The last time Mabi and I hung out, we polished off two bottles of alcohol — a Sauvignon Blanc and a bottle of Champagne. It was no one's birthday and no one's anniversary, just another random day of the week, and still, because we were living it, it deserved Champagne.
And again, last night, celebrating nothing at all, we popped open a bottle of Two Oceans Shiraz and over the course of the evening loaded up on a lovely chilled salsa that I whipped up (pat on the back, yes), wafer crackers loaded with tuna pate (from Madrid, courtesy of Mabi) and topped with capers, Spanish sardines (also from Madrid) and black rice.
Also on the table: Gouda cheese and cream cheese.
We discovered that wine and words courtesy of the Dalai Lama are a good mix. Wine opens the heart, and the wisdom of the universe by way of the Dalai Lama speak to it.
It's 3:02 am on my computer clock and here I am, blogging, eager to share my latest small triumph (no triumph is too small to ignore in this beach house!).
I have put on fresh sheets on my bed and they feel and smell wonderfully clean. It's almost too good to fall asleep in right away, and after savoring the clean by making imaginary angel wings with my arms and legs on the fabric, I've piled on the reading.
First stop, Oprah's O Magazine, the 10th anniversary edition, May 2010. Picked it up on my way home from Singapore last May (I always need to just buy something, anything, at the Changi Newslink), rifled through it on the plane, but never actually got to sink into the couch and enjoy reading it.
So here I go, headlong into special section called "What's Next for You?" Yey! How appropriate ;)
The self-portrait above was taken in the bathroom of the adjoining studios of artists Plet Bolipata and Elmer Borlongan in Casa San Miguel, Pundaquit, Zambales.
It was sometime in late February this year and I had stolen away to the seaside town with fellow Baguio Workshop GROs (Girls of Room One), Rica and Mookie. As the rest of the photos show, it was a cozy weekend of comfort food and great conversations.
Top to bottom: Aah, lovely new books! The covers were so cute I had to photograph them against my yellow wall. Dory in white wine and herbes de Provence, with a lovely bottle called Gossips (yezzz). Cumpletos recados in my kitchenette :)
Because the afternoon was overcast yet again, and because I’d been procrastinating all day, I felt an itch to go somewhere and buy something to rev up my energy. So when my friend Paolo, all the way from Scotland, told me to buy myself a book called The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery and bill him for it (thanks, Pao!), I very happily said, “Game!”
So I hopped over to Fully Booked in Greenbelt 5 where I found the book, a lovely paperback edition with a striking blue and yellow cover. I also found two other pretty looking things on the sale table: Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (about a year of eating only what’s been raised in the local neighborhood or what her family could grow), and Jennifer Haigh’s The Condition. The sum of both books: P299!
So that gave me a bit of a high. Having bought mind food, I decided to get something for my body. I left the mall’s boutique row with a basic striped sleeveless top from Warehouse, a pair of full-length leggings from Promod, and a bra from Calvin Klein.
At this point, my appetite for buying had been suitably worked up. As with most satisfying activities, the more you shop, the more you can’t stop. And the thing with having watched Julie and Julia over and over (at least seven times in the past few days) is that it had built up my literal appetite.
I entered Rustan’s with only a bunch of red tomatoes, ripe mangoes and sprigs of cilantro for a nice salsa in mind. Instead, I stumbled out of the grocery a bill that made my eyes flash and more plastic bags than I could handle. I had enough food to feed a family of five for a week, and then I remembered the reason why I had stopped shopping in Rustan's: inevitably, I would always buy more than I could chew. The bag boy had to hang them on to me. If, by some weird twist of events, I had stumbled over a bridge with those bags I would have sunk straight to the bottom of the sea.
To make myself feel better, I decided to make a nice meal for myself with all the things I had bought. A year ago, in late July, I visited Apol in Provence and tasted what ranks among the best-tasting dishes I have ever had in my entire life.
In a large pot, over an outdoor brick oven, Apol’s in-laws cooked mussels in a stew of butter, cream, white wine, olive oil, onions, garlic, rosemary and packets of herbes de Provence (I’m sure I’m missing some other key ingredients). I brought home some packets of that wonderful herbes de Provence to replicate the dish in Manila but have never gotten around to it until tonight.
