic carpet, back in time and memories of the river.
I ask myself why I don’t engage in cooking my favorites often anymore. For one, my children are grown and married and living away from home. I would have loved to cook for my grandson, but he, my son and his wife are an hour’s drive away. My husband had gone to the beyond two years ago. He loved the few cuisines that I mastered, though he really was the master chef at home. He had such talent, creative skill and speed in cooking, he never failed to amaze me. Cooking was not his profession; it was a hobby and a passion. The man of the house often was the toast of the party, and I was very proud of him. Adding here, that I always cleaned up plenty after him. Small pay for the gourmet dishes laid out on the table. So, cook for myself? Hmmm … not much motivation there. Unless there’s a party to prepare for at home … or a potluck to contribute to … or, I’m craving my own favorites, like now.
But what are those that I “privately” and “modestly” boast about? What dishes do I make best and which I thoroughly enjoy preparing? Immediately, I think of lumpia (egg rolls), adobo (marinated chicken with pork), turon (fried banana wrapped in lumpia wrapper), and suman (sticky rice sweetened and cooked in coconut milk). Add to that my own version of the Italian chicken/sausage cacciatore. I learned from the get-go, so to speak. To be honest with some chagrin — I wasn’t much of a cook in my younger years. Didn’t mind washing the dishes or cleaning up after someone else in the kitchen. However, over the years, with kids growing up, and by necessity, I cooked. To my surprise, cooking ceased to be just a chore. I had gotten to enjoy it. And when my husband started his dialysis, I found myself more and more the regular in the kitchen. I didn’t mind it at all. The best part is, he appreciated what I cooked. That’s how I got the hang of it, liking cooking I mean. Appreciation served as both motivation and reward.
So, back to the dishes that I particularly enjoy making and which I take pride in. They’re not exactly out-of-the-ordinary or uniquely mine, but they certainly carry my own creative add-ons and style in technique, appearance or taste. Let’s start with lumpia, the Filipino version of the egg roll. The wrappers come in very thin pieces of dough that stick together when sold in the supermarket. The key about separating these wrappers is to wait for the package to thaw a bit, not when it’s straight from the freezer or from the store. Very time consuming, I say. Slow and gentle when separating the pieces, so they will come off clean and without holes. I then sauté in hot oil with garlic and diced onions the ground beef and/or ground pork, thin string beans sliced in very tiny pieces and diced carrots. When the mixture is nearly cooked, I stir in the bean sprouts and allow another two minutes of cooking in moderate heat.
The cooked filling is drained of excess grease before the folding begins. Folding the wrapper over the filling requires some gentle fingers to prevent the thin and fragile dough from tearing. Put a heaping spoon of filling into the wrapper, fold from the top and sides, and roll the lump towards the edge of the wrapper that’s dampened with a bit of water. The slightly dampened part of the dough will allow the edge to stick to the body of the roll and close tight. Fry the roll in hot oil and drain or let stand for a minute or two before eating. That’s Lola’s golden brown, crispy lumpia. Slap away the hand that tries to grab a roll while it’s draining because it surely will be super hot, and you wouldn’t want any mouth to burn. Writing about this makes me drool.
Now, I’ll share my way of cooking suman, a dessert. I boil sticky rice (also known as malagkit) till the water runs dry. After pouring in two or three cans of coconut milk into a deep pan or pot over moderate heat, I wait for the simmer and then put in brown sugar and anise seeds. Occasionally I stir. When the sugar is melted, the boiled sticky rice is put in, frequently (though not continuously) mixing the white sauce with the glutinous rice. When the coconut milk is completely absorbed in the rice, the rice becomes very sticky. I then place the mixture in a pyrex plate with sides, and flatten the top. In a separate small pot, some coconut milk is simmered with brown sugar to make light syrup. The syrup is poured on top of the sticky rice. The dish is placed in the oven in 350-degree temperature for around 20 minutes or until the syrup creates small bubbles. Take the dish out of the oven and let stand for around 10-15 minutes before eating. This is suman, which also can be eaten cold. And what about the ratio of malagkit to water – around 2 cups of water to a cup of rice, or more water for softness. That depends on how you want your grain cooked – “aldente” (a bit hard or firm) or gooey soft.
