Saturday, July 25, 2009

Suburban Breeze

I am here now in Alabang, enjoying the quiet of an empty house. The tenants left two weeks ago but I have not been able to come, except to do an inventory and accept the keys from them on their last day, and very briefly last Saturday just to water the plants. Today, I brought the driver/maintenance man, a houseboy and a maid to help clean and make it attractive for prospective tenants who may come to check out the house next week.

The electric fan is not even turned on, but nature provides the breeze that I need to be comfortable. I sit at the dining table trying to write about this feeling of gladness to be here. The sounds I hear are sounds of a quiet life – the neighbors’ little boys playing basketball, the driver scraping off stubborn epoxy from the kitchen sink (I did not like that orange epoxy was spread all over the rim of the stainless steel sink – it was that way when we bought the house and never found time to fix it until now), the houseboy plucking dead, dried leaves from betel nut trees at the front yard, and the maid moving the aluminum ladder as she moves around in a methodical manner, dusting the windows and furniture.

Just for comparison, over in Makati where we live and work in the same house/building, the cacophony of sounds that predominate are those of buses and cars that run on our busy Bautista street – the street that our house directly faces, without benefit of a front yard to serve as “buffer” or “sound barrier” - and the constant ringing of phones interspersed with someone’s insistent voice on hurried paging announcements. Add to this auditory cocktail the stillness of the stagnant air, trapped within the confines of each of the rooms, artificially brought to a comfortable level by almost 24-hour air-conditioning.

I am not asking for the pristine air of the mountains or the sea. I know that Alabang is not an idyllic rural paradise. Once in a while, but thankfully not too often, the purr and spurts from motorcycles of men who come to deliver pizzas or provide maintenance service to us or our neighbors compete with muffled but nevertheless revving engines of neighbors’ cars negotiating the rise in elevation of our slightly hilly street. So I know I am not in dreamland and that I am not too far from the city.

All that I am wishing for, really, is some suburban breeze – that rhythmically weaves in and out of trees and into the house to provide me with a natural balm from the tropical heat, and as an additional treat, brings in the music it creates by rustling leaves. Today’s slightly active breeze undeniably resonates with my heart’s longing for quietude and comfort in a home.

Naturally, even if only for a day.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Happiness Mapping

Here's something Sacha did that you might want to try doing so you can identify what makes you happy. And when you know what makes you happy, then you'd know how to get to that feeling.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Empty Nesters' Christmas Holiday

For the first time in 32 years, John and I were spending Christmas and New Year holiday alone, without at least one of our three daughters. Maybe it’s because of my being a mother, that I seem to be more affected by the “empty nest syndrome,” than John is. Sensing my loneliness, he stayed close to keep me occupied, entertained and reassured.

John’s diversionary tactics included two nights at Ridgewood Residences in Baguio, a leisurely 3-hour outdoor lunch at Cantinetta in Camp John Hay, a candlelit dinner at Mario’s (one of our favorite restaurants), and a productive morning meeting with the Baguio chapter of ASP (Autism Society of the Philippines).

Coming down to Manila to fulfill a promise to join the ASP UP Diliman chapter’s photography workshop, we spent a full day with children with autism and about 20 volunteer photographers.

The following day, we went ultralight flying in Pampanga, a thrilling activity he has not done in a long time. He took me up and we flew over the rice fields of Pampanga, He spent more time flying while I chatted with old friend and former flying club manager, Mel Troth.

On the day before New Year’s, he took me to Serendra which offers many choices for restaurants, and the promenade mall that I prefer over big shopping centers. We chose Chelsea, where we opted for something light - a salad and a pizza - and a long conversation. Then we strolled over to Fully Booked, our favorite bookstore. We grabbed the books that we fancied, sat on chairs that faced each other, and managed to read and talk without disturbing anyone. When we got tired of sitting down, we went out to have a stroll on High Street, getting in and out of shops, fully content just to look. Characteristically, I waited while John checked out Recreational Outdoor Exchange. On the other hand, John was very uncharacteristically patient and even joined me in browsing at furniture and homestyle shops. To cap the day, we went back to Fully Booked for Starbucks coffee and tea. He never once rushed me, and seemed indeed to enjoy having a slow day for a change.

We promised the household staff that we would join them for a New Year’s eve dinner. Norma cooked our favorite stuffed chicken, and served chestnuts and round fruits - grapes and small oranges - which to Filipino-Chinese families signify prosperity. By 8pm, we were done with dinner and just needed to wait for midnight to come.

I was tired and feeling a bit blue (must come from spending the holidays without my children, no matter that they are grown), and decided that I would nap for a short while. I asked John to wake me up at 11:30 but at 11, he, too was ready to crawl into bed. He told me to put my cellphone to silent, and he did the same with his.

Half-asleep, I could see my phone’s light flashing on and off, which it does when there were incoming calls. I turned the lamp on and saw that I missed three calls by Kathy, and one by Sacha’s friend Clair. I returned Kathy’s call and she said she was on Skype. While I turned on my computer, I called up Clair. We greeted each other Happy New Year, and she told me that Kathy had called to tell her that I was not answering my phone, and asked her to find out what was happening.

Kathy and her John came online to greet us at the stroke of midnight (plus half an hour before and another hour after), and witness the fireworks in the part of the sky that was visible from our window (as picked up by the built-in webcam on my computer).

The following day, the first day of the year, I was filled with tremendous sadness and loneliness. Neither Ching nor Sacha had called to greet us, and I felt totally devastated. I felt so bad that I did not want to get out of bed - and John saw right away that the monstrous feeling he kept trying to protect me from had succeeded in invading my heart. I felt unloved, unappreciated, and unworthy. It was a painful emptiness. As I was beginning to bash myself with crucifying questions like “where did I fail, did I not raise my children well,” John just very quietly held me in his arms and whispered, “Don’t feel alone, I’m here.”

To keep me from feeling blue, he asked me to dress up and we went out to look for a restaurant that was open on New Year’s Day. Even nearby Cash and Carry was considered far enough as to distract me from our empty and quiet house. The supermarket was closed and so was the food court, but the fastfood restaurants were open. We had lunch at Pancake House, a family favorite.

All through out New Year’s Day and for the next few days, whether we were at home or visiting favorite places, John’s glance would come my way, and if I showed the slightest sign of loneliness, he would come near me and whispher, “I’m here.”

John’s strategy worked. His schedule of events for us, his patience and reassuring message all helped us (actually, me) survive Christmas and New Year’s as emptynesters. And now that regular work days have resumed, there’s been little time to feel lonely. In addition, Ching and her John came to visit twice (in January and in February), our Skype sessions with Sacha are back on regular schedule (every Sunday night), and Kathy and her John are back from Holland.

We’re back on track.

P.S. Now, before anyone makes the same mistake I did, let me tell you what happened on New Year’s eve (something I did not discover until two weeks later) - it turned out that something went wrong with my gmail, preventing it from delivering mail addressed to I discovered greetings from Sacha, Ching and many, many friends and relatives when I checked our server and saw more than two hundred undelivered and unopened messages.


Ching, 32, lives with her husband in Singapore, and could not come home, as they had planned a holiday vacation in Sarawak, Borneo.

Kathy, 28, and her John, were in Holland to spend Christmas and New Year’s with his parents and to arrange for their wedding there in the spring. Kathy was a bit worried that we would be too lonely all by ourselves, so up to the last minute, she tried to persuade us to spend Christmas in Holland.

Sacha, 25, said she could not afford a third trip to the Philippines this year, having come home to visit us in March and August, but promised that she would be here on Christmas 2009.