Instead of mussels, I cooked three filleted Dory fish with a glass of white wine and made a bowl of the stew. The rest of the wine I drank while leafing through the first few pages of my new book, wearing my new top (cheers, Pao!)
I suppose it's true — your surroundings reflect the state of your mind. For the past few years, my surroundings have always been a tumble of books, papers set aside to be sorted out one day, suitcases that have yet to be unpacked from some trip or other, and even more files that need to be organized.
So I made a lazy Sunday list to make sure I don't enter a new week with my head still in a tangle.
1. Organize computer desktop. Every time someone sneaks a peek at my computer desktop they always let out an involuntary gasp. No fail. The second they see all file icons one on top of the other covering the entire screen, they wonder how I can I live and think this way, or how I can get anything done at all.
I have always treated my computer desktop like a real table top. And in files as in life, out of sight is always out of mind, so I make sure I see what needs to be done so I don't forget about them. This is, I realize, counter-intuitive. If I see them all at the same time I feel overwhelmed and end up procrastinating. Not a good way to live.
I made a little progress last night and now my screen is beautiful and spare, with blue folders neatly lined up on either side. What's in those folders is another story, but one thing at a time. Baby steps.
2. Organize real desk. My real desk these days is a glass half-moon with a metal stand that's a bit wobbly. It's not very inspiring to work on so I do most of my work on the kitchen table. This is also not good because that puts me within arm's reach of the small refrigerator, and I've been going through chocolate bars at an unusual speed.
Now would have thought that a messy desk would lead to added poundage? Going by that logic, that everything IS interconnected (the principle behind karma), I could conceivably lose the chocolate-weight I've gained by decluttering and clearing up my desk and working there, away from the ref.
3. Organize closet. Now this I've done in as logical a manner as I could think of. Clothes for going out, clothes for staying home, clothes for exercising, clothes for work. I'm not the sort of person who can manage having a lot of clothes; most of my life I've had to live with very limited closet space, so I've learned to keep my wardrobe hardworking and lean.
Here's the downside of a lean wardrobe: every time I need to go somewhere, I have to think hard if I'd worn the same outfit many times before. The usual answer is yes, and then I would have to get creative about mixing and matching or jazzing it up. Then I up pulling clothes out of the closet and tossing them on the bed, and returning home tired and ready to crash, and so make space for myself I inevitably scoop everything up and dump them in the closet.
The upside is this: I am traveling light, as I've always imagined I would. I don't know why I feel this is a necessary thing, to be able to pack all my clothes in three large suitcases and no more, but it's a comforting thought.
4. Organize books. I've moved around so much and lost more than half of the books I've ever owned to the four winds. Once, when I was living in Singapore, I kept a neat row of my favorite titles at that time by my bedroom window in Pearl Bank. And then I left the window open and stepped out during which it rained and I returned home to find them all soaked and beyond saving.
The lesson for me has always been to invest in something that would keep what you hold dear in a safe place. For books that means sturdy shelves, the ones that look nice, the ones that won't pepper the bottoms of upright books with yellow-orange spots.
5. Organize kitchen. Few people know this about me, but I like to cook (but cannot follow a recipe). I love cookbooks and actually own several good-looking ones, but the minute my eyes scan over to the recipes my lids become heavy with sleep and my mind wanders. It must be all the measurements and the numbers but yes I have to one day face this aversion.
In any case, I own the essentials: pots and pans, spatulas, a good corkscrew, plates, mugs, silver, a French press and a coffee pot, a few sharp knives, a peeler that is also a fruit scrubber.
I also own a few non-essentials that are nice to have anyway: a set of six demitasse with matching saucers that my mom gave me years ago, a metallic tea drain for loose leaf teas (but I don't really drink tea), and some large Pyrex trays that have no oven to go into.