But for the water mentioned above, notice how I didn’t specify measures? What’s strange about my cooking techniques is that the measures are calculations in my head – or putting it simply – to taste. Isn’t that how Lolas cook? The recipes are all in their head.
Adobo, turon and cacciatore will be in my later blog. Oh, I didn’t tell you — I can whip up a good breakfast anytime. Enough drooling and boasting for now.
I’m sitting in front of my laptop, searching my brain for what I can write about this moment. So, I think about today. A lot of happenings, true, but so little to write about. There mustn’t have been anything that interesting to share. OK, what about what I ate for lunch. That came from my sister who now and then gives me samplings of her cooking. I can’t say much about the food, except that it was a delicious dish of bitter melon sautéed with eggs and tomatoes; I gobbled it all up. So, what about my dinner tonight? That was good, too. Oops, too bad, I didn’t cook that either. I bought it from an expensive high-end grocery store in the neighborhood. Can’t tell you how that was made either, except that it was one of the best stuffed cabbage I’ve eaten. Think, there must be something!
I’m noticing frustration slowly creeping up now. Disappointed? No, not really. There must be some good bits I can write about. Nothing? With a sigh, I look out the window and catch sight of a very yellow moon surrounded with a hazy halo in the sky. I wonder why it isn’t red, like the news reports said. Then I realize, the red or blue moon was last night, but I missed it. So, I can’t write about that, too. What about tomorrow? Perhaps I can say a blurb about my appointment in the car repair shop. It’s for the replacement of a bar underneath the front part of my Camry. That part has partially dropped and scrapes the road whenever there’s a dip in the path. Can’t say much about that either, because I’m not familiar with what that part is or what it’s for. It’s a metal or plastic bar, that’s all I know. Perhaps, after my service appointment, I’ll be more informed. But at that point, I may not care to tell you, and you may not care to know.
So, glancing at this big oval-shaped lemon on the table, I pick it up. I can’t write how it’s grown or how it has gotten to be this size, four inches in diameter and eight inches in circumference, given by a colleague at work. All I can tell you is that I gently roll it across my forehead and up and down my cheeks for its cool smoothness and sweet-sour fragrance, as what I’m doing right now. It’s a mindless thing. Against my warm cheeks, it probably has ripened faster.
OK, I’m caving in to deep frustration now. Gimminy crickets! Is that how it’s spelled? Nothing interesting to blog about! No good topic I can explore and joyfully play with. This must be what is commonly called a writer’s block, a dry spell, the muse in absencia, bouncing in a vacuum, or time to give up – for now at least.
But hey, wait! Am I not writing? So, this is it! Stop the griping. Now I can move on. Never give up, I say!
It was a sleeping beauty then – in December 2017 when I was on tour with my relatives in Legazpi, Albay of the Bicol Region some 330 kilometers south of Manila, Philippines. Mayon Volcano, as in my other past visits, hid her face behind low cottony clouds. She is said to be bashful. My opinion is she’s veritably private, what with streams of visitors from various parts of the country and the world, eager to see her, waiting for the cloud cover to lift so they can view her alluring face.
Romantic legends tout Mayon as a timid maiden known as Maganda (meaning beautiful). Maganda captivates numerous suitors that lie frustrated on her slopes, because the elusive lady is imperious and difficult to please. And when she concedes to occasional outbursts, suiters scramble down her slopes away from the fuming maiden. Almost untouchable, but imperial in a mysterious way – poised proudly with a perfect cone magnificently pointed to the sky, and graceful slopes shaped by eruptions of the past, the latest of which was in 2013, and then now. And now, what audacious, impertinent prince kissed her that she is roused?
Mayon has been rumbling since January 13th of 2018. Her terrible mood spews hot lava and molten rock to a circumference of around nine kilometers, recent reports say. As of this writing, the danger warning level stands at 4, with 5 being the most dangerous and devastating. It is further predicted that her tantrums will sustain for several months. In her fury, the royal maiden shoots flames and debris into the air, affecting several towns and cities below. Spectacular photos have been floated by the media. But let not anyone be deceived by the eerie beauty of her wrath. In fact, she is taken very seriously. Those fascinated by her awesomeness watch from a safe distance. Just like Maganda’s legendary suiters, people are scrambling away. To date, around 75,000 residents have been evacuated. The ash fallout is felt by farther cities as in the province of Camarines Sur. The clutch of the fastidious queen is extending, and everyone wants her back to her prim and proper self.
We pray for those affected by her fury, and hope for their safety – and our gratitude to those that help and look after their safety and needs.
Maganda is at her best when she stands demure and pure, towering beneath clear blue skies, even as some ethereal clouds threaten to screen her elegance, like a veil that teasingly hides and unhides her beguiling features from myriads of admiring suitors. That is how we want Mayon to be, deep in her sleep. And let no prince rouse her.
Jet lag – for me, it happens not upon arrival at the destination but upon arrival back at the place of origin. Why is that? When traveling through different time zones, the destination gets no jet lag. The body clock doesn’t seem to need any adjustment. Doesn’t the body recognize the difference there? But upon return to the place of origin, the body stresses over the time difference when, in fact, that’s always been what it had been used to before. Or, is the body just tired from all that traveling. Hmmm … the jet lag lags.
I opened my refrigerator to reach out for a snack and settled on cold spaghetti. I teetered between microwave or stove heating – but decided to eat it cold, with the rich tomato sauce curdled around the noodles. It was really good! Didn’t need any heating. The coldness gave it a fresh snack-like zing. I ate it all. The problem is, that was my dinner – not my snack. Oh well, I looked at it as early dinner, or, I simply skipped dinner. I got peachy full anyway.
When I got back from a long trip, I went without television for a week. Didn’t miss it. Just wanted the quiet to rest from a seven-week travel. In fact, I wasn’t aware that I actually didn’t have the TV on. Then one day, I realized the house was too quiet. I wanted music from the arts and music channel that I usually listen to as I do chores. I happened to turn on the news station instead. The news interested me – had something to do with the government shutdown and senators haggling over compromise issues. I listened for a while and continued on with my chores while leaving an ear tuned to the news and commentaries. Since then, I’ve had the TV on whenever I’m home. The habit’s back.
Today, the chatter in the box isn’t restful … sort of annoying, in fact. Perhaps, I should consider having just that quiet back. Forget about the problems of the world.
I finally caved in. I’ve always said I will never use a complicated phone (i.e. Smart phone) – but one that I can simply call out from and receive calls on. Last week I got a Smart phone from my family as a belated birthday and Christmas gift (since I was away during my birthday and the holidays). The gift excited me so much that I forgot my previous resolve. Immediately, I wanted to learn the new gadget. That was a week ago and today, I can use it with some comfort and ease, not to mention a pat on the back for learning it quickly. Pretty good, huh, for one who said “never” and “couldn’t” learn it.
I’m a baby boomer, right? A misconception, a misunderstanding, or a pretense — baby boomers are slow to learn technology – rather, resist technology – and refuse to learn new things. Not! I like learning new stuff on the computer, and I enjoy googling, and I’m excited about my website. This really is what the baby boomers are – we love to take up challenges, love to learn, love a good read, love technology, and love our Smart phones. So, young folks – we’re on!
So, to my family (especially to my son and daughter) – thank you for drawing me in to the world of high tech communication – thank you for my Smart phone! My earlier resistance? Blame it on age. Not!
While eating my fish sandwich and fries at the department store, I spotted an adult couple sneaking a kiss while waiting for their turn by the cashier’s counter. There was another peck, and then, a long and passionate one. I haven’t seen this romantic exchange in a public place for a long while now. Thus, it seemed a rarity that definitely caught my attention, and perhaps, others’, too.
I was tempted to create imaginary stories behind those kisses, like it was a kiss of reconciliation, or the lady’s thank you for a dream gift from her man, or a response to “you look lovely today”, or “you’re the handsomest guy in the store”. But I quickly chose not to tarnish the purity of the gesture obviously prompted by loving impulse. So, let’s leave at that, a passionate kiss in a crowded department store.
My home landline hasn’t worked for nearly three weeks now. That all started when rains continued to pour for two to three days in the area. Three phone techs had come. They seriously tried to solve the problem, all unsuccessfully.