5. File papers. This is by far the most challenging thing I might have to do. I have years and years worth of files and scraps of paper accumulated over the various incarnations of my life. The other day I found boarding pass stubs to and from Langkawi, Malaysia, for a trip I took in 2002. Weeks ago I was thrilled to discover that I've kept a stack of the original printouts of my first book, Getting Better, with scribbled notes on the margins.
Now the moment of truth has arrived: some of these bits and pieces of papers and CDs will just have to go and some can stay, but only after much deliberation.
Do I still need them? Will I ever need them again?
Are these pictures I want to see again? Ever?
Are these really important? How important are they? And what does important mean, exactly?
So yes, tonight I will be sleeping at 5 am. Wish me luck.
There's so much work ahead but thinking that I have every intention of wading through it is getting me excited. It's like living with a clogged nose and head for years, and finally getting to breathe properly again. As Cole Porter once sang, "It's De-lovely".
So the first casualty of the new construction — things that absolutely cannot go into my new sanctuary — are these large pillars of guilt that have crowded my old house. One of those large pillars around which the rest of my life used to revolve was marked WORK.
Thus today I parked myself at a table at M Cafe with a laptop and a notepad and got some "work" done: I sat, plowed through a yummy Hainan Chicken Rice meal, gulped down two cups of rich, dark coffee, and drew.
Last year I blogged about my dream bed, the one which I used to sleep in last year and the one that I blamed for many strange dreams. But I left it at that.
Lately I’ve decided to pay more attention to my dreams. I wish I had done it sooner — looking back, it’s staggering how much my subconscious or unconscious was trying to tell me through dreams that were sometimes nightmares. I’ve found myself staring wide-eyed and horrified into space — while eating, while paying for my coffee at Starbucks (this alarms cashiers apparently), while in bed, waiting for sleep to come — whenever the memory of a dream returns.
Needless to say I am on it, scouring sites and buying books (including Carl Jung’s “Dreams, Memories, Reflections"), but that’s another blog entry.
For now, here’s a quick sampling of those dreams that I distinctly remember from last year:
One night, I dreamt I had married someone and regretted it deeply. We lived in an apartment that was almost a literal box. As we sat down for a meal, I could feel my head graze the ceiling. And as I ate with my husband, I mentally drop-kicked myself for having done what I told myself I would never do. Then the air went thin and I couldn’t breathe. Then I woke up.
Another night I dreamt that I wanted to say something but couldn’t. I tried to scream and yell but still nothing would come out. In frustration, I scratched my throat until it bled. Then I woke up (with my throat feeling scratchy).
Still another night I dreamt of multi-colored flying snakes. They were flying through rooms and I, armed with a butterfly net, tried to catch them. I don’t remember netting any, but I still remember the feeling of excitement and determination in my bones.
And yet another night, late last year, I dreamt an entire story. I was living in an island and all the animals in it got sick and so they had to be sent to the neighboring island for treatment. But one day the bears washed ashore, dead. The beach was littered with hundreds or maybe thousands of lifeless black rubber bears (think blackberry gummy bears), their flat noses crusty with the dry, yellowish traces of disease.
I turn away and see that the tiger has returned, standing majestically on all fours aboard a bamboo raft, fur windblown. On another raft was the doctor, clad in a black trench coat. It was someone I knew. He stepped onto the edge of the pier and I, happy to see him, started to make my way towards him. But coming from behind me, running, was another girl in what I remember was a knee-length white floral skirt straight out of Laura Ashley’s sugar-sweet line. She sped past me, straight towards the doctor, and they hugged. And I thought to myself, “Oh. So it’s them.”
These dreams have proven to be not so random and of course they are coded messages. The quick interpretations on websites have brought on a barrage of "Ohhhh...of course!" So here’s a rather fragmented one I had last Friday night, in my sisters’ room at my parents’ house.
I am crossing the street tentatively because I know it is dangerous. Then out of nowhere, someone shoots a tiny bullet that hits my left cheek. The wound is barely perceptible but blood keeps oozing out of it like bright-red beads out of a pin-prick. Someone comes to help me onto a plush chair of a hotel lounge.