I need my landline, despite the fact that my children recently gifted me with a Smart phone. The problem is, the Smart phone can’t stay behind at home while I’m off to work or to anywhere else. So now, I’m bummed because my landline doesn’t work. It’s my efficient assistant; it records messages when I’m not home. I can’t give it up because I have Smart. What am I to do?
“The Acropolis!” Several of us in the bus chorused as we passed lighted houses on the hills on our way from San Francisco Airport to the Peninsula. Obviously, several of us high school students remembered our Greek studies. Those that didn’t simply exclaimed “Wow” at the lovely sight. We were all very excited. For some twenty high school students from the Philippines, this was our first day in America. From the first step off Pan American Airlines, I could hardly contain myself. I knew, the rest in my young group were like me, eager, happy and anxious.
I was in Palo Alto, California for a three-day orientation along with other American Field Service (AFS) scholars from Asian countries, several decades ago. We stayed at Stanford dorms in Escondido, two tall structures a few stories high – a rarity since at that time there were few (if at all) buildings in Palo Alto that were more than a story high — two buildings that stood like twins easy to spot even from El Camino Real, the same that stand even now on campus, stalwart through the decades.
Our orientation was geared primarily to introduce us to the US and acquaint us with the American ways. It informed us about the American educational system, particularly the high school system that we were entering as seniors. The talks furthered our eagerness to meet our host families who were waiting for us in various states of the country. They also triggered numerous questions in our minds (it definitely did in mine) as to how we would react when faced with different traditions, strange customs, or cultural traits we were unfamiliar with. I mention the all-inclusive “we” here, because we, the foreign students, often discussed among ourselves, exchanged impressions, and admitted we had mixed emotions – generally, however, we were thrilled and felt prepared, like soldiers restless for battle, or dancers footloose for the music to begin.
Presentations and discussions each day flowed into an after-dinner program that turned out like an amateur show, with song and dance numbers showcasing the various countries represented in the group. I remember dancing the Tinikling (bamboo dance) with other AFSers from the Philippines. There was no rehearsal, just an impromptu kind of performance, which, to our surprise, turned out really amazing – meaning no disaster or clipped ankles in the process of jumping between poles. Since the performance was on a patio behind the cafeteria, we drew more audience from folks not from our group who were dining then. We might have been so good that we were asked for a repeat performance on the last day of orientation. We obliged.
Among the best features of the presentation was the food. That was our initial introduction to American cuisine, continuous days of having meat and mashed potatoes, hamburgers, hotdogs, bacon and eggs, apple pie, apple juice, orange juice, and yes, some Italian spaghetti and lasagna. I think majority of the Asian rice eaters didn’t mind that no rice was offered during the orientation. On the third day, however, I missed my sinangag (fried rice) with eggs and sardines or fish at breakfast. I missed my steamed rice with laing (gabi leaves) cooked in rich coconut milk. I was also sorely missing my family. The anticipation about the new place, new American family to meet, unfamiliar food, and a new high school felt all so wonderful – but I still missed my family. In the evenings, burying my face in the pillow, I would shed some tears.
But on that third day, three female scholars I quickly struck friendship with and I decided to stroll outside of the dormitory. When we reached the street, all four of us were of one mind and started to lift our thumbs up for a hitch hike. We didn’t know where we wanted to go, after all, we weren’t familiar with the place. We just craved for adventure. Less than a minute passed when a small light blue beetle Volkswagen stopped right in front of us. Two American girls – we guessed, from a private school nearby because they wore uniform plaid skirts and white blouses – flashed broad smiles at us and invited us in. The size of the car didn’t bother us; we quickly piled into the back seat: two on the hard-cushioned seat, and two on the laps of the unfortunate ones. I happened to be one of the fortunate ones. Introductions started and we were so giddy with excitement that we forgot to explain who we were and where we came from. The American girls smiled funny at us, and with our foreign-accented English, we declared we’d be happy to go wherever they were going.
The young driver said they needed to go to Town and Country. We didn’t care if that place was a town, city or country, we just wished for an out-of-the-ordinary venture, a get-away. The girls must have read our minds, for they happily said we could go explore as they did their errand. The adventure ride, to our surprise, ended in less than five minutes. We stopped at a row of low ceilinged stores all looking very much alike. As the two got out, we stayed cramped inside, thinking they’d be back after a quick stop. However, they motioned for us to get out of the car, suggested we start exploring, and said it would take them around half an hour and we needed to be back at the car by a certain time. In very cheerful tones, their youthful soprano voices rang out in duet – “This is Town and Country!” All four of us looked at each other and suddenly laughed. The American girls laughed, too. They were very smart. They knew exactly what crossed our minds. We wanted adventure, and there it was, in good ol’ Town and Country, Palo Alto, practically a stone’s throw from Stanford University campus.
All four of us AFS students spent our 30 minutes of adventure well. We stayed in one specialty store and tried all the colored glasses on display. Each of us came away with a fancy looking pair that made us look like movie stars, or so we thought – we triumphantly congratulated each other for our superb choice – though quite expensive, we parleyed, meticulously counting our pennies and dollars. Thirty minutes were up and we hustled to where the beetle was parked. The two American girls were waiting for us. And we all approached, wearing our movie star shades, feeling glamorous. The Americans giggled as we hastily piled back into the back seat, same arrangement of two on two.
We got back in time for early dinner. As others in the group walked to the cafeteria, we quietly took our seats for a sumptuous spaghetti and meatball dinner topped with vanilla ice cream on apple pie. We talked little of our adventure, careful not to let our chaperones know we goofed out without permission. The four of us were giggly high, though, recalling how we experienced hitch hiking for the first time in our lives. The evening featured a talent show as in previous nights, and ended with a lengthy lecture of reminders about being in a new place with a new family, new school, new friends and acquaintances. I was pretty sure the rest of the AFS students were like me, with our minds ahead of our bodies and imagined what awaited us. Excitement dominated, and we were antsy, restless and yet nervous. This was the real adventure, so I thought, like a whole new panoramic dream about to begin.
I still think about those three days of orientation, my first introduction to Stanford and Palo Alto, California. Had I known Palo Alto was going to be my new home in my adult years, the place where my husband and I would raise our children (my son was born in Orange, Orange Co. and my daughter, at Stanford), the community that we have gotten to love and appreciate, the city where my husband passed two years ago – I probably would have listened more closely to those two American girls who rattled off some interesting bits about the city (not yet quite the Silicon Valley it is now) as they drove their curious and capricious passengers back to Stanford campus – and I probably should have remembered their names; they lived in Palo Alto then.
Ever wonder why boys and girls seem frivolous? They’re quick to giggle or laugh, quick to find something funny, quick to react, quick with their wits, quick to emote, and quick to forget. I know, because they’re young. A 26-year old, who’s not much older than the teens in the party, steered my attention to the three girls obviously enjoying themselves and finding amusement in reading each other’s cell phone messages and viewing each other’s pictures. The girls acted giddy, without the alcohol, but with just plain entertaining tete-a-tete and banter between them. Girls in their late teens, squirming and laughing as they exchanged cell phones and indulged in such hilarity enough to make everyone else around jealous.
Thus, the comment from the 26-year-old – what is it that they can be as playful and capricious like they own the world. I thought, don’t the youths think they own the world? Let them think they own the world, because when they get older, they’ll realize the world isn’t theirs. So, let them be frivolous, let them be flippant at whim, let them have fun … for as long as they’re not hurting anyone. I wanted to ask the 26-year-old, “weren’t you that way when you were younger?” I got my answer even without asking. In somber tones, she said, she was serious when she was younger, and that seriousness stayed as she got older.
That made me sad. It also made me realize, even as I already knew, not all youths are frivolous. Not all can take the lightheartedness of life and turn it into a humor spree. Not all can find amusement in the pettiness of life and shift that into comical observations, or maybe teachable moments. Not all are quick to giggle and laugh, like those three teens in the party.