Then in another scene I am on the first deck of a three-storey luxury cruise liner sailing through the sea. It’s nighttime and I am watching waves splash onto the wooden floor of the first deck that is now half-submerged. I ask my companion, the doctor in the old dream, “Is it supposed to do that?”
Finally the cruise liner docks at a place called Thimpoo. “Thimpoo in Scandinavia” a local on the street tells me. I remember being amazed and feeling extremely happy, certain that it was where I truly belonged. I thought to myself, “This looks like a smaller, more quaint, and cleaner version of Prague” although I’d never been to Prague. It was a kind of wintry European scene and I remember being amazed at the technology of city cable cars.
After strolling around town, I walk into a portside deli (and through the window I see the ship in the dock) and I realize that the clerk is Pinay. I tell her I love Thimpoo. With a good-natured wink, she tells me, “Masaya talaga dito sa Thimpoo” and throws in extra pastries and cheese in to my bag of purchases.
I woke up thinking: Thimpoo.
On Dang’s advice I’ve looked it up. Searching “Thimpoo+Scandinavia”, three links come up. Apparently it is some kind of a tool in Scandinavia, but the links don’t lead to anything that resonates.
But Thimpoo, or Thimphu, is also the capital of Bhutan, a country I’ve always wanted to visit and live in. I'm almost certain that after I'd done what I've always wanted to do in the country, I'll have found something very precious. Call me crazy but this dream has revived an old dream of one day making the trip to Bhutan.
Before the year is out, I promise you, I will have a plan for Bhutan. Thimpoo here I come.
I've also looked up what sailing, ships and travel mean in dreams. "An emotional journey through the unconscious," says one site. "A journey to the next stage in life" says another. Still another says travel means that I am broadening my horizons and moving out of my comfort zone. Any which way it seems just about right, like all my past dreams have been.
If you find yourself in this page, you are most likely a friend who's been here before, but not quite.
Welcome to my new blog-home. I have a new address and a completed renovated site, leaving the old one — with its leaks, cracks, broken appliances, bad choices in furniture, and even worse choices in long-staying guests — to some cyberspace archive, to be revisited by me only when absolutely necessary (really stretching a metaphor here, so please bear with me).
So I found this new home when the old one fell hopelessly apart (we are still in the metaphor, where we will be for quite some time :D). Thankfully, with the help of a lot of friends, family, real home-moving pros, and do-it-yourself books, I've learned to vacate that house that was no longer serving me well: windows and doors had become barred shut, leaving rooms to darkness and gloom, the garden untended, and the beach and the sea left out of sight. The rusty defenseless fence let all manner of barbarians through the gate to wreak more havoc on an already rickety structure. But thanks to them, it's become clear how truly inhospitable the old place was.
And so: no longer a good place to live happily, no longer a place in which to grow freely. The old blueprint, while it no longer works, will serve as a benchmark of the ways of building and being that are worth keeping, and of those that need to be thrown away.
This new house on the beach is still in the process of being built, and I do so with more care and mindfulness than ever before. It's a kind of eyes-wide-open construction project. Slower, more deliberate, lots of iced tea breaks along the way, and hopefully more soulful.
The windows are high and wide, offering perfect views of sand, sea and sky, and the doors are left open to the good elements. The airy rooms are bathed in light throughout the day, and in my favorite sitting room some moments are more golden than others. Here, on coffee tables and shelves, most of my handiwork will sit on display for me to see and celebrate. The house follows an open layout plan so that no room stays locked away from the other and the breeze can flow freely within. The deck is a place reserved for meaningful connections, with lounge chairs, mats and fluffy throw pillows, for carefully selected guests. It leads down to the fine-sand beach and the azure sea, perfect for dancing and skinny dipping.
As for what goes into the house and what stays out, the process of hitting and missing and learning along the way is the destination. Building and decorating are never-ending activities after all, and knowing what didn't work in the past might be a good starting point.
The gate, meanwhile, is fortified with a security system that will hopefully become more sophisticated with time. It has learned what it has in spotting unwanted visitors, but more improvements can be made. (The end of the metaphor is near).
So welcome to my new blog, a chronicle of my new adventures in happy beach house homemaking. This is where I'm supposed to be.