I can say that of adults, too. Some are prone to lightheartedness, and others are prone to be serious. It is not for me to judge, but often, the lighthearted ones grasp the joy of the moment, and embrace it like a child running to catch wind-blown petals from the cherry tree. The serious ones can be blinded with anxieties and fears that debilitate from finding simple delights spread before their eyes. I cannot claim to be just one or the other. I am both. And in my baby boomer years, I reach for the lightheartedness of youth. It’s still there, waiting to be grabbed. But I also indulge in seriousness when age looks to experience and remembers the not-so-easy or not-so-pleasant instances, and anxiety sets in – usually and most often, for naught. Then I regret the seriousness that made me miss out on the fun and significance of the moment – so I tell myself, learn from this and try to be less anxious and be effervescent. I cave in to my own nudging, for a while, that is. Then I’m back to some seriousness, and back to lightheartedness. I guess there’s a Ying and Yang in me, as in most perhaps.
The truth is, I admire the frivolity of youth. We should try to have some of that in each of us, maybe not all the time, but much of the time.
My sister in Palo Alto did it again. She arranged a surprise birthday party almost a month after my birthday. She‘s very good at it – always manages to pick a day when I don’t suspect there’ll be anything special happening. It happened last Sunday, when I scheduled a regular visit with my pasalubongs (gifts/treats upon arrival from a trip) from the Philippines. I looked forward to a chat over merienda (snacks) or perhaps soup, and regale her and my brother-in-law with stories about my vacation and updates on family and relatives there.
It was late in the afternoon when darkness was starting to creep in. I knocked. She promptly opened the door. We hugged and lavishly exchanged new year greetings. The house was dark. She said she needed to open the lights. I walked to the receiving room. Total quiet. I looked to my left and considered imagining statues on the floor. I blinked. My jet lag and adjusting body clock must be playing tricks, I surmised. I turned to my left again and realized the bodies were frozen as they crouched on the floor. Then it hit me – they’re springing a surprise. But no one dared move for many seconds – just eyes staring at me. Very strange – shouldn’t they jump up and yell “surprise”? Then I heard my sister’s voice loudly greeting, “happy birthday!” Was that the cue? The bodies moved in a wave that began with the younger ones. The seniors slowly stretched and carefully got up. A very interesting and lovely mixed group, I should say. – late teens, middle-aged and seniors.
The pageant was well choreographed, but what my sister forgot to instruct them was to yell surprise upon my arrival in the receiving room. The quiet progression on the floor suddenly turned to a babble, and the whole place got normal. Whew! I first thought I was watching a pantomime or a creative interpretive dance where dancers silently slither on the floor. More than 10 of them, and they happily sprang to life with my sister’s voice. The choreographer/director moved the show, and there I was in the midst of well- wishers … unexpected … many weeks after my birthday. Nice.
With one ear still clogged from plane pressure, I sort of heard my sister rattle off a litany of names of those who brought the delicious array on the party table. I heard noodles for long life, cake from the last harvest from a friend’s persimmon tree, special almond gelatin frozen in cups, and on and on … but my eyes glued to the barbecued pork ribs in a big tray. Three days after my flight back, and I was still dreaming of Sir Dodong’s crispy skinned lechon (roasted pig) I ate in Los Banos, Laguna. The pork ribs would do; in my mind – a deserving substitute for the lechon. Strangely, I ended up not eating the ribs at the party because of my favorite egg-drop soup my sister cooks whenever I’m in her home. I reveled in several cups of soup that there barely was any space in my stomach for anything more. The pork ribs became my baon (take-home), along with more soup.
I loved the party. As expected, it was so much fun, especially when the ice cream birthday cake was brought out, and my sister kept cajoling, “Eat it soon and eat it fast”. It turned out, there was great delay in cutting the cake, because the ice cream gelled like ice. It probably needed a saw, not a cake knife. After pretending to cut the first piece, I delegated the ceremonial cutting to a young guest who ended up having a strained hand and wrist after completing the celebrated task. The cake, however, was superb.
I don’t mind having surprise birthday parties, as long as I’m totally surprised, and I’m stunned by a rowdy shout from greeters who hide and stay perfectly still until my face appears. Of course, I always welcome the food and the wonderful camaraderie, and best – ice cream cakes that are supposed to melt but keep frozen even in the mouth.
My hat off to my sister, who has a knack for giving surprise birthday parties long after the celebrant has gotten weeks/months older. The fun part is, the fun never gets old.